Papal Infallibility and the Eastern Church: The Union of Pope Hormisdas (518-519)


Many historical readers have been won to the argument of 19th century Anglican Anti-Papalist F.W. Puller, who, in his “The Primitive Saints and the See of Rome“, claimed that though there was a clear description of the Petrine Papalism of the Roman See in the Formula of Union drawn up by Pope Hormisdas, the Eastern Christians had oppurtunity to jettison all of the Papal text so as to avoid giving credence to the Papal claims of Hormisdas. It is also claimed that a supposedly pre-eminent Bishop of Thessalonica, Doretheus, upon receiving the Formula ripped it up in front of his congregation. Let’s see how the story went .

This historical revisionism is absolutely embarrassing. It has been over 100 years that anti-Papalists have written in this manner with regard to the transaction between Pope Hormisdas and Justinian/John/Epiphanius. In the first place, the real reason the Bishop of Thessalonica had torn the Formula in two in front of the people was because he was opposed to the Council of Chalcedon, the Tome of Leo, and to Pope Hormisdas since the latter held to the former. Dorotheus had joined the party of Timothy I of Constantinople, an ardent monophysite, who was ordained by Emperor Anastasius. The Emperor had just deposed the former Patriarch Macedonius II for refusing to condemn the Council of Chalcedon. By joining himself to the anti-Chalcedon party, Dorotheus ran into some conflict with both the Greek & Illyricim episcopate. The great Byzantine scholar, Fr. Adrian Fortescue, describes the situation: “Dorotheus of Thessalonica had passed over to the party of Timothy I of Constantinople, now more and more openly Monophysite. So in 515, forty bishops of Illyricum and Greece separated themselves from him and held a synod, which sent legates to Rome to announce that they desired communion with the Holy [Roman] See. The next year, 516, a synod in the south of Illyricum, in the old province of Epirus, chose a certain John to be Metropolitan of Nicopolis. John sent a deacon, Rufinus, to announce his election to Pope Hormisdas; he protests his adherence to Chalcedon and detestation of the Monophysite chiefs; he declares that he adheres without reserve to the dogmatic letter of Leo the Great [Tome], and asks the Pope what he is to do. All the members of the synod at the same time send a letter to the Pope, asking him to recognize their new Metropolitan. The Pope then tells John to be faithful to the Catholic faith; he sends by a subdeacon, Pullio, an Indiculus, that is, an instruction as to how schismatics are to be reconciled to the Church. In a second letter he sends a form to be signed by all who desire communion with the Holy See. This form is the Formula of Hormisdas. It was signed by all, as we shall see; so Illyricum returned to unity with Rome.” (The Reunion Formula of Hormisdas, page 10-11). It gets worse. We read above that John, Metropolitan of Nicopolis, became a defender of Chalcedon. Dorotheus was actually a persecutor of the orthodox in Illyricum, even using the secular government to impose resistance to those who believed the Tome of Leo. Eventually, with enough appeals, Hormisdas was able to see to it thatrev-_philip_micklem_by_sam_hood Dorotheus was to be judged at Constantinople for his crimes (see A dictionary of Christian biography and literature to the end of the sixth century A.D., with an account of the principal sects and heresies, page 280). So there you have it. Without knowing it, I’m sure, the anti-Papist find support against the Papal-theory explicated in the Formula of Hormisdas by the resistance of a Monophysite heretic who persecuted the orthodox, and was held to account for such criminal behavior even by the court of Constantinople. Much to the contrary of our interlocutors, we find that the metropolitan Bishop of Nicoplis as well as many in the Greek & Illyricum episcopate thought highly of the Formula. What import is left for our interlocutor but a withdrawal of his claims against this pro-Papal event? If it be desired to achieve a witness against Papal claims by the reaction of Dorotheus to the Formula of Hormisdas (tearing it in two), it only proves that what was written in the Formula by Hormisdas were actually authentic Papal claims, which means that 6th century Rome was Papalist. And if that was truly the case, than it makes matters even worse since the Eastern Patriachates entered into communion with Papalist Rome in order to escape schism, when, given the coordination of the facts by our debate partners, this only put them in a state of heresy & schism again. But I digress. Especially since the facts show that Dorotheus’ real reason for tearing the Formula was his protest of Chalcedon and the Tome of Pope Leo.

