Posted by: ken98 | September 19, 2011

Christian Civil Wars Continue, Nestorian North vs. Cyril South

Day 738 – Ken here (M)(9-19-2011)
(DEF II, v.4, Ch.47, pp.950-960)(pages read: 2010)

A day of Civil War - Ecclesiastical Civil Wa

A day of Civil War - Ecclesiastical Civil War - concepts Americans can relate to...Gibbon makes the cogent point that the Monophysites and Dyphysites were fighting much more about politics and culture than religion. Although the lines were very blurred, still the conflict often came down to Syria-North theology versus Egypt-South theology with the capital Constantinople (like Wash. D.C., in the 1850's) often coming down on one side or the other - SOMEONE eventually had to win - it turned out to be the Dyphysites and the great majority of churches are Dyphysite to this day

I’m just getting grouchier and grumpier – the deeper we get into this long chapter on Christianity. You have been warned.

Continuing with Gibbon’s unique re-telling of Monophysites (South, =1-nature,mono-phys) vs. Dyphysites (North, “Catholics”, =2-nature,dy-phys) – altho, of course, it’s not really that simple, but you have to start somewhere. And Gibbon does an excellent, Enlightenment-skewed start of it – reviewing for us the wild and woolly 400’s. An exciting (and dangerous) time to live if you were a Christian and had opinions, any opinions, any at all.

Its interesting how uncomplicated all the hullabaloo surrounding Dyphysites (Catholics) and Monophysites and the 2 Councils of Ephesus (431, 449) and the One Council of Chalcedon (451) become – once you see them in terms of wars between regions of the empire – Egypt vs. Constantinople vs. (later) Rome. Its all very simple. It only becomes complex when you try and follow it AS IF IT WERE AN HONEST SET OF COUNCILS TRYING TO DEFINE CHRISTIAN FAITH.

Thinking of it as a civil war makes sense of the external actions, but leaves you with the disturbing truth that common Christian articles of faith are not divinely-inspired, cautiously argued, carefully worded expressions of God’s working in the world, they are the ACCIDENTAL OUTCOMES OF POLITICAL AMBITIONS OF POWERFUL MEN WORKING TO ADVANCE THEIR OWN INTERESTS in disputes now covered (completely) by the dust of 16 centuries.

Once again, being a historian is a dangerous occupation. Knowing too much about the mysterious inner workings of declarations of faith leaves you gasping for breath. To me, it just goes to show you, that any system of belief that complicated and that subject to political intrigue (in its genesis) cannot possibly be true. The truth, if The Truth is that important, has, of a necessity, to be much, much simpler. In which case, you circle back to the beginning, and realize that ALL THESE COUNCILS and ARTICLES OF FAITH are so much hot air, and are much more useful as a socio-anthropological window into the Late Antique psyche than they are helpful in determining what faith should look like. At least that’s my opinion. For whatever it’s worth – and it’s worth probably as much as you paid for it.

(and… just to be clear – the North refers to Syria, Asia Minor, Balkans, the South refers to Egypt – but Egpyt had the riches and the population – besides being the bread-basket of Constantinople and so was a CONSTANT SORE POINT to Roman Emperors who had to feed their city in order to maintain their reign)

Gibbon’s tirade continues here in chapter 47, as he untangles the knots of Christian heresy and orthodoxy and continues the World Wars of Religion – the Cyril-Nestorian Civil War (North vs South).

