Ecumenical councils -
Ecumenical Councils and the rise and fall of the Church
of Rome (Roman Catholic Church)
|History in the context of the most successful power structure
of the last 2000 years,
as organised around the so-called ‘ecumenical councils’
Warning: I am no expert on this esoterica. This document is posted as a reference background to several other documents in preparation, for want of any other easily accessible resource that I can find on the net or elsewhere.
My main interest is in the logic of communication. I have already posted a document on this site delineating the problems with Aristotelian logic. Much of the power of Rome, and much other political power, rests upon the misuse and misunderstanding engendered by the weaknesses of categorical Aristotelian logic. These problems permeate and debilitate western culture. Concurrently, I am preparing several documents on Abelard and his analysis of logic and documents on the imperatives of real politic in a backward culture. This document is designed as a real-world exemplar context.
I shall update this document if I have the resources to investigate in more detail. If you notice any glaring historical errors or irritating typos, it would be of assistance if you would e-mail any corrections.
Much that is issued on this subject is far from disinterested and it will be clear that I am no apologist for Christianism. I imagine my slightly ironic tone will form a useful balance to the spin-doctors of institutionalised religion and those who are far too ready to appease the true party members. However, my intention remains to be reasonably objective and accurate.
The twenty-one Councils recognised by Rome as ecumenical councils are listed and treated here in their chronological order. Several ecumenical councils were held at different times in the same places and so are named first, second and so on, after the place where they were held. It is widely imagined that the Roman Church was born in the west, this however is not the case. The first eight councils took place in the eastern Mediterranean. Only then did the councils move to the Western Empire starting in 1123, after the Great Schism.
An ecumenical council is a grand gathering of the whole church establishment, in particular the bishops, which title includes all church ranks from bishop up to the pope. They tend to meet to discuss their official responses to changing times, especially when the church is under threat and opponents are making ground. They also fix the official party line, including edicts that all members in good standing must believe! Thus far, according to Rome, there have been twenty-one ecumenical councils.
Whereas the Eastern Orthodox churches recognise only the first seven councils as ecumenical, the Roman Church adds an eighth before the Schism of 1054. This schism, ever since, has divided Eastern and Western Christianity. The eighth Council  at Constantinople (869 – 870) ‘excommunicated’ Photius, the Patriarch of Constantinople, the head of the eastern establishment, so it was rather bound to be unpopular in the East.
Augustine, bishop of Hippo in Roman Africa from 396 to 430 and the dominant personality of the Western Church of his time, is generally recognised as having been the greatest thinker of Christian antiquity. Augustine was much involved with pursuing ‘heresy’ and was a decisive influence on what became the christianist party line. He fought Donatism and Pelagianism. He was much influenced by Manicheanism, from which Rome still bears the scars in sexual prudery. He developed justification for using force against‘heretics’. An interesting quote of Augustine is ‘Rome has spoken; the case is concluded’. He is of course very popular with Rome!
|C O L O U R K E 'Y' for links|
|Map of Europe showing Council locations|
|325||1st||Nicaea 1 (now Iznik, Turkey)|
|381||2nd||Constantinople 1 (now Istanbul, Turkey)|
|431||3rd||Ephesus (now Selcuk, Turkey)|
|451||4th||Chalcedon (now Kadiköy, Turkey)|
|680 – 681||6th||Constantinople 3||The rise of Islam|
|.869 – 870||8th||Constantinople 4||Photian Schism
Schism of 1054
|1123||9th||Lateran 1||Concordat of Worms
|.1139||10th||Lateran 2||Peace of god
Influence of Islamic learning on the West
|1179||11t:||Lateran 3||The great church building craze|
|1311 – 1312||15th||Vienne|
|1414 – 1418||16th||Constance||Western Schism
The Hussite wars (1378 – 1436)
|1438 – c.1445||17th||Basle-Ferrara-Florence-Lausanne|
|1512 – 1517||18th||Lateran 5||Luther, Martin|
|1545 – 1563||19th||Trent Period
1 (1545 – 47)
Period 2 (1551 – 52)
Period 3 (1562 – 63)
|1869 – 1870||20th||Vatican 1|
|1962 – 1965||21st||Vatican 2|
|Supplement on creeds||Nicene Creed
|Reference material—Prime general sources of information|
|1|| The First Council of Nicaea (first Ecumenical Council,
AD 325) attacked Arianism. Called
by the Emperor Constantine, opened 20th May. As often the case, the
Council was not fully representative. It was attended by approximately 300 bishops,
primarily from the empire of the east, and formally presented the teaching of
the current Church. There were twenty canons drawn up, including clarification
on the time of celebrating Easter and others concerning clerical discipline,
and a denunciation of the Meletian ‘heresy’. The Meletian faction was one of the many
seeking dominance at that time.
This first Ecumenical Council stated the formula doctrine in its confession that the Son is ‘of the same substance [homoousios] as the Father,’ it said very little about the Holy Spirit. Over the next half century, Athanasius defended and refined the Nicene creedal formula. By the end of the 4th century, under the leadership of Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory of Nazianzus (the Cappadocian Fathers), the doctrine of the Trinity had taken substantially the form it has maintained ever since.
There is a supplement on creeds prior to the endnotes.
During the century after the conversion of Constantine in 312, there was continued religious rioting and harrying in the cities, both in all the major ones and in dozens of minor ones. The death toll from internecine strife exceeded the toll among Christians at the hands of pagans in earlier persecutions. Ordinarily Christians were dying at the hands of one another in the course of sectarian strife, a venerable sport. For a time, among the Homoousians, Arians , Donatists, Meletians and many others, no one sect managed to dominate. Bishoprics were fiercely contested and resort to armed coercion was common.
The (non-ecumenical) council of Sardica, or Serdica (modern Sofia, Bulgaria.) AD 342 – 343, was another attempt at a settlement of the Arian controversies. In fact, the council merely embittered still further the relations between the two parties and those between the western and eastern halves of the Roman Empire. This council invested the bishop of Rome with a prerogative over the other sees and was the first legal recognition of the bishop of Rome's jurisdiction. This became the basis for the further development of the Roman bishop's primacy as pope.
|2|| The First Council of Constantinople (second Ecumenical
Council, AD 381) attacked Apollinarianism and the Macedonian heresy. In answering the latter, which denied the Godhead of the Holy Spirit,
the dogma of the Church was again stated and the words inserted into the Nicene
Creed that declared that the Holy Spirit proceeded from both the Father
and the Son. I shall skip over the ritual attacks on other ‘heresies’
that become tiresome as they are repeated at each council, thus I shall only
refer ‘new’ or ‘interesting’ bits!
Most likely the Nicene Creed was issued by this Council of Constantinople, even though this was first explicitly stated at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 (the fourth Council). It was probably based on a baptismal creed already in existence, but it was an independent document and not an enlargement of the Creed of Nicaea in 325. Six canons were issued.
When Theodosius died in 395, Rome split into Eastern and Western empires.
Augustine died in 430.
|3||The Council of Ephesus (third Ecumenical Council,
AD 431). The dogmas that Mary ‘the Blessed Virgin’ is the Mother
of God (theotokus,
god-bearer) and the teaching of one divine person in Christ were declared. The
Council was convened against the ‘heresy’ of Nestorius.
It is, however, very likely that Nestorius was condemned for something that
he was not teaching and that official dogma came to be very similar to the views
of Nestorius! The Church of Rome has even recently shown residual bitterness
1500 years later.
In 431, Pope Celestine 1st commissioned Cyril, Patriarch of Alexandria, to conduct proceedings against his long-time adversary Nestorius, whose doctrine of two ‘Persons’ in Christ the Pope had previously condemned. When Pope Celestine pronounced his excommunication of Nestorius and ratified his deposition as bishop of Constantinople, the Emperor abandoned his neutral position and sided with Cyril.
In the words of Loofs, “...an ecumenical council of Ephesus never existed. Two party councils had sat and cursed each other...” 
