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Henoticon - Coptic Wiki


A fifth-century imperial edict that was one of the basic statements of imperial theology and ecclesiastical policy of the early Byzantine period. It is the name given to the instrument of union addressed by Emperor ZENO to the “bishops, clergy, monks and laity throughout Alexandria and Egypt and Libya and Pentapolis” in 482. Its immediate aim was the reconciliation of the sees of Constantinople and Alexandria, which had been in a state of hostility since the murder of the Chalcedonian patriarch, Proterius, on Maundy Thursday 457.

The timing of the edict was the result of the decision by the emperor and ACACIUS, patriarch of Constantinople, in the spring of 482, to recognize the anti-Chalcedonian (see CHALCEDON, COUNCIL OF) patriarch of Alexandria, PETER III MONGUS, as true patriarch. Zeno withdrew recognition from Peter’s rival, John Talaia, who fled to Italy in June 482. In the background, however, was the strength of sentiment in Antioch and Jerusalem as well as Alexandria, which in 479 had resulted in the murder of Stephen, patriarch of Antioch, by anti-Chalcedonians. Though addressed to the in Alexandria, the edict was designed to apply to the whole empire.

The edict opens with what had become the traditional avowal that the safety of the empire depended on its orthodoxy: “Considering the source and constitution of our power and the invincible shield of our empire as the only right and true faith, which through divine intervention the 318 Holy Fathers assembled in Nicaea expounded, and the 150 Holy Fathers convened similarly in Constantinople confirmed. . . .” Faithful observance of this faith and praise of God, Jesus Christ, and the Virgin THEOTOKOS will enable the enemies of the empire to be destroyed and the fruits of the earth to be brought forth abundantly.

The emperor goes on to state that he has received many heartfelt petitions from “archimandrites, hermits and other holy men” to knit the churches together once more in unity. Because of disagreements within the church, sacraments have not been dispensed, and as a result there have been riots and bloodshed. Therefore those to whom the edict is addressed should know that “we and the churches everywhere” hold no creed other than Nicaea confirmed by the and EPHESUS, “where the impious Nestorius and those who were later of that one’s mind” are condemned. NESTORIUS and EUTYCHES are anathematized, but the Twelve Anathemas of Saint CYRIL I are to be accepted as canonical.

The edict concludes with a statement of Christological belief: that Jesus Christ is consubstantial with both God and man and is “incarnate from and Mary the Virgin, Theotokos, is one and not two, for we say that both his miracles and his sufferings which he underwent by [act of] will in the flesh are of one person.” Anyone who “has thought or thinks anything else now or at any time either in Chalcedon or in any other synod whatever, we anathematize.” These were the foundations on which all were enjoined to unite in the embrace of the church.

The Henoticon, a masterstroke of diplomacy by Acacius, also says something for the statesmanship of Zeno. It came as near as any other attempt before or since to uniting the theologies of the major churches in the East. The basis chosen was the decision of the first three general councils and the theology of Cyril. Though no see was mentioned by name, orthodoxy was deemed to lie in the theological ideas represented by Constantinople and Alexandria.

The Tome of LEO I and the see of Rome were passed over in silence. Chalcedon was not denounced but was reduced to the status of a disciplinary council concerned with the condemnation of Eutyches’ and Nestorius’ supporters. This aim was confirmed by the statement of Zeno to a delegation of Egyptian monks led by Nephalius. The monks demanded the denunciation of the Tome of Leo and Chalcedon; Zeno said that he was not prepared to do so (Evagrius Historia ecclesiastica 3. 22).

In Egypt the Henoticon had a mixed reception; the bishop of Antinoë, two “great archimandrites,” and monks joined in rejecting it (Zacharias Rhetor Historia ecclesiastica 6. 2; Michael the Syrian Chronicon 9. 6; and Liberatus Breviarium 9). These dissenters became known as ACEPHALOI (“the headless”), having rejected the emperor and patriarch of Alexandria as their heads. Peter III Mongus, however, and Peter of Iberia, the doyen of ascetics, accepted the Henoticon. The document was also accepted generally, though with degrees of reluctance, throughout the East, not least by the patriarch of Antioch, Peter the Fuller, in 484.

In the West, however, the situation was different. Leo had branded all who rejected his Tome as “Eutychians” (Letters 111 and 112, written in 453), and his views were accepted by his successors. In 482, Simplicius was already angry with Acacius for the latter’s alleged “double dealing” in accepting Peter Mongus as patriarach of Alexandria (Simplicius, letter 18 of 15 July 482, miramur pariter; Collectio Avellana, no. 68). Rome, however, remained out of touch with the situation, and it was not until after Simplicius had been succeeded by Felix III in 483 that the significance of the Henoticon became apparent there. Felix had to be alerted by opponents of Acacius in Constantinople, the Sleepless Monks, before he acted. He then accused the patriarch of asserting that he was “head of the whole church” (Felix, to Acacius, in Publizistische Sammlungen zum acacianischen Schisma, p. 73).

