Council at Chalcedon

By Mary Jane Chaignot

Categories: Early Christianity


We want to know about the Council at Chalcedon that met in (A.D. 451)
V.D. Callahan


Council held at Chalcedon was the fourth ecumenical council. The three previous ones were the Councils held at Nicea (325AD), at Constantinople (381AD), and at Ephesus in 431AD. The purpose of all the councils was to deal with heresies and problems through the mode of debate. The idea was that all sides would set out their positions and the light of truth would emerge. All four of these councils (as well as the three others that followed) were considered to be ecumenical, which means that the decisions were binding upon all Christians. Exactly what those decisions were for each council, however, remains open for discussion, especially among the very early ones. Scholars have a general idea what the issues were, but there really aren't any original documents from these periods. In some cases, there are several early manuscripts that don't always agree. That has led to discussion and debate over the discussions and debates of the councils. (You can begin to see the problem.)

The first council at Nicea dealt with the Arian controversy. Arius had denied the divinity of Christ. Arius reasoned that if Jesus was born, then there had been a time when He did not exist. If He became God, then there was time when He was not. The Council declared Arius' teaching a heresy, unacceptable to the Church and decreed that Christ is God. The Council proclaimed that Christ has two complete natures: the divine and the human. These two natures function without confusion, are not divided nor separate, and at no time did they undergo any change. He is of the same essence, "homo-ousios" with God the Father; and not merely "like" the same essence, "homoi-ousios" with the Father. The official word defined the consubstantiality of God the Son with God the Father.

The second one addressed the issues brought forth by Macedonius, who was misinterpreting the Church's teaching on the Holy Spirit. He taught that the Holy Spirit was not a person ("hypostasis"), but simply a power ("dynamic") of God. Therefore the Spirit was inferior to the Father and the Son. The Council condemned Macedonius' teachings and defined the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. The Council decreed that there was one God in three persons ("hypostases"): Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The third one concerned the nature of Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. Nestorius had been teaching that the Virgin Mary had given birth to a man, Jesus Christ, not God. The Logos only dwelled in Christ, as in a Temple (Christ, therefore, was only Theophoros: The "Bearer of God"). Consequently, the Virgin Mary should be called "Christotokos," Mother of Christ and not "Theotokos," "Mother of God." The council defined the divine maternity of the Virgin Mary. It stated that there are two natures in Christ, and one person. Mary was the mother of this one person. The council also declared: The text of the "Creed" decreed at the First and Second Ecumenical Councils to be complete and forbade any change (addition or deletion).

That brings us to the Council at Chalcedon, which was the fourth (of seven). It dealt primarily with the heresy of Eutyches, who claimed there was only "one nature" (the divine) in Christ. This was known as Monophysites, derived from "mono"--"one," and "physis"--"nature". Monophysitism overemphasized the divine nature of Christ at the expense of the human. The council decreed that Christ has two natures, one divine and one human, and repeated the decision from Nicea that these two natures function without confusion, are not divided nor separate, and at no time did they undergo any change.. The council also adopted the Chalcedon Creed, which states: Therefore, following the holy fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, bearer; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the fathers has handed down to us.

The fifth Council was known as Constantinople II (553) and dealt with additional heresies. The sixth Council was known as Constantinople III (680-81) and dealt again with the two natures of Christ. The seventh Council was held at Nicea II (787) and refuted additional heresies.

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