The Seven Ecumenical Councils of the Orthodox Church
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Seven Ecumenical Councils of the Orthodox Catholic Church
The Councils Preceding Nicea
The Great & Holy Council of Nicea
The 2nd Great & Holy Council - Constantinople, 381 AD
The 3rd Great & Holy Council - Ephesus, 431
The 4th Great & Holy Council - Chalcedon, 451
The 5th Great & Holy Council - The 2nd Council of Constantinople, 553
The 6th Great & Holy Council - The 3rd Council of Constantinople, 680
First Ecumenical Council - Nicea, Asia Minor, 325 A.D. - Formulated the First Part of the Creed. Defining the divinity of the Son of God.
Second Ecumenical Council - Constantinople, 381 A.D. - Formulated the Second Part of the Creed, defining the divinity of the Holy Spirit.
Third Ecumenical Council - Ephesus, Asia Minor, 431A.D. - Defined Christ as the Incarnate Word of God and Mary as Theotokos.
Fourth Ecumenical Council - Chalcedon, Asia Minor, 451A.D. - Defined Christ as Perfect God and Perfect God and Perfect Man in One Person.
Fifth Ecumenical Council - Constantinople II, 553 A.D. - Reconfirmed the Doctrines of the Trinity and Christ.
Sixth Ecumenical Council - Constantinople III, 680 A.D. - Affirmed the True Humanity of Jesus by insisting upon the reality of His Human will and action.
Qinisext Council (Trullo) - Constantinople, 692 A.D. - Completed the 5th and 6th Ecumenical Councils
Seventh Ecumenical Council - Nicea, Asia Minor, 787 A.D. - Affirmed the propriety of icons as genuine expressions of the Christian Faith.
Orthodoxy has always attached great importance to the place of councils in the life of the church. It believes that the council is the chief organ whereby God has chosen to guide His people, and it regards the Catholic Church as essentially a conciliar Church. In the Church there is neither dictatorship, nor individualism, but harmony and unanimity; its members remain free but not isolated, for they are united in love, in faith, and in sacramental communion. In a council, this idea of harmony is and free unanimity can be seen worked out in practice. In a true council no single member arbitrarily imposes his will upon the rest, but each consults with the others, and in this way they all freely achieve a 'common mind'. A council is a living embodiment of the essential nature of the Church (Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church, p. 15).
Timeline of events preceding the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea
30 - 33 AD
- Ministry of Christ
33 or 34 AD
- The First Convention : The Apostles meets to discuss who should take the place of Judas. Mathias was selected. Acts chapter 1.
Councils between 34 - 56 AD
- The Second Convention : The Apostles meet to discuss believers who would sell their possession s and give the moneys to the Apostles for the ministries. (Acts 4:31-37)
- The Third Convention : The Apostles meet to discuss which deacons should be selected to serve at the table. (Acts 6:2)
- The Fourth Convention : The Apostles meet after Peter had baptized the heathen Cornelius and his family. (Acts 11:2-3)
- The Fifth Convention : This is considered to be the first general council of the Church. Acts 15 explains that the Apostles met to discuss the matter as to what extent gentile converts should be subject to the law of Moses (i.e., circumcision,). The apostles and the elders of the Church met and decided after much prayer and debate that these are the necessary things for gentiles : "that [they] abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from the blood of what is strangled and from unchastity." (Acts 15:29)
56 or 58 AD
- The sixth convention met "when all of the elders were present." (Acts 21:18)
The 85 Canons of the Apostles
These first canons of the Church focus upon the maintenance of the worshipping community. Specifically, they provide detail as to the way clergy and laity are to conduct themselves and what books of the faith they ought to read. The Canons of the Apostles are confirmed by c.II of the 6th Ecumenical Council and c.I of the 7th Ecumenical Council.
Canon I - A Bishop must be ordained by two or three other Bishops.
Canon IX - All those faithful who enter and listen to the Scriptures, but do not stay for prayer and Holy Communion must be excommunicated, on the ground that they are causing the Church a breach of order.
Canon XXXIX - Let Presbyters and Deacons do nothing without the consent of the Bishop. For he is the one entrusted with the Lord's people, and it is from him that an accounting will be demanded with respect to their souls.
Canon XLIX - If any Bishop or Presbyter baptizes anyone not into the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit in accordance with the Lord's ordinance, but into three beginningless beings or into three sons or into three comforters, let him be deposed.
Canon L - If any Bishop or Presbyter does not perform three immersions (literally, "three baptisms") in making one baptism (literally, "one initiation"), but only a single immersion (literally, "a single baptism"), that given into the death of the Lord, let him be deposed from office. For the Lord did not say, "Baptize me into my death," but, "Go ye and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." (Matthew 28:19)
This Council of the Church was convened by Constantine the Great on May 20, 325 at the Royal Palace in Nicaea. It is uncertain who presided over the sessions. In the extant lists of bishops present, Ossius of Cordova, and the presbyters Vitus and Vincentius are listed before the other names, but it is more likely that Eustathius of Antioch or Alexander of Alexandria presided.
St. Hilary of Poiter documented that some 318 bishops of the Church were in attendance (other numbers are Eusebius 250, Eustathius of Antioch 270, and Athanasius about 300, Gelasius of Cyzicus at more than 300). Most representatives were from Asia, Pontus, and Syro-Phoenicia although legates did travel from Rome and from throughout other regions of the Empire. The work of the Council ended on August 25 of that same year.
The Arian Controversy
Arius, a priest at the church of Baucalis, came into open conflict with his bishop, Alexander of Alexandria, concerning the divinity of Christ. Arius reasoned and taught that if Jesus was born, then there was time when He did not exist. If He became God, then there was time when He was not. Therefore, Arius reasoned that Jesus must be understood as inferior to the Father.
