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Which Councils are Ecumenical?
Written by Francis Dvornik Sunday, 10 December 2006 21:37
By Francis Dvornik
© 1966, Journal of Ecumenical Studies. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted by permission.
It is generally expected that, after the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council the atmosphere will be favorable for dialogues between the representatives of Roman Catholics and the leaders of other Christian churches with a view to finding ways towards a better understanding and a more intimate rapprochement which could lead finally to a reunion.
Many Catholic leaders think that a dialogue with the Eastern Orthodox Churches should begin as early as possible and hope for positive results since there are no fundamental dogmatic differences between the Roman and Orthodox Churches.
This may be true, but it is premature to expect a speedy agreement between the Eastern Churches and Rome. There are many other aspects in the constitution, historical development, the mentality and spiritual life of Eastern Christianity which are not sufficiently understood by the West, and which will make the dialogue much more difficult than is expected by the optimistic observer.
In this paper I would like to call attention to a difference between the Catholics and the Orthodox which could be regarded as minor—namely, the number of ecumenical councils which are accepted by these Churches. But it is not minor, for it bears within it another question: by what criteria may a council be called truly ecumenical?
It is known that the Orthodox recognize only seven councils as ecumenical, the first being that of Nicaea (325) and the last the second of Nicaea (787), which condemned the iconoclastic heresy regarding representations of Christ and the saints and the worship of their images as unlawful.
The Roman Church added to the Seven Ecumenical Councils the Synod of 869-870 which condemned the Patriarch Photius as a usurper of the patriarchal throne of Constantinople and confirmed the reinstatement of St. Ignatius in his stead, as the Eighth Ecumenical Council. This Council called itself ecumenical because it was convoked by an Emperor—Basil I—as were all previous ecumenical councils. The invitations to assist at it were addressed to the bishops of the Empire and it was attended by the representatives of Pope Hadrian II and four other Patriarchs. In spite of this it was opened in the presence of only twelve bishops, and its Acts were signed by only the one hundred and ten Fathers who had responded to the repeated exhortations of the Emperor to appear at its sessions. The reason for this meagre attendance was that the great majority of Byzantine prelates considered the accusations launched against Photius as unjust, since he had been canonically elected by a local synod after the resignation of Ignatius in 856. Because the majority of the clergy had ignored the decisions of this Council Ignatius had difficulties in the administration of his patriarchate. Fortunately, this situation was cleared up when the Emperor brought Photius back from exile and entrusted him with the education of his sons. Then both Ignatius and Photius were reconciled. Another council was planned in order to seal the reconciliation of the followers of Ignatius and of Photius and to end the schism in the Byzantine Church. The Emperor and Ignatius asked Pope John VIII to send his representatives to the new council. Unfortunately, before the Papal legates reached Constantinople, Ignatius died, and Photius was reinstated as Patriarch. The Council took place in November of 879 and ended in March, 880. Photius was reinstated by the numerous conciliar Fathers with the assent of the papal legates and the representatives of the other Patriarchs. The Council of 869-870 which had condemned Photius and his followers was abrogated. This explains why we do not have the Greek original of the Acts of this Council, but only a Latin translation made by the papal librarian Anastasius who, in 870, was in Constantinople as envoy of the Emperor Louis II. There exists also a Greek extract of the Acts compiled by an opponent of Photius who had refused to accept him as patriarch even after his reconciliation with Ignatius and restoration by the Council of 879-880 confirmed by John VIII. This extract was incorporated into the so-called anti-Photian collection compiled in a very biased manner by a zealot who wished to justify the refusal of the extremist party to accept the decisions of the Council of 879-880 and to recognize Photius as their legitimate Patriarch.
The Photian Council was also convoked by the Emperor Basil I, and representatives of all five patriarchs were present together with 380 Fathers. The Fathers were thus fully entitled to designate the assembly as a “holy and ecumenical synod.” In the Acts this council is called “a holy Synod convoked under the most holy and ecumenical Patriarch Photius for the union of the holy and apostolic Church of God.”
