Jesus as ‘Lord’


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The first Christians were not separated from their fellow Jews. They continued to worship in the Synagogues, and it is likely that many of the Gentile converts to Christianity were those ‘God-fearers’ who were to be found in the Court of the Gentiles. But, even before the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in A.D. 70, there was tension, and the way in which both St John and St Matthew write about ‘the Jews’, makes it clear that there had been a breach, which had seen the ‘Christians’ ejected from the Synagogues. There were two main reasons for this: the first, which will be considred here, was the claim that Jesus was God; the second, which will form the subject of the next few posts, was the claim that the Christians were, in fact, polytheists.

Scholars have sometimes claimed that a ‘high Christology’, that is the claim that Jesus is God, was a late development, and tended to date any writings making it accordingly, but Larry Hurtado and others, have made more convincing claims for the idea that from the beginning, Christians thought Jesus was ‘Lord’.

Indeed, one of the most important of the early titles accorded Jesus was ‘Lord’ (Romans 1:4; 1 Cor. 1:3). The Aramaic, still in use today by the Syriac Orthodox Church, was Mar, which we see in I Corinthians 16:22 where Paul uses the phrase “Maran atha’ – which means ‘Lord come’. The Greek text uses the word ‘kurios’ (from whence ‘Kyrie’), which could be simply a title of respect. However the Septuagint translates YHWH as ‘kurios’, which is why it is applied to Jesus. It is used of Him all the time in Acts, and in Luke. Before the Resurrection it is used only by those inspired (Lk 1:43, 76), afterwards, it is always used. Doubting Thomas calls Him ‘My Lord and My God’ – ‘kurios … kai theos’ (Jn 20:28). This usage, in the early Gospels, is confirmed by our reading of Paul.

Paul’s letters are some of the earliest Christian documents we have, indeed, some would say the earliest. The idea that Jesus is the Son of God (huios tou theou) is found in Romans (8:29) and Galatians (1:16; 4:4 and following). But he uses the exact phrase only thrice: Romans 8:11-16; 2 Cor. 1:19 and Gal. 4:4-7) Here, as elsewhere in the Synoptic Gospels and Pauline epistles, Jesus is Son of God by virtue of His resurrection and exaltation. Mark establishes it through the baptism of Jesus (1:11) and through the words of the demons (3:11), but again, it is the experience of the Cross (15:39) which confirms it at the end. Matthew and Luke both see the Sonship confirmed at the time of the conception of Jesus (Matt. 1:23; 2:15; Lk 1.32, 35). But is in John that we get the fullest sense of what this is, and it is John who mentions it most often (1:18, 34; 3:18, 36; 11:27; 19:7; 20:31), famously calling Him the ‘logos’ who was in the beginning with God (1:1-3).John’s opening passage echoes the opening of Genesis 1:1.

Now, whilst the idea of being a ‘son of God’ was not uncommon in an ancient world where the Emperor was a living god, the notion that Jesus was with God in the beginning presented an obvious problem. This distinguished Him from other, pagan, ‘sons of god’, but it also offered a potential affront to the monotheism of the Jews. If the claim that Jesus was the Christ was offensive, then the assertion that God had a ‘son’ was even more so; it was a direct affront to Jewish montheism. It is to that we now turn our attention.


The New Testament and heretics


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The modern scholarly line which maintains that orthodoxy is simply the set of beliefs that have won out across time, and thus implies that heresies are simply beliefs which the Church chose not to follow, is both right and profoundly wrong. It is right to say they are the beliefs that won out, although, as I suggested last time, if one believes in an hermeneutic of continuity in which the Church founded by Christ is, indeed, resistant to the Gates of Hell, this need occasion no surprise. But if, as is often implied, such a view is taken to mean that there is no such thing as orthodox belief, nothing could be less true. We can see from the New Testament itself the concern of the Evangelists to ensure that wrong beliefs were not adopted; from the beginning there were tares among the wheat.

There is heresy in the New Testament. Galatians, Colossians, the Pastoral Epistles, Jude, 2 Peter, 1 John and Revelation are the places we find heresy. The bad news for those who argue that ‘orthodoxy’ was a late development is that the heretics are denounced by the writers of those epistles, because heresy appears only as a set of errors which are to be condemned; you can only condemn something if you have an orthodoxy against which to measure what is unorthodox.

St Paul rebukes the Galatians for listening to those who preached ‘another Gospel’.  It seems they had been promoting the idea that Gentile converts should be circumcised. They had been putting forward the idea that it was vital to observe Old Testament Law. These ‘Judaisers’ may well, as some have speculated, have been from the Jerusalem Church, and have been ‘James’ men’. Either way, it took the first council of Jerusalem to rule on the issue. You might argue that this set the model for the future. Someone came along to a church claiming something which the Apostle who founded it had never said; it caused a ruckus; the Church decided what was and was not orthodox.

