Skip to content

We ask you, humbly: don't scroll away.

Hi readers, it seems you use Catholic Online a lot; that's great! It's a little awkward to ask, but we need your help. If you have already donated, we sincerely thank you. We're not salespeople, but we depend on donations averaging $14.76 and fewer than 1% of readers give. If you donate just $5.00, the price of your coffee, Catholic Online School could keep thriving. Thank you.

Help Now >

Robber Council of Ephesus

Free World Class Education
FREE Catholic Classes


The Acts of the first session of this synod were read at the Council of Chalcedon, 451, and have thus been preserved to us. The remainder of the Acts (the first session being wanting) are known only through a Syriac translation by a Monophysite monk, published from the British Museum manuscript Addit. 14,530, written in the year 535. On the events which preceded the opening of the council, 8 August, 449, see DIOSCORUS. The emperor had convoked it, the pope had agreed. No time had been left for any Western bishops to attend, except a certain Julius of an unknown see, who, together with a Roman priest, Renatus (he died on the way), and the deacon Hilarus, afterwards pope, represented St. Leo. The Emperor Theodosius II gave Dioscorus, Patriarch of Alexandria, the presidency -- ten authentian kai ta proteia . The legate Julius is mentioned next, but when this name was read at Chalcedon, the bishops cried: "He was cast out. No one represented Leo." Next in order was Juvenal of Jerusalem, above both the Patriarch of Antioch, Domnus, and St. Flavian of Constantinople. The number of bishops present was 127, with eight representatives of absent bishops, and lastly the deacon Hilarus with his notary Dulcitius. The question before the council by order of the emperor was whether St. Flavian, in a synod held by him at Constantinople in November, 448, had justly deposed and excommunicated the Archimandrite Eutyches for refusing to admit two natures in Christ. Consequently Flavian and six other bishops, who had been present at his synod, were not allowed to sit as judges in the council. The brief of convocation by Theodosius was read, and then the Roman legates explained that it would have been contrary to custom for the pope to be present in person, but he had sent a letter by them. In this letter St. Leo had appealed to his dogmatic letter to Flavian, which he intended to be read at the council and accepted by it as a rule of faith. But Dioscorus took care not to have it read, and instead of it a letter of the emperor, ordering the presence at the council of the fanatical anti-Nestorian monk Barsumas, was presented. The question of faith was next proceeded with. Dioscorus declared that this was not a matter for inquiry: they had only to inquire into the recent doings. He was acclaimed as a guardian of the Faith. Eutyches then was introduced, and declared that he held the Nicene Creed, to which nothing could be added, and from which nothing could be taken away. He had been condemned by Flavian for a mere slip of the tongue, though he had declared that he held the faith of Nicaea and Ephesus, and had appealed to the present council. He had been in danger of his life. He now asked for judgment against the calumnies which had been brought against him.

The accuser of Eutyches, Bishop Eusebius of Dorylaeum, was not allowed to be heard. The bishops agreed that the Acts of the condemnation of Eutyches, at a council held at Constantinople in November, 448, should be read, but the legates asked that the pope's letter might be heard first. Eutyches interrupted with the complaint that he did not trust the legates ; they had been to dine with Flavian, and had received much courtesy. Dioscorus decided that the Acts of the trial should have precedence, and so the letter of St. Leo was never read at all. The Acts were then read in full (for an account of them see EUTYCHES ), and also the account of an inquiry made on 13 April into the allegation of Eutyches that the synodal Acts had been incorrectly taken down, and of another inquiry on 27 April into the accusation made by Eutyches that Flavian had drawn up the sentence against him beforehand. While the trial was being related, cries arose of belief in one nature, that two natures meant Nestorianism, of "Burn Eusebius ", and so forth. St. Flavian rose to complain that no opportunity was given him of defending himself. The Acts of the Robber Council now give a list of 114 votes in the form of short speeches absolving Eutyches. Even three of his former judges joined in this, although by the emperor's order they were not to vote. Barsumas added his voice in the last place. A petition was read from the monastery of Eutyches, which had been excommunicated by Flavian. On the assertion of the monks that they agreed in all things with Eutyches, and with the holy Fathers, the synod absolved them.