The Council also condemned Chiliasm.
|4|| The Council of Chalcedon [now Kadiköy in Turkey] (fourth
Ecumenical Council, AD 451, Eutyches and much other esoterica). Convoked by the Emperor Marcian, it was attended
by about 520 bishops or their representatives and was the largest and best documented
of the early councils. It approved the creed
of Nicaea (325), the creed of Constantinople (381, subsequently known as the Nicene Creed), two letters of Cyril against Nestorius, which insisted on
the unity of divine and human persons in Christ, and the Tome of Pope Leo I
confirming two distinct natures in christ. It rejected the Monophysite doctrine of Eutyches that christ had only one nature.
The Council banished Eutyches, condemned his ‘heresy’, and established a centrist doctrine that came to serve as the touchstone of Christian orthodoxy in East and West. The Council held that christ had two perfect and indivisible, but distinct, natures: one human and one divine. Thereafter, Eutyches disappeared, but his influence nevertheless grew as Monophysitism spread throughout the East.
The Council then codified these doctrines in a formula known as ‘the Definition of Chalcedon’. The establishment had by now become very leery of attempts to put official dogma into new words, but the civil authorities over rode their timidity. The Definition of Chalcedon contained the deathless phrase, attributed to Basil of Seleucia, that ‘christ’ is “acknowledged in two natures unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly and inseparably”.
Thus, there remained multiple confusions and sotto voce grumblings that were to echo down the centuries. So also were planted the seeds that eventually resulted in the Great Schism. The subsequent history of Monophysite doctrine in the Eastern Church is the history of national and independent churches (e.g., the Syrian Jacobites) that, either for reasons of reverence for some religious leader or as a reaction against the dominance of the Byzantine or Roman churches, retained a separate existence.
Besides reinforcing canons of earlier Church councils, as well as declarations of some local synods, the Council issued disciplinary decrees affecting monks and clergy including a ban on marriage after taking vows or orders, and declared Jerusalem and Constantinople to be patriarchates. The overall effect was to consolidate the growing power structure of the church and to give it stable institutional dogma and character.
|5|| The Second Council of Constantinople (the fifth Ecumenical
Council, AD 553, Three Chapters Controversy). Its chief work was to condemn
the writings and teaching of Theodore of Mopsuestia, portions in the writings
of Theodoret, and the letters of Ibas. It reaffirmed the dogmas stated by the
third and fourth ecumenical councils.
This Council met under the presidency of Eutychius, Patriarch of Constantinople. Pope Vigilius of Rome, who had been summoned to Constantinople, opposed the Council and took sanctuary in a church from May to December, but he at last yielded and formally ratified the verdicts of the Council on 23rd February, 554.
The 14 anathemas issued by the Council imagined to reject Nestorianism by insisting yet further upon the unity of the person of christ in his two natures, divine and human. The only other important act of the Council was to ratify an earlier ambiguous condemnation of Origen who, living around 185 – 254, had not the benefit of the latest trends. Condemning those long dead is another happy hobby of the Roman Church. The Monophysite controversy rumbled onward: Emperors Justin and Justinian tried to enforce their appointees in the East, but they could only survive with police power as the people were forcefully against them. Justinian changed track and tried to appease the eastern Monophysites by the condemnation of Mopsuestia, Theodoret and Ibas. The official line favourable to the Monophysites was passed and accepted by the Pope.
The Western Church, devoted as it was to the acts of the Council of Chalcedon, could not bring itself to accept the decrees, even though the Pope had accepted them. In Africa, imperial troops were able to force acceptance. North Italian bishops refused their allegiance to the See of Rome and found support in France and Spain. The opposition hung on in northern Italy until the end of the 7th century. By then the coming of Islam into the eastern Mediterranean and Africa voided possibilities of compromise.
Mary was given the title ‘ever-virgin’ to go with ‘god-bearer’. The brothers of Jesus mentioned in Mark 3:31,32 became half-brothers or near relatives, as the ministry of truth continued its vital chores.
|6|| The third Council at Constantinople (sixth Ecumenical Council,
680 – 681), summoned by the Emperor Constantine 4th. Some eastern
Christians were forbidden to talk of the concept of one nature of Christ. The
Council attempted to enforce the unity of the person of Christ by talking of
one will from the two natures. Persons holding this view were called Monothelites. Sergius, Patriarch of Constantinople, and Pope Honorius 1st appear to have had favoured the Monothelite doctrine. Honorius, now dead, and
the Monothelite tendency were condemned. In due course the council decided on two wills and two operations (Siamese twins?!).
“Each nature with the communion of the other willed and wrought that which
was proper to itself.” This formulation is known as Dyothelite and looks remarkably similar to the position of Nestorius.
By this time,Islam had taken over much of the Middle East and thus the Churches of east and west became split.
Encouraged by the papacy, the Iberian reconquest (742 – 1492) became a crusade against Islam and fused an Iberian Catholicism that Spain and Portugal later transplanted around the globe. In the late 20th century, its members represented more than half the world's Roman Catholics. The Crusades (1095 – 1396) produced among many Christians an adversarial approach to those of other faiths. As a result of this second great transition in the fortunes of Islam, the faith of the Mediterranean world had become that of all Europe and had largely created its civilisation. Christendom had lost half its members to Islam, but Europe had become the new centre of the Christian faith.
|7|| Second Council of Nicaea (seventh Ecumenical Council,
AD 787, iconoclasm ). It attempted to resolve
the Iconoclastic Controversy, initiated in 726 when Emperor Leo 3rd had issued a decree against the worship of icons. Veneration of images was well
established at this time. Pope Gregory then excommunicated all who destroyed
images at a synod in 731 but the persecution of those who ‘venerated’
images had continued.
State policy then changed and the seventh Ecumenical Council was convened. This declared that icons which honoured those represented deserved reverence and veneration but not ‘adoration’. ‘Adoration’ was held to be due to ‘god’ alone. This ruling was opposed in France by Charlemagne as late as the 11th century, partly because certain doctrinal phrases had been incorrectly translated. Nevertheless, Rome's original verdict was eventually accepted. The council also issued twenty-two canons regarding the clergy.
|8|| The Fourth Council of Constantinople (AD 869-870, Photian). The Roman Church eventually recognised it as the eighth
Ecumenical Council, but the Eastern Church for the most part denied its
ecumenicity and continues to recognise only the first seven ecumenical councils.
This Council confirmed a Roman sentence of excommunication against Photius, Patriarch of Constantinople, bringing to a head the so-called Photian Schism. The Council's canon (no. 22) that prohibited lay interference in episcopal elections assumed great importance in the Western Church's Investiture Controversy between church and state in the 11th and early 12th centuries (see Concordat of Worms).
Photius was later reinstated and called his own Council in 879 – 880. This Council reversed the edicts of 869 – 870. The Eastern Church recognises the later Council, which sometimes causes confusion as to which is ‘ecumenical*’.
A 9th-century-AD controversy between Eastern and Western Christianity that was precipitated by the opposition of the Roman Pope to the appointment by the Byzantine Emperor Michael 3rd of the lay scholar Photius to the patriarchate of Constantinople. The controversy also involved Eastern and Western ecclesiastical jurisdictional rights in the Bulgarian Church, as well as a doctrinal dispute over the Filioque (“and from the Son”) clause that had been added to the Nicene Creed by the Roman Church.
The relationship of the Byzantine Church to the Roman may be described as one of growing estrangement from the 5th to the 11th century. In the early Church, three bishops stood forth principally from the political eminence of the cities in which they ruled—the bishops of Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch. The transfer of the seat of empire from Rome to Constantinople, and the later eclipse of Alexandria and Antioch as battlegrounds of Islam and Christianity, promoted the importance of Constantinople. Concurrently, the theological calmness of the West, in contrast to the often violent theological disputes that troubled the Eastern patriarchates, strengthened the position of the Roman popes, who made increasing claims to pre-eminence which were never acknowledged in the East. To press it upon the Eastern patriarchs was to prepare the way for separation; to insist upon it in times of irritation was to cause a schism.
