Council, Apostolical, at Jerusalem (Ac 15:6 sq.). SEE APOSTOLICAL COUNCIL. Many writers, Protestants as well as Romanists, have regarded the assembly of the apostles and elders of Jerusalem. of which we read in Acts 15, as the first ecclesiastical council, and the model on which others were formed. in accordance, as they suppose, with a divine command or apostolic institution. But this view of the matter is unsupported by the testimony of antiquity, and is at variance with the opinions of the earliest writers who refer to the councils of the Church. Tertullian speaks of the ecclesiastical assemblies of the Asiatic and European Greeks as a human institution; and in a letter written by Firmilian, bishop of Caesarea, to Cyprian, about the middle of the third century, the same custom is referred to merely as a convenient arrangement existing at that time among the churches of Asia Minor for common deliberation on matters of extraordinary importance. Besides this, it will be found, upon examination, that the councils of the Church were assemblages of altogether a different nature from that of the apostles and elders; the only point in which the alleged model was really imitated being, perhaps, the form of preface to the decree, "It hath seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us" (see the Studien u. Kritiken, 1842, 1:102 sq.). SEE DECREE (OF APOSTLES).
COUNCILS (Lat. concilium), assemblies of pastors or bishops for the discussion and regulation of ecclesiastical affairs.
1. The beginning of the system of church councils is traced to the gathering together of the apostles and elders narrated in Acts 15. This is generally considered to be the first council (see above); but it differed from all others in this circumstance, that it was under the special inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Roman Catholic writers speak of four Apostolical Councils, viz., Ac 1:13, for the election of an apostle; Acts 6, to choose deacons; Acts 15, the one" above named: Ac 21:18 sq. But none of these had a public and general character except that in Acts 15 (Schaff, Hist. of Christian Church, 2, § 65). Although the Gospel was soon after propagated in many parts of Europe, Asia, and Africa, there does not appear to have been any public meeting of Christians held for the purpose of discussing any contested point until the middle of the second century. From that time councils became frequent; but as they consisted only of those who belonged to particular districts or countries, they are usually termed diocesan, provincial, patriarchal, or national councils, in contradistinction to oecumenical or .general councils, i.e. supposed to comprise delegates or commissioners from all the churches in the Christian world, and consequently supposed to represent the Church universal.
2. OEcumenical Councils. — The name σύνοδος οἰκουμενική (concilium universale or generale) occurs first in the 6th canon of Constantinople, A.D. 381 (Schaff, 1. c.). No such assembly was held, or could be held, before the establishment of the Christian religion over the ruins of paganism in the Roman Empire. Their title to represent the whole Christian world is not valid. After the 4th century the lower clergy and the laity were entirely excluded from the councils, and bishops only admitted. The number of bishops gathered at the greatest of the councils constituted but a small portion of the entire episcopate of the world. The oecumenical councils which are generally admitted to bear that title most justly were rather Greek than general councils. In the strict and proper sense of the term, therefore, no oecumenical council has ever been held.
There are seven councils admitted by both the Greek and Latin churches as oecumenical. The Roman Catholics add twelve to the number, making nineteen, named in the following list. For details as to the doings of the councils, see the separate articles under each title in this Cyclopaedia.
1. The synod of apostles in Jerusalem (Acts 15).
2. The first Council of Nice, held 325 A.D., to assert the Catholic doctrine respecting the Son of God in opposition to the opinions of Arius.
3. The first Council of Constantinople, convoked under the emperor Theodosius the Great (381 A.D.), to determine the Catholic doctrine regarding the Holy Ghost.
4. The first Council of Ephesus, convened under Theodosius the Younger (431 A.D.), to condemn the Nestorian heresy.
5. The Council of Chalcedon, under the Emperor Marcian (451 A.D.), which asserted the doctrine of the union of the. divine with the human nature in Christ, and condemned the heresies of Eutyches and the Monophysites.
