Ecumenical council

Last updated

An ecumenical council (or oecumenical council; also general council) [1] is a conference of ecclesiastical dignitaries and theological experts convened to discuss and settle matters of Church doctrine and practice in which those entitled to vote are convoked from the whole world (oikoumene) and which secures the approbation of the whole Church. [2]

The word "ecumenical" derives from the Late Latin oecumenicus "general, universal", from Greek oikoumenikos "from the whole world", from he oikoumene ge "the inhabited world (as known to the ancient Greeks); the Greeks and their neighbors considered as developed human society (as opposed to barbarian lands)", in later use "the Roman world" and in the Christian sense in ecclesiastical Greek, from oikoumenos, present passive participle of oikein "inhabit", from oikos "house, habitation." [3] The first seven ecumenical councils, recognised by both the eastern and western denominations comprising Chalcedonian Christianity, were convoked by Roman Emperors, who also enforced the decisions of those councils within the state church of the Roman Empire.

Starting with the third ecumenical council, noteworthy schisms led to non-participation by some members of what had previously been considered a single Christian Church. Thus, some parts of Christianity did not attend later councils, or attended but did not accept the results. Bishops belonging to what became known as the Eastern Orthodox Church accept only seven ecumenical councils, as described below. Bishops belonging to what became known as the Church of the East only participated in the first two councils. Bishops belonging to what became known as Oriental Orthodoxy participated in the first four councils, but rejected the decisions of the fourth and did not attend any subsequent ecumenical councils.

Acceptance of councils as ecumenical and authoritative varies between different Christian denominations. Disputes over christological and other questions have led certain branches to reject some councils that others accept.

Acceptance of councils by denomination

The Church of the East (accused by others of adhering to Nestorianism) accepts as ecumenical only the first two councils. Oriental Orthodox Churches accept the first three. [4] Both the Eastern Orthodox Church and Roman Catholic Church recognise as ecumenical the first seven councils, held from the 4th to the 9th centuries. While the Eastern Orthodox Church accepts no later council or synod as ecumenical, the Roman Catholic Church continues to hold general councils of the bishops in full communion with the Pope, reckoning them as ecumenical. In all, the Roman Catholic Church recognises twenty-one councils as ecumenical. Anglicans and confessional Protestants accept either the first seven or the first four as ecumenical councils.

Infallibility of ecumenical councils

The doctrine of the infallibility of ecumenical councils states that solemn definitions of ecumenical councils, which concern faith or morals, and to which the whole Church must adhere, are infallible. Such decrees are often labeled as 'Canons' and they often have an attached anathema, a penalty of excommunication, against those who refuse to believe the teaching. The doctrine does not claim that every aspect of every ecumenical council is dogmatic, but that every aspect of an ecumenical council is free of errors or is indefectible. [5]

Both the Eastern Orthodox and the Catholic churches uphold versions of this doctrine. However, the Roman Catholic Church holds that solemn definitions of ecumenical councils meet the conditions of infallibility only when approved by the Pope, [6] while the Eastern Orthodox Church holds that an ecumenical council is itself infallible when pronouncing on a specific matter. [7]

Protestant churches would generally view ecumenical councils as fallible human institutions that have no more than a derived authority to the extent that they correctly expound Scripture (as most would generally consider occurred with the first four councils in regard to their dogmatic decisions). [8]

Council documents

Church councils were, from the beginning, bureaucratic exercises. Written documents were circulated, speeches made and responded to, votes taken, and final documents published and distributed. A large part of what is known about the beliefs of heresies comes from the documents quoted in councils in order to be refuted, or indeed only from the deductions based on the refutations.

Most councils dealt not only with doctrinal but also with disciplinary matters, which were decided in canons ("laws"). Study of the canons of church councils is the foundation of the development of canon law, especially the reconciling of seemingly contradictory canons or the determination of priority between them. Canons consist of doctrinal statements and disciplinary measures—most Church councils and local synods dealt with immediate disciplinary concerns as well as major difficulties of doctrine. Eastern Orthodoxy typically views the purely doctrinal canons as dogmatic and applicable to the entire church at all times, while the disciplinary canons apply to a particular time and place and may or may not be applicable in other situations.

Circumstances of the first ecumenical councils

Of the seven councils recognised in whole or in part by both the Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox Church as ecumenical, all were called by a Roman emperor. [9] [10] [11] The emperor gave them legal status within the entire Roman Empire. All were held in the eastern part of the Roman Empire. The bishop of Rome (self-styled as "pope" since the end of the fourth century) did not attend, although he sent legates to some of them.

Church councils were traditional and the ecumenical councils were a continuation of earlier councils (also known as synods) held in the Empire before Christianity was made legal. These include the Council of Jerusalem (c. 50), the Council of Rome (155), the Second Council of Rome (193), the Council of Ephesus (193), the Council of Carthage (251), the Council of Iconium (258), [12] the Council of Antioch (264), the Councils of Arabia (246–247), the Council of Elvira (306), the Council of Carthage (311), the Synod of Neo-Caesarea (c. 314), the Council of Ancyra (314) and the Council of Arles (314).

The first seven councils recognised in both East and West as ecumenical and several others to which such recognition is refused were called by the Byzantine emperors. In the first millennium, various theological and political differences such as Nestorianism or Dyophysitism caused parts of the Church to separate after councils such as those of Ephesus and Chalcedon, but councils recognised as ecumenical continued to be held.

The Council of Hieria of 754, held at the imperial palace of that name close to Chalcedon in Anatolia, was summoned by Byzantine Emperor Constantine V and was attended by 338 bishops, who regarded it as the seventh ecumenical council [13] The Second Council of Nicaea, which annulled that of Hieria, was itself annulled at a synod held in 815 in Constantinople under Emperor Leo V. This synod, presided over by Patriarch Theodotus I of Constantinople, declared the Council of Hieria to be the seventh ecumenical council, [14] but, although the Council of Hieria was called by an emperor and confirmed by another, and although it was held in the east, it later ceased to be considered ecumenical.

