The Council Of Ephesus - 431 A.D.

part three of three

For document sources noted, see Abbreviations


  1. Definition against the impious Messalians or Euchites
  2. Resolution : that the bishops of Cyprus may themselves conduct ordinations
  3. Formula of union between Cyrill and John of Antioch
  4. Letter of Cyril to John of Antioch about peace
  5. Excerpt from the Council of Chalcedon accepting the Letter of Cyril to John of Antioch about peace.

Definition against the impious Messalians or Euchites

The most pious and religious bishops Valerian and Amphilochius came together to us and made a joint enquiry about the so called Messalians or Euchites or Enthusiasts, or whatever name this appalling heresy goes under, who dwell in the region of Pamphylia. We made investigation and the god-fearing and reverent Valerian produced a synodical document concerning these people, which had been drawn up in great Constantinople in the time of Sisinnius of blessed memory. When this had been read out in the presence of all, it was agreed that it had been well made and was correct. We all agreed, as did the most religious bishops Valerian and Amphilochius and all the pious bishops of the provinces of Pamphylia and Lycaonia, that what had been inscribed in the synodical document should be confirmed and in no way disobeyed, clearly without prejudice to the acts of Alexandria. Consequently those anywhere in that province who subscribed to the heresy of the Messalians or Enthusiasts, or who were suspected of the disease, whether clerical or lay, are to come together; if they sign the anathemas according to what was promulgated in the aforementioned synod, should they be clergy they should remain such and if laity they are to remain in communion. But if they decline and do not anathematise, if they are presbyters or deacons or hold any other rank in the church, they are to forfeit their clerical status and grade and communion, and if they are laity let them be anathematised.

In addition, those who have been condemned are not to be permitted to govern monasteries, lest tares be sown and increase. The vigorous and zealous execution of all these decrees is enjoined upon the reverent bishops Valerian and Amphilochius and the other reverent bishops throughout the whole province. Furthermore it seemed good that the filthy book of this heresy, which has been published and is called by them Asceticon, should be anathematised, as being composed by heretics, a copy of which the most pious and religious Valerian brought with him. Any other production savouring of the like impiety which is found anywhere is to be treated similarly.

In addition, when they come together, they should commit clearly to writing whatever conduces to the creation of concord, communion and order. But if any discussion should arise in connexion with the present business among the most godly bishops Valerian, Amphilochius and the other reverent bishops in the province, and if something difficult or ambiguous crops up, then in such a case it seems good that the godly bishops of Lycia and Lycaonia should be brought in, and the metropolitan of whatever province these choose should not be left out. In this way the disputed questions should through their means be brought to an appropriate solution.

Resolution : that the bishops of Cyprus may themselves conduct ordinations.

The holy synod declared:

The most reverent bishop Rheginus and with him Zenon and Evagrius, revered bishops of the province of Cyprus, have brought forward what is both an innovation against the ecclesiastical customs and the canons of the holy fathers and concerns the freedom of all. Therefore, since common diseases need more healing as they bring greater harm with them, if it has not been a continuous ancient custom for the bishop of Antioch to hold ordinations in Cyprus--as it is asserted in memorials and orally by the religious men who have come before the synod -- the prelates of the holy churches of Cyprus shall, free from molestation and violence, use their right to perform by themselves the ordination of reverent bishops for their island, according to the canons of the holy fathers and the ancient custom.

The same principle will be observed for other dioceses and provinces everywhere. None of the reverent bishops is to take possession of another province which has not been under his authority from the first or under that of his predecessors. Any one who has thus seized upon and subjected a province is to restore it, lest the canons of the fathers be transgressed and the arrogance of secular power effect an entry through the cover of priestly office. We must avoid bit by bit destroying the freedom which our lord Jesus Christ the liberator of all people, gave us through his own blood. It is therefore the pleasure of the holy and ecumenical synod to secure intact and inviolate the rights belonging to each province from the first, according to the custom which has been in force from of old. Each metropolitan has the right to take a copy of the proceedings for his own security. If any one produces a version which is at variance with what is here decided, the holy and ecumenical synod unanimously decrees it to be of no avail.

Formula of union between Cyrill and John of Antioch

We will state briefly what we are convinced of and profess about

  • the God-bearing virgin and
  • the manner of the incarnation of the only begotten Son of God --
    • not by way of addition but in the manner of a full statement, even as we have received and possess it from of old from
    • the holy scriptures and from
    • the tradition of the holy fathers,
    • adding nothing at all to the creed put forward by the holy fathers at Nicaea.
    For, as we have just said, that creed is sufficient both for the knowledge of godliness and for the repudiation of all heretical false teaching. We shall speak not presuming to approach the unapproachable; but we confess our own weakness and so shut out those who would reproach us for investigating things beyond the human mind.

    We confess, then, our lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God perfect God and perfect man of a rational soul and a body, begotten before all ages from the Father in his godhead, the same in the last days, for us and for our salvation, born of Mary the virgin, according to his humanity, one and the same consubstantial with the Father in godhead and consubstantial with us in humanity, for a union of two natures took place. Therefore we confess one Christ, one Son, one Lord. According to this understanding of the unconfused union, we confess the holy virgin to be the mother of God because God the Word took flesh and became man and from his very conception united to himself the temple he took from her. As to the evangelical and apostolic expressions about the Lord, we know that theologians treat some in common as of one person and distinguish others as of two natures, and interpret the god-befitting ones in connexion with the godhead of Christ and the lowly ones with his humanity.