The effect of making Christ less than God renders impossible our human deification (to become like God). Only if Christ is both God and man can humanity be united with God. For none but God himself can open to humans the way of union. The Council therefore declared Arius' teaching a heresy, unacceptable to the Church and decreed that Christ is God. He is of the same essence "homoousios" with God the Father.
Tasks of the Council
- The primary task of this council was to make the Trinitarian doctrine of the Church very precise to avoid future debate. The document produced was the Nicene Creed. The key word in this Nicene symbol is the term "consubstantial," used to indicate the relationship between the Father and the Son.
Early Defenders of Church
St. Athanasios the Great (297-373)
This fearless champion of Orthodoxy spent sixteen of his forty-five years as Bishop of Alexandria in exile. His supreme achievement was discerning the full implications of the term "homoousios." He is remembered as a Father of the Church.
The Cappadocian Fathers
- St. Basil the Great (330-379)
A natural leader and organizer, he spoke and wrote against Arianism. He founded hospitals, orphanages, and welfare agencies; revised and updated the Divine Liturgy; and established the first rules of Monasticism (East and West).
- St. Gregory of Nyssa (died 394)
The younger brother of St. Basil, he is remembered as the most eloquent voice of the Second Ecumenical Synod (Constantinople, 381).
- St. Gregory of Nazianzus (329-390)
After the death of the Arian Emperor Valens, Gregory was called to Constantinople to head the reorganization of the Church that had been torn asunder by the heresy of Arianism. He served as Patriarch of Constantinople and is remembered as an instrument of God.
The Profession of Faith of the 318 Fathers
The first parts of the seven articles of the Creed were ratified at the First Ecumenical Council. The text reads as follows :
The Twenty Authentic Canons of the Council of Nicaea
- The conditions of ordination - 1,2, 9, & 10
The Letter of the Synod in Nicaea to the Egyptians
The bishops assembled at Nicaea, who constitute the great and holy synod, greet the church of the Alexandrians, by the grace of God holy and great, and the beloved brethren in Egypt, Libya and Pentapolis.
Since the grace of God and the most pious emperor Constantine have called us together from different provinces and cities to constitute the great and holy synod in Nicaea, it seemed absolutely necessary that the holy synod should send you a letter so that you may know what was proposed and discussed, and what was decided and enacted.
First of all the affair of the impiety and lawlessness of Arius and his followers was discussed in the presence of the most pious emperor Constantine. It was unanimously agreed that anathemas should be pronounced against his impious opinion and his blasphemous terms and expressions which he has blasphemously applied to the Son of God, saying "he is from things that are not," and "before he was begotten he was not," and "there once was when he was not," saying too that by his own power the Son of God is capable of evil and goodness, and calling him a creature and a work. Against all this the Holy Synod pronounced anathemas, and did not allow this impious and abandoned opinion and these blasphemous words even to be heard.
Of that man and the fate which befell him, you have doubtless heard or will hear, lest we should seem to trample upon one who has already received a fitting reward because of his own sin. Such indeed was the power of his impiety that Theonas of Marmarica and Secundus of Ptolemais shared in the consequences, for they too suffered the same fate. But since, when the grace of God had freed Egypt from this evil and blasphemous opinion, and from the persons who had dared to create a schism and a separation in a people which up to now had lived in peace, there remained the question of the presumption of Meletius and the men whom he had ordained, we shall explain to you, beloved brethren, the synod's decisions on this subject too. The synod was moved to incline towards mildness in its treatment of Meletius for strictly speaking he deserved no mercy. It decreed that that he might remain in his own city without any authority to nominate or ordain, and that he was not to show himself for this purpose in the country or in another city, and that he was to retain the bare name of his office.
It was further decreed that those whom he had ordained, when they had been validated by a more spiritual ordination, were to be admitted to communion on condition that they would retain their rank and exercise their ministry, but in every respect were to be second to all the clergy in each diocese and church who had been nominated under our most honored brother and fellow minister Alexander; they were to have no authority to appoint candidates of their choice or to put forward names or to do anything at all without the consent of the bishop of the catholic church, namely the bishop of those who are under Alexander. But those who by the grace of God and by our prayers have not been detected in any schism, and are spotless in the catholic and apostolic church, are to have authority to appoint and to put forward the names of men of the clergy who are worthy, and in general to do everything according to the law and rule of the church.
In the event of the death of any in the church, those who have recently been accepted are thereupon to succeed to the office of the deceased, provided that they appear worthy and are chosen by the people; the bishop of Alexandria is to take part in the vote and confirm the election. This privilege, which has been granted to all others, does not apply to the person of Meletius because of his inveterate seditiousness and his mercurial and rash disposition, lest any authority or responsibility should be given to one who is capable of returning to his seditious practices.
These are the chief and most important decrees as far as concerns Egypt and the most holy church of the Alexandrians. Whatever other canons and decrees were enacted in the presence of our lord and most honored fellow minister and brother Alexander, he will himself report them to you in greater detail when he comes, for he was himself a leader as well as a participant in the events.
We also send you the good news of the settlement concerning the holy Pascha, namely that in answer to your prayers this question also has been resolved. All the brethren in the East who have hitherto followed the Jewish practice will henceforth observe the custom of the Romans and of yourselves and of all of us who from ancient times have kept Easter together with you. Rejoicing then in these successes and in the common peace and harmony and in the cutting off of all heresy, welcome our fellow minister, your bishop Alexander, with all the greater honor and love. He has made us happy by his presence, and despite his advanced age has undertaken such great labor in order that you too may enjoy peace.
