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The Ecumenical Councils Key source: F. W. Mattox, The Eternal Kingdom: A History of the Church of Christ, Delight, Arkansas: Gospel Light Publishing Company, 1961.
Ecumenical—Universal or world wide in extent It applies the first seven church councils to which all bishops were invited. Nicaea, 325 Constantinople, 381 Ephesus, 431 Chalcedon, 451 Constantinople, 553 Constantinople, 680 Nicaea, 787 The Ecumenical Councils
Authority and the Councils • Roman theologians maintain that the church as an organization does have the right to speak for God and that the bishops in council cannot err. • After the rise of the pope as universal head of the church, there was conflict over whether the pope or the council had the final authority. • After the pope gained ascendancy over the councils, councils were seldom called and their decisions were only accepted if they pleased the pope.
Nicaea, 325 andConstantinople, 381 • Constantine called the council of Nicaea June 19, 325. • Emperor Theodosius convoked the second general council in Constantinople in May, 381. • 150 bishops attended • The first decision was that the position taken by the 318 bishops of Nicaea was the truth and that this doctrine “shall not be set aside but shall remain dominant.”
Constantinople, 381 • Macdonius, a bishop of Constantinople from 341-360, had taught the Holy Spirit was subordinate to both the Father and the Son and was on the level of angels. • The council condemned this teaching and stated its faith in the “Holy Spirit, the Lord and the Life-giver, that proceedeth from the Father and Son is worshipped together and glorified together….”
Constantinople, 381 • The council decreed that Christ was human as well as divine. • Apollinaris, bishop of Laodicea, had strongly opposed Arianism, but began to philosophize as to how Jesus could be both human and divine. • He concluded Jesus was born with a natural body and soul, but instead of having a human spirit He had the divine logos. • The logos dominated the body and the soul and made Him divine. • This view was condemned by the council because it minimized the manhood of Christ.
Ephesus, 431 • Theologians began to call Mary the mother of God (Theotokos) to emphasize the divinity of her child. • Nestorius denied the divine nature was truly united with the body of Jesus. • He taught that Mary gave birth only to the human body, therefore she should not be called the “mother of God.”
Ephesus, 431 • Confusion caused Emperor Theodosius to call a council at Ephesus. • The council decreed Christ had perfect unity in His being and personality and that He was not of two different parts joined together in some mechanical way. • From this time on, the statement “Mary, the mother of God” was commonly used. • The divinity of Christ became generally accepted. • Emphasis in the statement was changed and Mary began to be exalted as though she were the source of Christ’s divine nature.
Chalcedon, 451 • Eutyches said Christ’s two natures were fused into one following the incarnation. • Emperor Marsian called the council of Chalcedon. • Leo, bishop of Rome, presented a paper condemning Eutyches’ teaching. • The council said “Peter has spoken through Leo” and drew up its decision based on his arguments.
The Decree of the Council of Chalcedon, 451 • “At once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; as of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood…begotten…of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation….”
Results of Chalcedon, 451 • Theodoret, bishop of Cyrrhus, Syria, was required to say, “Anathema to all who do not confess that the Virgin Mary is the mother of God.” • The council decreed that the bishop of Constantinople was due all the rights and powers bestowed upon the bishop of Rome. • As Rome ruled the West, Constantinople ruled the East. • Leo was unsuccessful in his strong opposition.
Constantinople 553 • Note: It is impossible to change ideas through legislation. • Eutychus’ doctrine was called Monophysitism (mono—one, physis—nature) • Emperor Justinian called a council to Constantinople because the theory so disturbed the churches in the East. • The bishops strongly condemned the theory. • However, the bishop of Rome, the emperor and other influential leaders changed opinions several times.
Events Leading to the Council of Constantinople, 680 • A companion theory, called Monotheletism (mono—one; thelma—will), said Christ only had a divine will. • Although Christ had two natures, He had only one personality and one will, according to this theory. • If Christ only had a divine will, His human nature would be repudiated and His overcoming human weaknesses would be ascribed to a lack of real temptation. • The emperor took the position of the Monothelites and sent the leading opponents into exile.
Constantinople, 680 • In 678, Constantine Poganatus, the new emperor, entered into negotiations with Domnus, bishop of Rome. • They agreed a settlement should be reached by a general council. • The Emperor called a council to meet in Constantinople in 680 and presided as chairman. • The idea that Christ had two wills was sustained by the council. • Those who said Christ had only one will were condemned.
The Iconoclastic Controversy • The Nicaean council of 787 was primarily called to resolve the iconoclastic controversy. • Icon—representation of a true historical person • Constantia, Constantine’s sister, wrote Eusebius asking him to send her an “image of Christ.” • Eusebius said images were forbidden by the Law, unknown in the churches and to have such would be to follow pagan idolatry. • Eusebius also said Christians have the living Christ and have no need of artificial images.
The Iconoclastic Controversy • Pictures and images came into use as teaching aids from the fourth century. • As Bible study declined, icons were relied upon to a greater extent. • Pictures and images were arranged to depict Christ from His birth to ascension. • The crucifix came into use as an aid to worship. • As superstition developed, these images took on special significance to the ignorant. • People began to fondle and kiss them, as well as bowing down to them.
Problems with Icons • The emperors were alarmed, but the bishops of the West, especially the pope, favored the use of icons. • In the East, the Mohammedans reproached the Christians as idolaters. • John, bishop of Damascus, said God was in the images. • He said they were actual representations of the Invisible in much the same way as in the Lord’s supper.
Problems with Icons • In 730, Emperor Leo the Isaurian issued a decree that all images and pictures must be removed from the churches. • This was opposed by the Patriarch of Constantinople, so the emperor had him removed from office. • When word reached Pope Gregory III in Rome (731), he excommunicated the emperor and all church officials who would not restore the images.
The Great Synod in the Palace of Hieria, 754 • Emperor Constantine V summoned the bishops of his Empire to a great synod in the palace Hieria, which lay opposite to Constantinople. • This has been called the seventh ecumenical council or the mock synod. • The number of those present amounted to 338 bishops, mostly iconoclasts. • The synod condemned the use of images.
Nicaea, 787 • The pope rejected the conclusions of the synod of Hieria. • Emperor Constantine VI called a world council to settle the issue. • The council restored images to the churches. • It said worship could be given to God alone and the images could receive no more than veneration. • It was not long until worship was again being offered to the images.
The End of Ecumenical Councils • After 100 years, the pope and his assistants persuaded the emperor to stop opposing images. • In 860, the Council of Constantinople decreed that images should be “worshipped with the same honor as the books of the holy gospels.” • From this point forward, the pope had more power than the emperor and decisions of councils would only be meaningful if agreeable to him.
Conclusion • Ecumenical councils were called by the Roman Emperors primarily in the interest of the unity of the empire. • They also viewed themselves as theologians and wanted to play a part in directing the course of the church. • These councils reflect the confusion which arose when men tried to harmonize human philosophy and Christianity.
Conclusion • The writing of creeds was supposed to bring unity. • Instead, it forced open division and a crystallization of positions. • At times, the decision of a council came from a small majority because of the eloquence of a particular individual.