There are few of the Fathers of the Oriental Orthodox communion who escape uncritical censure on the part of the Eastern Orthodox. Uncritical because based on a few polemical comments deriving from the period of the Christological controversies and failing entirely to take into account any of the writings and historical records deriving from the Oriental Orthodox communities in which they were active.
Timothy falls into this category of unreasonably maligned figures. Condemned as both a murderer and Eutychian, he has passed into the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox histories as a figure entirely without any redeeming features.
Yet, as is often the case, the truth is very different. Timothy reveals himself, in his letters and theological writings, and in the historical record, as a kind and eirienic figure, struggling with more effort than even the Chalcedonians against the heresy of Eutyches, while also seeking to reverse the Chalcedonian settlement.
It must be recognised that his efforts ended in failure. Nevertheless a study of his life and writings provides an important insight into not only the theological environment in which he found himself, but also into the thought of Dioscorus who preceded him. It is quite clear that Timothy considered himself in every respect to be following in the footsteps of both Cyril and Dioscorus. He quotes with approval from both in his letters and theological works, treating them as authoritative sources for his anti-Eutychian and anti-Nestorian polemics. In a real sense, therefore, a study of Timothy is a study of Dioscorus, from whom much less has been preserved by the way of documentary record.
The sources used for this study of Timothy of Alexandria may be categorised as being of three different types. There are his letters, such as have survived; his polemical writings against the Tome of Leo and the council of Chalcedon; and the ecclesiastical histories which refer to him and contain some further examples of his writings.
The major features of his life and episcopate can be usefully divided into the historical periods of the controversy surrounding the murder of Proterius, his extended period of exile, his return and influence upon the Emperor Basiliscus, and theologically into his activities against the Eutychians, his writings against the Chalcedonian settlement and his eirienic approach to the reconciliation of members of the Proterian party.
The Consecration of Timothy
St Timothy had been a monk in the desert monasteries when St Cyril had him brought, against his own inclination, to Alexandria and ordained a priest. He was, therefore, a priest during some of the patriarchate of Cyril of Alexandria, and all of the patriarchate of Dioscorus, both before and during that bishop’s exile. Zachariah of Mitylene, in his Chronicle, describes Timothy as ‘of the same faith as Dioscorus’ and ‘well versed in all the truth of the faith of the doctors of the Church’ . If this is so then we may confidently study the writings of Timothy as a source for both the teaching of Dioscorus, and the Christological perspectives of the Alexandrian Church in the 5th century.
During the council of Chalcedon in 451 AD, Dioscorus was exiled to Gangra. After several years of exile in that place he died on September 11th, 454 AD. Gangra was the Metropolitan See of Paphlagonia, in Asia-Minor, and a place associated with salt extraction from the earliest times to even the present. This can hardly have been a pleasant place since in 523 AD it is recorded that Philoxenus of Mabbogh was sent to exile in Gangra, from Philippopolis in Thrace, his previous place of exile, and, as a life of Philoxenus describes,
“Having filled the Church with divine doctrines, and expounded the Scriptures, and laid open to disgrace the faith of the Nestorians by means of his writings against them, they cast him forth into exile in the city of Gangra, and they suffocated him with smoke. Now they shut him up in an upper chamber, and made smoke in the room below it, and they shut the doors: in this way was he crowned, and he was suffocated by them in the true faith.”
Timothy was fortunate that he did not share the same fate as both Dioscorus and Philoxenus during his exile in Gangra. Though it can surely have not been intended as a pleasant experience. Other political opponents of the empire were often sent to the salt mines, both in Gangra and elsewhere, and few of them can have returned. The prayers of the Coptic Orthodox Church still intercede for ‘those who are held in prisons, those in exile or captivity, or in bitter bondage’.
Of course the Alexandrian Church continued to consider Dioscorus as its rightful archbishop, even though he had been deposed and exiled at the council of Chalcedon in 451 AD. The acts of that council were considered null and void in Alexandria, indeed it was viewed as an anti-council in much the same manner that the council of Ephesus in 449 AD came to be rejected by most of those who had gathered at Chalcedon. Therefore no legitimate ecclesiastical authority had deposed Dioscorus and he continued to be de jure archbishop and patriarch of Alexandria.
The imperial authorities and Roman legates had not been content to seek the deposition of Dioscorus. It was necessary that a strong successor be provided who could be guaranteed to be both loyal to the Chalcedonian settlement and to eradicate opposition in Egypt. The man chosen was Proterius. This Proterius had himself been a priest of Alexandria, according to Zachariah. Yet, seeing an opportunity for advancement, he changed his allegiance and became a thoroughgoing advocate for Chalcedon. He hardly endeared himself to his putative flock. It is recorded that he used force to try and gain acceptance for himself and Chalcedon, and banished his opponents and used the civil powers to seize their property. He certainly failed to gain acceptance by the majority of the Alexandrian and Egyptian people. Indeed the Coptic Orthodox Synaxarium still contains accounts of some of the depredations inflicted on the people during his rule.
It would seem that Timothy, together with other priests and bishops, had been deposed by a synod formed by Proterius and those few who supported him. Nevertheless this deposition had no more weight in Alexandria and Egypt than that of Dioscorus. In fact those who resisted Proterius are accounted martyrs and confessors in the Coptic Orthodox Church, while of course in the Eastern Orthodox tradition the documentary evidence for Proterius’ violence is suppressed and he is, himself, considered a saint. This can only be achieved by ignoring much of the historical material relevant to this period. Even the Chalcedonian historian Evagrius Scholasticus describes some of the violence perpetrated against the Alexandrian people by Proterius’ military forces, which included widespread rape, and denial of provisions in an attempt to starve the populace into submission. Zachariah is more explicit in his description of the events,
“Proterius was very indignant, and he gave gifts into the hand of the Romans, and he armed them against the people, and he filled their hands with the blood of believers, who were slain; for they also strengthened themselves, and made war. And many died at the very Altar, and in the Baptistery, who had fled and taken refuge there.”
Not surprisingly, when the Alexandrians heard that the Emperor Marcian had died, in 457 AD, they were able to take advantage of the absence of Dionysius, the general whose forces had propped up the usurping patriarchate of Proterius, and consult among themselves to elect a true successor of Dioscorus.
The Alexandrian Church agreed upon Timothy. He was considered as having the same faith as Dioscorus, being well versed in the Fathers, a man of ascetic lifestyle but with the ability to pastor the Church. The monks and people carried him to one of the major Churches in the city where he was consecrated by two Egyptian bishops and St Peter the Iberian, who had left his monastic home in Palestine and was staying in Alexandria at that time. According to Zachariah’s Chronicle, while he was being carried to his consecration the people, priests and monks heard a spiritual voice saying ‘Consecrate him by force, even though he be unwilling, and set him on the throne of Saint Mark’.
