The Fifth Ecumenical Council on St. Augustine

Fifth Ecumenical Council Constantinople II 553

We further declare that we hold fast to the decrees of the four Councils, and in every way follow the holy Fathers, Athanasius, Hilary, Basil, Gregory the Theologian, Gregory of Nyssa, Ambrose, Theophilus, John (Chrysostom) of Constantinople, Cyril, Augustine, Proclus, Leo and their writings on the true faith. (Session 1 – Extracts from the Acts: Emperor Justinian’s Letter Read Before the Fathers)

For with us the holy multitude of the supernal spirits adore one Lord Jesus Christ. Moreover several letters of Augustine, of most religious memory, who shone forth resplendent among the African bishops, were read, showing that it was quite right that heretics should be anathematized after death. And this ecclesiastical tradition, the other most reverend bishops of Africa have preserved: and the holy Roman Church as well had anathematized certain bishops after their death, although they had not been accused of any falling from the faith during their lives: and of each we have the evidence in our hands. (The Sentence of the Synod)

Wherefore on account of our desire that you, my brothers, should know what we have done in this matter, we make it known to you by this letter. For no one can doubt how many were the discussions raised on account of the Three Chapters, that is, concerning Theodore, sometime bishop of Mopsuestia, and his writings, as well as concerning the writings of Theodoret, and concerning that letter which is said to have been written by Ibas to Maris the Persian: and how diverse were the things spoken and written concerning these Three Chapters. Now if in every business sound wisdom demands that there should be a retractation of what was propounded after examination, there ought to be no shame when what was at first omitted is made public after it is discovered by a further study of the truth. [And if this is the case in ordinary affairs] how much more in ecclesiastical strifes should the same dictate of sound reason be observed? Especially since it is manifest that our Fathers, and especially the blessed Augustine, who was in very truth illustrious in the Divine Scriptures, and a master in Roman eloquence, retracted some of his own writings, and corrected some of his own sayings, and added what he had omitted and afterward found out. We, led by their example never gave over the study of the questions raised by the controversy with regard to the before-mentioned Three Chapters, nor our search for passages in the writings of our Fathers which were applicable to the matter. (The Decretal Letter of Pope Vigilius in Confirmation of the Fifth Synod)


  1. What’s amazing is that Augustine’s testimony was brought forward in the Sentence to legitimize the controversial decision to anathematize Origen, Theodore and Evagrius after their deaths. His example was also used to legitimize the retraction of comments made in error; thus providing for the rehabilitation of Blessed Theodoret.

  2. What I like is that St. Augustine’s testimony is actually held to be higher than the customs of the Roman Church. Doesn’t fit well with papist historical revisionism.

  3. Great point. Even after Augustine it is the tradition of the Roman church that’s referenced and not the sole decree of an infallible pontiff. As a matter of fact, if the doctrine of papal infallibility is the teaching of the early church, why have councils in the first place? Just ask the Pope.

  4. St. Justinian the Emperor acknowledges Augustine’s sanctity and his influence in the 5th Council’s condemnation of the Three Chapters:

    That heretics should be anathematized even after death St. Augustine, bishop of the African Region, writes and says in his letter to Boniface: ‘Even if the charges these men raised concerning you and Cecilianus were proved true, we would still anathematize this man even if he had died. Even so, we must not forsake the Church of Christ because of some individual, for the Church is not altered by the opinions of contentious men, but is confirmed by divine testimonies.’ [St. Augustine Ep. 185] These statements come from St. Augustine. (A Letter on the Three Chapters)

    St. Justinian seems to quite aware of St. Augustine’s sanctity and influence in my opinion.

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