Decline and Fall of The Roman Empire

Gibbon's The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire

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Chapter XLVII: Ecclesiastical Discord.

Part III.

The death of the Alexandrian primate, after a reign of

thirty-two years, abandoned the Catholics to the intemperance of zeal and the abuse of victory. ^59 The monophysite doctrine (one incarnate nature) was rigorously preached in the churches of Egypt and the monasteries of the East; the primitive creed of Apollinarius was protected by the sanctity of Cyril; and the name of Eutyches, his venerable friend, has been applied to the sect most adverse to the Syrian heresy of Nestorius. His rival Eutyches was the abbot, or archimandrite, or superior of three hundred monks, but the opinions of a simple and illiterate recluse might have expired in the cell, where he had slept above seventy years, if the resentment or indiscretion of Flavian, the Byzantine pontiff, had not exposed the scandal to the eyes of the Christian world. His domestic synod was instantly convened, their proceedings were sullied with clamor and artifice, and the aged heretic was surprised into a seeming confession, that Christ had not derived his body from the substance of the Virgin Mary. From their partial decree, Eutyches appealed to a general council; and his cause was vigorously asserted by his godson Chrysaphius, the reigning eunuch of the palace, and his accomplice Dioscorus, who had succeeded to the throne, the creed, the talents, and the vices, of the nephew of Theophilus. By the special summons of Theodosius, the second synod of Ephesus was judiciously composed of ten metropolitans and ten bishops from each of the six dioceses of the Eastern empire: some exceptions of favor or merit enlarged the number to one hundred and thirty-five; and the Syrian Barsumas, as the chief and representative of the monks, was invited to sit and vote with the successors of the apostles. But the despotism of the Alexandrian patriarch again oppressed the freedom of debate: the same spiritual and carnal weapons were again drawn from the arsenals of Egypt: the Asiatic veterans, a band of archers, served under the orders of Dioscorus; and the more formidable monks, whose minds were inaccessible to reason or mercy, besieged the doors of the cathedral. The general, and, as it should seem, the unconstrained voice of the fathers, accepted the faith and even the anathemas of Cyril; and the heresy of the two natures was formally condemned in the persons and writings of the most learned Orientals. "May those who divide Christ be divided with the sword, may they be hewn in pieces, may they be burned alive!" were the charitable wishes of a Christian synod. ^60 The innocence and sanctity of Eutyches were acknowledged without hesitation; but the prelates, more especially those of Thrace and Asia, were unwilling to depose their patriarch for the use or even the abuse of his lawful jurisdiction. They embraced the knees of Dioscorus, as he stood with a threatening aspect on the footstool of his throne, and conjured him to forgive the offences, and to respect the dignity, of his brother. "Do you mean to raise a sedition?" exclaimed the relentless tyrant. "Where are the officers?" At these words a furious multitude of monks and soldiers, with staves, and swords, and chains, burst into the church; the trembling bishops hid themselves behind the altar, or under the benches, and as they were not inspired with the zeal of martyrdom, they successively subscribed a blank paper, which was afterwards filled with the condemnation of the Byzantine pontiff. Flavian was instantly delivered to the wild beasts of this spiritual amphitheatre: the monks were stimulated by the voice and example of Barsumas to avenge the injuries of Christ: it is said that the patriarch of Alexandria reviled, and buffeted, and kicked, and trampled his brother of Constantinople: ^61 it is certain, that the victim, before he could reach the place of his exile, expired on the third day of the wounds and bruises which he had received at Ephesus. This second synod has been justly branded as a gang of robbers and assassins; yet the accusers of Dioscorus would magnify his violence, to alleviate the cowardice and inconstancy of their own behavior.

[Footnote 59: Dixi Cyrillum dum viveret, auctoritate sua effecisse, ne Eutychianismus et Monophysitarum error in nervum erumperet: idque verum puto ...aliquo ... honesto modo cecinerat.

The learned but cautious Jablonski did not always speak the whole truth. Cum Cyrillo lenius omnino egi, quam si tecum aut cum aliis rei hujus probe gnaris et aequis rerum aestimatoribus sermones privatos conferrem, (Thesaur. Epistol. La Crozian. tom.

  1. p. 197, 198) an excellent key to his dissertations on the Nestorian controversy!]