Grillmeier rather confusingly states that Timothy was only consecrated by two bishops, Peter the Iberian and Eusebius of Pelusium. He can only come to this judgement by ignoring the account of Zacharias and following solely the account of the Chalcedonian historian Evagrius Scholasticus . Evagrius notes that Peter and Eusebius was present at the consecration, but he does not say that only Peter and Eusebius were present, this is stated only in the partisan account provided by the Proterian clergy after their expulsion. In fact the Chronicle of Zachariah mentions two Egyptian bishops, one of whom must have been Eusebius of Pelusium, who were in Alexandria and consecrated Timothy, together with Peter the Iberian. Unfortunately, Grillmeier repeatedly shows a marked bias against Timothy and often appears to present historical material in an unfair manner.
Grillmeier says that St Timothy was secretly consecrated after the death of St Dioscorus, but this also appears not to reflect either Zacharias or Evagrius, since both state that the consecration of St Timothy took place during the period after the death of Emperor Marcian in 457 AD, while St Dioscorus died in exile at Gangra in 454 AD. Neither was the consecration in secret. In fact it was well known that there were now two rival bishops of Alexandria in the city, and the general Dionysius hurriedly returned with his army, took St Timothy prisoner and caused the slaughter of many Christians in the city. In fact things became so difficult in the city that eventually St Timothy had to be restored .
On the death of Dioscorus there was such great love felt towards him by the ordinary people that his name remained in the diptychs among the living, as if he were still their own archbishop and patriarch. Apparently Marcian, while still alive, had become aware that the Alexandrians wished to elect an archbishop of their own, in place of the intruding Proterius. He sent an official to meet with the Alexandrians and convince them to unite with Proterius. This official, John the Silentiarii, seems to have been impressed with the principled stand that the populace, with their priests and bishops, were taking.
“When he came and saw the crowd, the numbers of monks arrayed in chastity, and possessing readiness of speech in defence of the faith, and also the strong body of the common people who were believers, with whom he had to deal, he was astounded, and said, "I am ready, if the Lord will, to inform the king and to plead with him on your behalf." And he received from them a petition— which gave information concerning their faith; and concerning all that happened to them at the hands of Proterius; and concerning the impious conduct of the man, and his wickedness, and the Church property which he expended upon vanity—written at length in words which I omit to reproduce here, lest I should be tedious to the reader.
And when John returned to the king and told him about these matters, he said to him, "We sent you, indeed, to persuade and exhort the Egyptians to obey our will: but you have returned to us, not according as we wished, since we find you an Egyptian." However, when he perceived the things that were written about Proterius, in the petition which the monks sent, he blamed the pride and the craftiness of the man. And while he was occupied with this matter, he died, having reigned six years and a half”.
Zachariah also comments on the relative strength of the two churches in Alexandria. At the recording of names for enrolment as catechumens and baptismal candidates at the beginning of Great Lent, those reading out and recording the names of the candidates being presented to Timothy grew weary with the great number. Only five candidates were presented at this time to Proterius. In fact the people of the city rose up and chased Proterius out of the church he had made his own.
The Murder of Proterius
It was during this tumult that the death of Proterius occurred. Zacharias says,
“When Proterius continued to threaten the Romans, and to display his rage against them; because they took his gold, but did not fill their hands with the blood of his enemies : then, indeed, a certain Roman was stirred to anger in his heart, and was boiling over with rage ; and he invited Proterius to look round and he would show him the corpses of the slain as they lay. And suddenly and secretly, he drew his sword and stabbed Proterius in the ribs along with his Roman comrades, and they despatched him, and dragged him to the Tetrapylum, calling out respecting him as they went along, "This is Proterius." And others suspected that it was some crafty plot. But the Romans left the body, and went away. Then the people, perceiving this, became also greatly excited, and they dragged off the corpse, and burnt it with fire in the Hippodrome.”
So Zachariah is clear that one of the Roman mercenary troops killed Proterius, not from any theological impulse but out of irritation at his constant demands for force to be applied to those who opposed him.
If we turn to Evagrius, who is a Chalcedonian, we find that he also notes,
“….the account given of the transaction by the writer of the life of Peter, also says that Proterius was not killed by the populace, but by one of the soldiers.”
And Grillmeier also notes that the Chronicle of Michael the Syrian also writes of Proterius being killed by a Roman soldier.
But then, rather perversely, he states that these references are unconvincing. He chooses instead to rely entirely on the naturally partisan statements of the Proterian clergy who had fled Alexandria after Proterius’ death. Their description of the events in Alexandria are rather different.
“When Dionysius, on account of the urgency of these disorders, had occupied the city with the utmost dispatch, and was taking prompt measures to quench the towering conflagration of the sedition, some of the Alexandrians, at the instigation of Timotheus, according to the written report made to Leo, despatched Proterius when he appeared, by thrusting a sword through his bowels, after he had fled for refuge to the holy baptistery. Suspending the body by a cord, they displayed it to the public in the quarter called Tetrapylum, jeering and vociferating that the victim was Proterius; and, after dragging it through the whole city, committed it to the flames; not even refraining themselves from tasting his intestines, like beasts of prey.”
Now this passage seems most unlikely? Do we really imagine that Christians, of which ever party, would resort to cannibalism? This account, despatched to Leo of Rome, continues,
"And while undisturbed peace was prevailing among the orthodox people of our country and Alexandria, Timotheus, immediately after the holy synod at Chalcedon, being at that time a presbyter, severed himself from the Catholic church and faith, together with only four or five bishops and a few monks, of those who, as well as himself, were infected with the heretical errors of Apollinaris and his followers; on account of which opinions they were then deposed by Proterius, of divine memory, and the general synod of Egypt, and duly experienced the motion of the imperial will, in the sentence of banishment."
Now this passage is clearly misleading and mischievous. We know already that almost the entire population of Alexandria supported St Timothy, and the fact that the escaping Proterians numbered only a handful shows that in fact it was they who were in the minority? What was this ‘general Synod of Egypt’ that banished St Timothy? It is a fabrication since in fact St Timothy was restored to Alexandria specifically because he was so much loved and respected by the Church.
Even Grillmeier has to note that Leo of Rome was misled as to the following of St Timothy in Alexandria and thought that only four bishops supported him. This could not be further from the truth.
The letter to Leo of Rome continues,
"And after the interval of only one day, while Proterius, beloved of God, was occupying, as usual, the episcopal residence, Timotheus, taking with him the two bishops who had been justly deposed, and the clergy who, as we have said, were condemned to banishment with them, as if he had received rightful ordination at the hands of the two, though not one of the orthodox bishops of the whole Egyptian diocese was present, as is customary on occasion of the ordinations of the bishop of the church of Alexandria—he possesses himself, as he presumed, of the archiepiscopal see, though manifestly guilty of an adulterous outrage on the church, as already having her rightful spouse in one who was performing the divine offices in her, and canonically occupied his proper throne."
