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Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. XIV:
The First Ecumenical Council:  The First Council of Nice.: Canon VI

Early Church Fathers  Index     

p. 15 Canon VI.

Let the ancient customs in Egypt, Libya and Pentapolis prevail, that the Bishop of Alexandria have jurisdiction in all these, since the like is customary for the Bishop of Rome also.  Likewise in Antioch and the other provinces, let the Churches retain their privileges.  And this is to be universally understood, that if any one be made bishop without the consent of the Metropolitan, the great Synod has declared that such a man ought not to be a bishop.  If, however, two or three bishops shall from natural love of contradiction, oppose the common suffrage of the rest, it being reasonable and in accordance with the ecclesiastical law, then let the choice of the majority prevail.


Ancient Epitome of Canon VI.

The Bishop of Alexandria shall have jurisdiction over Egypt, Libya, and Pentapolis.  As also the Roman bishop over those subject to Rome.  So, too, the Bishop of Antioch and the rest over those who are under them.  If any be a bishop contrary to the judgment of the Metropolitan, let him be no bishop.  Provided it be in accordance with the canons by the suffrage of the majority, if three object, their objection shall be of no force.

Many, probably most, commentators have considered this the most important and most interesting of all the Nicene canons, and a whole library of works has been written upon it, some of the works asserting and some denying what are commonly called the Papal claims.  If any one wishes to see a list of the most famous of these works he will find it in Phillips’s Kirchenrecht (Bd. ii. S. 35).  I shall reserve what I have to say upon this subject to the notes on a canon which seems really to deal with it, confining myself here to an elucidation of the words found in the canon before us.

Hammond, W. A.

The object and intention of this canon seems clearly to have been, not to introduce any new powers or regulations into the Church, but to confirm and establish ancient customs already existing.  This, indeed, is evident from the very first words of it:  “Let the ancient customs be maintained.”  It appears to have been made with particular reference to the case of the Church of Alexandria, which had been troubled by the irregular proceedings of Miletius, and to confirm the ancient privileges of that see which he had invaded.  The latter part of it, however, applies to all Metropolitans, and confirms all their ancient privileges.


(Dict. Christ. Antiq. voce Council of Nicæa).

The first half of the canon enacts merely that what had long been customary with respect to such persons in every province should become law, beginning with the province where this principle had been infringed; while the second half declares what was in future to be received as law on two points which custom had not as yet expressly ruled.…Nobody disputes the meaning of this last half; nor, in fact, would the meaning of the first half have been questioned, had it not included Rome.…Nobody can maintain that the bishops of Antioch and Alexandria were called patriarchs then, or that the jurisdiction they had then was co-extensive with what they had afterward, when they were so called.…It is on this clause [“since the like is customary for the Bishops of Rome also”] standing parenthetically between what is decreed for the particular cases of Egypt and Antioch, and in consequence of the interpretation given to it by Rufinus, more particularly, that so much strife has been raised.  Rufinus may rank low as a translator, yet, being a native of Aquileia, he cannot have been ignorant of Roman ways, nor, on the other hand, had he greatly misrepresented them, would his version have waited till the seventeenth century to be impeached.


The sense of the first words of the canon is as follows:  “This ancient right is assigned to the Bishop of Alexandria which places under his jurisdiction the whole diocese of Egypt.”  It is without any reason, then, that the French Protestant Salmasius (Saumaise), the Anglican Beveridge, and the Gallican Launoy, try to show that the Council of Nice granted to the Bishop of Alexandria only the rights of ordinary metropolitans.

Bishop Stillingfleet.

I do confess there was something peculiar in the case of the Bishop of Alexandria, for all the provinces of Egypt were under his immediate care, which was Patriarchal as to extent, but Metropolical in the administration.

p. 16 Justellus.

This authority (ἐξουσία) is that of a Metropolitan which the Nicene Fathers decreed to be his due over the three provinces named in this canon, Egypt, Libya, and Pentapolis, which made up the whole diocese of Egypt, as well in matters civil as ecclesiastical.

On this important question Hefele refers to the dissertation of Dupin, in his work De Antiqua Ecclesiæ Disciplina.  Hefele says:  “It seems to me beyond a doubt that in this canon there is a question about that which was afterward called the patriarchate of the Bishop of Alexandria; that is to say that he had a certain recognized ecclesiastical authority, not only over several civil provinces, but also over several ecclesiastical provinces (which had their own metropolitans);” and further on (p. 392) he adds:  “It is incontestable that the civil provinces of Egypt, Libya, Pentapolis and Thebaïs, which were all in subjection to the Bishop of Alexandria, were also ecclesiastical provinces with their own metropolitans; and consequently it is not the ordinary rights of metropolitans that the Sixth Canon of Nice confers on the Bishop of Alexandria, but the rights of a superior Metropolitan, that is, of a Patriarch.”

There only remains to see what were the bounds of the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Antioch.  The civil diocese of Oriens is shown by the Second Canon of Constantinople to be conterminous with what was afterward called the Patriarchate of Antioch.  The see of Antioch had, as we know, several metropolitans subject to it, among them Cæsarea, under whose jurisdiction was Palestine.  Justellus, however, is of opinion that Pope Innocent I. was in error when he asserted that all the Metropolitans of Oriens were to be ordained by him by any peculiar authority, and goes so far as to stigmatize his words as “contrary to the mind of the Nicene Synod.” 62



Contra mentem Synodi Nicæni.

Next: Excursus on the Extent of the Jurisdiction of the Bishop of Rome Over the Suburbican Churches.

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