Patriarch Eutychius of Constantinople

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Eutychius saint, was a patriarch of Constantinople. His biography, composed by his chaplain Eustathius, has been preserved entire. Eutychius was born at Theium in Phrygia c. 512. His father Alexander was a general under Belisarius. Eutychius took the monastic habit at Amasea at the age of 30, c. 542.

As an archimandrite at Constantinople he stood high in favour with the patriarch Mennas, at whose death in 552 he was nominated by Justinian to the vacant chair.

At the beginning of 553 Eutychius wrote to pope Vigilius, making his profession of the Catholic faith, declaring his acceptance of the four councils and the letters of St. Leo, and requesting Vigilius to preside over the council that was to be held on the question of the Three Chapters. Vigilius refused, and Eutychius shared the first place in the assembly with the patriarchs Apollinarius of Alexandria and Domninus of Antioch. At the second session the pope excused himself again, on the ground of ill-health. The subscription of Eutychius to the Acts of this synod, which sat from 5 May to 2 June 553, is a summary of the decrees against the Three Chapters.

Eutychius came into violent collision with Justinian in 564, when the emperor adopted the tenets of the Aphthartodocetae. Eutychius, in a long address, demonstrated the incompatibility of that theory with Scripture; but Justinian insisted on his subscribing to it, and finding him uncompromising, ordered his arrest. On Jan. 22, 565, Eutychius was at the holy table celebrating the feast-day of St. Timotheus in the church adjoining the Hormisdas palace (cf. du Cange, Cpolis. Chr. lib. ii. p. 96, lib. iv. p. 93, ed. 1729), when soldiers broke into the patriarchal residence, entered the church, and carried the patriarch away, first to a monastery called Choracudis, and the next day to that of St. Osias near Chalcedon. The 8th day after this outrage Justinian called an assembly of princes and prelates, to which he summoned Eutychius. The charges against him were trifling and absurd: that he used ointments, ate delicate meats, and prayed long. Cited thrice, Eutychius replied that he would only come if he were to be judged canonically, in his own dignity, and in command of his clergy. Condemned by default, he was sent to an island in the Propontis named Principus, and afterwards to his old monastery at Amasea, where he spent 12 years and 5 months. On the death of Joannes Scholasticus, whom Justinian had put in the patriarchal chair, the people of Constantinople loudly demanded the return of Eutychius. Justin II had succeeded Justinian, and had associated with himself the young Tiberius. The emperors immediately sent an honourable deputation to Amasea to bring back Eutychius, who returned with great joy to Constantinople in Oct. 577. An immense concourse met him, shouting aloud, "Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord," and "Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace." In questionable imitation of our Lord he entered on an ass's colt, over garments spread on the ground, the crowd carrying palms, dancing, and singing. The whole city was illuminated, public banquets were held, new buildings inaugurated. Next day he was met by the two emperors with conspicuous honour at the church of the Virgin in Blachernae. He then proceeded to the great church, which was filled from end to end, mounted the pulpit, and blessed the multitude. He was six hours distributing the communion, as all wished to receive from his own hands.

Towards the end of his life, Eutychius maintained that after the resurrection the body will be more subtle than air, and no longer palpable. Gregory the Great, then residing at Constantinople as delegate of the Roman church, felt himself bound to oppose this opinion. The emperor Tiberius talked to the disputants separately, and tried to reconcile them; but the breach was persistent. Eutychius breathed his last quietly on Sunday after Easter Day, Apr. 5, 582, aged 70 years. Some of his friends told Gregory that, a few minutes before his end, he touched the skin of his hand, saying, "I confess that in this flesh we shall rise again" (Paul. Diac. Vit. Greg. Mag. lib. i. capp. 9, 27-30; Vit. Greg. ex ejus Script).

