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Second Council of Constantinople

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Second Council of Constantinople

Second Council of Constantinople
Date 553
Accepted by Roman Catholics, Old Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Calvinists, Lutherans, Anglicans
Previous council
Council of Chalcedon
Next council
Third Council of Constantinople
Convoked by Emperor Justinian I
President Eutychius of Constantinople
Attendance 152[1]
Topics Nestorianism
Documents and statements
14 canons on Christology and against the Three Chapters. 15 canons condemning the teaching of Origen and Evagrius.
Chronological list of Ecumenical councils

The Second Council of Constantinople is the fifth of the first seven ecumenical councils recognized as such by both West and East. Eastern Orthodox, Catholics, and Old Catholics unanimously recognize it. Protestant opinions and recognition of it are varied. Traditional Protestants such as Reformed and Lutheran recognize the first four councils,[2] whereas most High Church Anglicans accept all seven. Constantinople II was convoked by Byzantine Emperor Justinian I under the presidency of Patriarch Eutychius of Constantinople and was held from 5 May to 2 June 553. Participants were overwhelmingly Eastern bishops – only sixteen Western bishops were present, including nine from Illyricum and seven from Africa, but none from Italy – out of the 152 total.[3][1]

The main work of the council was to confirm the condemnation issued by edict in 551 by the Emperor Justinian against the Three Chapters (cf. Three Chapters controversy and Three Chapters schism). The "Three Chapters" were, one, both the person and writings of Theodore of Mopsuestia (d. 428), two, the attacks on Cyril of Alexandria and the First Council of Ephesus written by Theodoret of Cyrus (d. c. 466), and three, the attacks on Cyril and Ephesus by Ibas of Edessa (d. 457).[4]

The purpose of the condemnation was to make plain that the Imperial, Chalcedonian (that is, recognizing the hypostatic union of Christ as two natures, one divine and one human, united in one person with neither confusion nor division) Church was firmly opposed to all those who had either inspired or assisted Nestorius, the eponymous heresiarch of Nestorianism – the proposition that the Christ and Jesus were two separate persons loosely conjoined, somewhat akin to adoptionism, and that the Virgin Mary could not be called the Mother of God (Gk. theotokos) but only the mother of Christ (Gk. Christotokos) – which was condemned at the earlier ecumenical council of Ephesus in 431.[4]

Justinian hoped that this would contribute to a reunion between the Chalcedonians and monophysites in the eastern provinces of the Empire; various attempts at reconciliation between the monophysite and orthodox parties were made by many emperors over the four centuries following the Council of Ephesus, none of them succeeding, and some, attempts at reconciliation, such as this – the condemnation of the Three Chapters – causing further schisms and heresies to arise in the process, such as the aforementioned schism of the Three Chapters, and the heresies of monoenergism and monotheletism – the propositions, respectively, that Christ had only one function, operation, or energy (purposefully formulated in an equivocal and vague manner, and promulgated between 610 and 622 by the Emperor Heraclius under the advice of Patriarch Sergius I of Constantinople) and that Christ only had one will (promulgated in 638 by the same).[4]


The Council was presided over by Eutychius, Patriarch of Constantinople, assisted by the other three eastern patriarchs or their representatives. Pope Vigilius was also invited; but even though he was at this period resident in Constantinople (to avoid the perils of life in Italy, convulsed by the war against the Ostrogoths), he declined to attend, and even issued a document forbidding the council from preceding without him (his 'First Constitutum'). For more details see Pope Vigilius.

The council, however, proceeded without the pope to condemn the Three Chapters. And during the seventh session of the council, the bishops had Vigilius stricken from the diptychs for his refusal to appear at the council and approve its proceedings, effectively excommunicating him personally but not the rest of the Western Church. Vigilius was then imprisoned in Constantinople by the emperor and his advisors were exiled. After six months, in December 553, he agreed, however, to condemn the Three Chapters, claiming that his hesitation was due to being misled by his advisors.[4] His approval of the council was expressed in two documents, (a letter to Eutychius of Constantinople, 8 Dec., 553, and a second "Constitutum" of 23 February, 554, probably addressed to the Western episcopate), condemning the Three Chapters,[5] on his own authority and without mention of the council.[3]

In Northern Italy the ecclesiastical provinces of Milan and Aquileia broke communion with Rome. Milan accepted the condemnation only toward the end of the sixth century, whereas Aquileia did not do so until about 700[6][3] The rest of the Western Church accepted the decrees of the council, though without great enthusiasm. Though ranked as one of the ecumenical councils, it never attained in the West the status of either Nicaea or Chalcedon.