Similarly, the Second Council of Ephesus of 449, also held in Anatolia, was called by the Byzantine Emperor Theodosius II and, though annulled by the Council of Chalcedon, was confirmed by Emperor Basiliscus, who annulled the Council of Chalcedon. [15] This too ceased to be considered an ecumenical council.

Catholic views on those circumstances

The Catholic Church does not consider the validity of an ecumenical council's teaching to be in any way dependent on where it is held or on the granting or withholding of prior authorization or legal status by any state, in line with the attitude of the 5th-century bishops who "saw the definition of the church's faith and canons as supremely their affair, with or without the leave of the Emperor" and who "needed no one to remind them that Synodical process pre-dated the Christianisation of the royal court by several centuries". [16]

The Catholic Church recognizes as ecumenical various councils held later than the First Council of Ephesus (after which churches out of communion with the Holy See because of the Nestorian Schism did not participate), later than the Council of Chalcedon (after which there was no participation by churches that rejected Dyophysitism), later than the Second Council of Nicaea (after which there was no participation by the Eastern Orthodox Church), and later than the Fifth Council of the Lateran (after which groups that adhered to Protestantism did not participate).

Of the twenty-one ecumenical councils recognised by the Catholic Church, some gained recognition as ecumenical only later. Thus the Eastern First Council of Constantinople became ecumenical only when its decrees were accepted in the West also. [17]

List of ecumenical councils

First seven ecumenical councils

In the history of Christianity, the first seven ecumenical councils, from the First Council of Nicaea (325) to the Second Council of Nicaea (787), represent an attempt to reach an orthodox consensus and to unify Christendom.

All of the original seven ecumenical councils as recognized in whole or in part were called by an emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire and all were held in the Eastern Roman Empire, [10] [11] a recognition denied to other councils similarly called by an Eastern Roman emperor and held in his territory, in particular the Council of Serdica (343), the Second Council of Ephesus (449) and the Council of Hieria (754), which saw themselves as ecumenical or were intended as such.

  1. The First Council of Nicaea (325) repudiated Arianism, declared that Christ is "homoousios with the Father" (of the same substance as the Father), and adopted the original Nicene Creed; fixed Easter date; [18] [19] recognised authority of the sees of Rome, Alexandria and Antioch outside their own civil provinces and granted the see of Jerusalem a position of honour.
  2. The First Council of Constantinople (381) repudiated Arianism and Macedonianism, declared that Christ is "born of the Father before all time", revised the Nicene Creed in regard to the Holy Spirit.
  3. The Council of Ephesus (431) repudiated Nestorianism, proclaimed the Virgin Mary as the Theotokos ("Birth-giver to God", "God-bearer", "Mother of God"), repudiated Pelagianism, and reaffirmed the Nicene Creed.
    This and all the following councils in this list are not recognised by all of the Church of the East.
    • The Second Council of Ephesus (449) received Eutyches as orthodox based on his petition outlining his confession of faith. Deposed Theodoret of Cyrrhus and Ibas of Edessa. Condemned Ibas's Letter to "Maris the Persian" (possibly a misunderstood title, indicating as the receiver a certain Catholicus Dadyeshu, bishop of Ardashir/Ctesiphon between 421-56; [20] this same letter later became one of the Three Chapters).
      Though originally convened as an ecumenical council, this council is not recognised as ecumenical and is denounced as a Robber Council by the Chalcedonians (Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Protestants).
  4. The Council of Chalcedon (451) repudiated the Eutychian doctrine of monophysitism; adopted the Chalcedonian Creed, which described the hypostatic union of the two natures of Christ, human and divine; reinstated those deposed in 449 including Theodoret of Cyrus. Restored Ibas of Edessa to his see and declared him innocent by upon reading his letter. Deposed Dioscorus of Alexandria; and elevated the bishoprics of Constantinople and Jerusalem to the status of patriarchates. This is also the last council explicitly recognised by the Anglican Communion.
    This and all the following councils in this list are rejected by Oriental Orthodox churches.
  5. The Second Council of Constantinople (553) repudiated the Three Chapters as Nestorian, condemned Origen of Alexandria, and decreed the Theopaschite Formula.
  6. The Third Council of Constantinople (680–681) repudiated Monothelitism and Monoenergism.
    • The Quinisext Council, also called Council in Trullo, [21] (692) addressed matters of discipline (in amendment to the 5th and 6th councils).
      The Ecumenical status of this council was repudiated by the western churches.
  7. The Second Council of Nicaea (787) restored the veneration of icons (condemned at the Council of Hieria, 754) and repudiated iconoclasm.

Further councils recognised as ecumenical in the Roman Catholic Church

As late as the 11th century, only seven councils were recognised as ecumenical in the Roman Catholic Church. [22] Then, in the time of Pope Gregory VII (1073–1085), canonists who in the Investiture Controversy quoted the prohibition in canon 22 of the Council of Constantinople of 869–870 against laymen influencing the appointment of prelates elevated this council to the rank of ecumenical council. [22] [ unreliable source? ] Only in the 16th century was recognition as ecumenical granted by Catholic scholars to the Councils of the Lateran, of Lyon and those that followed. [22] The following is a list of further councils generally recognised as ecumenical by Roman Catholic theologians: [23] [24]

