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Second Council of Ephesus
Date 449
Accepted by Oriental Orthodoxy
Previous council First Council of Ephesus
Next council Council of Chalcedon (not accepted by the Oriental Orthodox)
Convoked by Emperor Theodosius II
Presided by Pope Dioscorus of Alexandria
Attendance 130
Topics of discussion Nestorianism, Monophysitism, Christology, Chalcedonianism
Documents and statements Condemnations & declared anathemas of Patriarch Flavianus, Patriarch Leo I, Theodoret, and Domnus II
Chronological list of Ecumenical councils

The Second Council of Ephesus was a church synod in 449 AD. It was convoked by Emperor Theodosius II as an Ecumenical council but because of the controversial proceedings it was not accepted as Ecumenical, labelled a Robber Synod and later repudiated at the Council of Chalcedon.

The first session

The Acts by the Second Council of Ephesus (the first session being wanting) are known through a Syriac translation by a monk, published from the British Museum (MS. Addit. 14,530), written in the year 535 AD.

Attending signatories

No time had been left for any Western bishops to attend, except a certain Julius of an unknown see, who, together with a Roman priest, Renatus (he died on the way), and the deacon Hilarius (who later became Pope himself), represented Pope Leo I. The emperor gave Dioscorus of Alexandria the presidency – ten authentian kai ta proteia. The legate Julius is mentioned next, but when this name was read at Chalcedon, the bishops cried: "He was cast out. No one represented Leo." Next in order was Juvenal of Jerusalem, above both the Patriarch Domnus II of Antioch, and Patriarch Flavian of Constantinople.

The number of bishops present was 198, with eight representatives of absent bishops, and lastly the deacon Hilarius with his notary Dulcitius. The question before the council by order of the emperor was whether Patriarch Flavian, in a synod held by him at Constantinople beginning November 8, 448 AD, had justly deposed and excommunicated Archimandrite Eutyches for refusing to admit two natures in Christ. Consequently, Flavian and six other bishops, who had been present at his synod, were not allowed to sit as judges in the council.

Opening Proceeding

The brief of convocation by Theodosius II was read, and then the Roman legates explained that it would have been contrary to custom for the pope to be present in person, but he had sent a letter by them. In this letter Leo I had appealed to his dogmatic letter to Flavian, which he intended to be read at the council and accepted by it as a rule of faith.

However, Dioscorus, whose title as Patriarch of Alexandria was also Pope, which is different from the Pope in Rome, refused to have it read and instead presented a letter of the emperor, ordering the presence at the council of the anti-Nestorian monk Barsumas. The question of faith was next proceeded with. Pope Dioscorus declared that this was not a matter for inquiry: they had only to inquire into the recent doings. He was acclaimed as a guardian of the Faith and the Champion of Orthodoxy.

Eutyches then was introduced, and declared that he held the Nicene Creed, to which nothing could be added, and from which nothing could be taken away. He had been condemned by Flavian for a mere slip of the tongue, though he had declared that he held the faith of Nicaea and Ephesus, and had appealed to the present council. He had been in danger of his life. He now asked for judgment against the calumnies which had been brought against him.

The accuser of Eutyches, Bishop Eusebius of Dorylaeum, was not allowed to be heard. The bishops agreed that the acts of the condemnation of Eutyches, at the 448 AD Constantinople council, should be read, but the delegates of Rome asked that Leo's letter might be heard first. Eutyches interrupted with the complaint that he did not trust these delegates; they had been to dine with Flavian, and had received much courtesy. Pope Dioscorus decided that the acts of the trial should have precedence, and so the letter of Leo I wasn't read.

The acts were then read in full, and also the account of an inquiry made on April 13, 449 AD, into the allegation of Eutyches that the synodal acts had been incorrectly taken down, and of another inquiry on April 27, 449 AD, into the accusation made by Eutyches that Flavian had drawn up the sentence against him beforehand. While the trial was being related, cries arose of belief in one nature, that two natures meant Nestorianism, of "Burn Eusebius", and so forth. Flavian rose to complain that no opportunity was given him of defending himself.

The Acts of the Second Council of Ephesus now give a list of 114 votes in the form of short speeches absolving Eutyches. Even three of his former judges joined in this, although by the emperor's order they were not to vote. Barsumas added his voice in the last place. A petition was read from the monastery of Eutyches, which had been excommunicated by Flavian. On the assertion of the monks that they agreed in all things with Eutyches, and with the holy fathers, the synod absolved them. Eutyches was crafty enough to seem Orthodox at the time. However, at a later date, Pope St. Dioscorus saw through him and had Eutyches anathematized.