Next in order to establish the true Faith an extract was read from the Acts of the first session of the Council of Ephesus of 431. Many of the bishops, and also the deacon Hilarus, expressed their assent, some adding that nothing beyond this faith could be allowed. Dioscorus then spoke, declaring that it followed that Flavian and Eusebius must be deposed. No less than 101 bishops gave their votes orally, and the signatures of all the 135 bishops follow in the Acts. Flavian and Eusebius had previously interposed an appeal to the pope and to a council under his authority. Their formal letters of appeal have been recently published by Amelli. The evidence given at Chalcedon is conclusive that the account in the Acts of this final scene of the session is not to be trusted. The secretaries of the bishops had been violently prevented from taking notes. It was declared that both Barsumas and Dioscorus struck Flavian, though this may be exaggeration. But we must believe that many bishops threw themselves on their knees to beg Dioscorus for mercy to Flavian, that the military were introduced and also Alexandrine Parabolani, and that a scene of violence ensued; that the bishops signed under the influence of bodily fear, that some signed a blank paper, and that others did not sign at all, the names being afterwards filled in of all who were actually present.

The papal legate Hilarus uttered a single word in Latin, Contradicitur , annulling the sentence in the pope's name. He then escaped with difficulty. Flavian was deported into exile, and died a few days later in Lydia. No more of the Acts was read at Chalcedon. But we learn from Theodoret, Evagrius, and others, that the Robber Council deposed Theodoret himself, Domnus, and Ibas. The Syriac Acts take up the history where the Chalcedonian Acts break off. Of the first session only the formal documents, letters of the emperor, petitions of Eutyches, are known to be preserved in Syriac, though not in the same manuscript It is evident that the Monophysite editor thoroughly disapproved of the first session, and purposely omitted it, not because of the high-handed proceedings of Dioscorus, but because the Monophysites as a general rule condemned Eutyches as a heretic, and did not wish to remember his rehabilitation by a council which they considered to be ecumenical.

In the next session, according to the Syriac Acts, 113 were present, including Barsumas. Nine new names appear. The legates were sent for, as they did not appear, but only the notary Dulcitius could be found, and he was unwell. The legates had shaken off the dust of their feet against the assembly. It was a charge against Dioscorus at Chalcedon that he "had held an (ecumenical) council without the Apostolic See, which was never allowed". This manifestly refers to his having continued at the council after the departure of the legates. The first case was that of Ibas, Bishop of Edessa. This famous champion of the Antiochian party had been accused of crimes before Domnus, Bishop of Antioch, and had been acquitted, soon after Easter, 448. His accusers had gone to Constantinople and obtained a new trial from the emperor. The bishops Photius of Tyre, Eustathius of Berytus, and Uranius of Imeria were to examine the matter. These bishops met at Tyre, removed to Berytus, and returned to Tyre, and eventually acquitted Ibas once more, together with his fellow-accused, Daniel, Bishop of Harran, and John of Theodosianopolis. This was in February, 449. The bishops had been too kind, Cheroeas, Governor of Osrhoene was now ordered to go to Edessa to make a new inquiry. He was received by the people on 12 April with shouts (the detailed summary of which took up some two or three pages of his report), in honour of the emperor, the governor, the late Bishop Rabbula, and against Nestorius and Ibas. Cheroeas sent to Constantinople, with two letters of his own, an elaborate report, detailing all the accusations he could manage to rake together against Ibas. The emperor ordered that a new bishop should be chosen. It was this report, which provided a history of the whole affair, that was now read at length by order of Dioscorus. When the famous letter of Ibas to Maris was read, cries arose such as "These things pollute our ears . . . Cyril is immortal. . . Let Ibas be burnt in the midst of the city of Antioch . . . Exile is of no use. Nestorius and Ibas should be burnt together!" A final indictment was made in a speech by a priest of Edessa named Eulogius. Sentence was finally given against Ibas of deposition and excommunication, without any suggestion that he ought to be cited or that his defence ought to be heard. It is scandalous to find the three bishops who had acquitted him but a few months previously, only anxious to show their concurrence. They even pretended to forget what had been proved at Tyre and Berytus. In the next case, that of Ibas's nephew, Daniel of Harran, they declared that at Tyre they had clearly seen his guilt, and had only acquitted him because of his voluntary resignation. He was quickly deposed by the agreement of all the council. He was, of course, not present and could not defend himself.