We don’t quite know what the ‘Colossian heresy’ was. In his epistle, Paul mentions circumcision, food laws, Sabbath and purity regulations, but whilst there may have been elements of ‘Judaising’ there were other element involved. Paul mentions words such as ‘pleroma’ (fullness), ‘philosophia’, and ‘gnosis’ (knowledge), all of which, along with the rest of the letter, suggest elements of gnosticism. This was one of the earliest and most persistent of heresies. Its adherents claimed that they were inspired by the ‘new spirit’ mentioned by Jesus, and that, as a result of this, they had access to special knowledge (gnosis) which was denied to those who had never been visited by the spirit. It allowed those arguing such a position to contradict what even the Apostles taught, as they had access to some secret knowledge which allowed them a unique understanding of what the words of Jesus meant.

In Titus and 1 and 2 Timothy, we see Paul roundly condemning heretical teaching. Again it looks as though there was a mixture of Judaising and gnostic speculations. None of this should be surprising. It was natural that many converting Jews would bring with them their own practices, and that converting Gentiles would do the same.

It may have been similar sorts of teaching against which Jude was warning when he writes about false teachers who do not ‘have the Spirit.’ These self-seeking, unreliable and unstable shepherds were roundly condemned. It may be that like those mentioned in 2 Peter, they ‘cunningly devised fables’ about the date of the Second Coming, and justified indulgence in fleshly sins on the back of it. One early, and repeated heresy, was the idea that the ‘saved’ could not lose salvation, and were therefore free to indulge their fleshly appetites.

We can see in 1 John that, as in Colossus and Galatia, some of the heretics had been part of the church, but had ended up preaching a different Gospel. In other words, men and women who had been converted by the Apostle himself, or, in the parlance of Bosco, had been ‘saved’, claimed that the new spirit they had received gave them access to a revelation which allowed them to refute even the Apostle himself. in John’s case, it seems as though members of his own Community denied that Jesus had come truly in the flesh – an early form of what became known as Docetism.

Revelation is a feast of examples of heresies: the Nicolaitans (who seem to have urged believers to take part in pagan rituals); a Jezabel, who led believers into idolatry, and the ‘depths of Satan’, another set of idolaters.

Against all of this was set the message which Paul and the Apostles had received, what Jude called the ‘faith once delivered to the Apostles’. There was, as we shall see, a diversity of orthodox belief and practice, but there was, from the beginning, a very clear idea of what lay outside the sphere of what Christians could believe and remain Christian.

If, even in the era of the Apostles, false teachers abounded, it is hardly to be wondered at that as the early arrival of the Second Coming was postponed, the Christian communities wrestled with the implications of some of the Gospel teaching. Indeed, one reason the New Testament exists is that churches kept Paul’s letters, an men like Mark, who had been Peter’s secretary, and Luke, who had been a companion of St Paul’s, wrote down their accounts of the ministry of Jesus and, in the case of Luke, wrote the earliest history of the Church.

Reading with and without the Church


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For the last few weeks readers have borne patiently with two series on one of the more obscure parts of the history of the Church. For our friend Bosco it was all pretty irrelevant: ‘Either one is saved or one isn’t. everyone is wrong. But only a few are saved.’ This is, as so often, at the extreme end of a not uncommon reaction among contemporaries; the new, the modern, is always more relevant than the old. What, Bosco asked elsewhere, was the point of all these ‘add ons’ to Christianity?

Pride, the desire to become as wise as God, led to the Fall of Man, and we see examples everywhere of where it leads us: being able to mine the resources of the earth to make life better for ourselves, we did so without regard for its effects, and when some of those effects are pointed out, we don’t much like it; being able to reason to make better laws for our governance, we forgot, or at least are forgetting, their foundation in the Natural Law, and so invent laws which defy it; being able to make weapons to defend ourselves, we have been able to make ones which can destroy the whole planet. But perhaps the most deadly pride of all is the one which we can trace through the history of the Faith we have been looking at these last few weeks?

Nestorius, like Arius before him, cited Scripture for his view that Mary was not the Mother of God. Arius had argued that Scripture showed that Jesus was a creature, the first of the creatures made by God, but a creature all the same. Against that, Bishop Alexander and then Athanasius had argued the opposite; but they had on their side not simply their own definition of Scripture, but the tradition they had inherited going back to the Apostles. But it was not the only ‘tradition’. We know, from St John’s Epistles, that there were those in in own community who denied his witness and taught that Jesus was not the Christ come in the flesh. Even in the earthly lifetime of the Incarnate Word, there were those who questioned His witness and left Him when he said that to be saved people would have to eat His body and drink His blood. One of the difficulties with claiming one is inspired by the Spirit is that anyone can do it, and from very early on, with Simon Magus, people did. How was the ordinary person to know who was, and was not, inspired by the true Spirit?

We see, in the history we have been reading, how early Christians sought to solve the problem – and we also see the problems that solution caused. Jesus founded a Church, and when His followers were in doubt, they were adjured to take their concerns to the Church. We see, in Acts, with the Council of Jerusalem how the Apostles interpreted that, and the Councils with which we have been dealing saw themselves as continuations of that. As it became clear that those who expected the Second Coming to happen in their lifetime (an expectation that can certainly be read from Christ’s words) were wrong, the scattered, and often persecuted, Christian communities, sought to ensure that, as the Apostles had wanted, only the right Gospel was preached. How did they do that, and how can we be sure they were right?

