It is absolutely necessary that a few words should be said on the general arrangement of the work. The reader will find given him in the English tongue, so far as they have come down to us, all the doctrinal definitions of the Seven Ecumenical Councils (councils which have always, and still do, receive the unqualified acceptance of both East and West), and all the canons, disciplinary and doctrinal, which were enacted by them. To these has been added a translation in full of all the canons of the local synods which received the approval and sanction of the aforesaid Ecumenical Councils. Besides this, as throwing light upon the subject, large extracts from the Acta have been given, in fact all that seemed to illustrate the decrees; and, that nothing might be lacking, in an appendix has been placed a collection of all the non-synodal canons which have received the sanction of the Ecumenical Synods, the “Canons of the Apostles” (so called) being given in full, and the others in a shortened form, for the most part in the words of the admirable and learned John Johnson.
This then is the text of the volume; but it is manifest that it stood in need of much comment to make its meaning clear to the reader, even if well informed on ordinary matters. To provide for this, to each synodal canon there has been added the Ancient Epitome.
Of this Epitome Bishop Beveridge treats with great learning in section xxvi. of his “Prolegomena” to his Synodicon, and shows that while some attributed this epitome to the Greek mediæval scholiast Aristenus, it cannot be his, as he has taken it for the text of his commentaries, and has in more than one instance pointed out that whoever he was who made it had, in his judgment, missed the sense. 1
The Epitome must indeed be much older, for Nicholas Hydruntinus, who lived in the times of Alexis Angelus, when intending to quote one of the canons of Ephesus, actually quotes words which are not in that canon, but which are in the Epitome. “Wherefore,” says Beveridge, “it is manifest that the Epitome is here cited, and that under the name of the whole canon.” This being established we may justly look upon the Ancient Epitome as supplying us with a very ancient gloss upon the canons.
To this Epitome have been added Notes, taken from most of the great commentators, and Excursuses, largely made up from the writings of the greatest theologians, canonists, archæologists, etc., with regard to whom and their writings, all the information that seems necessary the reader will find in the Bibliographical Introduction.