Severus of Antioch’s Objection To The Council Of Chalcedon : A Re-Assessment

Written By: on Jun 23rd, 2009 and filed under Articles, We Believe.

council-of-chalcedon1. Introduction

Severus of Antioch was born in Sozopolis in Pisidia about 465. His family was well-to-do, and as a young man, not yet baptized, he was sent to Alexandria to study grammar and rhetoric. From Alexandria he moved to Beirut to study Roman law. Here Severus came under the influence of Christian students and began to study the works of Basil and Gregory of Nazianzus. Later he was baptized at the shrine of Leontius of Tripoli, and after his baptism became increasingly ascetic, spending much of his time in church .

Severus was an uncompromising critic of the Council of Chalcedon and the Tome of Leo. The Council adopted the formula of faith affirming that Jesus Christ was ‘one Person’ made known ‘in two natures’. The Council and the Tome were rejected by a large part of the Christian East, which has maintained since that time an organized existence in communities in Egypt, Syria, Ethiopia, Armenia and India, which are commonly referred to as the Oriental Orthodox Churches. This group of Churches maintains that the ‘in two natures’ of Chalcedon was not the tradition of the pre-Chalcedonian Church, which proclaimed ‘from two natures’ and ‘one incarnate nature’.

As Severus criticized the Council and the Tome on the one hand and defended the ‘one incarnate nature’ on the other, scholars of the Chalcedonian and the pro-Chalcedonian theological persuasion refer to him as a ‘monophysite’ . In doing so, these scholars base their point of view on two assumptions: first, they take for granted that the Council of Chalcedon and the Tome of Leo together represent exclusively the orthodox understanding of the Person of Jesus Christ; and second, that Severus, who criticized them both, cannot possibly have taught the faith of the Church in its purity .

Was the rejection of Chalcedon by Severus the result of a Christology that ‘explained away’ the human reality of Christ? To show that Severus did not in fact dissolve the human nature of Christ, Fr. V.C. Samuel points to the heresies Severus rejected: Manichaenism, Apollinarianism and Eutychanism . He also considers the accusations made against Severus in 536 [5]. Fr. Samuel argues that Severus was not a Monophysite with the statement: ‘Severus never objected to the dynamic continuance of the two natures in the one Christ, and the ascription of the term ‘monophysite’ to his theological position is nothing but the legacy of the polemics of a bygone age’ . Severus is rooted, he suggests, in the theology of Cyril. In the formula mia fusij tou Qeou Logou sesarkwmenh, Severus’ interpretation of ‘mia’ does not mean simply ‘one’. The reality of Christ’s divinity and humanity is indeed strongly affirmed by Severus. In his study on the Severus’ Christology, Zambolotsky tells us: ‘Severus’ human nature is not “hypostatic” but like the human nature of Leontius of Byzantium and John of Damascus ‘hypostatised’, received to the unity of the hypostasis of the Logos’ .

The Council of Chalcedon was obviously not the first ecclesiastical assembly in Christian history to claim ecumenicity. The Councils of Nicea in 325, Constantinople in 381, and Ephesus in 431 (with the reunion of 433) had formally been recognized as ecumenical, and as such authoritative, well before the Council of Chalcedon met. Even the term ‘orthodox’ had become current, referring in those times to conformity with the doctrinal standpoints of these Councils. The ground on which Severus and the section of the Church represented by him renounce the Council of Chalcedon is that it violated the doctrinal norms which the earlier Councils had established.

It is an undeniable fact that Severus occupies a significant place in the history of the Church in the East. If the key role which he played in this field has not been recognized by the Chalcedonian side, it is largely because of misunderstanding, if not prejudice.

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4 Responses for “Severus of Antioch’s Objection To The Council Of Chalcedon : A Re-Assessment”

  1. Daniel Remy says:

    **********Corrected posting:**********
    I have only my faith in an indivisible and infinite spirit we call God and I love him for giving me life within his creation. I am content with that alone as the Great Gift of God –Life. I also believe that Jesus brought the Word of God (not the Word IS God which is a simple euphemism in Genesis with Word being the Will of God).

    Whether he was born Human or born both God and Man is question Jesus answered — He was both at the time of his birth (not adopted later at baptism which is logically inconsistent). However the Human body was created using Mary to be a Host Earth Vessel to exist on this planet and communicate with men. For eternity, Jesus’ divine nature exists. His body is no longer needed and the ascension was necessary only for men to see and believe. After that moment, a human body is no longer needed in the Intangible God-Spirit of the Universe.

    The body will reappear at the second coming and the time Christ is on earth to appear like us and indeed God created us in his image in our Spiritual souls–the body is for this earth only and not eternal spiritual life with God.

    The Holy Spirit — what can one say that Christ and John the Baptist hasn’t already stated. It is God’s Grace “touching men’s souls” and infusing the divine. A Spiritual Being from God, indivisible and the Alpha and the Omega of Creation and the First Cause without a Cause.

    This is my creed as a Jewish Christian and a Physicist. The complexities of Trinity and words (imperfect language unlike mathematics) is a human limitation of communication and of understanding the divine with Humility. We do not know anything — no one knows anything as certainty. I, you, we, they BELIEVE only.

    Three certain Beliefs I have are that God is the First Cause and Creator of all, that Jesus told us Truth, and that the Holy Spirit appeared to us from God.

    The idea of One Woman, Mary, being the Mother of God is logically and metaphysically impossible. Her womb could not bring forth what has been here forever.

    Believing in One God is difficult enough, so why complicate a simple Beautiful Truth with Mystery of the Trinity and all of the other variations of imperfect human understanding. Is Human Hubris so audacious and foolish? Careful, Ra will melt your wax wings!
    Love God and be Grateful for your life. Follow the Word of Jesus and you may see God forever. Put human pride and clergy councils aside. They are human.

    Praise God and Live Life with the Word of Jesus Christ. God does not complicate.

  2. I’m no longer sure where you’re getting your information, however great topic. I needs to spend some time studying more or understanding more. Thanks for wonderful info I used to be looking for this information for my mission.

  3. I am a member of an independent, Charismatic, Protestant church in the Chicago area. This article is a very lucid explanation of a difficult topic. Not only does it shed light on Severus and his views, but it does so from a viewpoint that is both sympathetic and orthodox. Thank you, Mr. Thomas.

  4. John Mathew, Toronto says:

    “The Council and the Tome were rejected by a large part of the Christian East, which has maintained since that time an organized existence in communities in Egypt, Syria, Ethiopia, Armenia and India, which are commonly referred to as the Oriental Orthodox Churches.”

    Nice article, but let’s be a little more correct in a historical sense — that is, India needs to be chopped from that list.

    India at that time was likely not at all connected to the “Oriental Orthodox Churches”. Back then we were, according to the evidence we do have, connected to the so-called “Nestorians” — who separated from the rest of Christianity before Chalcedon.

    “Our” (i.e., the Malankara Orthodox/Jacobites) entry into the Oriental Orthodox fraternity started, at the earliest, in the 17th century. Prior to that the Indians were Catholics (Eastern Rite Chaldeans after the 16th century schism in the Middle East within the “Nestorian Church”, and Latin-rite Catholics via Portuguese influence) and Nestorians (from the 16th century down to the historically-defensible beginning of Christianity in India in the 5th century).

    So back when Mor Severios was around, the Indians were likely a heretical community (in his eyes — assuming he knew of us, being based too far to the West for him to really know or care about us).

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