Second Council of Constantinople

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The Second Council of Constantinople is believed to have been the Fifth Ecumenical Council by the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Old Catholics, and a number of other Western Christian groups. It was held from May 5 to June 2, 553, having been called by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian. Participants were overwhelmingly Eastern bishops; sixteen western bishops were present (including those from Illyricum). It was presided over by Eutychius, Patriarch of Constantinople.



The Council was the last phase of the long and tumultuous conflict which began with the edict of Justinian in 543 against Origenism[1]. Justinian had been convinced that Nestorianism continued to draw its strength from the writings of Theodore of Mopsuestia (d. 428), Theodoret of Cyrus (d. 457), and Ibas of Edessa (d. 457), with the writings of Theodore and Theodoret being highly regarded by many in the Church.

Due to his initial refusal to join in the condemnation of the Three Chapters (i.e the anathema upon Theodore, Theodoret and their writings against St. Cyril of Alexandria and the First Council of Ephesus, and also upon the letter written by Ibas of Edessa to Maris, Bishop of Hardaschir in Persia) Pope Vigilius had been forcibly detained in Constantinople since January of 547AD.

While he had condemned the Three Chapters, Vigilius maintained the authority of the Council of Chalcedon (451) at which Theodoret and Ibas had been restored to their places after Nestorius had been condemned. Many in the West saw this weakening of the Church before the civil powers as well as injustice to men long dead; also the ecclesial leaders of the West had no accurate knowledge of the theological situation in the Eastern part of the Church. Vigilius persuaded Emperor Justinian to proclaim a truce on all sides until a general council could be called to decide on these matters. However, in 551 the emperor, with the backing of Eastern bishops, later published an edict renewing the condemnation of the Three Chapters.

Vigilius was virtually imprisoned by the civil authorities and eventually retired to Chalcedon, in the church of St. Euphemia where the great council had been held; from here Vigilius sought to inform the Church of his position. Soon the Eastern bishops sought reconciliation with Vigilius, persuaded him to return to the city, and withdrew their condemnation of the Three Chapters. The new Patriarch of Constantinople, Eutychius, presented (6 January 553) his profession of faith to Vigilius and, in union with other Eastern bishops, urged the calling of a general council. Vigilius was willing to convoke such a council but suggested that it meet either on the Italian peninsula or Sicily, in order to secure the attendance of bishops from the West. However, Justinian would not agree and instead proposed a commission composed up of delegates from each of the patriarchates. Vigilius suggested that an equal number be chosen from the East and the West; but this was not acceptable to the emperor, who convoked the council by his own authority. Eight sessions were held, the result of which was the final condemnation of the Three Chapters by the 165 bishops present at the last session (2 June 553).

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