This is a vexed question for the historian, and there was, and still in some quarters is, a fashion for saying that the answer is that we cannot be sure, and that what is ‘orthodoxy’ was simply the stronger faction within Christianity, which asserted its will through force. There are two difficulties with this: the first is that it puts Christ out of the equation; the second is the historical context. Jesus founded a Church and said that the very forces of hell would not prevail against her, and read in this light, there is a hermeneutic of continuity to be discerned; despite the trials and tribulations, the Truth survived and was passed on. Secondly, at least until the days of Theodosius in the 380s, Christians possessed no State apparatus, and far from persecuting, were persecuted. So the early arguments over who Christ was and whether ‘Father, Son and Holy Ghost’ were one or three Gods, and if One, how could there be three persons, were hammered out with a reference to the traditions of the Church.

One of the fatal flaws in the often heard argument that by relying on one’s own reading of the Gospels one can somehow recover the primitive belief of the ‘real’ and ‘original’ Church, is that it means ignoring the lessons learnt by the Church in the past – and thus repeating old heresies, but with the added disadvantage that, being one’s own reading, and believing the Bible interprets itself, one leaves one in a state of spiritual pride. If, as he claims, Bosco is inspired by a new spirit, then what need has he of all these old stories? He has the Scriptures and as he put it recently when asked how he read the Bible: ‘I read one word after another. Do you have a better way?’ This is not how the first Christians proceeded, and the dangers in it are clear enough when you end up writing things like this (inspired, Bosco says, by his new spirit):

If I was god, I wouldn’t have gone thru all that.
let me let you in on a secret. There are laws, laws that even God cant break. I don’t understand them, and neither does anyone. Why cant he wave his magic wand and make it all better? I don’t know. But here is the deal……these sins separate us from god somehow, and they have to be cleansed. Cleansed befor we can sit in his presence. Why are they sins? I don’t know. But God is lonely. hes sick and tired of being alone. He wants a help meet. So, in order to make a bride, the bride must want to be his bride, and this bride must be of the same stuff as god. We all love our cats, but they aren’t human. The only way god can be with a bride is if she is like him…..sinless.

Quite what any of this has to do with the Gospel preached by Jesus and proclaimed by the early Church, I can’t say It is the way Bosco reads Scripture, ‘one word after the other’. Is there a better way? It would be hard to find a worse.

We have seen, in the history we’ve been reading, that even the early Church found it hard to agree on all essentials, so we shall now turn to examine how it tried to deal with some of the difficulties its members encountered. But to read the Book which the early Church canonised and to ignore its understanding of that Book and to substitute for it one’s own reading is both unhistorical – and spiritually dangerous.

The Aftermath of Chalcedon


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The dispute over Canon 28, although not pushed at the time, can be taken as a marker for the slow shift of the tectonic plates between East and West, but more immediately, there was resistance to the whole Chalcedonian definition of the two natures of Christ back in Alexandria. Although Dioscorus had been deposed because of his conduct at Ephesus rather than for heresy, those of the Alexandrian school who distrusted the language of Leo’s Tome, conflated the two things and on his death in 457 elected their own Patriarch, Timothy, to oppose Proterius who had been chosen by the Emperor. Thenceforth there was hostility between Alexandria and Constantinople.

The results of Chalcedon were, then, long-lasting and far from positive. Alexandria and Syria were alienated politically, and were deeply suspicious of the language of Leo’s Tome, whilst Constantinople sought to coerce them into line. The violence used simply begat violence and deepened the split, and by the time Justinian tried to find a formula for reunion in the late 530s, it was too late. The long and bitter disputes weakened the authority of the Empire in the region, and helped pave the way of the Islamic invasions in the 630s. The See of St Mark fell under Islamic rule in 639 – and remains under it to this day. The Copts have shown huge bravery in confessing to the Faith once received from that time to this, though the numbers have fallen cruelly. Constantinople and Rome fell out firnally in 1054, with the Imperial capital falling to the Muslims in 1453; Of the 5 great patriarchies, that left only Rome free of Muslim rule.

The descendants of the non-Chalcedonians, like those who rejected Ephesus, the Nestorians, are still with us, but in their ancestral lands they are a persecuted minority.  The Chalcedonians who later rejected Rome make up a good number of the world’s Christians, but they have never called another Council. Those who adhere still to the Bishop of Rome make up a majority of the world’s Christians.

In our age we have a chance to repair the ravages of time and circumstance. The Schism which began at Chalcedon led to the ruin of the idea of Christendom, and countless men and women have paid a price for the pride of their ancestors. The post-Reformation Churches are, none of them, what they were, and who can tell how many generations they have left? The Evangelical churches wax and wane. Between them they all do good work, and no Catholic should ever ignore that, even though he or she might lament that they have not the fullness of the Faith; God and God alone decides who will be saved (despite the very large number of people who, like Bosco, make that claim for themselves). The Orthodox Churches command respect for their martyrs and their faithful witness in the direst of circumstances; who can withhold admiration for their fidelity? Meanwhile, the Roman Catholic Church, the largest in the world, has its own problems as it always has. But our Popes have all, since Paul VI, looked to reunify Christendom should that be possible.

