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Ecumenical Council of Constantinople

The Ecumenical Council of Constantinople, also known as the Second Council of Constantinople, was held on the fifth of May to the second of June in 553 AD according to the Bible Timeline Poster with World History. This was during the reign of Emperor Justinian. The ecumenical council presided by the Patriarch of Constantinople Eutychius was the fifth of the seven assemblies held in the city since 381 AD. At least 151 bishops from Greece and North Africa attended the event, but Emperor Justinian decided it would be better if he left out the Italian bishops. Pope Vigilius was at Constantinople at that time and initially attended on the first day, but declined to attend on the second day because of his ill health.

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The council was assembled to confirm the edict of anathematization (condemnation) issued by Emperor Justinian to the Three Chapters between 543 and 544 AD. The condemned Three Chapters included:

* Theodore of Mopsuestia (350-428 AD) and his writings
* some writings of Theodoret (393-458 AD) against Cyril of Alexandria
* the letters of Ibas, the bishop of Edessa (435-457 AD) to Maris, the Bishop of Hardaschir

“Jesus depicted as the Good Shepherd”

Theodore and Theodoret both supported Nestorianism which was considered as heresy at that time, while it was only rumored that Ibas supported this kind of belief. Nestorianism, the Christological belief that Christ only had one nature (which was a fusion of human and divine), directly opposed the Chalcedonian Christology that Justinian supported, which upheld the belief that Christ had distinct human and divine natures. The bishops who gathered in the Ecumenical Council of Constantinople agreed to confirm the emperor’s anathematization of Nestorianism after several sessions and condemned the works of the second-century theologian Origen of Alexandria as well.

Pope Vigilius initially rejected the anathematization of the Three Chapters and stood his ground for six months. He only changed his mind (or was forced to) around 554 AD. Justinian allowed him to return to Rome in the same year, but he never arrived in Rome as he died at Syracuse in 555 AD. The anathematization caused a major rift between the bishops of Constantinople and others (particularly in North Africa and Italy) who rejected the council. Vigilius’ death also forced Justinian to appoint the deacon Pelagius as pope to force the Italian bishops to accept the council’s ruling on the Three Chapters.

Picture By Stained glass: Alfred Handel, d. 1946[2], photo:Toby HudsonOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
Kelly, Joseph F. The Ecumenical Councils of the Catholic Church: A History. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2009.
“Medieval Sourcebook: Fifth Ecumenical Council: Constantinople II, 553.” Fordham University Medieval Sourcebooks. Accessed August 06, 2016.
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