ARTICLE II. – THE THREE CHAPTERS. – 13. -Condemnation of the Three Chapters of Theodore, Ibas, and Theodoret. 14, 15. -Defended by Vigilius. 16.-Answer to the objection of a Heretic, who asserts that one Council contradicts another.


  1. It was during this sixth century that the controversy about the Three Chapters was carried on. These were: First The books of Theodore of Mopsuestia, in which it was clear he taught the heresy of Nestorius (supra, cap. v. n. 48); Second The Letter of Ibas to Maris of Persia, in which he condemned alike St. Cyril and Nestorius, and praised Theodore of Mopsuestia; and, Thirdly The writings of Theodoret, Bishop of Cyrus, against the twelve Anathematizms of St. Cyril. This controversy grieviously disturbed the Church, but it was put at rest by the condemnation of these Three Chapters, in the year 553, in the fifth General Council, the second of Constantinople. The Emperor Justinian hurried on the condemnation of Theodore and his writings, the Letter of Ibas to Maris the Persian, and the writings of Theodoret against St. Cyril, and, finally, the sentence received the approbation of Pope Vigilius, in his famous Constitutum. Danæus (1) says that Vigilius was opposed to the celebration of this Council, but as he had not the power to prevent it, and foresaw that a ruinous schism would spring from his objection, he gave his assent, and, confirmed by the assent of the Holy See, it now ranks among the Ecumenical Councils.
  2. Pope Vigilius was blamed for his conduct in regard to this Council, and for so frequently changing his judgment regarding the condemnation of the Three Chapters, but Cardinal Norris (2), after relating all his changes, defends him as does Peter of Marca and says, that his inconstancy was not weakness, but prudence.

(1) Danes.; Nat. Temp. p. 255, (2) De Norris; Diss. Histor. de Syn. V.c.d.

“Vigilius,” he says, ” was a most tenacious upholder of Pontifical authority, even setting at defiance the Sovereign himself, as appears from his actions. He is reproached with inconstancy of mind, and too great a facility in changing his opinions, for in the case of the Three Chapters, he was often inconsistent, and more than once was opposed to his previous opinions. In the beginning, while he was yet in Sicily, he defended the Three Chapters; but, if we are to believe Victor, he had already promised to Theodora Augusta, that he would condemn them. When he came to Constantinople, he suspended Menna for condemning the Three Chapters; but he was soon after reconciled to him, and juridically condemned them himself. Three years after, he revoked his judgment, published a new Constitution, and denied that they could be condemned; but he held this opinion for only a few months, for he forwarded an Epistle to Eutyches, declaring the Constitution of no effect, and coming to the Synod, he proscribed the Three Chapters.” That most learned man, Peter of Marca (lib. iii, De Concordia Sacerdotii & Imperii, cap. 13), testifies that this inconstancy of Vigilius has been considered prudence by the learned; he calls it dispensation, for at one time he acted up to the rigour of Law and Canons, and then again dispensed with them for the sake of Faith and public tranquillity.

  1. Peter of Marca, therefore, says, that the Popes, at all times, in questions relating to discipline, have acted according to the rules of prudence, sometimes, when necessary, using all the rigour of the Canon, at other times the Dispensing Power, called by the Greeks, Economy, by the Latins, Dispensation, to preserve the union of the faithful and the peace of the Church. Cardinal Orsi (3) remarks, besides, that it was the last Constitution or Judgment alone, that was proposed to the Church by Vigilius, as a peremptory decree, and as Theologians say, pronounced ex Cathedra. He was unwilling at first to condemn the Three Chapters, because he feared to give a handle to the Nestorians to throw discredit on the Council of Chalcedon, which, it was said, approved of the Three Chapters; but when, on one hand he perceived that the Eutychians more vigorously attacked the Council of Chalcedon, which they said (though it was not the case) had approved of these Chapters; and on the other, the Nestorians laying hold of that, boasted that this Council was favourable to the doctrine of Nestorius, then indeed, he was convinced that it was necessary to condemn them absolutely, and he accordingly gave a decree to that effect, in unison with the Fathers of the Council of Constantinople, which is, therefore, as Tournelly says (4), considered one of the Ecumenical Councils, as it was approved of by Vigilius, and also by some of his successors, as Pelagius II., Leo II., &c., and Photius, according to Orsi, mentions the same thing in his writings.

(3) Orsi, t. 7, l. 39, it. 84. (4) Tournelly, Theol. Comp. t. 3; append, a. 2, de Con. Constan. 2, p. 998.

  1. How does it happen though, says Maclain, the annotator of Mosheim (5), that in the Council of Chalcedon the writings of Ibas and Theodoret were not condemned, and they themselves were praised for the purity of their Faith, and, for all that, the Council of Constantinople condemns their writings; the decision of the Council of Constantinople then is, he says, opposed to that of Chalcedon, and is a proof that both the Councils and the Doctors differ among themselves. Thus, he endeavours to prove the fallibility of General Councils of the Catholic Church, as these two Councils were opposed to each other. But as Selvaggi, in his sixteenth note, very fairly remarks, this is altogether false, for the Three Chapters were not approved of by the Council of Chalcedon; in fact, as Tournelly also remarks, they were neither approved nor rejected; they were altogether passed over in that Council, lest by condemning them, more disturbance would be raised in the Church, already distracted by the Nestorians. Peter of Marca explains the omission of the condemnation, on the authority of St. Cyril (6). Cyril, he says, prudently teaches that rigorous rules must sometimes be tempered by dispensation, as people at sea frequently throw some of their merchandise overboard to preserve the rest; and in his Epistle to Proclus of Constantinople, he tells him that the Council of Ephesus acted in this manner, for the Synod, indeed, condemned the heretical impiety, but in this condemnation prudently abstained from mentioning the name of Theodorus, lest many, led away by their respect for his person, would forsake the Church itself.

(5) Mosheim, Hist. Eccles. Centur. 6, par. 2, c. 3, p. 839 (6) Mos. loc. cit.

  1. Juenin (7) tells us that the books of Origen were condemned in this Council, and the following errors of his especially were noted: First – That the souls of men are created before they are united to their bodies, and that they are joined to the body as a place of punishment. Second – That the heavens, the sun, the moon, the stars, and the* waters above the heavens, are animated and reasoning powers. Third – That in the General Resurrection, our bodies will arise all in a round form, and that the pains of the damned and of the devils will have an end some time or other. Fourth That in some future ages Jesus Christ will be again crucified for the devils, and that the wicked spirits who are in heaven will inflict this suffering on him. Juenin also remarks that the condemnation of these erroneous doctrines does not appear clearly, from the original Acts of the second Council of Constantinople, as in the edition of L’Abbe, but that Cardinal Norris clearly shows that they were condemned there, though Garner maintains that it was not in this Council they were condemned at all, but in the Constantinopolitan Council, celebrated under Menna.

(7) Juenin, Theol. t. I, ar. 5, s. 2, ver. Quinto