Relations with the First Council of Ephesus

Next in order to establish the true faith an extract was read from the acts of the first session of the First Council of Ephesus (431 AD). Many of the bishops, and also the deacon Hilarus, expressed their assent, some adding that nothing beyond this faith could be allowed.

Dioscorus then spoke, declaring that it followed that Flavian and Eusebius must be deposed. No less than 101 bishops gave their votes orally, and the signatures of all the 135 bishops follow in the acts. Flavian and Eusebius had previously interposed an appeal to the Roman patriarch and to a synod held by him. Their formal letters of appeal have been recently published by Amelli.

Response of Chalcedon

The evidence given at the ecumenical Council of Chalcedon contradicts the account in the acts of this final scene of the session. It was reported that secretaries of the bishops had been violently prevented from taking notes, and it was declared that both Barsumas and Dioscorus struck Flavian, though this is likely an exaggeration. It was further reported that many bishops threw themselves on their knees to beg Dioscorus for mercy to Flavian, that the military were introduced and also Alexandrine Parabolani, and that a scene of violence ensued; that the bishops signed under the influence of bodily fear, that some signed a blank paper, and that others did not sign at all, the names being afterwards filled in of all who were actually present.

The Roman legate Hilarius uttered a single word in Latin, "Contradicitur", purportedly annulling the sentence in Leo's name. He then escaped with difficulty.

Flavian was deported into exile, and died a few days later in Lydia. No more of the Acts was read at Chalcedon. But we learn from Theodoret, Evagrius, and others, that the Council voted to depose Theodoret himself, Domnus, and Ibas, Bishop of Edessa.

Subsequent sessions

The attitude of schism

The Syriac Acts take up the history where the Chalcedonian Acts break off. Of the first session only the formal documents, letters of the emperor, petitions of Eutyches, are known to be preserved in Syriac, though not in the same manuscript. It is evident that the Monophysite editor thoroughly disapproved of the first session, and purposely omitted it, not because of the high-handed proceedings of Dioscorus, but because the later Monophysites, as a general rule, condemned Eutyches as a heretic, and did not wish to remember his rehabilitation by a council which they considered to be ecumenical, and the rest of Christianity scorns.


In the next session, according to the Syriac Acts, 113 were present, including Barsumas. Nine new names appear. The Roman delegates were sent for, as they did not appear, but only the notary Dulcitius could be found, and he was unwell. The delegates had shaken off the dust of their feet against the assembly. It was an uncanonical charge against St. Dioscorus at the Council of Chalcedon that he "had held an (ecumenical) council without the Roman See, which was never allowed". This manifestly refers to his having continued at the council after the departure of the delegates.

Double jeopardy

The first case was that of Ibas, Bishop of Edessa. This famous champion of the Antiochian party had been accused of crimes before Domnus, Bishop of Antioch, and had been acquitted, soon after Easter, 448 AD. His accusers had gone to Constantinople and obtained a new trial from the emperor. The bishops Photius of Tyre, Eustathius of Berytus, and Uranius of Imeria were to examine the matter. These bishops met at Tyre, removed to Berytus, and returned to Tyre, and eventually acquitted Ibas once more, together with his fellow-accused, Daniel, Bishop of Harran, and John of Theodosianopolis. This was in February, 449 AD.

Cheroeas, Governor of Osrhoene was now ordered to go to Edessa to make a new inquiry. He was received by the people on April 12, 449 AD, with shouts (the detailed summary of which took up some two or three pages of his report), in honour of the emperor, the governor, the late Bishop Rabbula, and against Nestorius and Ibas. Cheroeas sent to Constantinople, with two letters of his own, an elaborate report, detailing accusations against Ibas. The emperor ordered that a new bishop should be chosen.

It was this report, which provided a history of the whole affair, that was now read at length by order of Dioscorus. When the famous letter of Ibas to Bishop Maris was read, cries arose such as "These things pollute our ears ... Cyril is immortal. ... Let Ibas be burnt in the midst of the city of Antioch. ... Exile is of no use. Nestorius and Ibas should be burnt together!" A final indictment was made in a speech by a priest of Edessa named Eulogius. Sentence was finally given against Ibas of deposition and excommunication, without any suggestion that he ought to be cited or that his defence ought to be heard.