Now, with regard to the sending of the Formula of Hormisdas to the Eastern Sees through Emperor Justinian I. The claim made by these opponents of the Formula is that the Eastern bishops were able to be critical of the contents, and in particular, the descriptions of the authority of the Papacy. Pope Hormisdas had written that the Lord Christ had promised to build His Church on the rock of Peter, and that this was proven since “in sede apostolica inviolabilis semper Catholica custoditur religio” (in the Apostolic See the Christian religion has always been kept inviolate). Then, there are condemnations of specific persons. The list contains Nestorius, Eutyches, Dioscorus, Timothy the Cat, Peter of Alexandria, Acacius, and Peter of Antioch. These names, as well as all who do not hold communion with the Apostolic See, are to be banished from the sacred diptychs.  And then the Formula states that those who sign should follow Rome in all things, since it is “in the Apostolic See that the Church’s perfect solidity [perfecta soliditas, the Rock] resides“.  In March, 519, the Patriarch of Constantinople, John, signed the Formula without any subtraction of the Papal claims therein. After this Justinian gave orders the following month that all the bishops of all the provinces should sign as well. Come to find out certain bishops were extremely difficult to persuade to remove from their diptychs the names which were held precious by their flocks, but which were not Chalcedonian. Justinian then sent a subsequent letter to Hormisdas, describing the difficulties. Now, it is important to understand these bishops did not find difficulty expunging the names of Acacius, Dioscorus, Timothy the Cat, the two Peters, but rather they refused to remove the names of those bishops who had been involved in the Acacian schism that they thought were holy men of God. Now, let’s take a halt for a moment. The Eastern bishops were so meticulously seeking to be honest in their signing of the Formula, that they spent the extra time writing to Justinian, and waiting for Justinian to write to the Pope, by expressing their difficulty in removing the names of certain men of the Acacian schism that they believed are worthily included into the diptychs. If they were that honest, why don’t we hear anything of their protest against the Papal claims? Not a single protest on record. Interesting, indeed. And so, Justinian begged Hormisdas to show some leniency, and to allow a dispensation for these specific churches. And note, this was a problem for all the Eastern churches. The Pope wrote back to Justinian leaving the determination of that to Epiphanius, Patriarch of Constantinople, and asserted that he would hold communion with whoever Ephiphanius considered worthy, but yet they had to subscribe to the rest of the Formula in the whole sense in which it was originally written.  Now, pause. If Hormisdas thought that there was a threat of rejecting the Papal claims made in the Formula, why would he transfer the court of this issue to the Patriarch of Constantinople? That would be absurd, indeed. But reality was that there wasn’t a hint of rejection of Papal claims. Only this issue of the expunging of names from the diptychs. What the anti-Papalists has done, from support of hasty scholarship, is to assert that when Hormisdas allowed Epiphanius to take in libelli from the Eastern churches without expunging all the names of certain clergy from the Acaian schism, the Eastern churches intentionally wrote up a new Formula of faith deleting the Papal claims, so as to avoid agreeing with them, yet still fulfilling the need to commune with Rome. Yet, as I’ve mentioned above, there is no objection to the Papalist statements of the Formula by these bishops. If they were honest enough to withhold their agreement and signature because they couldn’t fulfill all the demands of the original request of the Formula, why would they fail to mention their honest objection to the statements made about Peter and the infallibility of the Apostolic See? It is as if the anti-Papists understand that these Eastern bishops secretly settled for re-union on their own terms without explicitly complaining about their Papalist objections.  And if we read the new Libelli that was written to Justinian from these Eastern churches, they prefaced it with a paraphrase of the original Papal claim, “..the Church of God, which resting upon the rock of the chief of the Apostles, retaining a right and inflexible confession, confidently with him always exclaims, ‘Thou are the Christ, the Son of the Living God'” (Mansi viii. 511). Now, Hormisdas’ indulgence came with a clear requirement. Dom John Chapman writes on this: “Epiphanius is to use his judgment. He must transmit to the Apostolic See a list of all whom he reconciles, enclosing the contents of the Libelli they send in (Mansi viii. 1032). This profession must be faithful to the original formula, ‘eodem tamen, ut dixi, tenore conscriptam’ (ibid. 1036). Similarly in his letter to the Emperor the Pope says that Epiphanius may admit to communion those who are worthy, libelli tamen, qui a nobis interpositus est, tenore servato (ibid. 520)….Nothing can be more certain than that not a bishop of the East was admitted to full catholic communion except on the terms of Rome….there is no evidence of any objection whatever having been made to it, except in so far as it implied the omission from the diptychs of former bishops who had been really orthodox, and had been merely in unavoidable schism through the fault of the Emperor.” (The First Eight General Councils and Papal Infallibility, page 45 footnote 4).