A papal delegation to Constantinople was deceived into taking communion with Acacius during a service at which the names of both Peter Mongus and DIOSCORUS I, patriarch of Alexandria, were commemorated by being read from the diptychs. In angry retaliation, a council held by Felix at Rome on 28 July 484 solemnly excommunicated Acacius but more for “hypocrisy” than for heresy. Peter Mongus rather than the Henoticon remained the source of offense (thus, Felix, to Zeno, in Publizistische Sammlungen, p. 248). Only when the schism hardened did the Henoticon itself become a major issue.

The Henoticon was a state act, a pronouncement by the reigning emperor on a matter of doctrine. It went further than the decree of Theodosius I on 27 February 380 (Codex Theodosianus 16. 1. 2), for Theodosius declared only that the trinitarian teaching of Rome and Alexandria was canonical, without mentioning his own views. Zeno, however, does not refer to the views of any see but states what he himself believes. Thus, he foreshadows Justinian’s religious decrees and documents, the Ecthesis of Heraclius I, and the Typos of Constans II. The Henoticon, therefore, was a long step toward Byzantine caesaropapism.

The Henoticon also provided a doctrinal basis for the ACACIAN SCHISM, which lasted from 484 to 519. It highlighted the unbridgeable differences between the theologies and ecclesiastical outlooks of Old and New Rome. At the same time, it aided the essential unity of Eastern Christendom, consolidating it around the theology of Cyril and the leadership of Constantinople and Alexandria. The period of the schism with Old Rome was a time of relative religious peace in the east Roman provinces, and this contributed toward an internal prosperity that made possible the age of Byzantine greatness under JUSTINIAN.


  • No contemporary writer preserved the complete text of the Henoticon, but different versions have enabled it to be reconstructed and published by E. Schwartz, “Codex Vaticanus Graecus 1431, eine anti-chalkedonische Sammlung aus der Zeit Kaiser Zenos,” Abhandlungen der Königlichen Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Philosophisch-historische Abteilung, Vol. 32.6 (Munich, 1927), no. 75, pp. 52-54. Surviving versions are Zacharias Rhetor, Historia ecclesiastica, ed. E. W. Brooks, CSCO, Scriptores Syri III. 5 and 6 (Paris and Louvain, 1919-1924), English trans. by F. J. Hamilton and E. W. Brooks, V. 8 (London, 1899); Evagrius Scholasticus, Historia ecclesiastica, ed. J. Bidez and L. Parmentier, III. 14 (London, 1898); Nicephorus Callistus, Historia ecclesiastica, XVI. 12 146 (Paris, 1846); Liberatus of Carthage, Breviarium causae Nestorianorum et Eutychianorum, ed. E. Schwartz, XVII. 112, Acta conciliorum oecumenicorum 2.V (Berlin and Leipzig, 1932); Facundus of Hermiana, Pro defensione trium capitulorum, XII. 4, Latina, ed. J.-P. Migne, Vol. 67, cols. 845-48 (Brepols and Turnhout, n.d.). An anonymous Armenian partial version is published in English translation by F. C. Conybeare in American Journal of Theology 9 (1905):735-37.
  • For an English translation with notes, see P. R. Coleman-Norton, Roman State and Christian Church, Vol. 3, Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge, pp. 924-33. London, 1966.
  • Bardy, G. “Les Luttes christologiques après le concile de Chalcédoine.” Histoire générale de l’église, Vol. 4, De la mort de Théodose a l’élection de Grégoire le Grand, pt. 2, chap. 1. Paris, 1948.
  • Bareille, G. “Diacrinomènes.” In Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, Vol. 4, cols. 732-33. Paris, 1920.
  • Frend, W. H. C. The Rise of the Monophysite Movement, chap. 4. Cambridge, 1979.
  • Hofmann, F. “Der Kampf der Päpste um Konzil und Dogma von Chalkedon von Leo bis Hormisdas.” In Das Konzil von Chalkedon, ed. A. Grillmeer and H. Bacht, Vol. 2, pp. 13-94. Würzburg, 1953.
  • Schwartz, E. Publizistische Sammlungen zum Acacianischen Schisma. Abhandlungen der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Philosophisch-historische Abteilung, new ser. 10.4. Munich, 1934.
  • Stein, E. Histoire du Bas Empire (476-565), Vol. 2, pp. 25-31. Paris, Brussels, and Amsterdam, 1949.