Pope Dioscorus I of Alexandria

Last updated


Dioscorus the Great

The Champion of Orthodoxy
Pope of Alexandria & Patriarch of the See of St. Mark
St. Dioscorus.jpg
Coptic icon of St. Dioscorus
Church Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria
Papacy began444
Papacy endedSeptember 454
Predecessor Cyril "Pillar of Faith"
Successor Timothy II
Personal details
Born Egypt
DiedSeptember 454
Buried Island of Gangra, Paphlagonia
Nationality Egyptian
Denomination Oriental Orthodoxy
Residence Saint Mark's Church
Feast day7 Thout in the Coptic Calendar [1] (4 September in the Julian Calendar) (17 September in the Gregorian Calendar [from 1901 to 2099])
Venerated in Oriental Orthodox Churches
Shrines St Mark Cathedral (Cairo, Egypt)

Pope Dioscorus I of Alexandria was the 25th Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St. Mark. He was deposed by the Council of Chalcedon in 451 but was recognized as Patriarch by the Coptic Church until his death. He died on the Island of Gangra, Paphlagonia, in September 454. He is venerated as a saint by the Coptic and other Oriental Orthodox churches.


Early life

Dioscorus served as the dean of the Catechetical School of Alexandria, and was the personal secretary of Cyril of Alexandria, whom he accompanied to the Council of Ephesus in 431. He eventually rose to the position of archdeacon. [2]

Opposition to Nestorius

In his struggle against Nestorius, Cyril explained the union between the divine and human natures of Christ as "inward and real without any division, change, or confusion." He rejected the Antiochene theory of "indwelling,", or "conjunction" or "close participation," as insufficient. Thus the Alexandrian formula adopted by Cyril and Dioscorus was "one nature of God the Word Incarnate," which translates into Greek as mia physis tou theou logou sesarkomene , by which Cyril meant "one nature"—that Christ is at once God and man. On the other hand, the Antiochene formula was "two natures after the union," or "in two natures," which translates to dyo physis . This formula explained Christ as existing in two natures, God and man.

Nestorius was condemned and deposed by the First Council of Ephesus, which approved of the Second Epistle of Cyril to Nestorius.

Patriarch of Alexandria

Dioscorus succeeded Cyril as Patriarch of Alexandria in the summer of 444. [3] According to the deacon Ischyrion, Dioscorus had laid waste property, inflicted fines and exile, and bought up and sold at a high price the wheat sent by the government to Libya. According to Cyril's nephew, a priest named Athanasius, from the outset of his episcopate, Dioscorus harassed him and his brother by using influence with the court, so that the brother died of distress, and Athanasius, with his aunts, sister-in-law, and nephews, were bereft of their homes by the patriarch's malignity. Such accusations were readily made, and some allowance made for wrongs done by his agents that may have been in some cases unfairly called his acts. Still, it is but too likely that there was sufficient truth in them to demonstrate the effect on his character of elevation to a post of almost absolute power. [4]

Reception of Eutyches

Eutyches was an archmandrite in Constantinople. in his opposition to Nestorianism, he seemed to take an equally extreme, although opposite view. Eutyches claimed to be a faithful follower of Cyril. In November 448, Flavian, Bishop of Constantinople held a synod regarding a point of discipline connected with the province of Sardis. Eutyches had been accusing various personages of covert Nestorianism, and at the end of the session of this synod one of those inculpated, Eusebius, Bishop of Dorylaeum, brought the question forward, and proffered a counter charge of heresy against the archimandrite. [3] Eutyches was summoned to clarify his position regarding the nature of Christ. Finding his response unsatisfactory, the synod condemned and exiled Eutyches.

Eutyches appealed against this decision, labeling Flavian a Nestorian, and received the support of Dioscorus. In his famous Tome, Pope Leo I confirmed Flavian's theological position but as he concluded that Eutyches had erred through ignorance, he also requested that Eutyches should be readmitted if he repented. [5]

"Robber synod"

Through the influence of the court official Chrysaphius, the godson of Eutyches, in 449, Emperor Theodosius II convened the Second Council of Ephesus. In remembrance of Cyril's role during the council of 431, the emperor asked Dioscorus to preside over the meetings. The council subsequently decided to reinstate Eutyches and to depose Flavian, as well as Eusebius of Dorylaeum, Theoderet of Cyrrus, Ibas of Edessa, and Domnus II of Antioch. Leo's legates protested but were ignored. [2] Flavian was brutally treated, kicked, beaten, imprisoned, and soon exiled, and died from the effect of his injuries, three days after his deposition. He was regarded as a martyr for the doctrine of "the two natures in the one person" of Christ. Anatolius, who had been the agent (apocrisiarius)of Dioscorus at Constantinople, was appointed his successor. [1]

Dioscorus and his council proceeded to depose Theodoret and several other bishops. Pope Leo called the council a "robber synod" and declared its decisions void. In the spring of 450 at Nicaea, Dioscorus, while on his way to the court, he caused ten bishops whom he had brought from Egypt to sign a document excommunicating Pope Leo. [4]

Theodosius supported the council's decisions until he died on 28 July 450. His sister Pulcheria returned to power and made the officer Marcian her consort and emperor. She consulted with Pope Leo on convoking a new council, gathering signatures for his Tome to be introduced as the basic paper for the new council, but also insisted, against Leo's wishes, that the council should be held not in Italy but in the East. Meanwhile, the new imperial couple brought Flavian's remains back to Constantinople and exiled Eutyches to Syria.

