The Council Of Chalcedon - 451 A.D.

Part Two of Two

For document sources noted, see Abbreviations


  1. The letter of Pope Leo, to Flavian, bishop of Constantinople, about Eutyches
  2. Definition of the faith

Definition of the faith

The sacred and great and universal synod by God's grace and by decree of your most religious and Christ-loving emperors Valentinian Augustus and Marcian Augustus assembled in Chalcedon, metropolis of the province of Bithynia, in the shrine of the saintly and triumphant martyr Euphemia, issues the following decrees.

In establishing his disciples in the knowledge of the faith, our lord and saviour Christ said: "My peace I give you, my peace I leave to you"', so that no one should disagree with his neighbour regarding religious doctrines but that the proclamation of the truth would be uniformly presented. But the evil one never stops trying to smother the seeds of religion with his own tares and is for ever inventing some novelty or other against the truth; so the Master, exercising his usual care for the human race, roused this religious and most faithful emperor to zealous action, and summoned to himself the leaders of the priesthood from everywhere, so that through the working of the grace of Christ, the master of all of us, every injurious falsehood might be staved off from the sheep of Christ and they might be fattened on fresh growths of the truth.

This is in fact what we have done. We have driven off erroneous doctrines by our collective resolution and we have renewed the unerring creed of the fathers. We have proclaimed to all the creed of the 318; and we have made our own those fathers who accepted this agreed statement of religion -- the 150 who later met in great Constantinople and themselves set their seal to the same creed.

Therefore, whilst we also stand by

  • the decisions and all the formulas relating to the creed from the sacred synod which took place formerly at Ephesus,
    • whose leaders of most holy memory were Celestine of Rome and Cyril of Alexandria
we decree that
  • pre-eminence belongs to the exposition of the right and spotless creed of the 318 saintly and blessed fathers who were assembled at Nicaea when Constantine of pious memory was emperor: and that
  • those decrees also remain in force which were issued in Constantinople by the 150 holy fathers in order to destroy the heresies then rife and to confirm this same catholic and apostolic creed.
    • The creed of the 318 fathers at Nicaea.
    • And the same of the 150 saintly fathers assembled in Constantinople.
This wise and saving creed, the gift of divine grace, was sufficient for a perfect understanding and establishment of religion. For its teaching about the Father and the Son and the holy Spirit is complete, and it sets out the Lord's becoming human to those who faithfully accept it.

But there are those who are trying to ruin the proclamation of the truth, and through their private heresies they have spawned novel formulas:

  • some by daring to corrupt the mystery of the Lord's economy on our behalf, and refusing to apply the word "God-bearer" to the Virgin; and
  • others by introducing a confusion and mixture, and mindlessly imagining that there is a single nature of the flesh and the divinity, and fantastically supposing that in the confusion the divine nature of the Only-begotten is passible.

Therefore this sacred and great and universal synod, now in session, in its desire to exclude all their tricks against the truth, and teaching what has been unshakeable in the proclamation from the beginning,

  • decrees that the creed of the 318 fathers is, above all else, to remain inviolate. And because of those who oppose the holy Spirit, it
  • ratifies the teaching about the being of the holy Spirit handed down by the 150 saintly fathers who met some time later in the imperial city
    • -- the teaching they made known to all,
  • not introducing anything left out by their predecessors, but clarifying their ideas about the holy Spirit by the use of scriptural testimonies against those who were trying to do away with his sovereignty.

And because of those who are attempting to corrupt the mystery of the economy and are shamelessly and foolishly asserting that he who was born of the holy virgin Mary was a mere man, it has accepted

  • the synodical letters of the blessed Cyril, [already accepted by the Council of Ephesus]
    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.

    To these it has suitably added, against false believers and for the establishment of orthodox doctrines

  • the letter of the primate of greatest and older Rome,
    the most blessed and most saintly Archbishop Leo, written to the sainted Archbishop Flavian to put down Eutyches's evil-mindedness, because it is in agreement with great Peter's confession and represents a support we have in common.

    It is opposed to those who attempt to tear apart the mystery of the economy into a duality of sons; and

    • it expels from the assembly of the priests those who dare to say that the divinity of the Only-begotten is passible, and
    • it stands opposed to those who imagine a mixture or confusion between the two natures of Christ; and
    • it expels those who have the mad idea that the servant-form he took from us is of a heavenly or some other kind of being; and
    • it anathematises those who concoct two natures of the Lord before the union but imagine a single one after the union.