A similar title is given to this synod by the Patriarch Euthymius (907-912).1 In his treatise on synods the Patriarch gives it the designation of “holy and ecumenical synod,” but it is called the Eighth—it merely remains the “Union Synod.” This means that it was assembled in order to seal the union between Rome and Constantinople, disrupted by the condemnation of Photius, which had been regarded as unjust by the great majority of the Byzantine clergy, and also to end a schism in the Byzantine patriarchate by reconciling definitely the pro-Photian and the pro-Ignatian clergy.
Of course, no mention is made in this treatise of the Ignatian Council of 869-870 which was cancelled ten years later by the synod of 879-880. Euthymius gives the ecumenical character only to the preceding seven councils quoting the definitions of Catholic doctrines which these councils had confirmed. This treatise was written only about three decades after the Photian Council and its author knew the Acts of this council in the version that has come down to us.
It should not surprise us that Euthymius regarded only seven councils as ecumenical. We can quote a document which reveals that even Photius himself did not add to the seven ecumenical the council which had reinstated him as the Eighth. In the Greek Manuscript 47 of the National Library in Paris I found the text of a profession of faith (fols. 231, 231a), composed by Photius, which was to be recited by all candidates to the episcopate. The future bishops had to subscribe to the Seven Ecumenical Councils and profess their dogmatic definitions. Even if Photius had composed this profession during his first patriarchate, there is no reason not to suppose that he used this formula also after the council of 879-880. We shall see presently that Photius was primarily interested in the ecumenicity of the seventh council and wished that it should be solemnly proclaimed by the representatives of all the patriarchs.
The treatise on synods composed by Euthymius was reedited in the fourteenth century by Neilos Diasorenos, metropolitan of Rhodes (1357).2 Neilos was an ardent supporter of the Patriarch Philotheus and of Gregory Palamas, the protagonists of the hesychast movement.3 The monk Barlaam, the adversary of their doctrine on the living light of Mount Tabor which the mystics were supposed to see when reaching the highest degree of their ascetic practice, was condemned by a synod convoked by the Patriarch John XIV Aprenos in 1341. This synod marked the victory of the hesychasts and was regarded as an important milestone by all adherents of this movement. It is not surprising that they placed it alongside the Seven Ecumenical Councils, the basis of the orthodox faith.
Neilos therefore adapted the treatise of Euthymius to the needs of the fourteenth century by adding to the seven councils that of Photius (879-880) as the Eighth Ecumenical, and the synod of 1341 as the Ninth, giving also an extract from the Acts of this synod. He was not alone in this practice. In the Greek Manuscript 968 (fols. 392-395) in the National Library of Paris, I found an anonymous treatise on councils, also based on Euthymius’ tractate, in which the Photian Council is added to the seven ecumenicals as the Eighth, and that of 1341 as the Ninth. However, the author concedes ecumenical character only to the first seven synods. Another version of Euthymius’ treatise is preserved in the Manuscript Historicus Graecus 34 in the National Library of Vienna (fols. 359 ff.).4 These two treatises must have been composed soon after 1341 by anonymous zealots propagating the hesychast doctrine. I would be tempted to date them before the writings of Neilos, because they are not as emphatic concerning the ecumenicity of the two last councils as was the Archbishop of Rhodes who, because of his zeal for hesychasm, was promoted by the Patriarch Philotheos Kokkinos to an exarchos in 1366. He lost this distinction under the Patriarch Makarios (1376-1379) who was an adversary of the hesychasts.
