National Catholic Church
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Church Councils
Council of Nicea 325 AD
Council of Constantinople 381 AD
Council of Ephesius 431 AD
Council of Chalcedon 481 AD
Council of Constantinople II 553 AD
Council of Constantinople III    680-1 AD
Council of Nicea II 787 AD

Council of Nicea   (325 AD)
Setting & Purpose
The First Council of Nicaea was convened in 325 by the Roman Emperor Constantine.  Constantine had hoped to unite his empire under the banner of Christianity, but now saw such unity threatened by a grave theological dispute.  Hosius of Cordoba recommended a council as the means to address the brewing controversy and Constantine responded by calling church leaders to Nicaea in Bithynia (modern-day Iznik, Turkey).  Somewhere between 250 and 318 bishops from across the Roman empire attended, and the council began its formal deliberations on May 20.

The major issue the council was charged with addressing was the nature of Christ’s divinity, and in particular, the relationship between the Father and the Son.  As a secondary matter the council was to debate the celebration of Easter.

Major Characters
The two most important figures at the council were Athanasius, a young deacon who came as a companion to Bishop Alexander of Alexandria, and Arius, a controversial presbyter and priest from Alexandria.  Constantine was present as an overseer, but did not vote.

The Conflict
The conflict at the heart of the First Council of Nicaea involved the nature of God the Son in relation to God the Father.  On one side of the conflict were those who held that Jesus Christ was created by the Father and on the other side were those who held that Jesus Christ was begotten by the Father.

Arius was the lead proponent of the created position.  He held that God the Son was God’s first creation and that through him everything else was made (Colossians 1:15).  This made the Son the only direct creation of the Father and thus unique among all creation as the first and greatest created being.  He believed that the Father’s divinity was greater than the Son’s, and cited John 14:28 in support of his position: “You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’  If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.”  Arius said, “If the Father begat the Son, he that was begotten had a beginning of existence: and from this it is evident, that there was a time when the Son was not.”

Alexander of Alexandria and his protege Athanasius held that Christ was begotten, not created, and was, therefore, fully equal to the Father.  The council agreed with this view and understood that Arianism undermined the unity of the Godhead, making the Father greater than the Son and contradicting such scriptures as John 10:30 and John 1:1.  Over the course of the council, the great majority of the delegates came to agree with Athanasius that the Son had an eternal derivation from the Father but was nonetheless co-eternal and equally divine.  Athanasius explained, “Jesus that I know as my Redeemer cannot be less than God.”

The Result
The debate lasted from May 20 until June 19, at which point the council produced an initial form of the Nicaean Creed which explicitly affirmed the begotten position and condemned Arianism.  All but two of the attendees voted in its favor and those two, along with Arius, were excommunicated and banished to Illyria.  All of Arius’ writings were ordered confiscated and burned.

Here is the original version of the creed (which was adjusted at the Second Ecumenical Council in Constantinople in 381).
We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible.  And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father [the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made both in heaven and on earth]; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man; He suffered, and the third day he rose again, ascended into heaven; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.  And in the Holy Ghost.  But those who say: ‘There was a time when he was not;’ and ‘He was not before he was made;’ and ‘He was made out of nothing,’ or ‘He is of another substance’ or ‘essence,’ or ‘The Son of God is created,’ or ‘changeable,’ or ‘alterable,’ they are condemned by the holy catholic and apostolic Church.
The council also agreed on a date to celebrate Easter.  In a circular letter Constantine issued after the council, he explained: “At the council we also considered the issue of our holiest day, Easter, and it was determined by common consent that everyone, everywhere should celebrate it on one and the same day.”

Lasting Significance
The First Council of Nicaea is most significant in settling an essential issue related to the divinity and humanity of Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ was decreed to be eternal and divine, equal with the Father, and infinitely greater than a created being.  However, the Council is also significant as the first attempt to achieve a consensus among all Christians through a debate between representatives from the opposing sides.  It set a precedent for holding councils to decide other doctrinal and practical church matters, and for turning these decisions into creeds and canon law.

