Monday, February 20, 2006

three hundred bishops

Of all the historical books sitting on my desk, i cannot find one simple piece of information. if anyone knows the answer, please post a comment:

how does the church view the Ecumenical Councils (particurily Nicaea 325)...Are they "divinely inspiried", "just a bunch of old guys from 1700ish years ago arguing about the nature of Jesus", maybe both? and so on and so forth...

Many Thanks (I can even site you in my essay :P )

18 comments:

Fr. Justin (Edward) said...

The Ecumenical Councils, like the first Church council in Jerusalem (Acts 15) saw themselves as divinely inspired. In fact, the opening of the letter of the Council of Jerusalem became the standard opening for the pronouncements of the Ecumenical Councils: "it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us..." (Acts 15:28) That being said, not every council that claimed to be "ecumenical" was recognized as such by the Church - a number of councils were deemed by the church to be "Robber Councils", having made pronouncements that were contrary to the apostolic tradition. Ultimately, what distinguishes a true ecumenical council from a "robber council" is the Church's reception of it: the role of the bishops in defining the faith is balanced by the role of the laity in "keeping" the faith.

Fr. Justin (Edward) said...

You might also like to check out the OrthodoxWiki article on Ecumenical Councils - not as extensive as I would like to see on how the Orthodox Church regards/receives Church councils in general, but perhaps that's something I will have to add myself in my spare time - if I ever get some!

Fr. Justin (Edward) said...

Fr. Thomas Hopko's brief comment on the councils (linked to from the OrthodoxWiki article cited above) is also worth checking out!

Fr. Justin (Edward) said...

An interesting list of councils and the Orthodox reception of each can be found on the BELIEVE web-site. I'm not sure how reliable the site is overall, but the list looks (given a quick and cursory glance) pretty good.

It's important to remember that the "Ecumenical" councils, for all their importance, are actually somewhat atypical in Orthodoxy - most important decisions of the Church are made in local, rather than Church-wide councils.

Matthew Francis said...

That liturgical text I mentioned is especially helpful as it illustrates the way in which the Church itself perceived the Councils as full of the grace of the Holy Spirit.

cathedral dweller said...

I'm taking a course by Fr. John Jillions on the councils right now and it is crazy. There is no doubt that these councils are divinely inspired but some of the history behind them is absolutely mind boggling - bribery, liturgical goon squads, sneaky proceedings, etc. Even some of the saints themselves seemed to employe some techniques we might question had they occurred in our age.

While these councils are inspired, I think it is also important to remember that it took 7 of them, plus a few more, to make clear and aright the many misunderstandings people had concerning the salvation wrought and revealed by Jesus Christ.

it is quite true that what makes a council ecumenical is the people's reception and acceptance of it. however, there are periods in history when only a very few, only a handful of people proclaimed the true faith. i'm thinking here of St. Athansius and the bishops of the west shortly before and a few years after the first council in Nicaea who were the only bishops proclaiming the truth (the rest of the Eastern Church had fallen into various kinds of Arian like beliefs) and also of Maximus the Confessor.

i guess it really comes to down the faithful living a life of prayer and witnessing to the truth in the personally unique mode given to each one and trusting the Spirit to give us the right words at the right time spoken in love.

Simply Victoria said...

just one thing, you said you'd take this post down after you got your answer... PLEASE DON'T!

The Pleasant Peasant said...

"the post stays"

thats actually better, because i might need to re-refer to these comments.

Thanks everyone for your responses!

elizabeth said...

good; this is a great post! keep it... THANKS for it :)

elizabeth said...

m.f. ... you had forgotten to put the historian's last name on the post; i googled the book title and found the answer: HA Drake. he is a prof at univ of CA by the looks of it... see this link about the book http://www.press.jhu.edu/books/title_pages/1362.html

thanks again, m. f. for your words; i always appreciate them.

and thanks to fr. justin too :)

Matthew Francis said...

Ah, yes it is Drake the Californian. Thanks Elizabeth!

Matthew Francis said...

Amen to what Fr. Justin has just said.

This is definitely a great question, and I think one of the amazing things is how the Councils also powerfully demonstrate how God works through as human beings "earthen vessels." At Nicea 1, for instance, many of the Bishops present no doubt came carring the scars of persecution. Some may have been thinking, "Is this just the Empire's great ploy to get us all together in one place to wipe out the faith?" No doubt some Bishops stayed away from Nicea out of cynicism or fear. But those that were courageous enough to gather there -I think of Athanasius and Nicholas of Myra in particular - as well as all the other Fathers - were greatly used by the Spirit. You might also be interested to read the liturgical texts for the Sunday of the Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council, for "lex orandi, lex credendi," as the Church prays, so it believes...

PS - There's a good book by the historian H.A. called "Constantine and the Bishops" that treats this whole area with great detail and subtlety.

Matthew Francis said...

I was just playing around with my previous comment and somehow it deleted and so I've pasted it down here...

Happy Birthday Josina!

cathedral dweller said...

I'm curious chai pirate ... what has peaked your interest in the ecumenical councils?

The Pleasant Peasant said...

well, I have a research paper due for my Religious Studies class....
but this is how it all started:

I was having a theology chat with my friend Peter and he asked about whether or not we should be justifying the historical basis of a religion (ie, if a Christian tradition has pagan roots). Somehow my answer ended up being about church councils and I was enjoying writing about them, so I thought "well, I'll just expand on this idea and use it for my research paper". Yep, that's it.

And they all lived happily ever after.

Peter T Chattaway said...

Interesting ... when I follow the "Robber Council" link, I learn that there was an "Eighth Ecumenical Council" ... at least according to some reckonings ... learn something new every day!

cathedral dweller said...

hm?! i didn't know there was an 8th council either. i don't exactly know how officially and widespread it's authoritativeness really is.

i'll stick with seven councils for know ... and a few other important ones too.

i'm also interested in what you mean by "justifying the historical basis of a religion." what, may i ask, did your friend mean by this?

The Pleasant Peasant said...

yes, "justifying a religion by its historical basis".
This friend with whom I was speaking is not a Christian, but it well-versed in Greek Mystery Religions. He asserted that chrismation is based out of a practice from one of these Greek religions. His comment was, "Shouldn't the Christians be saying where their practices came from?".
My immediate response to this was that (and I'm sure anthropologists would agree with me here) cultural and sociological practices are constantly changing and developing; that a Christian practice would have roots in a Greek cultural practice that existed before Christianity was introduced to the country is only natural. What one has to remember is the difference between adapting a cultural practice and adapting a set of beliefs. If my friend's claim is true (i couldn't find the information to support it...) that does not affirm that Christians believe the same doctrines as the Mystery Religion followers.
Also, if the Christians have adapted practices from various sources, it cannot be discounted that, say, the Greek Mystery Religions adapted their practices from somewhere else as well.

one can say, "Faith without works in dead." (James 2:26). In this case it should be, "Works without faith is no faith at all".