The Canons of the Synod of Constantinople (543)

1. If anyone says or holds that the souls of human beings pre-exist, as previously minds and holy powers, but that they reached satiety with divine contemplation and turned to what is worse and for this reason grew old in the love of God and are therefore called souls, and were made to descend into bodies as a punishment, let him be anathema.

2. If anyone says or holds that the Lord’s soul pre-existed and came into being united to God the word before the incarnation and birth from a virgin, let him be anathema.

3. If anyone holds or says that the body of our Lord Jesus Christ was first formed in the womb of the holy Virgin and that afterwards both God the word and the soul, being pre-existent, were united to it, let him be anathema.

4. If anyone says or holds that the Word of God became like all the heavenly orders, becoming cherubim for the cherubim, seraphim for the seraphim, and becoming (in a word) like all the powers above, let him be anathema.

5. If anyone says or holds that at the resurrection the bodies of human beings will be raised spherical and does not profess that we shall be raised upright, let him be anathema.

6. If anyone says or holds that heaven, sun, moon, stars, and the waters above the heavens are ensouled and rational powers, let him be anathema.

7. If anyone says or holds that in the age to come Christ the Master will be crucified on behalf of demons as well as on behalf of human beings, let him be anathema.

8. If anyone says or holds that God’s power is finite and that he created [only] what he could grasp and comprehend, or that creation is coeternal with God, let him be anathema.

9. If anyone says or holds that the punishment of demons and impious human beings is temporary and that it will have an end at some time, and that there will be a restoration of demons and impious human beings, let him be anathema.

(The Acts of the Council of Constantinople of 553, trans. Richard Price, p. 281)

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29 Responses to The Canons of the Synod of Constantinople (543)

  1. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    While the 15 anti-Origenist anathemas of the 553 Council of Constantinople are readily available on the web, the 9 anathemas of the 543 Synod of Constantinople are not. Unfortunately, I have not been able to find an English translation of the Edict of Justinian that prompted the convocation of the synod.

    This translation of the canons are included in an appendix of The Acts of the Council of Constantinople of 553, edited and translated by Richard Price.

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  2. CE Lathrop says:

    #9 seems to leave no room for universalism

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      And that is why the hermeneutics of dogma is necessary. Context is everything. Did the synodical bishops intend, e.g., to declare St Gregory of Nyssa a heretic? What’s the difference between his eschatology and the eschatology of the 6th century hyper-Origenists? What was the real dogmatic issue that needed to be addressed? Was it adequately addressed?

      Church history is filled with synods throwing out all sorts of anathemas, which then generate new synods and councils to clarify the confusion and ambiguity. So why is anathema #9 of a local synod beyond debate, refinement, clarification?

      Do you see what I’m driving at here?

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    • Agnikan says:

      Number 9 leaves plenty of room for conditional universalism, in which the salvation of all is not certain, not a “it will happen”; but conditional on the repentance of all, a “it might happen”.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      An example: Consider the verse in the Letter of James that says we are justified by our works. By itself it would seem to contradict the Letter to the Romans on justification by faith. But we typically do not allow the contradiction to stand. We interpret.

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  3. Mike H says:

    There are a couple of things going on at the same time. There is (1) council authority and politics and (2)the degree to which these pronouncements are really intended to target specific beliefs targeted at Origen (and therefore aren’t blanket statements) and (3) what is actually being said in #9.

    Focusing only on point (3), if one began with the end in mind (that end being to prove that the “traditional” models of hell are correct), it could be used to support the idea that “punishment” of “impious human beings” is unending conscious punishment – no 2nd chances. That the fate of the “impious” is sealed, and that fate is never ending retributive punishment. But IMO, that is potentially reading too much into it and doesn’t address the finer points of what many proponents of universal reconciliation actually believe.

