Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series II/Volume XIV/The Fourth Ecumenical Council/General Introduction
I should consider it a piece of impertinence were I to attempt to add anything to what has been already said with regard to the Council of Chalcedon. The literature upon the subject is so great and so bitterly polemical that I think I shall do well in laying before my readers the Acts, practically complete on all disputed points, and to leave them to draw their own conclusions. I shall not, however, be liable to the charge of unfairness if I quote at some length the deductions of the Eagle of Meaux, the famous Bossuet, from these acts; and since his somewhat isolated position as a Gallican gives him a singular fitness to serve in this and similar questions as a mediator between Catholics and Protestants, his remarks upon this Council will, I think, be read with great interest and respect.
(Bossuet. Defensio Dec. Cleri Gallic. Lib. VII., cap. xvij. [Translation by Allies].)
An important point treated in the Council of Chalcedon, that is, the establishing of the faith, and the approval of Leo’s letter, is as follows: Already almost the whole West, and most of the Easterns, with Anatolius himself, Bishop of Constantinople, had gone so far as to confirm by subscription that letter, before the council took place; and in the council itself the Fathers had often cried out, “We believe, as Leo: Peter hath spoken by Leo: we have all subscribed the letter: what has been set forth is sufficient for the Faith: no other exposition may be made.” Things went so far, that they would hardly permit a definition to be made by the council. But neither subscriptions privately made before the council, nor these vehement cries of the Fathers in the council, were thought sufficient to tranquillize minds in so unsettled a state of the Church, for fear that a matter so important might seem determined rather by outcries than by fair and legitimate discussion. And the clergy of Constantinople exclaimed, “It is a few who cry out, not the whole council which speaks.” So it was determined, that the letter of Leo should be lawfully examined by the council, and a definition of faith be written by the synod itself. So the acts of foregoing councils being previously read, the magistrates proposed concerning Leo’s letter, “As we see the divine Gospels laid before your Piety, let each one of the assembled bishops declare, whether the exposition of the 318 Fathers at Nice, and of the 150 who afterwards assembled in the imperial city, agrees with the letter of the most reverend Archbishop Leo.”
After the question as to examining the letter of Leo was put in this form, it will be worth while to weigh the sentences and, as they are called, the votes of the Fathers, in order to understand from the beginning why they approved of the letter; why they afterwards defended it with so much zeal; why, finally, it was ratified after so exact an examination of the council. Anatolius first gives his sentence. “The letter of the most holy and religious Archbishop Leo agrees with the creed of our 318 Fathers at Nice, and of the 150 who afterwards assembled at Constantinople, and confirmed the same faith, and with the proceedings at Ephesus under the most blessed Cyril, who is among the saints, by the Ecumenical and holy Council, when it condemned Nestorius. I therefore agree to it, and willingly subscribe to it.” These are the words of one plainly deliberating, not blindly subscribing out of obedience. The rest say to the same effect: “It agrees, and I subscribe.” Many plainly and expressly, “It agrees, and I therefore subscribe.” Some add, “It agrees, and I subscribe, as it is correct.” Others, “I am sure that it agrees.” Others, “As it is concordant, and has the same aim, we embrace it, and subscribe.” Others, “This is the faith we have long held: this we hold: in this we were baptized: in this we baptize.” Others, and a great part, “As I see, as I feel, as I have proved, as I find that it agrees, I subscribe.” Others, “As I am persuaded, instructed, informed, that all agrees, I subscribe.” Many set forth their difficulties, mostly arising from a foreign language; others from the subject matter, saying, that they had heard the letter, “and in very many points were assured it was right; some few words stood in their way, which seemed to point at a certain division in the person of Christ.” They add, that they had been informed by Paschasinus and the Legates “that there is no division, but one Christ; therefore,” they say, “we agree and subscribe.” Others after mentioning what Paschasinus and Lucentius had said, thus conclude: “By this we have been satisfied and, considering that it agrees in all things with the holy Fathers, we agree and subscribe.” Where the Illyrian bishops, and others who before that examination had expressed their acclamations to the letter, again cry out, “We all say the same thing, and agree with this.” So that, indeed, it is evident that, in the council itself, and before it their agreement is based on this that, after weighing the matter, they considered, they judged, they were persuaded, that all agreed with the Fathers, and perceived that the common faith of all and each had been set forth by Leo. This is that examination of Leo’s letter, synodically made at Chalcedon, and placed among the acts.