  1. Fourth Council of Constantinople (Roman Catholic) (869–870) deposed Patriarch Photios I of Constantinople as a usurper and reinstated his predecessor Saint Ignatius. Photius had already been declared deposed by the Pope, an act to which the See of Constantinople acquiesced at this council.
  2. First Council of the Lateran (1123) addressed investment of bishops and the Holy Roman Emperor's role therein.
  3. Second Council of the Lateran (1139) reaffirmed Lateran I and addressed clerical discipline (dress, marriages).
  4. Third Council of the Lateran (1179) restricted papal election to the cardinals, condemned simony, and introduced minimum ages for ordination (thirty for bishops).
  5. Fourth Council of the Lateran (1215) defined transubstantiation, addressed papal primacy and clerical discipline.
  6. First Council of Lyon (1245) proclaimed the deposition of Emperor Frederick II and instituted a levy to support the Holy Land.
  7. Second Council of Lyon (1274) attempted reunion with the Eastern churches, approved Franciscan and Dominican orders, a tithe to support crusades, and conclave procedures.
  8. Council of Vienne (1311–1312) disbanded the Knights Templar.
    • Council of Pisa (1409) attempted to solve the Great Western Schism.
      The council is not numbered because it was not convened by a pope and its outcome was repudiated at Constance.
  9. Council of Constance (1414–1418) resolved the Great Western Schism and condemned John Hus. Also began conciliarism.
    • Council of Siena (1423–1424) addressed church reform.
      Not numbered as it was swiftly disbanded.
  10. Council of Basel, Ferrara and Florence (1431–1445) addressed church reform and reunion with the Eastern Churches but split into two parties. The fathers remaining at Basel became the apogee of conciliarism. The fathers at Florence achieved union with various Eastern Churches and temporarily with the Eastern Orthodox Church.
  11. Fifth Council of the Lateran (1512–1517) addressed church reform.
  12. Council of Trent (1545–1563, with interruptions) addressed church reform and repudiated Protestantism, defined the role and canon of Scripture and the seven sacraments, and strengthened clerical discipline and education. Considered the founding event of the Counter-Reformation.
    Temporarily attended by Lutheran delegates.
  13. First Council of the Vatican (1869–1870) defined the Pope's primacy in church governance and his infallibility, repudiated rationalism, materialism and atheism, addressed revelation, interpretation of scripture and the relationship of faith and reason.
  14. Second Council of the Vatican (1962–1965) addressed pastoral and disciplinary issues dealing with the Church and its relation to the modern world, including liturgy and ecumenism.

Further councils recognised as ecumenical by some Eastern Orthodox

Eastern Orthodox catechisms teach that there are seven ecumenical councils [25] [26] and there are feast days for seven ecumenical councils. [27] [28] Nonetheless, some Eastern Orthodox consider events like the Council of Constantinople of 879–880, [29] that of Constantinople in 1341–1351 and that of Jerusalem in 1672 to be ecumenical:

  1. Council in Trullo (692) debates on ritual observance and clerical discipline in different parts of the Christian Church.
  2. Fourth Council of Constantinople (Eastern Orthodox) (879–880) restored Photius to the See of Constantinople. This happened after the death of Ignatius and with papal approval.
  3. Fifth Council of Constantinople (1341–1351) affirmed hesychastic theology according to Gregory Palamas and condemned Barlaam of Seminara.
  4. Synod of Jassy (1642) reviewed and amended the Peter Mogila's Expositio fidei (Statement of Faith, also known as the Orthodox Confession).
  5. Synod of Jerusalem (1672) defined Orthodoxy relative to Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, defined the orthodox Biblical canon.
  6. Synod of Constantinople (1872) addressing with nationalism or Phyletism in the unity of Orthodoxy.

It is unlikely that formal ecumenical recognition will be granted to these councils, despite the acknowledged orthodoxy of their decisions, so that only seven are universally recognized among the Eastern Orthodox as ecumenical. [30]

The 2016 Pan-Orthodox Council was sometimes referred to as a potential "Eighth Ecumenical Council" following debates on several issues facing Eastern Orthodoxy, however not all autocephalous churches were represented. [31]

Acceptance of the councils

Although some Protestants reject the concept of an ecumenical council establishing doctrine for the entire Christian faith, Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans, Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox all accept the authority of ecumenical councils in principle. Where they differ is in which councils they accept and what the conditions are for a council to be considered "ecumenical". The relationship of the Papacy to the validity of ecumenical councils is a ground of controversy between Roman Catholicism and the Eastern Orthodox Churches. The Roman Catholic Church holds that recognition by the Pope is an essential element in qualifying a council as ecumenical; [32] Eastern Orthodox view approval by the Bishop of Rome (the Pope) as being roughly equivalent to that of other patriarchs. Some have held that a council is ecumenical only when all five patriarchs of the Pentarchy are represented at it. [33] [34] [35] [36] [37] Others reject this theory in part because there were no patriarchs of Constantinople and Jerusalem at the time of the first ecumenical council. [38]

Roman Catholic Church

Both the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches recognize seven councils in the early centuries of the church, but Roman Catholics also recognize fourteen councils in later times called or confirmed by the Pope. [39] At the urging of German King Sigismund, who was to become Holy Roman Emperor in 1433, the Council of Constance was convoked in 1414 by Antipope John XXIII, one of three claimants to the papal throne, and was reconvened in 1415 by the Roman Pope Gregory XII. [40] [41] The Council of Florence is an example of a council accepted as ecumenical in spite of being rejected by the East, as the Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon are accepted in spite of being rejected respectively by the Church of the East and Oriental Orthodoxy.

The Roman Catholic Church teaches that an ecumenical council is a gathering of the College of Bishops (of which the Bishop of Rome is an essential part) to exercise in a solemn manner its supreme and full power over the whole Church. [42] It holds that "there never is an ecumenical council which is not confirmed or at least recognized as such by Peter's successor". [43] Its present canon law requires that an ecumenical council be convoked and presided over, either personally or through a delegate, by the Pope, who is also to decide the agenda; [44] [45] but the church makes no claim that all past ecumenical councils observed these present rules, declaring only that the Pope's confirmation or at least recognition has always been required, and saying that the version of the Nicene Creed adopted at the First Council of Constantinople (381) was accepted by the Church of Rome only seventy years later, in 451. [46] One writer has even claimed that this council was summoned without the knowledge of the pope. [47]

Eastern Orthodox Church

The Eastern Orthodox Church accepts seven ecumenical councils, [48] with the disputed Council in Trullo—rejected by Catholics—being incorporated into, and considered as a continuation of, the Third Council of Constantinople. [49] [50]