The Story
!st Council of Ephesus (Jun-Oct 431)
  • Eastern bishops (read Egyptians + Memnon bish of Eph) with their armed servants and armed/dangerous monks demand Nestorius (Patr of Const) deposition as heretical
  • June – the Eastern (South) bishops all decide, BEFORE THE NORTHERN BISHOPS ARRIVED and bully the emp’s gov Candidianus to agree (thru armed mobs, violence etc – Egyptian bishops landed with a literal army of church employees-armed with clubs, etc)
  • The North arrives (from Const – John of Antioch) – they are not amused – they (WITHOUT the South) depose Cyril and Memnon – desc Cyril as a MONSTER (this is a man who is a saint today)
  • Memnon barricades himself in his own cathedral in Eph, is literally besieged by imp troops and North bishops’ folowers
  • 3 months of bloodshed, anathemas thrown back and forth, street fighting and bloody conflict in Ephesus
  • Theodosius II besieged by Syrians (North) Egyptians (South) and washes hands of whole thing – calls it “foolishness” and “none of my doing” – commands them JUST TO GO HOME – GO HOME – and they do
  • This is SERIOUSLY known in history as the 3rd Ecumenical Council of the Church – an ongoing street brawl – after 3 more times of CONFLICT, Cyril and John of Antioch agree to live with each other – but it’s all a coverup to prepare for the next BATTLE

    Victory of the South and Cyril (431-435)
  • Theod orders Cyril back to a Synod at Ephesus, where he is imprisoned – but Theod waffles between monks, sisters, wife, eunuchs, etc – so waffles between Mono and Dy physites – rem. Cyril=Mono
  • Cyril has the ear of the monks in Const – and their leaders Dalmatius, Eutychius – who go against the Patr of Const Nestorius
  • The monks make huge, costly public processions (in honor of Mary, Mother of God (Mono belief)
  • The Egyptians spend FORTUNES in bribes on court officials
  • Pulcheria – Theod II sister and actually power behind the throne is for NESTORIUS
  • Cyril is forced to recant and admit publicly that Nestorius was correct – he is released – but goes back to Alex to get his revenge – this is all ironic – because to this day Nestorius is considered a heretic – mostly because of Cyril and the Egyptians

    The South Shall Rise Again – Cyril’s Revenge (435)
  • Nestorius, Patr of Const – a former Syrian monk – who has persecuted, beaten, battled, and killed with the best of them, decides enuf is enuf, and retires to a monastery again
  • Cyril, in 4 short years, gets an edict out of the Imp court (of Theod II) saying Nestorius is on a par with SIMON THE MAGICIAN – which means he is beyond heretical – he’s almost satanic – he is EXILED to Petra, Arabia, then further to Oasis in Egypt, then further to the depths of Libya
  • Remember he is in Egypt in exile – so he is hounded, tortured, called, recalled, to Egyptian synods (he is already an old man) until he is dead – he is called to Chalcedon – probably to be re-admitted to the church but dies 1st and SO… the whole Christian church of Syria and the East and Persia is called heretical and “Nestorian” until the 20th cent.
  • That is the origin of the FAMOUS NESTORIAN HERETICS you hear so much about – in later Orthodox, Roman contexts – Nestorius was cert. a man with unclean hands, but he was the loser in a political, imperial battle of wills – to a more wily, competent foe – CYRIL

    Civil War Continues Into the NEXT GENERATION – North Tries to Trump the South
  • Nestorius – exiled, hounded to death, Cyril dies in office after 32 years – still considered a SAINT today
  • However, without the protection of the amoral, unstoppable, charismatic CYRIL, the Egyptians find themselves the recipients of a JOYOUS, GLEEFUL REVENGE by the North – the MONOPHYSITES are GOING DOWN and DOWN in a BIG WAY if the Northerners have any say about it
  • Flavian – the Const Patr now, digs up Cyril’s old friend – a monk of 70 years called Eutyches – and metes out a punishment – a punishment in effect for being Cyril’s friend – the old man is branded a heretic by the church
  • LUckily, Eutyches’s grandson (it gets better) is the CHIEF EUNUCH Chrysaphius at Const court, and a friend DIOSCORUS – both rise to fight for him and for the South and Cyril’s MONOPHYSITE beliefs
  • The fight? the Patr of Const has Theod II call a 2nd Council of Ephesus to…. what? Do you notice how the Councils are called by emperors – not initiated by bishops – this is the Caesaropapism of the Eastern Empire – the very very blurred lines between civil government and religious government – in fact they are mostly one and the same as far as the emp is concerned (except of course for canon law, but even then emperors legislated for the church)
  • But the Egyptians get the last laugh here with the travesty later called the 2nd Council of Ephesus