Clearly this also is a partisan statement. Even if Proterius were not guilty of the violent excesses which he seems to have urged against the Alexandrians, and the evidence suggests he was, nevertheless he remained a promoter of Chalcedon and was an agent of the Imperial power. A heretic cannot ‘canonically occupy’ any episcopal throne, and by this light alone was reasonably considered a false bishop by the Alexandrians. He had been intruded while their own dearly beloved St Dioscorus was still alive.
"The blessed man could do nothing else than give place to wrath, according to what is written, and take refuge in the venerable baptistery from the assault of those who were pursuing him to death, a place which especially inspires awe even into barbarians and savages, though ignorant of its dignity, and the grace which flows from it. Notwithstanding, however, those who were eager to carry into execution the design which Timotheus had from the first conceived, and who could not endure that his life should be protected by those undefiled precincts, neither reverenced the dignity of the place, nor yet the season (for it was the solemnity of the saving paschal feast), nor were awe-struck at the priestly office which mediates between God and man; but put the blameless man to death, cruelly butchering him with six others.
They then drew forth his body, covered with wounds, and having dragged it in horrid procession with unfeeling mockery through almost every part of the city, ruthlessly loaded the senseless corpse with indignity, so far as to tear it limb from limb, and not even abstain from tasting, like beasts of prey, the flesh of him whom but just before they were supposed to have as a mediator between God and man. They then committed what remained of the body to the flames, and scattered the ashes to the winds, exceeding the utmost ferocity of wild beasts.”
No wonder that Leo of Rome was filled with such indignation against St Timothy when he read this account. Yet the evidence is entirely found only in this letter. Evagrius cannot believe it himself and has to record that,
"Zacharias, however, while treating at length of these events, is of opinion that the greater part of the circumstances thus detailed actually occurred, but through the fault of Proterius, by his instigation of serious disturbances in the city, and that these outrages were committed, not by the populace, but by some of the soldiery; grounding his opinion on a letter addressed by Timotheus to Leo.”
How can we believe these unseemly accusations against a bishop? Even more how can we believe them when the record of Zachariah shows what sort of man St Timothy was. Immediately on becoming sole bishop of Alexandria we find,
“But Timothy, when he appeared before them as the only chief priest of Alexandria, showed that he was really what a priest should be. For the silver and the gold that were given to the Romans in the days of Proterius, he expended upon the poor, and the widows, and the entertaining of strangers, and upon the needy in the city. So that, in a short time, the rich men, perceiving his honourable conduct, lovingly and devotedly supplied him with funds, both gold and silver.”
How like St Severus this is. For in his case, when he succeeded to the throne of the See of Antioch he closed the episcopal baths, and dismissed the chefs who had prepared fine foods for his Chalcedonian predecessor and lived simply as a monk. We may reasonably ask why St Timothy is remembered as someone worthy of such affection if in fact he was the prime agent in an episcopal murder. Zachariah provides the reason behind this campaign of vilification.
“The presbyters and all the clergy belonging to the Proterian party, since they knew all his virtues and his angelic mode of life, and the devotion of the citizens to him, joined themselves together and made libels in which they entreated him that they might be received. They also promised that they would go to Rome to Leo, and admonish him concerning the novelties which he had written in the Tome.
But the jealousy and hatred of the citizens against these persons were great, on account of the events which had occurred in the days of Proterius, and the various sufferings which they had endured. So they would not consent to their reception.”
St Timothy is well attested as an eirienic patriarch. He insisted that those who came over to the Orthodox from the Proterian party should be received on the provision of a signed statement of faith and a rejection of Chalcedon and the Tome, being received even in their clerical rank after one years probation. But on this occasion his peaceable intent could not prevail over the anger of the people, who had seen so many killed on the streets of Alexandria at Proterius’ instigation. As Zachariah records, the outcome provoked the false accounts of events which were then sent to Leo of Rome, the Emperor and many other bishops. Zachariah says,
“This was the reason why matters were disturbed and thrown into confusion. For when these men were ignominiously refused, they betook themselves to Rome, and there they told about the contempt of the canons, and about the dreadful death of Proterius; and they said that he died for the sake of the Synod and for the honour of Leo; and that they themselves, also, had endured many indignities; and further, that Timothy had come forward in a lawless manner and taken the priesthood.”
So in fact we have three sources, and even Evagrius, a fourth, contradicting or at least questioning the account proposed by the Proterian party. Yet Grillmeier still chooses to assume that the contradicted account is the true one. He notes that “there is no word of regret about this outrage from any anti-Chalcedonian”. But why should there be if in fact the records are clear that it had nothing to do with St Timothy at all.
Unfortunately Leo of Rome chose to listen to the Proterian account and took it as the truth. He wrote to the Proterian bishops now seeking support in Constantinople and informed them that he had already urged the Emperor to intervene. He consoled them by the thought that the anti-Chalcedonians in Alexandria would receive no mercy from the Emperor when he acted, because he had already been stirred by Leo to,
“….not allow murderous spirits whom no reverence for place or time could deter from shedding their ruler's blood, to gain anything from his clemency, more particularly when they desire to reconsider the council of Chalcedon to the overthrow of the Faith.”
Indeed in his letter to the Emperor he had already refused to allow the Emperor to call a council to try and reconcile the parties, and had described the Christians in Alexandria as ‘blasphemous parricides’, because they had, as he supposed, murdered their spiritual father. He warns the Emperor that the mere presence of those who should be cut off from the name of Christian ‘dim your own splendour, most glorious Emperor’. He dismisses the petition of the Orthodox in Alexandria, describing it as ‘the fiction of heretics’. One wonders if Leo of Rome truly believed that cannibalism took place in Alexandria. Nevertheless he urges the Emperor to act, and has nothing but opprobrium to heap upon St Timothy.
Yet this is all based only on hearsay and the word of a small group of embittered men who had lost much and had everything to gain by spinning as gross a libel as possible. Leo was already mistaken in thinking that only a handful of people supported St Timothy in Alexandria and Egypt, even Chalcedonian historians suggest that in fact Proterius had been murdered by his own mercenaries, and the Emperor Leo, when writing to Anatolius of Constantinople records what must be convincing since he is not an anti-Chalcedonian, and describes,
“the before-mentioned Timotheus, whom the people of Alexandria and their dignitaries, senators, and ship-masters request for their bishop, and what relates to the other transactions, as intimated by the tenor of the petitions, as well as regarding the synod at Chalcedon, to which these parties by no means assent.”
So it is clear that even the Emperor knew that Leo of Rome was misled and misleading when he claimed that hardly anyone supported St Timothy. In fact the people, their leaders and the merchants in the city all demanded St Timothy for their bishop. If the Proterian account was deceitful in this respect then it is legitimate to consider it an unreliable witness in any other respect.