    Another way to paraphrase #9 (again looking at it as a stand-alone statement) might be to say that this punishment, whatever it’s nature, is not the kind of thing where “impious human beings” just “do their time” and then they’re free to go on their way after long enough. So perhaps there is intent to condemn the belief that the nature or the punishment is something like “you killed one person, God tortures you for 10 years, then you get to join the general population in heaven.” I’m relatively new to understanding the arguments of universalist theology so I apologize if I’m misrepresenting it, but wouldn’t many (most) universalists actually agree with this? Isn’t the universalist belief instead that this punishment (though the form that it takes might be a point of disagreement) indeed does persist in “impious human beings”, but that the punishment itself is restorative and thus the way by which God destroys the “impious” and brings about repentance, etc.? I’m not trying to twist words or find loopholes – but I find this to be an important distinction that makes a difference in how one approaches the actual content of #9 as it exists as a stand-alone statement. Now to the degree to which #9 dogmatically states (or implies) that (1) God at some point abandons his creatures, (2)this punishment is purely retributive and contains no redemptive purpose (3) there is no such thing as post mortem repentance, there would be legitimate points of contention. But I’m not sure of the degree to which #9 convincingly makes (or even intends to make) those specific claims.

    I don’t think it’s fair to suggest that a short statement like #9 bear the burden of dealing with ALL relevant questions – the list of hermeneutical subpoints and clarifications could go on and on. It can’t be qualified away until it doesn’t mean anything (for instance, by pointing out that the word Gehenna or hell or whatever isn’t actually there in the statement). But the simplicity of the statement, I think, is enough to suggest that #9 is intended to be tied to all the points above it. If there was truly an intent to dogmatically settle the nature of “final” punishment once and for all, that it’s an all encompassing statement , wouldn’t a host of other related anathemas be reasonably warranted?

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      I concur. The proper interpretation of dogmatic statements is more complex than we might first anticipate.

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  4. steve95054 says:

    #5 is very strange. Who was teaching such a thing, and what did they mean by it? “Raised spherical?” Well, maybe some Americans (being afflicted with rotundity already)….haha. 😛

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    • Ryan says:

      This belief most certainly draws on the idea found in Plato (e.g. the Symposium) that the human body was originally spherical until Zeus cut it in two as a punishment (thus accounting for sexual division).

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      • steve95054 says:

        Ah, ok. That makes sense.

        It does bring up a question of how far to take the canon, though…Should we (knowing its provenance) bring it to bear against those who in this day would say (based on a misunderstanding of Jesus’ saying re “like the angels”, and Paul’s that “in Christ there is neither male nor female”) that in the Resurrection, we will be genderless? And (furthermore) that therefore we ought to ordain women?

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        • Ryan says:

          It would be problematic to apply the canon that far, because we would again run up against St. Gregory of Nyssa (and St. Maximus the Confessor) who said that the gender division was not part of God’s initial plan for man and was only made out of foreknowledge of the Fall.

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      • AR says:

        How could anyone take that seriously? The character in the Symposium who propounds that idea is a drunk buffoon telling a silly story about why some people prefer to couple with people of their own sex.

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  5. Stephen says:

    Where do we account for the fact that “St.” Justinian was a somewhat corrupt Byzantine emporer (dictator) that had every interest in controlling people with fear of damnation. Just cause he build Hagia Sophia we treat him like a saint forgetting that he was totally caught up in the politics of his day. I still have no idea why the church considered him a saint. And it’s not surprising that he wanted to suppress any notion of universalism so he could still scare and control the populace with fear. He, as I understand it was responsible for torturing and killing heretics– not exactly the spirit of Christ. Why should we believe any canons he forced upon the council.

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  6. evagrius says:

    This book is the best so far on the events leading to the Council. I have to agree with Stephen as to the political and social reasons for the condemnation. Also, it must be stated that the “Evagrian system” was deeply misunderstood by “Origenist” proponents. Hans Jonas, in an interesting essay, Myth and Mysticism A Study of Objectification and Interiorization in Religious Thought, argues that the “Origenist myth” was transformed by Evagrius as a vehicle for interior prayer and contemplation. Unfortunately, the essay is not available in a the public sphere.

