Three chapter dispute

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The three-chapter dispute in the 6th and 7th centuries was about an internal church dispute about the relationship between the divine and human nature of Jesus Christ .

The Council of Chalcedon (451) was unable to settle the Christological disputes about the nature of Christ, but brought about a series of new schisms . In 519, under Emperor Justin I, at least the Akakian schism between the churches of Rome and Constantinople could be settled. However, a certain mistrust persisted, and above all the split between the Dyophysite “orthodox” (“orthodox”) church and the “ Monophysites ” (or Miaphysites) (especially numerous in Syria and Egypt) was deepened by this understanding .

Emperor Justinian (527-565) therefore struck out of political necessity and allegedly under the influence of Empress Theodora, a course that should bring about rapprochement. In an attempt to reintegrate the Monophysite-Antichalkedonian church communities in the east of the Roman Empire into Christian " Orthodoxy ", the emperor tried to condemn the alleged "main culprits" of the "Nestorian heresy" from the time before the Council of Ephesus from 532 onwards (431). Twenty years before Chalcedon, Nestorianism had been the common opponent of “Orthodox” and “Monophysites”, and Justinian evidently hoped to achieve a reconciliation by returning to this front position. The three theologians in question were Ibas von Edessa († 457), Theodoret von Kyrrhos († 466) and Theodor von Mopsuestia († 428) with the writings they wrote, including the letter of Ibas von Edessa to the Persian Mari. Above all, the works and the person of Theodor von Mopsuestia were condemned as Nestorian by Emperor Justinian in the three-chapter decree in the year 551, handed down in full in the Chronicon Paschale (ad ann. 551). The “three chapters” mean the person and work of the three theologians.

Justinian's plan did not work out, however, because on the one hand the Monophysites were unimpressed, and on the other hand the condemnation of the three supposedly Nestorian authors caused outrage, especially in the West. There they refused to understand the writings in question as heretical and saw the imperial advance as a covert initiative in favor of the Monophysites. Pope Vigilius , who initially vehemently opposed the three-chapter decree, was summoned to Constantinople in 547 after Justinian's troops had wrested Italy from the Ostrogoths . In the course of the negotiations on the three chapters, Vigilius was forcibly forced to return to Constantinople after fleeing to the Council Church of Chalcedon. When he got there, Justinian broke his promise not to bother Vigilius with the "Three Chapters". An ecumenical council ( Second Council of Constantinople 553) was then held in Constantinople to deal with the three chapters. Vigilius strictly refused to attend the council unless there were more bishops from the West present. Most of these bishops did not come, and the council nonetheless joined Justinian's condemnation. Only when Vigilius, outmaneuvered by imperial diplomats, officially agreed to this decision, was he allowed to return to Rome, where he died in Syracuse .

This change of heart was greatly resented by the Pope in the West, and several bishops did not accept the condemnation of the Three Chapters; this was followed by a schism that lasted about 150 years , the schism of Aquileia. Many bishops in northern and central Italy turned away from Rome and turned to the Lombards who invaded in 568 (who stayed out of the dispute as Arians ). The reason for this was the already mentioned conflict in questions of faith between Constantinople, Rome and the northern Italian bishops. They vehemently opposed the condemnation of the Three Chapters.

Not until the end of the 7th century was a synod of reconciliation held in Pavia, which dissolved the schism within the Lombard Church and with Rome.


  • Jakob Speigl : Three-Chapter Controversy , in: Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages , Volume 3, Munich 1999, Sp 1381f..
  • Wolfgang Wassilios Klein (ed.): Syrian Church Fathers . Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 2004, ISBN 3-17-014449-9 , p. 116.
  • Richard Price (trans. & Comm.): The Acts of the Council of Constantinople of 553. With Related Texts on the Three Chapters Controversy. 2 volumes. Liverpool University Press, Liverpool 2009, ISBN 978-1-84631-178-9 .