Jesus willed that His followers should be one; our fallen nature has warred against that command. In this short series we have traced the paths by which the first of the great Schisms opened up, and seen how the seeds for further schism were planted. In our time we can pray for and work for unity.


The authority of the Bishop of Rome


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Before Leo had rejected the canon, both the Emperor Marcion, and the Patriarch of Constantinople, Anatolius, had written to him in conciliatory tones. Marcion hoped (Leo, Epistles CII) that now Rome’s doctrinal position had triumphed, Chalcedon could be ratified. Anatolius went along the same line in another December letter (Price III pp. 138-142) in which he tried to convince Leo that his delegates had reported things incorrectly and stated clearly they had not simply sent him the canon as a conciliatory measure but for his approval:

This decree has been transmitted to your sacredness by the holy council and by us in order to receive from you approval and confirmation.
He went on the ‘beg’ him to do so so that ‘everything that was transacted in writing at this holy and ecumenical council’ could then be enacted. This was not the language even of primus inter pares – it was language used to a primus. But as we have seen, Leo was not mollified and would not give his approval. He told the Empress Pulcheria that delighted though he was that the Council had proclaimed orthodoxy, he was saddened that an attempt had been made to add to the canons of Nicaea for no aim higher than political advantage.

Leo’s claims were based on Tradition and Apostolicity, he could not, and did not yield them.  On 21 March 453, with parts of Palestine claiming Chalcedon was not legitimate because Leo had not ratified it, Leo confirmed (Ep. 114.2) that he agreed to everything at Chalcedon which did not contravene Nicaea. Letter 116 to the empress makes the same point, adding:

Let vicious ambition covet nothing belonging to another, nor let anyone seek his own increase through injuring another, for however much vainglorious pride builds on extorted assent and thinks that its depredations can be strengthened through talking of councils, whatever differs from the canons of the aforesaid fathers [Nicaea] will be null and void.

Leo’s ratification of the Council was thought necessary by all concerned, and given the nature of the crisis in Egypt and Palestine, no one mentioned Canon 28, although clearly Leo was not ratifying it; Rome did not do so until the thirteenth century.

Leo’s claims were well-known and public; they were not contested by Constantinople. All men knew what it meant for Peter to speak through Leo. He spoke through no other Bishop. No other Bishop stood at the head of the others. No other Bishop’s ratification was sought in the way Leo’s was. Once can debate until well after the cows have come home what later men later claimed these things meant; contemporaries seem to have been clear enough. Lack of clarity came only when men desired it – as is so often the case.

Loose talk about Caesaro-Papism conceals a harsh reality. In Constantinople the Patriarch owed the claims he made in 451 to the fact he was the Imperial Patriarch; Church and State were one. The Roman Empire was effectively a theocracy – at Constantinople. Rome, deserted by the imperial bureaucracy, threatened by Huns, and already much reduced in population, owed its claims solely to Apostolicity. The odd thing about the anti-Catholic charge that Catholicism is a ‘Roman State religion’ is its historical ignorance. Imperial authority lay at Constantinople from the mid fourth century to the fifteenth century, and Rome, otherwise a political backwater, owed its authority not to the State, but to its Apostolic foundation on St Peter. Far from being s ‘State run’ religion, Roman Catholicism resisted all attempts by the Empire, and later by kingdoms in the West, to assert State power over the Church. A little historical knowledge would not come amiss in those who level the charge that the Catholic Church is a ‘Roman state run religion’; nothing could be further from the truth.

The practicalities of resisting State power were never less than problematic. It might have been Stalin who famously asked ‘how many divisions has the Pope?’, but he was hardly the first. From Justinian through to Hitler, powerful men would threaten the Pope, even hold him hostage. The Popes would create their own State for safety and invent Western diplomacy to protect it. Whatever the modalities, the reasoning was consistent – Peter spoke through the Pope and against that Rock not even the Gates of Hell would prevail. Nor have they, and nor will they. Empires rise and fall, Great Powers wax and wane, powerful men strut and fret their hour upon the stage, and Schisms come and multiply; but in the Eternal City, on the Rock of Peter, his successor remains; history affords no other example of such longevity. The works of human hand do not endure in this fashion; the work of God does.