It would be 56 years before the next council, First Council of Constantinople.

Council of Constantinople   (381 AD)
Setting & Purpose
The First Council of Constantinople was held in Constantinople, modern day Istanbul, Turkey.  It was convened by Theodosius I who at that time was Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire.  The council met from May to July, 381.

The council was convened to try to unite a church that remained divided over the issue of Christ’s nature and his relationship with the Father.  Though the First Council of Nicaea had already attempted to reach consensus, Arianism and other heterodox understandings remained a battleground in every region of the empire.

Major Characters
There were 150 Eastern bishops present at the council and among them were a handful of notable characters.

Meletius, bishop of Antioch served as the first president of the council, but died shortly after it began.

Gregory of Nazianzus was elected bishop of Constantinople at the start of the council and, after the death of Meletius, took over as president.  However, shortly thereafter, the legality of his election was challenged based on a canon from the Council of Nicaea that bishops cannot be transferred from see to see (Gregory had previously been bishop in Sasima).  This dispute prompted Gregory to resign from the bishopric and presidency.

Nectarius was a civil official who was quickly baptized so he could take over as bishop of Constantinople and president of the council when Gregory stepped down.

The Conflict
The main business of the council was to reestablish the doctrine that had been set forth in the Nicene Creed.  They did this by writing a new creed to remove some of the language of the Nicene Creed that had proven controversial and problematic.  They also adding further clarification at other points where doctrine had developed a little further, or where orthodoxy was being challenged.

One specific area where doctrine had developed was in regard to the Holy Spirit.  The council attributed four things to the Holy Spirit:
“a divine title, ‘Lord,’
divine functions of giving life which He possesses by nature and of inspiring the prophets,
an origin from the Father not by creation but by procession,
supreme worship equal to that rendered to Father and to Son” (from Leo Donal Davis, The First Seven Ecumenical Councils).

The council sought to use biblical language to describe the Spirit so as to make the doctrine as palatable as possible to all present. Nevertheless, thirty-six Macedonian bishops left because they were not willing to accept such high language for the Holy Spirit. Eustathius of Sebaste represented their view when he said, “For my part I neither choose to name the Holy Spirit God, nor should I presume to call him a creature.”

The Result
The foremost result of the Council was the Creed of Constantinople.  It was very similar to the Nicene Creed, but it removed the anathema against Arianism.
We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.  And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds (aeons), Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man; he was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered, and was buried, and the third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father; from thence he shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.  And in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceeds from the Father, who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified, who spake by the prophets. In one holy catholic and apostolic Church; we acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.  Amen.
Apart from reaffirming the faith of Nicaea, the council also approved several other items.  Most noticeable was the canon asserting that “The Bishop of Constantinople shall have primacy of honor after the Bishop of Rome, because Constantinople is the new Rome.”  In the time between Nicaea and Constantinople, Constantine had rebuilt and dedicated Constantinople as the new capital of the Roman empire.  Assuming such authority for the bishop of Constantinople was a threat to Rome and the power of her bishop.  It was considered a serious affront because there was no spiritual significance to Constantinople (whereas Rome’s bishopric claimed to have succeeded from Peter).  This seemingly small change would cause all manner of grief in the centuries to come.

Lasting Significance
The First Council of Constantinople was significant theologically and administratively.  Leo Donal Davis (cited above) aptly summarizes each: “Theologically, it had carried on the logic of the Council of Nicaea and cautiously applied that Council’s reasoning about the Son’s relation to the Father to the Holy Spirit, though confining its statement to biblical terminology.  Administratively, the Council continued the eastern practice of accommodating the ecclesiastical organization to the civil organization of the Empire, sowing the seeds of discord among the four great sees of East and West by raising the ecclesiastical status of Constantinople to correspond to its civil position as New Rome.”