    South Victorious – A Public Brawl – the Second Council of Ephesus (449)
  • Called the Robber Council – the Patr of Const is beaten to death by his opponents during the Council – and that is the least of the beatings/etc
  • Set up to be a 50-50 sort of North/South conference, the Egyptians arrive again, with armed monks and this time with armed ARCHERS – they beseige the Cathedral where the 80 or so bishops are meeting
  • The Council is bullied – with threats of death and blows – TO SIGN A BLANK PIECE OF PAPER – this paper was later filled in by the Egyptians with the strongest language against Nestorius and the Dyphysite party of the North
  • Flavian – Patr of Const is beaten and dies a few days afterwards – the rest of the bishops were desp clinging to altars and begging their lives to be saved – Gibbon dryly comments on the LACK of ENTHUSIASM among the Northern bishops to be martyred by their Southern bros for their Northern dogma
  • Unfortunately for the Egyptians, Pope Leo – of confronting-Attila-the-Hun fame was Roman Bishop – he was not amused by the whole thing
  • He calls the Council of Chalcedon (451) to clean things up a bit
  • So the Northerners revenge backfired, but the Southerners TOTAL victory was soon to be their undoing

    Northern Total Victory – The Council of Chalcedon (451)
  • Bishop Leo of Rome (Pope) calls a provincial synod to annul the Councils of Ephesus but as this is irregular in and of itself, he called a council of the Italian bishops and pronounced a verdict against Ephesus, the Western Emp Valentinian and Placidia communicated this to Theod.(the TOME OF LEO) who replied that the matter was already settled, by him – and that was that
  • later Theod II dies, Pulcheria his sister takes over, (THeod. had been in the Southern camp, Pulcheria was in the Northern) and Chrys. the eunuch is burned, and Dioscorus is disgraced, the Tome of Leo is made valid thru the land and the Egyptians are routed
  • Pulcheria summons a Council with husband Marcian (new emp), refuses a Latin Council (in Italy as LEO wanted) and LEO requires that the emp attend, so the Council that was started in Nice in Bithynia is moved to Chalcedon, across from Constantinople and the emp attends
  • Still much shouting and screaming in session – 630 bishops, overseen/refereed by Roman legates –
  • They are about to blithely adopt Leo’s Tome, but the Egyptian bishops inform the rest that if they sign their lives are forfeit on their return – Egypt will NEVER allow it – as it is a total renunciation of Monophysitism – the Southern creed
  • SO, in order to put the house in order, get rid of DIOSCORUS and get a dyphysite bishop in Alex – they mumble around the problems of 2 or 1 nature by never defining it exactly in the Council of Chalcedon – AND they pursue an AD HOMINEM attack by agreement on DIOSCORUS – he is unseated because of his LACK OF MORALS, NOT his dogma
  • One reason he was deposed – that he refused to attend the Council of Chalcedon – the fact that he was imprisoned AND NOT ALLOWED TO ATTEND didn’t affect their decision
  • Obviously someone was going to pay – and it was DIOSCORUS

  • It will go on and on and on – the North vs the South – through the 900’s – altho in a different form once the South was truly lost in the 640’s to the Arabs – in the 700’s it becomes worship/non-worship of pictures of Saints and of Christ – the Iconoclasm controversy – still basically North/South – Iconoclasm-hating icons was hot in Asia Minor, Not so in the Balkans, Italy


    Famous Church at Ephesus, location of Councils of Ephesus

    Here is where it all happened - the beatings, the deaths, the armed monks threatening bishops unless they signed a blank piece of paper - here is what remains of the Church at Ephesus - Saint Mary's Basilica, the Double Church Where the Councils of Ephesus met


    Last Word…


    A Not So Brief Review

    In brief (well, not so brief): yesterday, 2 powerful men assumed control of the 2 most powerful bishoprics in the empire (Northern Nestorius – Constantinople, & Southern Cyril – Egypt) – we leave out Western Rome for the time being, she’ll enter the fray later today, to throw her weight around. Egypt is always jockeying for position as the most educated, most pious, most zealous of Christian cities – and she is all that – and rich too.

