Previous article in this series: December 1, 2021, p. 107.
We have seen that the Council of Chalcedon was necessary for two reasons: first, to combat the wrong teachings of Eutyches, and second, to formulate a confessional statement regarding the relationship of the divine and human natures in the person of the Son of God. We also noted that Emperor Theodosius might have promoted the Eutychian error, but that he died suddenly and his successor, Emperor Marcian, favored the orthodox view. God’s directing hand prepared all things for the meeting of the Fourth Ecumenical Council.
Delegates, date, and location
An “ecumenical” council is one that represents all of Christendom. At least 500 bishops at the Council of Chalcedon represented eastern Christendom (Greece, Asia Minor, Syria, and Palestine). The representatives from the western region (Europe, centered in Rome) were three delegates whom Pope Leo I sent. By now, the seeds had been planted for the idea that the pope was the head of the church. Leo I was the first to speak of the Bishop of Rome as preeminent among bishops and as the successor of Peter. To have three representatives from the pope at this Council was sufficient; the pope represented all of western Christendom.
The Council held fifteen sessions between October 8, 451 and early November. The Emperor originally intended it to meet in Nicea, but moved it seventy-five miles to the northwest, to Chalcedon. Chalcedon was just on the eastern side of the Bosporus, across from Constantinople on the western side. This enabled the imperial senate and court to attend the Council, and to keep law and order. The delegates were a rowdy bunch, and the pro-Eutychian party and anti-Eutychian party were often at each other physically as well as verbally.
During its first three sessions, the Council annulled the decisions of the Synod of Ephesus in 449, committed itself to the view of Cyril and Pope Leo I (the orthodox view regarding Christ’s natures), and deposed and excommunicated Dioscorus, a proponent of Eutychianism. During its second session, the Council also read the letter from Pope Leo.
Pope Leo’s letter
Convinced that Eutyches was wrong, Pope Leo I had sent a lengthy letter to the Council in which he demonstrated that Christ was both truly divine and truly human. Leo showed that the Nicene Creed really had addressed the matter. In saying that Christ was the only begotten Son of God, it taught that Christ was divine, and of the same being (essence) as God. And in teaching that Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, the Nicene Creed taught that He took on real human flesh. Leo also showed that the Scriptures taught this in many places.
One quote from the letter is significant:
The Son is everlasting,…differing in nothing from the Father, because He was born as “God from God,” Almighty from Almighty, Coeternal from Eternal; not later in time, not inferior in power, not unlike Him in glory, not divided from Him in essence, but the same Only-begotten and Everlasting Son of an Everlasting Parent….1
Take a moment to read the Creed of Chalcedon now; you will see this view of Leo reflected in it.2
The delegates desired to align themselves with the decisions of the previous councils. So, in the fourth session, they confirmed the decisions of the first two Ecumenical Councils as expressed in the Nicene Creed. At the fifth session they adopted the Creed of Chalcedon, which begins, “following the holy fathers.” At the conclusion of the sixth session, more than 450 of them signed it. In the remaining sessions, the delegates treated other church political matters.
The next article, God willing, will focus on the theology of the Creed of Chalcedon. After that, an article will be devoted to these other church-political matters.
1 “The Tome of St. Leo,” The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers,
Second Series, Volume 14, The Seven Ecumenical Councils
(Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1988), 254.
2 Most books containing the ecumenical creeds include it. It can
also be found at http://www.prca.org/about/official-standards/