To be considered ecumenical, Orthodox accept a council that meets the condition that it was accepted by the whole church. That it was called together legally is also an important factor. A case in point is the Third Ecumenical Council, where two groups met as duly called for by the emperor, each claiming to be the legitimate council. The Emperor had called for bishops to assemble in the city of Ephesus. Theodosius did not attend [51] but sent his representative Candidian to preside. [52] However, Cyril managed to open the council over Candidian's insistent demands that the bishops disperse until the delegation from Syria could arrive. Cyril was able to completely control the proceedings, completely neutralizing Candidian, who favored Cyril's antagonist, Nestorius. When the pro-Nestorius Antiochene delegation finally arrived, they decided to convene their own council, over which Candidian presided. [53] The proceedings of both councils were reported to the emperor, who decided ultimately to depose Cyril, Memnon and Nestorius. [54] Nonetheless, the Orthodox accept Cyril's group as being the legitimate council because it maintained the same teaching that the church has always taught.[ citation needed ]

Paraphrasing a rule by St Vincent of Lérins, Hasler states

...a teaching can only be defined if it has been held to be revealed at all times, everywhere, and by all believers. [55]

Orthodox believe that councils could over-rule or even depose popes. At the Sixth Ecumenical Council, Pope Honorius and Patriarch Sergius were declared heretics. [56] The council anathematized them [57] and declared them tools of the devil [58] and cast them out of the church. [59]

It is their position that, since the Seventh Ecumenical Council, there has been no synod or council of the same scope. Local meetings of hierarchs have been called "pan-Orthodox", but these have invariably been simply meetings of local hierarchs of whatever Eastern Orthodox jurisdictions are party to a specific local matter. From this point of view, there has been no fully "pan-Orthodox" (Ecumenical) council since 787. Unfortunately, the use of the term "pan-Orthodox" is confusing to those not within Eastern Orthodoxy, and it leads to mistaken impressions that these are ersatz ecumenical councils rather than purely local councils to which nearby Orthodox hierarchs, regardless of jurisdiction, are invited.

Others, including 20th-century theologians Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos) of Naupactus, Fr. John S. Romanides, and Fr. George Metallinos (all of whom refer repeatedly to the "Eighth and Ninth Ecumenical Councils"), Fr. George Dragas, and the 1848 Encyclical of the Eastern Patriarchs (which refers explicitly to the "Eighth Ecumenical Council" and was signed by the patriarchs of Constantinople, Jerusalem, Antioch, and Alexandria as well as the Holy Synods of the first three), regard other synods beyond the Seventh Ecumenical Council as being ecumenical. Before the 20th century, the Council at Constantinople in 879 AD was recognised as the 8th ecumenical council by people like the famous expert on Canon Law, Theodore Balsamon (11th century), St. Neilos of Rhodes, St. Mark of Ephesus (15th century), St. Symeon of Thessalonica (15th century), and the Patriarch Dositheos II of Jerusalem in his Tome of Joy (17th century).[ citation needed ]

From the Eastern Orthodox perspective, a council is accepted as being ecumenical if it is accepted by the Eastern Orthodox church at large – clergy, monks and assembly of believers. Teachings from councils that purport to be ecumenical, but which lack this acceptance by the church at large, are, therefore, not considered ecumenical. [60] [61] [62]

Oriental Orthodoxy

Oriental Orthodoxy accepts three ecumenical councils, the First Council of Nicaea, the First Council of Constantinople, and the Council of Ephesus. The formulation of the Chalcedonian Creed caused a schism in the Alexandrian and Syriac churches. Reconciliatory efforts between Oriental Orthodox with the Eastern Orthodox and the Catholic Church in the mid- and late 20th century have led to common Christological declarations. The Oriental and Eastern Churches have also been working toward reconciliation as a consequence of the ecumenical movement.

The Oriental Orthodox hold that the Dyophysite formula of two natures formulated at the Council of Chalcedon is inferior to the Miaphysite formula of "One Incarnate Nature of God the Word" (Byzantine Greek: Mia physis tou theou logou sarkousomene) and that the proceedings of Chalcedon themselves were motivated by imperial politics. The Alexandrian Church, the main Oriental Orthodox body, also felt unfairly underrepresented at the council following the deposition of their Pope, Dioscorus of Alexandria at the council.

Church of the East

The Church of the East accepts two ecumenical councils, the First Council of Nicaea and the First Council of Constantinople. It was the formulation of Mary as the Theotokos which caused a schism with the Church of the East, now divided between the Assyrian Church of the East and the Ancient Church of the East, while the Chaldean Catholic Church entered into full communion with Rome in the 16th century. Meetings between Pope John Paul II and the Assyrian Patriarch Mar Dinkha IV led to a common Christological declaration on 11 November 1994 that "the humanity to which the Blessed Virgin Mary gave birth always was that of the Son of God himself". Both sides recognised the legitimacy and rightness, as expressions of the same faith, of the Assyrian Church's liturgical invocation of Mary as "the Mother of Christ our God and Saviour" and the Catholic Church's use of "the Mother of God" and also as "the Mother of Christ". [63]


Anglican Communion

While the Councils are part of the "historic formularies" of Anglican tradition, [64] it is difficult to locate an explicit reference in Anglicanism to the unconditional acceptance of all Seven Ecumenical Councils. There is little evidence of dogmatic or canonical acceptance beyond the statements of individual Anglican theologians and bishops.