    Constantinople has the emperor, riches, power, and sees itself as 1st bishopric of the Christians. The Romans of course, are not nearly as rich, not nearly as powerful, but claim to 1st among equals, and never miss a chance of trying to impose her will on the churches.

    It’s all about prestige and power. And money. There’s a lot of money associated with the church, and in fact, in terms of city-justice, city-defense, city-hospitals, etc bishops all over the empire are gradually taking the place of the old rulers of the city (decurions, imperial officials) and turning into civil authorities also – so a lot is at stake here.

    To begin…

    Southern Cyril and Northern Nestorius both persecute relentlessly – against Arians Christians, against Jews, against each other. Cyril calls a surprise Council which he packs with club-bearing monks and deposes Nestorius. Theodosius II attempts to patch this quarrel, and ends up giving up and exiling Nestorius (his Patr. in Const.)

    As long as Cyril is alive, no one questions the dispute, at his death, his friend Eutyches is attacked as heretical by the Northern bishops, and Dioscorus the new Patr. of Egypt is called to answer for heresy – Dioscorus packs the 2nd Council of Eph (called the Robber Council) with armed monks, ends up beating up (literally) many there incl the Patr of Const (who dies) and gets himself acquitted.

    Rome steps in, offers a new Council at Chalcedon (right next to Const) and proceeds to condemn Dioscorus – why? in the meantime, the emp Theod II had died (who rooted for the Southerners) and his sister Pulcheria (a Northerner) commanded Dioscorus be . The Egyptian bishops beg NOT to take home a creed that Egypt would riot over and they be killed over – so, in order to disbar Dioscorus, they come up with personal faults (living w/ prostitutes) that PERSONALLY make him unfit.

    The creed of Chalcedon is made purp. VAGUE – to stop any more rioting. Rome leaves the victorious mediator. And North wins for now. Actually North never wins, even after the Arabs took Egypt forever, the Coptic church remained faithful to its own Southern theology.


    I realize that there WERE actual issues involved, concrete theological differences, but my point is that EVERY DISAGREEMENT has a superficial reason, and usually have deeper causes which give the disagreement power and force in people’s minds. What interests me is the power and force part, not the superficial, legitimate conflicts over theology.

    When you get right down to it, even today, we all sit in the same place as Theodosius II who called the whole Cyril/Nestorius debacle “foolishness” and “wanted no part of it.” In point of fact, Jesus never said “take up clubs and swords and beat and kill your brothers into submission and prove that you are right” – he did say something about “the other cheek” – but beating and killing is exactly what the church very commonly did – esp. during our current period the 400’s. And Gibbon and I both have to chew and digest this century and its strange, morbid, separation between a system of living based upon love, forgiveness, and unconditional acceptance, and the bizarre, violent, hormone-driven Christian zealots who were not afraid of beating and killing bishops let alone anyone else who got in their way.

    You just get the feeling, just a little, that they weren’t getting it.

    Which brings me back, as I said, full circle – it could NOT have been the doctrinal positions of Christianity that animated these un-Christ-like mobs, it had to be something else, by definition. And that “something else” is what fascinates me. And, I guess, what additionally fascinates me, is that the format, discussions, and conclusions of the Church Councils had little or nothing to do with Christianity. Which leads to other questions, but like Gibbon, I digress…

    Icon of Council of Chalcedon 451

    Icon of Council of Chalcedon 451 - as we know already - this is hardly what it looked like, although Marcian was a good emperor, his reign was looked back on for centuries as a golden time (albeit it was only for 7 years) , still, I don't think I could see any of these be-haloed gentlemen screaming threats back and forth at each other, which was actually the case - I guess that's why Ecclesiastical History is such a contradictory term, it has less to do with actual events, and much more to do with myth and legends about a past that never happened that people desperately need to believe in to get them thru their present difficulties - the last thing Id want to do is tamper with someones faith - its just too bad people place their faith in historical events

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