The council was significant, but many councils would remain before there would be that unified Christian doctrine.

Council of Ephesius   (431 AD)
Setting & Purpose
The Council of Ephesus was convened in 431 by Theodosius II, emperor of the eastern half of the Roman empire, and he did so at the request of Nestorius.  Nestorius’ teaching about the nature of Christ was generating a great deal of controversy in the church, and he requested a council in the hopes of being able to prove his orthodoxy and silence his detractors.  While Theodosius did not attend, he sent the head of his imperial palace guard, Count Candidian, to represent him.  The council met in Ephesus, near present-day Selcuk in Turkey with between 200 and 250 bishops in attendance.

This council came at a time of conflict over authority within the church.  The First Council of Constantinople had established the bishop of Constantinople as second in authority following Rome, whose bishop carried the title of Pope and who claimed his authority from the line of Peter.  Alexandria and Antioch were also powerful bishoprics and their schools of Christology historically came from different positions.  Leo Davis explains: “Just as all philosophers are said to be basically either Aristotelian or Platonist, so, roughly speaking, all theologians are in Christology either Antiochene, beginning with the Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels and attempting to explain how this man is also God, or Alexandrian, beginning with the Word of John’s Prologue and attempting to understand the implications of the Logos taking flesh.”  This council would further expose the rift between the two schools of Christology.

Major Characters
Though he would not actually be present, the dominant personality at the Council of Ephesus was Nestorius who was originally from Antioch in Syria.  Nestorious was a gifted speaker who had been appointed by Theodosius II as Archbishop of Constantinople.  The second major character was Cyril, Archbishop of Alexandria.  The two men would represent the two sides in a conflict with profound implications to the Christian faith.

The Conflict
Once in Constantinople, Nestorius found himself caught between two factions: one faction insisted on calling Mary Theotokos (“God-bearer”) while the other rejected the title because they held that an eternal being could not be born.  (Theotokos was an ancient title for Mary that had been in use since the 3rd century, used by such men as Origen, Athanasius, and Gregory of Nazianzus.)  In an attempt to mediate the dispute, Nestorius suggested calling Mary Christotokos (“Christ-bearer”).  He wanted to affirm that Christ had a fully human nature rather than a nature mixed with his Deity.  He also wanted to affirm the full reality of his Deity, which Nestorius believed could not involve change or suffering.  By calling Mary Christotokos, Nestorius was suggesting that she gave birth to Christ, which was the prosopon (lit. in Greek “face” or “mask”) of the Son—the single perceived object of the Son, but internally consisting of two distinct natures, one human and the other divine.

Then news of Nestorius’ teachings reached Cyril, he responded privately to Nestorius, but also publicly, and this resulted in several letters back and forth in what became a growing public debate.  Some have suggested that Cyril was partly motivated not only by theology, but by the political implications of an Antiochene theologian now holding the chair of the second highest bishopric.  In addition to these letters, Cyril wrote to Pope Celestine, who convened a synod in Rome and soon called for Nestorius to recant his teaching.  Cyril also convened a synod in Alexandria, which came to the same decision.  He wrote to Nestorius to deliver the news of both Rome’s and Alexandria’s synods and to call on him to recant.  By this time Nestorius had already appealed to Theodosius II for a council and the emperor had agreed.  At the council, Cyril would be the major defender of calling Mary Theotokos and the statement that Christ is the perfect unity of God and man.

Because the Pope did not attend the council, Cyril was made president.  The council was scheduled to begin on June 7th but had to be postponed when a major contingency of bishops from the East (most notably John, the bishop of Antioch) had not arrived.  On the 22nd, Cyril finally decided to convene the council without them.  Despite repeated requests for his attendance, Nestorius refused to attend because of Cyril’s role as president.  The council met and voted to affirm Cyril’s second letter to Nestorius (in which he had outlined his Christology in full) as in agreement with the Nicene Creed and to denounce Nestorius’ Christology (outlined in his response to Cyril’s second letter) as blasphemous and opposed to the faith of Nicaea.

