Heresiarch of the fifth century who asserted that Christ has but one nature after the Incarnation
Eutyches, an heresiarch of the fifth century, who has given his name to an opinion to which his teaching and influence contributed little or nothing. The essence of that view is the assertion that Christ has but one nature after the Incarnation, and it is spoken of indifferently as the Eutychian or the Monophysite heresy, though Eutyches was not its originator, and though he was repudiated and condemned by many of the Monophysites, who all looked upon St. Cyril of Alexandria as their great Doctor. Eutyches in 448 was seventy years of age, and had been for thirty years archimandrite of a monastery outside the walls of Constantinople, where he ruled over three hundred monks. He was not a learned man, but was much respected and had influence through the infamous minister of Theodosius II, the eunuch Chrysaphius, to whom he had stood godfather. He was a vehement opponent of Nestorianism, and of the Antiochian party led by Theodoret of Cyrus (Cyrrhus) and John of Antioch. These bishops had, for a time, championed the orthodoxy of Nestorius, but had eventually accepted the Council of Ephesus of 431, making peace with St. Cyril of Alexandria in 434. Mutual explanations had been exchanged between the great theologians Theodoret and Cyril, but their partisans had not been convinced. On the death of Cyril, in 444, his successor Dioscurus was not slow to renew hostilities, and the Cyrillians and anti-Nestorians everywhere took the offensive. It was but as a part of this great movement that Eutyches, at Constantinople, began to denounce a supposed revival of Nestorianism. He wrote to Pope Leo on the subject, and received a sympathetic reply. The Patriarch of Antioch, Domnus, was on his guard, and he addressed a synodal letter to the Emperor Theodosius II, accusing Eutyches of renewing the heresy of Apollinarius (this had been the charge of the Antiochian party against St. Cyril) and of wishing to anathematize the great Antiochian teachers of a past generation, Diodorus and Theodore—a point in which Eutyches was not altogether in the wrong (Facundus, viii, 5, and xiii, 5). This was probably in 448, as St. Flavian, Bishop of Constantinople, had heard of no such accusation when he held a synod, on November 8th, with regard to a point of discipline connected with the province of Sardis. Eutyches had been accusing various personages of covert Nestorianism, and at the end of the session of this synod one of those inculpated, Eusebius, Bishop of Dorylaeum, brought the question forward, and proffered a counter charge of heresy against the archimandrite.
Eusebius had been, many years before, while yet a layman, one of the first to detect, and denounce, the errors in the sermons of Nestorius and he was naturally indignant at being called a Nestorian. Flavian expressed great surprise at this sudden and unexpected charge, and suggested a private conference with Eutyches. Eusebius refused, for he had had frequent interviews without result. At the second session the orthodox view was defined, at Eusebius’s request, by the reading of the second letter of St. Cyril to Nestorius, and its approbation by the council of Ephesus, and also of the letter of Cyril to John of Antioch, “Laetentur caeli”, written after the agreement between the two patriarchs, in 434. These documents were acclaimed by all. Flavian summed up to the effect that Christ was “of two natures”, ek duo phuseon, after the Incarnation; Basil of Seleucia and Seleucus of Amasea even spoke explicitly of His being “in two natures”, and all the bishops echoed, in their own words, the sentiments of the president. In the third session the messengers, who had been sent to summon Eutyches to attend, returned, bringing his absolute refusal. He had determined, he declared, that he would never set his foot outside his monastery, which he regarded as his tomb. He was ready to subscribe to the councils of Nicaea and Ephesus; though in doing so he ought not to be understood to subscribe to, or to condemn, any errors into which they might have fallen; he searched the Scriptures alone, as being more sure than the expositions of the Fathers, and he adored one nature of God, incarnate and made man after the Incarnation. He complained that he had been accused of saying that God the Word had brought His flesh down from heaven. This was untrue. He acknowledged our Lord Jesus Christ as “of” two natures (ek duo phuseon) hypostatically united, as perfect God, and perfect Man born of the Virgin Mary, not having flesh consubstantial with ours. These statements of Eutyches were substantiated by three witnesses. The council therefore addressed a letter to him, summoning him to appear, for his excuse was insufficient in face of so serious a charge. Eusebius of Dorylaeum, whose ardor was by no means quenched, then pointed out that Eutyches had been sending round a writing to the different monasteries to stir them up, and that danger to the council might result. Two priests were therefore sent round to the different monasteries in the city, two to those across the Golden Horn, and two across the Bosphorus to Chalcedon, to make enquiries.