Byzantine matters

It is scandalously Byzantine to us today to find the three bishops who had acquitted him but a few months previously, only anxious to show their concurrence. They even pretended to forget what had been proved at Tyre and Berytus. In the next case, that of Ibas's nephew, Daniel of Harran, they declared that at Tyre they had clearly seen his guilt, and had only acquitted him because of his voluntary resignation. He was quickly deposed by the agreement of all the council. He was, of course, not present and could not defend himself.

It was next the turn of Irenaeus, who as an influential layman at the first Council of Ephesus had shown much favour to Nestorius. He had later become Bishop of Tyre, but the emperor had deposed him in 448 AD, and Photius, had succeeded him. The synod made no difficulty in ratifying the deposition of Irenaeus as a bigamist and a blasphemer. Aquilinus, Bishop of Byblus, because he had been consecrated by Irenaeus and was his friend, was next deposed. Sophronius, Bishop of Tella, was a cousin of Ibas. He was therefore accused of magic, and his case was reserved for the judgment of the new Bishop of Edessa—a surprisingly mild decision.

Condemnation of Theodoret

Theodoret, an opponent of Pope Dioscorus and a personal supporter of Nestorius, had been confined by the emperor within his own diocese in the preceding year, to prevent his preaching at Antioch; and Theodosius had twice written to prevent his coming to Ephesus to the council. The council found reason to depose him in his absence. He had been a friend of Nestorius, and for more than three years (431 AD-434 AD) a prominent antagonist of Pope Saint Cyril I.

But despite the fact the two great theologians had come to terms and had celebrated their agreement with great joy, he had been rejected with scorn, a monk of Antioch now brought forward a volume of extracts from the works of Theodoret. First was read Theodoret's letter to the monks of the East (see Mansi, V, 1023), then some extracts from a lost Apology for Diodorus and Theodore – the very name of this work sufficed in the eyes of the council for a condemnation to be pronounced. Dioscorus pronounced the sentence of deposition and excommunication of Theodoret.

When Theodoret in his remote diocese heard of this sentence on an absent man against whose reputation not a word was uttered, he at once appealed to the Leo in a letter (Ep. cxiii). He wrote also to the legate Renatus (Ep. cxvi), being unaware that he was dead.

Condemnation of Domnus

The council had a yet bolder task before it. Domnus of Antioch is said to have agreed in the first session to the acquittal of Eutyches. But he refused, on the plea of sickness, to appear any more at the latter sessions of the council. He seems to have been disgusted, or terrified, or both, at the leadership of Pope Dioscorus. The council had sent him an account of their actions, and he replied (according to the Acts) that he agreed to all the sentences that had been given and regretted that his health made his attendance impossible.

Immediately after receiving this message, the council proceeded to hear a number of petitions from monks and priests against Domnus himself. He was accused of friendship with Theodoret and Flavian, of Nestorianism, of altering the form of the Sacrament of Baptism, of intruding an immoral bishop into Emessa, of having been uncanonically appointed himself, and in fact of being an enemy of Dioscorus. Several pages of the manuscripts are lost; but it does not seem that the patriarch was cited to appear, or given a chance of defending himself. The bishops shouted that he was worse than Ibas. He was deposed by a vote of the council, and with this final act the Acts come to an end.

Reception of the Council

The council wrote the usual letter to the emperor (see Perry, trans., p. 431), who confirmed it with a letter (Mansi, VII, 495, and Perry, p. 364). Dioscorus sent an encyclical to the bishops of the East, with a form of adhesion to the council which they were to sign (Perry, p. 375). He went to Constantinople and appointed his secretary Anatolius bishop of that see.

Juvenal of Jerusalem was loyal to Dioscorus, he had deposed the Patriarchs of Antioch and Constantinople; but one powerful adversary yet remained. He halted at Nicaea, and with ten bishops (no doubt the ten Egyptian metropolitans whom he had brought to Ephesus), "in addition to all his other crimes he extended his madness against him who had been entrusted with the guardianship of the Vine by the Saviour" -- in the words of the bishops at Chalcedon -- and excommunicated the Pope himself.

Meanwhile, Leo I had received the appeals of Theodoret and Flavian (of whose death he was unaware), and had written to them and to the emperor and empress that all the Acts of the council were null. He eventually excommunicated all who had taken part in it, and absolved all whom it had condemned (including Theodoret the Nestorian), with the exception of Domnus of Antioch, who seems to have had no wish to resume his see and retired into the monastic life which he had left many years before with regret.


  • Edward Walford, translator, The Ecclesiastical History of Evagrius: A History of the Church from AD 431 to AD 594, 1846. Reprinted 2008. Evolution Publishing, ISBN 978-1-889758-88-6. [1]