Pray for us all that our decisions may remain secure through almighty God and our lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit, to whom is the glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Translation taken from Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, ed. Norman P. Tanner
In the year 380 the emperors Gratian and Theodosius I decided to convoke this council. The council opened in May of the following year and closed on July 9 of the same year. Approximately 150 representatives from the Eastern Church were in attendance. The West did not send even one representative, yet later agreed to the things that this council decreed. Meletius, who died shortly after the opening, Gregory of Nazaianzen and after his resignation, Nectarius of Constantinople successfully ruled over the council. At the request of the council fathers, the emperor Theodosius ratified its decrees by edict in the year 382.
Already from 382 onwards, in the letter of the synod that met at Constantinople, the council was given the title of "ecumenical." The council of Constantinople was however criticized and censured by Gregory of Nazianzus. And, in subsequent years it was hardly ever mentioned.
In the end it achieved its special status when the council of Chalcedon, at its second session and in its definition of the faith, linked the form of the creed read out at Constantinople with the Nicene form, as being a completely reliable witness of the authentic faith. The fathers of Chalcedon acknowledged the authority of the canons -- at least as far as the Eastern Church was concerned -- at their sixteenth session. The council's dogmatic authority in the western church was made clear by words of Pope Gregory I : "I confess that I accept and venerate the four councils (Nicaea, Constantinople, Ephesus and Chalcedon) in the same way as I do the four books of the holy Gospel . . . " (The bishop of Rome's approval was not extended to the canons, because they were never brought "to the knowledge of the apostolic see'').
No copy of the council's doctrinal decisions, entitled "tomos kai anathematismos engraphos" (record of the tome and anathemas), has survived. Remaining however from this council is the syndonal letter addressed to Theodosius, the list of the members of the council, and the canons that were issued.
Tasks of the Council
This Council was opened to :
The Macedonian Controversy
Macedonius, somewhat like Arius, was misinterpreting the Church's teaching on the Holy Spirit. He taught that the Holy Spirit was not a person ("hypostasis"), but simply a power ("dynamic") of God. Therefore the Spirit was inferior to the Father and the Son. The Council condemned Macedonius' teaching and defined the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. The Council decreed that there was one God in three persons ("hypostases") : Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The holy fathers of the Council added five articles to the Creed. They read as follows :
The Seven Canons of 381
The council of Constantinople enacted four disciplinary canons : against the Arian heresy and its sects (can. 1), on limiting the power of bishops within fixed boundaries (can. 2), on ranking the see of Constantinople second to Rome in honor and dignity (can. 3), on the condemnation of Maximus and his followers (can. 4). Canons 2-4 were intended to put a stop to aggrandizement on the part of the see of Alexandria. The two following canons, 5 and 6, were framed at the synod which met in Constantinople in 382. The 7th canon is an extract from a letter that the church of Constantinople sent to Martyrius of Antioch.
1. The profession of faith of the holy fathers who gathered in Nicaea in Bithynia is not to be abrogated, but it is to remain in force. Every heresy is to be anathematized and in particular that of the Eunomians or Anomoeans, that of the Arians or Eudoxians, that of the Semi-Arians or Pneumatomachi, that of the Sabellians that of the Marcellians, that of the Photinians and that of the Apollinarians.
2. Diocesan bishops are not to intrude in churches beyond their own boundaries nor are they to confuse the churches : but in accordance with the canons, the bishop of Alexandria is to administer affairs in Egypt only; the bishops of the East are to manage the East alone (whilst safeguarding the privileges granted to the church of the Antiochenes in the Nicene canons); and the bishops of the Asian diocese are to manage only Asian affairs; and those in Pontus only the affairs of Pontus; and those in Thrace only Thracian affairs. Unless invited bishops are not to go outside their diocese to perform an ordination or any other ecclesiastical business. If the letter of the canon about dioceses is kept, it is clear that the provincial synod will manage affairs in each province, as was decreed at Nicaea. But the churches of God among barbarian peoples must be administered in accordance with the custom in force at the time of the fathers.
3. Because it is new Rome, the bishop of Constantinople is to enjoy the privileges of honor after the bishop of Rome.
4. Regarding Maximus the Cynic and the disorder that surrounded him in Constantinople : he never became, nor is he, a bishop; nor are those ordained by him clerics of any rank whatsoever. Everything that was done both to him and by him is to be held invalid.
5. Regarding the Tome  of the Westerns : we have also recognized those in Antioch who confess a single Godhead of Father and Son and Holy Spirit.
6. There are many who are bent on confusing and overturning the good order of the church and so fabricate, out of hatred and a wish to slander, certain accusations against orthodox bishops in charge of churches. Their intention is none other than to blacken priests' reputations and to stir up trouble among peace- loving laity. For this reason the sacred synod of bishops assembled at Constantinople has decided not to admit accusers without prior examination, and not to allow everyone to bring accusations against church administrators -- but with- out excluding everyone. So if someone brings a private (that is a personal) complaint against the bishop on the grounds that he has been defrauded or in some other way unjustly dealt with by him, in the case of this kind of accusation neither the character nor the religion of the accuser will be subject to examination. It is wholly essential both that the bishop should have a clear conscience and that the one who alleges that he has been wronged, whatever his religion may be, should get justice.