Rome vs Constantinople


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The Chalcedonian Fathers explained Canon 28 to Leo as follows:

And we further inform you that we have decided on other things also for the good management and stability of church matters, being persuaded that your holiness will accept and ratify them, when you are told. The long prevailing custom, which the holy Church of God at Constantinople had of ordaining metropolitans for the provinces of Asia, Pontus and Thrace, we have now ratified by the votes of the Synod, not so much by way of conferring a privilege on the See of Constantinople as to provide for the good government of those cities, because of the frequent disorders that arise on the death of their bishops, both clergy and laity being then without a leader and disturbing church order. …

We have ratified also the canon of the 150 holy Fathers who met at Constantinople in the time of the great Theodosius of holy memory, which ordains that after your most holy and Apostolic See, the See of Constantinople shall take precedence, being placed second: for we are persuaded that with your usual care for others you have often extended that Apostolic prestige which belongs to you, to the church in Constantinople also, by virtue of your great disinterestedness in sharing all your own good things with your spiritual kinsfolk. Accordingly vouchsafe most holy and blessed father to accept as your own wish, and as conducing to good government the things which we have resolved on for the removal of all confusion and the confirmation of church order

If this sounds as though the assembled Fathers were nervous about Leo’s reaction, it was because they were. His delegates at Chalcedon had opposed the canon, saying that only the Pope could confer such precedence. The Fathers were, they told Leo, confident that they were acting as he would have wanted. They could not have been more mistaken. Leo’s reaction, a letter to the Emperor Marcian, written on 22 May 452 may be seen in full here. The parts most relevant to our argument are as follows:

Let the city of Constantinople have, as we desire, its high rank, and under the protection of God’s right hand, long enjoy your clemency’s rule. Yet things secular stand on a different basis from things divine: and there can be no sure building save on that rock which the Lord has laid for a foundation.  …….

For the privileges of the churches determined by the canons of the holy Fathers, and fixed by the decrees of the Nicene Synod, cannot be overthrown by any unscrupulous act, nor disturbed by any innovation. And in the faithful execution of this task by the aid of Christ I am bound to display an unflinching devotion; for it is a charge entrusted to me, and it tends to my condemnation if the rules sanctioned by the Fathers and drawn up under the guidance of God’s Spirit at the Synod of Nicæa for the government of the whole Church are violated with my connivance (which God forbid), and if the wishes of a single brother have more weight with me than the common good of the Lord’s whole house.

St. Peter had founded Rome and Antioch, St. Mark, Alexandria; Constantinople owed its foundation to the Emperor, no Apostle had founded it, and any priority it claimed could not be justified on the grounds the other Sees used. Leo’s own representatives, who had not been present when the canon was passed, had protested:

The apostolic see ought not to be humiliated in our presence, and therefore we ask your sublimity to order that whatever was transacted yesterday in our absence in prejudice of the canons or rules be nullified. But if otherwise, let our formal objection be recorded in the minutes, so that we may know what we ought to report to the apostolic man the pope of the universal church, so that he may pass sentence on either the insult to his see or the overturning of the canon. (Price and Gaddis, Acts of Chalcedon, III, p. 91]

Neither tradition, nor apostolic authority sanctioned the novelty that was Canon 28. Its sole basis in ‘tradition’ was canon 8 of Constantinople 381. But this canon was controversial at Rome, and in the form it was recorded at Chalcedon in canon 28 it was also inaccurate, as the Pope’s delegate, Paschasinus pointed out in the sixteenth session. There is a difference between the Greek and Latin versions of the Acta, and since the original is no longer extant, we cannot tell which version is more accurate.

The Latin version asserts Roman primacy, the Greek version omits this. In contemporary terms this did not matter since what was actually at issue was not the relative standing of the two sees but Constantinople’s jurisdiction in the east. It was only later that this difference was elevated to one of importance

But, as we have seen, it did not matter which version was advanced, the one in the canon itself or the conciliatory one put to Leo, he was having none of it because it infringed his unique apostolic privilege. There is no hyperbole, no poetic language – and no chance of misunderstanding. Leo was not having the ancient tradition of the Church usurped by the ambitions of the Imperial city. There was no sure foundation except the rock upon which Christ had built his Church. If ‘Peter speaks through Leo’ meant anything, it meant that Leo spoke with the authority of St Peter himself; not jumped-up Patriarch at Constantinople was going to change that at the best of an Emperor. Christ had spoken, Leo was defending what he had inherited; his successors would do the same.

The Council of Chalcedon


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Thanks to Liverpool University Press we can read the full proceedings of the Council of Chalcedon.  The Council opened on 8 October, and its first job was to review what had happened at Ephesus in 449. It did so and it condemned Dioscorus and exiled him. At a stroke, Alexandria’s empire-building had collapsed.

It is important to emphasise that Dioscorus was not found guilty of heresy. He was condemned for his conduct at the 449 Council and, refusing to attend the session where he was required to explain himself at Chalcedon, he was deprived of his See and sent into exile. Quite why he did not appear is not clear, but the consequences were fatal for his tenure of the See of Alexandria. Because of what happened next, the issue of his conduct and his beliefs became intertwined, and helped create a schism which has not healed to this day. Schisms but rarely happen as a one-off event. Chalcedon would become the focal point for the eventual schism, but the main issue would become the outcome of the on-going debate over what was and was not orthodox Christology.

The central part of the Council was the consideration of the Tome of Pope Leo. It is sometimes presented as though it were a synthesis of the Alexandrian and Antiochene views. The Oriental Orthodox, the descendants of those who rejected Chalcedon, tend to make noises about Leo’s Latin not being as flexible as the Greek. Both views give Leo little credit for a formula which has endured to this day.