[Footnote 60: At the request of Dioscorus, those who were not able to roar, stretched out their hands. At Chalcedon, the Orientals disclaimed these exclamations: but the Egyptians more consistently declared. (Concil. tom. iv. p. 1012.)]

[Footnote 61: (Eusebius, bishop of Dorylaeum): and this testimony of Evagrius (l. ii. c. 2) is amplified by the historian Zonaras, (tom. ii. l. xiii. p. 44,) who affirms that Dioscorus kicked like a wild ass. But the language of Liberatus (Brev. c. 12, in Concil. tom. vi. p. 438) is more cautious; and the Acts of Chalcedon, which lavish the names of homicide, Cain, &c., do not justify so pointed a charge. The monk Barsumas is more particularly accused, (Concil. tom. iv. p. 1418.)]

The faith of Egypt had prevailed: but the vanquished party

was supported by the same pope who encountered without fear the hostile rage of Attila and Genseric. The theology of Leo, his famous tome or epistle on the mystery of the incarnation, had been disregarded by the synod of Ephesus: his authority, and that of the Latin church, was insulted in his legates, who escaped from slavery and death to relate the melancholy tale of the tyranny of Dioscorus and the martyrdom of Flavian. His provincial synod annulled the irregular proceedings of Ephesus; but as this step was itself irregular, he solicited the convocation of a general council in the free and orthodox provinces of Italy. From his independent throne, the Roman bishop spoke and acted without danger as the head of the Christians, and his dictates were obsequiously transcribed by Placidia and her son Valentinian; who addressed their Eastern colleague to restore the peace and unity of the church. But the pageant of Oriental royalty was moved with equal dexterity by the hand of the eunuch; and Theodosius could pronounce, without hesitation, that the church was already peaceful and triumphant, and that the recent flame had been extinguished by the just punishment of the Nestorians. Perhaps the Greeks would be still involved in the heresy of the Monophysites, if the emperor's horse had not fortunately stumbled; Theodosius expired; his orthodox sister Pulcheria, with a nominal husband, succeeded to the throne; Chrysaphius was burnt, Dioscorus was disgraced, the exiles were recalled, and the tome of Leo was subscribed by the Oriental bishops. Yet the pope was disappointed in his favorite project of a Latin council: he disdained to preside in the Greek synod, which was speedily assembled at Nice in Bithynia; his legates required in a peremptory tone the presence of the emperor; and the weary fathers were transported to Chalcedon under the immediate eye of Marcian and the senate of Constantinople. A quarter of a mile from the Thracian Bosphorus, the church of St. Euphemia was built on the summit of a gentle though lofty ascent: the triple structure was celebrated as a prodigy of art, and the boundless prospect of the land and sea might have raised the mind of a sectary to the contemplation of the God of the universe. Six hundred and thirty bishops were ranged in order in the nave of the church; but the patriarchs of the East were preceded by the legates, of whom the third was a simple priest; and the place of honor was reserved for twenty laymen of consular or senatorian rank. The gospel was ostentatiously displayed in the centre, but the rule of faith was defined by the Papal and Imperial ministers, who moderated the thirteen sessions of the council of Chalcedon. ^62 Their partial interposition silenced the intemperate shouts and execrations, which degraded the episcopal gravity; but, on the formal accusation of the legates, Dioscorus was compelled to descend from his throne to the rank of a criminal, already condemned in the opinion of his judges. The Orientals, less adverse to Nestorius than to Cyril, accepted the Romans as their deliverers: Thrace, and Pontus, and Asia, were exasperated against the murderer of Flavian, and the new patriarchs of Constantinople and Antioch secured their places by the sacrifice of their benefactor. The bishops of Palestine, Macedonia, and Greece, were attached to the faith of Cyril; but in the face of the synod, in the heat of the battle, the leaders, with their obsequious train, passed from the right to the left wing, and decided the victory by this seasonable desertion. Of the seventeen suffragans who sailed from Alexandria, four were tempted from their allegiance, and the thirteen, falling prostrate on the ground, implored the mercy of the council, with sighs and tears, and a pathetic declaration, that, if they yielded, they should be massacred, on their return to Egypt, by the indignant people. A tardy repentance was allowed to expiate the guilt or error of the accomplices of Dioscorus: but their sins were accumulated on his head; he neither asked nor hoped for pardon, and the moderation of those who pleaded for a general amnesty was drowned in the prevailing cry of victory and revenge.