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Patriarch of Constantinople, b. about 512, in Phrygia; d. Easter Day, 5 April 582. He became a monk and then archimandrite at Amasea, in Pontus. In 552 his bishop sent him on business to Constantinople, where he seems to have made a great impression on Justinian I (527-565), so much so that when Mennas the Patriarch (536-552) died, the emperor procured Eutychius's election as successor, on the very same day (in August). The great quarrel of the Three-Chapter Controversy, an attempt to reconcile the Monophysite beliefs of the Christians of Syria and Egypt with Western Christiandom, was then going on. The question at issue was rather, whether it were worth while, on the chance of conciliating these Monophysites, to comdemn people who had died so long ago. It is also true that, in the West, people suspected in these Three Chapters a veiled attack on Chalcedon. Justinian's "Edict of the Chapters" appeared in 544. It was accepted in the East and rejected in the West. Pope Vigilius (540-555) was the unhappy victim of the quarrel. In 548 he accepted the Edict by a Iudicatum, which also carefully guarded Chalcedon. He had himself just come to Constantinople, in order to preside at a Council that should confirm the three anathemas. But he found that, by his Iudicatum, he had grievously offended his own Western bishops. Dacius of Milan, and Facundus of Hermiane led the opposition against him, and in 550 a Synod of Carthage excommunicated the Pope. Vigilius then began that career of indecision that has left him the reputation of being the weakest Pope that reigned. He was still at Constantinople when Eutychius became Patriarch. Eutychius sent him the usual announcement of his own appointment and the usual (and quite orthodox) profession of faith. At the same time, he urged him to summon the Council at once. Meanwhile Justinian had published a second, and still stronger, condemnation of the Three Chapters (23 December., 551). Vigilius gave, and then withdrew, his consent to the Council. Justinian insisted on the exclusion of the African bishops, who were all strongly opposed to his condemnations. In spite of the Pope's refusal, the council met on 5 May 553, at Constantinople. A hundred and sixty-five bishops attended. This is what was afterwards recognized as the Fifth General Council (Constantinople II). On 14 May the Pope sent them a modified Decree, called the Constitution, in which he condemned sixty propositions taken from Theodore of Mopsuestia, but forbade the condemnation of the other Chapters. As he would not attend the council Eutychius presided. The Council wrote respectfully to the Pope, but, in spite of the Constitution, completely confirmed Justinian's edicts, in its eighth session. It also acknowledged the formula Unus de Trinitate passus est as orthodox, and incidentally condemned Origen. (Can. 11, 12, 13, 14. For this Council see Liberati Breviarium, infra; Mansi, IX, 163; Hefele, Conciliengesch., 2nd ed., II, 898 sqq.) Vigilius gave in on 8 December, after months of ill-treatment, was allowed to go back to Rome, and died on the way, in Sicily, in 554. [There is an account of all this story in Fortescue's Orth. Eastern Church, 82-83.]

Eutychius had, so far, stood by the Emperor throughout. He composed the decree of the Council against The Chapters (Mansi, IX, 367-575). In 562, he consecrated the new church of Sancta Sophia. His next adventure was a quarrel with Justinian about the Aphthartodocetes. These were a sect of Monophysites, in Egypt, who said that Christ's body on earth was incorruptible (’aphthorį), and subject to no pain. The Emperor saw in the defence of these people a new means of conciliating the Monophysites, and, in 564, he published a decree defending their theory (Evagrius, Hist. Eccl., IV, 391). Eutychius resisted this decree, so on 22 January 565, he was arrested in the church, and banished to a monastery at Chalcedon. Eight days later a synod was summoned to judge him. A ridiculous list of charges was brought against him; he used ointment, he ate deliciously, etc. (Eustathius, Vita S. Eutych., 4, 5). He was condemned, deposed, and sent to Prince's Island in Propontis. Thence he went to his old home at Amasea, where he stayed twelve years. Joannes Scholasticus succeeded as Patriarch (John III, 566-577); and after his death, in 577, the Emperor Justin II (565-578) recalled Eutychius, who came back in October. At the end of his life Eutychius evolved a heretical opinion denying the resurrection of the body. St. Gregory the Great was then Apocrisiarius (legate) of the Roman See, at Constantinople. He argued about this question with the patriarch, quoting Luke, xxiv, 39, with great effect, so that Eutychius, on his death-bed, made a full and orthodox profession of faith as to this point. St. Gregory tells the whole story in his "Exp. in libr. Job" (Moralium lib. XIV, 56); Eutychius dying said: "I confess that we shall all rise again in this flesh". (See also Paul. Diac.: Vita Greg. Mag. I, 9.) His extant works are his letter to Pope Vigilius (Migne, P. L., LXIX, 63, P. G. LXXXVI, 2401), a fragment of a "Discourse on Easter" (Mai: Class. Auct. X, 488, and Script. Vet. Nov. Coll. IX, 623); and other fragments in P. G., LXXXVI. His life was written by his disciple Eustathius, a priest of Constantinople. His feast is kept by the Byzantine Church on 6 April, and he is mentioned in our "Corpus Iuris" (Grat., I pars., Dist. XVI, Cap. x).


Preceded by:

List of Constantinople patriarchs

Succeeded by:
John III Scholasticus


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