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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 Henoticon 


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The main internal problem during the reign of Zeno was the religious problem, which continued to cause many disturbances. In Egypt and Syria and to some extent in Palestine and Asia Minor, the population held firmly to the doctrine of one nature. The firm orthodox policy of the two emperors who preceded Zeno was little applauded in the eastern provinces. The leaders of the church were fully aware of the seriousness of the situation. The Patriarch of Constantinople, Acacius, who at first favored the decisions of Chalcedon, and the Patriarch of Alexandria, Peter Mongus, were particularly anxious to find some way of reconciling the dissenting parties in the church. They proposed to Zeno that he attempt to reach some mutual agreement by means of compromises on both sides. Zeno accepted this proposal and issued in 482 the Act of Union, or the Henoticon (ἑνωτικόν), addressed to the churches subject to the Patriarch of Alexandria.

In this act he tried above all to avoid any sign of disrespect toward either the orthodox or the Monophysitic teachings on the union in Jesus Christ of two natures, the divine and the human. The Henoticon recognized as entirely sufficient the religious foundations developed at the first and second ecumenical councils and ratified at the third council; it anathematized Nestorius and Eutyches, as well as all their followers, and stated that Jesus Christ was of the same nature with the Father in the Godhead and also of the same nature with us in the manhood. Yet it obviously avoided the use of the phrases one nature or two natures and did not mention the statement of the Council of Chalcedon in regard to the union of two natures in Christ. The Council of Chalcedon is mentioned in the Henoticon only once, in this statement: And here we anathematize all who have held, or hold now or at any time, whether in Chalcedon or in any other synod whatsoever, any different belief.

At first the Henoticon seemed to improve conditions in Alexandria, but in the long run it failed to satisfy either the orthodox or the Monophysites. The former could not become reconciled to the concessions made to the Monophysites; the latter, in view of the lack of clarity in the statements of the Henoticon, considered the concessions insufficient, and new complications were thus introduced into the religious life of the Byzantine Empire. The number of religious parties increased. Part of the clergy favored the idea of reconciliation and supported the Act of Union, while the extremists in both the orthodox and the Monophysitic movements were unwilling to make any compromise. These firmly orthodox men were called the Akoimetoi, that is the Sleepless, because the services in their monasteries were held continuously during the day and night, so that they had to divide their groups into three relays; the extreme Monophysites were called the Akephaloi, that is the Headless, because they did not recognize the leadership of the Alexandrian Patriarch, who accepted the Henoticon. The Pope of Rome also protested against the Henoticon. He analyzed the complaints of the eastern clergy, dissatisfied with the decree, then studied the Act of Union itself and decided to excommunicate and anathematize the Patriarch of Constantinople, Acacius, at a council gathered in Rome. In reply Acacius ceased to mention the pope in his prayers. This was in reality the first true breach between the eastern and western churches; it continued until the year 518, when Justin I ascended the throne. Thus the political breach between the eastern and western parts of the Empire, in evidence since the founding in the fifth century of the barbarian German kingdoms in the West, became wider during the reign of Zeno because of the religious secession.

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