To save the reputation of his late adherents, some personal offences were skilfully detected; his rash and illegal excommunication of the pope, and his contumacious refusal (while he was detained a prisoner) to attend to the summons of the synod. Witnesses were introduced to prove the special facts of his pride, avarice, and cruelty; and the fathers heard with abhorrence, that the alms of the church were lavished on the female dancers, that his palace, and even his bath, was open to the prostitutes of Alexandria, and that the infamous Pansophia, or Irene, was publicly entertained as the concubine of the patriarch. ^63

[Footnote 62: The Acts of the Council of Chalcedon (Concil. tom.

  1. p. 761 - 2071) comprehend those of Ephesus, (p. 890 - 1189,) which again comprise the synod of Constantinople under Flavian,
  1. 930 - 1072;) and at requires some attention to disengage this double involution. The whole business of Eutyches, Flavian, and Dioscorus, is related by Evagrius (l. i. c. 9 - 12, and l. ii. c. 1, 2, 3, 4,) and Liberatus, (Brev. c. 11, 12, 13, 14.) Once more, and almost for the last time, I appeal to the diligence of Tillemont, (Mem. Eccles. tom. xv. p. 479-719.) The annals of Baronius and Pagi will accompany me much further on my long and laborious journey.]

[Footnote 63: (Concil. tom. iv. p. 1276.) A specimen of the wit and malice of the people is preserved in the Greek Anthology, (l.

  1. c. 5, p. 188, edit. Wechel,) although the application was unknown to the editor Brodaeus. The nameless epigrammatist raises a tolerable pun, by confounding the episcopal salutation of "Peace be to all!" with the genuine or corrupted name of the bishop's concubine:

I am ignorant whether the patriarch, who seems to have been

a jealous lover, is the Cimon of a preceding epigram, was viewed with envy aud wonder by Priapus himself.]

For these scandalous offences, Dioscorus was deposed by the

synod, and banished by the emperor; but the purity of his faith was declared in the presence, and with the tacit approbation, of the fathers. Their prudence supposed rather than pronounced the heresy of Eutyches, who was never summoned before their tribunal; and they sat silent and abashed, when a bold Monophysite casting at their feet a volume of Cyril, challenged them to anathematize in his person the doctrine of the saint. If we fairly peruse the acts of Chalcedon as they are recorded by the orthodox party, ^64 we shall find that a great majority of the bishops embraced the simple unity of Christ; and the ambiguous concession that he was formed Of or From two natures, might imply either their previous existence, or their subsequent confusion, or some dangerous interval between the conception of the man and the assumption of the God. The Roman theology, more positive and precise, adopted the term most offensive to the ears of the Egyptians, that Christ existed In two natures; and this momentous particle ^65 (which the memory, rather than the understanding, must retain) had almost produced a schism among the Catholic bishops. The tome of Leo had been respectfully, perhaps sincerely, subscribed; but they protested, in two successive debates, that it was neither expedient nor lawful to transgress the sacred landmarks which had been fixed at Nice, Constantinople, and Ephesus, according to the rule of Scripture and tradition. At length they yielded to the importunities of their masters; but their infallible decree, after it had been ratified with deliberate votes and vehement acclamations, was overturned in the next session by the opposition of the legates and their Oriental friends. It was in vain that a multitude of episcopal voices repeated in chorus, "The definition of the fathers is orthodox and immutable! The heretics are now discovered! Anathema to the Nestorians! Let them depart from the synod! Let them repair to Rome." ^66 The legates threatened, the emperor was absolute, and a committee of eighteen bishops prepared a new decree, which was imposed on the reluctant assembly. In the name of the fourth general council, the Christ in one person, but in two natures, was announced to the Catholic world: an invisible line was drawn between the heresy of Apollinaris and the faith of St. Cyril; and the road to paradise, a bridge as sharp as a razor, was suspended over the abyss by the master-hand of the theological artist. During ten centuries of blindness and servitude, Europe received her religious opinions from the oracle of the Vatican; and the same doctrine, already varnished with the rust of antiquity, was admitted without dispute into the creed of the reformers, who disclaimed the supremacy of the Roman pontiff. The synod of Chalcedon still triumphs in the Protestant churches; but the ferment of controversy has subsided, and the most pious Christians of the present day are ignorant, or careless, of their own belief concerning the mystery of the incarnation.

