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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

The empire from Constantine the Great to Justinian

The Fourth Ecumenical Council  -Cf. Acts of the Fourth Ecumenical Council


Icon of the Christ and New Testament Reader

Marcian inherited from his predecessor a very complicated state of affairs in the church. The Monophysites were now triumphant. Marcian, favoring the stand taken by the first two ecumenical councils, could not become reconciled to this triumph, and in the year 451 he called the Fourth Ecumenical Council, at Chalcedon, which proved to be of great importance for all subsequent history. The number of delegates to this council was very large and included legates representing the pope.

The council condemned the acts of the Robber Council of Ephesus and deposed Dioscorus. Then it worked out a new religious formula completely rejecting the doctrine of the Monophysites and wholly according with the views of the Pope of Rome. The Council affirmed one and the same Christ in two natures without confusion or change, division or separation. The dogmas approved by this Council of Chalcedon, triumphantly confirming the main doctrines of the first ecumenical councils, became the basis of the religious teachings of the orthodox church.

The decisions of the Council of Chalcedon were also of great political significance in Byzantine history. The Byzantine government, by openly opposing Monophysitism in the fifth century, alienated the eastern provinces, Syria and Egypt, where the majority of the population was Monophysitic. The Monophysites remained true to their religious doctrine even after the condemnations of the council of 451 and were unwilling to make any compromises. The Egyptian church abolished the use of Greek in its services and introduced the native Egyptian (Coptic) language. The religious disturbances in Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch caused by the forced introduction of the decisions of the council assumed the character of serious national revolts and were suppressed by the civil and military authorities only after much bloodshed. The suppression of these revolts, however, did not settle the fundamental problems of the period. Against the background of the conflicting religious disputes, which became more and more acute, clearly defined racial contradictions, particularly in Syria and Egypt, began to appear. The Egyptian and Syrian native populations were gradually becoming convinced of the desirability of seceding from the Byzantine Empire. The religious disturbances in the eastern provinces, aided by the composition of the population, created toward the seventh century conditions which facilitated the transfer of these rich and civilized districts into the hands of first the Persians and later the Arabs.

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