The theological genius of the East was different from that of the West. The Eastern theology had its roots in Greek philosophy, whereas a great deal of Western theology was based on roman law. This gave rise to misunderstandings and, in due course, led to two widely separate ways of regarding and defining the doctrine of the generation of the Holy Spirit, whether from the Father or from both the Father and the Son. The Roman Churches, without consulting the East, incorporated ‘and the Son’ into their creed. The Eastern Churches also resented the Roman enforcement of clerical celibacy, the limitation of the right of confirmation to the bishop and the use of unleavened bread in the Eucharist.
Political jealousies and interests intensified the disputes; and at last, after many premonitory symptoms, the final break came in 1054, when Pope Leo 9th struck at Michael Cerularius and his followers with an excommunication and when the Patriarch retaliated with a similar excommunication. There had been mutual excommunications before, but they had not resulted in permanent schisms. At the time, there seemed possibilities of reconciliation, but the rift grew wider. In particular, the Greeks were bitterly antagonised by such events as the Latin capture of Constantinople in 1204. Western pleas for reunion (on Western terms), like those at the Council of Lyon (1274) or the Council of Basle-Ferrara-Florence-Lausanne (1439), were rejected by the Byzantines. The schism has never been healed.
Marriage became important as a means of legitimising the transmission of power, thus lowering the levels of internecine disputes.
Marriage has many political advantages. It contains competition for females. It generates sexual shortages, which can be exploited by the authorities. It helps females to control at least the meagre resources of one man. It leaves males with more time available for production and war. It slows the spread of disease. The male authorities, of course, very rarely obey the rules, but by such ‘rules’ they benefit from much reduced competition for women. Henry 1st is known to have produced over twenty ‘bastards’ whom he raised up to help him administer the kingdom’s growing complexities. The clerical administrator class could concentrate upon their tasks without the irritation of squalling brats, in the meanwhile having easy entry into every house while the men were out tilling the land.
The supposedly unmarried clergy tended to keep concubines, often under the guise of housekeepers and so on, while avoiding legal entanglement. With the Manichean thread running through Christianism, allied to the clever monkey’s confusions with sex as they struggle to rise above their animal roots, the rationalisations and romanticisation of ‘marriage’ become rather attractive. Authority has therefore been both able and inclined to endow avowed ‘celibacy’ with a PR cachet. Marriage tends to isolate people into couples, thus lowering the ability to facilitate undesirable group action. All in all, marriage makes a very attractive package for any ruling class.
|9||The first Lateran Council (ninth Ecumenical Council, 1123), the first in the West, was held during the reign of Pope Calixtus 2nd; no acts or contemporary accounts survive. The council promulgated a number of canons (probably twenty-two), many of which merely repeated decrees of earlier councils. Much of the discussion was occupied with disciplinary or quasi-political decisions relating to the Investiture. The Concordat of Worms, which settled the Investiture controversy and had been reached in the previous year, was ratified. Various other canons were reiterated such as condemnation of simony, that is, the buying or selling of ecclesiastical privileges such as pardons and benefices. Laymen were prohibited from disposing of church property, clerics in major orders were forbidden to marry, and ‘uncanonical’ consecration of bishops was forbidden. There were edicts on crusading, the truce of god and the Peace of god.|
Abelard married Heloise in 1117.
Concordat of Worms
Compromise arranged in 1122 between Pope Calixtus 2nd (1119 – 1124) and the Holy Roman Emperor Henry 5th (reigned 1106 – 1125) settling the Investiture Controversy, a struggle between the Empire and the Papacy over the control of church offices. The Concordat marked the end of the first phase of the conflict between these two powers. (A similar conflict, between the Papacy and the King of England, had been resolved in 1107.) That settlement provided the basis for the Concordat of Worms, which made a clear distinction between the spiritual side of a prelate's office, and his position as a landed magnate and vassal of the crown. Bishops and abbots were to be chosen by the clergy, but the emperor was authorised to decide contested elections. The man chosen was first to be invested with the regalia, or powers, privileges and lands pertaining to his office as vassal, for which he did homage to the Emperor. Then he was invested with the spiritualia, or ecclesiastical powers, and lands, symbolised by the staff and ring; which he acquired from his ecclesiastical superior who represented the authority of the Church.
Ordination is conferred only by the bishop; the rite includes the imposition of hands, anointing and the delivery of the symbols of the order. Ordination can neither be repeated nor annulled. Priests who are suspended from priestly powers (defrocked!) or laicised (permanently authorised to live as a layman) retain their sacred power, but are forbidden to exercise it except in emergency.
Other developments followed the second Vatican Council (21st Ecumenical Council. The ordination of women, against which no solid theological objection has been shown; the restoration of the permanent diaconate to which both married and single men are admitted with the powers to baptise, preach, and administer the Eucharist; and the idea of ordination for a fixed period of service. Except for the diaconate, these were radical suggestions in Roman Church. The old men of the Vatican are still fighting this one, even to the extent of recently ordering that a book on the subject be pulped.[7a]
|10|| The second Lateran Council (10 th Ecumenical Council , 1139) — rather a triumphal rally. A schism
had been created when both Innocent 2nd and Anacletus 2ndwere
declared Pope on the same day, 14th February 1130. When Anacletus
conveniently died eight years later, Pope Innocent 2nd convoked this
council in order to condemn the supporters of his rival and to reverse all his
decisions. Note that the Pope convened this council, whereas before instigation
by the civil authorities and more diverse means was common, with the dominant
movers being in the East.
Arnold of Brescia, a Lombardian local activist, vigorous ‘reformer’ and an opponent of the temporal power of the pope, was also condemned, probably by the Pope after the main council. After a considerable career opposing the worship of mammon and power in the Church, Arnold was a major mover in the establishment of the commune of Rome, which was involved in keeping the Pope at bay for several years. Later, in 1155, Arnold was killed at the instigation of a later pope, Adrian 4th, with a little help from Frederick 1st Barbarossa, the German King and Holy Roman Emperor.
Peter de Bruys and his followers, known as the ‘Petrobruscans’, were radical enough to object to baptism of infants before they could make their own decisions, churches as a necessary venue for prayer and suggested that the cross as an instrument of suffering should be detested, not venerated. They also claimed that the mass is worthless and the blood of ‘Christ’ cannot be given again, that prayers by the living don’t benefit the dead and that god is not into ceremonies and chanting. Peter was of course condemned as a dangerous heretic.
Another powerful supporter of the opposition, Roger, King of Sicily, was also ‘excommunicated’. He apparently reacted with disdain and unconcern, a not uncommon response among the nobility in those times.
Innocent was supported by Bernard of Clairvaux and later by Emperor Lothair 2nd. Besides reaffirming previous conciliar decrees, the second Lateran Council declared invalid all marriages of those in major orders and of professed monks, canons, lay brothers, and nuns. The council repudiated various dissidents of the 12th century concerning holy orders, matrimony, infant baptism, and the Eucharist. There were 30 canons issued on such varied topics as jousting, various money-making schemes of the clergy, sanctuary and ‘the Peace of god’.
The Peace of god is first heard of in the year 990 at three synods held in different parts of southern and central France—at Charroux, Narbonne and Puy. It enlisted the immediate support of the regular clergy and of William 5th of Aquitaine, the most powerful lord of southern France, who urged its adoption at the synodal councils of Limoges (994) and Poitiers (999). The peace decrees of these various synods differed considerably in detail, but in general they forbade, under pain of excommunication, every act of private warfare or violence against ecclesiastical buildings and their environs, against certain persons, such as clerics, pilgrims, merchants, women, and peasants, and against cattle and agricultural implements. All laymen and clerics in the areas adopting the Peace of god were required to take a solemn oath to observe and enforce the peace. At the Council of Bourges (1038), the archbishop decreed that every Christian 15 years and older should take such an oath and enter the diocesan militia.
of Islamic learning on the West
Social pressures, political persecution and the anti-intellectual bias of some of the early Church Fathers caused a brain drain of the few remaining Greek scientists and philosophers to the East. They eventually found a context, as the rise of Islam in the 7th century stimulated interest in scientific and philosophical subjects. Most of the important Greek scientific texts were thus preserved in Arabic translations.