[Footnote 64: Those who reverence the infallibility of synods, may try to ascertain their sense. The leading bishops were attended by partial or careless scribes, who dispersed their copies round the world. Our Greek Mss. are sullied with the false and prescribed reading of (Concil. tom. iii. p. 1460:) the authentic translation of Pope Leo I. does not seem to have been executed, and the old Latin versions materially differ from the present Vulgate, which was revised (A.D. 550) by Rusticus, a Roman priest, from the best Mss. at Constantinople, (Ducange, C.

  1. Christiana, l. iv. p. 151,) a famous monastery of Latins, Greeks, and Syrians. See Concil. tom. iv. p. 1959 - 2049, and Pagi, Critica, tom. ii. p. 326, &c.]

[Footnote 65: It is darkly represented in the microscope of Petavius, (tom. v. l. iii. c. 5;) yet the subtle theologian is himself afraid - ne quis fortasse supervacaneam, et nimis anxiam putet hujusmodi vocularum inquisitionem, et ab instituti theologici gravitate alienam, (p. 124.)]

[Footnote 66: (Concil. tom. iv. p. 1449.) Evagrius and Liberatus present only the placid face of the synod, and discreetly slide over these embers, suppositos cineri doloso.]

Far different was the temper of the Greeks and Egyptians

under the orthodox reigns of Leo and Marcian. Those pious emperors enforced with arms and edicts the symbol of their faith; ^67 and it was declared by the conscience or honor of five hundred bishops, that the decrees of the synod of Chalcedon might be lawfully supported, even with blood. The Catholics observed with satisfaction, that the same synod was odious both to the Nestorians and the Monophysites; ^68 but the Nestorians were less angry, or less powerful, and the East was distracted by the obstinate and sanguinary zeal of the Monophysites. Jerusalem was occupied by an army of monks; in the name of the one incarnate nature, they pillaged, they burnt, they murdered; the sepulchre of Christ was defiled with blood; and the gates of the city were guarded in tumultuous rebellion against the troops of the emperor. After the disgrace and exile of Dioscorus, the Egyptians still regretted their spiritual father; and detested the usurpation of his successor, who was introduced by the fathers of Chalcedon. The throne of Proterius was supported by a guard of two thousand soldiers: he waged a five years' war against the people of Alexandria; and on the first intelligence of the death of Marcian, he became the victim of their zeal. On the third day before the festival of Easter, the patriarch was besieged in the cathedral, and murdered in the baptistery. The remains of his mangled corpse were delivered to the flames, and his ashes to the wind; and the deed was inspired by the vision of a pretended angel: an ambitious monk, who, under the name of Timothy the Cat, ^69 succeeded to the place and opinions of Dioscorus. This deadly superstition was inflamed, on either side, by the principle and the practice of retaliation: in the pursuit of a metaphysical quarrel, many thousands ^70 were slain, and the Christians of every degree were deprived of the substantial enjoyments of social life, and of the invisible gifts of baptism and the holy communion. Perhaps an extravagant fable of the times may conceal an allegorical picture of these fanatics, who tortured each other and themselves. "Under the consulship of Venantius and Celer," says a grave bishop, "the people of Alexandria, and all Egypt, were seized with a strange and diabolical frenzy: great and small, slaves and freedmen, monks and clergy, the natives of the land, who opposed the synod of Chalcedon, lost their speech and reason, barked like dogs, and tore, with their own teeth the flesh from their hands and arms." ^71
[Footnote 67: See, in the Appendix to the Acts of Chalcedon, the confirmation of the Synod by Marcian, (Concil. tom. iv. p. 1781, 1783;) his letters to the monks of Alexandria, (p. 1791,) of Mount Sinai, (p. 1793,) of Jerusalem and Palestine, (p. 1798;) his laws against the Eutychians, (p. 1809, 1811, 1831;) the correspondence of Leo with the provincial synods on the revolution of Alexandria, (p. 1835 - 1930.)]

