ACACIAN SCHISM, rupture of communion between Rome and Constantinople in the period 484-519. Behind the dispute between the two sees lay issues concerning the relations of both with Alexandria and diverging attitudes toward the Council of CHALCEDON.

The death of TIMOTHY II AELURUS (“the Cat”), the anti-Chalcedonian patriarch of Alexandria, failed to end the between supporters and opponents of Chalcedon in Alexandria. At Constantinople, Patriarch Acacius had acted in concert with Pope Simplicius (468-483) and maintained communion with Timothy II’s rival, Timothy Salafaciolus (“Wobble-Cap”). The choice of the presbyter PETER III MONGUS as Timothy’s successor had, if anything, strengthened Acacius’ resolve not to support the anti- Chalcedonians in Alexandria. Peter, a deacon in Dioscorus’ time, had little to commend him as an individual. Soon after Peter’s consecration, Acacius wrote to Simplicius denouncing Peter as “a friend of darkness” and subverter of the canons of the church fathers, on the ground that he had “accepted consecration at dead of night while the body of his predecessor was still unburied” (Acacii epistola ad Simplicium, in Collectio Veronensis, pp. 4-5; Epistolae romanorum pontificum, ed. Thiel, epistola 8). This was a letter that Acacius would live to regret.

Between 478 and 482 events moved Constantinople increasingly away from Rome and toward Peter Mongus. First, popular opinion in Syria was becoming progressively more anti-Chalcedonian. In 479 Patriarch Stephen was murdered. Acacius maneuvered to secure a strong prelate loyal to Constantinople as his replacement. Although at first, he worked in concert with Simplicius, against disturbers of the peace, he eventually consecrated Calendio as patriarch in Constantinople, assuring Simplicius that he had acted out of necessity and that the election would be confirmed by a provincial synod (i.e., he discounted the idea that Constantinople had established a precedent by consecrating a bishop of a see that many regarded as the mother see of the East). Simplicus seems to have accepted this explanation, though he protested against the precedent he saw being established. In the event, Acacius was unable to keep his undertaking to have Calendio’s consecration ratified at Antioch, while the pope continued to be irked at what he regarded as Acacius’ unwillingness to maintain communication with him. In this atmosphere of suspicion the doctrinal issue that had always been just under the surface since Chalcedon reemerged. The patriarch of Jerusalem, Martyrius (478-486), produced a compromise formula that seemed to offer the chance of reconciling the less rabid opponents of Chalcedon. His encyclical stated that the true faith was to be found in the decisions of NICAEA, CONSTANTINOPLE, and EPHESUS I, and that anyone who accepted different doctrines, whether pronounced at Serdica (Sofia), Ariminum (Rimini), or Chalcedon, was anathema. Chalcedon was not done away with but reduced to the status of a suspect and secondary assembly. To this, however, the papacy would never agree.

In the winter of 481/482 further moves took place that rendered Acacius’ partnership with Simplicius more difficult. Timothy Salofaciolus felt himself aging and sent a delegation headed by his fellow Pachomian monk, John Talaia, to Constantinople to arrange for a successor. John, however, was suspected of intrigues against Emperor Zeno; and though Acacius agreed that Timothy should be succeeded by an Egyptian cleric, John was informed that he himself could not be appointed (though any other post was open to him) and renounced his claims on oath. When Timothy died in February 482, however, John found himself prevented from keeping his oath by his supporters. He gave further offense in Constantinople by not informing Acacius of his consecration and at the same time maintaining relations with the powerful Isaurian chieftain Illus, whom Zeno feared as a possible supplanter. When a rival delegation from Peter Mongus arrived in Constantinople, Acacius took the opportunity to state his terms for recognizing Peter as patriarch.

The result was the HENOTICON (Instrument of unity), dispatched on 28 July 482 to the “bishops, monks and laymen of Alexandria, Egypt and Cyrenaica.” At this time there was no papal representative in Constantinople, and as a result Rome knew very little, or nothing, of these events. Simplicius had recognized John Talaia as the new patriarch of Alexandria, and therefore was horrified to learn of what he believed to be dire treachery on the part of Acacius. He had been urging the latter to initiate stronger action against Peter Mongus, to send him “far off,” and in no way to accept him even as a deacon. The Henoticon itself seems to have played little part in the deteriorating relations between Rome and Constantinople. The quarrel remained disciplinary. On 15 July, a fortnight before the Henoticon was issued, Simplicius had sent two angry letters to Acacius, accusing him of perfidious conduct in recognizing Peter Mongus. In November the pope complained to Acacius about events in Alexandria but not about the Henoticon. The final straw appears to have been the rumor circulating in Rome that Acacius was asserting a claim to be “the head of the whole church.”