6. The second Council of Constantinople, under Justinian (553 A.D.), which condemned the doctrines of Origen, Arius, Macedonius, and others.
7. The third Council of Constantinople, convoked under the emperor Constantine V, Pogonatus (681 A.D.), for the condemnation of the Monothelite heresy.
8. The second Council of Nice, held in the reign of the empress Irene and her son Constantine (787 A.D.), to establish the worship of images. Against this council Charlemagne convened a counter synod at Frankfort (794 A.D.).
9. The fourth Council of Constantinople, under Basilius and Adrian (869 A.D.), the principal business of which was the deposition of Photius, who had intruded himself into the see of Constantinople, and the restoration of Ignatius, who had been its former occupant.
10. The first Lateran Council held in Rome under the emperor Henry V, and convoked by the pope Calixtus II (1123 A.D.), to settle the dispute on investiture (q.v.).
11. The second Lateran Council, under the emperor Conrad III and pope Innocent II (1139 A.D.), condemned the errors of Arnold of Brescia and others.
12. The third Lateran Council, convened by pope Alexander III (1179 A.D.), in the reign of Frederick I of Germany, condemned the "errors and impieties" of the Waldenses and Albigenses.
13. The fourth Lateran Council, held under Innocent III (1215 A.D.), among other matters asserted and confirmed the dogma of transubstantiation and necessity for the reformation of abuses and the extirpation of heresy.
14. The first oecumenical synod of Lyon, held during the pontificate of Innocent IV (1245 A.D.), had for its object the promotion of the Crusades, the restoration of ecclesiastical discipline, etc.
15. The second oecumenical synod of Lyon was held during the pontificate of Gregory X (1274 A.D.); its principal object was the reunion of the Greek and Latin churches.
16. The Synod of Vienne in Gaul, under Clemens V (1311 A.D.), was convoked to suppress the Knights Templars, etc.
17. The Council of Constance was convoked at the request' of the emperor Sigismund, 1414 A.D., and sat for four years. It asserted the authority of an oecumenical council over the pope, and condemned the doctrines of John Huss and Jerome of Prague.
18. The Council of Basel was convoked by pope Martin V, 1430 A.D. It sat for nearly ten years, and purposed to introduce a reformation in the discipline, and even the constitution of the Roman Catholic Church. All acts passed in this council, after it had been formally dissolved bylthe pope, are regarded by the Roman Catholic Church as null and void.
19. The celebrated Council of Trent, held 1545-1563 A.D. It was opened by Paul III, and brought to a close under the pontificate of Paul IV.
The Church of England (Homily against the Peril of Idolatry, pt. 2) speaks of "those six councils which were allowed and received of all men," viz., Nice, A.D. 325; Constantinople, A.D. 381; Ephesus, A.D. 431; Chalcedon, A.D. 451; Constantinople, A.D. 553; Constantinople, A.D. 680 (see Amer. Quart. Church Review, Oct. 1867, art. 4). The Articles of Religion (art. 21) declare that "general councils may not be gathered together without the commandment and will of princes. And when they be gathered together (for as much as they be an assembly of men, whereof all be not governed with the Spirit and Word of God) they may err, and sometimes have erred, even in things pertaining unto God; wherefore things ordained by them as necessary to salvation have neither strength nor authority unless it may be declared that they be taken out of Holy Scripture." The importance of the so-called oecumenical councils has been often greatly over-estimated, not only by the Greeks and Roman Catholics, but also by many Protestants. Jortin remarks, with his usual sharpness, that "they were a collection of men who were frail and fallible. Some of these councils were not assemblies of pious and learned divines, but cabals, the majority of which were quarrelsome, fanatical, domineering, dishonest prelates, who wanted to compel men to approve all their opinions, of which they themselves had no clear conceptions, and to anathematize and oppress those who would not implicitly submit to their determinations" (Works, vol. 3, charge 2).