    So, following the saintly fathers, we all with one voice teach the confession of one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ: the same perfect in divinity and perfect in humanity, the same truly God and truly man, of a rational soul and a body; consubstantial with the Father as regards his divinity, and the same consubstantial with us as regards his humanity; like us in all respects except for sin; begotten before the ages from the Father as regards his divinity, and in the last days the same for us and for our salvation from Mary, the virgin God-bearer as regards his humanity; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only-begotten, acknowledged in two natures which undergo no confusion, no change, no division, no separation; at no point was the difference between the natures taken away through the union, but rather the property of both natures is preserved and comes together into a single person and a single subsistent being; he is not parted or divided into two persons, but is one and the same only-begotten Son, God, Word, Lord Jesus Christ, just as the prophets taught from the beginning about him, and as the Lord Jesus Christ himself instructed us, and as the creed of the fathers handed it down to us.

    Since we have formulated these things with all possible accuracy and attention, the sacred and universal synod decreed that no one is permitted to produce, or even to write down or compose, any other creed or to think or teach otherwise. As for those who dare either to compose another creed or even to promulgate or teach or hand down another creed for those who wish to convert to a recognition of the truth from Hellenism or from Judaism, or from any kind of heresy at all: if they be bishops or clerics, the bishops are to be deposed from the episcopacy and the clerics from the clergy; if they be monks or layfolk, they are to be anathematised.



    We have deemed it right that the canons hitherto issued by the saintly fathers at each and every synod should remain in force.


    If any bishop performs an ordination for money and puts the unsaleable grace on sale, and ordains for money a bishop, a chorepiscopus, a presbyter or a deacon or some other of those numbered among the clergy; or appoints a manager, a legal officer or a warden for money, or any other ecclesiastic at all for personal sordid gain; led him who has attempted this and been convicted stand to lose his personal rank; and let the person ordained profit nothing from the ordination or appointment he has bought; but let him be removed from the dignity or responsibility which he got for money. And if anyone appears to have acted even as a go-between in such disgraceful and unlawful dealings, let him too, if he is a cleric, be demoted from his personal rank, and if he is a lay person or a monk, let him be anathematised.


    It has come to the notice of the sacred synod that some of those enrolled in the clergy are, for sordid gain, acting as hired managers of other people's property, and are involving themselves in worldly business, neglecting the service of God, frequenting the houses of worldly persons and taking over the handling of property out of avarice. So the sacred and great synod has decreed that in future no one, whether a bishop, a cleric or a monk, should either manage property or involve himself as an administrator of worldly business, unless he is legally and unavoidably summoned to take care of minors, or the local bishop appoints him to attend, out of fear of the Lord, to ecclesiastical business or to orphans and unprovided widows and persons in special need of ecclesiastical support. If in future anyone attempts to transgress these decrees, he must be subject to ecclesiastical penalties.


    Those who truly and sincerely live the monastic life should be accorded appropriate recognition. But since there are some who don the monastic habit and meddle with the churches and in civil matters, and circulate indiscriminately in the cities and even are involved in founding monasteries for themselves, it has been decided that no one is to build or found a monastery or oratory anywhere against the will of the local bishop; and that monks of each city and region are to be subject to the bishop, are to foster peace and quiet, and attend solely to fasting and prayer, staying set apart in their places. They are not to abandon their own monasteries and interfere, or take part, in ecclesiastical or secular business unless they are perhaps assigned to do so by the local bishop because of some urgent necessity. No slave is to be taken into the monasteries to become a monk against the will of his own master. We have decreed that anyone who transgresses this decision of ours is to be excommunicated, lest God's name be blasphemed. However, it is for the local bishop to exercise the care and attention that the monasteries need.


    In the matter of bishops or clerics who move from city to city, it has been decided that the canons issued by the holy fathers concerning them should retain their proper force.


    No one, whether presbyter or deacon or anyone at all who belongs to the ecclesiastical order, is to be ordained without title, unless the one ordained is specially assigned to a city or village church or to a martyr's shrine or a monastery. The sacred synod has decreed that the ordination of those ordained without title is null, and that they cannot operate anywhere, because of the presumption of the one who ordained them.


    We decree that those who have once joined the ranks of the clergy or have become monks are not to depart on military service or for secular office. Those who dare do this, and do not repent and return to what, in God, they previously chose, are to be anathematised.


    Clerics in charge of almshouses and monasteries and martyrs' shrines are, in accordance with the tradition of the holy fathers, to remain under the jurisdiction of the bishop in each city. They are not to be self-willed and rebellious towards their own bishop. Those who dare to break a rule of this kind in any way whatever, and are not obedient to their own bishop, are, if they are clerics, to be subject to the canonical penalties; and if they are monks or layfolk they are to be made excommunicate.


    If any cleric has a case to bring against a cleric, let him not leave his own bishop and take himself off to the secular courts, but let him first air the problem before his own bishop, or at least, with the permission of the bishop himself, before those whom both parties are willing to see act as arbiters of their lawsuit. If anyone acts in a contrary fashion, let him be subject to canonical penalties. If a cleric has a case to bring either against his own or against another bishop, let him bring the case to the synod of the province. If a bishop or a cleric is in dispute with the metropolitan of the same province, let him engage either the exarch of the diocese or the see of imperial Constantinople, and let him bring his case before him.