The Exile of St Timothy
Of course none of these considerations bore any weight with the Emperor, or those bishops who responded to the Imperial request for opinions about the consecration of St Timothy. And indeed anyone receiving what was presented by Leo of Rome as a reliable and lurid account of episcopal murder could hardly fail to find against St Timothy. Anatolius of Constantinople, agreeing with Leo of Rome, counselled the Emperor not to call a council, but to rather send out letters to bishops in every place. Zachariah suggests that the reason Anatolius did not wish a council to be held was that he was concerned that his own prerogatives might suffer if the 28th canon of Chalcedon should be repealed.
Fortunately Zachariah has preserved the letter which St Timothy wrote to the Emperor Leo defending his faith against the accusations of the Proterians and Leo of Rome. In it he presents his own faith in the incarnation, saying,
“For thus also the three hundred and eighteen blessed fathers taught concerning the true Incarnation of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, that He became man, according to His dispensation, which He Himself knows. And with them I agree and believe, as do all others who prosper in the true faith. For in it there is nothing difficult, neither does the definition of the faith which the fathers proclaimed require addition. And all (whoever they be) holding other opinions and corrupted by heresy, are rejected by me. And I also myself flee from them. For this is a disease which destroys the soul, namely, the doctrine of Apollinaris, and the blasphemies of Nestorius, both those who hold erroneous views about the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, Who became flesh from us; and introduce into Him the cleavage in two, and divide asunder even the dispensation of the only-begotten Son of God: and those, on the other hand, who say with respect to His Body that it was taken from Heaven, or that God the Word was changed, or that He suffered in His own Nature; and who do not confess that to a human body what pertains to the soul derived from us was united.
"And I say to any who have fallen into one or other of these heresies, 'You are in grievous error, and you do not know the Scriptures.' And with such I do not hold communion, nor do I love them as believers. But I am joined, and united, and truly agreeing with the faith which was defined at Nicea; and it is my care to live in accordance with it.”
Now when Leo of Rome wrote to the Emperor Leo he dealt with the issue of the possibility of St Timothy being reconciled. He says,
“Nor need we now state all that makes Timothy accursed, since what has been done through him and on his account, has abundantly and conspicuously come to the knowledge of the whole world, and whatever has been perpetrated by an unruly mob against justice, all rests on his head, whose wishes were served by its mad hands. And hence, even if in his profession of faith he neglects nothing, and deceives us in nothing, it best consorts with your glory absolutely to exclude him from this design of his because in the bishop of so great a city the universal Church ought to rejoice with holy exultation, so that the true peace of the LORD may be glorified not only by the preaching of the Faith, but also by the example of men's conduct.”
“But you see, venerable Emperor, and clearly understand, that in the person, whose excommunication is contemplated, it is not only the integrity of his faith that must be considered; for even, if that could be purged by any punishments and confessions, and completely restored by any conditions, yet the wicked and bloody deeds that have been committed can never be done away by the protestations of plausible words.”
This makes it clear that there was nothing objectionable in St Timothy’s confession, and that whatever he said could never be acceptable in Leo of Rome’s eyes, because he had chosen to believe the report of a handful of Proterians. It was in the matter of his supposed conduct that St Timothy was considered irredeemable.
Thus it came about that St Timothy found himself banished to Gangra. Not on account of any heresy but because it was claimed that he had acted uncanonically and was implicated in the murder of Proterius.
Gangra is in Northern Turkey, and on his journey into exile he was taken into Palestine and up the coast. Throughout his journey crowds came out to seek his blessing,
“But when the cities and the inhabitants of Palestine and the seacoast heard it, they came to him to be sanctified, and that the sick among them gain healing for their diseases through the grace of God which was attached to his person; and they snatched torn pieces of stuff from his garments, that they might have them to protect them from evil.”
It is clear that the people and clergy of Alexandria had a great affection for St Timothy, and that this respect and veneration extended outside of Alexandria and Egypt, and was held by many faithful Orthodox throughout the region. Even in his exile it seems that St Timothy was able to continue his good works. We read,
“…the believing, virtuous, and miracle-working Timothy, was the friend of the poor; because he used to receive gifts from the believers of Alexandria and Egypt and other places, and to make liberal distribution for the relief of the needy.”
Now even here in Gangra St Timothy was not able to find relief from those who wished him ill. Gennadius, who had become the patriarch of Constantinople after Anatolius, moved the Emperor to have St Timothy sent even further from any civilised place, and so he found himself sent by boat, even in the middle of winter, to Cherson, a region far away and north of the Crimea. Much of the animosity felt against him was due to the correspondence which he maintained with the Orthodox, both against the Eutychians and the Chalcedonians.
St Timothy continued to win supporters in high places. His writings were studied even in Constantinople.
“In consequence of these writings, those persons who understood the matter left Gennadius of Constantinople and joined in communion with Acacius the presbyter and Master of the Orphans, the brother of Timocletus the composer, who joined the believers, and strenuously opposed the Nestorians; and he also set verses to music, and they used to sing them. And the people were delighted with them, and they flocked in crowds to the Orphan Hospital.”
The Return of St Timothy from Exile
Just as the death of Marcian had allowed the election and consecration of St Timothy, so the death of Emperor Leo in 474 AD allowed an opportunity for St Timothy to be restored to Alexandria after eighteen years of exile. Zeno, who had risen to become the commander of the army, the magister militum, succeeded to the imperial throne, and immediately the clergy and people of Alexandria sent representatives to Constantinople requesting the return of St Timothy from his exile in far off Cherson. Zeno was of Isaurian origin however, and had taken the Greek name of Zeno on his marriage to the Emperor Leo’s daughter, Ariadne. He was not popular among many of the Greek court, who especially resented the presence of Isaurian soldiers and officers in the city.
As a result, even before the Alexandrians reached Constantinople, there was a coup in January 474 AD and Leo’s brother-in-law Basiliscus was placed on the throne by Verina, Leo’s widow.
When the deputation from Alexandria arrived in the Imperial city they found themselves presented to Basiliscus, who was much impressed by them, as indeed were the queen, the court, and Acacius, Patriarch of Constantinople at the time.
Emperor Basiliscus gave orders that St Timothy should be restored from his long, but fruitful, exile, and while he was on his way to Constantinople the bishop Acacius prepared the church of Irene for his use, and set aside some of his own retinue and priests to serve him. He began to waver, however, and started to believe that one of the Alexandrian deputation, Theopompus the monk, was being prepared for the episcopacy in his place. In this state of mind he tried to oppose the pending arrival of St Timothy.
