What Makes a Council Ecumenical? Part II (A Florilegium)

As in part one, the quotations will be broken into groups and hyperlinked. We highly recommend you read part one since it has more quotations than part two and the introduction gives important context and analysis.

We have broken these quotations into the following two groups, you can click on the hyperlinks to be taken to each one.

  1. Universal consensus of bishops: Council of Nicaea I, Eusebius of Caesarea, Emperor St. Constantine the Great, Sozomen, Pope St. Gelasius, Council of Constantinople III, Council of Nicaea II, St. Photius the Great.
  2. Patriarchal ratification: Council of Nicaea II.

Universal Consensus of Bishops

First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea I (325 A.D)

“In the first place, then, the impiety and guilt of Arius and his adherents were examined into, in the presence of our most religious emperor Constantine: and it was unanimously decided that his impious opinion should be anathematized, with all the blasphemous expressions he has uttered, in affirming that ‘the Son of God sprang from nothing,’ and that ‘there was a time when he was not’; saying moreover that ‘the Son of God, because possessed of free will, was capable either of vice or virtue; and calling him a creature and a work. All these sentiments the holy Synod has anathematized, having scarcely patience to endure the hearing of such an impious opinion, or, rather, madness, and such blasphemous words.”

– Letter of the Council of Nicaea to the Church in Alexandria. Socrates, Ecc. Hist. Book 1, Ch. 9. NPNF Vol. 2

Eusebius of Caesarea (339 A.D)

“And inciting all to unanimity at length he [Emp. St. Constantine] succeeded in bringing them [the bishops at Nicaea] into similarity of judgment, and conformity of opinion on all the controverted points: so that there was not only unity in the confession of faith, but also a general agreement as to the time for the celebration of the feast of Salvation. Moreover the doctrines which had thus the common consent, were confirmed by the signature of each individual.”

– Eusebius of Caesarea, quoted by Sozomen in Ecc. Hist. Book I, Ch. 8. NPNF, Vol 2

“The declaration of faith set forth by us [at Nicaea], which when read in the presence of our most pious emperor, seemed to meet with universal approbation [articles of faith follow] When these articles of faith were proposed, there seemed to be no ground of opposition: nay, our most pious emperor himself was the first to admit that they were perfectly correct, and that he himself had entertained the sentiments contained in them; exhorting all present to give them their assent, and subscribe to these very articles, thus agreeing in a unanimous profession of them, with the insertion, however, of that single word “homoousios” (consubstantial), an expression which the emperor himself explained, as not indicating corporeal affections or properties; and consequently that the Son did not subsist from the Father either by division or abscission: for said he, a nature which is immaterial and incorporeal cannot possibly be subject to any corporeal affection; hence our conception of such things can only be in divine and mysterious terms. […] Such is what I have to state to you in reference to the articles of faith which have been promulgated; and in which we have all concurred, not without due examination, but according to the senses assigned, which were investigated in the presence of our most highly favored emperor, and for the reasons mentioned approved.”

– Eusebius of Caesarea, Letter to the Christians at Caesarea on Palestine. Quoted by Sozomen in Ecc. Hist. Book 1, Ch. 8. NPNF Vol. 2

Emperor St. Constantine the Great (337 A.D)

“But to sum up matters briefly, it was determined by common consent that the most holy festival of Easter should be solemnized on one and the same day; for it is not even seemly that there should be in such a hallowed solemnity any difference: and it is more commendable to adopt that opinion in which there will be no intermixture of strange error, or deviation from what is right. These things therefore being thus consistent, do you gladly receive this heavenly and truly divine command: for whatever is done in the sacred assemblies of the bishops is referable to the Divine will.

– Letter of St. Constantine to the Churches. Socrates, Ecc. Hist. Book 1, Ch. 9. NPNF Vol. 2

“While more than three hundred bishops remarkable for their moderation and intellectual keenness, were unanimous in their confirmation of one and the same faith, which according to the truth and legitimate construction of the law of God can only be the faith; Arius alone beguiled by the subtlety of the devil, was discovered to be the sole disseminator of this mischief, first among you, and afterwards with unhallowed purposes among others also.”

– Letter of Emperor St. Constantine the Great to the Church of Alexandria after Nicea: Socrates, Ecc. Hist. Book 1, Ch. 8. NPNF Vol. 2

Sozomen (450 A.D)

“In short he [St. Constantine] terms the thought of all those who were assembled there the thought of God, and does not doubt that the unanimity of so many eminent bishops was effected by the Holy Spirit.”

