3 Pope Dioscorus I of Alexandria

Pope Dioscorus I of Alexandria

Saint Dioscorus the Great
Ⲡⲁⲡⲁ Ⲁⲃⲃⲁ Ⲇⲓⲟⲥⲕⲟⲣⲟⲥ ⲁ̅
The Champion of Orthodoxy
Born Unknown
Died 454
Gangra Island (Asia Minor)
Honored in Oriental Orthodox Churches
Major shrine St Mark Cathedral (Cairo, Egypt)
Feast 17 September (Thout 7 in the Coptic Calendar)
Controversy Nestorianism, Eutychianism, Council of Chalcedon

Pope Dioscorus I of Alexandria (Coptic: Ⲡⲁⲡⲁ Ⲁⲃⲃⲁ Ⲇⲓⲟⲥⲕⲟⲣⲟⲥ ⲡⲓⲙⲁϩ ⲟⲩⲁⲓ) was Patriarch of Alexandria from 444. He was deposed by the Council of Chalcedon in 451 but was recognized as Patriarch by the Coptic Church until his death. He died in Asia Minor, on September 17, 454.[1][2] He is venerated as a Saint by the Coptic and other Oriental Orthodox churches.



Early life

Pope Dioscorus served as the dean of the Catechetical School of Alexandria, and was the personal secretary of Saint Cyril the Great, Pope of Alexandria, whom he accompanied to the Third Ecumenical Council held at Ephesus, rising to the position of archdeacon.[3]

Opposition to Nestorius

In his struggle against Nestorius, St. 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 to reveal the real unification. He charged that their theory permitted the division of the two hypostases of Christ just as Nestorius taught.

Thus the Alexandrian formula adopted by Cyril and Dioscorus was "one nature of God the Word Incarnate" which translated in Greek to "mia physis tou theou logou sesarkomene", by which Cyril meant "one nature", "from two natures". He insisted on "the one nature" of Christ to assert Christ's oneness, as a tool to defend the Church's faith against Nestorianism. Thus, 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 is translated to "dyo physis". This formula explained Christ as existing in two natures; God the Word, and Man that He assumed, and that God did not suffer nor did He die.

Nestorius was condemned and deposed by the First Council of Ephesus, which approved of the Second Epistle of Cyril to Nestorius (which included a dogmatizing of "Theotokos"), and made no other dogmatic definitions.

Support for Eutyches

Conflict reopened when Eutyches, an archmandrite in Constantinople, defended the formula "one nature" against the formula of "two natures after the union" (dyo physis). Eutyches argued that the divinity absorbed the humanity of Christ.[citation needed] A synod chaired by Flavian of Constantinople in 448 condemned and exiled Eutyches.

Eutyches appealed against this decision, labeling Flavian a Nestorian, and received the support of Dioscorus, while Pope Leo I, in his famous Tome confirmed Flavian's theological position but also requested that Eutyches should be readmitted if he repented.[4][5]

Emperor Theodosius II convened the Second Council of Ephesus, and in remembrance of Cyril's role during the council of 431, the emperor, under strong influence of the eunuch Chrysaphius, a senior advisor and a close friend of Eutyches, asked Dioscorus, also a friend of Eutyches, to preside over the meetings. The council, with Dioscorus as the leader, 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. The protests of Leo's legates were ignored.[3] Pope Leo protested, calling the council a "robber synod", and declared its decisions void.[6]

Another Coptic Icon of St. Dioscorus

Emperor Theodosius supported the council's decisions until he died on July 28, 450. Now, 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, assembled at Chalcedon, not only dealt with the christogical views of Eutyches but also with Dioscuros' views and earlier behaviour. Because of this, on the insistence of the Roman legates, Dioscuros was denied a place among the council fathers.

When Dioscorus argued for the adoption of the formula "One incarnate nature of God the Word" and several bishops equated this with the views of Eutyches, Dioscuros tried to clarify his point that "We do not speak of confusion, neither of division, nor of change." Dioscorus stated that he did not accept "two natures after the union" but he had no objection to "From two natures after the union."

The Council declared Dioscorus and other bishops that had been responsible for the decisions of 449 deposed, because of their supposed violations of canon law, rather than perceived heresy. Dioscorus was exiled to Gangra Island.[3][4]


A messenger from Constantinople arrived in Alexandria announcing that Dioscuros was deposed and exiled and that an Alexandrian priest named Proterius was appointed Patriarch in his stead, with the approval of the emperor. Though no one opposed Proterius out of fear of Imperial reprisals, many still secretly adhered to Dioscorus, considering him the legitimate Patriarch.

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


His character and stance are subject to controversy between the Oriental Orthodox Churches on one side, and the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic churches on the other.

Dioscorus I is considered a saint by the Coptic, Syriac, and other Oriental Orthodox churches, while the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Churches have frequently deemed him a heretic.

Certain modern theologians suggest that both Leo and Dioscoros were orthodox in their agreement with Saint Cyrill's Twelve Chapters, even though both have been (and still are) considered heretical by certain individuals in the opposing sides.[7]

Some commentators like Anatolius[disambiguation needed ] 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 Dioscuros argue that Eutyches was orthodox at the time of his restoration and only later relapsed into heresy, that Flavian was a Nestorian and that Pope Leo had supported Nestorianism.[8][9]

Another related matter of contention was the accusation, frequently levelled by Chalcedonian churches, that the Oriental Orthodox Churches accepted Eutychian doctrine. The latter 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.[10][11]

In May 1973 Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria visited Pope Paul VI of 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.[12]

Hence, in the mess typical of schisms, according to non-Oriental Orthodox Christian sects, he was a Coptic Pope turned heretic.

He was excommunicated by Leo I, most likely in very early 450 AD during the aftermath of the controversial Second Council of Ephesus. Dioscorus excommunicated Leo in response.

A similar declaration was reached between the Oriental Orthodox and the Eastern Orthodox churches in the 1990s in Geneva,[13] in which both Oriental and Eastern Orthodox churches agreed in condemning the Nestorian and Eutychian heresies and in rejecting interpretations of 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.[14]

They also agreed to lift all the anathemas and condemnations of the past.[15]

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.[16]

See also



External links

Religious titles
Preceded by
Pope Cyril I
Pope of Alexandria
Succeeded by
Pope Timothy II
Patriarch of Alexandria (before schism)
Succeeded by
Patriarch Proterius I

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