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Acacius of Constantinople

Acacius of Constantinople was the Patriarch of Constantinople from 471 to 489, during the reign of the Eastern Roman Emperor Zeno. His participation with Zeno in an attempt to heal the dispute between the Chalcedons and the non-Chalcedons resulted in the first rift between the Church of Constantinople and the Church of Rome. This separation came to be called the Acacian Schism after him.


Acacius' childhood and early life are not known. He first appears in history holding the position of orphanotrophos, a position in the Church of Constantinople that was responsible for the care of orphans, duties that Acacius performed successfully. He was also noted as having a pleasing personality and very good social manners including courtly speech, that is he was an accomplished courtier and enjoyed the interest of Emperor Leo I.

With the death of Patriarch Gennadius in 471, Acacius succeeded as the new patriarch of Constantinople. After five or so years without controversy as patriarch Acacius became involved with the Christological disputes of the Church. In 474, Zeno succeeded Leo I as emperor upon his death. Almost immediately in 475, Basiliscus, in a conspiracy with Leo I’s widow, usurped the throne. Basiliscus, under the influence of Timothy Aelerus, the Monophysite Patriarch of Alexandria, supported the position of Eutyches and prepared an imperial proclamation (egkylios) that rejected the teaching of the Council of Chalcedon. Initially, Acacius considered adding his name, with other bishops, to Basiliscus' proclamation, but under pressure from Daniel the Stylite and the monastic communities of Constantinople he instead threw himself into the defense of the Chalcedon council. His sincerity, however, toward supporting the Chalcedon council has been questioned in view of Acacius' interest in his own personal ends.

In late 475, Zeno recovered the throne and, with Acacius, supported the Chalcedonian position. In 482, major troubles broke out when the non-Chalcedonians moved to place Peter Mongus as the Patriarch of Alexandria. In 481, John Talaia, a confirmed adherent of the Council of Chalcedon, had been consecrated Patriarch of Alexandria, an area which had strong non-Chalcedon feelings. At this time Zeno in an attempt to force a union of the two factions had Acacius prepare an instrument of reunion, the Henoticon, that affirmed the Nicene-Constantinople Creed, condemned Eutyches and Nestorius, and accepted the anathamas of St Cyril of Alexandria. The teachings of Chalcedon, however, were ignored, and Jesus Christ was described as the “only-begotten Son of God . . . one and not two” with no mention of the two Natures. While Peter willingly accepted the Henoticon, Talaia refused to accept it and was removed as patriarch by Zeno and replaced him with Peter Mongus.

Pope Simplicius of Rome protested the appointment Peter Mongus (Peter III) to the see of Alexandria because of Peter’s involvement with the non-Chalcedonians of Alexandria and sided with Talaia, who had slighted Acacius by seeking the support of Simplicius directly. Peter represented to Acacius that he was able to heal the divisions caused by the dispute if he were confirmed as patriarch. Peter was recognized by Acacius and Theophanes of Antioch, who, in 479, had been consecrated as the patriarch to the Anitochian see by Acacius. These events gave Acacius the opportunity for which he seemed to have been waiting of claiming the primacy of honor and jurisdiction over the entire Christian East. The title "Oikoumenikos" (Ecumenical) was first used while Acacius was Patriarch of Constantinople. Acacius ingratiated himself with Zeno by suggesting he side with Peter in spite of the objections from Rome.

Having lost in Alexandria, John Talaia journeyed to Rome to champion his cause through letters from Simplicius. The correspondence did not accomplish anything, and Simplicius soon died. Simplicius' successor, Felix III, carried the cause of Tataia further by sending two bishops, Vitalis and Misenus, to Constantinople to cause Acacius to come to Rome and answer Talaia’s charges. They were unsuccessful and returned to Rome in 484. In response, Felix convened a local synod that deposed and excommunicated the two bishops for not accomplishing their mission satisfactorily, issued a new anathema against Peter Mongus, and excommunicated Acacius for his part in the seating of Peter in Alexandria.

The message of these actions were carried to Constantinople by an envoy, Tutus, who attempted to present the documents personally to Acacius. Acacius refused them and, in a show of disdain to the authority of the Roman see and the synod that had condemned him, Acacius removed the name of Pope Felix from the diptychs. The threats of Felix had no practical effects on the Christians of the East, who remained in communion with Acacius.

These controversies continued through the rest of Acacius' patriarchate as Acacius and Zeno pursed a course of enforcing a general adoption of the Henoticon throughout the East. Acacius' actions against his old opponents among the monks turned to a policy of violence and persecution. The condemnation of Acacius by Rome continued and by 485 the schism between Constantinople and Rome was complete. Acacius took no heed of the sentence against him through to his death in 489. Peter Mongus died in 490 and Zeno in 491.

The Henoticon failed to restore unity in the East and the Acacian schism continued until it was healed in 519 during the reign of Emperor Justin I and Patriarch John II Cappadocia.

Succession box:
Acacius of Constantinople
Preceded by:
Gennadius I
Patriarch of Constantinople
Succeeded by:
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