The quarrel developed slowly. Simplicius, too ill to take action, died in March 483. His successor, Felix III (483-492), took time to assess the situation. He sent two bishops, Misenus and Vitalis, to Constantinople with letters to Zeno and Acacius demanding that the latter come to Rome and answer complaints brought by John Talaia against him. Acacius outwitted them, and the wretched legates found themselves communicating unwittingly with Acacius and representatives of Peter Mongus. On their return home they were excommunicated. In July 484, a synod of twenty-nine bishops assembled under Felix’s presidency in Rome and excommunicated Acacius on the grounds not of heresy but of double-dealing and refusing to answer John Talaia’s charges. At Constantinople the papacy had its supporters. The pro-Chalcedonian community of the Sleepless Monks had contributed toward stirring the papacy into action. One of its monks pinned the sentence on Acacius’ pallium while the latter was celebrating the Eucharist. Acacius reluctantly replied in kind; Felix’s name was removed from the diptychs, that is, he was not listed among the dignitaries for whom the patriarch would pray during the celebration of the Eucharist. When, on 1 August, Felix told that he must choose between the apostle Peter and Peter Mongus, the became a reality.

During the thirty-five years of schism, Constantinople stood on the defensive. Acacius died in 489, and his two successors, Fravitta (d. 490) and Euphemius (490-496), both sent letters to Rome announcing their election, only to be rebuffed by the reigning pope. In 496, Patriarch Macedonius wished to include Rome among the recipients of his synodal letter, but was forbidden to do so by Emperor I (491-518). Except for the brief interlude of the reign of Pope Anastasius II (496-498), Rome made no effort to restore harmony. Felix III was succeeded by Gelasius I in 492. The latter, probably of African origin, left no doubt that he considered Acacius not only a hypocrite but also “an Eutychist” tainted with heresy by entering into communion with Peter Mongus. He was guilty by association with those who had been condemned at Chalcedon. He “had known the truth and yet had allied himself with enemies of the truth.” During the four and a half years Gelasius occupied the papal throne, relations between the churches in the East and West worsened noticeably.

On the other hand, Acacius achieved his aim of restoring communion with the church of the majority of Christians in Alexandria. John Talaia was sent into exile and ended his days as a bishop of Nola in southern Italy. The Chalcedonian line of patriarchs was not renewed. The restoration of communion between Acacius and Peter Mongus caused rejoicing in Constantinople and the of a fulsome letter from Acacius to the Alexandrian patriarch. Peter, however, was not his own master. His position was threatened by anti-Chalcedonian extremist monks, the ACEPHALOI, who feared communion with the church in Constantinople would compromise their anti-Chalcedonian principles. Peter was forced to tack and turn. Before he died, he had had to denounce Chalcedon unreservedly and was close to another breach with Constantinople. His successor, Athanasius II, was of like mind, “openly and freely anathematizing the synod and Tome [of Leo].”

Communion, however, was not broken, and in the East no bishop denounced the Henoticon. Fravitta was succeeded by Euphemius (490-496), who, deposed as a result of an internal political crisis in 496, was followed by Macedonius (496-511). Macedonius reflected the outlook of his predecessors. The was regretted and Chalcedon would not be abandoned, but with that proviso, communion with the other Eastern patriarchates must be maintained. The Henoticon, however, was the touchstone of orthodoxy; and with the aim of securing universal assent to this symbol of the faith, an effort was made in 497 to restore the communion between Rome and Constantinople without rupturing the links between Constantinople and Alexandria. Though the mission of the Roman senator Festus to Constantinople was doomed to failure, it showed that, given goodwill, peace might have been restored on the basis of dropping Acacius from the diptychs, that is, making him a scapegoat guilty of disciplinary offenses, and the pope accepting the Henoticon. Surprisingly, the spirit of compromise affected Alexandria. Athanasius wrote to the pope, setting out in a confession of faith the terms on which communion between Rome and Alexandria could be restored: the Henoticon, Cyril’s Anathemas, and the acceptance of Dioscorus, Timothy “the Cat,” and Peter Mongus as orthodox. The last condition was, of course, impossible; but the fact that it was put forward at all suggests that the schism between Alexandria and Rome was not regarded as desirable or permanent.

