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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.

 

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