Thursday, July 06, 2023

Aftermaths of Ecumenical Councils III

 Aftermaths II

Second Council of Constantinople (553)

Second Constantinople was called by Justinian largely to deal with an ongoing problem, the ruptures created in the empire by disputes between Chalcedonians and Monophysites, which had been a problem ever since the failure of the compromise-based Henotikon policy begun by the Emperor Zeno. Justinian had eventually settled a somewhat different approach -- if the Monophysites were worried that Chalcedon was too Nestorian, they could perhaps be brought into the fold by further condemnation of Nestorianism. Monophysites had indeed criticized Chalcedon for not condemning certain works that it had had the opportunity to condemn (indeed, the Fathers at Chalcedon may have deliberately avoided condemning them for practical reasons); and Justinian selected works whose condemnation would best address this concern: writings of Theodore of Mopsuestia, some writings of Theodoret of Cyr, and the letter of Ibas of Edessa to Maris. These became known as the 'Three Chapters'. In 551, Justinian condemned the Three Chapters by Imperial edict; Second Constantinople was Justinian's attempt to get a conciliar stamp of approval on his correction/supplementation of Chalcedon. 

First Quarter (553-578)

The council had run into some problems with Pope Vigilius, who, despite being in Constantinople, refused first to attend and then to confirm the council; Vigilius was imprisoned over it, and, being already by temperament a waffler, eventually gave in and confirmed it toward the end of 553. His support almost immediately caused a schism in the West, known as the Schism of the Three Chapters or the Tricapitoline Schism, which would continue from 553 to 715. The major sees of Northern Italy, recognizing that the purpose of Second Constantinople involved an implicit criticism of Chalcedon, refused to recognize the council, and Macedonius of Aquileia broke of communion with Rome and Paulinus I, his successor, began styling himself the Patriarch of Aquileia in opposition to Rome.

The Schism of the Three Chapters would be complicated by the Lombard Invasion, which began in 568. Lombard victory came very quickly, and within a decade they were firmly in control of Northern Italy; Paulinus of Aquileia had had to flee to Grado, the last portion of Northern Italy still held by the Empire. However, the fact that the sees refusing to accept Second Constantinople were mostly no longer under the authority of the Empire meant that there weren't even indirect means by which the council could be imposed on them by the Emperors, thus giving the schism an endurance far greater than it might have otherwise had.

Second Quarter (578-603)

In 579, Elias of Aquileia held the Synod of Grado, which reaffirmed the condemnation of Second Constantinople. In 581, Milan reconciled with Rome, largely through a series of accidents of Church politics in the aftermath of the Lombard Invasion, but by this point the Patriarchs of Aquileia were quite entrenched, since the Byzantines did not want to press the matter in the face of trying to hold their last strongholds in Italy against the Lombards. Nonetheless, it would be a mistake to think that they were not assessing possible opportunities if they would arise, and this eventually clear. Pope St. Gregory the Great, working with the Frankish-born Christian queen of the Lombards, Theodelinda, both worked actively to find means of reconciliation. Two such extraordinarily competent people in key positions cooperating in the attempt to end the schism had a significant effect; while they were not able to bring about union, preference for union began to grow considerably in the Aquileian sees, including Aquileia itself.

Third Quarter (603-628)

When Severus of Aquileia died in 606, Gregory's and Theodelinda's efforts had had such an effect that the Emperor was able easily to nudge the clergy of Aquileia into electing Candidianus who was in favor of ending the schism. This brought the areas under Byzantine control back into union. Nonetheless there were still many dissidents, and they re-entrenched themselves in Lombard-controled areas, including the city of Aquileia itself. Thus there was a new schism; Aquileia in Grado was reunited with the Church, but Old Aquileia continued to condemn Second Constantinople. 

St. Columbanus, who was missionary to the Lombards around this time, would write a letter to Pope Boniface IV noting that he was being suspected of heresy for his support for Second Constantinople, and asking the pope to hold a council to confirm its authority.

Having caused a schism in the West, Second Constantinople had also had disappointingly little effect in achieving its original purpose of reconciling the Monophysites in the East. This inevitably led the emperors to look into alternatives. In 610, Heraclius I came to the throne. It was a troubled time, as the Persians were achieving victory after victory against the Byzantines, to such an extent that they reached the very gates of Constantinople, although Heraclius, with the help and advice of Patriarch Sergius I, was able to turn things around, winning a resounding victory against Persia in 627. (The aftermath of that victory for the Persians was a civil war that left the Sasanid Empire so weak that it would be easily conquered by the Muslim Arabs and thus it can be considered the first step in a completely new phase of Byzantine history.) Backed by Heraclius, Sergius pushed a forward a new attempt to reconcile the Monophysites with the Church, which became known as Monoenergism, the view that Christ has only one activity. This compromise received a great deal of resistance in monastic quarters; and Sergius began to consider how best to deal with this resistance, and whether a modification of the position might succeed.