Meanwhile the envoys sent to Eutyches had returned. After some difficulties and the plea of illness, Eutyches had consented to receive them. He still refused to leave his monastery, and begged them not to trouble to call a third time (as the canons directed), but to treat him as contumacious at once, if they pleased. The council, however, sent him a third and final summons, to appear on the morning of the next day but one, 17th November or take the consequences. The next day a Priest–Archimandrite Abraham and three deacon monks appeared on behalf of Eutyches. Abraham declared that Eutyches had passed the night in groaning, and that he himself had consequently not slept at all either. St. Flavian replied that the Synod would wait for Eutyches’s recovery. He was not asked to come to enemies, but to brothers and fathers. He had formerly entered the city when Nesturius attacked the truth. Let him do the same once more. Repentance will be no disgrace to him. As the assembly rose, Flavian added: “You know the accuser’s zeal, and that fire itself seems cold to him, on account of his zeal for piety. And God knows, I have both advised and entreated him to desist. But when he set to work, what was I to do? I desire not your dispersion, God forbid, but rather to gather you in. It is for enemies to disperse, for fathers to gather into one.”
On the following day Eutyches did not appear, but promised to come in five days, that is on the following Monday. It was proved that Eutyches had sent round a tome to other monasteries for signature. It wassaid to contain the Faith of Nicaea and Ephesus, nor was it shown to have contained anything further. On the Saturday, Eusebius elicited testimony to further heretical remarks of Eutyches, which the envoys had heard him make. In particular he had denied two natures in Christ after the Incarnation, and had said he was ready to be condemned; the monastery should be his tomb. On Monday 22nd November, Eutyches was sought vainly in the Church and the Archbishop‘s palace, but was eventually announced as arriving with a great multitude of soldiers, and monks, and attendants of the Prefect of the Praetorian guard, and this escort only permitted him to enter under the synod’s promise that his person should be restored to them. With the cortege came a Silentiary named Magnus, bringing a letter from the Emperor, who desired that the Patrician Florentius should be admitted to the Council; the Silentiary was therefore sent to invite his presence. Eusebius showed more than ever his anxiety that Eutyches should be convicted on the grounds of his former sayings, lest he should now unsay them, and be simply acquitted; for in that case his accuser might be made liable to the penalties due to calumnious accusation: “I am a poor man,” he said, “without means. He threatens me with exile; he is rich; he has already depicted the Oasis as my destination!” Flavian and the Patrician replied that any submission made by Eutyches now should not release him from answering the charges as to his past words. Flavian then said: “You have heard, priest Eutyches, what your accuser says. Say now whether you admit the union of two natures, ek duo phuseon henosin.” Eutyches replied: “Yes, ek duo phuseon.” Eusebius interrupted: “Do you acknowledge two natures, Lord Archimandrite, after the Incarnation, and do you say that Christ is consubstantial with us according to the flesh; yes or no?” This expressed clearly the whole question between Catholic truth and the heresy of Monophysitism. Eutyches would not give a direct answer. Perhaps he was puzzled and cautious. At all events he saw that a negative reply would mean immediate condemnation, while an affirmative one would contradict his own former utterances. “I did not come here to dispute,” he said, “but to make clear my view to your Holiness. It is in this paper. Order it to be read.” As he would not read it himself, Flavian ordered him to declare his belief. His vague reply evaded the point, merely asserting that he believed “in the Son’s incarnate advent of the flesh of the holy Virgin, and that He was perfectly made Man for our salvation”. When urged, Eutyches declared that he had never up till now said that Christ was consubstantial with us, but he acknowledged the holy Virgin to be consubstantial with us. Basil of Seleucia urged that her Son must therefore also be consubstantial with us, since Christ was incarnate from her. Eutyches answered: “Since you say so, I agree with all”; and he further explained that the body of Christ is the body of God, not of a man, though it is a human body. Provided he was not understood to deny that Christ is the Son of God, he would say “consubstantial with us”, as the Archbishop wished it and permitted it. Flavian denied that the expression was novel.
