The Robber Synod at Ephesus – 449 AD
Flavian held the synod at Constantinople in November, 448. The correspondence between the emperor and the pope was in February, 449. The next month, the emperor summoned a council slated for August of the same year. He invited Leo. The Pope agreed to send three legates, following the lead of his predecessor Celestine at the council of Ephesus. This council as well had Ephesus for its venue.
Leo wrote to the council as well as to the emperor. He made it clear that the doctrinal issue was settled in his correspondence with Flavian. He asserted that Eutyches was rightly condemned. He accredited his legates but however, left the punishment of Eutyches to the council, only adding that he should be treated mercifully.
August 8, 449 AD.
130 bishops are present at Ephesus. Dioscorus presided over the council, by the emperor’s command, despite the presence of the legates. The emperor’s edict was read. The legates asked that the letters of Pope Leo be read. Dioscurus, ignoring their request, moved on to read another letter from the emperor. The legates made a second attempt at having the pope’s letters read. Dioscurus played deaf. He summoned Eutyches to make his case. Eutyches appears in his usual entourage and is not done speaking when shouts began to ascend to the dome, conveyed fearful words.
“Burn him alive!” “Cut him in two, the man who wishes to divide Christ”.
Dioscurus coerced over a 100 bishops to endorse the error under duress. Next he deposed Flavian and Eusebius (the same which raised up the issue of Eutyches in the synod the year before). In a twist of events, amidst the uproar, Dioscurus cried that his life was in danger, and immediately a following of monks and a troop of imperial guards rush in and beat Flavian badly. Flavian took refuge in the sanctuary in vain. Flavian was exiled and died three days into the journey. Whether he died of shock or of the ill treatment, history is silent.
The legates escaped and brought news of their experience in writing and by word of mouth to Pope Leo.
The council ended amidst cries of “Hail Dioscurus!” and other such acclamation frightful to pious minds.
Flavian before he died, scribbled an appeal Pope Leo. The Pope wrote to Theodosius repeatedly to summon another council in response to Flavian’s appeal. He denounced the atrocities at the Ephesian “Robber Synod” as an “insult to the Faith”. The Pope requested that this synod takes place in the West. His letters met with silence from the emperor who did no so much as reply any of the pope’s letters.
The Emperor of the West, Valentinian III, moved from Ravenna to Rome. Pope Leo ceased the presence of his majesty, soliciting him to write to Theodosius. The emperor agreed and only then did Theodosius give his bland reply. “The ‘council’ at Ephesus has done a splendid job, there is peace now, what is the need for another council?”
July, 450 AD.
No council was summoned. The emperor Theodosius dies in an accident with his horse. Pulcheria his sister became empress. She gave her hand to a senator Marcian, and announced him emperor of the East the next month. Marcian was, as it were, the angel sent to resolve the prevailing crisis. He replied the Pope’s many letters to Theodosius. He agreed to have the council but would prefer it in the East – he wanted to be in attendance. He, however, left the decision of the exact venue to the Pope. Pope Leo delayed in his reply to Marcian. He was contemplating whether there was still a real need for another council. Anatolius had already been elected to replace Flavian at Constantinople. The bishops who, out of fear, endorsed Dioscurus were repentant and sought communion with the Church. Leo wrote to Marcian. There is no need to summon another council. It is enough to send legates to Constantinople to ratify the orthodoxy of Anatolius and to receive the repentant bishops back into communion with the Church.
When the reply came to Marcian, June 9, 451, Marcian already sent summons for a council in May of the same year. This council was to hold at Nicaea on the first day of September.
The Pope sent three legates to Constantinople accepting the arrangement for the council. He instructed that none was to call up the doctrinal issue concerning the Incarnation. He had settled that in his letter to Flavian. Leo also wrote to the council fathers, wishing them well and instructing them on the proceedings of the business before them. In this letter, in words which have remained immortal, he described the false synod at Ephesus as a robbery.
“In illo Ephesino non judicio sed latrocinio” – at Ephesus not judgment but robbery.