Saturday, September 01, 2007

The Christological Divide That Anticipated Chalcedon, Part 4: The Formula of Reunion

In the aftermath of the events at Ephesus in 431, the division between the Antiochene dyophysitic and Alexandrian monophysitic traditions was never greater. But two rays of hope for reconciliation came out of the controversy at Ephesus. First, the Cyrillian synod (i.e., the one subsequently dubbed the Third Ecumenical Council) had neglected to canonize Cyril's Twelve Anathemas. Second, the opposing synod under John of Antioch did not actually rehabilitate Nestorius. These two omissions would serve as the foundation upon which the next attempt at rapprochement would be built: The Formula of Reunion.

Ten More Important Facts Concerning the Christological Divide That Anticipated Chalcedon:

(1) Prior to the events in Ephesus of 431, Theodoret of Cyrrhus and Andrew of Samosata had been commissioned by John of Antioch to refute Cyril's Twelve Anathemas, which were viewed by the Antiochene party as little better than Apollinarianism. While the literary exchange was fierce, the debate served the purpose of fixing the meaning of the term hupostasis to be synonymous with prosopon. As a result, while neither fully endorsed Cyril's "hypostatic union," both came close in the end to sanctioning the "one hypostasis" formula (on the premise that this was the equivalent of the Antiochian "prosopic union").

(2) The two years following Ephesus proved pivitol, as Imperial pressure was exerted on both sides to heal the doctrinal breach. However, the way to reconciliation was made clear by the death of Pope Celestine in 432. His successor, Xystus III was intent on finding a mutually acceptable accord provided that the decisions of the Cyrillian synod at Ephesus were upheld.

(3) After intense negotiations, in which Acacius of Berea played a leading role, both sides made important concessions. Cyril agreed to furnish an explanation for his Twelve Anathemas that made clear his disavowal of Apollinarianism. Upon acceptance of Cyril's explanation, the Antiochian party then, with considerable reluctance, agreed to the condemnation and deposition of Nestorius.

(4) In 433, John of Antioch sent Cyril a letter that contained the text that would be used, upon Cyril's assent, as the instrument of agreement between the two parties (from henceforth called "The Formula of Reunion"). Ironically, this very statement, undoubtedly re-drafted at pivotal points by Theodoret of Cyrrhus, had been the very formula approved by the anti-Cyrillian synod at Ephesus in August of 431.

(5) The Formula of Reunion admitted to the orthodoxy of the term Theotokos for the Virgin Mary, but only after safeguards were put in place to satisfy Antiochene scruples. The Formula went on to explain that the Christ is "complete God and complete man," but also that "a union of two natures has occurred, as a consequence of which we Son." Meanwhile, all talk of "two Sons" and a "conjunction of two natures" had disappeared, and the identification of the subject of the God-Man as the Logos was emphasized.

(6) Cyril greeted the new confession contained in the Formula of Reunion with enthusiasm in his famous letter Laetentur caeli. However, his endorsement shocked many of his followers who saw the Formula's notion of a "union of two natures" as a contradiction of Cyril's earlier position on the hypostatic union (i.e., "one nature of the incarnate Word").

(7) Meanwhile, Nestorius' cause was now wholly lost. He was finally banished to Upper Egypt where, just before his death in 450, he completed his Book of Heracleides of Damascus, the definitive defense of his position over against Cyril.

(8) In time, the Formula of Union would prove to be no more than a truce. By 438, Cyril suspected Antiochene duplicity, and began to write against the teachings of Diodore of Tarsus and Theodore of Mopsuestia (both of blessed memory), who were still held in esteem by the Antiochene signers of the Formula.

(9) The old debate was now renewed, but with political power decidedly in the Alexandrians' favor, since Constantinople, after Nestorius' deposition, was now supporting Cyril's cause in the person of Nestorius' successor, Proclus.

(10) The political situation changed dramatically upon the death of Cyril in 444 and, shortly after, the death of Proclus in 447. Cyril was replaced by the unscrupulous Dioscorus, who had little use for the Formula of Union and was determined to see to the complete victory of the Alexandrian position. Meanwhile, Flavian, a moderate Antiochene and supporter of the Formula, replaced Proclus in Constantinople. The conditions were now set for the next round of open conflict.

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