Leo was the first Pope to be a considerable theologian, and we see a line of thinking in his Tome which reveals that. There is, as one might expect, a decisive rejection of Nestorius by emphasising that the Son is co-eternal with the Father – he is begotten, not made. But Leo went on to deal with a question that even today causes some to err. Jesus, as Paul emphasises, emptied himself to take on our humanity, but that did not mean, Leo argued, that he ceased to be God. Leo adopted Cyril’s language about Jesus having two natures, a human and a Divine nature, and he used Cyril’s formula of two natures in one Person. But those two natures were not intermingled, they did not create some kind of hybrid God-man who was half God and half man. Christ remained fully God and fully God; the two natures retained their distinctiveness in the One Person of Jesus, and they acted ‘in communion’ in him. The Divine nature did those things appropriate to it (such as performing miracles), while the human nature did likewise – suffering as men do, and dying as men do. The fact that there was one Person meant that each nature could be spoken about in terms of the other in a sharing of qualities or an interchange of properties – a communicatio idiomatum (communion of idioms). Thus one could say that the Son of Man came down from heaven and took flesh from the Virgin Mary.

It is worth giving the wording:

We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable soul and body; consubstantial with us according to the manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the virgin Mary, the mother of God, according to the manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ, as the prophets from the beginning have declared concerning him, and the Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.

The Creed is in line with the Nicene Creed, and affirms the pre-existence of Christ and His equality with Father; it also proclaims His perfect humanity and divinity.

The Tome was pored over and extensively discussed by the Bishops, and that needs to be noted; this was most certainly not a case of a Pope laying down the law and expecting everyone to follow suite. But then, except in anti-Catholic legend, the occasions upon which the Pope lays down the law as opposed to invites discussion, are vanishingly rare. Leo’s Tome set forth the Pope’s views, and when the Bishops finished their discussion it was clear that he agreed with Cyril’s Christology, and they were therefore happy to declare, as the record states that:‘Peter speaks through Leo.

Quite what that meant would be tested immediately. At the end of the Council, the Fathers had ratified a new canon, Canon 28, which, on the basis of what had been decided at the Council of Constantinople in 381, conceded to the See of Constantinople the second place in the Christian Church. This created an immediate crisis, and before returning to the more dramatic and long-term results of the Council, we must deal with the controversy caused by Canon 28.

The Road to Schism


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Diocorus had been Cyril’s secretary at Ephesus, and had been less than keen on the Formula of Union, thinking that it had conceded too much to the language of the Antiochenes.  As Theophilus and Cyril had before him, Dioscorus interfered in the affairs of the patrirch of Constantinople. In his case by supporting Eutyches, an archimandrate in Constantinople, who insisted on talking about the ‘one nature’ of Christ.

St Cyril had used the formula mia physis tou theou logou sesarkomene –  that is ‘the One nature of God the Word Incarnate’, and for Eutyches and Dioscorus what mattered was to stress the one nature of Christ. In a synod at Constantinople in 448 Eutyches was condemned for his heresy, but in 449, in at attempt to decided whether Eutyches had been wrongly condemned, Theodosius II had convened a Council at which Dioscorus had presided.

It was not, as we have seen, usual at this time for Popes either to summon or attend a Council, but, as at Ephesus, the Pope’s views had been sought, and Leo had sent a letter to the Constantinople hearing which he asked to be read at Ephesus (where the new Council was held in 449).  Leo’s Tome, to which we shall come in the final post on this subject, was an attempt by a gifted theologian to resolve the problems caused by the disputes. Dioscorus did not, however, allow Leo’s letter to be read, and concentrated on condemning the Constantinople decision. The Council found Eutyches orthodox and condemned the Patriarch, Flavian and those who had agreed with him. The Council was a resounding success for Alexandria. Dioscorus had, it seemed, succeeded beyond even the achievement of Cyril.

In fact Dioscorus had pushed matters too far. Flavian had put in an appeal to Leo, and protests against the overweening arrogance of Alexandria were now loud.  This was the third time in a century that Alexandria had asserted its ancient right to be regarded as the second patriarchate of Christendom by humiliating the upstarts of Constantinople. Theophilus had had St John Chrysostom condemned at the Synod of the Oak in 403, Cyril had done the same with Nestorius in 432, and now, it seemed, Disocorus had repeated their triumph. But where Rome had supported Theophilus and Cyril, Leo refused to recognise the results of the Council, calling it a ‘Robber Council’ . Whilst Theodosius II lived, Leo had made no headway in getting another one; that changed with his death. Pulcheria and Marcian convened a Council in Chaldedon, just across the Bosphorus from the imperial capital.

As Bishop of Rome, Leo, had been consulted by all parties, as Celestine I had been before Ephesus in 432; what did this imply in terms of the status of the Bishop of Rome? The difficulty here is the insistence of many chroniclers on interpreting it to fit their preconceived ideas: Roman Catholics would say it showed the authority of Rome was crucial; Orthodox historians would say it showed the Bishop should be consulted, but since he had not convened the Council, it showed he was not regarded as essential for its results to be accepted; and the Protestants? They have tended to ignore this period. In fact what the Council and its history showed was how the Papacy was developing. Athanasius, Theophilus and Cyril had all made sure they consulted Rome. The See of St Mark naturally looked to the See of St Peter – and beside that, both Sees had an interest in curbing the ambitions of Constinantinople. If Dioscorus thought that this would see him through, he was to find out otherwise at Chalcedon.