Furthermore,  It would be very disingenuous of these churches to find restoration to the fullness of ecclesial unity while retaining their own anti-Roman convictions. These former schismatics were in no position to begin representing the right-view of the Episcopate, and yet this is likely what the anti-Papist would have his readers think otherwise. And I think the weakest part of our partner’s argument is that even if it were the case that these Eastern churches did delete those Papal parts of the Formula, that would mean it was clear to them what Rome was claiming at the time, and since Rome was the Church holding fast to orthodoxy throughout this whole process, she makes for a preferable choice of reliable witness. If not for the reason stated, than for the reason that they were claim to hold agreement with the Holy See, but then to implicitly reject certain of her teachings. Lastly, if they were being disingenuous, why use them as reliable witnesses anyhow?

But what about the Patriarch of Constantinople, the very chief See after Rome for many in the 6th century? And what of the Emperor himself? As stated, some say that an added preface to Patriarch John’s Libellus indicates he rejected Papal claims, or that he equated the claims of the See of Peter and that of Constantinople.

Another historical revisionism, but more an issue of interpretation. Our interlocturs here are claiming that whatever prerogatives that are stated in the Formula of Hormisdas regarding Rome are to be equally attributed to the see of Constantinople, the “Imperial city”. It is the old argument of Anglican F.W. Puller who said, “It will be noticed that by means of this preamble the Patriarch [John] managed to blunt very considerably the edge of his formulary; for by identifying in some curious fashion his own see of new Rome with the Papal see of old Rome, he managed to claim for the Constantinopolitan See a share in all the special privileges which in the formulary were assigned to the Western apostolic chair” (The Primitive Saints and the See of Rome, page 400). But this isn’t supported by the facts. Let’s briefly read the Formula of Hormisdas, and my answer to this objection will be just following:

“The first condition of salvation is to keep the norm of the true faith and in no way to saint_peter_the_apostle_by_bernardino_zenaledeviate from the established doctrine of the Fathers. For it is impossible that the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, who said, “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church,”  should not be verified. And their truth has been proved by the course of history, for in the Apostolic See the Catholic religion has always been kept unsullied. From this hope and faith we by no means desire to be separated and, following the doctrine of the Fathers, we declare anathema all heresies, and, especially, the heretic Nestorius, former bishop of Constantinople, who was condemned by the Council of Ephesus, by Blessed Celestine, bishop of Rome, and by the venerable Cyril, bishop of Alexandria. We likewise condemn and declare to be anathema Eutyches and Dioscoros of Alexandria, who were condemned in the holy Council of Chalcedon, which we follow and endorse. This Council followed the holy Council of Nicaea and preached the apostolic faith. And we condemn the assassin Timothy, surnamed Aelurus and also Peter of Alexandria, his disciple and follower in everything. We also declare anathema their helper and follower, Acacius of Constantinople, a bishop once condemned by the Apostolic See, and all those who remain in contact and company with them. Because this Acacius joined himself to their communion, he deserved to receive a judgment of condemnation similar to theirs. Furthermore, we condemn Peter  of Antioch with all his followers together together with the followers of all those mentioned above.Following, as we have said before, the Apostolic See in all things and proclaiming all its decisions, we endorse and approve all the letters which Pope St Leo wrote concerning the Christian religion. And so I hope I may deserve to be associated with you in the one communion which the Apostolic See proclaims, in which the whole, true, and perfect security of the Christian religion resides. I promise that from now on those who are separated from the communion of the Catholic Church, that is, who are not in agreement with the Apostolic See, will not have their names read during the sacred mysteries. But if I attempt even the least deviation from my profession, I admit that, according to my own declaration, I am an accomplice to those whom I have condemned. I have signed this, my profession, with my own hand, and I have directed it to you, Hormisdas, the holy and venerable pope of Rome.” (Formula of Hormisdas)

Now,  Puller say that the Patriarch John was intending on telling Hormisdas that whatever the descriptions of the Formula say of Rome, it says of Constantinople, right? Really? The first thing that is said of Rome is that the Christian religion had always been perfectly taught there. How could Constantinople be claiming equation with this when it is the very see that was presently working its way out of the much of the Acacian schism and the Monophysite heresy? Secondly, the Formula involves a petition to retain the communion of the Apostolic See, “in which the whole, true, and perfect security of the Christian religion resides”. If John was saying that Constantinople *is that very communion*, why even sign the Formula? In other words, John is supposed to be signing this formula in order to enter that communion, not to prove that she had always been that communion.

