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ance and correctness of the decision, and, above all, the consent of the orthodox Christian world.
The number of the councils thus raised by the public opinion of the Greek and Latin church to the ecumenical dignity is seven. The succession begins with the first council of Nice, in the year 325, which settled the doctrine of the divinity of Christ, and condemned the Arian heresy. It closes with the second council of Nice in 787, which sanctioned the use of images in the church. The first four of these councils command high theological regard in the orthodox evangelical churches, while the last three are less important and are far more rarely mentioned.
The ecumenical councils have not only an ecclesiastical significance, but bear also a state-church character. The very name refers to the oixouuévn, the orbis Romanus, the empire. Such synods were rendered possible only by that great transformation, which is marked by the accession of Constantine. That Emperor caused the assembling of the first æcumenical council, though the idea was probably suggested to him by friends among the bishops; at least Rufinus says, he summoned the council ex sacerdotum sententia." At all events the
« Christian Græco-Roman Emperor is indispensable to an cecumenical council, in the ancient sense of the term ; its temporal head and its legislative strength.
According to the rigid hierarchical or papistic theory, as carried out in the middle ages, and still asserted by Roman divines, the Pope, alone, as universal head of the Church, can summon, conduct, and confirm a universal council. But the history of the first seven, or, as the Roman reckoning is, eight æcumenical councils, from 325 to 867, assigns this threefold power, to the Byzantine Emperors. This is placed beyond all contradiction, by the still extant edicts of the emperors, the acts of the councils, the accounts of all the Greek historians and the contemporary Latin sources. Upon this Byzantine precedent, and upon the example of the kings of Israel, the Russian Czars and the Protestant Princes of Germany, Scandinavia, and England—be it justly or unjustly-build their claim to a similar and still more extended supervision of the church in their dominions.
In the first place, the call of the ecumenical councils emanated from the Emperors. They fixed the place and time of the assembly, summoned the metropolitans and more distinguished bishops of the empire by an edict, provided the means of transit, and paid the cost of travel and the other expenses out of the public treasury. In the case of the council of Nice and the first of Constantinople, the call was issued without previous advice or consent from the Bishop of Rome. In the council of Chalcedon, in 451, the papal influence is for the first time decidedly prominent; but even there it appears in the virtual subordination to the higher authority of the council, which did not suffer itself to be disturbed by the protest of Leo against its twenty-eighth canon in reference to the rank of the patriarch of Constantinople. Not only æcumenical, but also provincial councils, were not rarely called together by western princes, as the council of Arles in 314 by Constantine, the council of Orleans in 549 by Childebert, and, to anticipate an instance, the synod of Frankfort in 794 by Charlemagne.
Another remarkable fact has been already mentioned, that in the beginning of the sixth century several orthodox synods at Rome, for the purpose of deciding the contested election of Symmachus, were called by a secular prince, and he the heretical Theodoric; yet they were regarded as valid.
In the second place, the emperors, directly or indirectly, took an active part in all but two of the æcumenical councils summoned by them, and held the presidency. Constantine the Great, Marcian and his wife Pulcheria, Constantine Trogonatus, Irene, and Basil the Macedonian, attended in person; but generally the emperors, like the Roman bishops, (who were never present themselves), were represented by delegates or commissioners clothed with full authority for the occasion. These deputies opened the sessions by reading the imperial edict (in Latin and Greek) and other documents. They presided in conjunction with the patriarchs, conducted the entire course of the transactions, preserved order and security, closed the council and signed the acts either at the head or at the foot of the signatures of the bishops. In this prominent position they sometimes exercised, when they had a theological interest
or opinion of their own, no small influence on the discussions and decisions, though they had no votum; as the presiding officers of deliberative and legislative bodies generally have no vote, except when the decision of a question depends upon their voice. To this presidency of the emperor or of his commissioners the acts of the councils and the Greek historians often refer. Even Pope Stephen V. (A. D. 817) writes, that Constantine the Great presided in the council of Nice. According to Eusebius, he introduced the principal matters of business with a solemn discourse, and he took the place of honor in the assembly. His presence among the bishops at the banquet, which he gave them at the close of the council, seemed to that panegyrical historian a type of Christ among the saints! This prominency of Constantine in the most celebrated and the most important of all councils is the more remarkable, since at that time he had not yet even been baptized. When Marcian and Pulcheria appeared with their court at the council of Chalcedon, to confirm its decrees, they were greeted by the assembled bishops in the bombastic style of the East, as defenders of the faith, as pillars of orthodoxy, as enemies and persecutors of heretics; the emperor, a second Constantine, a new Paul, a new David; the empress a second Helena; with other high-sounding predicates. The second and fifth general councils were the only ones at which the emperor was not represented, and in them the presidency was in the hands of the patriarchs of Constantinople.