But if the charge brought against the bishop is of an ecclesiastical kind, then the characters of those making it should be examined, in the first place to stop heretics bringing charges against orthodox bishops in matters of an ecclesiastical kind. (We define "heretics" as those who have been previously banned from the church and also those later anathematized by ourselves : and in addition those who claim to confess a faith that is sound, but who have seceded and hold assemblies in rivalry with the bishops who are in communion with us.) In the second place, persons previously condemned and expelled from the church for whatever reason, or those excommunicated either from the clerical or lay rank, are not to be permitted to accuse a bishop until they have first purged their own crime. Similarly, those who are already accused are not permitted to accuse a bishop or other clerics until they have proved their own innocence of the crimes with which they are charged. But if persons who are neither heretics nor excommunicates, nor such as have been previously condemned or accused of some transgression or other, claim that they have some ecclesiastical charge to make against the bishop, the sacred synod commands that such persons should first lay the accusations before all the bishops of the province and prove before them the crimes committed by the bishop in the case. If it emerges that the bishops of the province are not able to correct the crimes laid at the bishop's door, then a higher synod of the bishops of that diocese, convoked to hear this case, must be approached, and the accusers are not to lay their accusations before it until they have given a written promise to submit to equal penalties should they be found guilty of making false accusations against the accused bishop, when the matter is investigated.
If anyone shows contempt of the prescriptions regarding the above matters and presumes to bother either the ears of the emperor or the courts of the secular authorities, or to dishonor all the diocesan bishops and trouble an ecumenical synod, there is to be no question whatever of allowing such a person to bring accusations forward, because he has made a mockery of the canons and violated the good order of the church.
7. Those who embrace orthodoxy and join the number of those who are being saved from the heretics, we receive in the following regular and customary manner : Arians, Macedonians,
Sabbatians, Novatians, those who call themselves Cathars and Aristae, Quartodeciman or
Tetradites, Apollinarians-these we receive when they hand in statements and anathematize every heresy which is not of the same mind as the holy, catholic and apostolic church of God. They are first sealed or anointed with holy chrism on the forehead, eyes, nostrils, mouth and ears. As we seal them we say : "Seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit." But
Eunomians, who are baptized in a single immersion, Montanists (called Phrygians here),
Sabellians, who teach the identity of Father and Son and make certain other difficulties, and all other sects -- since there are many here, not least those who originate in the country of the Galatians -- we receive all who wish to leave them and embrace orthodoxy as we do Greeks. On the first day we make Christians of them, on the second catechumens, on the third we exorcise them by breathing three times into their faces and their ears, and thus we catechize them and make them spend time in the church and listen to the scriptures; and then we baptize them.
The Third Great & Holy Council - Ephesus, 431
This Council of the Church was held in Ephesus, Asia Minor. It opened on June 7, 431 under Emperor Theodosius II (grandson of Theodosius the Great) at the request of Nestorius, whose teachings had been condemned by Celestine, Patriarch of Rome*. Two hundred bishops were present. Cyril of Alexandria, was the presiding bishop.
When the first session was held, many Bishops, especially those who were affiliated with Nestorius, had not yet arrived. This allowed St. Cyril and the council time to condemn Nestorius for blasphemy before his supporters could defend him. Once the representatives of Nestorius arrived, they refused to join the Council, and in turn, formed their own council that condemned and excommunicated Cyril and Memnon, the bishop of Ephesus. Shortly thereafter, representatives from Rome, the first see of the Church arrived. They sided with St. Cyril of Alexandria and condemned Nestorius.
This council full of controversy and condemnation affirmed that :
*It is interesting to note that Celestine's judgment was not sufficient to condemn Nestorius' teachings. Another judgment was still required, that of a Great & Holy Council as their judgment was decisive and final.
Nestorianism : A Christological Controversy
Nestorius, bishop of Constantinople, believed and taught that the Virgin Mary gave birth to a man, Jesus Christ, not God, the "Logos" ("The Word," Son of God). Thus, he reasoned that the Logos only dwelled in Christ, as in a Temple (Christ, therefore, was only Theophoros : The "Bearer of God"). Consequently, the Virgin Mary should be called "Christotokos," "Mother of Christ" and not "Theotokos," "Mother of God."
Nestorian over emphasized the human nature of Christ at the expense of His divine nature. Our Lord Jesus Christ is one person, not two separate "people" : the Man, Jesus and the Son of God, Logos. The Council therefore decreed that the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God (Logos), is complete God and complete man, with a rational soul and body. The Virgin Mary is "Theotokos" because she gave birth not to man but to God who became man. The union of the two natures of Christ took place in such a fashion that one did not disturb the other.
The text of the "Creed" decreed at the First and Second Ecumenical Councils was deemed complete and the Council forbade any changes (additions or deletions).
Canons of the Third Great & Holy Council, Ephesus
Whereas it is needful that they who were detained from the holy Synod and remained in their own district or city, for any reason, ecclesiastical or personal, should not be ignorant of the matters which were thereby decreed; we, therefore, notify your holiness and charity that if any Metropolitan of a Province, forsaking the holy and Ecumenical Synod, has joined the assembly of the apostates, or shall join the same hereafter; or, if he has adopted, or shall hereafter adopt, the doctrines of Celestius, he has no power in any way to do anything in opposition to the bishops of the province, since he is already cast forth from all ecclesiastical communion and made incapable of exercising his ministry; but he shall himself be subject in all things to those very bishops of the province and to the neighboring orthodox metropolitans, and shah be degraded from his episcopal rank.
If any provincial bishops were not present at the Holy Synod and have joined or attempted to join the apostasy; or if, after subscribing the deposition of Nestorius, they went back into the assembly of apostates; these men, according to the decree of the holy Synod, are to be deposed from the priesthood and degraded from their rank.
If any of the city or country clergy have been inhibited by Nestorius or his followers from the exercise of the priesthood, on account of their orthodoxy, we have declared it just that these should be restored to their proper rank. And in general we forbid all the clergy who adhere to the Orthodox and Ecumenical Synod in any way to submit to the bishops who have already apostatized or shall hereafter apostatize.
