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Dioscurus of Alexandria

Bishop of Alexandria; date of birth unknown; d. at Gangra, in Asia Minor, 11 Sept., 454

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Dioscurus, BISHOP OF ALEXANDRIA (also written DIOSCORUS; Dioscurus from the analogy of Dioscuri), date of birth unknown; d. at Gangra, in Asia Minor, September 11, 454. He had been archdeacon under St. Cyril, whom he succeeded in 444. Soon afterwards Theodoret, who had been on good terms with Cyril since 433, wrote him a polite letter, in which he speaks of the report of Dioscurus’s virtues and his modesty. In such a letter no contrary report would be mentioned, and we cannot infer much from these vague expressions. The peace established between John of Antioch and Cyril seems to have continued between their successors until 448, when Domnus, the successor and nephew of John, had to judge the case of Ibas, Bishop of Edessa, who was accused of heresy and many crimes by the Cyrillian party. Domnus acquitted Ibas. The Cyrillian monks of Osrhoene were furious, and betook themselves to Dioscurus as their natural protector. Dioscurus wrote to Domnus, complaining that he championed the Nestorian Ibas and Theodoret. Domnus and Theodoret both replied defending themselves, and showing their perfect orthodoxy. The accusers of Ibas went to the court at Constantinople, where the feeble Theodosius II was only too ready to mix in ecclesiastical quarrels. From him the Cyrillians obtained a decree against the Nestorians, and in particular against Irenaeus, who had befriended the Nestorians at the Council of Ephesus, where he was in authority as imperial representative; he was now deposed from the Bishopric of Tyre which he had obtained. Theodoret was forbidden to leave his Diocese of Cyrrhus. In September a new Bishop of Tyre was appointed, and the Patriarch Domnus, feeling that Dioscurus was about to triumph, wrote to Flavian of Constantinople in order to get his support. Alexandria had of old been the first see of the East and was now only surpassed in power by the imperial city. The Egyptian patriarch had vast civil and political influence, as well as an almost autocratic sway over a hundred bishops and a great army of monks, who were heart and soul devoted to the memory of Cyril, and rather fervent than discriminating in their orthodoxy. Constantinople had been granted the next dignity after Rome by the great Council of 381, and this humiliation of Alexandria had embittered the long-standing rivalry between the two sees. Antioch had always tended to support Constantinople, and Domnus was now ready to grant precedence to Flavian. Dioscurus, he said, had already complained that he, Domnus, was betraying the rights of Antioch and Alexandria in admitting the canon of 381, which had never been accepted by Alexandria or Rome. But Flavian was not a helpful ally, for he had neglected to obtain the favor of the eunuch Chrysaphius, who was all-powerful at court. An unforeseen incident was now to set the world in a blaze. At a council held by Flavian in November of the same year, 448, Eusebius of Doryheum accused the Archimandrite Eutyches of teaching one nature only in Christ. He was treated with all consideration, but his obstinacy made it unavoidable that he should be deposed and excommunicated. Now Eutyches was godfather to Chrysaphius, and “one nature” was precisely the unfortunate expression of St. Cyril, which his followers were already interpreting in a heretical sense. Eutyches therefore at once became the martyr of Cyrillianism; and though he was not a writer nor a theologian, he has given his name to the Monophysite heresy, into which the whole Cyrillian party now plunged once for all.

The Cyrillians were further incensed by the failure of their second attempt to convict Ibas. They had procured an order from the emperor, October 25, 448, for a fresh trial. The bishops who met for this purpose at Tyre in February, 449, were obliged by the violence of the Eastern monks to transfer some of their sittings to Berytus. At the end of the month Ibas was exculpated, though the emperor was known to be against him. Dioscurus and his party replied by an unexpected stroke; in March they induced the emperor to issue an invitation to all the greater bishops to attend with their suffragans a general council to be held at Ephesus in August. It was indeed not unreasonable to desire some permanent settlement of the intermittent war, and the pope, St. Leo I, warmly accepted the emperor’s proposition, or rather order. Eutyches had written to him, pretending that he had appealed at the time of his condemnation, and promising to abide by his judgment. He wrote also to other bishops, and we still possess the reply sent to him by St. Peter Chrysologus, Bishop of Ravenna, where the court of Valentinian III, the Western emperor, had its headquarters. St. Peter tells him to await the decision of the pope, who alone can judge a case concerning the Faith. St. Leo at first complained that the matter had not at once been referred to him, then, on finding that a full account sent by St. Flavian had been accidentally delayed, wrote a compendious explanation of the whole doctrine involved, and sent it to St. Flavian as a formal and authoritative decision of the question. He reproves Flavian’s council for want of severity to an expression of Eutyches, but adds that the archimandrite may be restored if he repent. This letter, the most famous of all Christian antiquity, is known as “St. Leo’s Tome”. He sent as legates to the council a bishop named Julius, a priest, Renatus (he died on the way), and the deacon Hilarus, afterwards pope. St. Leo expresses his regret that the shortness of the notice must prevent the presence of any other bishop of the West. It is probable that this difficulty had been anticipated by Dioscurus, who had answered an appeal from Eutyches in a different strain. He regarded him as a down-trodden disciple of the great Cyril, persecuted by the Nestorian Flavian. As his predecessor Peter had appointed a bishop for Constantinople, and as Theophilus had judged St. Chrysostom, so Dioscurus, with the air of a superior, actually declared Eutyches absolved and restored. In April Eutyches obtained a slight revision of the Acts of the council which had condemned him. In the same month the case of Ibas was again examined, by the emperor’s order, this time at Edessa itself, and by a lay inquisitor, Cheraeas, the Governor of Osrhoene. The people received him with shouts against Ibas. No defense was heard. On the arrival of Cheraeas’s report, the emperor wrote commanding the presence of Ibas‘s most furious accuser, the monk Bar Tsaouma (Barsumas), and other monks at the approaching council. In all this we see the influence of Dioscurus dominant. In March Theodosius had prohibited Theodoret from coming to the council. On August 6 he shows some fear that his order may be disregarded, in a letter in which he constitutes Dioscurus president of the synod.