Nevertheless the exiled Patriarch of Alexandria finally entered the city in great state. Crowds of Alexandrian sailors and curious citizens of the Constantinople turned out to welcome him. He was taken to the royal palace and large numbers of people came to him to be blessed and receive healing at his hands. St Timothy seems to have impressed many of those whom he met, including the Emperor and Acacius of Constantinople. Zachariah records,
“And becoming intimate both with Basiliscus and his wife, Timothy, along with those who happened to be there with him and on his behalf, persuaded the king, so that he consented to write encyclical letters, in which he would anathematise the Tome and the addition which was made at Chalcedon. For Paul the monk, who was a rhetorician and a sophist, drew them up. And it was he who, in a discussion with Acacius the patriarch, was able to show that the heresies of Nestorius and Eutyches are one and the same; though they are generally thought to be diametrically opposed to each other. For the one, indeed, making objection declares that it would be a degradation to God to be born of a woman, and to be made in all points like as we are, by becoming partaker of flesh and blood; whereas He was only partaker by identity of name, and by power and indwelling, and by operation. But the other, indeed, for the purpose of liberating and exalting God, so that He should not suffer degradation and contempt by association with a human body, publishes the doctrine that He became incarnate from His own essence, and that He assumed a heavenly body; and that just as there is no part of the seal left upon the wax, nor of the golden signet upon the clay, so neither did there cleave to Christ any portion of humanity whatsoever.”
It is clear that St Timothy was no Eutychian. Indeed he understood entirely the defects of the Eutychian and Apollinarian Christology, both of which denied the full humanity of Christ, consubstantial with us. It is also clear that both the Emperor and the Patriarch were convinced by theological argument rather than mere political consideration. With this in mind Basiliscus restored Peter of Antioch and Paul of Ephesus to their own sees and promulgated his famous Encyclical.
“….And earnestly desiring to honour the fear of God more than any affair of man, through zeal for the Lord Jesus Christ our God, to Whom we owe our creation, exaltation, and glory; moreover also, being fully persuaded that the unity of His flock is the salvation of ourselves and our people, and is the sure and immovable foundation, and the lofty bulwark of our kingdom ; we now, moved by a wise impulse, are bringing union and unity to the Church of Christ in every part of our dominion, namely, the faith of the three hundred and eighteen bishops, who being previously prepared by the Holy Ghost, assembled at Nicea, the security and well-being of human life, the faith which we hold, like all who have been before us, and in which we believe and are baptized, that it may hold and rule all the Churches with their chosen canons: the faith which is complete and perfect in all piety and true belief, and which rejects and exposes all heresies, and thrusts them out of the Church: the faith which the one hundred and fifty bishops, being assembled here to oppose and condemn the fighters against the Spirit, the Holy Lord confirmed, and with which they concurred and agreed : the faith which was also confirmed by the transactions of the two Councils at Ephesus, along with the chief priests of Rome and Alexandria, Celestine and Cyril, and Dioscorus, in condemnation of the heretic Nestorius, and all who after him have held similar opinions, and have confounded the order of the Church, and disturbed the peace of the world, and cleft asunder the unity; we mean the Tome of Leo, and the decrees of Chalcedon, whether by way of definition of the faith, or doctrine, or interpretation, or addition, or whatsoever other innovation was said or done contrary to the faith and the definition of the three hundred and eighteen.
"And therefore we command that wherever, here or elsewhere, such written doctrine be found, it shall be anathematised and burnt in the fire. For in accordance with this order, our blessed predecessors in the kingdom, Constantine the Great and Theodosius, in like manner, commanded and ordained. And also, the three subsequent Synods, that of the one hundred and fifty bishops here, and the two of Ephesus, ratified only the faith of Nicea, and agreed to the true definition there made.
"Moreover, we anathematise everyone who does not confess that the only-begotten Son of God truly became incarnate by the Holy Ghost from the Virgin Mary; not taking a body from heaven, in mere semblance or phantasy. And also we anathematise all the false teaching of all those heresies which are contrary to the true faith of the fathers….." .
This document is notable for its recognition of the second council of Ephesus in 449 AD, which is described as condemning the heresy of Nestorius, and for its categorisation of the Tome of Leo and the decrees of Chalcedon as breaking the unity of the Church and perpetuating that same heresy. The Encyclical orders the destruction of any written materials containing such doctrines and anathematises those who fail to confess the reality of the incarnation, and all the false teachings which are contrary to the fathers.
All in all the document is rather restrained. The Tome and Chalcedon are criticised as being of the same opinion as Nestorius, but the anathema is reserved for those who fail to confess the incarnation and have a Eutychian Christology, and it falls equally upon the false teachings of any who set themselves against the fathers. Practically speaking it sets aside the Tome and Chalcedon, restores the authority of the second council of Ephesus and anathematises those who truly hold to Eutychian ideas.
The Encyclical was sent out throughout the Empire and was signed by St Timothy, Peter of Antioch, Paul of Ephesus, the bishops of Asia and the East, and Anastasius of Jerusalem and his Synod. Altogether about 700 bishops signed their agreement with the document. The bishops of the province of Asia Minor gathered at Ephesus and sent the following statement to the Emperor.
“But now that the light of the true faith has arisen upon us, and the dark cloud of error been rolled away from us, we make known by this declaration our true faith to your Majesties and to all the world. And we say that freely and with willing consent, by the aid of John the Evangelist as our teacher, we have signed this Encyclical; and we agree to it and to everything in it, without compulsion, or fear, or favour of man. And if at any future time violence shall meet us from man, we are prepared to despise fire and sword and banishment and the spoiling of our goods, and to treat all bodily suffering with contempt; so that we may adhere to the true faith. We have anathematised and we do anathematise the Tome of Leo and the decrees of Chalcedon; which have been the cause of much blood-shedding, and confusion, and tumult, and trouble, and divisions, and strifes in all the world. For we are satisfied with the doctrine and faith of the apostles and of the holy fathers, the three hundred and eighteen bishops; to which also the illustrious Council of the one hundred and fifty in the Royal City, and the two other holy Synods at Ephesus adhered, and which they confirmed. And we join with them in anathematising Nestorius, and everyone who does not confess that the only-begotten Son of God was incarnate by the Holy Ghost, of the Virgin Mary; He becoming perfect man, while yet He remained, without change and the same, perfect God; and that He was not incarnate from Heaven in semblance or phantasy. And we further anathematise all other heresies."
It is necessary to note that the bishops of Asia Minor state that they have agreed to and signed the Encyclical without compulsion, and without political considerations. They even state that if they are threatened with violence or exile in the future they are willing to despise such persecution for the sake of the true faith which the Encyclical promotes. The bishops gathered at Ephesus also give authority to the second council at Ephesus in 449 AD under Pope Dioscorus. This second council, and the Encyclical of Basiliscus, is understood as anathematising Nestorius, and rejecting Eutychianism. The bishops agree with the Emperor Basiliscus and explicitly anathematise the Tome of Leo and the decrees of Chalcedon.
Zachariah mentions that the bishops of the other regions wrote similar letters, some even considering, in an honorific sense, the Emperor Basiliscus as a 319th bishop among the fathers of Nicaea. The intent of the Encyclical, St Timothy who had influenced the Emperor to issue it, and that of the bishops who signed it, seems to have been to ensure that both Nestorianism and Eutychianism were condemned while the Chalcedonian Christological settlement was rolled back to that of the second council of Ephesus in 449 AD. It was to be no longer acceptable to speak of Christ as being ‘in two natures’, once more the Cyrilline terminology ‘of two natures’ was to be solely authorised. The Encyclical and the bishops agreeing to it were careful to ensure that the doctrine of the real incarnation of Christ, as perfect God and perfect man, without change, was confessed.
