Ecumenical councils

Discussion in 'Non-Anglican Discussion' started by Religious Fanatic, Oct 15, 2018.

  1. Religious Fanatic

    Religious Fanatic Well-Known Member

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    Can anyone explain to me why a council has to be ecumenical to be true or false? If a church can apostasize and most councils are simply there to defend or summarize what's already been known or believed by some, what does it matter if it is or isn't ecumenical?
  2. Botolph

    Botolph Well-Known Member

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    That is a fair question.

    The notion of an Oecumenical Council - is a Council of the whole Church - as recognised in terms of the Patriarch, in terms of the East (Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria and Ephesus - later Constantinople) and in the West Rome. The Councils Decisions were ratified, or assented to, by each of the five Patriarchs. Whilst some part of Council business was administrative, some part of the business of these Councils had to do with establishing 'the faith of the Church'.

    The word Oecumenical is from the Greek and speaks of 'the whole inhabited earth'. In terms of the 16th Century these were also referred to as General Councils.

    In a sense the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 is probably the first Oecumenical Council, though it is not generally counted as such.

    In Anglican circles the seven Oecumenical Councils are recognised broadly, though the greater weight is given to the first four, which dealt with faith and Christology most profoundly.

    GENERAL Councils may not be gathered together without the commandment and will of Princes. And when they be gathered together, (forasmuch as they be an assembly of men, whereof all be not governed with the Spirit and Word of God,) they may err, and sometimes have erred, even in things pertaining unto God. Wherefore things ordained by them as necessary to salvation have neither strength nor authority, unless it may be declared that they be taken out of holy Scripture.​

    It is clear in Article 21 that Councils were to be understood in the context of scripture, and not apart from it. The import of this may well be more aimed at the last three of the seven.
    1. Nicaea 1 - 325 - dealt with Arianism and the Faith of the Church
    2. Constantinople 1 - 381 - dealt with Arianism and the final formulation of the Nicene Creed.
    3. Ephesus - 431 - dealt with Nestorianism, and affirmed the Creed of Constantinople, and the role of Mary as Theotokos.
    4. Chalcedon - 451 - dealt with Chrisology and affirms the Creed of Constantinople

    5. Constantinople 2 - 553 - condemned Nestorianism and Origen
    6. Constantinople 3 - 680 - condemned Monothelitism and Monoenergism.
    7. Nicaea 2 - 787 - restored the veneration of Icons and repudiated iconoclasm.
    Since the Great Schism of 1054 the notion of an Oecumenical Council has not been possible, though there are another 14 Councils that Rome recognises as Oecumenical, the most recent being Vatican 2. The reason that they see these councils as Oecumenical is because they see themselves as the whole Church, and Communion with the Bishop of Rome as the defining mark of Christianity, though a thorough reading of Vatican 2 would suggest that at a more theological level that is not how they see it, and in certainly does not see to be how the current holder of the office of the keys sees it.

    Whilst a given Church may lose its way, or as you suggest descend into apostasy, there is an understanding of the indefectibility of the Church, by which is meant that yes, the Church may be in error, however God will guide the whole Church, and lead us in the way that we should go, and not abandon us absolutely. Part of the importance we see in the General Councils is that express a faith on God who continues with us, not simply God who sets the exam and will come back later to mark it.
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  3. Peteprint

    Peteprint Well-Known Member Anglican

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    High-Church Laudian
    Very informative posting, Botolph.

    Yes, Andrewes and the Carolines typically recognized only the first four councils:

    “One canon reduced to writing by God himself, two testaments, three creeds, four general councils, five centuries, and the series of Fathers in that period –the centuries that is, before Constantine, and two after, determine the boundary of our faith.”

    It could be argued that there have only been two ecumenical councils, since once the Church of the East left, there were no more councils consisting of the whole Church. The same argument could also be made regarding the third, since after that one the Oriental Orthodox no longer participated. Each time a significant portion of the Church left, the remnant claimed to still be the One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church.

    Only the first two councils were truly ecumenical, and the Roman ones since the seventh certainly haven't been.
    Shane R likes this.