    http://www.amazon.com/Origenist-Controversy-Construction-Christian-Princeton/dp/0691603510/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1422501080&sr=8-1&keywords=origenist+controversy

    http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/1201813?sid=21105730040783&uid=70&uid=2129&uid=3737720&uid=4&uid=2

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  7. AR says:

    Interesting conversation. If I may play at lawyering for a moment, I would like to point out that it may be ineffective to formulate an argument against the canon as a whole, since the first 8 anathemas are so obviously correct, however inhumane the motives behind at least one person’s promotion of them. However on the question of #9 I think we can easily see why this one has failed to constrain Universalists from teaching and believing as they do. To sum up:

    1) The church failed to anathemetize, and even canonized, several major theologians who held views that would seem to have been forbidden by this #9. This may be seen as a de facto rejection of this particular anathema. This leaves #9 in the position of being like a law that is still on the books but can’t be enforced because of its ineffective treatment of the question.

    2) The reason for this ineffectiveness is found partly in the wording. #9 is worded so that it only has force so long as the impious remain impious and demons remain demons. Since the “salvation” in “Universal Salvation” means precisely that the impious cease to be impious when they experience the reality of their impiety, this anathema fails to actually rule on the question at hand.

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    • Mike H says:

      AR,

      Your #2 is exactly what I was trying to say above. It just took me 500 more words than you to say it.

      I’d think that there would need to be specific rulings about (1)if/when God permanently abandons his creatures (2) the degree to which punishment is purely retributive and contains no redemption purposes and (3)the possibility of post mortem repentance. Maybe a few others. #9, as written, doesn’t do it.

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      • AR says:

        I totally get it. It’s always messier being the first one to say something. I appreciated your comment and it’s why I said “to sum up.”

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      • AR says:

        Also, lol, I’m not eager for the church to rule on that question. Yes, it would have to in order to constrain Universalists, but I am happy with the official side of the church leaving this one alone right now. I know too many people who consider Universalism as sheer liberalism and coming from modernity rather than true theology. I guess because true Universalism is a sort of hidden truth, hiding behind a truth that seems to be its exact opposite, no less. A mystery would have to be propounded and given time to sink in, or the conservative rank-and-file would be scandalized.

        I think the key on the popular preaching level may be to emphasize the ancient hope that God will end evil. Combined with the question of how thoroughly God is able to do this and why he wouldn’t if he can, I think this ancient hope would render most people willing to consider the question more open-mindedly.

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    • Connie says:

      AR, you amaze me. I love you to pieces! As a firm believer in the final reconciliation of ALL things (it is written into my DNA) I don’t know how I missed that clear, blazing truth you reveal in your point #2.

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      • AR says:

        Wow, thanks, Connie! I somewhat know how you feel. I suffer black doubts because it seems like some of the scripture writers had a different viewpoint, but my personal feelings are the same as yours. I try to believe the point of all those scriptures is actually to reassure persecuted and oppressed people that God will triumph over evil and end it completely. Surely the people in Iraq right now, for instance, need to hear that!

        But when we are fighting that battle on the level of our own hearts rather than externally, it all looks different. For God to end evil, it will not be enough to destroy some people and not others. The triumphant Lord with his garment dipped in blood and a double-edged sword proceeding from his mouth will have to ride through every soul – mine, no less than my neighbor’s.

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  8. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    AR writes, “the first 8 anathemas are so obviously correct” – not always “obviously”, historically!

    I had never encountered 6 before, but did know St. Augustine’s (for example) saying (Enchiridion, 58), ” I am not even certain upon this point: whether the sun, and the moon, and all the stars, do not form part of this same society, though many consider them merely luminous bodies, without either sensation or intelligence.” How has one, in the intervening century or so, come to the ‘knowledge’ not possessed by St. Augustine and so emphatically propounded here? (And what does it, or does it not, imply about ‘Planetary Intelligences’ (et al.).)

    Nor had I encountered 3 before, which, if it means to treat Our Lord as a specific example of the universal character of personal human creatureliness (with respect to “the soul”), has not been ‘obvious’ to various later (e.g., mediaeval) ‘scientists’.

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