Anastasius’ death ended hope of a compromise. His successor, Symmachus (498-514), had to survive a schism launched by supporters of the arch-presbyter Laurentius, but when he finally gained undisputed control in 506, he showed that his loyalties lay with the Italy of Theodoric the Ostrogoth. He was in no hurry to resolve the Acacian dispute except through surrender by Constantinople. Meanwhile, the relations between Alexandria and Constantinople continued on an even keel. Athanasius II’s successor, John I Mula, signed the Henoticon without any additions, though he also denounced the Tome of Leo and Chalcedon.

The restoration of papal self-confidence coincided with a significant shift in imperial policy. Emperor had always harbored anti-Chalcedonian opinions. He had the reputation of holding the Manichaean doctrine, but down to about 507, he had done nothing to upset the policies of his predecessor, Zeno. In this, he was supported by his patriarch. From 507 on, however, a number of developments pushed him toward an increasingly anti- Chalcedonian stance. With the renewed hardening of the papal attitude, extreme anti-Chalcedonians began to find themselves welcome in Constantinople. First, in 507, came the visit of the metropolitan of in Mesopotamia, Philoxenus (Xenaias), and in the next year that of the monk SEVERUS OF ANTIOCH. The latter had been sent by his monastery near Gaza in Palestine to plead the cause of his and other anti-Chalcedonian monasteries in the Palestinian coastal plain, which were being harassed by the patriarch of Jerusalem, Elias (494-516), and his pro-Chalcedonian agents.

Severus had been strongly influenced in his vocation by Peter the Iberian. His theology was based on an unbounded reverence for the ideas of CYRIL I and those of the Cappadocian fathers. Gradually Severus gained influence over the emperor. The process was aided by a dispute between Flavian, patriarch of Antioch, and JOHN II of Nikiou, who had succeeded John Mula at Alexandria. Flavian refused to remain in communion with John when the latter followed his predecessor in denouncing Leo’s Tome and Chalcedon.

The quarrel extended to include Philoxenus, who bore a grudge against Flavian, and in 510 they both appealed to as arbitrator. Acting on Severus’ advice, Anastasius issued Typos tes plerophorias (Formula of Satisfaction), which accepted the Henoticon but denounced the Tome of Leo and the Christological formula “in two natures,” and passed over Chalcedon in silence. This brought about a rift between Severus and Patriarch Macedonius, and after a period of increasingly bitter conflict, Severus emerged victorious; Macedonius was deposed and exiled on the night of 6/7 August 511. His successor, Timothy (511-518), though remaining in communion with Elias of Jerusalem, took care to go as far as he could in repudiating Chalcedon in order to retain the goodwill of Severus and of at Alexandria.

This incident, followed by riots in Constantinople against the use of the Monophysite addition to the Trisagion (“who was crucified for us”) in services, showed that the Henoticon was proving inadequate to maintain religious unity in the empire. In 513 a new and ultimately decisive threat developed through the revolt of Vitalian. This was a military revolt, but it reflected the alienation of the European, and in particular the Latin-speaking, provinces of the empire against the emperor’s religious policy. Pope was now succeeded by Hormisdas (514-523). Pressure began to mount on the emperor.

In 512 the Illyrian bishops had written to Symmachus, stating their support for the Council of Chalcedon. Under Hormisdas the pro-Chalcedon movement gathered pace. In 515 forty bishops petitioned the pope to admit them to his communion after they had withdrawn communion from Dorotheus, bishop of Thessalonica. In the summer of that year, Hormisdas was able to tell a Gallic synod that the churches in the provinces of Illyrianus, Dardanius, and Scythia had submitted to him.

Meanwhile, Vitalian had extended his hold over the European provinces of Scythia, Moesia, and Thrace, and had been forced to restore the Trisagion without the “Monophysite” addition. In an increasingly difficult situation, the aging emperor turned to Hormisdas for mediation.