When John and the Eastern bishops finally arrived, they were outraged to find that the council had already convened and come to a decision.  They convened their own council immediately, condemning and excommunicating Cyril and others.  Not surprisingly, this led to confusion, conflict, and intrigue.  Ultimately, though, the decision of Cyril’s council was approved by both Rome and Constantinople.

The Result
The Council of Ephesus confirmed the Nicene Creed and the title Theotokos for Mary as a legitimate title based on that creed.  They also condemned Nestorianism and excommunicated all those bishops who did not hold to the council’s decision.

Lasting Significance
The Council of Ephesus confirmed the hypostatic union of Christ as it was made explicit in the Nicene Creed.  And, as Wikipedia aptly summarizes, this had long-lasting significance: “This precipitated the Nestorian Schism, by which churches supportive of Nestorius, especially in Persia, were severed from the rest of Christendom and became known as Nestorian Christianity, the Persian Church, or the Church of the East, whose present-day representatives are the Assyrian Church of the East, the Chaldean Syrian Church, the Ancient Church of the East, and the Chaldean Catholic Church.”  Once again, Trinitarian doctrine had been defended and further clarified.

Council of Chalcedon   (481 AD)
Setting & Purpose
In 449, a Second Council of Ephesus was convened because of the excommunication of a monk named Eutyches, who taught that Christ, after his incarnation, had only one nature.  The council itself devolved into drama when those who supported Eutychus, led by Dioscorus and supported by the Roman Emperor Theodosius II, unilaterally and forcefully asserted their doctrine over against those who held the orthodox view that Christ has two natures—one fully human and one fully divine—which exist in hypostasis in one person.  When news of the council reached Rome, Pope Leo immediately termed it Latrocinium (a “robber council”).

When Marcian, an orthodox Christian, became emperor, he wished to convene another council in order to resolve the turmoil that the Second Council of Ephesus had stirred up.  That council met from October 8 to November 1, 451, in Chalcedon, now a district of modern-day Istanbul.  It was held here rather than in Italy because of the pressing threat to the Roman Empire from Attila and his Huns.

Major Characters & Conflict
Of the 350 to 500 bishops present, two stand out as the major characters: Eutyches and Dioscorus.  Eutyches was an aged and influential monk from Constantinople.  Because of his unorthodox teachings about Christ he had already been condemned as a heretic in 448 by a local synod in Constantinople.  Dioscorus became Bishop of Alexandria after Cyril died in 444.  When Eutyches was initially excommunicated, Dioscorus came to his defense.  Eventually he would preside over the Second Council of Ephesus where he strong-armed the assembly to restore Eutyches and depose those who had excommunicated him.

The Conflict
Eutyches’ doctrine appeared to be an overcorrection to the heresy of Nestorius (see The Council of Ephesus).  Leo Davis says, “Since he was a confused and muddled thinker, his doctrine was far from clear and consistent.”  In essence, though, he taught that Christ had two natures before the Incarnation—one human and one divine—and that in the Incarnation these two natures became one.  “He hated the idea of two natures in Christ after the Incarnation because he understood nature to mean concrete existence.  To affirm two natures was for him to affirm two concrete existences, two hypostases, two persons in Christ.”

The Council of Chalcedon was forced to clean up the mess caused by the Second Council of Ephesus and they did this by reaffirming the creeds of previous ecumenical councils and other expressions of faith which had been deemed orthodox (such as Cyril’s second letter to Nestorius and a tome by Pope Leo which summarized the Christology of the West).  They also put on trial before the council Dioscorus and any other bishops who had supported the decisions of the Second Council of Ephesus.

Finally, they developed a creed that would restate orthodoxy for a new generation and clarify it against the alternate views which had been battled through up to this point (Arianism, Nestorianism, and now Eutychianism).