But with the imperial commissioners, or in their absence, the different patriarchs or their representatives, especially the legates of the Roman bishop, the most powerful of the patriarchs, took part in the presiding office. This was the case at the third, and fourth, and the sixth, seventh, and eighth universal councils.
For the emperor's connection with the council had reference rather to the conduct of business, and to the external affairs of the synod, than to its theological and religious discussions. This distinction appears in the well-known dictum of Constantine respecting a double episcopate, an episcopate of the external, and an episcopate of the internal affairs of the church. And at the Nicene council the Emperor acted accordingly. He paid the bishops greater reverence than his heathen predecessors had shown the Roman senators. He wished to be a servant, not a judge, of the successors of the apostles, who are constituted priests and Gods on earth. After his opening address, he “resigned the word” to the (clerical) officers of the council, by whom probably Alexander, bishop of Alexandria, Eustathius of Antioch, and Hosius of Cordova—the latter as special friend of the emperor, and as representative of the western churches and perhaps of the bishop of Rome—are to be understood. The same distinction between a secular and spiritual presidency meets us in Theodosius II., who sent the comes Candidian as his deputy to the third general council, with full power over the entire business proceedings, but none over theological matters themselves; “for," wrote he to the council, “it is not proper that one who does not belong to the catalogue of most holy bishops, should meddle in ecclesiastical discussions." Yet Cyril of Alexandria presided at this council, and conducted the business, at first alone, afterwards in conjunction with the papal legates; while Candidian supported the Nestorian opposition, which held a council of its own under the patriarch John of Antioch.
Finally, from the emperors proceeded the ratification of the councils. Partly by their signatures, partly by special edicts, they gave the decrees of the council legal validity; they raised them to laws of the realm; they took pains to have them observed, and punished the disobedient with deposition and banishment. This was done by Constantine the Great for the decrees of Nice; by Theodosius the Great for those of Constantinople; by Marcian for those of Chalcedon. The second æcumenical council expressly prayed the emperor for such sanction, since he was present neither in person nor by commission. The papal confirmation, on the contrary, was not considered necessary, until after the fourth general council, in 451. And notwithstanding this, Justinian broke through the decrees of the fifth council, of 553, without the consent, and in fact despite the intimated refusal of pope Vigilius. In the middle ages, however, the case was reversed. The influence of the pope on the councils increased, and that of the emperor declined; or rather, the German emperor never claimed so preëminent a position in the church, as the Byzantine. Yet the relation of the pope to the general council, the question which of the two is above the other, is still a point of controversy between the curialist or ultramontane and the episcopal or Gallican schools.
Apart from this predominance of the emperor and his commissioners, the character of the ecumenical councils was thoroughly hierarchical. In the apostolic council at Jerusalem, the elders and the brethren took part with the apostles, and the decision went forth in the name of the whole congregation. But this republican or democratic element, so to call it, had long since given way before the spirit of aristocracy. The bishops alone, as the ecclesia docens, were members of the council. Hence, in the fifth canon of Nice, even a provincial synod is termed “the general assembly of the bishops of the province.” The presbyters and deacons took part, indeed, in the deliberations, and Athanasius, though at the time only a deacon, exerted probably more influence on the council of Nice by his zeal and his gifts, than most of the bishops; but they had no votum decisivum, except when, like the Roman legates, they represented their bishops. The laity were entirely excluded. Yet it must be remembered that the bishops of that day were elected by the popular voice. So far as that went, they really represented the Christian people, and were not seldom called to account by the people for their acts, though they voted in their own name as successors of the apostles. Eusebius felt bound to justify his vote at Nice before his diocese in Cæsarea, and the Egyptian bishops at Chalcedon feared an uproar in their congregations.
Furthermore, the councils, in an age of absolute despotism, sanctioned the principle of common public deliberation, as the best means of arriving at truth and settling controversy. They revived the spectacle of the Roman senate in ecclesiastical form, and were the forerunners of representative government and parliamentary legislation. VOL. XXII.