If any of the clergy should fall away and publicly or privately presume to maintain the doctrines of Nestorius or Celestius, it is declared just by the Holy Synod that these also should be deposed.
If any have been condemned for evil practices by the Holy Synod, or by their own bishops; and if, with his usual lack of discrimination, Nestorius (or his followers) has attempted, or shall hereafter attempt, uncanonically to restore such persons to communion and to their former rank, we have declared that they shall not be profited thereby, but shall remain deposed nevertheless.
LIKEWISE, if any should in any way attempt to set aside the orders in each case made by the Holy Synod at Ephesus, the Holy Synod decrees that, if they be bishops or clergymen, they shall absolutely forfeit their office; and, if laymen, that they shall be excommunicated.
WHEN these things had been read, the Holy Synod decreed that it is unlawful for any man to bring forward, or to write, or to compose a different (eteran) Faith as a rival to that established by the holy Fathers assembled with the Holy Spirit in Nicaea.
But those who shall dare to compose a different faith, or to introduce or offer it to persons desiring to turn to the acknowledgment of the truth, whether from Heathenism or from Judaism, or from any heresy whatsoever, shall be deposed, if they be bishops or clergymen; bishops from the episcopate and clergymen from the clergy; and if they be laymen, they shall be anathematized.
And in like manner, if any, whether bishops, clergymen, or laymen, should be discovered to hold or teach the doctrines contained in the Exposition introduced by the Presbyter Charisius concerning the Incarnation of the Only-Begotten Son of God, or the abominable and profane doctrines of Nestorius, which are subjoined, they shall be subjected to the sentence of this holy and ecumenical Synod. So that, if it be a bishop, he shall be removed from his bishopric and degraded; if it be a clergyman, he shall likewise be stricken from the clergy; and if it be a layman, he shall be anathematized, as has been said.
OUR brother bishop Rheginus, the beloved of God, and his fellow beloved of God bishops, Zeno and Evagrius, of the Province of Cyprus, have reported to us an innovation which has been introduced contrary to the ecclesiastical constitutions and the Canons of the Holy Apostles, and which touches the liberties of all. Wherefore, since injuries affecting all require the more attention, as they cause the greater damage, and particularly when they are transgressions of an ancient custom; and since those excellent men, who have petitioned the Synod, have told us in writing and by word of mouth that the Bishop of Antioch has in this way held ordinations in Cyprus; therefore the Rulers of the holy churches in Cyprus shall enjoy, without dispute or injury, according to the Canons of the blessed Fathers and ancient custom, the right of performing for themselves the ordination of their excellent Bishops. The same rule shall be observed in the other dioceses and provinces everywhere, so that none of the God beloved Bishops shall assume control of any province which has not heretofore, from the very beginning, been under his own hand or that of his predecessors. But if any one has violently taken and subjected [a Province], he shall give it up; lest the Canons of the Fathers be transgressed; or the vanities of worldly honor be brought in under pretext of sacred office; or we lose, without knowing it, little by little, the liberty which Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Deliverer of all men, has given us by his own Blood.
Wherefore, this holy and ecumenical Synod has decreed that in every province the rights which heretofore, from the beginning, have belonged to it, shall be preserved to it, according to the old prevailing custom, unchanged and uninjured : every Metropolitan having permission to take, for his own security, a copy of these acts. And if any one shall bring forward a rule contrary to what is hero determined, this holy and ecumenical Synod unanimously decrees that it shall be of no effect.
The Fourth Great & Holy Council - Chalcedon, 451
The Fourth Great & Holy Council was convoked in Chalcedon, a city of Bithynia in Asia Minor on October 8th, 451 under the Emperor Marcius. The Council closed on November 1st with six hundred to six hundred and thirty bishops present.
The Tasks of this Council
Assert the Orthodox doctrine against the heresy of Eutyches and the Monophysites, Address issues of ecclesiastical discipline and jurisdiction
The Monophysite Controversy
Not long after the Council of Ephesus had condemned the heresy of Nestorius concerning the two persons of Christ in 431, had the opposite error of the Nestorian heresy arose. Since Nestorius so fully divided the Divine and the human in Christ that he taught a double personality or a twofold being in Christ, it became incumbent on his opponents to emphasize the unity in Christ and to exhibit the God-man, not as two beings but as one. Some of these opponents in their efforts to maintain a physical unity in Christ held that the two natures in Christ, the Divine and the human, were so intimately united that they became physically one, inasmuch as the human nature was completely absorbed by the Divine. Thus resulted one Christ not only with one personality but also with one nature.
The Third Ecumenical Council, held at Ephesus, did not put an end to the debate over the Person of Christ, failing to reconcile those sympathetic to Nestorius with the Church. Not long afterwards, however, in the 430s, a reconciliation was attained by means of a union, i.e., a unification which, for all intents and purposes, brought an end to the division within the Church. John of Antioch [previously a follower of Nestorius], in the name of all the bishops of the region of Antioch, sent to Saint Cyril a confession of faith, the essence of which is included in the following excerpt :
At the end of the epistle there is an anathematization of Nestorius and his doctrine, with a declaration to the effect that Maximian is received into communion. Cyril of Alexandria accepted this confession of John and the bishops of like mind with him as a gift from heaven, acknowledging it as wholly Orthodox. Peace began to spread throughout the ecclesiastical world, and disputes began to die down.
