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The story of the Henoticon forms a chapter in that of the Monophysite heresy in the fifth and sixth centuries. It is the name of the unhappy and unsuccessful law made by the Emperor Zeno in order to conciliate Catholics and Monophysites. Really, it satisfied no one and brought about the first great schism between Rome and Constantinople.
When Zeno (474-91) came to the throne the Monophysite trouble was at its height. The mass of the people of Egypt abd Syria rejected the Council of Chalcedon (451) altogether, and found in Monophysitism an outlet for their national, anti-imperial feeling. The three Patriarchates of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem were in schism. The Catholic Patriarch of Alexandria, Proterius, had been murdered in 457; a fanatical Monophysite, Timothy Aelurus (Ailuros), had been elected as his successor. He died in 477; the heretics elected one Peter Mongus - the "Stammerer" - to succeed him; the Catholics, John Talaia. Peter Gnapheus (Fullo), one of the most determined leaders of the heretical party, occupied the See of Antioch; Theodosius, also a Monophysite, that of Jerusalem. Over 500 bishops in these patriarchates were open partisans of Eutyches's heresy. Zeno found himself in a difficult position. On the one hand he was a friend of Peter Fullo of Antioch and sympathized with the Monophysites, on the other he was forced into the defence of the Catholic Faith by the fact that his rival Basiliscus (whom he succeeded in deposing) had made himself the protector of the heretics. Zeno, in spite of his personal feeling, came to the throne as the champion of the Catholic party. At first he protected the Catholic bishops (John Talaia, for instance). But he was anxious to conciliate his old friends in Egypt and Syria, and he realized how much harm this schism was doing to the empire. He therefore issued a law that was meant to satisfy every one, to present a compromise that all could accept. This law was the famous Henoticon (henotikon, "union"). It was published in 482.
As an attempt at conceding what both parties most desired, the Henoticon is a very skillful piece of work. It begins by insisting on the faith defined at Nicaea, confirmed at Constantinople, followed faithfully by the Fathers at Ephesus. Nestorius and Eutyches are both condemned, the anathemas of Cyril approved. Christ is God and man, one, not two. His miracles and Passion are works of one (whether person or nature, is not said). Those who divide or confuse, or introduce a phantasy (i.e. affirm a mere appearance) are condemned. One of the Trinity was incarnate. This is written not to introduce a novelty, but to satisfy every one. Who thinks otherwise, either now or formerly, either at Chalcedon or at any other synod, is anathematized, especially Nestorius, Eutyches, and all their followers. It will be noticed that the Henoticon carefully avoids speaking of nature or person, avoids the standard Catholic formula (one Christ in two natures), approves of Peter Fullo's expression (one of the Trinity was incarnate), names only the first three councils with honour, and alludes vaguely but disrespectfully to Chalcedon. There is no word against Dioscurus of Alexandria. Otherwise it offends rather by its omissions than by its assertions. It contains no actually heretical statement (the text is in Evagrius, "H. E.", III, 14; Liberatus, "Breviarium", XVII). Peter Mongus accepted it, explaining that it virtually condemned Chalcedon and thereby secured his place as Patriarch of Alexandria. His rival, John Talaia, was banished. Peter Fullo at Antioch accepted the new law too. But the strict Monophysites were not content, and separated themselves from Mongus, forming the sect called the Acephali (akephaloi, "without a head" - with no patriarch). Nor were Catholics satisfied with a document that avoided declaring the Faith on the point at issue and alluded in such a way to Chalcedon. The emporer succeeded in persuading Acacius (Akakios), Patriarch of Constantinople (471-80), to accept the Henoticon, a fact that is remarkable, since Acacius had stood out firmly for the Catholic Faith under Basiliscus. It is perhaps explained by his personal enmity against John Talaia, orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria. The Henoticon was addressed in the first place to the Egyptians, but was then applied to the whole empire. Catholic and consistent Monophysite bishops were deposed, their sees were given to people who agreed to the compromise. But the emporer had not counted with Rome. From all parts of the East Catholics sent complaints to Pope Felix II (or III: 483-92) entreating him to stand out for the Council of Chalcedon. He then wrote two letters, one to Zeno and one to Acacius, exhorting them to continue defending the Faith without compromise, as they had done before (Epp. i et ii Felicis III in Thiel, "Epistolae Rom. Pontificum genuinae" Braunsberg, 1868, vol. I, pp. 222-39). Then John Talaia, exiled from Alexandria, arrived at Rome and gave a further account of what was happening in the East. The pope wrote two more letters, summoning Acacius to Rome to explain his conduct (Epp. iii et iv, ibid., pp. 239-241). The legates who brought these letters to Constantinople were imprisoned as soon as they landed, then forced to receive Communion from Acacius in a Liturgy in which they heard Peter Mongus and other Monophysites named in the diptychs. The pope, having heard of this from the Acoemeti (akoimetoi, sleepless) monks at Constantinople, held a synod in 484 in which he denounced his legates, deposed and excommunicated Acacius (Epp. vi, vii, viii, ibid., 243 sq.). Acacius retorted by striking Felix's name from his diptychs. Thus began the Acacian schism that lasted thirty-five years (484-519). The Acoemeti monks alone at Constantinople stayed in communion with the Holy See; Acacius put their abbot, Cyril, in prison. Acacius himself died in schism in 489. His successor, Flavitas (or Fravitas, 489-90), tried to reconcile himself with the pope, but refused to give up communion with Monophysites and to omit Acacius's name in his diptychs. Zeno died in 491; his successor, Anastasius I (491-518), began by keeping the policy of the Henoticon, but gradually went over to complete Monophysitism. Euphemius (490-496), patriarch after Flavitus, again tried to heal the schism, restored the pope's name to his diptychs, denounced Peter Mongus, and accepted Chalcedon; but his efforts came to nothing, since he, too, refused to remove the names of Acacius and Flavitas from the diptychs (see Euphemius of Consstantinople). Gelasius I (492-96) succeeded Felix II at Rome and maintained the same attitude, denouncing absolutely the Henoticon and any other compromise with the heretics. Eventually, when the Emporer Anastasius died (518), the schism was healed. His successor, Justin I (518-27), was a Catholic; he at once sought reunion with Rome. John II, the patriarch (518-20), was also willing to heal the schism. In answer to their petitions, Pope Hormisdas (514-23) sent his famous formula. This was then signed by the emperor, the patriarch, and all the bishops at the capital. On Easter day, 24 March, 519, the union was restored. Monophysite bishops were deposed or fled, and the empire was once more Catholic, till the troubles broke out again under Justinian I (527-65).
EVAGRIUS SCHOLASTICUS, Historia Ecclesiastica, V, 1-23, tells the whole story; LIBERATUS, Brevarium Historiae Nestorianorum et Eutychianorum (P.L., LXVIII, 963-1096); TILLEMONT, Mémoires pour servir à l'histoire ecclésiastique des six premiers siècles, XV and XVI (Venice, 1732); Id., Histoire des Empereurs, VI (Venice, 1739); KRUEGER, Monophysitische Streitigkeiten im Zusammenhange mit der Reichspolitik (Leipzig, 1884); HEFELE, Conciliengeschichte (Freiburg, 1875), also French tr., ed. LECLERQ (Paris, 1907-); HERGENROTHER-KIRSCH, Handbuch der allgemeinen Kirchengeschichte (4th ed., Frieburg, 1902), I, 584-95.