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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. XIV:
The Second Ecumenical Council:  The First Council of Constantinople.: Canon VI

Early Church Fathers  Index     

p. 183 Canon VI.

(Probably adopted at a Council held in Constantinople the next year, 382.  Vide Introduction on the number of Canons.)

Forasmuch as many wishing to confuse and overturn ecclesiastical order, do contentiously and slanderously fabricate charges against the orthodox bishops who have the administration of the Churches, intending nothing else than to stain the reputation of the priests and raise up disturbances amongst the peaceful laity; therefore it seemed right to the Holy Synod of Bishops assembled together in Constantinople, not to admit accusers without examination; and neither to allow all persons whatsoever to bring accusations against the rulers of the Church, nor, on the other hand, to exclude all.  If then, any one shall bring a private complaint against the Bishop, that is, one relating to his own affairs, as, for example, that he has been defrauded, or otherwise unjustly treated by him, in such accusations no examination shall be made, either of the person or of the religion of the accuser; for it is by all means necessary that the conscience of the Bishop should be free, and that he who says he has been wronged should meet with righteous judgment, of whatever religion he may be.  But if the charge alleged against the Bishop be that of some ecclesiastical offence, then it is necessary to examine carefully the persons of the accusers, so that, in the first place, heretics may not be suffered to bring accusations touching ecclesiastical matters against orthodox bishops.  And by heretics we mean both those who were aforetime cast out and those whom we ourselves have since anathematized, and also those professing to hold the true faith who have separated from our canonical bishops, and set up conventicles in opposition [to them].  Moreover, if there be any who have been condemned for faults and cast out of the Church, or excommunicated, whether of the clergy or the laity, neither shall it be lawful for these to bring an accusation against the bishop, until they have cleared away the charge against themselves.  In like manner, persons who are under previous accusations are not to be permitted to bring charges against a bishop or any other clergyman, until they shall have proved their own innocence of the accusation brought against them.  But if any, being neither heretics, nor excommunicate, nor condemned, nor under previous accusation for alleged faults, should declare that they have any ecclesiastical charge against the bishop, the Holy Synod bids them first lay their charges before all the Bishops of the Province, and before them prove the accusations, whatsoever they may be, which they have brought against the bishop.  And if the comprovincials should be unable rightly to settle the charges brought against the bishop, then the parties must betake themselves to a greater synod of the bishops of that diocese called together for this purpose; and they shall not produce their allegations before they have promised in writing to undergo an equal penalty to be exacted from themselves, if, in the course of the examination, they shall be proved to have slandered the accused bishop.  And if anyone, despising what has been decreed concerning these things, shall presume to annoy the ears of the Emperor, or the courts of temporal judges, or, to the dishonour of all the Bishops of his Province, shall trouble an Ecumenical Synod, such an one shall by no means be admitted as an accuser; forasmuch as he has cast contempt upon the Canons, and brought reproach upon the order of the Church.


Ancient Epitome of Canon VI.

Even one that is of ill repute, if he have suffered any injury, let him bring a charge against the bishop.  If however it be a crime of ecclesiastical matters let him not speak.  Nor shall another condemned before, speak.  Let not one excommunicated, or cast forth, or charged with any crimes speak, until he is cleared of them.  But those who should bring the charge are the orthodox, who are communicants, uncondemned, unaccused.  Let the case be heard by the provincials.  If however they are not able to decide the case, let them have recourse to a greater synod and let them not be heard, without a written declaration of liability to the same sufferings [i.e. of their readiness to be tried by the lex p. 184 talionis.]  But should anyone contrary to the provisions appeal to the Emperor and trouble him, let such be cast forth.

The phrase “who have the administration of the Churches,” Hatch in his Bampton Lectures (Lect. I., p. 41) erroneously supposes to refer only to the administration of the Church’s alms.  But this, as Dr. Bright well points out (“Notes on the Canons,” in loc.) cannot be the meaning of οἰκοναμεῖν when used absolutely as in this canon.  He says, “When a merely ‘economic’ function is intended, the context shows it, as in Chalcedon, Canon xxvj.”  He also points out that in Canon ij., and in Eusebius (H. E. iv., 4), and when St. Basil wishes his brother to οἰκονομεῖν a church suited to his temperament (Epist. xcviij., 2) the meaning of the word is evidently spiritual stewardship.


By “those who were cast out of the Church” are to be understood those who were altogether cut off from the Church; but by those who were “excommunicated” the holy fathers intend all those, whether clerics or laymen, who are deprived of communion for a set time.

Van Espen.

It is evident from the context of this canon that “Diocese” here does not signify the district or territory assigned to any one bishop, as we to-day use the word; but for a district, which not only contained many episcopal districts, as today do ecclesiastical provinces, but which contained also many provinces, and this was the meaning of the word at the time of this Council’s session.


We call Adrianople, for example, or Philopopolis with the bishops of each a “Province,” but the whole of Thrace or Macedonia we call a “Diocese.”  When these crimes were brought forward to be corrected, for the judging of which the provincial bishops were by no means sufficient, then the Canon orders the bishops of the diocese to assemble, and determine the charges preferred against the bishop.

Van Espen.

Both the Canon and the Civil Law require the accusers to submit themselves to the law of retaliation (lex talionis).  Vide Gratian, Pt. II., Causa II., Quæst. III., 2 and 3, where we read from the decree of Pope Hadrian; “Whoever shall not prove what he advances, shall himself suffer the penalty due the crime he charged.”  And under the name of Damasus, “The calumniator, if he fail in proving his accusation, shall receive his tale.”  The Civil Law is in L. x., Cod. de Calumniatoribus, and reads, “Whoso charges a crime, shall not have licence to lie with impunity, since justice requires that calumniators shall endure the punishment due the crime which they failed to prove.”

The Council wishes that all accusations of bishops for ecclesiastical offences shall be kept out of the secular courts, and shall be heard by synods of bishops, in the manner and form here prescribed, which is in accordance with the Constitution which under the names of Valens, Gratian, and Valentinian, the Emperors, is referred to in law xxiij. of the Code of Theodosius, De Episcopis et Clericis.

Whatever may be said of the meeting of bishops at which this canon was enacted, this is clear, no mention was made of the Roman Pontiff, nor of the Council of Sardica, as Fleury notes in his Histoire Ecclesiastique, Lib. xviij., n. 8.  From this it is evident either that at that time the Orientals did not admit, especially for bishops, appeals to the Roman Pontiff; nor did they accept the authority of the Synod of Sardica, in so far as it permitted that the sentence given in a provincial synod, should be reopened by the neighbouring bishops together with the bishops of the province, and if it seemed good, that the cause might be referred to Rome.

Next: Warning to the Reader Touching Canon VII.

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