It was next the turn of Irenaeus, who as an influential layman at the former Council of Ephesus had shown much favour to Nestorius. He had later become Bishop of Tyre, but the emperor had deposed him in 448, and the miserable Photius, already mentioned, had succeeded him. The synod made no difficulty in ratifying the deposition of Irenaeus as a bigamist and a blasphemer. Aquilinus, Bishop of Byblus, because he had been consecrated by Irenaeus and was his friend, was next deposed. Sophronius, Bishop of Tella, was a cousin of Ibas. He was therefore accused of magic, and his case was reserved for the judgment of the new Bishop of Edessa -- a surprisingly mild decision. The council turned to higher game. The great Theodoret, whose learning and eloquence in the pulpit and with the pen were the terror of the party of Dioscorus, had been confined by the emperor within his own diocese in the preceding year, to prevent his preaching at Antioch ; and Theodosius had twice written to prevent his coming to Ephesus to the council. It was not difficult to find reasons for deposing him in his absence. Far as he was from being a Nestorian, he had been a friend of Nestorius, and for more than three years (431-4) the most redoubtable antagonist of St. Cyril. But the two great theologians had come to terms and had celebrated their agreement with great joy. Theodoret had tried to make friends with Dioscorus, but his advances had been rejected with scorn. A monk of Antioch now brought forward a volume of extracts from the works of Theodoret. First was read Theodoret's fine letter to the monks of the East (see Mansi, V, 1023), then some extracts from a lost "Apology for Diodorus and Theodore" -- the very name of this work sufficed in the eyes of the council for a condemnation to be pronounced. Dioscorus pronounced the sentence of deposition and excommunication.

When Theodoret in his remote diocese heard of this absurd sentence on an absent man against whose reputation not a word was uttered, he at once appealed to the pope in a famous letter (Ep. cxiii). He wrote also to the legate Renatus (Ep. cxvi), being unaware that he was dead. The council had a yet bolder task before it. Domnus of Antioch is said to have agreed in the first session to the acquittal of Eutyches. But he refused, on the plea of sickness, to appear any more at the council. He seems to have been disgusted, or terrified, or both, at the tyranny exercised by Dioscorus. The council had sent him an account of their actions, and he replied (if we may believe the Acts) that he agreed to all the sentences that had been given and regretted that his health made his attendance impossible.

It is almost incredible that immediately after receiving this message, the council proceeded to hear a number of petitions from monks and priests against Domnus himself. He was accused of friendship with Theodoret and Flavian, of Nestoriaism, of altering the form of the Sacrament of Baptism , of intruding an immoral bishop into Emesa, of having been uncanonically appointed himself, and in fact of being an enemy of Dioscorus. Several pages of the manuscript are unfortunately lost; but it does not seem that the unfortunate patriarch was cited to appear, or given a chance of defending himself. The bishops shouted that he was worse than Ibas. He was deposed by a vote of the council, and with this final act of injustice the Acts come to an end. The council wrote the usual letter to the emperor (see see Perry, trans., p. 431), who was charmed with the result of the council and confirmed it with a letter ( Mansi, VII, 495, and Perry, p. 364). Dioscorus sent an encyclical to the bishops of the East, with a form of adhesion to the council which they were to sign (Perry, p. 375). He went to Constantinople and appointed his secretary Anatolius bishop of that great see. Juvenal of Jerusalem had become his tool, he had deposed the Patriarchs of Antioch and Constantinople; but one powerful adversary yet remained. He halted at Nicaea, and with ten bishops (no doubt the ten Egyptian metropolitans whom he had brought to Ephesus), "in addition to all his other crimes he extended his madness against him who had been entrusted with the guardianship of the Vine by the Saviour" -- in the words of the bishops at Chalcedon -- and excommunicated the pope himself.

Meanwhile St. Leo had received the appeals of Theodoret and Flavian (of whose death he was unaware), and had written to them and to the emperor and empress that all the Acts of the council were null. He excommunicated all who had taken part in it, and absolved all whom it had condemned, with the exception of Domnus of Antioch, who seems to have had no wish to resume his see and retired into the monastic life which he had left many years before with regret. (For the results of the Robber Council, or Latrocinium -- the name given to it by St. Leo -- see CHALCEDON, EUTYCHES, and POPE LEO I.)

Join the Movement
When you sign up below, you don't just join an email list - you're joining an entire movement for Free world class Catholic education.

Saint of the Day logo
Prayer of the Day logo

Catholic Online Logo

Copyright 2024 Catholic Online. All materials contained on this site, whether written, audible or visual are the exclusive property of Catholic Online and are protected under U.S. and International copyright laws, © Copyright 2024 Catholic Online. Any unauthorized use, without prior written consent of Catholic Online is strictly forbidden and prohibited.

Catholic Online is a Project of Your Catholic Voice Foundation, a Not-for-Profit Corporation. Your Catholic Voice Foundation has been granted a recognition of tax exemption under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Federal Tax Identification Number: 81-0596847. Your gift is tax-deductible as allowed by law.