– Letter of St. Constantine to the Churches. Socrates, Ecc. Hist. Book 1, Ch. 9. NPNF Vol. 2

“…for Eusebius declares, that of the ministers of God who were present at the Nicene Synod, some were eminent for the word of wisdom, others for the strictness of their life; and that the emperor himself being present, leading all into unanimity, established unity of judgment, and agreement of opinion among them. Of Sabinus, however, we shall make further mention as occasion may require. But the agreement of faith, assented to with loud acclamation at the great council of Nicæa is this: [Creed of Nicea follows] This creed was recognized and acquiesced in by three hundred and eighteen [bishops]; and being, as Eusebius says, unanimous in expression and sentiment, they subscribed it. Five only would not receive it, objecting to the term homoousios, ‘of the same essence,’ or consubstantial: these were Eusebius bishop of Nicomedia, Theognis of Nice, Maris of Chalcedon, Theonas of Marmarica, and Secundus of Ptolemaïs.”

– Sozomen, Ecc. Hist. Book I, Ch. 8. NPNF, Vol 2

*[Note that the Creed is being spoken of as being unanimously received despite five bishops not receiving it. This is a common theme and clues us in on how they understood terms like “all,” “unanimous,” “the whole,” etc. The understood them to mean “almost unanimous.”]*

Pope St. Gelasius (496 A.D)

“No true Christian should be ignorant of the rule of each synod, one approved by the assent of the whole church, to the effect that no see out to have a greater executive role before others than the first, which confirms each synod by its authority and protects it by its continuing guidance, in virtue (of course) of its primacy, which enjoined by a saying of the Lord and with the church no less assenting, the blessed Peter the apostle has always held and retains.”

– Collectio Avellana 95 CSEL 35, 372, 11-18 as cited in Acts of Nicaea II, Session II. Price, page 170

The Sixth Ecumenical Council, Constantinople III (681 A.D)

*[It should be noted that the letter of Pope St. Agatho, alleged by Roman Catholics to be Ex Cathedra due to some remarks of his praise by the council Fathers is repeatedly referred to by those same Council Fathers as simply “a suggestion” throughout the Acts. This indicates they did not see it as a binding document upon themselves but one subject to the ratification of the council much like the second letter of St. Cyril to Nestorius at Ephesus and the letter of Pope St. Leo to St. Flavian (“the Tome”) at Chalcedon.]*

And we all agree both in heart and tongue, and hand, and have put forth, by the assistance of the life-giving Spirit, a definition, clean from all error, certain, and infallible; not ‘removing the ancient landmarks,’ as it is written (God forbid!), but remaining steadfast in the testimonies and authority of the holy and approved fathers, and defining that, as of two and in two natures (to wit, the divinity and the humanity) of which he is composed and in which he exists, Christ our true God is preached by us, and is glorified inseparably, unchangeably, unconfusedly, and undividedly; just so also we predicate of him two natural operations, undividedly, incontrovertibly, unconfusedly, inseparably, as has been declared in our synodal definition. […] but we have set forth clearly with you the shining light of the orthodox faith, and we pray your paternal sanctity to confirm our decree by your honourable rescript; through which we confide in good hope in Christ that his merciful kindness will grant freely to the Roman State, committed to the care of our most clement Emperor, stability; and will adorn with daily yokes and victories his most serene clemency; and that in addition to the good things he has here bestowed upon us, he will set your God-honoured holiness before his tremendous tribunal as one who has sincerely confessed the true faith, preserving it unsullied and keeping good ward over the orthodox flocks committed to him by God.”

– Letter of the Sixth Ecumenical Council to Pope St. Agatho. NPNF, Vol. 14

“Thereafter being inspired by the Holy Ghost, and all agreeing and consenting together, and giving our approval to the doctrinal letter of our most blessed and exalted pope, Agatho, which he sent to your mightiness, as also agreeing to the suggestion of the holy synod of one hundred and twenty-five fathers held under him, we teach that one of the Holy Trinity, our Lord Jesus Christ, was incarnate, and must be celebrated in two perfect natures without division and without confusion.”

– Letter of the Sixth Ecumenical Council to the Emperor. NPNF, Vol 14

“Our most gentle Sovereign, the champion of orthodoxy, and opponent of evil doctrine, being reverentially led by this divinely uttered doctrine of peace, and having convened this our holy and Ecumenical assembly, has united the judgment of the whole Church.”

