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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

Justinian the Great and his successors (518-610)

Religious problems and the Fifth Ecumenical Council   -Cf. Acts of the Fifth Ecumenical Council


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Justinian wished to make this edict obligatory on all churches and demanded that it be signed by all the patriarchs and bishops. But this was not easy to accomplish. The West was troubled by the fact that the willingness to sign this imperial edict might mean an encroachment upon the authority of the Council of Chalcedon. One learned deacon of Carthage wrote, If the definitions of the Council of Chalcedon are being disputed, then is it not possible that also the Council of Nicaea might be subject to a similar menace? In addition to this the question was raised as to whether it was permissible to condemn dead men, since all three writers had died in the preceding century. Finally, some leaders of the West were of the opinion that by this edict the Emperor was violating the conscience of members of the church. This view was not held in the eastern church, where the intervention of the imperial power in deciding dogmatical disputes was approved by long practice. The eastern church also cited King Josiah in the Old Testament, who not only put down the living idolatrous priests, but also opened the sepulchers of those who died long before his reign and burned their bones upon the altar (II Kings 23:16). Thus the eastern church was willing to accept the decree and condemn the Three Chapters; the western church was not. In the end, Justinian's decree never received general church recognition.

In order to attract the western church to his support Justinian had to secure first the approval of the Pope of Rome. Consequently the pope of that period, Vigilius, was summoned to Constantinople, where he remained for more than seven years. Upon his arrival he declared openly that he was against the edict and excommunicated the Patriarch of Constantinople, Menas. But gradually he yielded to the influence of Justinian and Theodora, and in the year 548 he issued the condemnation of the Three Chapters, or the so-called Judicatum, thus adding his voice to the votes of the four eastern patriarchs. This was the last triumph of Theodora, who was convinced of the inevitable final victory of Monophysitism. She died in the same year. Upon the invitation of Vigilius, the priests of western Europe had to put up incessant prayers for the most clement princes, Justinian and Theodora.

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