Council of Chalcedon

The Council of Chalcedon in October 451 dealt with the Christological views of Eutyches but also with Dioscorus' views and earlier behaviour; specifically, his condemnation of the bishop Flavian in Ephesus II was questioned. When, at the Council of Chalcedon, he was asked why he had deposed Flavian, he, according to the minutes of Chalcedon, responded, "Flavian was deposed for this reason, that he spoke of two natures after the union. But I have quotations from the holy fathers Athanasius, Gregory and Cyril saying in numerous places that one should not speak of two natures after the union". [6]

At the Council, Dioscorus expressed a willingness to condemn Eutyches. According to the minutes of the council of Chalcedon, Dioscorus stated: "If Eutyches holds opinions contrary to the doctrines of the church, he deserves not only punishment but hell fire. For my concern is for the catholic and apostolic faith and not for any human being." [4]

The Council deposed Dioscorus and other bishops that had been responsible for the decisions of 449 for violations of canon law rather than of heresy; Dioscorus had not attended the council of Chalcedon from the third session onward despite an imperial call to do so, which was a deposable offence. According to the minutes of the council of Chalcedon, Dioscorus had given the reason of ill health for his nonattendance from the third session. However, Oriental sources indicate otherwise that it was subterfuge. Whatever the real reason, the result of Dioscorus not being there saw him exiled to Gangra Island. [2] [5]


Following Dioscorus's deposition and exile, an Alexandrian priest named Proterius was appointed Patriarch in his stead, with the approval of the emperor. There was no public opposition to Proterius. Nonetheless, some Christians continued to support Dioscorus in secret, considering him the legitimate Patriarch.

Dioscorus died in exile in 454. When the news reached Egypt, his supporters assembled and elected Timothy, a disciple of his, to be the new Patriarch. Timothy immediately went into hiding, but was recognized among the Coptic inhabitants of the countryside, creating the split between the Coptic and the Melchite (i.e. Imperial) Church.


Oriental Orthodox Churches remain in disagreement with Eastern Orthodox and Catholic churches regarding Dioscorus's character and positions. He is considered a saint by the Coptic, Syriac, and other Oriental Orthodox churches, while Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Churches have frequently deemed him a heretic.

Certain modern theologians suggest that both Leo and Dioscorus were orthodox in their agreement with Saint Cyril's Twelve Chapters, even though both have been (and still are) considered heretical by some. [7] Some commentators like Anatolius and John S. Romanides argue that Dioscorus was not deposed for heresy but for "grave administrative errors" at Ephesus II, among which they mention his restoration of Eutyches, his attack on Flavian, and afterwards, his excommunication of Pope Leo I. Defenders of Dioscorus argue that Eutyches was orthodox at the time of his restoration and only later lapsed into heresy, that Flavian was a Nestorian, and that Pope Leo had supported Nestorianism. [7] [8]

Another controversial aspect of Dioscorus's legacy is the accusation, frequently levelled by Chalcedonian churches, that the Oriental Orthodox Churches accept Eutychianism. They deny this charge, arguing that they reject both the Monophysitism of Eutyches, whom they consider a heretic, as well as Dyophysitism espoused by the Council of Chalcedon, which they equate with Nestorianism, for a doctrine they term miaphysitism , or that in Jesus Christ, divinity and humanity exist as "one incarnate nature" ( physis ), as opposed to the orthodox Chalcedonian teaching of a divine and a human nature united in the one person (hypostasis) of Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man, a doctrine called the "hypostatic union". [9]

In recent times, Oriental Orthodox churches have engaged in ecumenical dialogue with Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches on the issues of Dioscorus's day. In May 1973 Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria visited Pope Paul VI in Rome and declared a common faith in the nature of Christ, the issue which caused the schism of the church in the Council of Chalcedon. [10] A similar declaration was reached between the Oriental and Eastern Orthodox churches in 1990 in Geneva, in which both agreed in condemnation of the Nestorian and Eutychian "heresies" and in rejection of interpretations of ecumenical councils which do not fully agree with the Horos of the Third Ecumenical Council and the letter (433) of Cyril of Alexandria to John of Antioch. [11] They also agreed to lift the anathemas and condemnations of the past. [12] In the summer of 2001, the Coptic Orthodox and Greek Orthodox Patriarchates of Alexandria agreed to mutually recognize baptisms performed in each other's churches. [13]

Related Research Articles

The Chalcedonian Definition is a declaration of Christ's nature, adopted at the Council of Chalcedon in AD 451. Chalcedon was an early centre of Christianity located in Asia Minor. The council was the fourth of the Ecumenical Councils that are accepted by Chalcedonian churches which include the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and most Protestant churches. It was the first council not to be recognised by any Oriental Orthodox church; for this reason these churches may be classified as Non-Chalcedonian.