But what do we make of the statement “one See”?  It is more than likely that this “unam esse” (one See) means a closeness of unity. It is similar to the statement made by Pope Gregory the Great when he says that the Sees of Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch were “one See of Peter” (Epistle 7:40). Monsignor Pierre Battifol comments, “This means to say that the bishop of Rome and the Bishop of Constantinople are in agreement, not that he ‘identified his own see with the Roman see’ – a phrase that has no meaning. Compare the letter Quando Deus of the same John to the same Hormisdas which once more uses the same terms – and the reply of Hormisdas to John, consideranti mihi. Coll. Avellan. 161 and 169 (pp. 612, 624)” (Catholicism and Papacy, page 123) .

In conclusion, we may with good reason continue to hold that the East signed upon the belief of Roman infallibility. It is reported in the later 6th century by Pope Vigilius’ nephew Rusticus (Patrologia Latina 67. 1251-2; Mansi viii. 579) that 2500 Eastern bishops signed the Formula of Hordmisdas. But some might object that this union did not last long. And so they might, it is only when St. Maximos the Confessor comes into play in the 7th century that we can see the East, in her soul, has not really forgotten about the Papal doctrines.


9 thoughts on “Papal Infallibility and the Eastern Church: The Union of Pope Hormisdas (518-519)

  1. Hi Erick,

    Which statements from the primary sources are you aware of stating who actually signed the Libellus? As far as I know, there’s only Rusticus who said 2,500 clergy of the Church of Constantinople signed and that’s it. Thanks

  2. Erick,

    “It is reported in the later 6th century by Pope Vigilius’ nephew Rusticus (Patrologia Latina 67. 1251-2; Mansi viii. 579) that 2500 Eastern bishops signed the Formula of Hordmisdas.”

    Did you check these first or just repeat them from another source because neither of them say what you arre claiming they do. Rusticus, while defending the Tome and Chalcedon against a Monophysite says simply:

    “Licet sufficeret tibi unica auctoritas synodi universalis, quae numero superat universas, quae toties cunctarum Ecclesiarum consona sententia confirmata est, tam per encyclicas epistolas regnante Leone, quam per libellus sacerdotum forsan duorum millium et quingentorum, imperante Justino post schisma Petri Alexandrini et Acacii Constantinopolitani.”

    (There’s an immediate problem with the text, though as “libellus” should be either “libellum” or, more likely, “libelli” as “per” takes the accusative. It’s possible a scribe with poor knowledge of Latin tried to change “libelli” to “libellus” to make it appear as if there were only one certificate they all signed – see further down). He’s speaking to a monophysite about Chalcedon

    “The singular authority [preeminence] of this Council [Chalcedon], which exceeds all the number that usually represent the unanimous opinion of all the churches, should be enough for you. It is confirmed by the encyclical letters during the reign of Leo as it is by the certificate(s) (libellus) of perhaps 2,500 priests [sacerdotum – sacerdos just means ordained person] in the reign of Justin after the schism of Peter of Alexandria and Acacius of Constantinople.”

    “Libellus” in medieval Latin is a term as versatile as it is common and was used to refer to things like marriage certificates, a deeds, rental contracts, manumission papers, promissory notes, court papers, etc. Essentially anything we would sign and probably notorize.

    In Mansi, it records that the Ecumenical Patriarch, John of Cappadpocia (who was theologically wishy-washy and scheming to say the least…) and several clergy under him signed the Libellus of Hormisdas but makes no mention of numbers, let alone “2,500 bishops.”

    As far as we know, it’s only the clergy of Constantinople who signed the Libellus as after 520, Pope St. Hormisdas had delegated the task to John of Cappadpcia’s successor, Epiphanius in letter 80 (PL 63:515-522) writing:

    “But in order that this can carefully be expedited without any complaint or blemish of error, most beloved brother, it is fitting that in this matter you assume my persona, knowing in cases of this type, as has been said, what must be done and what avoided. Everything must be so foreseen that you not doubt that an account of this settlement must be rendered to God. Do this in such a way, nonetheless, that your writings make clear to us those who were associated in communion with you or through you to the apostolic seat. Also let the contents of the certificates [libellorum] which they have presented be included in your report.”