As said before, it is not surprising that the hesychasts were anxious to promote the synod of 1341 to that of an ecumenical council, but why did they add to the seven councils described in their prototype, the Photian Council as the Eighth? One is tempted to perceive in these later editions an echo of the anti-Latin polemic which was very acute in the fourteenth century. Did the Byzantines of this period know that the Latins had added to the seven councils the Ignatian synod of 869-870 which had unjustly, in their opinion, condemned Photius? It is possible, although we find in the polemics of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries very few references to general councils. In the twelfth century Hugo Etherianus or his brother Leo Tuscus was aware of the difference between the Greeks and the Latins in the matter of general councils.5 But the Latins were, in general, not much interested in the problem of the councils and their number. They insisted on the primacy of the pope alone, and many of them were wary of speaking about the councils, being uncertain how to reconcile their authority with the papal primacy. Moreover, the case of Photius played a very small role on the polemics of this period.6
However, a strong echo of the anti-Latin polemic can be detected in Neilos’ treatise on another point in contest: the question of Filioque. He insists on the condemnation of the addition of Filioque to the Creed said by the papal legates in their profession of faith at the end of the Photian synod and he adds to his account on the Photian council an extract from the famous letter of John VIII to Photius in connection with the Filioque incident, which is said to have been sent to Constantinople after the Photian council, and the authenticity of which is doubtful. Moreover, it should be stressed that many prominent supporters of hesychasm, especially Gregory Palamas, Philotheos, Neilos of Rhodes, Neilos Kabasilas, were very much engaged in anti-Latin polemics. Thus, we must not exclude the thought that the addition of the Photian council to the seven ecumenicals as the Eighth could be interpreted as a condemnation of the Latin practice of regarding the censures proclaimed against Photius by the synod of 869-870 as just and still valid.
It is possible that a similar operation was made in the new version of the Synodicon Vetus.7 Its first and most important version contained in the Manuscript of Mount Sinai8 and edited, most probably on the basis of an older treatise by an Ignatian between the years 886-891, regards the Ignatian council as the Eighth ecumenical. The second version contained in some manuscripts of the fourteenth century speaks of the Eighth ecumenical as that “of the union between Photius and John VIII.”9
However, there is also another explanation of the promotion of the two synods to ecumenical councils. The partisans of the hesychasts were naturally interested in stressing the importance of the synod of 1341. When promoting it to an ecumenical council they could not overlook the synod of union described in their prototype. In the Byzantine tradition it was regarded as an important assembly. They could thus not place their synod of 1341 immediately after the seven councils as the Eighth. This place was given to the Photian synod, and the hesychast synod was numbered as the Ninth. The Ignatian synod of 869-870, of course, did not exist for them, as for all Byzantines, because it was cancelled in 880.
In a similar way we can explain the designation of the Photian synod as the Eighth ecumenical in the fourteenth century versions of the Synodicon Vetus. Their prototype, reedited by an Ignatian at a time when the Photian controversy was still a passionate topic, stopped at the synod of 869-870 which he called the Eighth Ecumenical. The Byzantines of the fourteenth century looked at this incident from a long way off. If a council could be called the Eighth Ecumenical it could be in their minds only the synod of 879-880, which had cancelled the Ignatian council. This explains why in the new version of the Synodicon the Eighth council is that which marked the reconciliation between Photius and John VIII.
These are the few exceptions from the general rule accepted by the Byzantine Church which admits only seven ecumenical councils, exceptions which might have been inspired by anti-Latin trends in the fourteenth century or, at least, which show the mentality of this period. Otherwise, in all official and private documents from the eighth century to modern times it is stressed that the Orthodox Church admitted only seven ecumenical councils as the basis of the orthodox faith. This is particularly documented by the numerous short treatises on councils which are found in manuscripts in all major European libraries.10 Some of them can be regarded as a sort of catechism teaching the main dogmas of the orthodox faith.
The conviction that only the first seven councils can be regarded as ecumenical, and that this character can in no way be attributed to the council of 869-870, was so firmly imbedded in Greek minds that even those Greeks who had accepted the union with Rome, concluded at the councils of Lyons and of Florence, hesitated to accept the Latin practice of regarding the Ignatian council of 869-870 as the Eighth Ecumenical. This is especially illustrated by two treatises on ecumenical councils written by Greek Uniats after the Council of Florence. I found them in the Greek Ms. 1712 in the National Library in Paris, and I published the main passages concerning our question in “Mélanges Eugène Tisserant.”11
After enumerating the seven ecumenical councils, and after mentioning the synod of orthodoxy under Theodora, the widow of the last iconoclastic Emperor Theophilus, the author of the first treatise continues: “The eighth holy and ecumenical synod was held in Lyons under John the Pope of Rome. This synod was convened against Photius who had become patriarch of Constantinople in defiance of the canons. He had unjustly usurped the throne when Ignatius the holy was still alive. Indeed, it was he who effected the schism between the Greeks and the Latins. He denied that the most Holy Spirit proceeds also from the Son, but only from the Father. Because of that the Synod condemned him and defined that the Spirit proceeded from the Son as from the Father.
