As a final question to my students in “The Seven Ecumenical Councils in Historical Context”, I asked which council was each person’s favourite. Votes came in for Nicaea, Ephesus, Constantinople II, and Chalcedon. I affirmed that I still prefer Chalcedon. One student asked who the greatest theologian we’d read in the course was. I’ll save that for another post…
Why do I still like the Council of Chalcedon after all these years?
- I like the Chalcedonian definition of the faith, which I’ve translated here. It did not solve the Christological can of worms opened by Nestorius by any means, and potentially just opened up another can and poured the new worms on top of the Nestorius-Cyril worms. But I still think it is beautiful and balanced, so long as interpreted correctly.
- The Council of Chalcedon empowers theologians like St Maximus the Confessor to do wonderful stuff. That’s reason enough for me.
- I like Pope St Leo the Great and his theology. It’s nice to see traditional Latin Christological formulations showcased at an ecumenical council and enshrined as dogma. As I’ve said on a lot of job applications, I am a Latinist (I can certainly do Greek as well, but my interests and deep knowledge tend more to Rome than Athens).
- This might be 3a, actually — whether you like Leo or not, it’s an historically interesting fact that traditional Latin Christological formulations from Hilary of Poitiers and Augustine of Hippo are enshrined in an ecumenical council. The councils are usually dominated by eastern/Greek concerns, eastern/Greek formulations, eastern/Greek bishops, and eastern/Greek ideas. This, at least, makes the Council of Chalcedon an interesting object of study.
- So much evidence survives. For someone who wants to dig into the primary sources for ecclesiastical history, Chalcedon has them in abundance.
- The actual transpiring of the council is interesting, even entertaining, to read. The acts of the council have embedded in them both the acts of the Second Council of Ephesus (449) and the portions of the acts of the Home Synod of Constantinople of 448 relevant to Eutyches.
- The flurry of activity leading up to the council survives, documented chiefly in Leo’s letters.
- The fallout from the council is interesting to read about — monks take of Jerusalem! Bishops get killed in the streets over this! It’s crazy stuff. Historically interesting, whether morally appropriate or not.
I think any other reasons would come in as subsidiaries to these. But these are the reasons why the Council of Chalcedon of 451 is my favourite ecumenical council.