Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. XIV:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
The Second Ecumenical Council: The First Council of Constantinople.: Excursus on the Authority of the Second Ecumenical Council.
Excursus on the Authority of the Second Ecumenical Council.
(Hefele, History of the Councils, Vol. II., pp. 370, et seqq.)
Lastly, to turn to the question of the authority of this Council, it appears, first of all, that immediately after its close, in the same year, 381, several of its acts were censured by a Council of Latins, namely, the prolongation of the Meletian schism (by the elevation of Flavian), and the choice of Nectarius as Bishop of Constantinople, while, as is known, the Westerns held (the Cynic) Maximus to be the rightful bishop of that city.
In consequence of this, the new Synod assembled in the following year, 382, at Constantinople, sent the Latins a copy of the decrees of faith composed the year before, expressly calling this Synod οἰκουμενική and at the same time seeking to justify it in those points which had been censured. Photius 234 maintains that soon afterwards Pope Damasus confirmed this synod; but, as the following will show, this confirmation could only have referred to the creed and not to the canons. As late as about the middle of the fifth century, Pope Leo I. spoke in a very depreciatory manner of these canons, especially of the third, which concerned the ecclesiastical rank of Constantinople, remarking that it was never sent to the See of Rome. Still later, Gregory the Great wrote in the same sense: Romana autem Ecclesia eosdam canones vel gesta Synodi illius hactenus non habet, nec accepit; in hoc autem eam accepit, quod est per eam contra Macedonium definitum. 235
Thus, as late as the year 600, only the creed, but not the canons of the Synod of Constantinople were accepted at Rome; but on account of its creed, Gregory the Great reckons it as one of the four Ecumenical Councils, which he compares to the four Gospels. So also before him the popes Vigilius and Pelagius II, reckoned this Synod among the Ecumenical Councils.
The question is, from what date the Council of Constantinople was considered ecumenical by the Latins as well as by the Greeks. We will begin with the latter. Although as we have seen, the Synod of 382 had already designated this council as ecumenical, yet it could not for a long time obtain an equal rank with the Council of Nicæa, for which reason the General Council of Ephesus mentions that of Nicæa and its creed with the greatest respect, but is totally silent as to this Synod. Soon afterwards, the so-called Robber-Synod in 449, spoke of two (General) Councils, at Nicæa and Ephesus, and designated the latter as ἡ δευτέρα σύνοδος, as a plain token that it did not ascribe such a high rank to the assembly p. 187 at Constantinople. It might perhaps be objected that only the Monophysites, who notoriously ruled the Robber-Synod, used this language; but the most determined opponent of the Monophysites, their accuser, Bishop Eusebius of Dorylæum, in like manner also brought forward only the two Synods of Nicæa and Ephesus, and declared that “he held to the faith of the three hundred and eighteen Fathers assembled at Nicæa, and to all that was done at the great and Holy Synod at Ephesus.”
The Creed of Constantinople appears for the first time to have been highly honoured at the fourth General Council, which had it recited after that of Nicæa, and thus solemnly approved it. Since then this Synod has been universally honoured as ecumenical by the Greeks, and was mentioned by the Emperor Justinian with the Councils of Nicæa, Ephesus, and Chalcedon, as of equal rank. 236
But in the West, and especially in Rome, however satisfied people were with the decree of faith enacted by this Synod, and its completion of the creed, yet its third canon, respecting the rank of Constantinople, for a long time proved a hindrance to its acknowledgment. This was especially shown at the Council of Chalcedon, and during the time immediately following. When at that Council the creed of Constantinople was praised, repeated, and confirmed the Papal Legates fully concurred; but when the Council also renewed and confirmed the third canon of Constantinople, the Legates left the assembly, lodged a protest against it on the following day, and declared that the rules of the hundred and fifty bishops at Constantinople were never inserted among the Synodal canons (which were recognised at Rome). The same was mentioned by Pope Leo himself, who, immediately after the close of the Council of Chalcedon wrote to Bishop Anatolius of Constantinople: “that document of certain bishops (i.e. the third canon of Constantinople) was never brought by your predecessors to the knowledge of the Apostolic See.” 237 Leo also, in his 105th letter to the Empress Pulcheria, speaks just as depreciatingly of this Council of Constantinople; and Quesnel is entirely wrong in maintaining that the Papal Legates at the Synod of Chalcedon at first practically acknowledged the validity of the third canon of Constantinople. Bishop Eusebius of Dorylæum was equally mistaken in maintaining at Chalcedon itself, that the third canon had been sanctioned by the Pope; and we shall have occasion further on, in the history of the Council of Chalcedon, to show the untenable character of both statements.
Pope Felix III. took the same view as Pope Leo, when, in his letter to the monks at Constantinople and Bithynia in 485, he only spoke of three General Councils at Nicæa, Ephesus, and Chalcedon; neither did his successor Gelasius (492–496) in his genuine decree, De libris recipiendis, mention this Synod. It may certainly be said, on the other hand, that in the sixth century its ecumenical character had come to be most distinctly acknowledged in the Latin Church also, and, as we have seen above, had been expressly affirmed by the Popes Vigilius, Pelagius II., and Gregory the Great. But this acknowledgment, even when it is not expressly stated, only referred to the decrees on faith of the Council of Constantinople, and not to its canons, as we have already observed in reference to the third and sixth of them.
Photius, De Synodis, p. 1143, ed. Justelli.186:235
Greg., Epist., Lib. I., 25.187:236
In his edict against the Three Chapters.187:237
Leo, Epist. cvi. n., ed. Ballerini, t. i., p. 1165.
Next: The Synodical Letter.
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