More Comments on Vigilius


This was a private response to someone who had brought up how the historical situation of Pope Vigilius vs the 5th Council is a dogmatic proof against Vatican I:

On the case of Vigilius. When one studies the history very closely, we see that if it is the “Achilies heel” to Papal claims, it is likewise the “Achilies heel” to modern Orthodoxy. For simple reasons: (1) Eastern saints would have all decried the actions of Justinian I on his initiative with the Three Chapters , Egypt, and Syria. From Ossius’ famous letter to Constantius, the Emperor who wanted to enforce homoiousias, to Maximus the confessor who told Theodosius that no Emperor has the right to mandate on doctrine or councils, all the way to Theodore of Studium/Nicephorus of Cple against the Emperor’s who were iconoclastic and appealed to a heretical council. No one can deny that no Eastern patriarch enforced the Edict on the 3 chapters. For the modern Eastern Orthodox to be so dedicated to canons , one would think they would first spend time critiquing the actions of justinian in deposing bishops, threatening exile, and imposing secular power over the bishops of the Church – especially on doctrine. <it really doesn’t matter if he was theologically correct>. The issue should have been submitted to review of the Patriarchs. That is it. Chalcedon would have been repeated as the standard, and that would have been the end of it. The monophysites didn’t find any reason to unite over Cple 553. So, it only shows that the Orthodox today are not true scholars, for if they were, they would first spend time showing the uncanonical process that embarked upon the foundations of Cple 553. (2) Vigilius *did* indeed claim to exercise authority over the Council, the patriarchs, etc,etc. But he was also not exactly a free man. He was just as free as we would say of President Obama if he was confiscated from the United States and was held prisoner in Russia under Putin. What kind of canon or apostolic rule would allow that? This isn’t a time to discern whether Vigilius was making the right claims or not. It is a time to begin speaking on the depressive state of affairs that were going on in the Church with the rise of Byzantinism. Although it saved the day in some cases, it could also spoil the church. (3) Without Vigilius, the Council of Cpl 553 is a local eastern synod, and it decided to go through with its process anyway – under Justiniain of course. They justified this on the basis of the text “wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in their midst”. Well Jimminy cricket , the semi-Arians could have told you that (Arminium 357). That doesn’t provide any theological justification for proceeding, finalizing the council, and then issue out depositions/excommunications on those who don’t adhere. I don’t know any modern Orthodox scholar who thinks “Ecumenical” councils can consist of only Eastern representation…..that is…..until the subject of Vigilius comes up. Then, all of a sudden, from the basement, they will claim Cple 553 was a true Council with true authority to bind the whole Church. (3) The Western churches didn’t receive Cple 553. If that isn’t a proof that something was irregular, I don’t know what proof can be offered. (4) Yes, western churches severed communion with Vigilius. But not many are interested in sharing the rationale of those western churches. For instance, the churches of Illyricum said that Vigilius had contradicted dogma under Leo, and that the only way for them to retain Roman communion was to stick with Leo. So they may have been the proto-sedevacantists. In other words, they thought Chalcedon was being overturned by Rome, but they didn’t think even Rome could do so, because Papally ratified synods, like Chalcedon, bind all future synods.


(5) Justinian I began to threaten clerics  for non-adherence to his three chapters Edicts. Some will try to say the same thing was accepted under the pontificate of Hormisdas of Rome. But then, it was after the Church had spoken via her Head, the Pope. It is entirely different for the secular power to enforce dogma when there hasn’t been the necessary channels of ecclesial deliberation. They weren’t under the “reception” idea. Now, let’s say that the Orthodox, like Todd (Orthodox), tries to say that the Synod of Cple 553 possessed some legitimate degree of authority, de jure; Now you have the reception process, wherein it is possible that it is found to be heretical (Ephesus 449/Lyons 2/Florence). Then that would mean that the Church was allowed to make a fundamental error on doctrine for so many years (centuries?), and even enforce penalties on bishops/priests/all christians for not submitting to the heretical innovations.(6) Also, if Cple 553 has, de jure, the authority the Orthodox want, then Ephesus 449 would have also had authority, de jure. But the problem with that is we have three eastern bishops, Flavian/Eusebius of Dorylaeum/Theodoret of Cyrus, who appealed to Pope Leo in order to either confirm or overturn the judgement of the Council. Now, why would they appeal to Rome to overturn a de jure Council, which was conducted under the Emperor? And lastly, (7), the EO cannot avoid the backlash. They want to point out Papal powerlessness, they will have to face the Conciliar powerlessness. Many do, and recognize this is why they need a reception-program for addressing just what is infallible authority. If Papalism is falsified by its inability to coerce wills to conform, then Conciliarism will likewise be falsified. With the reception doctrine, there is no need for the Pope or a Council to necessarily squash problems and disputes. There is the digestion process by which the Church either absorbs it into her bloodstream (i.e. becomes Ecumenical), or it gets vomited out (Florence, for ex).

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