This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

February 18 -- Feast of Saint Flavian

The Apostle Peter, or whichever pseudoepigrapher (forger) wrote the Second Epistle of Peter, opened up his letter with a warning:

But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves.

By the fifth century,  that warning was being heeded with internecine results.  Take, for example, the statement by Nestor, the archbishop of Constantinople, that Theotokos (Godbearer) was an inappropriate term for Mary.  This reignited a debate over the nature of Jesus, a conflict that had ripped up the fourth century, eventually being "settled" with the adoption of the Nicene Creed.  Poor Nestor found himself packed off to a monastery in Upper Egypt and anathematized by every branch of the Church except Mesopotamia and Persia.  It was not until the Bazaar of Heracleides was discovered in a Nestorian monastery in AD 1895 that Nestor's good name would get restored throughout the Church -- in that book, he reaffirmed his own orthodoxy and clarified what he meant.  Much good it did him, having been sent to the Mediterranean equivalent of Tatooine.

READER:  Hey Major, I thought this was about Flavian!

Right.  Among those who denounced Nestor at the Council of First Council of Ephesus was an archmandrite (middle manager of the Church) named Eutyches. In his argument, he went so far in praise of the combination of divine and human natures of Jesus that he asserted it was one blended nature known as the incarnate Word of God.  Whoops.  Was that a slip of the tongue or did he just assert another heresy, viz. that Jesus has only one nature?  He argued against Nestor in 431; he found himself denounced as a heretic at synod in Constantinople in 448. He was convicted, defrocked, and excommunicated.  I can't help but think of the Red Guards purging loyal communists whose orthodoxy was not as nimble as the central committees during the Maoist era.

READER:  Major!  Flavian?

Right.  Flavian, the new Archbishop of Constantinople, was the president of the synod that stripped Eutyches of everything except his life.   A Second Council of Ephesus was convened to examine whether Flavian had acted appropriately.  The room had been stacked against Flavian by the minions of the Emperor Theodosius, who was still nursing grudges against Flavian.

Grudge One:  When the Emperor was visiting Calcedon, his eunuch told Flavian that a gift of gold would be appropriate.  Flavian declined to give anything.

Pulcheria?  I doubt it, but some gamer says so.
Grudge Two:  Flavian ordained the Emperor's sister, Empress Pulcheria, as a deaconess.  Pulcheria was a strong woman, stronger perhaps than her brother.  Theodosius had not wanted her position buttressed by an official position in the Church. 

Just to make sure that he got his way at the Ephesian Council, Theodosius sent his soldiers along with his priests and bishops.  When Flavian protested the proceedings, he was beaten mercilessly.  The Council then voted to reinstate Eutyches and depose Flavian, who died three days later anyway.

Upon hearing of this, Pope Leo I, voted the Ephesian proceedings, dismissing the event as The Robber Council of Ephesus.  Theodosius himself died a year later.  Pulcheria shared her throne with her new husband, Marcian.  They translated Flavian's relics to Constantinople in a triumphal parade and summoned another council to affirm Leo's judgment and toss Eutyches back out on his ass.

POP QUIZ:  The false teacher or false prophet in the story was:

a) Nestor
b) Eutyches
c) Flavian
d) Theodosius
e) Pulcheria
f) Leo
g) all of the above
h) none of the above

1 comment:

  1. Your retelling of this story is defective in many ways. The most important omission is that you never mention the real villain of the story, the eunuch Chrysaphius. He was a greedy schemer who maneuvered to exile both empresses - Pulcheria and Eudocia - from the imperial court, leaving himself as the effective ruler of the eastern half of the empire. Theodosius II was a weak-willed man who had always been effectively controlled by one or the other of the two rival court factions, whose chief representatives were the two empresses. Chrysaphius assumed the role of prime minister after disposing of the two empresses.

    The way Chrysaphius disposed of Pulcheria was to persuade the emperor to mandate her ordination as a deaconess. Once ordained, she would lose all of her political power. (Ordination was a common way to exile inconvenient imperials.) But she was warned of the scheme and went into seclusion in her own palace to avoid the threatened ordination. She was never ordained.

    Eutyches' title was Archimandrite of the Monasteries. He was, essentially, the chief monk of Constantinople. Chrysaphius was his disciple and godson. Together, they terrorized the city's clerical establishment, essentially running the church as a police state. They conspired with the Archbishop of Alexandria, Dioscorus, to dispose of Flavian. (This was the third instance of a recurring pattern. Predecessors of Dioscorus and Eutyches had teamed up to overthrow Constantinopolitan Archbishops John Chrysostom and Nestorius.)

    After the First Council of Ephesus, there had been a brief schism between Antioch and Alexandria. Pulcheria brought about a reconciliation via the Formula of Reunion, a short creedal statement agreed upon by both Cyril of Alexandria and John of Antioch. These two archbishops, together with Proclus of Constantinople, defended the Formula - and the Church's unity - as long as they lived. But Cyril's successor Dioscorus wanted to dispose of the Formula, with its affirmation of Christ's two natures, and institute a strict monophysitism. Eutyches provided him with his opportunity to do so.

    Not long after the Robber Council, Chrysaphius' many crimes caught up with him and he fell from his position of power. Pulcheria returned to court, and she was already firmly in control before her brother died in a riding accident. She engineered the Council of Chalcedon to reinstate the Formula of Reunion (which is the primary source of the Chalcedonian Definition) and reverse the injustices perpetrated by the Robber Council.

    Have you ever read the Bazaar of Heracleides? Nestorius' christology is nearly incomprehensible. The Bazaar certainly did not restore his good name. While I would argue that his christology was incoherent rather than heretical, there is still no consensus on this point.

    Eutyches' christology was equally incoherent. His statements of belief often contained internal contradictions that he did not seem to comprehend.

    I would argue that Nestorius and Eutyches are both examples of the bad consequences of granting theological authority to inferior minds.