Fourth Quarter (628-653)

In 633, St. Sophronius, a monk, went to Constantinople on a kind of missionary trip to try to convince the authorities there to condemn Monoenergism. This was unsuccessful, but he was made Patriarch of Jerusalem in 634 and immediately began trying to convince the other patriarchal sees not to accept the compromise being put forward by Constantinople. It was an uphill battle. In 634, Sergius wrote Pope Honorius I, asking him to accept a new compromise position, that the unity of the Church should not be disrupted over the question of whether Monoenergism was true or false, but that everyone should agree at least that Christ had two natures with one will, a position that became known as Monothelitism. Honorius agreed, and gave a somewhat ambiguous approval to the Monoenergistic position, in the sense that his statement does not suggest he had a strong grasp of what it was, since it suggests he thought that the point at issue was whether Christ had two conflicting wills. Regardless, Jerusalem, already overmatched by Constantinople, could not take on both Constantinople and Rome. In 638, Heraclius signed the Ecthesis written by Sergius, which made Monothelitism the official policy of the Empire. However, Honorius died in 638. To enforce the new policy, his successor, Severinus, was not recognized as formally taking office until he signed the Ecthesis. Severinus flat out refused, and for eighteen months there was a standoff. The official representative of the Empire in Italy, the Exarch of Ravenna, Isaac the Armenian, seized the Lateran Palace and the papal treasury. Severinus, meanwhile, had the full support of the clergy of Rome, but could do very little with such limited resources as he had left. (He might have had nothing at all, except for the sheer stroke of luck that he happened to be a Roman by birth and upbringing, and so had both family property and a lot of local connections.) Severinus's papal legates in Constantinople struggled to come up with some compromise. They might have made no headway, but Heraclius was very sick, and so they were finally able to convince him to end the standoff by granting recognition on condition that Severinus at least seriously consider whether he could sign it. Severinus never did sign it, but having the official recognition, he was able to start settling into his office; however, he died two months later. His successor, John IV, was finally elected in 642, and he also condemned Monthelitism. Heraclius had also died in 641, which would end up complicating the Monothelite question.

Through the 640s, the reaction against Monothelitism, this heresy that had developed as a result of the failure of Second Constantinople to do what had been hoped, began to pick up speed. A new opponent arose, one of the most talented theologians of his day, a monk in North Africa whose name was Maximus. St. Maximus Confessor convinced the African bishops to condemn Monothelitism, which they did in 648, forwarding it to Rome for approval, as was their custom. Maximus went with the proposal to Rome, and there he met Pope Theodore I, who had been born in Jerusalem and was at the time in a struggle with Constantinople over Monothelitism.  In 648, Emperor Constans II had issued the Typos, which formally prohibited any dispute or discussion of whether Monothelitism were true or false. Together Maximus and Theodore hatched a plan: since the emperor wouldn't do it, the pope should call an ecumenical council. Thus was born the Council of Rome, also called the Lateran Council of 649. It was literally a revolutionary idea; every ecumenical council up to this point, including a lot of synods that failed to become ecumenical councils despite being intended to be, had been called by the emperor. The Council of Rome condemned Monothelitism, but nobody knew quite what to do with it. Obviously the emperors refused to recognize it as having any authority; in the West, Monothelitism hadn't spread very far, so there wasn't much interest beyond Italy in pushing for it; and even the popes after Theodore were extremely hesitant to try to press the claims of the council to ecumenical authority. Nonetheless, it is not insignificant, because it gave a clear expression to the anti-Monthelite position, put Rome firmly on the anti-Monothelite side, and laid the groundwork for the council in 680 whose condemnation would later become recognized as ecumenical, the Third Council of Constantinople.

Third Council of Constantinople (680-681)

The council took place during a tumultuous time for the Roman Empire. The patriarchates of Alexandria and Jerusalem were only represented by emperor-appointed titular patriarchs, because both sees were vacant at the time due to the Muslim conquest of the Levant by 638 and of Egypt by 646. The council condemned monenergism and monothelitism, and also condemned the now-dead Pope Honorius for heresy on this point, but also accepted Pope St. Agatho's letter that criticized  monenergism and monothelitism but also described the Roman see as having always been orthodox. During the council, the Titular Patriarch of Antioch, Macarius I, attempted to defend monothelitism, but was condemned and deposed for doing so; this seems to have been the reason for the condemnation of Honorius, because Macarius had presented Honorius's letter to Sergius as evidence for the orthodoxy of monothelitism. Throughout the aftermath, Third Constantinople would be bundled with the five previous ecumenical councils, and most of the disputes that arose concerned how that whole bundle of six councils should be enforced or interpreted.