The Result
Dioscorus was tried, found guilty of abusing his priestly authority (most specifically at the Second Council of Ephesus), and defrocked.  The council then prepared and affirmed a confession which denied a single nature of Christ and reaffirmed that he has two natures—a human and a divine—which coexist in hypostasis in his one person:
Following, then, the holy Fathers, we all unanimously teach that our Lord Jesus Christ is to us One and the same Son, the Self-same Perfect in Godhead, the Self-same Perfect in Manhood; truly God and truly Man; the Self-same of a rational soul and body; co-essential with the Father according to the Godhead, the Self-same co-essential with us according to the Manhood; like us in all things, sin apart; before the ages begotten of the Father as to the Godhead, but in the last days, the Self-same, for us and for our salvation (born) of Mary the Virgin Theotokos as to the Manhood; One and the Same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten; acknowledged in Two Natures unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the difference of the Natures being in no way removed because of the Union, but rather the properties of each Nature being preserved, and (both) concurring into One Person and One Hypostasis; not as though He were parted or divided into Two Persons, but One and the Self-same Son and Only-begotten God, Word, Lord, Jesus Christ; even as from the beginning the prophets have taught concerning Him, and as the Lord Jesus Christ Himself hath taught us, and as the Symbol of the Fathers hath handed down to us.
The council also issued 28 canons regarding church discipline and administration.

Lasting Significance
While the council did have some lasting significance, Leo Davis points out that, “As with the Creed of Nicaea, one hundred and twenty-five years before, the definition of Chalcedon was not the end but the intensification of controversy.”  The intensification of this controversy would lead to further disagreements and taking of sides so that by 484 Felix III, Pope of Rome at that time, would decree Acacius, the archbishop of Constantinople, “by a sentence pronounced from heaven … ejected from the priestly office.”  Acacius would respond by erasing Felix’s name from the church’s diptych, thus symbolizing the breaking of communion with him.  Within thirty-three years, because of the decisions of these councils, there would be a full schism between the churches of the East and the West.

Council of Constantinople II   (553 AD)
Setting & Purpose
Like the First Council of Constantinople, the Second Council of Constantinople was held in modern-day Istanbul, Turkey.  The council met from May 5 to June 2, 553 and was convened by Emperor Justinian I in an attempt to reconcile those who sided with the decisions of Chalcedon a hundred years prior and the Monophysites who had not.

Major Characters
Somewhere between 151 and 168 bishops attended the council, most of them from the eastern half of the church.  Phillip Schaff says, “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.”  The two major players were Emperor Justinian I and Pope Vigilius while Eutychius, patriarch of Constantinople, presided.

The Proceedings
Justinian I was a pious emperor who, in the interest of preserving his empire, saw the necessity of preserving the integrity of the Christian faith.  This demanded at least attempting to heal the schism that had resulted between the Monophysites and those who submitted to the decisions of Chalcedon a hundred years prior.

In an attempt to do this, Justinian issued an edict in 543 condemning three things: the person and writings of Theodore of Mopsuestia, Theodoret of Cyrusa’s writings against Cyril, and the letter of Ibas of Edessa to Maris the Persian.  These were condemned because they were understood to support Nestorius and his view of Christ’s human and divine natures being distinct rather than united (see Council of Chalcedon).

Because the Monophysites were opposed to Nestorianism, Justinian’s edict condemning these three items (which would come to be called the Three Chapters) was readily accepted in the east, where the Monophysite view was predominant.  The edict was not so easily accepted in the west, however, because it appeared to cast doubt on the actions of the Council of Chalcedon.

Pope Vigilius of Rome relocated to Constantinople in 547 to escape the Ostrogoth invasion of Italy.  While he initially resisted Justinian’s edict and encouraged other bishops in the west to do the same, over the next year, and after convening a number of bishops who also had resisted the edict, he came to accept Justinian’s Three Chapters, with reservations, in a document called the Judicatum.  This document affirmed his confidence in the decisions of the Council of Chalcedon; nevertheless, the pope’s agreement to the Three Chapters came with much opposition from the west.