“The Ninth holy and ecumenical Synod was held in Constantinople under Gregory, the Pope of Rome, and Bekkos, the patriarch of Constantinople. This Synod also was assembled for the same matter. After being assembled [this Synod] decreed in a very clear and plain way that the Holy Spirit proceeded also from the Son as from the Father, and presented it to the Church to believe [in], to praise and to worship.
"The Tenth holy, great and ecumenical Synod was held in the city of Florence, under Eugenius, the Pope of Rome, John Palaeologus, the most glorious emperor of the Romans, and Joseph, the patriarch of Constantinople. This also had convened for the same matter. Because of that [the Synod] declared solemnly that the Holy Spirit proceeded also from the Son in its own definition, although this was not added to the symbol of the faith in the Eastern Churches.”
The second short treatise gives also first the description of the seven ecumenical councils adding to them the council of Lyons as the Eighth, that under the Patriarch Bekkos as the Ninth, and the council of Florence as the Tenth. The author attributes the convocation of the Council of Lyons to Pope John VIII whom he regards as immediate successor to Pope Nicholas, omitting Hadrian II, who was responsible for the condemnation of Photius at the Council of 869-870. Both authors knew about the condemnation of Photius by a synod, but had a very hazy idea which synod it was. In this respect they were influenced by the tradition deeply rooted in Byzantine minds that only the first seven councils could be given the ecumenical character. None of the numerous treatises on councils, which they must have known, said anything about the Ignatian synod of 869-870.
It was natural for a Greek Uniat to regard the two councils which had proclaimed the union between the two Churches—that of Lyons (1274) and that of Florence (1438, 1439)—as ecumenical and to add them to the first seven councils. However, it was daring to promote even the local synod convoked by Bekkos in 1277 to an ecumenical council. One understands this promotion, because it was this synod which had to proclaim the union concluded at Lyons, in Constantinople.
The Orthodox Church is proud of this tradition.12 We can detect an echo of this glorious past of the Eastern Church in the encyclical letter of the ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras written in 1950 on the occasion of the feast of Orthodoxy, in which the Patriarch thanked most solemnly his predecessors for having preserved uncorrupted the faith proclaimed by the seven ecumenical councils during the turbulent stages of history.13
How and when did it happen that the Western Church abandoned the primitive tradition, common to East and West, adding to the first seven ecumenical councils the synod of 869-870 as the Eighth Ecumenical? I studied this problem in my book on the Photian Schism,14 and I came to the conclusion that even the Roman curia had accepted the decisions of the council which had restored Photius, and which continued to recognize as ecumenical councils binding all Christians, only the seven primitive synods. Among other documents we can quote a letter of Pope Marinus II (942-946) to Sicus, Bishop of Capua, and that of Pope Leo IX to Peter, the Patriarch of Antioch. Both Popes knew only the seven general councils. Equally important is the formula of the profession of faith which every Pope had to recite and sign after his election. This formula is preserved in the so-called Liber Diurnus,15 a kind of school-book intended for the training of papal notaries, containing copies of most of the formulae and instructions. The official formulary used is in the papal chancery. The formula for the profession of faith enumerated originally only four councils, but the Fifth, Sixth and the Seventh were added after these councils had been accepted in Rome. The Seventh Council could have been added only after the Photian council of 879-880. During this council Photius asked that the ecumenical character of this council should be officially recognized by the whole Church.16 It can be shown that before this date the Seventh Council had not yet been added to the six ecumenical councils in Rome. The latest edition of the formula containing the profession of faith of the newly elected popes is preserved in the collection of Canon Law composed by Cardinal Deusdedit during the reign of Pope Gregory VII (1073-1085). He copied it from the Liber Diurnus which then must have been reedited in the eleventh century, most probably during the reign of Leo IX. It is very significant that in this new edition of the formula only seven councils are enumerated as ecumenical and binding upon all Christians. Also, the so-called Cautio Episcopi, or the profession form recited by bishops after their election, contained in the new edition of the Liber Diurnus, enumerates only seven ecumenical councils. All this shows clearly that up to the end of the eleventh century the Roman chancellery recognized only seven ecumenical councils, excluding the council of 869-870, and that of 879-880. Both Churches were thus in perfect accord on this important matter.