Those who held Saint Cyril in high respect however were the forerunners of the soon to be revealed Monophysite heresy. They considered the communion between Saint Cyril and John of Antioch to be a betrayal of Orthodoxy and perceived heresy in the teaching of Saint Cyril on the two natures in Christ. Despite their great number, they behaved with restraint while Saint Cyril was alive, for he enjoyed tremendous respect with the Church. But with his death matters changed.
In Alexandria, enemies of the union began openly and forcefully to act against it in the name of Orthodoxy, yet in actual fact in the name of their own heretical doctrine, which has become known in the history of the Church under the name Monophysism ["mono," one and "physis," "nature"] The principal representative of the Monophysite heresy was Eutyches, the abbot of one of the monasteries in Constantinople who at the time of the Third Ecumenical Council showed himself to be a zealous partisan of Saint Cyril of Alexandria in his struggle against the heresy of Nestorius.
Eutyches, only respected Saint Cyril as the champion of Orthodoxy against Nestorius. He considered his activity during and after the union a betrayal of Orthodoxy. Eutyches did not recognize the treatises authored by Cyril in preparation for the Union and in defense of it as the idea of two natures in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ was developed and forcefully maintained.
Eutyches instead proclaimed that : "After the incarnation of God the Word I worship one nature-the nature of God Who took on flesh and became man"; "I confess that our Lord consists of two natures before [their] union, and after [their] union I confess one nature." He boldly proclaimed, "He Who was born of the Virgin Mary is perfect God and perfect man, but does not have flesh which is consubstantial with ours."
The Church sought to investigate Eutyches' case. The Council of Constantinople of 448 strove mainly to ascertain whether Eutyches was in agreement with the epistle of Saint Cyril (referred to above) and with the words of the confession of John of Antioch. At the council in 448, Eutyches made the following statement : "I confess that our Lord consisted of two natures before [their] unification, and I confess one nature after [their] unification." There no longer remained any doubt that Eutyches was a heretic.
To prevent the heresy of Eutyches from resulting in grievous consequences for the Church, the fathers of the council proposed that he anathematize all that was contrary to the dogmas read out at the council. But Eutyches rejected this proposal in a bitter tone of voice. Then the fathers of the council, rising up, proclaimed : "Let Eutyches be anathema!" Later, after a conference, a statement was made regarding Eutyches, signed by Archbishop Flavian, 31 bishops and 23 archimandrites. The Council of Constantinople in 448 did not, however, bring an end to the disputes : it was not recognized by the Church of Alexandria or Egypt; or the Church of Jerusalem, which from the days of the First Ecumenical Council had gone hand in hand with the Church of Alexandria in resolving disputed questions of dogma; or even the Church of Rome, which was poorly acquainted with the details of disputes taking place in the East.
Relying on the Court's sympathetic relations with him, he determined to wage war on the council and his own archbishop : Eutyches, submitted a petition to Emperor Theodosius, in which he asked for a review of his case at a new council. He also sent a complaint to Saint Leo the Great in Rome, to the effect that among those in the East, i.e. in Constantinople, the Nestorian heresy was being resurrected anew. (the pope after having reviewed this dispute replied with the Conciliar Epistle of His Holiness Leo, Archbishop of the City of Rome, Written to Flavian, Archbishop of Constantinople (Against the Heresy of Eutyches).
Eutyches did manage to convince the Emperor that a new, Church-wide council should be called to investigate contrary dogmatic views on the Person of the God-man, the manner of their uniting within Him, and a review of the decisions of the Council of Constantinople regarding his case. It was proposed that the newly convoked council would be Ecumenical, as was the council of 431. In history this council has not come to be known as the Fourth Ecumenical Council, but rather the "Robbers' Council," for the activity it directed was not for the triumph of Orthodoxy, but for heretical beliefs proposed by Eutyches.
Under such unfavorable conditions for the defenders of Orthodox Truth, the council convened in Ephesus on August 8th, 449; its sessions were held in the Church of the All-holy Virgin Mary, which had been the site of the sessions of the Third Ecumenical Council. The number of fathers participating in the council fluctuated between 122 and 130. Eutyches was summoned to the council, to set forth before the council "justifications beneficial for him." Thus was the Monophysite heresy proclaimed instead of the Truth at the unlawful council, and Orthodoxy was trampled underfoot. Eutyches, as the principal champion of the Monophysite heresy, was thereafter declared to be Orthodox and was restored to the dignity of archimandrite and the rank of priest.
Emperor Theodosius, the protector of the Monophysites, soon died; General Marcian took his place in August of 450, by the election of the army and the senate. Deeply committed to Orthodoxy, Marcian subsequently married Theodosius' sister Pulcheria, who was also renowned for her zeal for Orthodoxy. For the Orthodox, the affairs of the Church thus took a turn for the better.
Leo the Great's idea for the convocation of a new Ecumenical council was realized. It was to be held in Nicæa, but later, to make it easier for the emperor to oversee its course, it was moved to Chalcedon, which is separated from Constantinople only by the width of the straits of the Bosphorus. There the council opened its sessions on October 8th, in the magnificent and vast Church of the Holy Martyr Euthymia. The number of fathers at the council was very great - between 600 and 630, more than had attended any of the other councils.
The activity of the Fourth Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon consisted of 1) judgment over the "Robbers' Council" of 449 and Dioscorus of Alexandria, its head; and 2) an investigation into the true teaching concerning the two natures in the Person of the God-man, Jesus the Christ.
Convinced of the abuses of the "Robbers' " Synod, the fathers of the Fourth Ecumenical Council pronounced their sentence, but in such a way that the majority of the men who comprised its membership would not be deposed from their episcopal rank, in view of their sincere repentance. The council also proceeded to the composition of a definition of the Faith, so as to proclaim the Orthodox doctrine of the God-man. During this there were many debates and disputes, and much distrust and dissatisfaction was expressed; yet all of this did not hinder the council from attaining the desired end : to proclaim the most pure doctrine of the God-man.