    Pope St. Hormisdas continues:

    “And since in your letter your love made mention of the Jerusalemites whose recent profession was reported to us, we considered it necessary either to review what was written or to indicate what is agreeable. If they preserve the decrees of the holy Fathers, if they honor those foundations of the faith over against those which were decreed though the holy spirit was aggrieved, they will not stray. For either they are perfect as they are and need no addition or they are valid enough and must not be changed when through the [constitutions] all the poison of the heretics has been crushed.”

    Pope St. Hormisdas then immediately continues by stating [at the end of this quotation] what the libelli must include writing:

    “Nor did the synod at Chalcedon omit anything of use, such was its diligence. The teachings of preceding synods it either documented more clearly or it strengthened by repetition, undertaking in particular the struggle against Nestorius and Eutyches, the one separating the divinity of our God Jesus Christ from the flesh and thereby avoiding acknowledging holy Mary as mother of God, the other rejecting the genuineness of the flesh in the Lord. Since our Lord Jesus Christ is both Son of God and son of man—one person in two natures of divinity and humanity of the flesh—with the natures not mixed by the union—not like a fourth person added to the Trinity but the very son of God “emptying himself and taking the form of a slave” (Phil 1), we therefore profess the one, indivisible essence of the Trinity. And we know, moreover, that its peculiarity is in these persons—one of the son of God with flesh assumed, one of the Holy Spirit. And we distinguish the persons by their peculiarities and we confirm in the unity of their essence the inseparable mystery of the Trinity. For it cannot be denied that the Son of God within the viscera of his mother assumed a human nature in the flesh nor afterwards was the union of the natures within the vulva divided by him. Just as his humanity was not born apart from God, so also on the cross was a divinity unable to suffer pain not separated from the suffering of the flesh. This the virgin birth, her spotless fertility, the unique resurrection from the dead, and the ascension to heaven all declare. If they preserve these things just as they were decreed by the Fathers, let them believe and let them not go beyond what has been defined. Those who depart from this pathway themselves pour out a cloud of doubt on themselves.”

    He then concludes:

    “The rescript which is attached to the instructions is almost superfluous, although I have added in brief not a few things on this matter to the most clement ruler our son. And since we have responded concerning the statement of the Jerusalemites, this also we have determined must be added fittingly for the sake of their salvation: if they desire union with the apostolic communion, let them direct their profession, given in writing, which they offered when our legates were stationed in Constantinople, either through their own people to us or let them hand it over to your brotherhood, written nonetheless, as we have said, in the same tenor as was reported in every way to us under your decree. As for the Thessalonians, whose ambassadors came to us under the direction of the most clement and faithful ruler our son, lest we be believed to have omitted anything, we want you to know that, in accordance with this which with our Lord’s inspiration has pleased [us], every case of ours must be handled by your stewardship, and if they shall have fulfilled what is fitting these things must be arranged through our brother and fellow bishop the venerable John and as well by our sons Heraclianus the presbyter and Constantinus the deacon, both most worth of ecclesiastical distinction. Satisfied to have written what pertains to this case, we rejoice that we have found in a man of our rank equal worthiness and devout purpose and with the embassy orders congruent with both wisdom and good character.”

    You will notice the profession of the Jerusalemites had to be “examined.” Had they been signing the Libellus of Hormisdas, there would be no reason to examine their profession as the contents of the libellus would have already been known to all involved. This means it had to be a new statement of faith written by the clergy of Jerusalem and Epiphanios is to judge its orthodoxy. Similar situation with the Thessalonians: had they simply needed to sign a known statement, what would be the need to come to Constantinople? The “libelli” they’re signing are these. We even have a copy of the libellus of Epiphanius of Constantinople himself in his first letter to Pope St. Hormisdas (Migne 63:494-95) and it is a written profession that states his desire for communion with Rome and then goes through standard dogmas and councils, agrees to anathematize various persons, etc. but goes no further. Interestingly enough, there’s actually an exchange of letters between the “Monks of Syria Secunda” and Pope Hormisdas in 517-518 and they offer their own profession but with none of the high papal language. The Pope wrotes back accepting their libellus.

    As for the other sees, as far as I know, Alexandria didn’t come into communion with Rome and Constantinople until 538. There’s no record of Antioch signing the specific “Libellus of Hormisdas” so much as Paul “the Jew” trying to force adherance to Chalcedon. As mentioned above, the libellus from Jerusalem needed to be inspected, so it wasn’t the one you’re referring to. So, that is only 1/4 of the patriarchs signing it.

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