The Moody Radio Network will be featuring a series of programs this next week on the creeds of the church. The programs, hosted by my friend Wayne Shepherd, will examine the history, importance, and current relevance of those great declarations of faith. I will be on the air with Wayne on Wednesday and Thursday discussing the Nicene and Chalcedonian creeds--we recorded both of the nine-minute segments last night. Check the Moody Radio website for air times and stations in your listening area--or for podcasts and net streaming of the programs right from your computer.
Interestingly, today is the anniversary of one of the events in history that highlights the vital importance of those creeds--even the nearly forgotten and obscure creeds such as the Chalcedonian.
By the middle of the fifth century, the forces of disintegration had almost destroyed the western half of the Roman Empire. Various Germanic barbarian warlords—from the Vandal, Visigoth, Frankish, and Herulian tribes—had replaced the old imperial power with their own. For several decades they had placed puppet emperors on the throne and had taken control of the once-great military.
The eastern half of the venerable empire was struggling with troubles of its own. A usurper drove the emperor, the young Zeno, from his throne. Needing a strong base of support, this usurper placed a large number of Monophysite heretics in key positions.
Monophysitism had actually begun as a response to another heresy known as Nestorianism. A bishop, Nestorius, had refused to call Mary the "Mother of God" or "Theotokos," because, said he, the child in her womb was thoroughly human. In contradistinction to this, the Monophysites taught that Christ's human nature was dissolved in his divine nature as a drop of honey dissolves in the ocean. Each faction was attempting to preserve a part of the truth about Christ's incarnation—but each had gone to one extreme or another. Eventually the church restored a sense of Biblical balance at the Council of Chalcedon in 451, declaring that Christ was both truly God and truly man—thus denouncing the Monophysite and Nestorian polar opposites.
Instead of resolving the issue though, the Council's ruling only incited further fighting. The Monophysites refused to accept defeat. The imperial usurper ordered the acts of Chalcedon burnt and nearly 500 bishops complied. In Alexandria, the controversy was particularly fierce. Rivals tortured and killed each other. A Monophysite monk, known as Timothy the Cat, had the patriarch of Alexandria butchered three days before Easter and triumphantly seized his place, consigning his corpse to flames.
Thus, when Simplicius became bishop of Rome on this day in 468, he inherited a roiling mess. Immediately, he used his influence to help Emperor Zeno regain his throne and oust the Monophysite bishops. But when Zeno—out of fear of the powerful Monophysite faction—determined to arrange a compromise, Simplicius threatened to topple him once again. Compromise was not possible, he argued. Unless Christ is fully God, he cannot redeem us. Unless he is fully man, he cannot stand in our place.
Eventually the unflinching defense of Simplicius for the principles laid down at the Council of Chalcedon saved the Church from a fatal compromise during one of the most volatile epochs in history. With Athanasius, he stood contra mundum, and as a result, not only preserved Biblical orthodoxy but the vitality and integrity of the church as well.