The definition of the Faith was given its final form and read out at the council on 22 October 451. The Orthodox Church commemorates the Fourth Ecumenical Council on the 16th of July.
The Fifth Great & Holy Council was convoked by the Emperor Justinian the Great in the year 553 in the capital city of the Byzantine Empire, Constantinople. This synod was opened on May 5th in the Secretarium of the Cathedral Church of Agia Sophia. Among those present were the Patriarchs, Eutychius of Constantinople, who presided, Apollinaris of Alexandria, Domninus of Antioch, three bishops as representatives of the Patriarch Eustochius of Jerusalem, and 145 other metropolitans and bishops, of whom many came also in the place of absent colleagues (164 in total). This Council concluded its work on June 2nd after eight sessions.
The Task of the Council
The Council was called in hope of putting an end to the Nestorian and the Monophysite controversies.
The Nestorian Controversy
Nestorius, bishop of Constantinople, proposed that the Virgin Mary gave birth to a man, Jesus Christ, not God, the "Logos" ("The Word," Son of God). He reasoned that the Logos only dwelled in Christ, as in a Temple (Christ, therefore, was only Theophoros : The "Bearer of God"). Consequently, the Virgin Mary should be called "Christotokos," "Mother of Christ" and not "Theotokos," "Mother of God." See the Third Council for the history of the events surrounding this controversy.
The Monophysite Controversy
Eutyches, the archimandrite, in his efforts to maintain a physical unity in Christ held that the two natures in Christ, the Divine and the human, were so intimately united that they became physically one, inasmuch as the human nature was completely absorbed by the Divine. Thus resulted one Christ not only with one personality but also with one nature. See the Fourth Council for the history of the events surrounding this controversy.
This Second Council of Constantinople :
The Emperor Justinian himself also confessed his Orthodox faith in the form of the famous Church hymn "Only begotten Son and Word of God" which is sung after the Second Antiphon during the Divine Liturgy.
In the year 527 Justinian, an ecclesiastically devout and learned man, was consecrated as Emperor of Byzantium. He ruled the Empire for nearly thirty years maintaining the ideal of reconciling heretics to the Church. Unfortunately, it was through his efforts that both the church and the state continued to experience great divisions.
Justinian, influenced by his empress Theodora, who was secretly devoted to the Monophysite teaching, condemned by an edict the Antiochian teachers most detestable to the Monophysites : Theodore of Mopsuestia (the teacher of Nestorius), Theodoret of Cyros, and Ibas of Edessa. This condemnation became known as the Three Chapters, that is, the formulas of condemnation of : (1) the person and writings of Theodore of Mopsuestia; (2) the anti-Cyrillian writings of Theodoret and; (3) the letter of Ibas to Maris.
The Three Chapters were controversial because of the three, long since dead, personalities involved. Theodoret of Cyros and Ibas of Edessa, were one time companions of Nestorius who had been deposed from their episcopal thrones for their heretical beliefs. Upon their acceptance of the teachings of St. Cyril of Alexandria (d. 444) and of the Council of Ephesus, however, Chalcedon restored them to their episcopal sees.
Theodore of Mopsuestia was a priest from Antioch and the head of the Syrian school who had tried to maintain the truth of the two natures of Christ against Apollinarianism. To Theodore the term "incarnation of God" seemed dangerous for it suggested that God the Word changed into a human being. This is why he preferred to recognize only the indwelling or enoikeesis of the Word in man. Thus he divided the one Christ into two, the man Jesus and the God who dwelt in him. In this respect Theodore was the father of the heresy that was attached to Nestorius. The Council of Ephesus, however, did not condemn Theodore, probably because he was already dead when the Council took place.
On Easter Eve, April 11, 548 Vigilius, likewise issued his Judicatum (judgment). He generally subscribed to the Emperor's wishes but he added a proviso that nothing should put in question the decisions of the previous four Ecumenical Councils. This was what was at issue. Since Chalcedon had not condemned the letter or Ibas, to do so now might seem to undermine the fourth ecumenical council. This was the aim of those who had promulgated the imperial decree (the Monophysites), that is, the credibility of the Council of Chalcedon.
Opposition to the Judicatum soon arose. Vigilius was accused of treachery. As a result Vigilius excommunicated a number of those who criticized him, including deacons from Rome as well as some people from Africa. From Gaul, Illyria, and Dalmatia there came still stronger opposition to Vigilius. As a result Vigilius withdrew his Judicatum in 550.
Justinian, without concurrence from the Roman Pontiff, summoned the synod at Constantinople to address these matters. Pope Vigilius, refused to take part in the council, because Justinian had summoned bishops in equal numbers from each of the five patriarchal sees. For this reason, Eutychius, Patriarch of Constantinople, presided. The council opened on May 5th in the Church of Agia Sophia with 164 bishops in attendance.
On 14 May 553 Pope Vigilius issued his "Constitution," which was signed by 16 bishops (9 from Italy, 2 from Africa, 2 from Illyria and 3 from Asia Minor). This rejected sixty propositions of Theodore of Mopsuestia, but spared his personal memory and refused to condemn either Theodoret or Ibas since, on the testimony of the council of Chalcedon, all suspicion of heresy against them had been removed. Even so, the council condemned the "Three Chapters" : (1) the person and the writings of Theodore of Mopsuestia; (2) the writings of Theodoret of Cyros; (3) the writings of Ibas of Edessa, in its eight session on June 2nd with a judgment that concludes with 14 anathemas. This council issued no canons as it did not debate ecclesiastical or disciplinary matters. Most importantly, the Council of Chalcedon was not discredited as the Monophysites had hoped.