[Footnote 68: Photius (or rather Eulogius of Alexandria) confesses, in a fine passage, the specious color of this double charge against Pope Leo and his synod of Chalcedon, (Bibliot. cod. ccxxv. p. 768.) He waged a double war against the enemies of the church, and wounded either foe with the darts of his adversary. Against Nestorius he seemed to introduce Monophysites; against Eutyches he appeared to countenance the Nestorians. The apologist claims a charitable interpretation for the saints: if the same had been extended to the heretics, the sound of the controversy would have been lost in the air] [Footnote 69: From his nocturnal expeditions. In darkness and disguise he crept round the cells of the monastery, and whispered the revelation to his slumbering brethren, (Theodor. Lector. l.

  1. ]

[Footnote 70: Such is the hyperbolic language of the Henoticon.] [Footnote 71: See the Chronicle of Victor Tunnunensis, in the Lectiones Antiquae of Canisius, republished by Basnage, tom. 326.]

The disorders of thirty years at length produced the famous

Henoticon ^72 of the emperor Zeno, which in his reign, and in that of Anastasius, was signed by all the bishops of the East, under the penalty of degradation and exile, if they rejected or infringed this salutary and fundamental law. The clergy may smile or groan at the presumption of a layman who defines the articles of faith; yet if he stoops to the humiliating task, his mind is less infected by prejudice or interest, and the authority of the magistrate can only be maintained by the concord of the people. It is in ecclesiastical story, that Zeno appears least contemptible; and I am not able to discern any Manichaean or Eutychian guilt in the generous saying of Anastasius. That it was unworthy of an emperor to persecute the worshippers of Christ and the citizens of Rome. The Henoticon was most pleasing to the Egyptians; yet the smallest blemish has not been described by the jealous, and even jaundiced eyes of our orthodox schoolmen, and it accurately represents the Catholic faith of the incarnation, without adopting or disclaiming the peculiar terms of tenets of the hostile sects. A solemn anathema is pronounced against Nestorius and Eutyches; against all heretics by whom Christ is divided, or confounded, or reduced to a phantom. Without defining the number or the article of the word nature, the pure system of St. Cyril, the faith of Nice, Constantinople, and Ephesus, is respectfully confirmed; but, instead of bowing at the name of the fourth council, the subject is dismissed by the censure of all contrary doctrines, if any such have been taught either elsewhere or at Chalcedon. Under this ambiguous expression, the friends and the enemies of the last synod might unite in a silent embrace. The most reasonable Christians acquiesced in this mode of toleration; but their reason was feeble and inconstant, and their obedience was despised as timid and servile by the vehement spirit of their brethren. On a subject which engrossed the thoughts and discourses of men, it was difficult to preserve an exact neutrality; a book, a sermon, a prayer, rekindled the flame of controversy; and the bonds of communion were alternately broken and renewed by the private animosity of the bishops. The space between Nestorius and Eutyches was filled by a thousand shades of language and opinion; the acephali ^73 of Egypt, and the Roman pontiffs, of equal valor, though of unequal strength, may be found at the two extremities of the theological scale. The acephali, without a king or a bishop, were separated above three hundred years from the patriarchs of Alexandria, who had accepted the communion of Constantinople, without exacting a formal condemnation of the synod of Chalcedon. For accepting the communion of Alexandria, without a formal approbation of the same synod, the patriarchs of Constantinople were anathematized by the popes. Their inflexible despotism involved the most orthodox of the Greek churches in this spiritual contagion, denied or doubted the validity of their sacraments, ^74 and fomented, thirty-five years, the schism of the East and West, till they finally abolished the memory of four Byzantine pontiffs, who had dared to oppose the supremacy of St. Peter. ^75 Before that period, the precarious truce of Constantinople and Egypt had been violated by the zeal of the rival prelates. Macedonius, who was suspected of the Nestorian heresy, asserted, in disgrace and exile, the synod of Chalcedon, while the successor of Cyril would have purchased its overthrow with a bribe of two thousand pounds of gold. [Footnote 72: The Henoticon is transcribed by Evagrius, (l. iii.

  1. 13,) and translated by Liberatus, (Brev. c. 18.) Pagi (Critica, tom. ii. p. 411) and (Bibliot. Orient. tom. i. p. 343) are satisfied that it is free from heresy; but Petavius (Dogmat. Theolog. tom. v. l. i. c. 13, p. 40) most unaccountably affirms Chalcedonensem ascivit. An adversary would prove that he had never read the Henoticon.]

[Footnote 73: See Renaudot, (Hist. Patriarch. Alex. p. 123, 131,

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