Second Council of Constantinople

Second Council of Constantinople
Second Council of Constantinople
Date 553
Accepted by Roman Catholics, Old Catholics, Eastern Orthodox
Previous council Council of Chalcedon
Next council Third Council of Constantinople
Convoked by Emperor Justinian I
Presided by Eutychius of Constantinople
Attendance 152 (including 7 from Africa, 9 from Illyricum, none from Italy)
Topics of discussion Nestorianism
Documents and statements 14 canons on Christology and against the Three Chapters. 15 canons condemning the teaching of Origen and Evagrius.
Chronological list of Ecumenical councils

The Second Council of Constantinople is recognized as the Fifth Ecumenical Council by the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Old Catholics, and a number of other Western Christian groups. It was held from May 5 to June 2, 553, having been called by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian. Participants were overwhelmingly Eastern bishops; sixteen western bishops were present (including those from Illyricum). The main work of the council was to confirm the condemnation already issued by Justinian in an edict of 551 against the so-called Three Chapters, that is, the person and writings of Theodore of Mopsuestia (d. 428), and the attacks on Cyril of Alexandria and the First Council of Ephesus written by Theodoret of Cyrrhus (d. c. 466) and Ibas of Edessa (d. 457). The purpose of the condemnation was to make plain that the imperial, Chalcedonian Church was firmly opposed to all those who had either inspired or assisted Nestorius (condemned at the earlier council of Ephesus I in 431). Justinian hoped that this would contribute to a reunion between the Chalcedonians and non-Chalcedonians in the eastern provinces of the empire.



The Council was presided over by Eutychius, Patriarch of Constantinople, assisted by the other three eastern patriarchs or their representatives. Pope Vigilius was also invited; but even though he was at this period resident in Constantinople (to avoid the perils of life in Italy, convulsed by the war against the Ostrogoths), he declined to attend, and even issued a document forbidding the council from preceding without him (his 'First Constitutum'). For more details see Pope Vigilius.

The council , however, proceeded without the pope to condemn the Three Chapters. And during the seventh session of the council, the bishops had Vigilius stricken from the diptychs for his refusal to appear at the council and approve its proceedings, effectively excommunicating him personally but not the rest of the Western Church. Vigilius was then imprisoned in Constantinople by the emperor and his advisors were exiled. After six months, in December 553, he agreed, however, to condemn the Three Chapters, claiming that his hesitation was due to being misled by his advisors.[1] His approval of the council was expressed in two documents[2] condemning the Three Chapters,[3] on his own authority and without mention of the council.

In Northern Italy the ecclesiastical provinces of Milan and Aquileia broke communion with the Rome. Milan accepted the condemnation only toward the end of the sixth century, whereas Aquileia did not do so until about 700[4][5] The rest of the Western Church accepted the decrees of the council, though without great enthusiasm. Though ranked as one of the ecumenical councils, it never attained in the West the status of either Nicaea or Chalcedon.

The unhappy story of the conflict between the council and the pope, and its lack of immediate and obvious fruits in reconciling Chalcedonians and non-Chalcedonians, should not blind us, however, to its weighty theological contribution. The canons condemning the Three Chapters were preceded by ten dogmatic canons which defined Chalcedonian Christology with a new precision, bringing out that God the Word is the one subject of all the operations of Christ, divine and human. The 'two natures' defined at Chalcedon were now clearly interpreted as two sets of attributes possessed by a single person, Christ God, the Second Person of the Trinity,[6] Later Byzantine Christology, as we find it Maximus the Confessor and John of Damascus, was built upon this basis. It might have proved sufficient, moreover, to bring about the reunion of Chalcedonians and non-Chalcedonians, had it not been for the severance of connections between the two groups that resulted from the Muslim conquests of the next century.


The original Greek acts of the council are lost [1], but an old Latin version exists, possibly made for Vigilius, of which there is a critical edition in Acta Conciliorum Oecumenicorum, Tome IV, vol. 1 (Berlin, 1971), and of which there is now an English translation and commentary—Richard Price, The Acts of the Council of Constantinople of 553, 2 vols (Liverpool University Press, 2009). In the next General Council of Constantinople (680) it was alleged (probably falsely) that the original Acts of the Fifth Council had been tampered with (Hefele, op. cit., II, 855-58) in favour of Monothelitism. It used to be argued that the extant acts are incomplete, since they make no mention of the debate over Origenism. However, the solution generally accepted today is that the bishops signed the canons condemning Origenism before the council formally opened. This condemnation was confirmed by Pope Vigilius, and its full conciliar authority has only been questioned in modern times. See Price, op. cit., vol. 2, 270-86.


  1. ^ The First Seven Ecumenical Councils, L. D. Davis VI 242-248.
  2. ^ : a letter to Eutychius of Constantinople, 8 Dec., 553, and a second "Constitutum" of 23 February, 554, probably addressed to the Western episcopate,
  3. ^ Mansi, IX, 424-20, 457-88; cf. Hefele, II, 905-11.
  4. ^ Hefele, op. cit., II, 911-27.
  5. ^ See the judgment of Bois, in Dict. de théol. cath., II, 1238-39.
  6. ^ Price, op. cit., I, 73-5.

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainHerbermann, Charles, ed (1913). "Second Council of Constantinople". Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company. 

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