The council met at Ephesus on August 8, 449. It was to have been ecumenical in authority, but it was dubbed by St. Leo a latrocinium, and “The Robber Council” has been its title ever since. A full history of it would be out of place here (see Robber Council of Ephesus). It is only necessary to say that the assembly was wholly dominated by Dioscurus. Flavian was not allowed to sit as a bishop, but was on his trial. When Stephen, Bishop of Ephesus, wished to give Communion to Flavian’s clergy, he was attacked by soldiers and monks of Eutyches, 300 in number, who cried out that Stephen was the enemy of the emperor, since he received the emperor’s enemies. Eutyches was admitted to defend himself, but the other side was only so far heard that the Acts of the council which had condemned him were read in full. Not content with restoring Eutyches, Dioscurus proceeded to the deposition of Flavian. This bold measure could only be carried by terrorism. The soldiers and monks were brought into the council, and many bishops were forced to sign a blank paper. The papal legate Hilarus uttered the protest Contradicitur, and saved himself by flight. Flavian and Eusebius of Dorylaeum (q.v.) appealed to the pope, and their letters, only lately discovered, were probably taken by Hilarus to Rome, which he reached by a devious route. St. Flavian was thrown into prison, and died in three days of the blows and ill usage he had received. The bishops who were present gave their testimony, when the Acts were publicly read at the Council of Chalcedon, to the violence used at Ephesus. No doubt they exaggerated somewhat, in order to excuse their own base compliance. But there were too many witnesses to allow them to falsify the whole affair; and we have also the witness of the letters of Hilarus, of Eusebius, and of Flavian, and the martyrdom of the latter, to confirm the charges against Dioscurus.

No more was read at Chalcedon of the Acts. But at this point begin the Syriac Acts of the Robber Council, which tell us of the carrying out by Dioscurus of a thoroughgoing but short-sighted policy. The papal legates came no more to the council, and Domnus excused himself through illness. A few other bishops withdrew or escaped, leaving 101 out of the original 128, and some nine new-corners raised the total to 110. The deposition of Ibas was voted with cries, such as “Let him be burned in the midst of Antioch“. The accused was not present, and no witnesses for the defense were heard. Daniel, Bishop of Haran, nephew of Ibas, was degraded. Irenaeus of Tyre, already deposed, was anathematized. Then it was the turn of the leaders of the Antiochene party. Ibas had been accused of immorality and a misuse of ecclesiastical property, as well as of heresy; no such charges could be made against the great Theodoret; his character was unblemished, and his orthodoxy had been admitted by St. Cyril himself. Nevertheless his earlier writings, in which he had incautiously and with incorrect expressions attacked St. Cyril and defended Nestorius, were now raked up against him. None ventured to dissent from the sentence of deposition pronounced by Dioscurus, which ordered his writings to be burnt. If we may believe the Acts, Domnus, from his bed of real or feigned sickness, gave a general assent to all that the council had done. But this could not save him from the accusation of favoring Nestorians. He was deposed without a word of defense being heard, and a new patriarch, Maximus, was set up in his place.

So ended the council. Dioscurus proceeded to Constantinople, and there made his own secretary, Anatolius, bishop of the city. One foe remained. Dioscurus had avoided reading the pope’s letter to the Council of Ephesus, though he promised more than once to do so. He evidently could not then venture to contest the pope’s ruling as to the Faith. But now, with his own creatures on the thrones of Antioch and Constantinople, and sure of the support of Chrysaphius, he stopped at Nicaea, and with ten bishops launched an excommunication against St. Leo himself. It would be vain to attribute all these acts to the desire of his own aggrandizement. Political motives could not have led him so far. He must have known that in attacking the pope he could have no help from the bishops of the West or from the Western emperor. It is clear that he was genuinely infatuated with his heresy, and was fighting in its interests with all his might.