(Gallia Orthod., LIX.)
Nor did Anatolius and the other bishops receive it, until they had deliberated, and found that Leo’s letter agreed with the preceding councils.
(Gallia Orthod., LX.)
But here a singular discussion arises between the eminent Cardinals Bellarmine and Baronius. The latter, and with him a large number of our theologians, recognize the letter of Leo as the Type and Rule of faith, by which all Churches were bound: but Bellarmine, alarmed at the examination which he could not deny, answers thus: “Leo had sent his letter to the council, not as containing his final and definitive sentence, but as an instruction, assisted by which the bishops might form a better judgment.” But, most eminent man, allow me to say that Leo, upon the appeal of Eutyches, and at the demand of Flavian, composed this letter for a summary of the faith, and sent it to every Church in all parts, when as yet no one thought about a council. Therefore it was not an instruction to the council which he provided, but an Apostolic sentence which he put forth. The fact is that out of this strait there was no other escape: Baronius will not allow that a letter, confirmed by so great an authority of the Apostolic See, should be attributed to any other power but that which is supreme and indefectible: Bellarmine will not take that to emanate from the supreme and indefectible authority, which was subjected to synodical inquiry, and deliberation. What, then, is the issue of this conflict, unless that it is equally evident that the letter was written with the whole authority of the Apostolic See, and yet subjected, as usual, to the examination of an Universal Council.
And in this we follow no other authority than Leo himself, who speaks thus in his letter to Theodoret: “What God had before decreed by our ministry, he confirmed by the irreversible assent of the whole brotherhood, to shew that what was first put forth in form by the First See of all, and then received by the judgment of the whole Christian world, really proceeded from himself.” Here is a decree, as Baronius says, but not as Bellarmine says, an instruction: here is a judgment of the whole world upon a decree of the Apostolic See. He proceeds: “For in order that the consent of other sees to that which the Lord of all appointed to preside over the rest might not appear flattery, nor any other adverse suspicion creep in, persons were at first found who doubted concerning our judgments.” And not only heretics, but even the Fathers of the council themselves, as the acts bear witness. Here the First See shews a fear of flattery, if doubt about its judgments were forbidden. Moreover, “The truth itself likewise is both more clearly conspicuous, and more strongly maintained, when after examination confirms what previous faith had taught.” Here in plain words he speaks of an examination by the council, de fide, not by himself, as they wretchedly object, but of that faith which the decretal letter set forth. And at length that same letter is issued as the Rule, but confirmed by the assent of the universal holy Council, or as he had before said, after that it is confirmed by the irreversible assent of the whole Brotherhood. Out of this expression of that great Pontiff, the Gallican clergy drew theirs, that in questions of faith the judgment is, what Tertullian calls, “not to be altered;” what Leo calls, “not to be reconsidered,” only when the assent of the Church is added.
(Defens. Dec. Cleri Gall. VII. xvij.)
This certainly no one can be blamed for holding with him and with the Fathers of Chalcedon. The forma is set forth by the Apostolic See, yet it is to be received with a judgment, and that free, and each bishop individually is inferior to the First, yet so that all together pass judgment even on his decree.
They conceived no other way of removing all doubt; for, after the conclusion of the synod, the Emperor thus proclaims: “Let then all profane contentions cease, for he is indeed impious and sacrilegious, who, after the sentence of so many priests, leaves anything for his own opinion to consider.” He then prohibits all discussion concerning religion; for, says he, “he does an injury to the judgment of the most religious council, who endeavours to open afresh, and publicly discuss, what has been once judged, and rightly ordered.” Here in the condemnation of Eutyches is the order of Ecclesiastical judgments in questions of faith. He is judged by his proper Bishop, Flavian: the cause is reheard, reconsidered by the Pope St. Leo; it is decided by a declaration of the Apostolic See: after that declaration follows the examination, inquiry, judgment of the Fathers or bishops, in a General Council: after the declaration has been approved by the judgment of the Fathers no place is any longer left for doubt or discussion.