I have tried also to explain why the Ignatian Council had been added in the West to the list as the Eighth Ecumenical. This happened during the reign of Gregory VII, who had opened the Lateran archives to his canonists who were looking for new arguments for the papal primacy and who were against the intervention of laymen in the appointment of bishops and abbots. They needed a strongly worded official document which they could use in their fight against the investiture, or appointment of clergy to ecclesiastical dignities by influential laymen. They found such a document in Canon twenty-two voted by the Ignatian Council, which forbade laymen to influence the appointment of prelates. All canonists and reformists of the Gregorian period used this canon as their most powerful weapon in their struggle for the freedom of the Church in the election of prelates. To give more weight to this argument they promoted the Ignatian Council to one of the most important ecumenical synods, overlooking the Acts of the Photian Council which had cancelled the Council of 869-70, although the Acts of this council were also kept in the Lateran Archives. Only Cardinal Deusdedit copied a part of the Acts of the Photian Synod of 861 and of 879-880. He was followed by Ivo of Chartres, who, in the famous prologue to his col1ection of Canon Law, quoted a long passage of the letter of John VIII to Basil I concerning the restoration of Photius in the "doctored" version read at the council.17
The controversy between Latins and Greeks concerning the number of ecumenical synods was begun very late, only in the fifteenth century, during the Council of Ferrara-Florence. During the discussion on the Filioque use was made of the Acts of the first councils. When, at the beginning of the sixth session, Cardinal Julian Cesarini asked the Greeks to lend him the book containing the Acts of the Eighth Council,18 the metropolitan of Ephesus answered that the Greeks did not possess these Acts. This is understandable because these Acts were destroyed when the Council of 869-870 was abrogated. “But even were it [this book] in our possession,” said the metropolitan, “we could on no account be asked to number among the ecumenical councils a synod which not only was never approved, but was even condemned, for the synod mentioned by Your Holiness drew up Acts against Photius . . . ,” but another synod was subsequently held which reinstated Photius and abrogated the first synod. This council, also called the Eighth, met under Pope John. It also dealt with the question of addition to the Synod, deciding that nothing should be added. . . . Since then the Acts of that council were annulled, it is not these, but rather the Acts of the subsequent council that should be looked for. The Cardinal, surprised by this outburst, assured the Metropolitan that nothing should be read from the Eighth Council. However, five days later, in the course of the seventh session, the Archbishop of Rhodes, speaking in the name of the Latins, attacked the Metropolitan of Ephesus in a very passionate way. He maintained that Photius was an enemy of the Roman Church and was rightly condemned by the Eighth Council. “As to what you recently affirmed,” continued the Archbishop, “namely, that a synod was summoned later and condemned the Eighth Council, I say that this seems very unlikely. It will not do to come forward with any doubtful argument to prove the contrary, that the synod did pass such a condemnation, for neither the Pope nor his representative were present.” “Because the Latins had no knowledge of such a synod, therefore, the council you mentioned never took place.”19 In spite of this sharp encounter, the question of the number of ecumenical synods was left open. The Greeks continued to count only seven ecumenical councils and in the council's definitions every reference to the Eighth Council was intentionally omitted. It should be stressed that even the Greek Uniats did not accept the Latin thesis concerning the Eighth Council. This is illustrated by the attitude of the Greek Bishop Bartholomew Abraham of Crete. Because the Latin text of the Acts of the Council of Florence was lost, the Archbishop of Ravenna asked the Bishop of Crete to translate the Greek Acts into Latin. He did it in an abridged form, but in his preface he called the Council of Florence the Eighth Ecumenical. He did so with the full approval of the papal chancellery given to the translation under Pope Clement VII (1523-1534), in 1526. This title was given to the Council of Florence also by one of the first editors of conciliar Acts, Laurence Surius, in 1567, although with some hesitation.20