To prevent further rifts in the church, the Emperor encouraged Vigilius to visibly retract the Judicatum and call for a council that would examine the reasoning of the east and, hopefully, lead to universal agreement.

As plans were coming together for a council, Justinian and Vigilius could not agree on who should participate or where it should be held.  Vigilius did not want it to be held in the east and also wanted more western bishops invited.  This is the reason for his hesitation about it and why, during the council, he repeatedly refused to appear up until the third week of assembly.

In the end, the council accepted the decisions of the first four ecclesiastical councils.  On May 24, Vigilius showed up with a new document, his Constitutum I, in which he refused to condemn the Three Chapters wholesale because he said each of the men had died while in communion with the church, and that the letter of Ibas had already been declared orthodox at Chalcedon.  He did, however, outrightly condemn some particular propositions of Theodore of Mopsuestia and of Nestorius.  The pope himself and several of the attending bishops and clerics signed the Constitutum I, but the emperor rejected its validity, saying that the council had already condemned the Three Chapters.

The Emperor responded by presenting evidence of pope Vigilius’ previous decision to condemn the Three Chapters (expressed in his Judicatum) and his agreement to attend the council (expressed in his personal correspondences with Justinian).  This demonstrated Vigilius’ lack of integrity and his unwillingness to work with the council to come to a consensus, which in turn resulted in a decision by the council to break communion with him, without at the same time breaking communion with the Holy See of Rome.

In the eighth and final session, the council laid out their sentence, which summarized their condemnation of the Three Chapters.  As regards the letter of Ibas, they concluded that the Council of Chalcedon must have reviewed and approved a different letter, supposedly also by Ibas, since they said the one they had revisited at this council was clearly in opposition to the doctrine of Chalcedon and could not have been approved by them.

The Result
The council issued a sentence on the Three Chapters, which can be found here while also issuing fourteen anathemas which served to lay out the rule of faith regarding Christ’s nature that had been established and agreed upon in previous councils.  A further fifteen anathemas concerning the doctrines of Origen have come to be associated with this council, but there is debate over whether they were part of the official proceedings and whether they are actually attributable to Origen.  The council also named and condemned the teachings of all the heretics to date.

Lasting Significance
Pope Vigilius was asked to return to Rome, but Justinian would not allow him to do so until he submitted to the rulings of the council.  Vigilius finally surrendered six months later, making the excuse that he had been misled by his advisers.  He died before he reached Rome.

Schaff says, “Pelagius I, who succeeded [Vigilius] in the See of Rome, likewise confirmed the Acts of the Fifth Synod.  The council however was not received in all parts of the West, although it had obtained the approval of the Pope.  It was bitterly opposed in the whole of the north of Italy, in England, France, and Spain, and also in Africa and Asia.”  However, by 700, “the Second Council of Constantinople was received all the world over as the Fifth Ecumenical Council; and was fully recognized as such by the Sixth Council in 680”—the Third Council of Constantinople.

Council of Constantinople III   (680-1 AD)
Setting & Purpose
The Third Council of Constantinople was convened by Emperor Constantine IV in an attempt to settle further differences between the Eastern and Western church in the way they understood the nature of Christ’s will and power.  The council began on November 7, 680 in the Trullus, a great domed room in the imperial palace at Constantinople.  Only 43 bishops were present, marking this as the smallest of the seven ecumenical councils.

Major Characters & Conflict
Constantine IV opened the council and presided over the first 11 of the 18 sessions (which would go on for 10 months).  But unlike the councils before and after it, the Third Council of Constantinople did not have one or two men who dominated the proceedings.

The primary conflict in the council was regarding the two doctrines of monoenergism and monothelitism.  Monoenergism arose not long after the Second Council of Constantinople as another attempt to reconcile the churches of the East and West.  It was the belief that, though Christ may have had two distinct natures, there was but one energy operative in his person: the divine energy.  Leo Davis describes the position like this: “Whatever was done by the Incarnate Word was done by Him as Creator and God, and that therefore all the things that were said of Him either as God or in a human way were the action of the divinity of the Word.”

