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The Development of a Chalcedonian Identity in Byzantium (451–553)

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The Byzantine Church adopted a Chalcedonian identity only slowly. At first the majority even of Chalcedonians played down the significance of the council, claiming that it did little more than repeat the teaching of the Nicene Creed. Down to 518 committed Chalcedonians, strongly upholding the teaching of the council, were vocal, but few. It is with Justin I (518–527) and his nephew Justinian I (527–565) that State and Church came to insist on the council. Justinian's commitment to it has sometimes been doubted because of his repeated attempts to win back the non-Chalcedonians (Miaphysites) to the imperial Church by inviting them back without requiring subscription to the Chalcedonian Definition. He was motivated by a desire that even the Miaphysites would look to him as their patron, as required for the maintenance of the unity of the empire. But his theological writings make it clear that he was convinced of the truth of the teaching of Chalcedon. The age of Justinian thus saw the attainment of a truly Chalcedonian identity in the imperial Church. This was a matter of official doctrine. In the sphere of popular piety Chalcedon had less impact. The affirmation of Chalcedon shaped Byzantine communal identity less than the rejection of Chalcedon shaped that of Miaphysite Syria and Egypt.

Affiliations: 1: Heythrop College, University of London;, Email:


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