The Council’s Aim and Background & The Heresies Involved:
The Fifth Council took place in order to end the Nestorian and Eutychian heresies, asserting that ‘the two natures of Christ unite to form a single person.’ Nestorianism refers to two separate hypostases in the incarnate Christ, over-emphasising His humanity, insisting on the Virgin Mary’s title as ‘Χριστοτόκος,’ rather than the Orthodox term ‘Θεοτόκος.’ Eutychianism, being a form of monophysitism, refers to the heresy regarding the deified human nature of Christ; therefore exalting the divine over the human, concluding that Christ’s humanity is distinct from that of all other men.
The council determined the Orthodoxy of three bishops: Theodore of Mopsuetia, Theodoret of Cyrrhus and Ibas of Edessa, who had expressed Nestorian opinions in their writings in the time of the Third Ecumenical Council, and had not been condemned at the fourth Ecumenical Council which condemned the monophysites. This council in Constantinople had to then deprive the monophysites of the possibility of accusing the Orthodox Christian Church of sympathising with Nestorianism. Anathema was pronounced against the person and teachings of Theodore of Mopsuetia, however in the case of Theodore and Ibas, the condemnations were confined only to certain of their writings. Due to their repentance, they were spared from anathemas.
Members of the Council:
In accordance with the imperial command, the synod was inaugurated on the 5th of May, 553, within the Great Church of the Holy Wisdom (Haghia Sophia) and was led by Eutychias, the Patriarch of Constantinople. With around 165 Bishops present, the Patriarchs Apollinaris of Alexandria, Domninus of Antioch, representatives of the Patriarch Eustochius of Jerusalem, and over 140 other metropolitans and bishops, the council confirmed the Church’s teaching regarding the two natures of Christ, and Emperor Justinian confessed the Orthodox faith in the form of the commonly known hymn ‘Only Begotten Son and Word of God’ which is still chanted to this day in the Orthodox Divine Liturgy (or as many recognise it, the Byzantine Liturgy).
Άγια Σοφία - Holy Wisdom
The Council significantly took place in the Great Church of Haghia Sophia. The first and great church on the current site, was built by Constantius II , the son of Constantine the Great. However after riots in 532, it was burned down. Between then and 537, under the personal supervision of Emperor Justinian the Great, it was built to be the greatest example of Byzantine Christian architecture - and was therefore the most appropriate setting for the Church’s holy synod.
The Three Chapters
The Three-Chapter controversy came out of an attempt to reconcile the Non-Chalcedonian (monophysite) Christians, with the Chalcedonian Church. However, as leading figures of the Lord's body, the clergy had the responsibility of 'taking care of the good seed of faith,' as the Sentence against the Three Chapters states. Nestorian's supporters had been trying to introduce their heretical views into the Church, using Theodore, Bishop of Mopsuestia.
Writings highlight the severity of the controversy, and the Church's sheer disgust, and eagerness to defeat these heretical teachings. Theodore had been dismissing crucial doctrines such as prophecies about Christ, and accused the divine Word of being nothing but a fable. Cyril reflects the Church's reply and attitude:
'We ought to keep clear of those who are in the grip of such dreadful errors.'
The Council clearly confirms the doctrine of the person of Christ, highlighting that anyone who does not believe in this doctrine of the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church must be removed, and made anathema. Of course the main purpose of the Council, was to achieve unity in attempting to make Chalcedon acceptable to Monophysites. Though some minority groups remained monophysites, it could be said that the Council was a triumph of Cyrillian Chalcedonianism (with most Christological arguments centred around his writings). With Theodore condemned as a heretic, and Ibas and Theodoret’s writings against Cyril falling under the anathemas, the Ecumenical Council reaffirmed the unity of subject in Christ: The Only Begotten Son of God. Though anathema 13 approves Cyril’s twelve chapters against Nestorius, anathema 8 specifies that when using his formula of ‘one nature incarnated’ the term nature means hypostases. Therefore, monophysites would not be required to reject any of Saint Cyril’s Christology, apart from admitting that Chalcedon was not a Nestorian council.
The Fifth Council also adopted anathemas against Origenism. This was a decisive step in Orthodox Christian Theology, committing itself to the Biblical view of creation, as an anthropocentric universe, with man as a psychosomatic whole, and of history as a continuous path leading towards an ultimate end, and eschaton. In particular, the Holy Council had condemned apocatasasis (the teaching that everyone in the end, will be saved), pre-existence of the soul, animism, and the denial of the physical and real resurrection of the body.
Having been called by Justinian and Pope Vigilius, the leading Patriarch of the Council, Eutychias, was at the very beginning of his patriarchal ministry. With his guidance, the council successfully refuted and anathemised the heresies. However, after several years, a new heresy arose in the Church: Aphthartodocetism or “imperishability” which taught that the flesh of Christ, before His death on the Cross and Resurrection, was imperishable and not capable of suffering. St Eutychius denounced this heresy, but the Emperor Justinian himself appeared to incline towards it, and turned against the Saint and Patriarch Eutychias. By the Emperor's order, soldiers seized him, removing his Patriarchal Vestments, and sent him into exile to a monastery in 565.
To conclude, I have highlighted the central aims and theological themes surrounding the Fifth Ecumenical Council, as well as the people involved. The Council certainly succeeded in its assertion that the two natures of Christ unite to form a single person (in hypostatic union), however like other councils, other issues formed - leading to the heresy of Monothelitism (one will) which is condemned in the Sixth Ecumenical Council in 680.