Strictly speaking, aren't all the ecumenical councils (the councils themselves, maybe not the more basic truths that they simply reaffirmed) optional? I mean, the Church in 200 had not yet held any
ecumenical councils, and yet its faith was hardly any less complete than that of the Church in 800. I don't think anyone would deny that Christianity would have been better off in the long run had there been no Arian controversy (for example), yet without those controversies there would have been no need for the councils, so I don't see how the councils can be called the foundation of the faith in any real sense. To say otherwise is to subscribe to the "linear" view of church history (some kind of Newmanesque doctrinal development view) and I'm not comfortable doing that. (Protestants try to have it both ways, they deny the developments that occurred in medieval Catholicism were legitimate, but on the other hand most of them who are intellectually honest do
admit that the Reformation was a development -- since, after all, no one before then had taught "sola fide" as an essential doctrine in the way Protestants do). I'm not comfortable with such a view of church history because it implies that doctrines and/or practices that were okay at some point in the past are not okay now (or vice versa). Maybe that's just the change-hating Asperger's tendency in me. I'm not sure.
Ecumenical councils seem to be a relic of a bygone Constantinian era, anyway. With no emperor, the most that could happen now is a "pan-Orthodox synod". (Unless Akihito or one of his successors were to convert, but even then, there is no real continuity between Rome/Byzantium and Japan so it would be apples and oranges).
By analogy with the term "Gutenberg Parenthesis
", I would like to propose the analogous concept of the "Constantine Parenthesis", which would mean that in some ways, from the standpoint of church/Christian history, the foreseeable future will have more in common with the pre-Constantinian era than it did with the era from Constantine to the modern era, and that this is good in many ways, maybe not so good in others.
Some might argue that the American Revolution dealt the deathblow to Constantinianism since it showed that it was possible to have a society with no official religion, that such a society was just as safe if not safer for Christians than a "Constantinian" society was, and that the more technologically modernized a society becomes, the more true this is. Others might set the endpoint earlier (the fall of Byzantium) or later (the fall of Tsarist Russia) depending on whether one takes a Western- or Eastern-centered view. Likewise, the start of the Constantinian Parenthesis is somewhat nebulous as well since Trdat and Ezana both converted before Constantine did, and Constantine himself did not enshrine Christianity as the official religion of Rome (Theodosius did). Nevertheless the general pattern seems to be valid overall.