St Cyril and the background to Chalcedon


Ephesus had decisively established that Our Lady was the “Theotokos”, the God-bearer, or, more colloquially, the Mother of God. Nestorius had been deposed and sent into exile. But the split occasioned there between the Antiochenes and the Alexandrians had not been easily healed. In part the difficulty was one of language. The language of Antioch ended up making Jesus sound like a very special human being; some of the language coming out of Alexandria made Him sound like God assuming a human persona. It is often the case in Church history that once a disagreement like the one at Ephesus occurs, a schism follows, and that it did not on this occasion, owed much to St Cyril’s willingness to try to find a formula of reconciliation. Contrary to the view taken of his by his critics, the great patriarch was, the main issue being conceded, happy to explore options which would allow Alexandria and Antioch to come back into full communion with each other.

In 433 John of Antioch and Cyril of Alexandria agreed on a ‘Formula of Union’:

We confess, then, our lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God perfect God and perfect man of a rational soul and a body, begotten before all ages from the Father in his godhead, the same in the last days, for us and for our salvation, born of Mary the virgin, according to his humanity, one and the same consubstantial with the Father in godhead and consubstantial with us in humanity, for a union of two natures took place. Therefore we confess one Christ, one Son, one Lord. According to this understanding of the unconfused union, we confess the holy virgin to be the mother of God because God the Word took flesh and became man and from his very conception united to himself the temple he took from her. As to the evangelical and apostolic expressions about the Lord, we know that theologians treat some in common as of one person and distinguish others as of two natures, and interpret the god-befitting ones in connection with the godhead of Christ and the lowly ones with his humanity.

So, although, as the Antiochenes wanted, it affirmed ‘two natures’ , it also did what the Alexandrians wanted and stressed the union of those natures in ‘one person’. Some of Cyril’s more zealous supporters were unhappy with the formula and thought it conceded too much to the other side, but such was the great patriarch’s prestige and learning that they said little whilst he loved. But in 444 he died. His successor, Dioscorus, was among those who thought Cyril had conceded too much, and as we shall see, he enjoyed considerable success in 449 in asserting his views against those of Antioch and Constantinople. His opponents wanted the Emperor to summon a new Council to review the work of the 449 meeting, but the Emperor refused, and whilst he lived, Dioscorus faced no challenge.

In the summer of 451, the Emperor Theodosius II fell off his horse and was fatally injured. History is always being changed by something or other, but here things shifted decisively for the early Church. His sister, the Empress Pulcheria, who had been regent before his reign, took on the role again and married a man called Marcian. She wanted the question which had arisen as part of the Council of Ephesus – that of the nature of the union in Christ – settled. She had been a great admirer of Cyril of Alexandria and was, herself, famously devout. She had taken a vow of perpetual virginity (Marcian had to accept that as part of the marriage contract), and she had a deep veneration for the Theotokos. The continuing disputes within the church over Christological questions were, she thought, divisive and should be solved. The calling of a new Council allowed the opponents of Dioscorus to move the ground onto his conduct of the previous Council – and this, as we shall see, was an unwelcome development.

Educating Bosco


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Some of you might wonder why bother putting up Bosco’s post? The answer is that although he might be a particularly crass example of anti-Catholic bigotry, he simply says more crudely what others say with more guile.

The method is one with which we are all familiar. In the first place there is never, even once, a reference to any Catholic document more recent than Trent, and usually no reference to any Catholic document at all. Where a Catholic source is used, it will be cited in no context and whatever it says will be taken as authoritative. So, from some website or other, Bosco came across a reference to Fr O’Brien’s Faith of the Millions’ as though it were the Catechism. Let us see what authoritative Catholic teaching says about the priesthood:

876 Intrinsically linked to the sacramental nature of ecclesial ministry is its character as service. Entirely dependent on Christ who gives mission and authority, ministers are truly “slaves of Christ,”392 in the image of him who freely took “the form of a slave” for us.393 Because the word and grace of which they are ministers are not their own, but are given to them by Christ for the sake of others, they must freely become the slaves of all.394

Why does Bosco not use such public sources from the teaching authority of the Church? Because he can’t twist those sources to fit what he has been taught he ought to think. I doubt he has ever seen a copy of Fr O’Brien’s book, but he found a quotation on the internet which fitted his prejudice and cited it as though it is Catholic teaching. Sad or bad? The product of ignorance or prejudice? Who can tell? The truth is easy to discover, so what are we to make of an adult who, rather than trying to discover it, opts for a random quotation which matches his own prejudices? That such a person should claim to be inspired by a ‘new spirit’ is worrying; what sort of ‘spirit’ leads a man to a well of lies?

Another trope of anti-Catholic polemic is to misrepresent Catholic teaching, and to provide no references to the real thing. Thus we find Bosco saying:

‘The scriptures say that without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sin. The catholic church says its Mass is a bloodless sacrifice.’