    Letter of Cyril to John of Antioch about peace

    Having read these holy phrases and finding ourselves in agreement (for "there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism"), we have given glory to God who is the saviour of all and rejoice together that our churches and yours are at one in professing the same faith as the inspired scriptures and the tradition of our holy fathers. But since I discovered that there are some always eager to find fault, who buzz around like angry wasps and spit forth evil words against me, to the effect that I say that the holy body of Christ came down from heaven and not from the holy virgin, I thought it necessary in answer to them to say a little about this matter to you.

    O fools, whose only competence is in slander! How did you become so perverted in thought and fall into such a sickness of idiocy? For you must surely know that almost all our fight for the faith arose in connexion with our insistence that the holy virgin is the mother of God. But if we claim that the holy body of our common saviour Christ is born from heaven and was not of her, why should she still be considered God-bearer? For whom indeed did she bear, if it is untrue that she bore Emmanuel according to the flesh? It is rather they who speak such nonsense against me who deserve to be ridiculed. For the holy prophet Isaiah does not lie when he says, "Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which is interpreted God with us". Again the holy Gabriel speaks total truth when he says to the blessed virgin: "Do not fear, Mary. You have found favour with God, and behold you will conceive in your womb and bear a son and you will call his name Jesus . For he will save his people from their sins".

    But when we say that our lord Jesus Christ came from heaven and above, we do not apply such expressions as "from above" and "from heaven" to his holy flesh. Rather do we follow the divine Paul who clearly proclaimed: "The first man was of the earth, earthly, the second man is the Lord from heaven".

    We also recall our Saviour who said: "No one has gone up into heaven except him who came down from heaven, the son of man". Yet he was born, as I have just said, from the holy virgin according to the flesh.

    But since God the Word, who came down from above and from heaven, "emptied himself, taking the form of a slave", and was called son of man though all the while he remained what he was, that is God (for he is unchangeable and immutable by nature), he is said to have come down from heaven, since he is now understood to be one with his own flesh, and he has therefore been designated the man from heaven, being both perfect in godhead and perfect in humanity and thought of as in one person. For there is one lord Jesus Christ, even though we do not ignore the difference of natures, out of which we say that the ineffable union was effected. As for those who say that there was a mixture or confusion or blending of God the Word with the flesh, let your holiness see fit to stop their mouths. For it is quite likely that some should spread it abroad that I have thought or said such things. But I am so far from thinking anything of the kind that I think that those are quite mad who suppose that "a shadow of change" is conceivable in connexion with the divine nature of the Word. For he remains what he is always and never changes, nor could he ever change or be susceptible of it. Furthermore we all confess that the Word of God is impassible though in his all-wise economy of the mystery he is seen to attribute to himself the sufferings undergone by his own flesh. So the all-wise Peter speaks of "Christ suffering for us in the flesh" and not in the nature of his unspeakable godhead. For in order that he might be believed to be the saviour of all, in accordance with our economic appropriation, as I said, he refers to himself the sufferings of his own flesh, in much the same way as is suggested through the voice of the prophet coming as it were from him in advance: "I gave my back to the smiters and my cheeks to blows; I hid not my face from shame and spitting" .

    Let your holiness be persuaded and let no one else cherish any doubt, that we everywhere follow the opinions of the holy fathers especially those of our blessed and glorious father Athanasius, with whose opinions we differ not in the slightest. I would have added many of their testimonies, proving my opinions from theirs, had I not feared that the length of the letter would be made tedious thereby. We do not permit anyone in any way to upset the defined faith or the creed drawn up by the holy fathers who assembled at Nicaea as the times demanded. We give neither ourselves nor them the licence to alter any expression there or to change a single syllable, remembering the words: "Remove not the ancient landmarks which your fathers have set".

    For it was not they that spoke, but the Spirit of God the Father, who proceeds from him and who is not distinct from the Son in essence. We are further confirmed in our view by the words of our holy spiritual teachers. For in the Acts of the Apostles it is written: "When they came to Mysia, they tried to go to Bithynia and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them". And the divine Paul writes as follows: "Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh, you are in the spirit, if the Spirit of God really dwells in you. And anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him". When, therefore, any of those who love to upset sound doctrine pervert my words to their way of thinking, your holiness should not be surprised at this, but should remember that the followers of every heresy extract from inspired scripture the occasion of their error, and that all heretics corrupt the true expressions of the holy Spirit with their own evil minds and they draw down on their own heads an inextinguishable flame.

    Since therefore we have learnt that even the letter of our glorious father Athanasius to the blessed Epictetus, which is completely orthodox, has been corrupted and circulated by some, with the result that many have been injured therefore, thinking it both useful and necessary for the brethren, we have despatched to your holiness accurate copies of the original, unadulterated writings which we have.

    Excerpt from the Council of Chalcedon

    The Council of Chalcedon "has accepted the synodical letters of the blessed Cyril, pastor of the church in Alexandria,
    to Nestorius and to the Orientals, as being well-suited to refuting Nestorius's mad folly and to providing an interpretation for those who in their religious zeal might desire understanding of the saving creed.".

    Translation taken from Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, ed. Norman P. Tanner

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