The pope’s terms were severe. A delegation to Constantinople led by Ennodius, the aristocratic bishop of Ticinum (Pavia), told the emperor that the schism could be ended only by the unequivocal acceptance of Chalcedon and the denunciation of Dioscorus, Timothy “the Cat,” and Peter Mongus and their abettor, Acacius. At this stage, Hormisdas seems to have been following in Pope Gelasius’ footsteps and emphasizing Alexandrian doctrinal deviation and the fault of Acacius as an associate of the Alexandrians. The papal libellus (brief) did not mention Acacius’ successors or even Severus, who in November 512 had become the patriarch of Antioch. The conditions, however, were beyond anything the emperor would concede. In a letter to Hormisdas, he said that Chalcedon could be accepted as a disciplinary synod, not conflicting with Nicaea, and he would recall bishops who had recently been exiled. He also was prepared to reprimand the Egyptians for their continuous denunciation of Leo and Chalcedon, and NESTORIUS and EUTYCHES would remain under anathema. Acacius, however, he would not sacrifice, because of the result of such action on popular feeling. The living must not be made to suffer for the errors of the dead, and unity achieved under duress would be displeasing to God. Even in a moment of crisis, the unity of the Eastern patriarchates was seen to be more important than even the restoration of communion with “Old” Rome on Hormisdas’ terms.

Negotiations dragged on through 516 and into 517. Vitalian’s attempt to take Constantinople failed during 516 and provided the emperor with a much-needed respite. Finally, when yet another embassy from Rome was suspected of intriguing to consolidate pro- Chalcedonian opinion against the emperor, lost patience. On 11 July 517 he wrote to Hormisdas, “From henceforth, we shall suppress in silence our requests, thinking it absurd to show the courtesy of prayers to those, who with arrogance in their mouths refuse even to be entreated.” He ended with the words, which could be applied to relations between empire and papacy in later periods, “you may insult and thwart me, but you may not command me.”

The emperor’s time was running out. Even before he died on the night of 8/9 July 518, the situation had worsened. Pro-Chalcedonian feeling was rising in the eastern as well as the European provinces of the empire. In the vast patriarchate of Antioch, Severus’ rule was becoming ever less popular. His passion for doctrinal “accuracy” in the anti-Chalcedonian sense was resented, and his active administration with its drive for efficiency and integrity was little understood. In particular, the clergy and monks of Syria Secunda, still predominantly Greek in language and sentiment, were becoming restive. It was, however, in Palestine that the storm broke. On 1 September 516 the emperor, probably at Severus’ prompting, had deposed the patriarch Elias. Elias, however, had been supported by the majority of the monks led by Saint Saba in an increasingly strong pro-Chalcedonian attitude. His successor, John (516-524), was forcibly prevented from denouncing Chalcedon, and the monks raised the cry, “Four Councils even as Four Gospels.” It was a cry that was heard often in the next few years.

The next year brought little joy to the anti-Chalcedon cause. In Alexandria, John of Nikiou, the patriarch, had died; his successor, II seems to have been a more open-minded individual. Completely secure in his own position, he saw little point in reiterating denunciations of Leo’s Tome and the Council of Chalcedon. He seems to have been anxious to maintain good relations with Constantinople even at the expense of annoying Severus of Antioch. Severus’s letters indicate a rift between them, and elsewhere Severus accuses of dropping the anti- Chalcedonian addition to the Trisagion.

More serious was the outright revolt of a considerable number of the monks of Syria Secunda. Near the end of 517, 207 leading monks of the province, led by Alexander, presbyter, and archimandrite of the great monastery of Maro, south of Damascus, sent a letter to Pope Hormisdas. In it they attacked Severus, accusing him of daily denouncing “the holy synod of Chalcedon” and “our blessed father Leo,” and of using murderous violence to achieve his ends. Clearly, opinion in the world was becoming polarized, with the advantage of passing to the pro-Chalcedonians. Hormisdas’ reply, sent on 10 February 518, was confident of victory. The accession of Vitalian’s associate JUSTIN I to the imperial throne on 9 July ushered in a complete change of imperial policy toward Rome and the Council of Chalcedon. On the following Sunday and Monday, the solemn Eucharist was disturbed by popular outcries, which demanded the proclamation of the Council of Chalcedon; the restoration of the relics of the former patriarch, Macedonius, to the church; the deposition of Severus; and—most significant of all—reconciliation with Rome.

