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The Seven Councils: 1st Constantinople, 381
The Seven Councils: Nicaea, 325AD
The Seven Councils: Introduction

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 12:56 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 04, 2005

The Seven Councils: Nicaea, 325AD

{This is the last repost on this series. All further posts will be new ones. Promise}

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?"And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 16:13-17 ESV)

The Council of Nicea was called to answer one basic question that had been plaguing Christians for the past hundred years -- how can a faith that affirms the basic unity of God also assert the diety of Jesus Christ? There were many attenpts to answer this question, but all were unsatisfactory at some point. Some, adoptionists like Theodotus, taught that Jesus was born a normal man, and that the Christ, the Logos of God, descended upon him at his baptism. This denied the eternal existance of God (which the Bible clearly teaches). Others, such as the monarchians, acknowledged the diety of Christ but denied that He was distinct from the Father. This lead ultimately to the idea of patripassianists -- those who taught that the Father Himself suffered on the cross. There is no distinction between the Father and the Son -- which minimizes, or even obscurs, the humanity of Christ. In fact, many who believed this ultimately taught that Christ's humanity was an illusion -- a clear contradiction of Christ's teaching, especially after the resurrection.

Ultimately, each attempt to reconcile Christ's diety with Judeo-Christian monotheism strayed in one of two directions: either emphasizing the humanity of Christ at the expense of his diety, or affirming his diety while minimizing his humanity. Early Christians recognized the problem, and spent a lot of time trying to come up with a solution that would affirm His diety and humanity. Nicea was the first step; later councils would address Christ's dual nature (Ephesus and Chalcedon), and the wills of Christ (3rd Constantinople). Trinitarian thought was further developed at 1st Constantinople, when the diety of the Holy Spirit was affirmed. Each of these councils will be treated in depth later on in the series.

The issue that finally made a general church council necessary was the prevelance of the teachings of Arius. Arius believed that the Son was divine, and was the agent of creation, but the Son was not God. They were similar, but not the same. Arius taught that God created the Son to act as His agent in creation, so that "All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. (Joh 1:3 ESV)" Arius had been excommunicated twice for his unorthodox beliefs, and finally left Alexandria for Palestine, and won support for his beliefs there. Soon Arianism spread throughout Christendom.

The chief opponent of Arius was Athanasius, the bishop of Alexandria. Athanasius advocated the idea of Christ being consubstantial with God and coeternal with God. "There was no time when He was not" vs. "There was a time when he was not." "homoousios"(of the same substance) vs. "homoiousios"(of like substance) -- amazing what the addition or subtraction of one vowel can do to a word in Greek.

The exact number of bishops present at the council is uncertain. Eusebias records 250, Athanasius himself says around 300. The most commonly accepted number is 318, given by Hilary of Poitier. The bishops heard arguement from both sides, and judged the issue by Scripture, finally determining that the Arian position was incorrect and, in fact, heretical.

We believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible; and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten of the Father, that is, of the substance [ek tes ousias] of the Father, God of God, light of light, true God of true God, begotten not made, of the same substance with the Father [homoousion to patri], through whom all things were made both in heaven and on earth; who for us men and our salvation descended, was incarnate, and was made man, suffered and rose again the third day, ascended into heaven and cometh to judge the living and the dead. And in the Holy Ghost. Those who say: There was a time when He was not, and He was not before He was begotten; and that He was made our of nothing (ex ouk onton); or who maintain that He is of another hypostasis or another substance [than the Father], or that the Son of God is created, or mutable, or subject to change, [them] the Catholic Church anathematizes.
The decision, contrary to popular opinion, was near unanimous. Five bishops disagreed, though that number was quickly reduced to two -- Theonas of Marmarica and Secundus of Ptolemais. Both of these men were exiled and anathematized.

The major issue of the council was thus settled, and yet at the same time, it wasn't. Later councils would address the idea of the person of Christ and the nature of Christ, in an attempt to express exactly how He could be both God and man at the same time. Christological conflict was not over, but at Nicea an important foundation was established.

