As I read through Oman's treatment of the Dark Ages, I am struck again and again by his references to Catholics (which seems in a contextual sense to mean Christian orthodoxy writ large) and what I read as the seeds of the Great Schism of 1054.

Before the Iconoclast dispute, the Henoticon seems to have created an uproar. I am at a loss to understand why, beyond the usual problems of counting how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. As I understand the document, it was an attempt to heal the rift between the Monophysites and the rest of Christian orthodoxy at the time.

On what theological basis did the bishop of Rome excommunicate the Patriarch Acacius, for assisting Zeon in drafting the Henoticon?

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    I just learned about this a week or so ago. I would attempt to answer, but I think there is excellent coverage in this Orthodoxwiki article on the subject. Essentially, it was seen as tacitly denying the condemnation of Monophysitism that came out of the 451 Council at Chalcedon.
    – guest37
    Dec 10, 2019 at 3:34
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    I think these points were considered so important because they not only related to the nature of Christ, but also to the nature of man. Did Christ's divine nature or will subsume his human nature and/or will (fundamental questions tied to Monophysitism and Monotheletism)? If so, then one could believe that how Christ behaved on earth and what He was able to do is out of reach for "normal" humans. That is my opinion, anyway.
    – guest37
    Dec 10, 2019 at 3:39
  • @guest37 There may be a way to turn that into an answer, I'll head to that link and take a look. Dec 10, 2019 at 12:20
  • Korvin - I will work on it. It's an interesting topic. Not nearly as boring as people might suppose, I think.
    – guest37
    Dec 10, 2019 at 17:13
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    the issue was Miaphysitism, teaching that Christ's humanity and divinity constituted one nature, not two. The Henotikon left room for both the Chalcedonian teaching of two natures and the Miaphsyite idea of one nature which was both fully human and fully divine. The was another issue as well - Caesaropapism - because the Emperor attempted to asset theological authority in a way that contradicted both the pope and an ecumenical council. I answered the question more fully below. Sep 10, 2022 at 16:00

1 Answer 1


Background: At the time in question, Western churchmen taught that Christ must be recognized as having "two natures" (divine and human) which were harmoniously combined in one person, following the formula of the Council of Chalcedon. Some Eastern churchmen (the 'East' includes North Africa here) tended toward the view that Christ's divine and human qualities constituted "one nature." This doctrine was known as Miaphysitism. It tried to avoid falling into the heresy of Monophysitism, (teaching that Christ had a single nature which was divine) but left room for those who wanted to affirm Christ's humanity and divinity in one nature. The key phrase in the Chalcedonian creed was the Christ was:

to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union.

Because Miaphysitism did not acknowledge the "two natures" of Christ endorsed at Chalcedon, the Western churchmen, as well as many in the East, viewed it as heresy.

Emperor Zeno attempted to bring unity to the Church by issuing the Henotikon, which condemned both sides of the Miaphysite controversy and pleased neither of them. By avoiding the term "nature(s)," the document glossed over the primary issue, since the main parties agreed that Christ was clearly one person and one being, not two. Although neither side was satisfied, the document was more adamantly opposed in the West, which saw it an attempt to provide a way for semi-Monophysites to be accepted as orthodox. The West also resisted what it saw as the Emperor's attempt to assert his theological authority over that of the Pope and an Ecumenical Council.

Pope Felix III's first act as pope was to condemn the Henotikon. As the controversy continued to cause division, he eventually excommunicated Acacius for his role. The issue was not only that Acacius may have helped create the Henotikon but he clearly endorsed it and promoted those bishops who supported it, notably at Alexandria. After Patriarch John Talaia, was exiled from that city, he arrived in Rome and reported the attitude of the Eastern churches to Felix, who summoned Acacius to Rome to explain his conduct. When papal legates brought the summons to Constantinople they were imprisoned and required to receive Communion from Acacius. When this was reported to Felix, he held a synod in 484 in which he denounced his own legates and excommunicated Acacius.

The main theological issue at stake here was thus Chalcedonian orthodoxy versus Miaphysitism. The secondary issue was Caesaropapism, the idea that the Emperor had a major role, even superior to the pope, in determining theological policy.

Note: the exact role of Acacius in the creation of the Henotikon is debated. Western sources tend to consider him instrumental in its drafting while Eastern sources tend to view him as entirely orthodox in his personal view, accepting the Henotikon only by the forceful influence of the Emperor.

  • Thank you for this thorough answer. :) Sep 12, 2022 at 12:19
  • A pleasure to revisit this... long ago I did my master's thesis on early church governance. Sep 12, 2022 at 13:19

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