MAJOR COUNCILS OF
THE CHURCH

The First Council of Nicaea


  Though the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15 and Galatians 2) was the first Church Council, attended by the Apostles, the first Ecumenical (world-wide) Council was called by the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great with Pope Saint Sylvester I sitting on the Throne of Peter as the 33rd successor of Christ's appointed Apostle. The site was the city of Nicaea, just south of Constantinople in Asia Minor. The greatest periti was the Bishop of Alexandria, Saint Athanasius who, amidst his struggles with the Arians, argued convincingly for condemning Arius and, as a deacon, St. Athanasius was at the forefront in defining the Consubstantiality of the Son with the Heavenly Father. For the full documents of the first Ecumenical Council see NICAEA ONE

The First Council Constantinople


  Fifty-six years after Nicaea, the Roman Emperor of the East Theodosius I convened the second General Council. Because of friction between the emperor who was headquartered in Constantinople and Pope Saint Damasus I, located in Rome, neither the Holy Father or his papal legates attended. Already the split between East and West was manifesting itself. 186 bishops did attend. Most notable were Saint Gregory Nazianzen and Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, two noted Doctors of the Church who, with the Council Fathers, reaffirmed the First Council of Nicaea, affirmed the divinity of the Third Person of the Trinity by defining the Consubstantiality of the Holy Spirit with the Father and the Son, thereby condeming the heresy of Macedonius. For the full documents of the second General Council see CONSTANTINOPLE ONE

Council of Ephesus


  Fifty years after the First Council of Constantinople, Theodosius' son Theodosius II ruled as emperor. He was much more inclined to hear the Church, influenced by his saintly sister Saint Pulcheria and, in harmony with Pope Saint Celestine I, a third General Council was called in Ephesus in the southern tip of Asia Minor (which today is Turkey, near the Mediterranean). Probably the biggest contribution of this council where over 200 bishops attended was the Divine Maternity Dogma of the Blessed Virgin Mary as the Mother of God. Also, led by Saint Cyril of Alexandria, an impressive Doctor of the Church, the Council defined that Christ has two natures - Divine and human, but only one Person which is Divine. This affirmation condemned Nestorianism and deposed Nestorius, who was the bishop of Constantinople. The Council also affirmed the Council of Carthage held for the local Church in 416, thus condemning Pelagius and his teachings. For the full documents of the third Ecumenical Council see EPHESUS

The Council of Chalcedon


  Twenty years after Ephesus, Saint Pulcheria played a key role in the fourth General Council; this time influencing her husband Marcian, then the Roman Emperor of the East, to coordinate with Pope Saint Leo the Great in convening it at Chalcedon in Thessalonica just northwest of Constantinople. Once again a false teaching was at the heart of the meeting. This time Monophysitism (the false teaching that Christ had only one nature) was at the forefront of controversy. It was taught by the Abbot Eutyches who also sought discord, causing confusion so that the Council asserted that Constantinople should be on an equal basis with Rome ecclesiastically. Vigorously opposing this and Eutyches, Pope Leo determined in his Dogmatic Epistle of October 10, 451 that the See of Peter in Rome is and always shall be the Seat of Primacy with no equal and that Eutyches was a heretic. Leo was proclaimed the 'Soul of Chalcedon' and the Council agreed unanimously that through Leo, Peter had spoken and Eutyches was condemned. For the full documents of the fourth General Council see CHALCEDON

Second Council of Constantinople


   Just over a century after Chalcedon, heresy was running rampant and the Roman Emperor in Constantinople Justinian I decided it was time for another General Council. The Second Council in Constantinople condemned the "Three Chapters" which was a collection of statements by three deceased disciples of the deposed Nestorius. The Council determined that the writings of Theodore of Mopsuestia, Theodoret of Cyrrhus, and Ibas of Edessa were soundly condemned. This Council also affirmed the condemnations declared at the Council of Carthage in 416 and previous condemnations by Popes of heresies. For the full documents of the fifth Ecumenical Council see CONSTANTINOPLE TWO

Third Council of Constantinople


  117 years after the Second Council of Constantinople, the Emperor Constantine IV decided it was time to call another General Council, especially in light of the growing threat of Islamism. In agreement with Pope Saint Agatho, the Council was convened with again over 200 bishops. The heresy of the time was Monothelitesism which falsely taught that Christ only had a Divine will, rather than a Divine and human will. It denied the perfect harmony of the two wills within the one Divine Person. Pope Agatho died during this Council and his successor Pope Saint Leo II continued it, approving the decrees of past Councils and taking to task one of his predecessors Pope Honorius I for not keeping the heresy of Monothelites in check, specifically not challenging the Patriarch of Constantinople Sergius who was spreading the heresy. St. Leo's actions set a precedence for calling into question error by previous Pontiffs and confirmed that a Pope can be in error when not speaking from the Chair of Peter - ex cathedra. For the full documents of the sixth Ecumenical Council see CONSTANTINOPLE THREE

Second Council of Nicaea


   Just over a century after the Third Council of Constantinople, a 7th General Council was necessary in 787 to deal with the heresy of Iconoclasm. The Council was called by the Empress Irene - the widow of the late Emperor Leo IV and mother of the Emperor Constantine IV - to head off the growing unrest with the Eastern Bishops who were spreading the heresy of Iconoclasm fostered by Emperor Leo III. The latter had been fiercely condemned by Pope Hadrian I, Sovereign Pontiff during this time, as well as his predecessors Popes Gregory II and Pope Gregory III. A great Doctor of the Church Saint John Damascene had also defended images as a means of reverence. At the core was the growing split and resentment between East and West. For the full documents of the seventh Ecumenical Council see NICAEA TWO