In fact the purpose of the Encyclical was to gain support from the bishops of the whole Empire for the imperial objective, which was to suppress all mention of Chalcedon and the Tome, as being the root of disunity in the Church at that time, while also ensuring that both Nestorianism and Eutychianism were anathematised.
It is something of a surprise to find so many bishops subscribing to the Encyclical only 23 years after the council of Chalcedon. A great many of the bishops must have been signatories of Chalcedon itself, and certainly to have been monks and priests at that time.
There was opposition to St Timothy in Constantinople. Not from the Chalcedonians so much as from the Eutychianists, who had hoped that St Timothy would support them. Far from it. He continued to oppose them in person as he had by his letters from exile. As a result of his public statements the Eutychianists seperated themselves from him, while many others joined themselves to him. Nevertheless the Eutychianists had some influence at court and Theoctistus, the Master of the Offices, urged St Timothy to leave Constantinople for Alexandria, where he would be safe.
St Timothy therefore travelled to Ephesus, en route for Alexandria, where the bishop Paul was restored to his see by a synod convened there, and Ephesus was able to regain many of the canonical privileges which had been taken from it at Chalcedon and given to Constantinople. For a moment it was as if Chalcedon had never taken place.
On his arrival in Alexandria he was greeted by crowds of people speaking all the different languages represented in the city, with torches and songs of praise, and they conducted him to the great church chanting, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’.
There is a difference of opinion between Zachariah and Evagrius in respect of the welcome which St Timothy received in Alexandria. This seems to be due to Evagrius simply misreading Zachariah’s account. Zachariah mentions that a number of people withdrew from him when he arrived in Alexandria,
“And inasmuch as he was a peaceable and kind man, and also gentle in his words, and by no means passionate, he remitted to the members of the Proterian party the term of repentance, which he had written and appointed for the penitents when he was in banishment…….
But certain persons, who were ignorant of the rights of divine love, severed themselves from him on account of his gentleness and mildness towards the penitents, in that he required nothing else from them except that they should anathematise the Synod and the Tome, and confess the true faith; and because he did not hold them aloof, even for a little while, from the communion which they had made desolate.
But at the head of these persons was Theodoret the bishop of Joppa, who had been consecrated by Theodosius some time before. And he was then filled with envy because he had not also been received back again to his see. And, lo! the illustrious Peter the Iberian did not return to Gaza; and he did not at all agree with this faction, but he was warmly attached to Timothy, and he proved that his conduct and actions were in conformity with the will of God. But the Separatists who sided with Theodotus fell into such error that they even practised reanointing, and they were called Anachristo-Novatians.”
From this passage it is clear that St Timothy maintained his eirenic and reconciliatory approach, which was that those who had supported Chalcedon and the Tome could be received into communion if they simply anathematised the Tome and the Council and, in the case of clergy, remained constant for the course of a year. It is also clear that a small group of rigourists existed which rejected this approach and wished to consider the Chalcedonian party as being without sacramental grace, so that they chrismated those that came over to them.
Now Evagrius Scholasticus takes this passage and misinterprets it completely. He writes,
“Proceeding thence, he arrives at Alexandria, and uniformly required all who approached him to anathematise the synod at Chalcedon. Accordingly, there abandon him, as has been recorded by the same Zacharius, many of his party, and among them Theodotus, one of the bishops ordained at Joppa by Theodosius, who had, by means of certain persons, become bishop of Jerusalem, at the time when Juvenalis betook himself to Byzantium.”
Now of course it is true that St Timothy required those in his communion to anthematise the council of Chalcedon, but Evagrius represents the seperation of Theodotus as being caused by this requirement. As though St Timothy were the strict enforcer of the anti-Chalcedonian position offending even his supporters by his severity. Nothing could be further from the truth, as Zachariah, the author of Evagrius’ information actually makes very clear. St Timothy was the gentle and peaceable bishop while Theodotus was the Novatian, going beyond what Orthodoxy required for the reconciliation of seperated believers.
This shows just how difficult it is to gain a fair appreciation of St Timothy from any Chalcedonian sources since even where the primary sources of information are plainly in St Timothy’s favour the Chalcedonian histories manage to paint something entirely negative.
Zachariah gives a few glimpses of the spirit of St Timothy when he had been restored to Alexandria. The Proterian Patriarch, Timothy Salophaciolus, a quiet man himself, had retired to his monastery and supported himself, as a simple monk, by the weaving of baskets. St Timothy arranged that he should receive a pension of a denarius a day for his own use.
He insisted on giving as gifts to the Emperor, the nobles and the tax-gatherers, merely a few pennies, reasoning that it was the duty of the Church to expend itself on the widows and orphans. And the people of Alexandria especially loved him because he had brought back from exile the remains of St Dioscorus and his brother Anatolius, which were laid among the other bishops of Alexandria in great state.
Unfortunately, Acacius of Constantinople was not willing to lose any of the powers which Chalcedon had given to the Imperial city, and he stirred up those who remained in opposition to the Emperor and his Encyclical, even calling on Daniel the Stylite to come and add his authority. The Emperor was proclaimed a heretic and fearful for his security within the city, and even more fearful of Zeno, the Emperor he had himself usurped, and who was now approaching with an army, he issued an Anti-Encyclical, reversing his previous position.
Zeno entered the city and regained his throne, cancelling all the actions which had taken place under Basiliscus. He deposed Peter of Antioch and Paul of Ephesus, but St Timothy passed away in 476 AD while threats were being raised against him. He was buried with great honour by Peter Mongus who succeeded him.
As a footnote to the historical context of St Timothy’s life it should be noted with some disappointment and even shame that many of the bishops who had signed the Encyclical, stating that they were not acting under compulsion, now wrote to the new Emperor claiming that their agreement had been entirely due to necessity. Even Evagrius sounds rather ashamed of these wavering supporters of Chalcedon and writes,
“The bishops of Asia, to sooth Acacius, address to him a deprecatory plea, and implore his pardon in a repentant memorial, wherein they alleged, that they had subscribed the circular by compulsion and not voluntarily; and they affirmed with an oath that the case was really thus, and that they had settled their faith, and still maintained it in accordance with the synod at Chalcedon. The purport of the document is as follows.
An epistle or petition sent from the bishops of Asia, to Acacius, bishop of Constantinople. "To Acacius, the most holy and pious patriarch of the church in the imperial city of Constantine, the New Rome." And it afterwards proceeds: "We have been duly visited by the person who will also act as our representative." And shortly after: "By these letters we acquaint you that we subscribed, not designedly but of necessity, having agreed to these matters with letters and words, not with the heart. For, by your acceptable prayers and the will of the higher Power, we hold the faith as we have received it from the three hundred and eighteen lights of the world, and the hundred and fifty holy fathers; and, moreover, we assent to the terms which were piously and rightly framed at Chalcedon by the holy fathers there assembled."