First Quarter (681-706)

St. Leo II became pope in 682, and despite dying within a year played an important role in the aftermath of Third Constantinople. He called a council to confirm its acts and then set about to make sure that the conciliar decision was recognized throughout the West. In doing so, he seems to have taken St. Agatho's letter as his guide, firmly condemning Honorius while teaching that the condemnation was not because Honorius had formally taught heresy but because he had failed to be clear and energetic enough in opposing it. Leo's successor, St. Benedict II, continued Leo's work along the same lines, working especially to get clear affirmation from the bishops of the Iberian peninsula. ( Benedict may have also attempted to get Macarius to retract his previous position so that he could be restored to his see, but does not seem to have been successful. (Benedict may have also attempted to get Macarius to retract his previous position so that he could be restored to his see, but does not seem to have been successful.) The Council of Toledo of 684 affirmed the decision of Third Constantinople. Both Rome and Toledo affirming the council's ecumenical authority played an important role in establishing its decision as a standard in the West.

Beginning with John V in 686, St. Benedict II's successor, the next ten popes were Eastern themselves, which likely also helped to consolidate the authority of Third Constantinople in the West. 

In 692, Justinian II called another council, which later became known as the Council in Trullo or Quinisext Council. His full purpose in doing this seems to be obscure, but the idea seems to have been to draw up a basic guideline for how to enforce Second and Third Constantinople in the Empire. Neither council had given a specific canonical framework for doing so, and Justinian II, wanting a unified Empire as he faced off against the Caliphate, seems to have intended to remedy this. This is seen from the fact that the council seems to have deliberately tried to give a unified framework for canon law.  Not only did the Quinisext Council re-affirm the six ecumenical councils and their canons, it also gave explicit sanction to the canons of several other important councils, such as the Synod of Gangra (340), the Synod of Sardica (343), the Synod of Laodicae (364), and the Third Synod of Carthage (397), and to the decretal letters of a number of important Church Fathers, on top of adding its own canons. Among the canons it added was an explicit insistence that the see of Constantinople should have equal privileges with the see of Rome (canon 36), along with several other canons rejecting Roman customs (canons 13 and 55). Needless to say, Rome firmly rejected the authority of the council, and seems to have been actively angered by the East dumping a large number of new canons into its lap with the assumption that Rome, which had not actually been consulted, and, despite one Western bishop who had pretended to be papal legate, had not been at all represented at the council, would simply rubber-stamp them. Pope St. Sergius I declared the council invalid, condemning it for introducing unwarranted innovations that were then forced on the Church by the emperor. Justinian II did not react well to this, and arrested the handful of Western bishops who had attended Third Constantinople, apparently because they had represented themselves as papal legates despite the pope not knowing anything about them. He also ordered Sergius himself to be arrested, but Sergius many allies even among the Byzantine officials, and resistance to the attempt became violent, only being calmed by Sergius himself. The result, then of Justinian's attempt to create a canonical framework for enforcing the councils up to Third Constantinople was a division in Christendom, not quite a schism but one that generated a large amount of heat; the Trullian canons, including the anti-Roman ones, became the unified canonical framework for the East (often being treated as effectively part of Third Constantinople itself), but a symbol of Imperial oppression in the West.

The bad blood over the Council in Trullo and Justinian's attempt to arrest Sergius continued over the next several pontificates. Justinian attempted to pressure each new pope to affirm the canons, and each one refused. With John VII, who became pope in 705, the emperor tried a compromise, asking him to call a council to go through the canons and accept the ones that Rome was willing to accept, and freely rejecting any canons that Rome was unwilling to accept, but the pope refused. It's unclear why, although he seems to have been afraid both of opposing the emperor directly and of being seen as even compromising on a topic that by this point had become a common cause of anger throughout the Italian peninsula.

Second Quarter (706-731)

In 708, a bishop, Constantine, who had been a papal legate to Third Constantinople, became pope. Two years later, Justinian ordered Pope Constantine to Constantinople, very certainly to guarantee a clear acceptance by Rome of the Trullian framework. Before this point in the dispute, the popes had always excused themselves from going to Constantinople, but the tensions over the Council in Trullo were getting very serious, and it may well be that Pope Constantine was worried that any attempt to do so would have serious repercussions, particularly as he seems to have been broadly pro-Byzantine. Justinian welcomed him in grand style, eager to make a good impression, and the negotiations seem to have worked their way to a sort of almost-compromise in which Justinian vaguely reaffirmed the privileges of Rome and Pope vaguely agreed to affirm the unobjectionable canons, while leaving the points of dispute untouched. Pope Constantine returned to Rome in 711, the last pope to visit Constantinople before its name-change to Istanbul in the twentieth century.