Other issues that were addressed by the council included the controversy over the date of Easter, and another schismatic named Melitus of Lycopolis, whose name has gone down in obscurity just as Arius' has gone down in infamy.
Additional Sources:
The Medieval Sourcebook documents from the First Council of Nicea.
The First Council of Nicea
The Catholic Encyclopedia articles on: Arius, Arianism, and the First Council of Nicea

Posted by Warren Kelly at 02:24 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Seven Councils: Introduction

{This is a repost of the beginning of the series from the old place. I'm putting it here in the hopes that I can get the rest of the series done.}

Nobody will ever write a history of Europe that will make any sort of sense, until he does justice to the Councils of the Church ...
---G.K. Chesterton

The first two centuries after the death of Christ were marked by periods of intense persecution of the church. The early Christians had little time to concern themselves with systematizing their beliefs -- their primary concern was to preach the Gospel of Christ, to make converts. Some early Christians were able to pass along teachings that they had learned from others, but there was some unity in these teachings, as they all came from a common source. As the apostles and their students began to die, however, the church was faced with a problem.

Teachers arose whose doctrine was not considered true. Controversy arose between followers of different teachers, some of whom claimed to have a "new revelation" of truth from God. The early church quickly established a canon of Scripture, so that everyone knew which books were authoritative and could be used in discerning what true doctrine was. Of course, not everyone agreed even on this point. And so Councils were called.

The idea of a council of church leaders was not new to the fourth century. The early church based their councils on the model set in Acts 15, when the apostles gathered to discuss the conditions under which Gentiles would be welcomed into the new faith. A council was called in 175 to address growing concerns about Montanism, and in 190 to reconcile Eastern and Western methods of determining the date of the Easter celebration (which was really never fully resolved). Cyprian of Carthage called one in 256 to discuss problems relating to persecution of believers in North Africa. Councils were widely used by the early Christians to attenpt to resolve disputes among believers. In this series, though, I will focus specifically on seven councils which are commonly called the Seven Ecumenical Councils because thier rulings were considered to be binding on all of Christianity, and the subjects delt with affected Christians all over the world.

Today, many Christians are ignorant of the councils -- especially Protestant Christians, who tend to regard tradition as something to be ignored and avoided in favor of Scripture. This is unfortunate, because much of our theology is based on these councils, who based their decisions on Scripture. Tradition and Scripture can exist side-by-side -- we simply must be sure that tradition never trumps Scripture. Scripture must be our principle guide, and when tradition and Scripture conflict, it is tradition that is wrong.

Church history is one of my passions. I love looking at the development of Christian theology, and seeing how early Christians looked at the Bible. I think that there is value in exploring where we have come from -- the more we know about our past, the better we can deal with our present, and look forward to the future. Controversies that the Church has delt with in the past can also be a help to us today, and that's what I am hoping to bring out in this series.

In this series, I am going to take a look at each Council individually, the reasons it was convened, it's decisions, and the fallout from it. Then, I am going to look at the Council's statements in light of Scripture, and see where tradition has taken over from the Bible as our guide in faith. I'm going to try to leave preconceptions at the door when I do this, but to an extent that is not possible. I am a conservative Protestant Chrisitan, with all the baggage that comes along with it. And I hope to have some comments from people who disagree with me -- I hope that we can learn from each other.

The series is going to be a little more scholarly than other things that I do here. The wisecracks and sarcasm I tend to inject in many posts won't be there. But I hope I won't make this study too dry, because there is value in it.

My principle source for this is going to be Leo Donald Davis' book The First Seven Ecumenical Councils (327-787): Their History and Heritage. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1983. This should combat my own preconceptions and prejudices, since the book is written from a Roman Cathollic perspective. I'll note any additional sources at the bottom of each post, so that you can do your own study, and see if I'm getting it right!

Posted by Warren Kelly at 02:21 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack
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