Bishop Chandler Holder Jones, SSC, explains:

We indeed and absolutely believe all Seven Councils are truly ecumenical and Catholic—on the basis of the received Tradition of the ancient Undivided Church of East and West. The Anglican formularies address only particular critical theological and disciplinary concerns of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and that certainly by design. Behind them, however, stands the universal authority of the Holy and Apostolic Tradition, which did not have to be rehashed or redebated by Anglican Catholics. [65]

He quotes William Tighe, Associate Professor of History at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania (another member of the Anglo-Catholic wing of Anglicanism):

...despite the fact that advocates of all sides to the 16th-century religious conflict, Catholic, Lutheran and Reformed alike, were given to claiming that their particular doctrinal stances and, in some cases, distinctive practices, were in accord with those of the Early Church Fathers, or at least with those of high standing (such as St. Augustine), none [but Anglicanism] were willing to require, or even permit, their confessional stances to be judged by, or subordinated to, a hypothetical 'patristic consensus' of the first four or five centuries of Christianity.' But Anglicanism most certainly did, and does so to this day. [65]

Article XXI teaches: "General Councils ... when they be gathered together, forasmuch as they be an assembly of men, whereof all be not governed with the Spirit and word of God, they may err and sometime have erred, even in things pertaining to God. Wherefore things ordained by them as necessary to salvation have neither strength nor authority, unless it may be declared that they be taken out of Holy Scripture." [66]

The 19th Canon of 1571 asserted the authority of the Councils in this manner: "Let preachers take care that they never teach anything...except what is agreeable to the doctrine of the Old and New Testament, and what the Catholic Fathers and ancient Bishops have collected from the same doctrine." [67] This remains the Church of England's teaching on the subject. A modern version of this appeal to catholic consensus is found in the Canon Law of the Church of England and also in the liturgy published in Common Worship :

The Church of England is part of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, worshipping the one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It professes the faith uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds, which faith the Church is called upon to proclaim afresh in each generation. Led by the Holy Spirit, it has borne witness to Christian truth in its historic formularies, the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, The Book of Common Prayer and the Ordering of Bishops, Priests and Deacons. I, AB, do so affirm, and accordingly declare my belief in the faith which is revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds and to which the historic formularies of the Church of England bear witness; and in public prayer and administration of the sacraments, I will use only the forms of service which are authorized or allowed by Canon. [68]

The 1559 Act of Supremacy made a distinction between the decisions of the first four ecumenical councils, which were to be used as sufficient proof that something was heresy, as opposed to those of later councils, which could only be used to that purpose if "the same was declared heresy by the express and plain words of the...canonical Scriptures". [69]

Lutheran and Methodist denominations

Many Protestants (especially those belonging to the magisterial traditions, such as Lutherans, or those such as Methodists, that broke away from the Anglican Communion) accept the teachings of the first seven councils but do not ascribe to the councils themselves the same authority as Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox do. The Lutheran World Federation, in ecumenical dialogues with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople has affirmed all of the first seven councils as ecumenical and authoritative.

Other Protestant denominations

Some, including some fundamentalist Christians, condemn the ecumenical councils for other reasons. Independency or congregationalist polity among Protestants may involve the rejection of any governmental structure or binding authority above local congregations; conformity to the decisions of these councils is therefore considered purely voluntary and the councils are to be considered binding only insofar as those doctrines are derived from the Scriptures. Many of these churches reject the idea that anyone other than the authors of Scripture can directly lead other Christians by original divine authority; after the New Testament, they assert, the doors of revelation were closed and councils can only give advice or guidance, but have no authority. They consider new doctrines not derived from the sealed canon of Scripture to be both impossible and unnecessary whether proposed by church councils or by more recent prophets. Catholic and Orthodox objections to this position point to the fact that the Canon of Scripture itself was fixed by these councils. They conclude that this would lead to a logical inconsistency of a non-authoritative body fixing a supposedly authoritative source.

Nontrinitarian denominations

Ecumenical councils are not recognised by nontrinitarian churches such as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (and other denominations within the Latter Day Saint movement), Jehovah's Witnesses, Church of God (Seventh-Day), their descendants and Unitarians. They view the ecumenical councils as misguided human attempts to establish doctrine, and as attempts to define dogmas by debate rather than by revelation.

See also

Related Research Articles

Council of Chalcedon Fourth Ecumenical Council held in 451; not accepted by Oriental Orthodoxy

The Council of Chalcedon was a church council held from 8 October to 1 November, 451, at Chalcedon, a town of Bithynia in Asia Minor. The Council was called by Emperor Marcian to set aside the 449 Second Council of Ephesus. Its principal purpose was to assert the orthodox catholic doctrine against the heresy of Monophysitism and Eutyches, although ecclesiastical discipline and jurisdiction also occupied the council's attention.

First Council of Constantinople synod

The First Council of Constantinople was a council of Christian bishops convened in Constantinople in AD 381 by the Roman Emperor Theodosius I. This second ecumenical council, an effort to attain consensus in the church through an assembly representing all of Christendom, except for the Western Church, confirmed the Nicene Creed, expanding the doctrine thereof to produce the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, and dealt with sundry other matters. It met from May to July 381 in the Church of Hagia Irene and was affirmed as ecumenical in 451 at the Council of Chalcedon.

Second Council of Constantinople Council of the Christian church held from held from 5 May to 2 June 553

The Second Council of Constantinople is the fifth of the first seven ecumenical councils recognized by both the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church. It is also recognized by the Old Catholics and others. Protestant opinions and recognition of it are varied. Some Protestants, such as Calvinists and Lutherans, recognize the first four councils, whereas most Anglo-Catholics accept all seven. Constantinople II was convoked by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I under the presidency of Patriarch Eutychius of Constantinople. It was held from 5 May to 2 June 553. Participants were overwhelmingly Eastern bishops—only sixteen Western bishops were present, including nine from Illyricum and seven from Africa, but none from Italy—out of the 152 total.

Chalcedonian Christianity refers to the Christian denominations adhering to the christological definitions and ecclesiological resolutions of the Council of Chalcedon, the Fourth Ecumenical Council held in 451. Chalcedonian Christians follow the Definition of Chalcedon, a religious doctrine concerning the divine and human natures of Jesus Christ. The great majority of Christian communions and confessions in the 21st century are Chalcedonian, but from the 5th to the 8th centuries the ascendancy of Chalcedonian Christology was not always certain.