Medieval Christendom confronted Islam in military crusades in Spain and Palestine and in theology. As Christian rulers gradually pushed the Islamics south from Poitiers and beyond the Pyrenees, treasures left behind included Arabic translations of Greek works of science and philosophy. In 1085, the city of Toledo, with one of the finest libraries in Islam, fell to the Christians. Among the occupiers were Christian monks and Jewish and Moslem scholars who began the process of translating ancient works into Latin. By the end of the 12th century, much of the ancient heritage was again available to the Latin West.
The translation into Latin of most Islamic works during the 12th and 13th centuries had a great impact upon the European Renaissance. As Europe was absorbing the fruits of Islam's centuries of creative productivity and signs of Latin Christian awakening were evident throughout the European continent, in the meanwhile Islam was declining in scholarship. A spate of translations resulted in the revival of Greek science in the West and coincided with the rise of the universities. This helped Europe take the initiative from Islam and achieve the cultural dominance that continues today in the western world.
|11|| The Third Council of the Lateran (eleventh
Ecumenical Council, AD 1179) was convoked in 1179
Alexander 3rd. It was attended by
291 bishops who studied the Peace of Venice (1177), by which
the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick 1st Barbarossa,
agreed to withdraw support from the rival pope and to restore
the church property he had seized on behalf of that pope.
This Council also established a two-thirds majority of the
College of Cardinals as a requirement for papal election
and stipulated that candidates for
bishop must be 30 years old and of legitimate birth.
Cathedrals and some churches were to provide a master to
educate the children of the poor and clerics (canon 18).
The Cathari (or Albigenses) and the Waldenses were condemned, and Christians were authorised to take up arms against vagabond robbers. The Council marked an important stage in the development of papal legislative authority. The Cathari were eventually pursued, massacred and persecuted into oblivion by the papacy with the help of the French crown. Sanctions were invoked against usurers, Jews, Saracens, and those aiding pirates. Alexander, a considerable lawyer, is considered a class pope. Alexander was a pupil of Abelard.
The papal election of 1159, in which the majority of the cardinals had chosen Alexander 3rd, witnessed a strong effort on the part of Frederick to secure the election of a candidate favourable to his policies. A minority of the cardinals had chosen Victor 4th, thus beginning a line of five rival popes ending in 1180, around the time of this Council.
Alexander, faced by strong imperial opposition in Italy, fled to France in April 1162. This move prevented a total victory by the Emperor and enabled Alexander to build support in France and England, where he gained the recognition of kings Louis 7th and Henry 2nd. During this period, Alexander also continued to hold the loyalty of most of the clergy in Italy, especially in the south, and many of those in Germany.
He continued to press forward the program of Church ‘reform’ begun in the previous century under the leadership of Pope Gregory 7th. He supported Thomas Becket, archbishop of Canterbury, in his dispute with King Henry 2nd of England on the issue of the legal status of the clergy (1160s), despite the risk that he would lose much-needed royal support.
There was much problem with split jurisdiction, as the Church sheltered all manner of nuisances including murderers among the clergy. These were able to claim protection because clergy had the right to be subject to church law. Henry was not happy with this situation. Becket, a one time close friend of Henry, took to great displays of wealth and power that rivalled Henry’s rather unpretentious manner. This also did not please Henry. After the murder of Becket, Alexander found Henry easier to deal with and they were able to reach some agreement. Incidentally, Henry 2nd was tireless in travelling his vast domains, which included Britain and most of the west of modern France, bringing order and justice. Sadly his kids, Richard and John, weren’t up to the job. Child rearing was not his special talent.
church building craze
From about this time, for the next hundred years, there was an enormous church building spree in France, resulting in about 80 new cathedrals and 500, often substantial, churches. It has been estimated that something like a third of the gross national product was devoted to the process. This job creation scheme has left us with some of the most impressive achievements of humankind. The project started with innovatory building techniques pioneered by Abbot Suger at St.-Denis, now a northern suburb of Paris. For much more, start with Cathedrals - introduction: reading stained glass.
The Council, generally considered the greatest council before Trent, was years in preparation. Pope Innocent 3rd desired the widest possible representation and more than 400 bishops, 800 abbots and priors, envoys of many European kings and personal representatives of Frederick 2nd (confirmed by the council as Emperor of the West) took part. The purpose of the council was twofold: reform of the Church and the recovery of the Holy Land. Many of the conciliar decrees touching on church reform and organisation remained in effect for centuries.
The Council ruled on such vexing problems as the use of church property, tithes, judicial procedures, and patriarchal precedence. It ordered Jews and Saracens to wear distinctive dress, but not, as far as I know, the yellow stars demanded by the later National Socialist administration of catholic apostate, Adolph Schicklgruber. Catholics were ordered to make a yearly confession and to receive communion during the Easter season. The Council also ruled that the clergy might no longer participate in trial-by-ordeal or trial-by-combat rituals.
The teachings of the Cathars and Waldenses were condemned. Innocent also ordered a four-year truce among Christian rulers so that a new crusade could be launched. A long lasting pogrom and persecution under the form of crusade was launched against the ascetic Cathars, finally crushing the southern civilisation. The Council also denounced the Magna Carta and confirmed the order of Franciscans. The Dominican order was given provisional approval and became a sort of church Gestapo running various inquisitions; the Cathars were their training ground. Innocent was rather keen on crusades, having earlier promoted the chaotic fourth crusade. Much of the impetus for the mendicant (begging) orders arose from the Cathars mocking the riches and high living of those originally sent to convert them to the true faith.
Innocent 3rd had earlier excommunicated bad King John of England. Excommunication was the church equivalent of declaring outlawry; it gave people sanction not to obey a ruler. But John just grew richer by various impositions on the church and relief from church taxes. Among other scams, John seized the lady friends of the clergy and ransomed them back.
|13|| The First Council of Lyon (thirteenth Ecumenical Council,
1245) ever more involved in power politics, this Council was more political
than traditional. The major concerns were Mongol incursions into Europe, the
loss of Jerusalem, problems with Byzantium and so on, and, of course, the ever-present
concerns over naughty priests. Above all, Frederick 2nd continued
to be irritating, ever since Gregory 9th had excommunicated him for
avoiding a promise to go on crusade.
In 1245, Pope Innocent 4th fled to Lyon from the besieged city of Rome. Having convened a general council attended by only about 150 bishops, the Pope renewed the church's excommunication of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick 2nd and declared him deposed on four counts: perjury, disturbing the peace, sacrilege, and suspicion of heresy. During the council, the Pope also urged support for Louis 9th, king of France, who was preparing for the Seventh Crusade.
|14|| The Second Council of Lyon (fourteenth Ecumenical Council,
1274). The Council of Lyon was convened by Pope Gregory 10th in 1274
after Michael 8th Palaeologus, the Byzantine Emperor, gave assurances
that the Orthodox Church was prepared to reunite with Rome. By acknowledging
the supremacy of the Pope, Michael hoped to gain financial support for his wars
of conquest. Accordingly, a profession of faith, which included sections on
purgatory, the sacraments and the primacy of the Pope, was approved by the Orthodox
representatives and some 200 Western prelates and reunion was formally accepted.
The Greek clergy, however, soon repudiated the agreement.
The Council also formulated and approved strict regulations to ensure the speedy election of future popes and it placed restrictions on certain religious orders, several mendicant orders being suppressed. It also declared that the Holy Spirit proceeds eternally from the Father and the Son.
|15|| The Council of Vienne (fifteenth Ecumenical Council,
1311 – 1312, Templars). Philip 4th of France ‘invited’
Pope Clement 5th and all Western bishops to attend; he personally
ordered 230 bishops to be present but only about 120 came. Vienne, near Lyon,
was chosen because it was easily accessible and because it was a practically
independent state, not acquired by France until 1349.