After carefully considering the matter for six months, Vigilius, weighing up the persecutions of Justinian against his clergy and having sent a letter to Eutychius of Constantinople, approved the council, thus changing his mind. Furthermore he anathematized Theodore and condemned his writings and those of Theodoret and Ibas. On 23 February 554, in a second "Constitution," he tried to reconcile the recent condemnation with what had been decreed at the council of Chalcedon.
This council was not universally recognized for some time by western bishops, even after the vacillating Pope Vigilius gave in his assent to it. It event caused a temporary schism between upper Italy and the Roman see.
As to its importance, it stands far below the four previous councils. It did further confirmed the first four general councils, especially that of Chalcedon whose authority was contested by some heretics.
The Sixth Ecumenical Council was convoked in the year 680 under the Emperor Constantine IV (668-685) in the capital city of Constantinople (it is also known as the Third Council of Constantinople). The Emperor presided over the council, but he followed the tradition established at the Fourth Ecumenical Council. He attended to external matters, the administration of the synod etc. He left the decisions to the Synod alone.
The synod was opened on November 7, 680 and closed after eighteen sessions on September 16, 681. It is believed that three hundred bishops attended, although only 174 bishops signed the decree at its close. The numbers varied as bishops and theologians came and left the council.
The Task of the Council
This council was convoked to address the compromise sought between the Emperor Heraclius and Patriarch Sergius of Constantinople with the Monophysites earlier this century.
This Third Council of Constantinople reconfirmed the Definition of Chalcedon dealing with the question of whether the two natures of Jesus Christ (God and man) had two separate wills. The Council decreed that :
The Monothelite Controversy
Sergius, Patriarch of Constantinople taught that although Christ did have two natures (divine and human) He nevertheless, acted as God only. In other words, His divine nature made all the decisions and His human nature only carried and acted them out. Hence, the name : "Monothelitism" ("mono" one and "thelesis" will.)
Events leading to the Council
At the beginning of the seventh century Emperor Heraclius was concerned with Persian and Moslem incursions. To unite the empire the Emperor met with Monophysites in 624 and they decided the theological problems could be met with a new formula. They agreed that Christ had two natures but only one mode or activity (Monothelitism). When Sergius, Patriarch of Constantinople, found a similar formula in the writings of St. Cyril of Alexandria, he approved the Emperor's solution. Upon, opposition from Sophronius of Jerusalem, Sergius wrote to Pope Honorius in 634 to obtain support. Honorius responded in favor of this doctrine. Through the Emperor's efforts and the support of the Patriarch of Constantinople and the Pope of Rome, a number of Monophysites were reconciled to the Church.
Constantine Pogonatus upon rising to the Emperor's throne summoned this council in 679 with the hopes of restoring the faith that had been troubled by the Monothelistic controversies. He initially consulted the Roman See. Around Easter 680 a synod in Rome of 125 Italian bishops, with Pope Agatho presiding, assessed the replies of the regional synods of the west and composed a profession of faith in which Monothelitism was condemned. Legates of the pope would later take this profession to Constantinople for the council.
On 10 September 680 the emperor issued an edict to Patriarch George of Constantinople, ordering a council of bishops to be convoked. Constantine summoned all the Metropolitans and bishops of the jurisdiction of Constantinople, as well as those under the Archbishop of Antioch, with no intentions of declaring this an ecumenical council. When the synod assembled in the domed hall in the imperial palace (Trullo) on November 7th however, it assumed at its first session the title "Ecumenical," as all the five patriarchs were represented with Alexandria and Jerusalem having sent deputies.
The Emperor presided over this council surrounded by high court officials. On his right though sat the Patriarchs of Constantinople and Antioch and next to them the representative of the Patriarch of Alexandria. On the Emperor's left were seated the representatives of the Pope. In the midst of the assembly were placed the Holy Gospels. The Emperor was not able to be present during the 11th to 17th sessions, but returned and presided at final gathering.
The greater part of the eighteen sessions was devoted to an examination of the Scriptural and patristic passages bearing on the question of one or two wills, one or two operations, in Christ. George, Patriarch of Constantinople, was in agreement with the evidence of the orthodox teaching concerning the two wills and two operations in Christ, but Macarius of Antioch, resisted to the end. In the 8th session, on 7 March 681, the council adopted the teaching of Pope Agatho in condemnation of Monothelitism.
Patriarch Macarius of Antioch was deposed in the 12th session. In the thirteenth session (28 March, 681) after anathematizing the chief Monothelitic heretics mentioned in the letter of Pope Agatho, i.e. Sergius of Constantinople, Cyrus of Alexandria, Pyrrhus, Paul, and Peter of Constantinople, and Theodore of Pharan, the council added : "And in addition to these we decide that Honorius also, who was Pope of Elder Rome, be with them cast out of the Holy Church of God, and be anathematized with them, because we have found by his letter to Sergius that he followed his opinion in all things and confirmed his wicked dogmas." A similar condemnation of Pope Honorius occurs in the dogmatic decree of the final session (16 Sept., 681), which was signed by the legates and the emperor.
The doctrinal conclusions of the council were defined in the 17th session and promulgated in the 18th and last session on 16 September 681. The acts of the council were signed by the 174 fathers and by the emperor himself. Constantine IV sent the decrees of the council to all regions of the empire by imperial edict. The decrees were also sent to Pope Leo II the successor of Agatho, who ordered them to be translated into Latin and to be signed by all the bishops of the west.
The council did not debate church discipline and did not establish any disciplinary cannons.
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