Council of Chalcedon Fourth Ecumenical Council held in 451; not accepted by Oriental Orthodoxy

The Council of Chalcedon was a church council held from 8 October to 1 November, 451, at Chalcedon, a town of Bithynia in Asia Minor. The Council was called by Emperor Marcian to set aside the 449 Second Council of Ephesus. Its principal purpose was to assert the orthodox catholic doctrine against the heresy of Monophysitism and Eutyches, although ecclesiastical discipline and jurisdiction also occupied the council's attention.

Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria international Oriental Orthodox Christian church led by the Patriarch of Alexandria on the Holy See of St. Mark

The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria is an Oriental Orthodox Christian church based in Egypt, Africa and the Middle East. The head of the Church and the See of Alexandria is the Patriarch of Alexandria on the Holy See of Saint Mark, who also carries the title of Coptic Pope. The See of Alexandria is titular, and today the Coptic Pope presides from Saint Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in the Abbassia District in Cairo. The church follows the Alexandrian Rite for its liturgy, prayer and devotional patrimony. With approximately 10 million members worldwide, it is the country's largest Christian church.

Ecumenical council conference of ecclesiastical dignitaries and theological experts convened to discuss and settle matters of Church doctrine and practice

An ecumenical council is a conference of ecclesiastical dignitaries and theological experts convened to discuss and settle matters of Church doctrine and practice in which those entitled to vote are convoked from the whole world (oikoumene) and which secures the approbation of the whole Church.

Pope Leo I Pope from 440 to 461

Pope Leo I, also known as Saint Leo the Great, was Bishop of Rome from 29 September 440 and died in 461. Pope Benedict XVI said that Leo's papacy "...was undoubtedly one of the most important in the Church's history."

Nestorius Archbishop of Constantinople

Nestorius was Archbishop of Constantinople from 10 April 428 to August 431, when Emperor Theodosius II confirmed his condemnation by the Council of Ephesus on 22 June.

Eutyches was a presbyter and archimandrite at Constantinople. He first came to notice in 431 at the First Council of Ephesus, for his vehement opposition to the teachings of Nestorius; his condemnation of Nestorianism as heresy led him to an equally extreme, although opposite view, which precipitated his being denounced as a heretic himself.

Flavian of Constantinople Archbishop of Constantinople

Flavian, sometimes Flavian I, was Archbishop of Constantinople from 446 to 449. He is venerated as a saint by the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church.

Anatolius of Constantinople Orthodox saint

Anatolius was a Patriarch of Constantinople. He is regarded as a saint, by both the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches.

Domnus II, was Patriarch of Antioch between 442 and 449 and a friend of the influential Bishop of Cyrrhus, Saint Theodoret.

Miaphysitism is the Christological doctrine upheld by the Oriental Orthodox Churches, who include the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church, Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, the Syriac Orthodox Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church. Rather than using the wording established at the Council of Chalcedon (451) that Jesus is one "person" in two "natures", a divine nature and a human nature, they hold that Jesus, the "Incarnate Word, is fully divine and fully human, in one physis." In modern times, these differences are considered to be in word rather than in belief.

Eusebius of Dorylaeum was a 5th-century bishop who spoke out against heretical teachings, especially those of Nestorius and Eutyches, during the period of Christological controversy. He was bishop of Dorylaeum which is located in Phrygia. The name Eusebius may also be found as Eusebios which means “pious” in Greek. The surname “of Dorylaeum” is a result of his appointment to bishop in Dorylaeum.

The Second Council of Ephesus was a Christological church synod in 449 AD convened by Emperor Theodosius II under the presidency of Pope Dioscorus I of Alexandria. It was intended to be an ecumenical council, and it is accepted as such by the miaphysite churches but was rejected by the Chalcedonian dyophysites. It was explicitly repudiated by the next council, the Council of Chalcedon of 451, recognised as the fourth ecumenical council by Chalcedonian Christians, and it was named the Latrocinium or "Robber Council" by Pope Leo I. The Chalcedonian churches, particularly the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox communions, continue to accept this designation, while the Oriental Orthodox repudiate it.

