Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. XIV:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
The First Ecumenical Council: The First Council of Nice.: Canon V
p. 13 Canon V.
Concerning those, whether of the clergy or of the laity, who have been excommunicated in the several provinces, let the provision of the canon be observed by the bishops which provides that persons cast out by some be not readmitted by others. Nevertheless, inquiry should be made whether they have been excommunicated through captiousness, or contentiousness, or any such like ungracious disposition in the bishop. And, that this matter may have due investigation, it is decreed that in every province synods shall be held twice a year, in order that when all the bishops of the province are assembled together, such questions may by them be thoroughly examined, that so those who have confessedly offended against their bishop, may be seen by all to be for just cause excommunicated, until it shall seem fit to a general meeting of the bishops to pronounce a milder sentence upon them. And let these synods be held, the one before Lent, (that the pure Gift may be offered to God after all bitterness has been put away), and let the second be held about autumn.
Ancient Epitome of Canon V.
Such as have been excommunicated by certain bishops shall not be restored by others, unless the excommunication was the result of pusillanimity, or strife, or some other similar cause. And that this may be duly attended to, there shall be in each year two synods in every province—the one before Lent, the other toward autumn.
There has always been found the greatest difficulty in securing the regular meetings of provincial and diocesan synods, and despite the very explicit canonical legislation upon the subject, and the severe penalties attached to those not answering the summons, in large parts of the Church for centuries these councils have been of the rarest occurrence. Zonaras complains that in his time “these synods were everywhere treated with great contempt,” and that they had actually ceased to be held.
Possibly the opinion of St. Gregory Nazianzen had grown common, for it will be remembered that in refusing to go to the latter sessions of the Second Ecumenical he wrote, “I am resolved to avoid every meeting of bishops, for I have never seen any synod end well, nor assuage rather than aggravate disorders.” 59
Gelasius has given in his history of the Council of Nice, the text of the canons passed by the Council; and it must be noticed that there is here a slight difference between his text and ours. Our reading is as follows: “The excommunication continues to be in force until it seem good to the assembly of bishops (τῳ κοινῷ) to soften it.” Gelasius, on the other hand, writes: μέχρις ἄν τῷ κοινῷ ἢ τῷ ἐπισκόπῳ, κ.τ.λ., that is to say, “until it seem good to the assembly of bishops, or to the bishop (who has passed the sentence),” etc.…Dionysius the Less has also followed this variation, as his translation of the canon shows. It does not change the essential meaning of the passage; for it may be well understood that the bishop who has passed the sentence of excommunication has also the right to mitigate it. But the variation adopted by the Prisca alters, on the contrary, the whole sense of the canon: the Prisca has not τῳ κοινῳ, but only ἐπισκόπῳ : it is in this erroneous form that the canon has passed into the Corpus jurisc an.
This canon is found in the Corpus Juris Canonici, Gratians Decretum, Pars II., Causa XI, Quæst. III., Canon lxxiij., and the latter part in Pars I., Distinc. XVIII., c. iij.
Greg. Naz. Ep. ad Procop., Migne, Pat. Græc., No. cxxx.
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