Pope Dioscorus I of Alexandria Patriarch of Alexandria

Pope Dioscorus I of Alexandria, 25th Pope of Alexandria & Patriarch of the See of St. Mark. He was deposed by the Council of Chalcedon in 451 but was recognized as Patriarch by the Coptic Church until his death. He died on the Island of Gangra, Paphlagonia, in September 454. He is venerated as a saint by the Coptic and other Oriental Orthodox churches.

The East–West Schism, also called the Great Schism and the Schism of 1054, was the break of communion between what are now the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Churches, which has lasted since the 11th century. The Schism was the culmination of theological and political differences between the Christian East and West which had developed over the preceding centuries.

Papal primacy Christian ecclesiological doctrine concerning the respect and authority that is due to the Pope

Papal primacy, also known as the primacy of the Bishop of Rome, is a Christian ecclesiological doctrine concerning the respect and authority that is due to the Pope from other bishops and their episcopal sees.

The infallibility of the Church is the belief that the Holy Spirit preserves the Christian Church from errors that would contradict its essential doctrines. It is related to, but not the same as, indefectible, that is, "she remains and will remain the Institution of Salvation, founded by Christ, until the end of the world." The doctrine of infallibility is premised on the authority Jesus granted to the apostles to "bind and loose" and particularly the promises to Peter in regard to papal infallibility.

The Second Council of Ephesus was a Christological church synod in 449 AD convened by Emperor Theodosius II under the presidency of Pope Dioscorus I of Alexandria. It was intended to be an ecumenical council, and it is accepted as such by the miaphysite churches but was rejected by the Chalcedonian dyophysites. It was explicitly repudiated by the next council, the Council of Chalcedon of 451, recognised as the fourth ecumenical council by Chalcedonian Christians, and it was named the Latrocinium or "Robber Council" by Pope Leo I. The Chalcedonian churches, particularly the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox communions, continue to accept this designation, while the Oriental Orthodox repudiate it.

Catholicity is a concept pertaining to beliefs and practices widely accepted across numerous Christian denominations, most notably those that describe themselves as Catholic in accordance with the Four Marks of the Church, as expressed in the Nicene Creed of the First Council of Constantinople in 381: "[I believe] in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church."

Catholic Church and ecumenism

The Catholic Church has engaged in the modern ecumenical movement especially since the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) and the issuing of the decree Unitatis redintegratio and the declaration Dignitatis humanae. It was at the Council that the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity was created. Before that time, those outside of the Catholic Church were categorised as heretics or schismatics.

First seven ecumenical councils

In the history of Christianity, the first seven ecumenical councils include the following: the First Council of Nicaea in 325, the First Council of Constantinople in 381, the Council of Ephesus in 431, the Council of Chalcedon in 451, the Second Council of Constantinople in 553, the Third Council of Constantinople from 680–681 and finally, the Second Council of Nicaea in 787.

History of the East–West Schism refers to history of the East–West Schism that occurred in 1054, representing one of the most significant events in the history of Christianity. It includes various events and processes that led to the Schism, and also those events and processes that occurred as a result of the Schism. Eastern and Western Christians had a history of differences and disagreements, some dating back even to the period of Early Christianity. At the very root of what later became the Great Schism were several questions of pneumatology and ecclesiology. The most important theological difference occurred over various questions regarding the procession of the Holy Spirit, and the use of the Filioque clause in the Creed. One of the main ecclesiological issues was the question of Papal supremacy. Other points of difference were related to various liturgical, mainly ritual and disciplinary customs and practices. Some political and cultural processes also contributed to the breakout of the Schism.

The doctrines of Petrine primacy and papal primacy are perhaps the most contentiously disputed in the history of Christianity. Theologians regard the doctrine of papal primacy as having developed gradually in the West due to the convergence of a number of factors, e.g., the dignity of Rome as the only apostolic see in the West; the tradition that both Peter and Paul had been martyred there; Rome's long history as a capital of the Roman Empire; and its continuing position as the chief center of commerce and communication.

The doctrine of the primacy of the Roman Bishops, like other Catholic Church teachings and instructions, has gone through a development. Thus the establishment of the Primacy recorded in the Gospels has been gradually more clearly recognized and its implications developed. Clear recognition of the consciousness of the Primacy of the Roman Bishops, and of the recognition of the Primacy by the other churches appear at the end of the 1st century…St. Ignatius elevated the Roman community over all the communities using in his epistle a solemn form of address. Twice he says of it that it is the presiding community, which expresses a relationship of superiority and inferiority.

Oriental Orthodox Churches Branch of Eastern Christianity

The Oriental Orthodox Churches are a group of Christian churches adhering to miaphysite Christology and theology, and together have 60 to 70 million members worldwide.

Christianity in the 5th century Christianity-related events during the 5th century

In the 5th century in Christianity, there were many developments which led to further fracturing of the State church of the Roman Empire. Emperor Theodosius II called two synods in Ephesus, one in 431 and one in 449, that addressed the teachings of Patriarch of Constantinople Nestorius and similar teachings. Nestorius had taught that Christ's divine and human nature were distinct persons, and hence Mary was the mother of Christ but not the mother of God. The Council rejected Nestorius' view causing many churches, centered on the School of Edessa, to a Nestorian break with the imperial church. Persecuted within the Roman Empire, many Nestorians fled to Persia and joined the Sassanid Church thereby making it a center of Nestorianism. By the end of the 5th century, the global Christian population was estimated at 10-11 million. In 451 the Council of Chalcedon was held to clarify the issue further. The council ultimately stated that Christ's divine and human nature were separate but both part of a single entity, a viewpoint rejected by many churches who called themselves miaphysites. The resulting schism created a communion of churches, including the Armenian, Syrian, and Egyptian churches, that is today known as Oriental Orthodoxy. In spite of these schisms, however, the imperial church still came to represent the majority of Christians within the Roman Empire.

