The Acacian Schism (484-519)and Formula of Pope Hormisdas
In the late fifth century, Emperor Zeno, with the complicity of the bishop of Constantinople, Acacius [471-489] tried to impose on the Byzantine east an ambiguous formula called the Henoticon or decree of union.
Acacius quickly signed the Henoticon after it was promulgated in 482, and so did the notorious heretic Peter Mongus, who was installed as the imperially sponsored archbishop of Alexandria. Acacius tried to justify himself by claiming that he was merely following imperial orders in the matter.
Before long a new pope, Saint Felix III [483-492] was elected at Rome, and he sent legates to Constantinople to try to persuade the emperor to remove the heretic Mongus from Alexandria. The pope also wanted Acacius, whose behavior was becoming increasingly suspicious, to appear before a Roman council. The pope had also received reports from several bishops of the east, to say nothing of the monks and other faithful, complaining about the actions of Acacius.
When the papal legates reached Constantinople, they were thrown into prison and browbeaten into recognizing the heretic Mongus. The pope reacted in July 484 by holding a council at Rome which solemnly excommunicated Acacius.
The empire hardened its attitude and tried to coerce the bishops of the east to sign the Henoticon, and during this period Acacius died in 489, anathematized by Rome. His successor, Fravitas [489-490], made attempts to contact both the pope and Peter Mongus of Alexandria.
Fravitas died in 490 and his successor as bishop of Constantinople, Euphemius [490-496] took some objectively positive steps. Euphemius accepted the Council of Chalcedon, renewed the commemoration of the pope in the liturgy, and broke communion with the heretic Peter Mongus.
However, Rome had one more requirement before the schism could be healed: at Constantinople, the names of Acacius [and Fravitas], who had died in schism, needed to be removed from the diptychs or liturgical commemorations. Because Euphemius was unwilling to take this final step, the schism continued.
A similar situation existed under the next patriarch of Constantinople, Macedonius II [496-511]. Macedonius accepted the council of Chalcedon and attempted to send synodical letters to Rome—an attempt to reestablish communion—but the new emperor, Anastasius [491-518] intervened, sabotaging even the attempt to be reconciled with Rome.
Meanwhile, a new pope, Saint Symmachus [498-514], received an appeal entitled, “the eastern church to Symmachus, bishop of Rome.” The appeal describes in heart-breaking terms the persecution from which the east was suffering, and asked Symmachus to use his power of binding and loosing to mitigate the suffering in the east. [Mansi 8: 221 sq.]
Under the successor of Symmachus, Pope Hormisdas [514-523], the emperor began sending out feelers about an ecumenical council at Heraclea in Thrace. While nothing came of the council, the pope did compose a solemn profession of faith known as the formula of Pope Hormisdas.
When a new emperor, Justin [518-527], was proclaimed at Constantinople, crowds of the faithful literally demanded the restoration of orthodoxy—the faith of Chalcedon—and also the restoration of union with Rome. Pope Hormisdas sent legates into the east with the formula of faith. Eastern bishops and clergy were to be reconciled with Rome by signing the formula. The schism finally ended in 519 when Patriarch John II [518-520] the Cappadocian signed Rome’s formula, along with a great number of bishops, priests and archimandrites.
The first salvation is to keep the rule of the true faith, and to deviate in no way from the tradition of the fathers. And because the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ cannot be set aside, which says: “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church,” these things which have been said are proven by the course of events, for in the Apostolic See the Catholic religion has always been preserved unblemished… Not wanting to fall away from this faith, and following the constitutions of the fathers in every respect, we anathematize all heresies, especially the heretic Nestorius, formerly bishop of the city of Constantinople, who was condemned at the Council of Ephesus by Celestine, pope of the city of Rome, and by the holy Cyril, bishop of Alexandria. Along with him we anathematize Eutyches and Dioscorus of Alexandria, who were condemned in the holy council of Chalcedon, which we follow and embrace. We anathematize with them Timothy the parricide [the Cat], surnamed Elurus, and his disciple and follower in all things, Peter [Mongus] of Alexandria. In like manner we condemn and anathematize Acacius, who was once bishop of the city of Constantinople, their accomplice and follower, and those who persevered in their communion, for anyone who embraces the communion of individuals receives a similar judgment at their condemnation. We also condemn Peter of Antioch [the Fuller], along with his followers... Wherefore, as we have already said, following in all matters the Apostolic See and preaching all its constitutions, I hope that I may merit to be in one communion with you, which the Apostolic See proclaims, in which is the integral and true solidity of the Christian religion. I also promise that during the celebration of the sacred mysteries, I will not recite the names of those who were separated from the communion of the Catholic Church, that is, who do not agree in every respect with the Apostolic See. This profession I have signed with my own hand, and offered it to you, Hormisdas, holy and venerable pope of the city of Rome. [CSEL 35: 520-22]
The formula of Pope Hormisdas is found in a collection of papal documents known as the Collectio Avellana, compiled about 550.
We do not know exactly how many bishops signed this formula, but a deacon of Rome, Rusticus, writing about 550, said that under Emperor Justin there were “perhaps twenty-five hundred priests” who signed libelli [the formula of faith] after the schism of Peter [Mongus] of Alexandria, and Acacius. [PL 67, 1251-2]
Evidently not all clerics who signed the formula were bishops. Rusticus does not say how many of the signers were bishops, and how many were from the lower clergy.
Copyright 2003, John Collorafi
Original translations by John Collorafi