- Paperback: 482 pages
- Publisher: Xlibris (August 1, 2001)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1401016448
- ISBN-13: 978-1401016449
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.3 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 6 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,532,549 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Council of Chalcedon Re-Examined Paperback – August 1, 2001
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-Amos Smith (author of Healing The Divide: Recovering Christianity's Mystic Roots)
Fr. Samuel, a priest in the Indian Orthodox Church, has studied extensively in the Syriac language and Christian theology since his youth in India. He brings a frequently disregarded perspective into this obscure theological-political struggle of the fifth century Byzantine Empire. From 451 onwards there has been a continual schism, or broken communion, between the Orthodox Church, the later pro-Chalcedonian churches (Roman Catholic and Protestant) and the so called non-Chalcedonian, Oriental Orthodox, or "monophysite" Church. The non-Chalcedonian church has distinguished and isolated itself from the rest of Christendom because of this schism and continues to exist today preserving a very ancient and even "primitive" form of Christianity in Egypt, Armenia, Syria, India, Ethiopia and Eritrea. I recommend _The Council of Chalcedon_ to those interested in church history because it covers such a wide variety of information in an objective manner from a very different theological tradition than most Christian authors.
Samuel's book is basically about the events before and after the council of Chalcedon in 451. Chalcedon is sometimes referred to as the "Fourth Ecumenical Council" by Orthodox and Roman Catholic historians, although was not universally acknowledged by ancient Christendom. Samuel familiarizes the reader with the subject by over viewing councils (in 431, 449 and 450) where the dominant doctrinal issue at stake was a definition of exactly who Christ was in extremely technical Greek theological terms. This structuring does the reader a service because it provides a backdrop to the issues Samuel discusses during 451 and afterwards. During 431, a majority of bishops decided to adopt the writings and anathemas (curses) of Cyril of Alexandria (the largest city in Egypt) as official doctrine. The next generation of bishops in Alexandria, led by Cyril's successor Dioscorus, stringently supported Cyril's works. Samuel is an adherent of the Alexandrian position and therefore a modern supporter of the deposed Egyptian patriarch Dioscorus. One of the strong points of Samuel's book, in my opinion, is he goes into a lengthy analysis of the wrangling and power struggles of the different sides and how Dioscorus was condemned.
_The Council of Chalcedon_ covers which groups had a political stake in the outcomes of Chalcedon. To the vast majority of Egyptians, Chalcedon was the "council of schism." In contrast, Chalcedon was a bastion of Christian Orthodoxy for the prelates loyal to the Byzantine Empire and its government and the pope of Rome in the west. The pro-Roman and pro-empire parties considered _The Tome of Leo_ as the definitive statement of Christology which supplemented and complemented Cyril's writings. Samuel does an excellent job in this area of analysis because he differentiates between actual theology and what were in fact worldly power struggles between separatist and nationalist elements in the empire and those interested in maintaining centralized church authority in Rome and Constantinople.
Samuel also focuses on the outcome of Chalcedon and does not cover up the often violent and criminal conflicts that raged in the Byzantine Empire. The separate non-Chalcedon church was viewed as a threat by the imperial government to its authority which was bound up with pro-Chalcedonian Orthodoxy. Violence broke out in places, involving persecutions of dissident monks and prelates. Factionalists from both sides even assassinated and murdered bishops.
In later centuries, debate continued between the non-Chalcedonian church and the Orthodox adherents of Chalcedon. Samuel addresses the question of whether or not the non-Chalcedonians were rightfully deserving of the label "monophysite" which has had a heretical and therefore negative connotation in Western Christendom. Samuel does an excellent job of showing how the theologians of the non-Chalcedon church in later centuries maintained inherently Orthodox Christian beliefs. He argues to the modern reader how the label "monophysite" is a misnomer and something of an undeserved slander. The greatest theologians of the non-Chalcedonians, such as Severus of Antioch, Timothy Aelurus and Philoxenos of Mabbogh, went to great lengths to maintain their belief in the humanity of Christ. The non-Chalcedonian Church also anathematized teachings as heresies that were associated with "monophysitism" by the Orthodox Church. Among the teachings repudiated were Eutychianism, the belief that Christ was not consubstantial with humanity; the belief that Christ had only one "property" in his being, and Julianism, the belief that Christ's humanity was of some incorruptible nature.
Samuel also lists several extremely technical Greek terms became bones of contention because their precise meanings and usage in previous documents were not agreed upon by the debating parties: ousia "essence," hypostasis "that which exists in itself", physis "nature", prosopon "person" and hyparxis "existence". This section of the book greatly helps the reader understand the precise issues that were up for debate and how they were understood differently by the opposing sides.
It appears that the schism heralded by Chalcedon and imperial and papal political and theological agendas was a terrible mistake and both sides were in fact "Orthodox" in their Christology. Both sides condemned the same views as heretical and both were careful to uphold the true humanity of Christ, as well as his divinity. This is the conclusion that Samuel reaches in his book. His work is of such excellent quality because he defends his thesis so well. Chalcedon was essentially a regional power struggle between different factions masked by what was basically a haggle over words. These are the reasons why The Council of Chalcedon Re-Examined is a recommended book for readers interested in theology and the history of religion. The book does have a significant fault in because it does not go into enough detail as to what the specific accusations against Dioscorus were. It also seems to attack Chalcedonian Orthodoxy as inherently dangerous to Christendom and the Church at large. Otherwise, Samuel's book is an excellent, objectively written text.