Florentius showed that the Emperor had judged rightly that he was a good theologian, far he now pushed the Archimandrite on the essential point, the two natures. Eutyches answered explicitly: “I confess that our Lord was of [ek] two natures, before the union; but after the union, I acknowledge one nature.” It is very odd that no comment was made on this utterance. The synod ordered Eutyches to anathematize all that was contrary to the letters of Cyril, which had been read. He refused. He was ready enough to accept the letters, according to the synod’s wish, but he would not anathematize all who did not use these expressions; otherwise he would be anathematizing the holy Fathers. Nor would he admit that Cyril or Athanasius had taught two natures after the Incarnation (and this was indeed correct, sofar as mere words go). But Basil of Seleucia rightly urged: “If you do not say two natures after the union, you say there is mixture or confusion” (though, at the Robber Council, the unfortunate bishop was fain to deny his words). Florentius then declared, that he is not orthodox who does not confess ek duo phuseon and also duo phuseis. The synod agreed, and considered the forced submission which Eutyches offered to be insincere. Flavian then pronounced the sentence of degradation, excommunication, and deposition. This was signed by about 30 bishops, including Julian of Cos, the pope’s charge d’affaires at the Court of Theodosius. The acts of this synod are preserved for us, because they were read in full at the Robber Council of Ephesus, in the following year 449, and again, in 451, at the Council of Chalcedon as a part of the Acts of the Robber Council. Flavian took care that the acts should also be signed by many archimandrites of the city. Eutyches, on his side, wrote for support to the chief bishops of the world, and placarded Constantinople with complaints. He sent an appeal to the pope (St. Leo, Ep. xxi) explaining that he had refused to affirm two natures and to anathematize all who did not do so; else he would have condemned the holy Fathers, Popes Julius and Felix, Saints Athanasius and Gregory (he is referring to the extracts from the Fathers which were read in the first session of the Council of Ephesus; later in 535 it was declared that these papal documents were Apollinarian forgeries, and such is still the opinion of critics. See Harnack, Bardenhewer, etc.). Eutyches continues: “I requested that this might be made known to your holiness, and that you might judge as you should think fit, declaring that in every way I should follow that which you approve.” It was untrue that Eutyches at the council had appealed to the pope. He could only prove that in a low voice he had said he referred his case to the great patriarchs. When St. Leo had received the Acts of the Council, he concluded that Eutyches was a foolish old man who had erred through ignorance, and might be restored if he repented. Dioscurus of Alexandria, imitating some of his predecessors in assuming a primacy over Constantinople, simply annulled the sentence of Flavian, and absolved Eutyches.
The archimandrite had not been touched by the consideration Flavian had shown. His obstinacy continued. He obtained, through Chrysaphius, a new synod of 32 bishops, which met in April 449 (without the presence of Flavian, but including the Patrician Florentius and several of the bishops who had taken part in the condemnation), in order to examine his complaint that the Acts had been falsified. After a careful revision of them, some slight alterations were made to please Eutyches; but the result was of no practical importance. Dioscurus and Eutyches had obtained the convocation by the Emperor of an ecumenical council to meet at Ephesus on 1st August, 449. The proceedings of the party of Dioscurus before and at that council will be found under Dioscurus and Robber Council of Ephesus; it is only necessary to say here that in the first session Eutyches was exculpated, and absolved, while violence was done to Flavian and Eusebius, who were imprisoned. The former soon died of his sufferings. Both had appealed to Rome. The Pope annulled the council, but Theodosius II supported it. On that Emperor’s sudden death the outlook changed. A new council met at Chalcedon in October, 451, at the wish of the Emperor Marcian and his consort St. Pulcheria, the course of which was directed by imperial commissioners, in accordance with the directions of St. Leo, whose legates presided. Dioscurus was deposed, and exiled to Paphlagonia. Eutyches was also exiled. A letter of St. Leo (Ep. 134), written 15th April, 454, complains that Eutyches is still spreading his poison in banishment, and begs Marcian to transfer him to some more distant and lonely spot. The old man does not seem to have long survived. His monastery, at Constantinople, was put under the supervision of Julian of Cos as visitor, that prelate being still the papal representative at Constantinople.