The Church teaches that Calvary was the once and for all sacrifice offered for our redemption. Every Mass sees that ‘re-enacted in wonderful fashion and is constantly recalled, and its salvific power is applied to the forgiving of the sins we commit each day.’ So easy to find what the Church teaches, so again, one wonders about the motive of someone who cannot do a basic internet search to discover that.

Bosco’s next target is that statement that

‘ one must believe Jesus is truly and bodily in the  wafer, or Host, I think, and another being that one must believe what they say about anything, or they are damned.’

Jesus tells us to eat his body and blood in John 6:52-59, and we see a lot of his followers turning away, because, like Bosco, they could not take what he said literally.  As the Church teaches:

18. The scholastic Doctors made similar statements on more than one occasion. As St. Thomas says, the fact that the true body and the true blood of Christ are present in this Sacrament “cannot be apprehended by the senses but only by faith, which rests upon divine authority. This is why Cyril comments upon the words, This is my body which is delivered up for you, in Luke 22, 19, in this way: Do not doubt that this is true; instead accept the words of the Savior in faith; for since He is truth, He cannot tell a lie.” [(6)Summa Theol. III,(a) q. 75, a. 1, c.]

In short, there is good Biblical warrant for believing, as the Orthodox and Catholics do that Christ is present in the Eucharist. One might, in good faith, argue over the meaning, but to argue, as he does, that there is something unBiblical in Catholic teaching is to show oneself ignorant of both Scripture and history.

As is usual one misrepresentation os followed by another, and, again, typically, the allegations become odder and odder, Bosco’s version of this is as follows:

This Romanish practice of bringing down Christ from heaven to sacrifice him again and again in order to relieve those in attendance from their sins means the Romanish religion says that Christs sacrifice on Calvary wasn’t enough.

The problem with this is it is made up by Bosco and those like him. Catholic teaching is clear:

1367 The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice: “The victim is one and the same: the same now offers through the ministry of priests, who then offered himself on the cross; only the manner of offering is different.” “And since in this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass, the same Christ who offered himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross is contained and is offered in an unbloody manner. . . this sacrifice is truly propitiatory.”190

No anti-Catholic polemic would be complete without an allegation that the early Church was not liturgical in its worship. As ever, Bosco’s offering is oddly expressed:

Then in around 70 AD, the temple was destroyed, the alter was destroyed, the records of all the Levite priests were destroyed. All of that symbolic stuff was gone. We don’t need it anymore. the born again are priests and Kings in the Kingdom of heaven. God used to dwell in Solomon’s temple, but now he dwells in heaven and no more will dwell in tabernacles made by human hands.

The authority for the statement ‘all that symbolic stuff was gone’ seems to be Bosco’s unaided reason. The Didache, which dates from after AD 70 suggests that the early Church continued a liturgical form of worship. But as Bosco knows no history, but knows what he wants to think, he makes a bold statement offering no evidence and denies all other evidence.

These things usually end up in a very odd place, and this is Bosco’s:

The Romanish religion, not satisfied with Christs one time sacrifice, has built alters and temples and some golden cage that they claim God crawls into for their amusement. Levites were the priests. But the Church on Vaticanus Hil has its own false priest, its own false alters and its own false tabernacles.

Bosco offers no evidence for the statement that we claim ‘God crawls into’ a cage, nor that the Pope is a false priest. By this stage, the polemicist is so drunk on his own infallibility he ceases to offer even the slightest evidence; rant is all we get. All very sad and predictable.

Naturally, no anti-Catholic bigotry would be complete without an unreferenced mention of Queen Mary I of England. So we get this:

Queen Mary of England, a devout catholic, and with the smiling approval of the Holy Father on vaticanus Hill, burned to death anyone caught saying that Christ was not really the “real” presence in the Catholic Euchrist, or monsterance, or what ever that thing they have during their re sacrifice of the Risen Lord. Not to mention she went about to confiscate every bible the people had in their native tongue.

For those interested in some facts, there is a post here basing itself on the latest historical research. If Bosco’s purpose had been to show us that in the past people did horrible things to each other in Christ’s name, that would be one thing, but to suggest it was only the Catholics is, alas, dishonest.

As one might expect from the source, Bosco manages to finish with a flourish

The Romanish religion claims that this unbiblical Mass is the pinnacle, the height of its devotional life. And this is where God is encountered. Not enough to be at the height of blasphemy, it tells little children that to miss one of these blasphemous rituals is to bring downs Gods wrath upon them in the form of a eternity in hell. This alone is inexcusable.

Unbiblical? I suppose Bosco has not read the accounts of the Last Supper. St Paul believed that Jesus was present in the Mass, and we do so too. If Bosco could provide chapter and verse for us telling little children they will go to hell for missing a Mass, it would be useful.

But then, of course, none of this stuff has any anchoring in reality. It is the product of centuries of anti-Catholic bigotry. Bosco will not stop, but then in five years here he has established only one thing, that to the bigot, nothing is as dear as the bad ideas lodged in a narrow understanding. In the end, he is a case for the psychologist. What odd imperative drives someone to repeat the same old discredited charges again and again?