Whether Zacharias has slandered these persons, or they themselves lied in asserting that they were unwilling to subscribe, I am not able to say.”
Whether they had signed the Encyclical out of fear and lied when they said they had faced no compulsion, or later lied when they said that they had faced compulsion, either way they come out of the episode shamefully. While St Timothy had spent 18 years in exile rather than sacrifice his principles and faith to save his position many of these bishops seem to have blown this way and that with whatever theological position had Imperial support.
Nevertheless Zachariah records that Anastasius of Jerusalem remained faithful to the position of the Encyclical, as did the provinces in his Synod. And Epiphanius of Magdolum departed to Alexandria rather than deny what he had agreed to.
The Christology of St Timothy of Alexandria
We are fortunate that we have a number of sources of theological materials from the pen of St Timothy. Some of these are found in the histories of Zachariah and Evagrius, others are letters recently translated into English, while others remain available only in other European languages.
Much of the material concerns St Timothy’s struggle against Eutychians in Alexandria and especially in Constantinople.
There was a community of these heretics in Constantinople who were claiming that St Timothy believed as they did. He wrote a lengthy letter against them, containing many proofs from the fathers that Christ should be confessed as consubstantial in His Godhead with the Father, and consubstantial in flesh with us. He writes,
“For we believe, in accordance with the tradition of the fathers, that our Lord Jesus Christ was consubstantial in flesh with us, and one with his own flesh. For we hear the holy Apostle declaring: ‘Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself partook of it like them, ….Therefore he had to be made like his brethren in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in what pertains to God…..’ This expression, ‘like us in everything’ counsels all of us, who wish to live and enjoy eternal benefits, to confess that our Lord Jesus Christ’s flesh is derived from Mary the holy Virgin and Mother of God, because he was consubstantial in the flesh with her and with us, he who is consubstantial in his Godhead with the Father”.
St Timothy then goes on to quote from St Athanasius, St Basil, St Gregory, St Ambrose, St Theophilus, St Cyril and St John Chrysostom. He uses all of these passages to stress that Christ is really consubstantial with us according to his humanity, while remaining consubstantial with the Father according to his Divinity.
The Eutychian party in Constantinople failed to heed his rebuke and St Timothy was finally forced to send a letter excommunicating two prominent members of the heretical community, Isaiah, who had been a bishop, and Theophilus who was a priest. They had professed the heresy of Eutyches for some time privately, and after having failed to reform their opinions St Timothy now addressed himself to the Church of Alexandria warning all the faithful about them. He wrote, saying,
“I promised that if they refrained from heterodoxy and confessed that our Lord was consubstantial in flesh with us and that he was not of a different nature, I would maintain them in their former honour and would grasp them with the same love…..I then saw that they persisted for about four years in not repenting, in being disobedient to the doctrine of the holy fathers and bishops and in refusing to accept that our Lord took flesh from the holy Virgin, and in asserting that he did not truly partake of her blood or flesh at all.”
It is clear that St Timothy had no time for proponents of the heresy of Eutyches, and he considered that it was merely a companion heresy of Nestorianism, both of which refused to confess that God the Word had become truly incarnate. St Timothy cannot be considered a Eutychian. He confesses that ‘our Lord was consubstantial in the flesh with us’. This was Eutyches’ sticking point. He believed that Christ was man, but not of the same humanity as us.
St Timothy was so hostile to the Eutychian poison that he had no choice but to write,
“It seemed to me to be necessary, for the sake of those simple folk who are falling victim to them, to inform everyone, naming the above mentioned Isaiah and Theophilus as persons who, by asserting that our Lord and God Jesus Christ is of an alien nature from us and that he was not consubstantial in flesh with men and that he was not really human, have alienated themselves from communion with the holy fathers and with me, and give warning that no man henceforth should hold communion with them”.
This must surely prove that St Timothy believed that our Lord Jesus Christ was consubstantial with us, and really human. Christ would not be ‘really human’ if his humanity was swallowed up in his Divinity, or if his humanity came from heaven, or if he was of some third Christ essence, neither human nor Divine. He shows himself to be a consistent follower of the teaching of his predecessors, indeed he quotes from a letter of St Dioscorus which shows clearly that both of them confessed the real and complete humanity of Christ, which was not an ‘unreal appearance’ in any sense, but was the true flesh of the Word of God, who ‘became man, without abandoning his being Son of God, in order that we might, through the grace of God, become sons of God’.
A few excerpts from this letter show how both St Timothy and St Dioscorus thought about the humanity of Christ, in opposition to the Eutychians. He writes,
“My declaration is that no man shall assert that the flesh, which our Lord took from holy Mary, through the Holy Spirit, in a manner known only to himself, is different from or alien to our body……’It was right that in everything he should be made like his brethren’. The phrase is ‘in everything’. It does not exclude any part of our nature at all. It includes nerves, hair, bones, veins, belly, heart, kidneys, liver, and lung. That flesh of our Saviour, which was born of Mary, and which was ensouled with a rational soul, was constituted of every element of which we are composed….For he was with us, like us, for us. He was not, God forbid, an unreal appearance, as the heresy of the evil Manichees has it. But he truly issued from Mary, Mother of God, according to his will, thus restoring, by his present advent to us, the shattered vessel…These are the views we hold and confess.”
How could anyone, reading these words, believe that either St Timothy or St Dioscorus were Eutychians, teaching a fantasy incarnation in which Christ was actually not ‘made flesh’ at all? It is surely excluded in every sentence and phrase and by the explicit rejection of an incarnation in appearance only.
Elsewhere he writes,
“These anti-Christs neither acknowledge that Jesus Christ has come into the world in human flesh, nor believe that God the Word became man whilst remaining God unchanged…. Some of them say that our Lord’s incarnation was illusion, imagination and unreal..They are now preaching the evil doctrines of the Phantasiast heresy by saying that the body of our Lord and God Jesus Christ is uncreated, that body which was constituted of created manhood.”
And he writes much more in the same vein. Now if it is anti-Christ to deny the real humanity of Christ, his complete consubstantiality with us, save sin, and his unchanged Divinity, then how can St Timothy be accused of these same things? He says that ‘our Lord was truly man for our sake and for the sake of our salvation’, and these are thoughts which no Eutychian could ever share.
But St Timothy also wrote against Chalcedon and the settlement which had been imposed by Imperial force. There is no doubt that he considered the Tome of Leo and Chalcedon to have been compromised by Nestorianism. Thus he writes to his people in Egypt,
“On the question you wrote to me about, of the unknown and foreign religious who come to you, first acquaint them with the harm, of which they may be unconscious, of the heresy of the Diphysites. If they agree to take our side, let them anathematise those who hold such views, namely the Council of Chalcedon, the Tome of Leo of Rome, and the whole heresy.”