 Unbeknownst to everybody, things were about to change again. Justinian II died in 712, killed by troops in mutiny. The throne was seized by Philippicus. Up to this point, almost all of the problems in the aftermath of Third Constantinople had had to do with Justinian's attempt to enforce orthodoxy by implementing the Trullian canonical framework. But Philippicus was himself a monothelite, and suddenly the Trullian dispute receded in importance as, three decades after Third Constantinople, monothelitism became the official view of the empire. St. Cyrus, the patriarch of Constantinople, was deposed by Philippicus in favor of the monothelite John VI. Pope Constantine of course broke off communion with Constantinople and rejected every attempt by the emperor to impose monothelitism on the West, while also trying to prevent things from boiling over into violence. Fortunately, Philippicus could not hold the throne long; a rebellion occurred and Anastasius II seized the throne. Emperor Anastasius was looking at an empire that was in chaos, so he immediately began undoing the acts of Philippicus. John VI was deposed and replaced with St. Germanus; a letter was dispatched to Rome affirming the new emperor's adherence to Third Constantinople. 

Anastasius II was also unable to hold the throne long. He was overthrown by Theodosius III in 715, but Theodosius III also faced troubles as one of his allies, Leo the Isaurian, declared himself emperor shortly after Theodosius's seizure of the throne. Leo had the upper hand in their struggle and Theodosius abdicated in his favor in 717. Thus Emperor Leo III the Isaurian came to the throne, and with him opens a new chapter of turmoil. Leo was a very competent administrator, but beginning about 726, he began a series of religious reforms, making the use and veneration of icons illegal, on the grounds that they were idolatrous. (Veneration of the Cross and the Book of the Gospels was still allowed.) It's entirely unclear why Leo started this campaign; he certainly does not seem to have consulted anyone, because the entire Church hierarchy seems to have been caught entirely off guard. St. Germanus was deposed at some point, but there was very little immediate response from most bishops, even while the empire was confiscating church icons. People have noted that there were some military debacles at the time, and that there was a volcanic eruption that was widely seen as a bad omen, and that Caliph Yazid II had imposed an iconoclastic edict on Christians in 721, but we really don't know what set Leo on this course. 

Third Quarter (731-756)

St. Gregory III became pope in 731 and almost immediately appealed the iconoclastic edicts; shortly after, he called a council, which condemned iconoclasm. In 740, Leo seized all papal estates that he could easily seize, in Calabria and Sicily, and declared that they now were part of the jurisdiction of the patriarch of Constantinople. After a revolt in Ravenna was apparently started by the issue, Leo also sent a fleet to get the Italian peninsula in hand, although it was shipwrecked by a storm, with the result that the Italian peninsula remained firmly iconophile in its stance.

Leo died in 741, and was succeeded by his son, Constantine V. Like his father, he was a competent ruler, and like his father, he was thoroughly devoted to the iconoclastic cause.

In 754, Emperor Constantine summoned the Synod of Hieria; this council declared itself an ecumenical council, but today it is often known as the Mock Synod or the Headless Synod, because no patriarchal sees were represented -- Constantinople was vacant at the time, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem were under Muslim rule and not very sympathetic to the iconoclastic cause, and Rome was so vehemently anti-iconcolastic that it wasn't even invited. The synod endorsed the iconoclastic policy of Constantine and did so explicitly on the ground that the doctrine of the Incarnation expounded in the six ecumenical councils prior to it required that there be no mingling or separation of human and divine natures in Christ, so that icons of Christ were often treated as depicting what could not be depicted, which was Monophysitism, but if the excuse was made that only the flesh was represented, that was Nestorianism. There's a kind of logic to the position, but I imagine that quite a few people were baffled at the argument that this very common religious practice was both Monophysite and Nestorian.

Fourth Quarter (756-781)

 Backed by a purported ecumenical council, Constantine began a major iconoclastic campaign, although it may have been more sporadic and symbolic than extensive, although there were certainly some serious crackdowns on some iconophile monasteries. The tumult created was considerable; iconoclasm was very plausible to many people and also very vehemently rejected by many others.

Enforcement of iconoclasm lightened somewhat during the brief reign of Leo IV, Constantine's son, but at Leo IV's death, his own son, also named Constantine, was only nine years old. So Leo's wife, the Empress Irene, became queen regent in 780. This would be the beginning of the end for iconoclasm, which would be formally condemned by the Second Council of Nicaea, which she would call in 787.