The Papacy and the Imperial Court in the Aftermath of the Acacian Schism

The Papacy and the Imperial Court in the Aftermath of the Acacian Schism

By Dana Iuliana Viezure

Paper given at Thirty-Eighth Annual Byzantine Studies Conference, held at Hellenic College Holy Cross in Boston, Massachusetts on November 2, 2012

In the year 451 the Council of Chalcedon decreed that Christ is in two natures in one person. This theological concept was accepted in Western Europe, but in the Byzantine world it meant with a lot of dispute. Under the reign of Emperor Zeno, a document known as the Henoticon, a statement of faith that attempted to bypass adherence to the Council of Chalcedon, was published and accepted by Byzantine ecclesiastical officials. This led to Pope Felix III anathematizing Patriarch Acacius of Constantinople in 484, which marks the beginning of a period known as the Acacian Schism.

Viezure’s paper examines how the Papacy portrayed their efforts to end the Acacian Schism, in what she describes as “an attempt to paint the image of a powerful Pope.” In reality, the efforts by the Papacy and various Papal Legates met with little success in Byzantium, and it was only when Justin I became Emperor in 518 that the rulings of the Council of Chalcedon were restored.

Viezure makes use of the Collection Avellano, a collection of 243 letters relating to ecclesiastical debates from the 4th to 6th centuries. The fifth portion of this work deals with the Acacian Schism, and from reading these letters one gets the distinct impression that it was Pope Hormisdas (514-523) who lead the reconciliation between the Western and Eastern churches during the years 518 to 520. The letters show that the Pope was reaching out to a wide number of people and was trying to control every detail of this process. Interestingly, these letters wer re-arranged outside of chronological consistency to make the Pope look better.

The idea that Hormisdas saved the Christian church is not confined to the Collection Avellano – when his son Silverius (who himself would become Pope in 536) wrote Hormisdas’ epitaph, he stated “you have healed the body of the patria, lacerated by schism, restoring torn-off members to their rightful places; in the pious Empire, conquered Greece gave way to you, rejoicing that it had regained its lost faith.”

The Liber Pontificalis adds that a story that when Emperor Anastasius (491-518) was enraged at the Pope Hormisdas’ demands, he wrote back to him saying “it is our wish to give orders and not take him” only to be struck and killed by a divine thunderbolt. Viezure does note that a letter in the Collection Avellano relates a very similar message from the Emperor to the Pope, which may have been the basis for the story.

– Summary by Peter Konieczny

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