Now the heresy of the Diphysites is not the confession of the perfect and complete humanity and Divinity of Christ, hypostatically united without confusion, mixture, division or separation. It is the confession of a Christ in whom the humanity and Divinity stand in a relationship of independent realities, united only externally and in honour and name. This passage, and others like it from the letters of St Timothy, show that he was not rejecting Chalcedon and the Tome as a result of politics, or out of wilfuillness, but because he was convinced that it had facilitated ‘those two wolves which have leaped forwardly over the wall and entered into the divine fold of Christ’s flock’. It was as a matter of spiritual necessity that he objected to Chalcedon and the Tome.
The error St Timothy found in Chalcedon and the Tome was exactly that of allowing Christ to be separated and divided into two. Two persons, two self-subsistent hypostases, two independent realities. And it is a fact that there were plenty of supporters of the Tome and Chalcedon who did divide Christ in such a way and provided plenty of cause for concern among the anti-Chalcedonian party.
It is well known that Nestorius himself had written that the Tome of Leo expressed his own Christology. And there were monks even in Constantinople keeping a feast of Nestorius after he died in exile. And in the West, the provinces under the authority of Rome and in North Africa considered that Chalcedon had in fact defended the teaching of Theodoret and Ibas. There were plenty of real Nestorians, as there were real Eutychians. But whereas St Timothy fought vigourously against the Eutychians, it seemed to him that the Tome and Chalcedon had quite simply accepted a Nestorian Christology and had failed to struggle against it at all.
It cannot be asserted that St Timothy rejected the Tome and Chalcedon because they taught the reality of the humanity and Divinity in Christ. It is already clear that this was entirely his own confession. If he objected to them it was because he considered that they had failed to exclude the Nestorian heresy from the Church.
The Encyclical of Basiliscus was perhaps the high point in his efforts to reverse what he saw as a Nestorian settlement after Chalcedon. It is clear from the Encyclical, written under the influence of St Timothy, who had been recalled from exile, that Eutychianism and Nestorianism were to be excluded,
“We anathematise everyone who does not confess that the only-begotten Son of God truly became incarnate by the Holy Ghost from the Virgin Mary; not taking a body from heaven, in mere semblance or phantasy……. We ordain that the basis and settlement of human felicity, namely, the symbol of the three hundred and eighteen holy fathers who were assembled, in concert with the Holy Spirit, at Nicaea, into which both ourselves and all our believing predecessors were baptised; that this alone should have reception and authority with the orthodox people in all the most holy churches of God, as the only formulary of the right faith, and sufficient for the utter destruction of every heresy, and for the complete unity of the holy churches of God; without prejudice, notwithstanding, to the force of the acts of the hundred and fifty holy fathers assembled in this imperial city, in confirmation of the sacred symbol itself, and in condemnation of those who blasphemed against the Holy Ghost; as well as of all that were passed in the metropolitan city of the Ephesians against the impious Nestorius and those who subsequently favoured his opinions.”
So as far as St Timothy was required, the solution to the divisions introduced by the Tome and Chalcedon, both Christologically and Ecclesiologically, was to base the rejection of Nestorianism on the first council of Ephesus, with the anathemas of St Cyril, and the rejection of Eutychianism on an explicit anathema in the Encyclical. The Tome and Chalcedon had no place in this alternative settlement, indeed they were considered as part of the problem. Yet it must be insisted over and over again that St Timothy did not reject the Tome and Chalcedon because he was a Eutychian, but because he was vehemently opposed to any failure to confess the true and real incarnation of Christ, which he considered both Nestorianism and Eutychianism were guilty of.
But St Timothy should not be considered a harsh and aggressive polemicist. On the contrary he was a gentle man and filled with concern for those he thought had been deceived by error. We can note the manner in which he dealt with different categories of believers.
If we consider the ordinary believer, perhaps a little confused by ecclesiological events over the previous years, St Timothy has the following instructions,
“If, therefore, an ordinary, simple person comes to you, confessing the holy faith of the consubstantial Trinity, and desirous of being in communion with you who acknowledge our Lord’s fleshly consubstantiality with us – I entreat you, not to constrain those who hold such views as these at all with other words, nor require from them additional verbal subtleties, but leave such people to praise God and bless the Lord in the simplicity and innocence of their hearts….Anyone who does not abuse the saints touching this declaration: ‘I confess that our Lord is our brother and that he was of the same fleshly stock as us for the sake of our salvation’, accept such an one in our Lord.”
St Timothy is not overly concerned about words and formulas. He seeks a right content to a person’s faith. If a simple soul, not particularly theologically literate, confesses that Christ is consubstantial with us according to his humanity, then such a one is Orthodox. No chrismation, no period of probation. The simple believer is received into communion on the basis of his simple confession in the reality of the incarnation.
Other believers were simply required to anathematise those who held heretical views, both Nestorian and Eutychian. The aim was to restore separated Christians to commune as easily as possible with due regard to the necessity for making a clean break with Nestorianism and Eutychianism.
Finally, in regard to clergy, whether ordained bishop, priest or deacon, St Timothy was equally considerate rather than committed to an violent approach. His instructions were,
“Let such an one repair to the bishops, clergy of ours or orthodox religious, in his vicinity, so that they may be trustworthy witnesses of his present repentance. Let him anathematise in writing, before the orthodox who belong to the whole place, the Council of Chalcedon and the Tome by wicked Leo of Rome….Then let him thus be granted the burden of penance in God, in such a case as his is limited to one year.”
Thus even in the case of clergy coming over to the anti-Chalcedonian communion it was necessary only for an anathema to be pronounced upon the Tome and Chalcedon, and for a period of penance to prove the stability of such repentance.
St Timothy was certainly a gentle and peaceable bishop, even his long exile had not embittered him. His letters are filled with pastoral concern, even for those bound up in what were considered the errors of the Tome and Chalcedon. He took a moderate but vigourous stand against the conjoined errors of Nestorianism and Eutychianism, both of which failed to confess the real incarnation of Christ.
St Timothy clearly confesses that the humanity of Christ is entirely consubstantial with us, save sin, and that the Divinity of Christ remained without change when Christ became incarnate. He is no Eutychian, but a faithful disciple of St Cyril, as St Dioscorus, his predecessor equally was. The whole tenor of his letters, and the content of the ecclesiastical histories of the period, strongly resist the partisan and unreliable account of St Timothy’s involvement in the death of Proterius, the intruding Patriarch of Alexandria.
St Timothy has been unfairly treated by history. He is perhaps too little known even by members of the Oriental Orthodox communion of Churches. The evidence shows that he was a genuinely eirenic bishop, with a pastoral spirit deserving the honour that the Church has accorded him as St Timothy the Great of Alexandria.