Christianity in late antiquity

Christianity in late antiquity traces Christianity during the Christian Roman Empire – the period from the rise of Christianity under Emperor Constantine, until the fall of the Western Roman Empire. The end-date of this period varies because the transition to the sub-Roman period occurred gradually and at different times in different areas. One may generally date late ancient Christianity as lasting to the late 6th century and the re-conquests under Justinian of the Byzantine Empire, though a more traditional end-date is 476, the year in which Odoacer deposed Romulus Augustus, traditionally considered the last western emperor.

History of Eastern Orthodox theology

The history of Eastern Orthodox Christian theology begins with the life of Jesus and the forming of the Christian Church. Major events include the Chalcedonian schism with the Oriental Orthodox miaphysites, the Iconoclast controversy, the Photian schism, the Great Schism between East and West, and the Hesychast controversy. The period after the Second World War saw a re-engagement with the Greek, and more recently Syriac, Fathers that included a rediscovery of the theological works of St. Gregory Palamas, which has resulted in a renewal of Orthodox theology in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Eastern Orthodox opposition to papal supremacy Religious disagreement

The Eastern Orthodox Church is opposed to the Roman Catholic doctrine of papal supremacy. While not denying that some form of primacy could exist for the Bishop of Rome, Orthodox Christians argue that the tradition of Rome's primacy in the early Church was not equivalent to the current doctrine of supremacy.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to the Catholic Ecumenical Councils.


