The Acts of the Council of Chalcedon - Vol. 3

The Acts of the Council of Chalcedon - Vol. 3

The Acts of the Council of Chalcedon - Vol. 3

The Acts of the Council of Chalcedon - Vol. 3


The Council of Chalcedon in 451 was a defining moment in the Christological controversies that tore apart the churches of the Eastern Roman Empire in the fifth and sixth centuries. Theological division, political rivalry and sectarian violence combined to produce what ultimately became separate Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian churches, a schism that persists to this day. Whether seen as a milestone in the development of orthodox doctrine or as a divisive and misguided cause of schism, Chalcedon is chiefly remembered for its Definition of Faith, a classic expression of Christian belief in Christ as both God and man. The council also dealt with other contentious issues relating to individuals and to the rights of various sees; its famous Canon 28 was crucial in the development of the patriarchate of Constantinople. Little attention, however, has been devoted to the process by which these results were reached, the day-by-day deliberations of the council as revealed in its Acts. These are particularly illuminating for the politics of the late antique church and its relations with the civil power, and contain moments of high drama. This edition, based on both the Greek and Latin versions of the Acts, is the first translation in a modern western language, and the first annotated edition. In addition to the minutes, it includes a selection of the attendant documentation, relating to imperial policy and the stance of the papacy.


This session, of 29 October 451, is numbered as the eleventh act in the Latin Acts and the twelfth in the Greek. Like the following session it dealt with a dispute over episcopal elections at Ephesus, the metropolis of the province of Asia. Stephen appeared at Chalcedon as the sitting bishop, but his deposed rival Bassianus appealed to the emperor, who sent him to present his plea for reinstatement to the council. After a full debate the bishops accepted the proposal of the lay chairman that neither of the two rivals was acceptable and that a new bishop should be elected.


The immediate cause of dispute went back to the episcopate of Memnon, who attempted in c.430 to thwart one of his priests, Bassianus, in his ambition to succeed him by forcibly ordaining him bishop of the insignificant see of Augaza (Theodosiopolis), since Canon 15 of Nicaea forbade the translation of bishops from one see to another. Bassianus refused to have anything to do with his supposed see, and Memnon’s successor Basil allowed him to stay in Ephesus and appointed a new bishop for Augaza. On Basil’s death in c.443 Bassianus took possession of the see of Ephesus without a proper election, and tricked one bishop into consecrating him (31) – in contravention of the Fourth Canon of Nicaea (read out later at the council, xiii. 22), which required a minimum of three ordaining bishops with consultation of the rest. Proclus of Constantinople, however, reluctantly agreed to recognize Bassianus, who remained in full possession of the see for four years (14).

1 Contrast the modern Russian saying, ‘The one thing improved by translation is a bishop’.

2 the election of Bassianus to the see of Ephesus in contravention of Canon 15 of Nicaea was unwelcome to Proclus, since it reminded people that the same disqualification applied to him: appointed first to the see of Cyzicus, he did not take up his appointment and was later made bishop of Constantinople (in 434).

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