Saturday, February 18, 2017

Saint Flavian and the Robber Council of Ephesus

The feast day of Saint Flavian, martyr, falls on February 18. Flavian was archbishop of Constantinople from AD 446 through 449. Though he lived long after the traditional age of Christian martyrs, Flavian is nonetheless accounted one of their number, though he was slain by men calling themselves Christians--indeed, he died either during or in the immediate aftermath of a Church Council.

The deposition of Saint Flavian from Shea's The Pictorial Life of the Saints.
As one of the principle parties at the so-called Robber Council of Ephesus, Flavian found himself on the wrong side of the powerful Patriarch of Alexandria, Dioscorus, and a veritable army of monks led by the Syrian archimandrite, Barsaumas. These two were intent on defending the presbyter Eutyches, who had taught in error that Christ had but a single nature. Dioscorus had the tacit support of the emperor, Theodosius II, and especially of Chrysaphius, the powerful imperial chamberlain. Supporting Flavian was Pope Leo I in Rome, who sent legates to the council. When it became clear that Dioscorus and his henchmen would use force to impose their will, one of these legates, Hilarius (later Pope himself), shouted "Contradicitur!" and then with difficulty escaped the council.

How Flavian was killed is not precisely clear. Here is an account of what happened drawn from the Ecclesiastical History of Evagrius, written not long after the event, as part of Evagrius's explanation of why the Council of Chalcedon was called:
While entertaining these intentions, the emperor [Marcian] is addressed both by the legates of Leo, bishop of the elder Rome, who alleged that Dioscorus had, during the second council of Ephesus, refused to receive the epistle of Leo, containing a formula of the true doctrine; and also by those who had been contumeliously treated by Dioscorus, intreating that their case might be submitted to the decision of a synod. But Eusebius, who had been president of the church of Dorylaeum, was especially urgent, and affirmed that both himself and Flavian had been deposed by the intrigues of Chrysaphius, the minister of Theodosius, because, in reply to his demand of an offering in gold, Flavian had, in acknowledgment of his own appointment, sent the sacred vessels to shame him; and also that Chrysaphius made a near approach to Eutyches in erroneous doctrine. He also said, that Flavian had even been brought to a miserable end by being thrust and trampled on by Dioscorus himself. These circumstances caused the synod at Chalcedon to be assembled; for which purpose the bearers of missives were despatched, and the prelates in all quarters were summoned by pious letters. [The Ecclesiastical History of Evagrius, Book II, Chapter II).
In most accounts modern accounts of this event, Flavian is said to have been gravely injured by this rough handling and perished a few days afterwards. Blame for his death was affixed by many to Dioscorus and Barsaumas, as we can see more clearly in a dramatic scene recorded in the Acts of the Council of Chalcedon shortly after AD 451:
Diogenes the most devout bishop of Cyzicus said: ‘Barsaumas, who entered among them, slaughtered the blessed Flavian. He was standing there and saying, “Slaughter him.” Since he is not in the petition, why has he come in?’ 
All the most devout bishops exclaimed: ‘Barsaumas destroyed all Syria. He incited thousands of monks against us.’ 
The most magnificent and glorious officials said to the monks: ‘In accordance with your request in the petition, our most divine and pious master gave orders both that the holy council should convene and that you should now gain entrance. So now that you have entered, have the patience to learn the decisions of the same most holy council concerning the faith.’ 
Carosus and Dorotheus the most devout archimandrites and the other monks said: ‘We ask that the plaint we have brought be read out.’ 
The most devout bishops exclaimed: ‘Drive out the murderer Barsaumas. The murderer to the stadium! Anathema to Barsaumas! [Send] Barsaumas into exile!’ 
Saint Flavian's name would be forever immortalized, however, by the Tome of Leo which was written before his death. Addressed to Flavian by Pope Leo, this work was a condemnation of Eutyches, a staunch defense of Flavian's position, as well as an act of faith that would become a doctrinal statement on the two natures of Christ, human and divine.

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