    A cleric is not allowed to be appointed to churches in two cities at the same time: to the one where he was originally ordained, and to another more important one to which he has betaken himself out of desire to increase a baseless reputation. Those who do this are to be sent back to their own church in which they were ordained at the beginning, and only there are they to serve. But if some have already been transferred from one church to another, they are not to take part in any of the affairs of their former church, or of the martyrs' shrines or almshouses or hospices that come under it. The sacred synod has decreed that those who, subsequent to this decree of this great and universal synod, dare to do anything that is now forbidden are to lose their personal rank.


    We have decreed that, subject to examination, all paupers and needy persons are to travel with ecclesiastical letters or letters of peace only, and not of commendation, since it befits only reputable persons to be provided with letters of commendation.


    It has come to our notice that, contrary to the ecclesiastical regulations, some have made approaches to the civil authorities and have divided one province into two by official mandate, with the result that there are two metropolitans in the same province. The sacred synod therefore decrees that in future no bishop should dare do such a thing, since he who attempts it stands to lose his proper station. Such places as have already been honoured by imperial writ with the title of metropolis must treat it simply as honorary, and that goes also for the bishop who is in charge of the church there, without prejudice of course to the proper rights of the real metropolis.


    Foreign clerics and readers without letters of commendation from their own bishop are absolutely forbidden to serve in another city.


    Since in certain provinces readers and cantors have been allowed to marry, the sacred synod decrees that none of them is permitted to marry a wife of heterodox views. If those thus married have already had children, and if they have already had the children baptised among heretics, they are to bring them into the communion of the catholic church. If they have not been baptised, they may no longer have them baptised among heretics; nor indeed marry them to a heretic or a Jew or a Greek, unless of course the person who is to be married to the orthodox party promises to convert to the orthodox faith. If anyone transgresses this decree of the sacred synod, let him be subject to canonical penalty.


    No woman under forty years of age is to be ordained a deacon, and then only after close scrutiny. If after receiving ordination and spending some time in the ministry she despises God's grace and gets married, such a person is to be anathematised along with her spouse.


    It is not permitted for a virgin who has dedicated herself to the Lord God, or similarly for a monk, to contract marriage. If it is discovered that they have done so, let them be made excommunicate. However, we have decreed that the local bishop should have discretion to deal humanely with them.


    Rural or country parishes belonging to a church are to stay firmly tied to the bishops who have possession of them, and especially if they have continually and peacefully administered them over a thirty-year period. If, however, within the thirty years any dispute about them has arisen, or should arise, those who are claiming to be wronged are permitted to bring the case before the provincial synod. If there are any who are wronged by their own metropolitan, let their case be judged either by the exarch of the diocese or by the see of Constantinople, as has already been said. If any city has been newly erected, or is erected hereafter, by imperial decree, let the arrangement of ecclesiastical parishes conform to the civil and public regulations.


    The crime of conspiracy or secret association is entirely prohibited even by the laws of the land; so all the more properly is this forbidden in the church of God. So if any clerics or monks are found to be either forming a conspiracy or a secret society or hatching plots against bishops or fellow clergy, let them lose their personal rank completely.


    We have heard that in the provinces the synods of bishops prescribed by canon law are not taking place, and that as a result many ecclesiastical matters that need putting right are being neglected. So the sacred synod decrees that in accordance with the canons of the fathers, the bishops in each province are to foregather twice a year at a place approved by the bishop of the metropolis and put any matters arising to rights. Bishops failing to attend who enjoy good health and are free from all unavoidable and necessary engagements, but stay at home in their own cities, are to be fraternally rebuked.


    As we have already decreed, clerics who are serving a church are not permitted to join a church in another city, but are to be content with the one in which they were originally authorised to minister, apart from those who have been displaced from their own country and been forced to move to another church. If subsequent to this decision any bishop receives a cleric who belongs to another bishop, it is decreed that both the received and the receiver are to be excommunicate until such time as the cleric who has moved returns to his own church.


    Clerics or layfolk who bring allegations against bishops or clerics are not to be admitted to make their charges without more ado and before any examination, but their reputation must first be investigated.


    It is not permitted for clerics, following the death of their own bishop, to seize the things that belong to him, as has been forbidden even by earlier canons. Those who do this risk losing their personal rank.


    It has come to the notice of the sacred synod that certain clerics and monks who have no employment from their own bishop and have sometimes even been excommunicated by him, are frequenting imperial Constantinople and spending long periods there causing disturbances, upsetting the ecclesiastical establishment and ruining people's homes. So the sacred synod decrees that such people are first to be warned by the public attorney of the most holy Constantinopolitan church to get out of the imperial city; and if they shamelessly persist in the same kinds of behaviour, they are to be expelled by the same public attorney even against their will, and are to betake themselves to their own places.