Most of the famous theologians of the fifteenth and sixteenth century were impressed by the edition of the Acts of the Florentine Council by the Bishop of Crete, although some of them remained faithful to the Latin tradition designating the Ignatian Council as the Eighth Ecumenical. Therefore, they referred to the Council of Florence as the Ninth. This can be traced in the writings of Fantino Vallaresso, Juan de Torquemada, Reginald Pole, Antonio Agustin, Gasparo Contarini, Michael Eparco.21
From the beginning of the seventeenth century, however, another practice had started. First of all, the Ignatian Council came more and more into prominence among church historians. In 1602 appeared the tenth volume of the Annates Ecclesiasticis by the first modern Catholic historian Cardinal Cesare Baronius who vehemently rejected the title given to the Council of Florence, arguing that this title should be given only to the Council of 869-870 which had condemned Photius who, in Baronius’ eyes, was the most dangerous enemy of the Roman Primacy and a detested Father of the schism between East and West. In 1604 M. Rader published in Innsbruck the Acts of this council with the anti-Photianist collection which was regarded as containing the most reliable documents concerning the affair of Photius. This was intended to end the practice inaugurated by the Bishop of Crete.
On the other side already the Archbishop of Rhodes in his speech during the seventh session of the Council of Florence, when refusing the Greek thesis concerning the annulment of the Eighth Council, hinted that from the Eighth Council on many important assemblies were convoked by the Popes, meaning the Western councils, the four Lateran, those of Lyons, Vienna and Constance. These councils more and more attracted the attention of the canonists. For example, the famous Spanish canonist Antonio Agustin (1517-1586) counted nine councils common to Greeks and Latins—the Ninth the Council of Florence—and seven Latin councils, namely, the Third, Fourth and Fifth Lateran, the Second of Lyons, that of Vienna, of Constance and of Trent. Jacobazzi (1538) also added to the eight first councils the Latin assemblies, but left out in his list the first and second councils of Lateran and that of Basel.
All these hesitations and uncertainties concerning the number of ecumenical councils were put aside by Bellarmin. In the first volume of his main work Disputationes de Controvertus Christianae Fidei (Innsbruck, 1586-1593) Cardinal Robert Bellarmin added to the eight first councils all Western assemblies, giving to the Council of Florence the sixteenth place. He had some reserve concerning the validity of the Council of Basel. At the same time he gave a new definition of a general council, and discussed the conditions which would give a council its ecumenical character and authority binding on all Catholics. The first condition was the convocation by a Pope who should preside in person or through a representative. He mentioned also that at the first councils all five patriarchs were present representing the bishops of their patriarchates. Now, however, defined Bellarmin, the absence of the oriental patriarchs does not affect the ecumenicity of a council convoked by the Pope, because “these patriarchs are heretics, or certainly schismatics.” Bellarmin’s definition put aside the most important objection which could be raised against the ecumenical character of the councils held in the West from the twelfth century on. His work was reprinted several times and the Cardinal became a leading authority on theological and conciliar matters. No wonder that another editor of the Conciliar Acts, S. Bini (Cologne, 1606), following Bellarmin, regarded the designation of the Council of Florence as the Eighth, which had been retained, although with some reserve, by his predecessor Surius, as spurious and declared that the designation “Sixteenth” should be substituted for “Eighth.” What hastened this new trend in conciliar matters was the preoccupation of the canonists to assure the ecumenical character to the Council of Trent (1545-1565), opposed and denied by the Protestants. To achieve this it seemed necessary to add to the old list of ecumenical councils also the Latin councils held in the West. When Pope Paul V had ordered a new publication of the Conciliar Acts, a special congregation was formed to direct the preliminary work of the editors. Examining the differences concerning the Council of Florence, the congregation decided in its session of October 21, 1595, that the Council of Florence should not be called the Eighth, but the Sixteenth Ecumenical Counci1.22 The way for such a decision was prepared by Bellarmin and Bini. So it happened that the Collectio Romana, the Roman edition of the Conciliar Acts, with the preface of I. Simond (Concilia Generalia 4 vols. Rome 1608-1612)23 accepted Bellarmin’s numbering of the ecumenical councils and their example was followed by all editors of Acts of the following period up to the present time.
