It is the 9th of April 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 475.
All that matters in the year 475 is that the year 476 was one year away. And 476 is that year, established by historian Edward Gibbon as the year that the Roman Empire fell. And trust me, there are plenty of people ready to nit-pick that date for various reasons, but it works fine enough. 476 is the year that the Barbarian Odoacer whoops up the Western Roman Empire, deposes Emperor Romulus Augustulus, and is named the King of Italy. Thus ends the Roman Empire and the story of Ancient Rome… kind of.
The Empire had split in two back in 330, and an Eastern Emperor (also called "Byzantine") had ruled alongside a Western Emperor. And, when the Western Roman Emperor fell, the Eastern Empire hung around for another 1000 years. Sure, there was beef between East and West, but it would be fair to expect the Eastern part of the Empire to come to the aid of the Western Empire with the barbarians at the gates in 476… but the Eastern Empire was… well… busy, and that's our story for today.
Here's the background: in the 300s, the chief theological question was the interpersonal relationship in the triune Godhead. There is never perfect unanimity in the church, but essentially the result was: the Father is God, the Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God. In the 400s, the question came to revolve around how both human and divine natures interact with one another in the person of Christ.
Dang, except I said "natures," and that would throw a spanner into the works. Sure, today, it is common to talk about the two natures, but an entire school of thought believed that by speaking of two "natures," you were already separating Jesus into parts. And all of this goes back to those old warring factions of Alexandrians and Antiochenes. But by 451, essentially, the Council of Chalcedon had decided to use the language of "two natures" and condemned what they believed to be the errors of Nestorius and Eutyches, respectively.
However, there were several divisions in the Eastern church after Chalcedon. The primary groups were the Diaphysites and the Miaphysites…. Think "two nature" folk versus "one nature" folk. The Diaphysites could abide by the council. The Miaphysites could not.
One last piece of the puzzle: the Eastern Empire did not have just one primary locus. Constantinople was significant, but so were Alexandria and Antioch. Without one sole theological head, the Eastern Emperor often put himself into theological controversies to keep the peace between warring factions. Emperors were often involved with theological issues for good or ill…
And in 475, there was a new emperor, and he had some ideas… This Emperor was Flavius Basiliscus Augustus, and he was the last Emperor's (Leo I) brother-in-law. He had also helped stage a coup of the former Emperor, Leo's heir Zeno. And now, as Emperor, he wanted to reject the Council of Chalcedon in favor of Miaphysitism, the belief in the divinity and humanity of Jesus but mixed in one nature. And it was on this, the 9th of April in 475, that the Emperor Basiliscus issued his encyclical letter to his Bishops requiring them to reject the teachings of the Council of Chalcedon. While this move ingratiated the Emperor with some in the East, it was wildly unpopular with most. The old Emperor, Zeno, would come back to Constantinople, overthrow Basiliscus, and reaffirm Chalcedonian theology.
But as this battle bled into 476, the East was unable to assist the Western Empire. Many Eastern churches sympathetic to the Miaphysites broke from Constantinople, forming what we refer to as the "Oriental Orthodox churches that include some in Egypt, Syria, Armenia, etc.
So Rome fell, and the Eastern church splintered… and this on account of theological controversy and an Imperial encyclical promoting the Miaphysites issued by the Emperor Basiliscus on this the 9th of April in 475.
The reading for today comes from Siegfried Sassoon. This is his “A Prayer In Old Age.”
Bring no expectance of a heaven unearned
No hunger for beatitude to be
Until the lesson of my life is learned
Through what Thou didst for me.
Bring no assurance of redeemed rest
No intimation of awarded grace
Only contrition, cleavingly confessed
To Thy forgiving face.
I ask one world of everlasting loss
In all I am, that other world to win.
My nothingness must kneel below Thy Cross.
There let new life begin.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 9th of April 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by Christopher "Chalcedon or Bust" Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis, crypto-Nestorian. You can catch us here every day, and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.