    Monasteries once consecrated in accordance with the will of the bishop are to remain monasteries in perpetuity, and the effects which belong to them are reserved to the monastery, and they must not be turned into secular hostelries. Those who allow this to happen are to be subject to the canonical penalties.


    According to our information, certain metropolitans are neglecting the flocks entrusted to them and are delaying the ordination of bishops, so the sacred synod has decided that the ordination of bishops should take place within three months, unless the period of delay has been caused to be extended by some unavoidable necessity. If a metropolitan fails to do this, he is to be subject to ecclesiastical penalties. The income of the widowed church is to be kept safe by the administrator of the said church.


    According to our information, in some churches the bishops handle church business without administrators; so it has been decided that every church which has a bishop is also to have an administrator, drawn from its own clergy, to administer ecclesiastical matters according to the mind of the bishop concerned so that the church's administration may not go unaudited, and that consequently the church's property is not dispersed and the episcopate not exposed to serious criticism. If he does not comply with this, he is to be subject to the divine canons.


    The sacred synod decrees that those who carry off girls under pretext of cohabitation, or who are accomplices or co-operate with those who carry them off, are to lose their personal rank if they are clerics, and are to be anathematised if they are monks or layfolk.

    28 [in fact a resolution passed by the council at the 16th session but rejected by the Pope]

    Following in every way the decrees of the holy fathers and recognising the canon which has recently been read out--the canon of the 150 most devout bishops who assembled in the time of the great Theodosius of pious memory, then emperor, in imperial Constantinople, new Rome -- we issue the same decree and resolution concerning the prerogatives of the most holy church of the same Constantinople, new Rome. The fathers rightly accorded prerogatives to the see of older Rome, since that is an imperial city; and moved by the same purpose the 150 most devout bishops apportioned equal prerogatives to the most holy see of new Rome, reasonably judging that the city which is honoured by the imperial power and senate and enjoying privileges equalling older imperial Rome, should also be elevated to her level in ecclesiastical affairs and take second place after her. The metropolitans of the dioceses of Pontus, Asia and Thrace, but only these, as well as the bishops of these dioceses who work among non-Greeks, are to be ordained by the aforesaid most holy see of the most holy church in Constantinople. That is, each metropolitan of the aforesaid dioceses along with the bishops of the province ordain the bishops of the province, as has been declared in the divine canons; but the metropolitans of the aforesaid dioceses, as has been said, are to be ordained by the archbishop of Constantinople, once agreement has been reached by vote in the usual way and has been reported to him.

    29 [an extract from the minutes of the 19th session]

    The most eminent and illustrious officials asked: What does the sacred synod advise in the case of the bishops ordained by the most reverend Bishop Photius and removed by the most reverend Bishop Eustathius and consigned to be priests after losing the episcopacy? The most reverend Bishops Paschasinus and Lucentius and the priest Bonifatius, representatives of the apostolic see of Rome, replied: It is sacrilege to reduce a bishop to the rank of priest. But if whatever cause there is for removing those persons from the exercise of episcopacy is just, they ought not to occupy the position even of a priest. And if they have been removed from office and are without fault, they shall be restored to the episcopal dignity. The most reverend archbishop of Constantinople, Anatolius, replied: If those who are said to have descended from the episcopal dignity to the rank of priest have been condemned on what are reasonable grounds, they are clearly not worthy to hold even the office of a priest. But if they have been demoted to the lower rank without reasonable cause, then as long as they are seen to be innocent, they have every right to resume the dignity and priesthood of the episcopacy .

    30 [an extract from the minutes of the 4th session]

    The most eminent and illustrious officials and the exalted assembly declared: Since the most reverend bishops of Egypt have up to now put off subscribing to the letter of the most holy Archbishop Leo, not because they are in opposition to the catholic faith, but because they claim that it is customary in the Egyptian diocese not to do such things in contravention of the will and ordinance of their archbishop, and because they consider they should be given until the ordination of the future bishop of the great city of Alexandria, we think it reasonable and humane that, retaining their present rank in the imperial city, they should be granted a moratorium until such time as an archbishop of the great city of Alexandria is ordained. Most reverend Bishop Paschasinus, representative of the apostolic see, said: If your authority demands it, and you order that some measure of kindness be shown them, let them give guarantees that they will not leave this city before Alexandria receives its bishop. The most eminent and illustrious officials and the exalted assembly replied: Let the resolution of the most holy Bishop Paschasinus be upheld. So let the most reverend bishops of the Egyptians maintain their present rank and, either providing guarantees if they can, or pledging themselves on solemn oath, let them await the ordination of the future bishop of the great city of Alexandria.

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

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