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July 02, 2005

The Seven Councils: 1st Constantinople, 381

There was still controversy after the Council at Nicea. Arianism had been defeated, but Semi-Arians (including Apollinarians and Macedonians) were still quite active. There was enough ambiguity in the Nicene Creed, they thought, to allow them to disagree with the Christology established at Nicea. The reign of Julian the Apostate allowed these groups to flourish, since the Church was unable to organize a Council to deal with their aberrant beliefs. The actions of Constantius also had a great deal to do with this flourishing of heterodoxy; his own opinions changed, and he allowed greater freedom for followers of a modified form of Arianism prior to his death.

Interestingly, 1st Constantinople is not a true ecumenical council -- it was convoked as a regional council by Theodosious, and attended by only 150 bishops, all from eastern churches. It was affirmed as ecumenical at Chalcedon in 451. The creed that was formulated is a modified form of the Nicene Creed, which is still used in the Orthodox Church.

There are four undisputed canons of this council. The first was a more explicit condemnation of Arianism and semi-Arianism. It says "the faith of the 318 fathers who assembled at Nicaea in Bithynia is not to be made void, but shall continue to be established."

The second canon is a rather interesting statement concerning church autonomy. Bishops were encouraged to confine their activities to their own churches, and not exercise ecclesiastic authority unless invited by the bishop of that area. There seems to have been some notion of local church autonomy, even in the fourth century AD.

The third canon gives the bishop of Constantinople pre-eminence after the bishop of Rome, because Constantinople is the new Rome. This canon caused problems because of the contention that it made the bishop of Constantinople equal to the bishop of Rome.

The fourth canon declared to consecration of Maximus invalid. Maximus was a Cynic philosopher who was consecrated for purely political reasons.

The last three canons have never been recognized by the Roman Catholic Church, under the assessment that they were later additions. The Orthodox Church does hold them to be legitimate.

The fifth is a recognition of "those in Antioch who confess a single Godhead of Father and Son and holy Spirit," probably a defense of Paul of Antioch.

The sixth deals with false accusations agains orthodox clergy. "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." This is a justification of the way the council handled itself.

The final canon affirms that those who leave heresy and return to the orthodox Christian faith are to be welcomed back into the Church "when they hand in statements and anathematise every heresy which is not of the same mind as the holy, catholic and apostolic church of God." This shows the ultimate goal of the council is not to condemn but to restore.

{note: the article on this council at Wikipedia is not completely accurate.}

Posted by Warren Kelly at July 2, 2005 12:56 PM | TrackBack
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