Politics, Empire, War

The creed of Nicea, the encyclical insisted, should ‘prevail over the orthodox people’ in all churches as the only symbol of the faith.

The Council of Chalcedon Re-Examined, by V.C. Samuel

It is now 475, twenty-four years after the council.  Basiliscus was emperor.  He would issue an encyclical on 9 April 475 which promoted the first three ecumenical councils of the church: Nicaea, Constantinople, and Ephesus, and condemned the Council of Chalcedon and the Tome of Leo.  A council was called, affirming the encyclical.

Basiliscus didn’t last long on the throne – less than 20 months.  Nor did the encyclical, rescinded immediately by the new emperor.

The issue here was not that Chalcedon conserved orthodoxy or excluded heresy, but that it had granted certain rights and privileges to Constantinople.

Non-Chalcedonian leaders were again sent into exile.  Threats of the death penalty were suggested.  But the controversies were really only beginning; the opposition to Chalcedon was growing and gaining strength.  Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem were drawing closer.

New statements were drawn up in order to try to bridge the divide; there was much back and forth.  Each described the other as heretical.  The emperor would send his bodyguard to Alexandria in the hope of finding a solution; the bodyguard was met by 30,000 men, led by ten bishops.

With each new emperor, the tide would change to one side or the other.  The details are almost overwhelming – and I have the book!  Suffice it to say, by the year 490 positions in the two camps had become hardened.

We come to the Blues and Greens, described by Samuel as circus parties.  These were factions in Constantinople centered around chariot races and the like, but with broader communal ties.  The Blues were pro-Chalcedonian; the Greens in sympathy with the non-Chalcedonians.  The city, let alone the empire, was still divided – and it is now the year 518.

With the support of the Blues, Justin I was raised to the throne.  He adopted cruel measures against the non-Chalcedonians.  However, he spared Egypt from these measures, as it was the granary of the capital!  Elsewhere, fifty-four bishops had to go into exile.

Justin died in 527, and Justinian would replace him as emperor.  Justinian, wanting to unite the empire, hoped that subtle language could be used to get both sides to agree to Chalcedon.  This didn’t work.  Further, he desired the support of the pope, as the Ostrogoths were waging war in his empire in southern Italy and he desired the pope’s support.  We are now approaching 80 years after the council, and there is still no agreement.

Strangely not covered by Samuel is what we know as the Nika riots.  This occurred in 532, and again involved the aforementioned Blues and Greens.  Actions taken by Justinian against both were seen as betrayal by the Blues and oppression by the Greens.

Chariot races were called, an attempt by Justinian to bring the community together.  Instead, there was anger all around.  Justinian could watch the races from his palace, and he could hear the insults aimed at him from all corners.

Soon enough, the Blues and Greens joined together and went after the palace and the emperor – the riot.  Justinian thought to flee, but his wife talked him out of this.  So, he developed a plan.  He would distribute gold to the Blues in the crowd.  Many Blues then went away quietly.  The Greens remained.

Then, Imperial troops led by Belisarius and Mundus stormed into the Hippodrome, killing any remaining people indiscriminately, whether they were Blues or Greens. …About thirty thousand people were reportedly killed.

Apparently, the sacking of Constantinople by the Crusaders in 1204 was not the first time Christian battled Christian in this Christian city….

In 548, the empress Theodora died.  Following her death, another attempt was made to unite the Church.  In this unity meeting, four hundred men came together, and the non-Chalcedonian side made their pleadings.  After discussing the issues for about a year, the effort bore no fruit.


The church in the eastern division of the Roman Empire existed from 536 in two distinct bodies, each regarding itself exclusively as the Church and the other as heretical.

Given that the Chalcedonians had the emperor on their side, and that the emperor wanted the pope on his side…well, it was clear that the Chalcedonians had a meaningful advantage in this division.

Another council was called in 553 – considered the fifth ecumenical council.  While this council is outside the scope of Samuel’s work in this book, he notes that it basically cemented the decisions made at Chalcedon.


Demonstrating that the issues traveled the entire length and breadth of Christendom…

Followers of Julian succeeded in propagating their [Chalcedonian] views in Armenia and even enlisting the support of the church there in their favor.

Interesting, as the Armenian Apostolic Church today is non-Chalcedonian – Oriental Orthodox.

The church of Armenia was not involved in the controversy between those who accepted and those who rejected Chalcedon.

There were no Armenian bishops at the council; the nation was pre-occupied in 451 with one of the many countless existential battles against it; this time it was the Persians.

By the sixth century, the Armenian church decided at the council of Dwin to renounce Chalcedon and the Tome of Leo.   Yet, the influence of the Julianist movement remained until 726, when another council abandoned all Julianist tendencies.

Reprinted with permission from Bionic Mosquito.