Not long after the emergence of monoenergism, the discussion turned more toward discussions about Christ’s will in place of his energy.  From this came monothelitism, the belief that Christ had only one will, namely his divine will, “for at no time did His rationally quickened flesh, separately and of its own impulse … exercise its natural activity, but it exercised that activity at the time and in the manner and measure in which the Word of God willed it.”

The Proceedings
During the council, two patriarchs were accused of advocating the doctrines of monoenergism and monothelitism: George of Constantinople and Macarius of Antioch.  In an attempt to bolster their belief that they were holding to the position of previous councils, Macarius presented extracts from the Fathers showing evidence for his positions.  These documents were soon called into question as having been corrupted or twisted out of context.  Alternate copies were found, demonstrating that this was exactly what had happened.  In the face of this evidence, George changed his mind and embraced the orthodox position.  Macarius, though, held his ground and was tried before the council for falsifying the writings of the Fathers.  He was found guilty and deposed from his office.

One particularly bizarre event occurred at this Council.  In one of the sessions after Macarius’ was deposed, one of his followers, a priest named Polychronius, claimed that he could raise a man from the dead and in this way prove monothelitism orthodox.  A dead man was brought in, a profession of faith was laid on his chest, and Polychronius whispered in his ear.  Not surprisingly, nothing happened, so Polychronius was quickly defrocked.

The Results
The Third Council of Constantinople reaffirmed the decisions of the first five councils and the creeds of Nicaea and Constantinople I.  The bishops also prepared and signed A Definition of Faith that explicitly condemned monoenergism and monothelitism as heretical, saying,
We … declare that in [Christ] are two natural wills and two natural operations indivisibly, inconvertibly, inseparably, inconfusedly, according to the teaching of the holy Fathers.  And these two natural wills are not contrary the one to the other (God forbid!) as the impious heretics assert, but his human will follows and that not as resisting and reluctant, but rather as subject to his divine and omnipotent will.  For it was right that the flesh should be moved but subject to the divine will, according to the most wise Athanasius.  For as his flesh is called and is the flesh of God the Word, so also the natural will of his flesh is called and is the proper will of God the Word, as he himself says: “came down from heaven, not that I might do mine own will but the will of the Father which sent me!” where he calls his own will the will of his flesh, inasmuch as his flesh was also his own.
Lasting Significance
Once again, the church had clarified the nature of Christ as fully God and fully man, now extending that definition to include his nature, power, and will.  And once again, the church had preserved orthodox, Trinitarian doctrine in the face of new assaults.  For the time being there would be peace between the church of the East and West.

Council of Nicea II   (787 AD)
Setting & Purpose
The Second Council of Nicaea opened on September 24, 787, some 452 years after the first ecumenical council met in that same city.  Between 258 and 335 bishops were present, presided over by Tarasius, who was Patriarch of Constantinople.  The council had been convened by Empress Irene in order to discuss the use of icons, a practice which had been condemned by the Council of Hieria in 754.

Major Characters & Conflict
Constantine V (718 – 775) had led a campaign against icons that had begun with his father, Emperor Leo III.  The campaign culminated in the Council of Hieria in 754.  This council claimed to be ecumenical and succeeded in establishing iconoclasm (the rejection and destruction of religious icons) as the orthodox teaching of the church.

When Constantine V died, his son Leo IV took over the throne.  He maintained his father’s iconoclasm, though he was less forceful against those who remained in favor of using them, perhaps because his wife, Irene, was an iconophile.  When Leo IV died in 780, just five years after taking the throne, Irene succeeded him.