In Visigothic Spain (Reccared having converted a short time prior) the churches never accepted the council;[7] when news of the later Third Council of Constantinople was communicated to them by Rome it was received as the fifth ecumenical council,[8] not the sixth. Isidore of Seville, in his Chronicle and De Viris Illustribus, judged Justinian a tyrant and persecutor of the orthodox[9] and an admirer of heresy,[10] contrasting him with Facundus of Hermiane and Victor of Tunnuna, who was considered a martyr.[11]

The unhappy story of the conflict between the council and the pope, and its lack of immediate and obvious fruits in reconciling Chalcedonians and non-Chalcedonians, should not blind us, however, to its weighty theological contribution. The canons condemning the Three Chapters were preceded by ten dogmatic canons which defined Chalcedonian Christology with a new precision, bringing out that God the Word is the one subject of all the operations of Christ, divine and human. The 'two natures' defined at Chalcedon were now clearly interpreted as two sets of attributes possessed by a single person, Christ God, the Second Person of the Trinity,[12] Later Byzantine Christology, as found in Maximus the Confessor and John of Damascus, was built upon this basis. It might have proved sufficient, moreover, to bring about the reunion of Chalcedonians and non-Chalcedonians, had it not been for the severance of connections between the two groups that resulted from the Muslim conquests of the next century.


The original Greek acts of the council are lost,[13] but an old Latin version exists, possibly made for Vigilius, of which there is a critical edition[14] and of which there is now an English translation and commentary,[15] it was alleged (probably falsely) that the original Acts of the Fifth Council had been tampered with[16] in favour of Monothelitism.[3] It used to be argued that the extant acts are incomplete, since they make no mention of the debate over Origenism. However, the solution generally accepted today is that the bishops signed the canons condemning Origenism before the council formally opened. This condemnation was confirmed by Pope Vigilius and the subsequent ecumenical council (third Council of Constantinople) gave its "assent" in its Definition of Faith to the five previous synods, including "... the last, that is the Fifth holy Synod assembled in this place, against Theodore of Mopsuestia, Origen, Didymus, and Evagrius ...";[17] its full conciliar authority has only been questioned in modern times.[18]


  1. ^ a b "NPNF2–14. The Seven Ecumenical Councils". CCEL. Retrieved 2014-08-23. 
    • (3 names, 3 bishops and 145 other, plus 1 pope, total 152)
  2. ^ See, e.g. Lutheran-Orthodox Joint Commission, Seventh Meeting, The Ecumenical Councils, Common Statement, 1993, available at Lutheran-Orthodox Joint Commission (B. I. 5a. "We agree on the doctrine of God, the Holy Trinity, as formulated by the Ecumenical Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople and on the doctrine of the person of Christ as formulated by the first four Ecumenical Councils.").
  3. ^ a b c d  
  4. ^ a b c d  
  5. ^ Mansi, Sacrorum Conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio, vol. IX, p. 414–420, 457–488; cf. Hefele, Conciliengeschichte, vol. II, pp. 905–911.
  6. ^ Hefele, Conciliengeschichte, vol. II, pp. 911–927. (For an equitable appreciation of the conduct of Vigilius see, besides the article VIGILIUS, the judgment of Bois, in Diet. de theol. cath., II, 1238–39.)
  7. ^ Herrin (1989) pp. 240–241
  8. ^ Herrin (1989) p. 244
  9. ^ Herrin (1989) p. 241 and the references therein
  10. ^ Isidore of Seville, Chronica Maiora, no. 397a
  11. ^ Herrin (1989) p. 241
  12. ^ Price (2009) vol. I, p. 73–75
  13. ^ "NPNF2–14. The Seven Ecumenical Councils". Christian Classics Ethereal Library. 1 June 2005. Retrieved 2014-08-23. 
  14. ^ Straub, Johannes (1971), Acta Conciliorum Oecumenicorum. Tomus IV, volumen I, Berlin:  
  15. ^ Price (2009)
  16. ^ Hefele, Conciliengeschichte, vol. II, pp. 855–858
  17. ^ "NPNF2–14. The Seven Ecumenical Councils". Christian Classics Ethereal Library. 1 June 2005. Retrieved 2014-08-23. 
  18. ^ Price (2009) vol. 2, pp. 270–86.



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