Philip demanded the posthumous trial of Pope Boniface 8th and the suppression of the Knights Templars, one of the great military religious orders founded during the Crusades. No trial was held, but the Templars were suppressed by a papal order. Philip had previously tortured Templars to extract confessions of heresy; it is said in order to acquire their property.
The Council voted money for a crusade, which came to nothing, and issued the habitual reform decrees. The Council heard a dispute between two opposing factions among the Franciscans, the ‘Spirituals’ and the ‘Conventuals’, concerning the practice of poverty and sided with the more moderate Conventuals.
For flavour, here are some further concerns covered by the canons of this Council:
Sanctifying grace is infused into the soul at baptism. Condemnation of the proposal that a perfect man is not subject to ecclesiastical and civil law (this against the Beghards/Beguines who also held it sinful to kiss a woman but not sinful to have sex with her). That clerics may not wear fashionable clothing in public, including they may not wear in public chequered, red or green boots nor cover their tonsure with a hat. Clerics may not hunt nor own hunting dogs or birds nor have fancy horse tackle. Nuns are enjoined not to wear silk, various furs or sandals; not wear their hair long in a horn-shaped style, nor make use of striped and multicoloured caps, nor attend dances and the banquets of seculars.
Orders are made that provision is made for the teaching of Hebrew, Arabic and Chaldaic at Paris, Oxford, Bologna and Salamanca. There are orders on the behaviour of inquisitors, no person below the age of 40 may be an inquisitor, and rules for the administration of the imprisonment of ‘heretics’.
‘There is a place, moreover, where once was buried a certain Saracen whom other Saracens venerate as a saint. A great number of Saracens flock there quite openly from far and near. This brings disrepute on our faith and gives great scandal to the faithful. These practices cannot be tolerated any further without displeasing the divine majesty. We therefore, with the sacred council's approval, strictly forbid such practices henceforth in Christian lands.’
|16|| The Council of Constance (sixteenth Ecumenical
Council, 1414 – 1418, Great
Schism, Hus). Following the election of
two rival popes (Gregory 12th in Rome and Benedict 13th in Avignon) in 1378, and the attempt at the Council of Pisa in 1409 to resolve
the Western Schism by the election of
a new pope, the church found itself with three popes instead of one. To this
council's failure to effect stronger reforms, the Protestant Reformation has
in large part been attributed.
The council condemned forty-five propositions of Wycliffe and thirty of Hus. Sigismund had assured Hus of safe-conduct to journey to Constance and back (no matter what the decision might be); Hus finally consented to go. He left for Constance but did not receive the promised safe-conduct until two days after his arrival there, in November 1414. Shortly after arriving in Constance, he was, with Sigismund's tacit consent, arrested and placed in close confinement, from which he never emerged. There was a kangaroo court, Hus refused to recant so he was solemnly sentenced on 6th July 1415, and duly burned at the stake. This became a spark for decades of wars, known as the Hussite wars.
Under pressure from the Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund, John 23rd, the successor of the Pisa pope, summoned a council at Constance, principally to reunite Christendom but also to examine the teachings of John Wycliffe and Jan Hus.
Political rivalries so divided the large number of council delegates that a revolutionary system of voting was adopted. Each of the four power blocs (Italy, England, Germany, and France) was granted a single vote; later the cardinals were given a vote as a group, and still later Spain was empowered to vote. John 23rd, after being threatened with an investigation of his life, promised to resign if his rivals would do the same. Shortly after, however, he fled from Constance, hoping that this act would deprive the Council of its power and lead to its dissolution. The Emperor insisted that the Council continue and issued the decree Sacrosancta, affirming that a general council of the Church is superior to the Pope. It further decreed that frequent councils are essential for the proper government of the Church. This decree has been a matter of ongoing power struggle with associated wrangling.
John 23rd was then captured and deposed. Gregory 12th agreed to abdicate provided he was permitted officially to convoke the council and so assert the legitimacy of his own line of popes, to which the council agreed. Benedict 13th, who refused to resign, was also deposed. In November 1417, the council elected Oddone Colonna, who became pope as Martin 5th, thus effectively ending the Great Schism.
The death of Hus made him a martyr and a national hero in the memory of his Czech followers. They raised a storm of denunciation against Sigismund and expressed their resentment by widespread attacks on orthodox priests and churches. The Catholics retaliated in kind and Bohemia was in a state of civil war.
Sigismund proposed to the princes a land peace embracing the whole of Germany. The abolition of private wars and feuds by such a peace was undeniably a paramount necessity. The princes themselves, however, were among the chief offenders against law and order. Sigismund, increasingly absorbed in negotiations with the Hussites, did not persevere. The death of Sigismund at the close of 1437 ended the tenure of the German throne by the House of Luxembourg and opened the door to the Habsburg [16a] dynasty.
At this time, German masters upheld nominalism and were regarded as enemies of church reform. By contrast, the nationalistic Czech masters, inclined to realist philosophy, were enthusiastic readers of the philosophical writings of John Wycliffe, a bitter critic of nominalism.
Hus studied Wycliffe's works and later his theological writings, which were brought into Prague in 1401. Hus was influenced by Wycliffe's proposals for reform of the Roman clergy. The clerical estates owned about one-half of all the land in Bohemia, and the great wealth and simoniacal  practices of the higher clergy aroused jealousy and resentment among the poor priests. The Bohemian peasantry, too, resented the church as one of the heaviest land taxers. There was, thus, a large potential base of support for any church reform movement at a time when the authority of the papacy itself was discredited by the Great Schism. Wycliffe's works were chosen as support for the nationalist movement.
Had strong belief in predestination. This inclined him to believe in an ‘invisible’ church of the elect, constituted of those predestined to be saved, rather than in the ‘visible’ institutional Church of Rome. His main hobby was the doctrine of transubstantiation. As a Realist philosopher believing that universal concepts have a real existence, he attacked it because, in the annihilation of the substance of bread and wine, the cessation of being was involved.
|17|| The Council of Basle-Ferrara-Florence-Lausanne (seventeenth
Ecumenical Council, 1431 – 1449) in which as usual the Latin and
Greek Churches tried to reach agreement on their doctrinal differences and end
the schism between them. After much discussion, the Greeks agreed to accept
the Filioque and also the Latin statements
on purgatory, the Eucharist and papal primacy. The Council ended in an agreed
decree of reunion, but the reunion was short-lived.
The Council started at Basle, though, not finding the discussions to his taste, Pope Eugenius 4th tried to close it. However, the Council continued at Basle. It confirmed the decrees of Constance that the Council was superior to the pope. Seeing the strength of the opposition, Eugenius then recognised the Council.
In 1436, the struggle continued as Eugenius tried denouncing the Council and he started an alternative gathering at Ferrara. It was declared here that
the Holy Apostolic See and Roman Pontiff hold the primacy over all the world; that the Roman Pontiff is the successor of Peter, prince of the Apostles; that he is the true vicar of Christ, the head of the whole Church, the Father and teacher of all Christians.This Council was moved from Ferrara to Florence when a plague hit Ferrara. In 1448, it moved again to Lausanne, where it closed in April the next year.
The power struggle between Pope and Council, between dictatorship and a degree of democracy, continues to this day.