In 784 the outgoing patriarch of Constantinople, Paul IV, urged Irene to call a council to help mend some of the divisions between the Eastern and Western church and to examine the use of icons.  She agreed, and soon after appointed a new patriarch of Constantinople, Tarasius, to help her.  She also wrote to Pope Hadrian in Rome, asking him to prepare for a council.  He agreed, and expressed his support for the use of icons based on his understand of Scripture and the writings of the Church Fathers.  Though he did not travel to Nicaea, he did send two representatives.

The Proceedings
The council consisted of 8 sessions which took place over the course of one month (Sept 24 – Oct 23) and the discussions were grueling. Leo Davis writes, “The Patriarch [Tarasius] exhorted the bishops to brevity, but in vain, for the ensuing discussions were to prove long and verbose, at an intellectual level far below preceding councils.”  Several sessions included discussions about whether or not they should receive back into their offices those bishops who had supported iconoclasm.  Other sessions reviewed the Scriptures and the writings of the Fathers to show support for the use of icons.  The following Scriptures were cited: Exodus 25:19 sqq.; Numbers 7:89; Hebrews 9:5 sqq.; Ezekiel 41:18, and Genesis 31:34.  Most of these passages refer to the cherubs on the mercy seat.

Another session was devoted to reading the Horos, the decree of the Council of Hieria, and refuting it line by line.  The final session was held in Constantinople, in the Magnaura Palace, before Irene and her son Constantine VI, so they could approve and sign the final statement which approved icons.

The Results
The main result was a wordy official decree regarding icons.
To make our confession short, we keep unchanged all the ecclesiastical traditions handed down to us, whether in writing or verbally, one of which is the making of pictorial representations, agreeable to the history of the preaching of the Gospel, a tradition useful in many respects, but especially in this, that so the incarnation of the Word of God is shown forth as real and not merely phantastic, for these have mutual indications and without doubt have also mutual significations.

We, therefore, following the royal pathway and the divinely inspired authority of our Holy Fathers and the traditions of the Catholic Church … define with all certitude and accuracy that just as the figure of the precious and life-giving Cross, so also the venerable and holy images, as well in painting and mosaic as of other fit materials, should be set forth in the holy churches of God, and on the sacred vessels and on the vestments and on hangings and in pictures both in houses and by the wayside, to wit, the figure of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ, of our spotless Lady, the Mother of God, of the honourable Angels, of all Saints and of all pious people.  For by so much more frequently as they are seen in artistic representation, by so much more readily are men lifted up to the memory of their prototypes, and to a longing after them; and to these should be given due salutation and honourable reverence…
Additionally, the council approved twenty two canons covering a wide variety of issues facing the church at that time, including the problem of simony (the buying or selling of church office).

Lasting Significance
This debate has come to be called the Iconoclast Controversy and it had great and lasting consequences on the East and West.  Leo Davis identifies them in four categories:
1. “Politically it was a factor in the alienation of the West from the Eastern Empire at a critical moment.”  Rome was facing pressure from invaders, and they sought help from the Franks.  This would lead to a new political alignment between the Roman church and the Frankish kings (whereas before they had been looking to the Byzantine Emperor in Constantinople).  A picture of this realignment is seen in the crowning of Charlemagne in 800 as emperor of the west and defender of papal authority.

2. “Artistically, iconoclasm arrested progress and destroyed countless ancient treasures.”  Whereas, after the controversy ended, “Byzantine art rose to new heights and continued to exert strong influence on the West.”

3. “Ecclesiastically, the monks’ resolute defense of sacred images in the face of imperial and episcopal pressures enhanced their standing among the laity.” Monasteries filled with images became “places of vital mediation between the divine and the human.  And the monks themselves became the focus of the holy in the world.”

4. “Theologically, the controversy was really an attempt to recover the meaning of Christ’s humanity. … Jesus, divine and human, was and is the way to the Father.  The sacred images of Christ, portraying him as truly incarnate, truly reflecting their divine and human prototype, are a perpetual reminder of that fact.”
It would take the Reformers of the sixteen century to see the danger of icons and to exhort the church to once again remove them.


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