Schism of the Three Chapters

The Schism of the Three Chapters was a schism that affected the Roman Catholic Church in North Italy lasting from 553 to 698 AD, although the area out of communion with Rome contracted throughout that time. It was part of a larger Three-Chapter Controversy that affected the whole of Orthodox Christianity.[1]


Background to the Three-Chapter Controversy

The Three-Chapter Controversy came out of an attempt to reconcile the Non-Chalcedonian Christians of the Middle East with Eastern Orthodoxy. A major part of the attempted compromise was a condemnation of certain works of Eastern Christian writers which soon became known as the Three Chapters. These were seen to be particularly objectionable by the opponents of the Council of Chalcedon and in an attempt to win them to the Council the condemnation was seen as a way of reassuring them.

The condemnation took place as an Imperial Edict around 543, this was accompanied by a Tome from Pope Leo I. There was some resistance in the Greek speaking, eastern part of the Church, although in the end the leading Eastern bishops did agree to condemn it. Those who would not condemn these works were accused of being sympathetic to the heresy of Nestorianism.

There were many problems with the Latin speaking bishops, which was not helped by their sketchy knowledge of Greek.

The original Break

Basilica of Aquileia

In 553 by council,[2] the bishops of Aquileia, Liguria, Aemilia, Milan and of the Istrian peninsula all refused to condemn the Three Chapters, arguing that to do so would be to betray Chalcedon. They broke off communion with Rome, under the leadership of Macedonius of Aquileia (535-556).

They in turn were anathematized by other churchmen.

The schism provided the opportunity for the bishop of Aquileia to assume the title Patriarch. Macedonius' successor Paulinus I (557-569) began using the title around 560.

The Lombard Invasion

By the end of the next decade, the Lombards had overrun all of northern Italy.

In 568, the patriarch of Aquileia, Paulinus, was obliged to flee, with the treasures of his church, to the little island of Grado, near Trieste, a last remnant of the Eastern Roman Empire in northern Italy and eight miles to the south of Aquileia. This political change did not affect the relations of the patriarchate with the Apostolic See; its bishops, whether in Lombard or imperial territory, stubbornly refused all invitations to a reconciliation. The Synod of Grado in 579 confirmed this position.

With the exception of the patriarch of Aquileia, these bishops and most of their suffragans were now subjects of the Lombards and beyond the reach of the Byzantine Exarch at Ravenna. As a result, they were able to maintain their dissent in support of the schism.

The Schism in Milan

Milan's Bishop was Dacius of Milan, who was at Constantinople at the time and strongly opposed the Three chapters, going so far as to break off communion with Greek bishops who did sign.[1] He died in Constantinople in 552 and took no direct part in the schism.[3]

Bishop Honoratus of Milan fled the city when it was besieged by the Lombard Alboin in 568. He sought refuge in Byzantine controlled Genoa, with a great number of his clergy. At his death there was a split with the Milanese clergy at Genoa electing Laurentius II, with the Milanese in Milan electing Fronto. Laurence subscribed to the condemnation and Fronto kept the schism with Rome.

Communion with Rome was restored around 581.

The Schism in Grado

The seat of the Patriarch of Aquileia stayed in Byzantine controlled Grado. The Byzantines allowed these freedom and archbishop Elias, already called patriarch by his suffragans, built a cathedral under the patronage of St. Euphemia as an unabashed statement of his adherence to the schism since it was the church of St. Euphemia in which the sessions of the Council of Chalcedon were approved. Gregory the Great's attempts at conciliation near the end of his pontificate, and especially through the Lombard queen, Theodelinda, began to have some effect.

Thus, in 606, Elias's successor Severus died and there were many clerics favorable to reconciliation. The Byzantines encouraged these to elect Candidianus who once elected prompty restored communion. Those of his suffragans whose sees lay within the empire joined him in submission to the Apostolic See.

The Split of the Patriarchate of Aquileia

Many mainland bishops, whose dioceses were under Lombard were unhappy with the reconciliation. Many of them were Bishops of dioceses that were under Lombard control. These dissidents fled to mainland Aquileia and under Lombard protection elected a John as a rival patriarch who maintained the schism. There were now two patriarchates in northern Italy, Aquileia in Grado and Old-Aquileia.

Reconciliation with Rome

The schism had deepened along political, Lombard-Roman lines. The Irish missionary Columbanus, who was ministering to the Lombards in Bobbiom was involved in the first attempt to resolve this division through mediation between 612 and 615. Agilulf, King of the Lombards, persuaded him to address a letter on the schism to Boniface IV. "You have already erred, O Rome! — fatally, foully erred. No longer do you shine as a star in the apostolic firmament," Columban wrote. He also charged the pope with heresy for accepting the Fifth Ecumenical Council (the Second Council of Constantinople in 553), and exhorted him to summon a council and prove his orthodoxy.[4]

Historian, Edward Gibbon theorized that Pope Honorius I reconciled the Patriarch to Rome in 638, although this did not last.[5]

As the schism lost its vigour, the Lombards started to renounce Arianism and join western orthodoxy. The bishop of Old-Aquileia formally ended the schism at the Synod of Aquileia in 698. After Old-Aquileia reconciled with Rome, Pope Gregory II granted the pallium to Patriarch Serenus (715-730) of Aquileia in 723. The division of the Patriarchate of Aquileia into the rival Patriarchies of Aquileia and Grado contributed to the evolution of the Patriarch of Grado into the present Patriarch of Venice.


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