After Pope Eugenius 4th broke off relations with the Council of Basle in 1439, the prelates elected Amadeus 8th pope under the name of Felix 5th. Felix 5th was the last of the alternative popes. Amadeus was previously Duke of Savoy (the alpine region where modern France and Italy meet). In 1434, After 42 years on the throne, Amadeus retired to a monastery at Ripaille. His retirement was only partial and he continued to exercise power, with his son Louis (Ludovico) acting as his lieutenant. Amadeus-Felix resigned as pope 10 years later under pressure from the kings of France, England and Sicily.
|18|| The fifth Lateran Council (eighteenth Ecumenical Council,
1512 – 1517). The failure of the eighteenth Council to tackle widespread
clerical abuse is considered to have led directly to Luther’s reform. This council was convoked by Pope Julius 2nd in response to a council summoned at Pisa by a group of cardinals who were hostile
to the Pope. The Pope's council had reform as its chief concern. It restored
peace among warring Christian rulers and sanctioned a new concordat with France
to supersede the Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges of 1438. In dogmatic decrees,
the Council declared the immortality of the soul and repudiated declarations
of the Councils of Constance and Basle that made Church councils superior to the Pope.
There were growing demands for freedom by those like Martin Luther (1483 – 1546), while rulers like Henry 8th of England (1491 – 1547) became increasingly annoyed at the Church as a competitive power base. In combination with the acquisitive inclinations of rulers as they eyed the enormous church wealth and estates and the disdain of reformers, the vulnerability of the fat and arrogant clerical establishment escalated.
Luther, Martin (1483 – 1546)
The immediate cause of Luther's public protest was an indulgence that Frederick had prohibited from his lands, though still available in nearby territory. This was a jubilee indulgence offering special privileges, the ostensible purpose of which was the rebuilding of St. Peter’s basilica in Rome. By a secret arrangement, half of the German proceeds were to go to Albert, archbishop of Mainz, who was deeply in debt owing to his rapid promotion to, and attendant payments for, a number of high ecclesiastical offices.
Luther regarded such practices as abusive and questioned the degree of the Pope’s authority. He published ninety-five criticisms of current practices and generally made himself a nuisance to the authorities. Thus, in 1520, Luther was subject to the standard Roman honour of having his books burnt; he was, of course, threatened with violence and was obliged to go on the run. In May 1521, the Diet of Worms passed the Edict of Worms, which declared that Luther was an outlaw and a heretic who should be captured and turned over to the emperor and that the writings of Luther were forbidden. The edict was never effected.
Luther revenged himself the following year by publicly burning a papal bull (edict). Luther, an accomplished theologian, was a major exploiter of the rapid growth of the print media. The Church, meanwhile, stepped up its censorship activities: a number of printers going to the stake, especially in Holland, for printing protest-ant literature.
|19|| The Council of Trent (nineteenth Ecumenical Council,
1545 – 1563). Realising at last that rebellion and reform would not go
away, and as the various dissenters continued to gain ground, the Church finally
decided to act and reform.
Though Germany demanded a general council following the excommunication of the German Reformation leader Martin Luther, Pope Clement 7th held back for fear of renewed attacks on his supremacy. France too, preferred inaction, afraid of increasing German power. Clement's successor, Paul 3rd, however, was convinced that Christian unity and effective Church reform could come only through a council. After his first attempts were frustrated, he convoked a council at Trent (northern Italy), which opened on 13th December 1545. The holy Roman Emperor, Charles 5th, wanted a council to unite Christendom as a means of holding his far flung empire together, while the Pope was more interested in crushing Protest-antism—politics as usual!
Sweeping decrees on self-reform and dogmatic definitions that clarified virtually every doctrine contested by the Protest-ants were enacted. Despite internal strife, external dangers and two lengthy interruptions, the Council played a vital role in regrouping the Roman Church in many parts of Europe. Attendance at the Council was never much above a hundred and, early on, as low as thirty-four. Some ‘Protest-ants’ attended but eventually left. The stitch-up of papal control by stuffing the College of Cardinals with Italians, a practice that has survived until very recent times, was well under way.
Period 1 (1545 – 1547): The Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed was accepted as the basis of Catholic faith; the canon of Old and New Testament books was defined; tradition was accepted as a source of faith. The Latin Vulgate was declared adequate for doctrinal proofs; the number of sacraments was fixed at seven; and the nature and consequences of original sin were defined (Pelagianism revisited). After months of intense debate, the Council ruled against Luther's doctrine of justification by faith alone: man, the Council said, was inwardly justified by co-operating with the divine grace that God bestows gratuitously. The crusade against Islam continued to exercise minds.
By enjoining on bishops an obligation to reside in their respective sees, the Church effectively abolished plurality of bishoprics. Political problems forced the Council's transfer to Bologna and finally interrupted its unfinished work altogether. Decrees relating to the censorship of books were adopted and more books banned in time honoured fashion; the doctrine of marriage was defined and decrees on Purgatory and indulgences adopted.
Period 2 (1551 – 1552): Before military events forced a second adjournment of the Council, the delegates reaffirmed that the Eucharist is the Real Presence of Christ in opposition to Zwingli, the Swiss Reformation leader, and asserted the doctrine of transubstantiation as opposed to that of Luther. The sacrament of penance was extensively defined, extreme unction (later the anointing of the sick) explicated, and decrees issued on episcopal jurisdiction and clerical discipline. German Protestants, meanwhile, were demanding a reconsideration of all the Council's previous doctrinal decrees and wanted a statement asserting that a council's authority is superior to that of the Pope.
Period 3 (1562 – 1563): Pope Paul 4th opposed the Council, but it was restarted by Pius 4th. The arrival of French bishops reopened the explosive question regarding the obligations of bishops to reside in their sees. The mass was defined as a true sacrifice; canons were issued on holy orders, matrimony, purgatory, indulgences, and on the veneration of saints, images and relics. The Council enacted reform decrees on clerical morals and the establishment of seminaries.
Pius 4th confirmed the Council's decrees in 1564 and published a summary of its doctrinal statements; observance of disciplinary decrees was imposed under sanctions. In short order, the catechism of Trent appeared, the missal and breviary were revised and, eventually, a revised version of the Bible was published. By the end of the century, many of the abuses that had motivated the Protest-ant Reformation had disappeared and the Roman Church had reclaimed many of its followers in Europe. The Council, however, failed to heal the schism in the Western Christian Church.
Jerome’s translation was not accepted, but by the mid-6th century a complete Bible containing most of Jerome’s translation with the separate books bound in a single cover was commonly used. The remainder of the New Testament was taken from older Latin versions, which may have been slightly revised by Jerome.
Various editors and correctors produced revised texts of the Vulgate over the years. The University of Paris produced an important edition in the 13th century. Its primary purpose was to provide an agreed standard for theological teaching and debate.
In 1546, the Council of Trent decreed that the Vulgate was the exclusive Latin authority for the Bible, it also required that it be printed with the fewest possible faults. The so-called Clementine Vulgate, issued by Pope Clement 8th in 1592, became the authoritative biblical text of the Roman Catholic Church. From it, the Confraternity Version was translated in 1941. In 1965, a commission was established by the second Vatican Council to revise the Vulgate.
It was decided that the bread is changed into the body, blood, soul and divinity of christ and the wine also is changed into the body, blood, soul and divinity of christ. Therefore, reception of either was reception of the total: body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus-christ. This definition was thought to be necessary because many were worried that they only got blood with the wine and body with the bread!
They early vowed to accept any apostolic work requested by the Pope. In 1539, Ignatius drafted the first outline of the order's organisation, which Pope Paul 3rd approved on 27th September, 1540. The society grew rapidly, and it quickly assumed a prominent role in the Counter-Reformation defence and revival of Catholicism. Almost from the beginning, education and scholarship became the principal work. They were also heavily involved in ‘converting’ in the wake of the conquests in pursuit of European mercantilism in India, Africa, Japan, South America and elsewhere. By 1749, there were nearly 23,000 Jesuits.
The society introduced several innovations into the religious life in the interest of greater mobility and adaptability. These involved the discontinuance of many medieval practices such as regular penances or fasts, a common uniform, and the choral recitation of the liturgical office. Other innovations included a highly centralised form of authority with life tenure for the head of the order, widely known as the Grey Eminence; probation lasting many years; gradation of members; and lack of a female branch. Particular emphasis was laid upon the virtue of obedience, including special obedience to the Pope.