  1. Encyclopædia Britannica, "Council"
  2. "Catholic Encyclopedia".
  3. Online Etymology Dictionary: Ecumenical
  4. Coptic Orthodox Christian Center, "The Coptic Church"
  5. St Thomas Aquinas, S. Th. II, II, q. 11, a. 2 "Now a thing may be of the faith in two ways, in one way, directly and principally, e.g. the articles of faith; in another way, indirectly and secondarily, e.g. those matters, the denial of which leads to the corruption of some article of faith; and there may be heresy in either way, even as there can be faith."
  6. Vatican I, Dei Filius ch. 3 ¶ 1. Vatican II, Lumen Gentium § 25 ¶ 2. 1983 Code of Canon Law 749 § 2.
  7. "The infallibility of the Church does not mean that the Church, in the assembly of the Fathers or in the expression of the Conscience of the Church, has already formally expressed all the truths of faith and norms. The infallibility of the Church is confined to the formulation of truths in question. This infallibility is not wholly God-inspired energy which would affect the participants of the synod to such an extent that they would be inspired to pronounce all the truths at one time as a whole system of a Christian catechism. The Synod does not formulate a system of beliefs encompassing all Christian teachings and truths, but only endeavours to define the particular disputed truth which was misunderstood and misinterpreted. The Church of Christ and its divine nature, as set forth above, is the foundation upon which the Eastern Orthodox Church [sic.] continues to administer and nourish its faithful, thereby protecting its fundamental essentials." Rev. George Mastrantonis, of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
  8. Hans Schneider, "Councils of the Church", The Encyclopedia of Christianity (Grand Rapids, Michigan; Leiden, Netherlands: Wm. B. Eerdmans; Brill, 1999–2003), 701.
  9. Thomas J. Reese, Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church, (Harvard University Press, 1996), 35.
  10. 1 2 Historical Theology: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine – Gregg Allison, Wayne Grude. mGoogle Books.
  11. 1 2 The Ecumenical Patriarchate – Demetrius Kimina. sGoogle Books (27 March 2009).
  12. Benson, Edward (1897). Cyprian: His Life, His Times, His Work. Kessinger Publishing. p.  348. ISBN   978-1-41796979-1.
  13. Cunliffe-Jones, Hubert, ed. (2006). A History of Christian Doctrine. Continuum International. p. 193. ISBN   978-0-56704393-1.
  14. Cholij, Roman (2002). Theodore the Stoudite. Oxford University Press. p. 56. ISBN   978-0-19924846-9.
  15. Fage, J.D. (1979). The Cambridge History of Africa. 2. Cambridge University Press. p. 440. ISBN   978-0-52121592-3.
  16. McGuckin, John Anthony (2004). Saint Cyril of Alexandria and the Christological Controversy. St Vladimir's Seminary Press. p. 69. ISBN   978-0-88141-259-8.
  17. Wikisource-logo.svg Wilhelm, Joseph (1908). "General Councils"  . In Herbermann, Charles (ed.). Catholic Encyclopedia . 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company. cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 247 Archived 3 March 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  18. "Frequently asked questions about the date of Easter — World Council of Churches". Retrieved 31 March 2017.
  19. "RUSSIA-VATICAN Moscow Patriarchate to Pope: On Easter a gesture of goodwill, but we will not overturn old traditions". Retrieved 31 March 2017.
  20. Kidd, Beresford James (2013). Churches of Eastern Christendom (reprint of 1927 first ed.). Routledge. p. 43. ISBN   978-0-7103-1081-1 . Retrieved 9 February 2020.
  21. The appellation "troullos" (Latin trullus, dome) comes from a dome-roofed palace in Constantinople, where the council was hosted.
  22. 1 2 3 Francis Dvornik, "Which Councils are Ecumenical?" Journal of Ecumenical Studies 3(2), 1966, pp. 314–328. (10 December 2006).
  23. Tanner, Norman (2011). New Short History of the Catholic Church. A&C Black. p. 242. ISBN   978-1-44116212-0.
  24. Flinn, Frank K. (2006). Encyclopedia of Catholicism. Infobase Publishing. pp. 193–197. ISBN   978-0-81607565-2.
  25. Archived 30 October 2013 at the Wayback Machine "The Seven Ecumenical Councils of the Orthodox Catholic Church", Retrieved 2013-08-11
  26. "Sources of Christian Doctrine The Councils", Retrieved 2013-08-11
  27. "Sunday of the Fathers of the First Six Councils", Retrieved 2013-08-11
  28. Archived 14 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine "OFFICE OF THE HOLY FATHERS OF THE SEVENTH ECUMENICAL COUNCIL", Retrieved 2013-08-11
  29. "In 879, two years after the death of Patriarch Ignatius, another council was summoned (many consider it the Eighth Ecumenical Council), and again St. Photius was acknowledged as the lawful archpastor of the Church of Constantinople" (Orthodox Church in America).
  30. "Documents". Orthodox Answers. 5 May 2010. Archived from the original on 26 September 2010.
  31. Towards the "Eighth" Ecumenical Council
  32. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 884 Archived 29 April 2011 at the Wayback Machine . (20 February 1946).
  33. Dvornik, Francis (1961). The Ecumenical Councils. Hawthorn Books. p. 80.
  34. Aloysius Sullivan, Francis (2010). Magisterium. Paulist Press. p. 86. ISBN   978-0-8091-2577-7.
  35. Conradie, E M.; Gouws, R. H.; Prinsloo, D. J., eds. (2005). Christian Identity. University of the Western Cape. p. 23. ISBN   1-919980-88-1.
  36. Donald Davis, Leo (1992). The First Seven Ecumenical Councils (325–787). Michael Glazier. p. 325. ISBN   978-0-8146-5616-7.
  37. Rahner, Karl (1999). Encyclopedia of Theology. Burns & Oates. p. 388. ISBN   978-0-86012-006-3.
  38. Whitehead, Kenneth D. (2000). One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic . Ignatius Press. p.  104. ISBN   978-0-89870-802-8.
  39. Reese, Thomas J. (1988). Inside the Vatican. Harvard University Press. p. 35. ISBN   978-0-674-93261-6.
  40. Deely, John (2001). Four Ages of Understanding. University of Toronto Press. p. 401. ISBN   978-1-44261301-0.
  41. Espín, Orlando O.; Nickoloff, James B., eds. (2007). An Introductory Dictionary of Theology and Religious Studies. Liturgical Press. p. 274. ISBN   978-0-81465856-7.
  42. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 883–884 Archived 29 April 2011 at the Wayback Machine states: "The college or body of bishops has no authority unless united with the Roman Pontiff, Peter's successor, as its head. As such, this college has supreme and full authority over the universal Church; but this power cannot be exercised without the agreement of the Roman Pontiff. The college of bishops exercises power over the universal Church in a solemn manner in an ecumenical council."
  43. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 884
  44. Code of Canon Law, canon 338 Archived 25 May 2012 at the Wayback Machine .
  45. Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, canon 51
  46. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 247.
  47. Whelton, M., (1998) Two Paths: Papal Monarchy – Collegial Tradition (Regina Orthodox Press; Salisbury, Massachusetts), p51.
  48. The Councils at Orthodox Church in America
  49. The Ecumenical Councils of the Orthodox Church Archived 22 July 2012 at the Wayback Machine at OrthodoxChristianInfo
  50. Runciman, S., (1977), The Byzantine Theocracy, (Cambridge University Press), p61.
  51. Runciman, S., (1977), The Byzantine Theocracy, (Cambridge University Press), p37.
  52. Garry Wills (10 September 2003). Why I Am a Catholic. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. pp. 82–. ISBN   978-0-618-38048-0 . Retrieved 9 October 2011.
  53. Bury, J. B., (1958), History of the later Roman Empire: from the death of Theodosius I to the death of Justinian (A.D. 395 to A.D. 565) (Volume 1) ,(Dover Publications; NY), p353
  54. McKinion, S. A., (2000), Words, Imagery, and the Mystery of Christ: A Reconstruction of Cyril of Alexandria's Christology (Supplements to Vigiliae Christianae, V. 55), (Brill Academic Pub) p13.
  55. Hasler, A. B., (1981) How the Pope Became Infallible: Pius IX and the Politics of Persuasion (Doubleday; Garden City, New York), p153.
  56. Sixth Ecumenical Council – Session XIII. The Sentence Against the Monothelites. (L. and C., Concilia, Tom. VI., col. 943.)
  57. Session XVI. (Labbe and Cossart, Concilia, Tom. VI., col. 1010.)
  58. The Definition of Faith. (Found in the Acts, Session XVIII., L. and C., Concilia, Tom. VI., col. 1019.)
  59. The Prosphoneticus to the Emperor. (Labbe and Cossart, Concilia, Tom. VI., col. 1047 et seqq.)
  60. Hasler, A. B. (1981). How the Pope Became Infallible: Pius IX and the Politics of Persuasion . Garden City, New York: Doubleday. p.  153.
  61. "Ecumenicity at Orthodox Wiki". An ecclesiological theory which has been popular since the time of the Slavophile philosopher Alexis Khomiakov first defined it is that ecumenicity—the idea that a particular council is of universal, infallible significance for the Church—is determined by the reception of the whole body of the Church.
  62. "Sunday of the Holy Fathers from the 4th Ecumenical Council – The Right Worship". Archived from the original on 2 April 2012. Retrieved 18 September 2011. So the new teachings, that are outside the ecumenical councils cannot be accepted because they have not been verified (by) the whole body of the Church.
  63. Common Christological Declaration between the Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East Archived 4 January 2009 at the Wayback Machine . (11 November 1994).
  64. For additional references to this section and for more on the Anglican position, see Dr CB Moss The Church of England and the Seventh Council
  65. 1 2 The Seven Ecumenical Councils in Anglicanism. (2008-10-27). Retrieved on 2012-05-15.
  66. An Exposition Of The Thirty-Nine Articles V2: Historical And Doctrinal by Edward Harold Browne.
  67. The Sufficiency of Holy Scripture as the Rule of Faith by Daniel Wilson, Anglican Bishop of Calcutta.
  68. See Common Worship ISBN   0-7151-2000-X
  69. G. R. Elton (ed.), The Tudor Constitution: Documents and Commentary (Cambridge, 1960), p. 368. Via Dr Colin Podmore, "Blessed Virgin: Mary and the Anglican Tradition", p. 15, note 12, Assumptiontide Lecture 2014, St Mary and All Saints, Walsingham

Further reading