– Definition of Faith at the Sixth Ecumenical Council. NPNF, Vol. 14

The Seventh Ecumenical Council of Nicaea II (787 A.D)

“Gregory the most devout bishop of Neokaesareia said: ‘Now that the whole of this assembly believes and declares one thing, I have learnt and become convinced that the truth is that which is now being examined and proclaimed. Accordingly I too beg forgiveness for my previous misdeeds and I wish to be lightened and instructed along with everyone else, for my sins and offences are beyond counting. [May it be] as God will inspire the sacred council and our all-holy master.’”

– Acts of Nicaea II, Session II. Price, page 154

“If there was a synodical pronouncement and unanimity in the churches concerning orthodoxy, he who has the presumption to be ordained by profane heretics is to suffer deposition.”

– Patriarch St. Tarasios, Acts of Nicaea II, Session I. Price, page 139

[Again, it is the unanimity that determines orthodoxy. The fact the bishops at Nicea II use both formulas: unanimity of bishops and patriarchal ratification (next section) shows they understood these as being the same thing because a patriarch would typically only vote the way his synod indicated meaning the patriarchate would vote as a block]

St. Photius the Great (891 A.D)

“They [the Franks] attempted by their false opinions and distorted words to ruin the holy and sacred Nicene Symbol of Faith — which by both synodal and universal decisions possesses invincible power — by adding to it that the Holy Spirit proceeds not only from the Father, as the Symbol declares, but from the Son also.”

– The 867 Encyclical Letter of Saint Photius

Patriarchal Ratification

The Seventh Ecumenical Council of Nicaea II (787 A.D)

“‘We are confident that, in accordance with the faith correctly professed by Tarasios the most holy and most blessed patriarch of Constantinople, both our apostolic pope Hadrian, who was the recipient, and all his holy council gave their assent and embraced the communion of what he has professed. Blessed be God, because the most holy patriarchs of the east are also found to be in agreement over the orthodox faith and veneration of the sacred images with the most holy Hadrian pope of Rome and Tarasios patriarch of New Rome. Let those who do not make this profession be anathematized by the holy 318 holy fathers who formerly assembled here.’ The holy Council said, ‘So be it, so be it, so be it.”

– Acts of Nicaea II, Session III. Price, page 228

“We have heard the letters of the pope of Rome and we know their contents. We therefore request your glory, most exalted patricians, that the letter sent from the east be read to this holy and ecumenical council, so that we may learn whether the beliefs and convictions of the pope of Elder Rome and of the most holy and ecumenical patriarch Tarasios, presiding over the imperial city, are the same as those of the bishops of the east.”

– Acts of Nicaea II, Session III. Price, page 210

*[Notice the emphasis is on finding consensus between Rome, Constantinople, and the “bishops of the east” (Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem)]*

“‘I see and observe that the church that the church that was founded on the rock of Christ our God is at present in a state of schism and rupture, with ourselves speaking variously at various times, while those of the east who share our Christian faith speak differently from us but are in agreement with those of the west, with the result that we are estranged from them all and are daily anathematized by all.’ And he added, ‘I ask for the holding of an ecumenical council, with representatives being obtained from both the pope of Rome and the patriarchs of the east.”

– Acts of Nicaea II, Session I. Price, page 108

“The presiders in the east, north, west, and south are present, by God’s favour, through their representatives, together with copies of the synodical letters sent out by the most holy patriarch. For this is from of old the synodical law of the catholic church, which from one end of the earth to the other has received the gospel. Therefore with his good favour and assent we have assembled you his sacred priests, who ‘establish his covenant with bloodless sacrifices,’ so that your judgement may be on par with the definitions of the councils that laid down dogma correctly, and the radiance of the Spirit may shine upon all.’”

– Acts of Nicaea II, Session I. Price, page 106

*[“Presiders” refers to patriarchs and the four cardinal directions refer to the entirety of the world. Notice it is stated who is there, that it is a law of the church that they be there, and that “therefore” their decision will be on par with the previous six ecumenical councils]*

2 thoughts on “What Makes a Council Ecumenical? Part II (A Florilegium)

  1. Pingback: What Makes a Council Ecumenical? Part I (A Florilegium) – Ubi Petrus Ibi Ecclesia

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