became divine later at his baptism. He preferred to call Mary Christotokos (Mother of Christ), meaning that she gave birth to a man and not God. Indeed, in a sermon, Nestorius’ priest Anastasius, said that he could not call a child his Lord, thus rejecting the term of Theotokos. Thus, a controversy ensued between Nestorius and Cyril, patriarch of Alexandria (d. 444) over this belief. Cyril, basing his argument on the Gospel of John 1:14, “The Word became flesh,” maintained the God (Christ) who became flesh is not distinct nature but “One incarnate nature of the divine Logos.” The controversy became so troubling to the church that Emperor Theodosius II (408-450 A.D.) called a council to settle this controversy. The Council met in Ephesus in 431 A.D., presided by St. Cyril, and condemned Nestorius.
Soon, however, the church was rocked by another controversy caused by the old man Eutyches, an archimandrite of a monastery in Constantinople. While trying to defend Cyril’s belief of “One nature of the divine Logos” Eutyches fell into heresy. He rejected the truth of the body derived from the Virgin which the Word (Christ) took from her. He taught that the Word became flesh as the atmosphere assumes bodily form and becomes rain or snow under the influence of the wind or as water by reason of the cold air becomes ice. In other words, Eutyches maintained that the divine nature of Christ absorbed the human nature. In 448 A.D., Flavian, Patriarch of Constantinople, convened a local council to discuss the case of Eutyches. Eutyches was condemned for being a heretic. He complained to church leaders at that time among whom was Leo, bishop of Rome. At the beginning, Leo understood that Eutyches’ teaching was not heretical. But when he contemplated his teaching further, he discovered that he was indeed heretical. Meantime, to combat the heresy of Eutyches, Emperor Theodosius II issued a royal decree for a council to meet in Ephesus which came to be known as Second Ephesus. The council met in 449 A.D. under the presidency of Pope Dioscorus, who succeeded Cyril in 444 A.D. The fact that the presidents of the two Councils of First and Second Ephesus were Egyptians, indicates the supremacy of the Egyptian church and Episcopate in theological matters. Bishop Leo of Rome sent a letter, commonly known as the Tome, to the Second Council of Ephesus. He made it clear through his representatives that it should be used as the criterion for determining the case of Eutyches. Upon receiving the letter the council did not read it. Apparently, John, Secretary of Council, kept it among other documents to be read when the right time came for reading it. However, it is believed that it was not read because it contained expressions considered Nestorian in nature and were condemned by the First Council of Ephesus. Thus, if it was read, it would create unnecessary commotion and dissension specially that the council was determined to solve, in addition of Eutyches’ case, the case of several church dignitaries of Nestorian proclivity. Eutyches was summoned to the Council and presented his faith in writing which demonstrated that he stood on the dogmatic faith of the Council of Nicaea and the First Council of Ephesus. Thus, he was declared as Orthodox emperor and the Council’s decision was presented to the Emperor Theodosius who endorsed it. Seeing that Leo’s letter was not read, and that he was not recognized as “the religious leader of the entire Christian Church”, Leo’s representatives left the council and spread the false report that they were attacked and harmed by members of the council, and that even Flavian of Constantinople died having been trampled. When their report reached Leo, he felt humiliated and branded the council unjustly as “The Robbers Council.” In 450 A.D., Theodosius died without issue and the throne passed to his sister Pulcheria and her husband Marcian, an army general. Pulcheria and her husband were staunch supporters of Leo, bishop of Rome. Using their friendship and support, Leo requested them to convene another council to annul the decisons of the Second Council of Ephesus which had humiliated him and his position by not reading his Tome. A council was convened by the two rulers at Chalcedon and thus was known as the Council of Chalcedon. The Council was basically made up of prominent bishops who were either Nestorians, like Theodoret, bishop of Cyrus, or pro-Nestorian. Obviously, they were supporters of Leo of Rome. Ostensibly, their main business was to redefine the faith which was already set by the councils of Nicaea, Constantinople and Ephesus; it needed no further definition. But their action reveals that they were bent on punishing and humiliating Dioscorus.
The purpose of giving this summary of events which preceded Chalcedon, is to prepare the way for the treatment of Dioscorus by Behnam. It is not intended to support or denounce the faith of Chalcedon. Such theological controversies have little impact in our time. They are only understood by a handful of systematic theologians. The whole point of Behnam’s book is to show that form the outset the Council of Chalcedon treated Dioscorus as a culprit and condemned him not for his faith, as shown below.
Bishop Behnam further says that the Council of Chalcedon accused Dioscorus of embracing the belief of Eutyches, but could not prove it. In fact, he condemned Eutyches and held the same belief of Cyril of “One nature of the divine Logos.” When the council tried to force him to reject this formula of faith and sign their own formula which holds “Two natures united in one person yet still separate after the Incarnation,” Dioscorus responded saying, “If my hand is cut off and my blood run over the parchment, I will not sign.”
Bishop Behnam continues that the council further accused Dioscorus of using violence especially against the representatives of Leo of Rome, Flavian of Constantinople and others. But this accusation proved groundless. As to the accusation that Dioscorus overlooked the reading of the Tome of Leo of Rome at the second Council of Ephesus, Bishop Behnam maintains that the accusation is untenable. He affirms that Dioscorus received the Tome with great reverence and twice ordered that it should be read mentioning Leo with due reverence as “the lover of Christ the chief priest of Rome.” Bishop Behnam reasons that the problem, however, is that the Tome was not a doctrinal document in the full sense of the word. The greatest problem, however, is that it contained “Nestorian” expressions such that each of the natures of Christ operated according to its characteristic whether divine or human. In his Tome, Leo said that the divine nature acts divinely and the human nature acts as a human. This gives the impression that there are two separate Christs: one divine, the other human and there is no union between the two. Such expressions, maintains Bishop Behnam, must have caused the apprehensive members of Second Ephesus to delay its reading. Behnam asserts that when Dioscorus ordered that Leo’s Tome be read, the chief notary said there were still several royal decrees to be dealt with first. Thus, and unintentionally, the Tome was not read.
Whatever the case may be, the Council of Chalcedon deliberately mishandled Dioscorus. From the outset, the members were determined to punish him. And when he appeared at the council, he was made to stand where the culprits usually stand. Seeing that he was treated as a culprit, Dioscorus refused to attend the council. The entire case of Dioscorus was evidence of a blatant abortion of justice. It was a farce which revealed itself in the verdict pronounced against Dioscorus: He was condemned not for his faith, but because he was summoned three times and did not respond.
The above account of the writings of Bishops Bulus Behnam is incomplete. He penned many other subjects which this writer did not discuss. He only concentrated on his major themes. Considering the short life of this erudite, his literary output is highly impressive. He is truly a shining star in the firmament of the Syrian Orthodox Church in the twentieth century. As successive generations still remember with admiration the erudition of the thirteenth-century Maphryono (Prelate) Mor Gregorius Bar Hebraeus, future generations shall also remember and appreciate the works of this twentieth-century luminary Bishop Mor Gregorius Bulus Behnam.
For more sources on the life and work of Bishop Gregorius Bulus Behnam, see:
1Rev. Yusuf Sai’d, al-Malphan Hayat Mar Gregorius Bulus Behnam, Metran of Baghdad and Basra (Beirut, 1969).
2Metropolitan Ishaq Saka, Sawt Ninawa wa Aram: aw al-Metran Bulus Behnam (Damascus: Dar al-Ruha, 1988).
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