This decision is, of course, not a pronunciamento on dogmatic matters. It was made rather for practical reasons and was based on works of canonists and theologians of that period. It had not solved the problem of the Ignatian and the Photian councils, making its solution rather more difficult; There is only one way to achieve an understanding. The Western Church has to revive the tradition which she herself had followed up to the twelfth century, and the memory of which was alive in the West up to the seventeenth century, as is illustrated by the history of the Council of Florence, and recognize only the seven primitive councils, excluding the so-called Eighth.
Concerning the Western councils, the Orthodox will have two objections to the value the Latins give them. According to the orthodox teaching, only a council which makes a dogmatic decision can be regarded as ecumenical.24 All other councils are local. This was one of the reasons that the councils of 869-870 and of 879-880 were not regarded as ecumenical because they were convoked to decide on a matter of discipline and canon law. When we apply this ruling we see that many of the Western councils do not qualify.
As to the acceptance of Western councils by the Orthodox, let us recall the words which Nicetos, the Bishop of Nicomedia, addressed in 1136 to Anselm, Bishop of Havelberg, during their discussion of the Roman primacy.25 “The Roman Church, whose primacy among its sisters we accept, to which we give the first place of honor as president of a general council, separated itself [from us] . . . . When therefore, because of these circumstances, this Church assembles a council with its Western bishops, without our knowledge of what is happening, it is right that its bishops should accept its decrees and observe them with the veneration due to them. . . . But, we, although we are in accord with the Roman Church concerning the Catholic faith, how could we, because we do not keep assemblies at the same time she does, accept decisions which had been taken without our advice, and of which we even do not know anything?”
These words recall another mark or character which a council must have in order to be called ecumenical, according to the Orthodox Church, namely that all five patriarchs should be present at such an assembly and that its decisions should be accepted by the whole Church. Because of this reason, says the Greek specialist of canon law, H. Alivisatos,26 the Eastern Church, although it considers itself a continuation of the primitive and indivisible Church, has abstained from convoking an Eighth Ecumenical Council for the reason that it would not be accepted as such by the Roman Church. A council which is not accepted in unanimous fashion does not possess the character of catholicity.
In the discussion of this and other problems dividing Eastern and Western Christianity we should recall the recommendation given by the Fathers during the fourth session of the Synod of Union (879-880).27 The holy Synod said: Every Church has certain old usages which it has inherited. One should not quarrel and argue about them. Let the Roman Church observe its usages; this is legitimate. But let also the Church of Constantinople observe certain usages which it has inherited from old times. Let it be likewise so in the Oriental sees. . . . Many things would have not happened if the Churches had followed this recommendation in the past.
Francis Dvornik (Roman Catholic), has been on the faculty of the Charles IV University of Prague, College de France, Cambridge University and Harvard University. His many books include: The Photian Schism: History and Legend; The Idea of Apostolicity in Byzantium and Byzance et la Primauté.
1The treatise is preserved in Ms. Arundel 529 of the British Museum. See my book, The Photian Schism (Cambridge, 1948), pp. 383, 456-457.
2See K. Krumbacher, Geschichte der Byzantinischen Literatur (Munich, 1897), p. 109, and H. G. Beck, Kirche und Theologische Literatur im Byzantinischen Reich (Munich, 1959), p. 787.
3Cf. G. Ostrogorsky, History of the Byzantine State (New Brunswick, 1957), pp. 456ff.
4Cf. F. Dvornik, pp. 384, 420, 456.
5Ibid., p. 347. (See also below, footnote #25).
6Ibid. 348ff., 397ff.
7Published by J. Pappe in J. A. Fabricins’ Bibliotheca Graeca (Hamburg, 1809), vol. 12, pp. 360-421.