The pope, on hearing the report of Hilarus, immediately annulled the Acts of the council, absolved all those whom it had excommunicated, and excommunicated the hundred bishops who had taken part in it. He wrote to Theodosius II insisting on the necessity of a council to be held in Italy, under his own direction. The emperor, with the obstinacy of a weak man, supported the council, and paid no attention to the intervention of his sister, St. Pulcheria, nor to that of his colleague, Valentinian III, who, with his mother Galla Placidia, and his wife, the daughter of Theodosius, wrote to him at St. Leo’s suggestion. The reasons given to the pope by Theodosius for his conduct are unknown, for his letters to Leo are lost. In June or July, 450, he died of a fall from his horse, and was succeeded by his sister Pulcheria, who took for her colleague and nominal husband the excellent general Martian. St. Leo, now sure of the support of the rulers of the East, declared a council unnecessary; many bishops had already signed his Tome, and the remainder would do so without difficulty. But the new emperor had already taken steps to carry out the pope’s wish, by a council not indeed in Italy, which was outside his jurisdiction, but in the immediate neighborhood of Constantinople, where he could himself watch its proceedings and ensure its orthodoxy. St. Leo therefore agreed, and sent legates who this time were to preside.

The council, in the intention of both pope and emperor, was to accept and enforce the definition given long since from Rome. Anatolius was ready enough to please the emperor by signing the Tome; and at Pulcheria’s intercession he was accepted as bishop by St. Leo. The latter permitted the restoration to communion of those bishops who repented their conduct at the Robber Council, with the exception of Dioscurus and of the leaders of that synod, whose case he first reserved to the Apostolic See, and then committed to the council. The synod met at Chalcedon, and its six hundred bishops made it the largest of ancient councils (see Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon). The papal legates presided, supported by lay commissioners appointed by the emperor, who were in practice the real presidents, since the legates did not speak Greek. The first point raised was the position of Dioscurus. He had taken his seat, but the legates objected that he was on his trial. The commissioners asked for the charge against him to be formulated, and it was replied that he had held a council without the permission of the Apostolic See, a thing which had never been permitted. This statement was difficult to explain, before the discovery of the Syriac Acts; but we now know that Dioscurus had continued his wouldbe general council for many sessions after the papal legates had taken their departure. The commissioners ordered him to sit in the midst as accused. (A sentence in this passage of the Acts is wrongly translated in the old Latin version; this was carelessly followed by Hefele, who thus led Bright into the error of supposing that the commissioners addressed to the legates a rebuke they meant in reality for Dioscurus.) The Alexandrian patriarch was now as much deserted by his own party as his victims had been deserted at Ephesus by their natural defenders. Some sixty bishops, Egyptian, Palestinian, and Illyrian, were on his side, but were afraid to say a word in his defense, though they raised a great commotion at the introduction into the assembly of Theodoret, who had been especially excluded from the Council of Ephesus. The Acts of the first session of the Robber Council were read, continually interrupted by the disclaimers of the bishops. The leaders of that council, Juvenal of Jerusalem, Thalassius of Caesarea, Maximus of Antioch, now declared that Flavian was orthodox; Anatolius had long since gone over to the winning side. Dioscurus alone stood his ground. He was at least no time-server, and he was a convinced heretic. After this session he refused to appear. At the second session (the third, according to the printed texts and Hefele, but the Ballerini are right in inverting the order of the second and third sessions) the ease of Dioscurus was continued. Petitions against him from Alexandria were read. In these he was accused of injustice and cruelty to the family of Cyril and of many other crimes, even against the emperor and the State. How much of this was true it is impossible to say, as Dioscurus refused to appear or to make any defense. The accusations were dropped, and judgment must necessarily go against Dioscurus, if only for contempt of court. The bishops therefore repeatedly demanded that the legates should deliver judgment. Paschasinus, therefore, the senior legate, recited the crimes of Dioscurus—he had absolved Eutyches contrary to the canons, even before the council; he was still contumacious when others asked for pardon; he had not had the pope’s letter read; he had excommunicated the pope; he had been thrice formally cited and had refused to appear—”Wherefore the most holy and blessed Archbishop of elder Rome, Leo, by us and the present most holy council, together with the thrice blessed and praiseworthy Peter the Apostle, who is the rock and base of the Catholic Church and the foundation of the orthodox Faith, has stripped him of the episcopal and of all sacerdotal dignity. Wherefore this most holy and great council will decree that which is in accordance with the canons against the aforesaid Dioscurus.” All the bishops signified their agreement in a few words, and then all signed the papal sentence. A short notice of his deposition was sent to Dioscurus. It is taken almost word for word from that sent to Nestorius by the Council of Ephesus twenty years before. With the rest of the council—its definition of the Faith imposed upon it by Pope Leo, its rehabilitation of Theodoret and of Ibas, etc.—we have nothing to do. Dioscurus affected to ridicule his condemnation, saying that he should soon be restored. But the council decreed that he was incapable of restoration, and wrote in this sense to the emperors, reciting his crimes. He was banished to Gangra in Paphlagonia, where he died three years later. The whole of Egypt revered him as the true representative of Cyrillian teaching, and from this time forth the Patriarchate of Alexandria was lost to the Church. Dioscurus has been honored in it as its teacher, and it has remained Eutychian to the present day.

JOHN CHAPMAN


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