In 1773, Pope Clement 14th, under pressure, especially from the governments of France, Spain, and Portugal, issued a decree abolishing the order. The society's corporate existence was maintained in Russia, where political circumstances prevented the suppression. Demands that the Jesuits take up their former work, especially in the field of education and in the missions, became so insistent that in 1814 Pope Pius 7th re-established the society. Some regard them as the shock troops of the Vatican army.
The new pope, Pope Francis [appointed 13 March 2013], is the first pope from the Society of Jesus.
|20|| And now much later, as they say in the story books. The First
Vatican Council (twentieth Ecumenical Council, opened
in 1869 and adjourned on 20th October, 1870). This Council was never
closed officially, but was suspended. Technically, it continued until the close
of Vatican 2. Of this 20th Council
,the most important decree was that of the primacy of the Pope and of papal
This Council was convoked by Pope Pius 9th to deal with the ‘problems’ of the rising influence of rationalism, liberalism and materialism. Many of the ‘problems’ are listed in an encyclical which takes the form of a list of ‘errors’: The Syllabus Of Errors (Syllabus Errorum, 1864).
The statement on the Pope’s infallibility was approved only after long and heated debate both preceding and during the Council. The decree states:
That the pope is the true successor of St. Peter and has full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the whole Church;The original schema had not included a statement of papal infallibility, but the majority of the Council fathers, urged on by Pius 9th, overrode vociferous opposition from those who argued that a formal definition was inopportune, and gave their approval to the dogmatic definition. Perhaps it is unsurprising that Pius 9th was worried by the advance of rationalism.
|21|| The Second Vatican Council (twenty-first Ecumenical Council,
1962 – 1965). The objective was ‘spiritual renewal’, and to
be an occasion for Christians separated from Rome to join in search for reunion
Those summoned to the Council included all Catholic bishops and certain other
church dignitaries. Invited to the Council sessions, but without the right to
vote, were a number of observers from the major Christian Churches and communities
separated from Rome and a number of Catholics called auditors. For the first
time in history, a concession was made to political correctness in that ‘heretics’
became ‘our separate brethren’, but the demand for union remained
upon unconditional surrender to Rome.
Several constitutions and decrees were promulgated, including the Constitution on Sacred Liturgy that allowed the vernacular in Church services. Until this time, a priest babbled in Latin, of which most of the audience had no knowledge while they faced his back. As Lehrer said, “ if he wants to make the church more commercial ”.
A major problem with Vatican 2 was that a reforming pope told the faithful they were allowed to think. So, vast numbers of priests and nuns decided to marry or set up house, just as in days of yore. The hierarchy disliked this and so most of the effected clergy chose to desert the monasteries and rectories, leaving the army rather short of troops. Ever since, the Vatican establishment have been trying to put the lid back on the pot.
As a cameo of the influence of the modern Church, consider the issue of birth prevention, upon which the Church has staked a great deal of credibility: they are implacably against it. The two countries in the world with the lowest birth rates are Italy and Spain, the very centre of the Church establishment.
However, the Church still exerts much power around the world despite its difficulties. An institution that has survived 2,000 years, even if it is now looking decidedly shop-worn, is not to be taken lightly. For survival it has no clear equal. Of recent years, it has even admitted to faults over its treatment of Jewry, and Galileo. It continues to seek to adapt to modern tides, while giving the impression of permanence and authority. Meanwhile there are vast numbers of millions who still crave the services proffered by such organisations. This Church remains a market leader which, despite its many foolishnesses and vanities, has also offered some degree of humanity in often dangerous and trying times.
Creeds are formal statements of the dogmas that members of the Church are obliged to believe. They are rather akin to oaths of allegiance or saluting the flag. Naturally creeds have been a constant source of contention down the ages, as ever more subtle word forms have been sought in order to keep everyone on board: not an easy job where there is emotional attachment to rather arcane niceties. Many a time various protagonists have been accused of ‘heresy’ by rivals in the pursuit of political advantage. Underneath the surface of the creeds exists a great mass of ‘canon’ law, hence the ecumenical councils issue canons which may be read as laws. At this level there are church law courts with all attendant paraphernalia.
Three creeds find some ecumenical acknowledgement: the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed (also called the Nicene Creed), the Athanasian Creed and the Apostles’ Creed. The apostles’ creed is the baptismal confession of the Roman Catholic community; its original form as a Greek hymn can be traced back to the apostolic tradition (of the 2nd century). The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed is the confession of faith of the ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 325, which was later supplemented at the ecumenical Council of Constantinople in 381. The Athanasian Creed is a Latin creed whose theological content can be traced back to Athanasius of Alexandria (4th century) but which probably first originated in the 5th century in Spain or southern Gaul. It contains a detailed formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity and Christology (the two-natures doctrine), which was influenced by Augustine. The Churches of the Reformation accepted all three creeds.
Around central confessional statements about Jesus as the Christ in the New Testament—“Jesus is Lord” (Romans 10:9), “You are the Christ” (Matthew 16:16)—are concentrated a series of further assertions that assert ‘his significance for salvation and concern his suffering, death by crucifixion, the ‘resurrection’ and his status as god.
Regular use of a creed as a baptismal confession and, accordingly, in the preparation of candidates for baptism in catechetical instruction, influenced its formulation. This was also used both in the eucharistic service, as an expression of the congregation's unity in faith and as testimony before the world in times of persecution ,and as norm of faith in altercation with ‘heresies’.
Development of confessions of faith into theological didactic creeds, which began during the christological controversies of the 5th century, was continued in the Reformation. The relatively short creedal formulas grew into extensive creedal compositions, primarily because the Reformers conducted their battles with the Roman Church as a struggle for “pure doctrine”, as well as for a foundation for the unity of the Church.
A similar development of doctrinal confessions occurred in Calvinism. The idea of the completion of confessional writings is missing in the Lutheran churches, but not in Calvinistic Churches: the revision of old and the formation of new creedal writings are permitted and, in part, are provided for in the rules of the Church. Thus the Barmen Declaration in 1934, against the “German Christians” and the Nazi world-view, arose primarily from Reformed circles. The Anglican Church incorporated the Thirty-nine Articles (a confessional statement) and a short catechism into The Book of Common Prayer of 1559 – 1662 (revised in the United States by the Protestant Episcopal Church in 1928 and 1979). They thereby emphasised the unity of doctrine and worship.
Some denominations (e.g., the Quakers, the Disciples of Christ and some Baptists) have rejected any form of creed because they believe creeds to be obstacles to the Christian faith, thus conflicting with the freedom of the Holy Spirit.
The shifting of the chief emphasis in church life to “pure doctrine” in the 16th and 17th centuries also obliged the Orthodox and Roman Churches to formulate their teaching in confessional texts. At the Council of Trent (1545 – 1563) the Roman Church countered the Protestant doctrinal creeds with The ‘Tridentine’ Profession of Faith (also known as the Tridentine creed), which at the end of every article of faith anathematises the dissenting Protestant article of faith. This appears in the form of canons and is of substantial size. The Hanover College site [based in Indiana, US] contains much detail on the Council of Trent.
In modern Christendom, development of creedal formulation is continued in two areas.
|1||Within the ecumenical movement, since the formation of the World Council
of Churches in 1948, there have been attempts to create a brief uniform
confession as the common basis of faith for the Christians in that Council.
These efforts have not yet been concluded. According to its constitution,
the World Council of Churches is “a fellowship of Churches which accepts
our Lord Jesus Christ as God and Saviour”. In 1960 at St. Andrews,
Scotland, the World Council's central committee unanimously accepted an
expanded draft of the “basis”: The World Council of Churches
is a community of churches which confess the Lord Jesus Christ, according
to the Holy Scriptures, as God and Saviour and therefore seek to fulfil
that to which they are jointly called, to the glory of God the Father, the
Son and the Holy Spirit. This new version ensued mainly at the instigation
of the Orthodox churches, for whom the hitherto existing form of the “basis”
was not adequate.