8Sinaiticus Graecus, No. 418 (1117), fols. 357a-365a. Cf. F. Dvornik, The Patriarch Photius in the Light of Recent Research (Munich, 1958), pp. 35ff.
9A new edition of the Synodicon and its versions on the basis of all available manuscripts is being prepared by John Parker.
10Cf. Dvornik, The Photian Schism, pp. 452ff. Only one such treatise has been published by Ch. Justellus in his Nomocanon Photii . . . Accessere ejusdem Photii, Nili metropolitae Rhodi et Anonymi tractatus de synodis oecumenicis (Paris, 1615). This treatise and that of Neilos are reprinted by G. A. Rhallis in his Syntagma (Athens 1885-1889), p. 370-374, 389-395.
11Studi et Testi, No. 232 (1964), vol. 2, pp. 93-101.
12Cf. H. Alivisatos, “Les Conciles Oecuménique V, VI, VII et VIII,” Le Concile et les conciles, edition de Chevetogne (1960), p. 120.
13It was published in the official review of the Patriarchate, Orthodoxia (1950), No.2, p. 39-41. A French translation appeared in the Istina (1954), No. 1, pp. 46, 47.
14Ibid., pp. 314ff.
15Cf. Ibid., pp. 318ff., 435ff.
16At the beginning of the fifth session Photius asked that Rome and all other Patriarchs should regard the council of 787 as ecumenical and should add this council to the six others. All representatives of the patriarchs did so solemnly when signing the decisions of the Photian Council. Mansi, Concilia 17, col. 493, 508ff.
17I discussed lvo’s prologue in my book, The Photian Schism, pp. 302-308. On pp. 335-341 I quoted some canonists who had copied parts of lvo’s prologue. Since then I found lvo’s prologue with the letter of John VIII in several other collections of canon law which are not yet published. This shows that Ivo’s prologue with the papal letter rehabilitating Photius exercised a greater influence on Western canonists than has been thought.
18Mansi, Concilia, vol. 31, cols. 528-551; cf. Dvornik, The Photian Schism, pp. 362ff.
19Cf. also Quae supersunt Actorum Graecorum Concilii Florentini, part I, ed. J. Gill (Rome 1953, Concilium Florentinum, series B. vol. V, 1), p. 90.
20See Dvornik, The Photian Schism, pp. 364ff. More detailed description is given by V. Peri, “II numero dei concili ecumenici nella tradizione cattolica moderna,” Aevum 37 (1963), pp. 472ff., and I consili e le chiese (Rome, Cultura 29, 1964), pp. 55ff.
21See V. Peri, I Concili e le Chiese, p. 57.
22The history of this edition was examined in detail by Peri in his study Il Numero dei Concili, pp. 484ff. He used the archives of the Vatican and reproduced the most important decisions of the Congregation.
23On the Roman Edition see for details V. Peri “Due protagonisti dell Editio Romani dei concili ecumenici.” Studio Testi, 237, pp. 131-232. See also G. Leonardi “Per la storia dell’edizione romana.” Ibid. pp. 583-637.
24Already in 1177 Hugo Etherianus, or his brother Leo Tuscus, gave such a definition of an ecumenical council according to the Greeks. See the quotation in Dvornik, The Photian Schism, p. 347. This definition is given in many Greek manuscripts containing treatises on councils. Let me quote here the Ms. 1319 of the Bibliotheque National in Paris. The Ms. is of the thirteenth century. On fol. 9 we read: “The Ecumenical Councils are [Synods] which were assembled on the order of an Emperor, which included bishops from all the Roman Empire, which discussed a problem of the faith and proclaimed a symbol of faith. All other councils are local.” This Ms. gives the list of general and also local synods.
25Dialogi, Migne, Faires Latini, vol. 188, col. 1217ff. (chs. 7-8).
26Ibid., p. 120.
27Mansi, XVII, Col. 489.
Francis Dvornik, “Which Councils are Ecumenical?” Journal of Ecumenical Studies 3(2), 1966, pp. 314-328.
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