Justin was well qualified to heed the appeals. He had been born in Epirus, one of the remaining Latin-speaking areas of the empire, and by sentiment was pro-Chalcedonian, intent on restoring harmony and communion between the two Romes. Contemporaries described him as a “burning zealot.” As early as 1 August 518, Justin sent the first of many messages to the pope, informing him of his election as emperor and begging “that by your saintly prayers you may supplicate the divine power that the beginning of our rule may be strengthened.” Five weeks later, on 7 September, the first formal steps were taken to end the schism. Three letters to Pope Hormisdas were drawn up in Constantinople: one from Patriarch John, one from Justin, and one from his nephew, Count Justinian. The most significant of these was Justinian’s. The patriarch declared his faith according to the four ecumenical councils and hoped that the true faith would be established by their joint efforts. He also stated his intention to add Pope Leo to the diptychs alongside Hormisdas, and asked the pope to send legates to Constantinople “in order that Christ, who through you has preserved this peace to the world, may be glorified.” Justin supported the patriarch’s plea for the restoration of unity, indicating that bishops had assembled in the capital to establish the union of the churches on the basis of the true and orthodox faith. Justinian, however, went further, revealing that restoration of union had been his uncle’s first aim since his accession and asking the pope to come “without delay” to Constantinople, to bring about the final settlement of union.

Given the sentiment in Constantinople and the support he had in the empire, Hormisdas could set his terms high, and he did so. The imperial letters had made no mention of individuals to be anathematized and left the position of Acacius as a matter for negotiation. The papal letter, or libellus, carried by his legates to Constantinople in January 519 demanded, first, that the See of Constantinople should acknowledge the unblemished orthodoxy of Rome; accept anathema against Nestorius, Eutyches, Dioscorus, Timothy “the Cat,” Acacius, “and his successors” (not further identified); and unequivocally accept the Tome of Leo.

What happened in the two months between the arrival of the legates on soil and Patriarch John’s signature of the libellus is not at all clear. Except at Thessalonica, the legates had a warm, at times tumultuous, welcome. Among their number, however, was the deacon Dioscorus, an exile from Alexandria and confidant of Hormisdas who harbored no friendly feelings toward Constantinople and its faith. This man, who coldly and unemotionally reported every move in the negotiations to Hormisdas, may have been instrumental for the far stiffer terms that were presented to the emperor and patriarchs when the legates arrived in the capital on 25 March. Papal instructions to the legates had allowed them a minimum of discretion regarding “the successors” of Acacius. If the emperor proved adamant, they would be permitted simply to pass over them in silence and erase them from the diptychs without formal anathema. In the event, convinced the emperor and a council held by Patriarch John on 27 March in the emperor’s presence of Acacius’ guilt. The next day, Maundy Thursday, John signed the papal libellus in the presence of Justin, the Senate, and the legates. Added to the name of Acacius were not only Fravitta, Euphemius, Macedonius, and Timothy (patriarch of Constantinople, 511-518) but also the emperors Zeno and Anastasius. A copy of the document of reunion, compiled in Latin and Greek, was sent to the papal archives for permanent safekeeping.

Had the agreement been maintained in its literal form, the triumph of the papacy would have been complete. Not only would the church of Constantinople and the whole of the Greek East have been humbled, but the papacy would have established a precedent for pronouncing anathemas on emperors, even dead emperors.

It is clear, however, that contemporaries did not regard the agreement of reunion as a humiliation for the see of Constantinople, let alone for the imperial majesty. A letter from Patriarch John to Hormisdas rejoiced at the unity of the churches of Old and New Rome. He then accepted the first four councils, naming them in turn. The significant point here is Constantinople’s being referred to as “regarding the confirmation of the faith [i.e., of Nicaea] and the ordering of the Church,” that is to say, confirming Constantinople’s status as second see to that of Rome. Only Acacius was condemned by name, though his “successors” were also mentioned (the emperors were not). Moreover, as John pointed out in another letter, written to Hormisdas on 21 April, the initiative for reunion had lain with the emperor: “He most wisely prepared the union of the Churches.” In addition, there had been no renunciation of canon 28 of Chalcedon. Only Acacius had been sacrificed—with the willing consent of emperor and patriarch.

The ending of the Acacian schism, however, meant that so long as Justin and Justinian ruled, the religion of the empire would be based on the four councils and the unity of the two Romes. Fundamentally there had been a power struggle between Rome and New Rome in which Rome had emerged as tactical victor. The experiment attempted by Zeno and of uniting the four Eastern patriarchates, focused on Cyril’s Christology as reflected in the Henoticon, failed; but on the other hand, that experiment had enabled a consolidation of anti-Chalcedonianism in Egypt and its firm establishment in the patriarchate of Antioch. Within a few years, however, the anti-Chalcedonians would be forced to establish their own Monophysite hierarchy as a result of Justin’s repressive measures against anti-Chalcedonian clergy. The reunion of the two Romes in 519 inevitably led to the Monophysite schism. The majority churches of Alexandria, Antioch, and Constantinople would never again be united as one.


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