The movement of Catholicism into joining with or better absorbing other churches
has a long, and not very propitious, history. Moves have shown some indication
of sincerity since Vatican 2. Complicated
attempts to draft a modern ecumenical confession have been attempted but the
Roman Church is guarded. It is not a member of the World Council, although
conciliar Protest-ant and Orthodox members are reluctant to make major moves
without considering Roman interests.
|2||There are great numbers of churches that are products of missionary endeavours by the West. For a time they were called “the younger Churches”, but are now more frequently referred to simply as Asian or African Churches or Churches in developing nations. Among them the doctrinal disputes and confessional battles of Western Christendom have often been viewed as alien, imported, and frequently incomprehensible.|
Until the early 20th century, it was universally assumed that the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed (the more accurate term) was an enlarged version of the Creed of Nicaea, which was promulgated at the first ecumenical Council of Nicaea (325). It was further assumed that this enlargement had been carried out at the second ecumenical Council of Constantinople (381) with the object of bringing the Creed of Nicaea up to date in regard to heresies about the Incarnation and the Holy Spirit that had risen since the Council of Nicaea.
Additional discoveries of documents in the 20th century, however, indicated that the situation was more complex, and the actual development of the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed has been the subject of scholarly dispute. Most likely, it was issued by the Council of Constantinople, although this fact was first explicitly stated at the Council of Chalcedon in 451. It was probably based on a baptismal creed already in existence, but it was an independent document and not an enlargement of the Creed of Nicaea.
The so-called Filioque clause (Latin filioque: “and from the son”), inserted after the words “the Holy Spirit who proceedeth from the Father”, was gradually introduced as part of the creed in the Western Church, beginning in the 6th century. It was probably finally accepted by the papacy in the 11th century. It has been retained by the Roman, Anglican, and Protestant Churches. The Eastern Churches have always rejected it because they consider it theological error and an unauthorised addition to a venerable document.
A Modern English version of the text is as follows:
The Nicene Creed
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, one in Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made. For us men and for our salvation he
came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
On the third day he rose again in fulfilment of the Scriptures;
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds
from the Father and the Son. With the Father
and the Son he is worshipped and glorified.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
Here is another version from the eastern tradition 
Following, then, the holy Fathers, we all with one voice teach that it should be confessed that our Lord Jesus Christ is one and the same Son, the Same perfect in Godhead, the Same perfect in manhood, truly God and truly man, the Same [consisting] of a rational soul and a body; homoousios (consubstantial) with the Father as to His Godhead, and the Same homoousios (consubstantial) with us as to His manhood; in all things like unto us, sin only excepted; begotten of the Father before ages as to His Godhead, and in the last days, the Same, for us and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin Theotokos as to His manhood;
One and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, made known in two natures [which exist] without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the difference of the natures having been in no wise taken away by reason of the union, but rather the properties of each being preserved, and [both] concurring into one prosopon and one hypostasis—not parted or divided into two prosopa, but one and the Same Son and Only-begotten, the divine Logos, the Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from of old [have spoken] concerning Him, and as the Lord Jesus Christ Himself has taught us, and as the Symbol of the Fathers (the Nicene Creed) has delivered to us.
A Latin document composed in the Western Church, the creed was unknown to the Eastern Church until the 12th century. Since the 17th century, scholars have generally agreed that the Athanasian Creed was not written by Athanasius (died 373 AD) but was probably composed in southern France during the 5th century. Many authors have been suggested, but no definite conclusions have been reached.
In 1940, the lost Excerpta of Vincent (c. 400 – 450) of Lérins (an island just off Cannes) was discovered, this work containing much of the language of the creed. Thus, either Vincent or an admirer of his has been considered the possible author.
Now the text of the Athanasian Creed
For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another
of the Holy Spirit.
Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Spirit.
The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Spirit eternal.
So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God.
For as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge each Person
by Himself to be both God and Lord, so we are also forbidden by the catholic
religion to say that there are three gods or three lords.
And in the Trinity none is before or after another; none is greater or
less than another, but all three Persons are co-eternal together and co-equal.
Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe
rightly the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Equal to the Father, as touching His godhead; and inferior to the Father,
as touching His manhood;
For as the rational soul and flesh is one man, so God and man is one
At His coming all men will rise again with their bodies and shall give
account for their own works.
An English version (as used in the Roman Church) follows:
I [We] believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
Britannica CD, Version 97, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc.,
The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, J. D. Douglas (general editor), Paternoster Press, 1974, 0853641676 (out of print).
Papal encyclicals are currently available here.
|Related further reading|
authority, quarrels and words
|1||The document Heresies: 'heresy', authority, quarrels and words and this document are tightly inter-linked.|
|2||Note in the summary for Council 8 there is some potential for confusion, for when the eastern churches refer to the 8th Council they sometimes mean the counter-council of Photius.|
|3||For amusement, see the encyclical Lux Veritas,
Pius 11th, 1931.
Available at Papal encyclicals.
|4||Much more on this in the heresies document.|
|5||F. Loofs, Nestorius, 1914, reprint 1975, p.53.|
|6||Chiliasm (from Greek chilioi: thousand), which affirms that Christ will come to earth in a visible form and set up a theocratic kingdom over all the world and thus usher in the millennium, or the 1,000-year reign of Christ and his elect. During the first hundred years of Christian history, this form of millenarianism was commonly taught and accepted within the church. Persecution of the church was intermittent, however, and apocalyptic zeal flagged without the pressure of opposition.|
|8||For a fascinating summary see L. White Jr., Medieval
Technology and Social Change, 1966, OUP, 0195002660,
pbk, $9.32 [amazon.com] / £7.34 [amazon.co.uk]
|9||For an account see C. Given-Wilson & A. Curteis, The Royal Bastards of Medieval England, Routledge Press, ISBN 0415028264 (out of print)|
|11||G.W. Greenaway, Arnold of Brescia, with bibliography, 1931. (out of print)|
|12||The dissonance and conflicts, between those who hold and wield power and who are faced with the complex realities and necessary compromises, and the idealists who theorise, has yet to be fully bridged.|
|13||The only English pope, formerly known as Nicholas Breakspear.|
|14||W. L. Warren, King John, p.168. (University of California Press, 1961, 1974, 1982, 0520036433, $19.95 pbk)|
|15||Not to be confused with the Great East-West Schism of 1054, also called the Great Schism.|
|16||Note a recent pope taking this name, this earlier John 23rd being deemed non grata.|
|16a||Also spelled Hapsburg; also known as the House of Austria.|
|17||See documents on universals in useful links, and discussions of Abelard in document in preparation for this site.|
|18||Simony: the buying or selling of ecclesiastical privileges, e.g. pardons or benefices.|
|19||Probably to save time and money.|
|20||Only following orders.|
|21||A neat encapsulation by H. M. Carson of the political background
and shenanigans is available on p.1101 of:
The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, J. D. Douglas (general editor), Paternoster Press, 1974, 0853641676 (out of print)
|22||Available at Papal encyclicals|
|23||Tom Lehrer,Vatican Rag on That was
the Year That Was
1966, re-issued as CD in 1990; Wea/Warner Brothers; ASIN: B000002KO7
$10.99 [amazon.com]/ £9.98 [amazon.co.uk]
|24||adjective: of or relating to the Council of Trent|
|25||Quoted from Is the Theology of the Church of the East
Nestorian? by Bishop Mar Bawai Soro and Chorbishop M. J. Birnie at
which attributes the quote as follows: ‘quoted, with a few small changes of my own, from Aloys Grillmeier, Christ in Christian Tradition, vol. I, p. 524’.
Should you be inclined to the experience, the site document is fascinating if rather rum.
Red links to parts of this document
Magenta highlights points of special note
email abelard at abelard.org
© abelard, 1999 (26 September)
the address for this document is http://www.abelard.org/councils/councils.htm