Saint Juvenal was a bishop of Jerusalem from about 422. In 451, on the See of Jerusalem being recognised as a Patriarchate by the Council of Chalcedon, he became the first orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, an office he occupied until his death in 458.

Coptic history aspect of the history of Egypt focusing on the history of the Copts

Coptic history is part of history of Egypt that begins with the introduction of Christianity in Egypt in the 1st century AD during the Roman period, and covers the history of the Copts to the present day. Many of the historic items related to Coptic Christianity are on display in many museums around the world and a large number is in the Coptic Museum in Coptic Cairo.

First seven ecumenical councils

In the history of Christianity, the first seven ecumenical councils include the following: the First Council of Nicaea in 325, the First Council of Constantinople in 381, the Council of Ephesus in 431, the Council of Chalcedon in 451, the Second Council of Constantinople in 553, the Third Council of Constantinople from 680–681 and finally, the Second Council of Nicaea in 787.

Oriental Orthodoxy is the communion of Eastern Christian Churches that recognize only three ecumenical councils — the First Council of Nicaea, the First Council of Constantinople and the Council of Ephesus. They reject the dogmatic definitions of the Council of Chalcedon. Hence, these Churches are also called Old Oriental Churches or Non-Chalcedonian Churches.

Oriental Orthodox Churches Branch of Eastern Christianity

The Oriental Orthodox Churches are a group of Christian churches adhering to miaphysite Christology and theology, and together have about 62 million members worldwide.

Christianity in the 5th century Christianity-related events during the 5th century

In the 5th century in Christianity, there were many developments which led to further fracturing of the State church of the Roman Empire. Emperor Theodosius II called two synods in Ephesus, one in 431 and one in 449, that addressed the teachings of Patriarch of Constantinople Nestorius and similar teachings. Nestorius had taught that Christ's divine and human nature were distinct persons, and hence Mary was the mother of Christ but not the mother of God. The Council rejected Nestorius' view causing many churches, centered on the School of Edessa, to a Nestorian break with the imperial church. Persecuted within the Roman Empire, many Nestorians fled to Persia and joined the Sassanid Church thereby making it a center of Nestorianism. By the end of the 5th century, the global Christian population was estimated at 10-11 million. In 451 the Council of Chalcedon was held to clarify the issue further. The council ultimately stated that Christ's divine and human nature were separate but both part of a single entity, a viewpoint rejected by many churches who called themselves miaphysites. The resulting schism created a communion of churches, including the Armenian, Syrian, and Egyptian churches, that is today known as Oriental Orthodoxy. In spite of these schisms, however, the imperial church still came to represent the majority of Christians within the Roman Empire.


  1. 1 2 "Commemorations for Tout 7". Coptic Orthodox Church Network. Retrieved 8 January 2013.
  2. 1 2 3 Encyclopædia Britannica , Micropædia v. 4, p. 112. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 1998. ISBN   0-85229-633-9.
  3. 1 2 Chapman, John. "Eutyches." The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 5. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. 6 February 2019PD-icon.svgThis article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  4. 1 2 3 Bright, W., "Dioscorus (1), patriarch of Alexandria", Dictionary of Christian Biography, (Henry Wace, ed.), London. John Murray, 1911 PD-icon.svgThis article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  5. 1 2 "Coptic interpretations of the Fourth Ecumenical Council" (PDF). Our Lady of Zeitun Online. Retrieved 8 January 2013.
  6. Richard Price & Michael Gaddis, The Acts of the Council of Chalcedon , vol. 1 (Liverpool University Press, 2005; ISBN   0-85323-039-0), p. 190
  7. 1 2 Romanides, John S. (1994). "Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Consultation". Romanity.org. Retrieved 29 December 2012.
  8. Bishop Angaelos, H.G. "The Altar in the Midst of Egypt". Coptichymns.net. Archived from the original on 29 June 2012.
  9. Davis, SJ, Leo Donald (1990). The First Seven Ecumenical Councils (325–787): Their History and Theology (Theology and Life Series 21) . Collegeville, MN: Michael Glazier/Liturgical Press. pp.  342. ISBN   978-0-8146-5616-7. OCLC   21906084.
  10. Mikhail, Mikhail E. (2012). "His Holiness Pope Shenouda III". Coptic Orthodox Church Network. Retrieved 8 January 2013.
  11. "Second Agreed Statement". Orthodox Unity. 1990. Archived from the original on 7 February 2012.
  12. "Notes" (PDF). Our Lady of Zeitun Online. Retrieved 8 January 2013.
  13. "Church of Alexandria (Coptic)". Orthodox Wiki. Retrieved 8 January 2013.


Titles of Early Christianity
Preceded by
Cyril I
Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria (before schism)
Succeeded by
Proterius I
Coptic Orthodox Pope of Alexandria
Succeeded by
Timothy II