The value of the decisions of the councils depends, not upon their authority, as drawn together at the call of emperor or pope, not upon the number of the bishops who attended them, but upon the truth of their decisions, and their conformity to the Word of God. The Councils of Nice and Chalcedon rendered great service to the Church and to theology; but their Christological statements of doctrine have been received by the general Church down to the latest times, not because they emanated from the councils, but because they satisfy the intellectual and moral needs of the Church, and are held to be true statements, though in more scientific form, of doctrines explicitly or implicitly contained in the Word of God. As to the earlier councils, it "must be remembered that the bishops of that day were elected by the popular voice. So far as that went, they truly represented the Christian people, and were but seldom called to account by the people for their acts. Eusebius felt bound to justify his vote at Nice before his diocese in Caesarea. Furthermore, the councils, in an age of ecclesiastical despotism, sanctioned the principle of common public deliberation as the best means of arriving at truth and settling controversy. They revived the' spectacle of the Roman senate in ecclesiastical form, and were the forerunners of representative government and parliamentary legislation" (Schaff, History, 2, § 65; also in New-Englander, Oct. 1863, art. 4, and in Jahrb. fir deutsche Theologie, 1863, 2).
The Romanists hold that the pope alone can convene and conduct oecumenical councils, which are supposed, on their theory, to represent the universal Church under the guidance of the Holy Ghost. In matters of faith, councils profess to be guided by the holy Scriptures and the traditions of the Church, while in lighter matters human reason and expediency are consulted. In matters of faith oecumenical councils are held to be infallible, and hence it is maintained that all such synods have agreed together; but in matters of discipline, etc., the authority of the latest council prevails. The Roman claim is not sustained by history. The emperors called the first seven councils, and either presided over them in person or by commissioners; and the final ratification of the decisions was also left to the emperor. But the Greek Church agrees with the Latin in ascribing absolute authority to the decisions of truly oecumenical councils. Gregory of Nazianzus (who was president for a time of the second oecumenical council) speaks strongly of the evils to which such assemblies are liable: "I am inclined to avoid conventions of bishops; I never knew one that did not come to a bad end, and create more disorders than it attempted to rectify." A remarkable view of the authority of councils was that of Nicolas of Clamengis (q.v.), viz. that they, in his opinion, could claim regard for their resolutions only if the members were really believers, and if they were more concerned for the salvation of souls than for secular interests. His views on general councils were fully set forth in a little work entitled Disputatio de concilio generali, which consists of three letters, addressed, in 1415 or 1416, to a professor at the Paris University (printed apparently at Vienna in 1482). He not only places the authority of general councils over the authority of the popes, but the authority of the Bible over the authority of the councils. He doubts whether at all the former oecumenical councils the Holy Spirit really presided, as the Holy Spirit would not assist men pursuing secular aims. He denies that a council composed of such men represents the Church, and asserts that God alone knows who are his people and where the Holy Ghost dwells, and that there may be times when the Church can only be found in one single woman (in sola potest muliercula per gratiam manere ecclesiam). After the lapse of over 300 years, the pope in 1867 signified his purpose to summon another oecumenical council. Of course none but Romanist bishops will attend it.
3. Provincial councils have been too numerous to be mentioned here in detail. The most important of them are mentioned under the names of the places at which they have been held (e.g. Aix-la-Chapelle, Compiegne). Lists are given in most of the books on Christian antiquities, and in Landon, Man. of Councils.
4. The most important collections of the acts of the councils are Binius, Concilia Generalia (Cologne, 1606, 4 vols. fol.; 1618, 4 vols. fol; Paris, 1638, 9 vols. fol.); the same, edited by Labbe and Cossart (Paris, 1671 sq., 17 vols., with supplement by Baluze, 1638, 1 vol. fol.); Hardouin, Collectio Maxima Conciliorum, etc. (Paris, 1715 sq., 12 vols. fol.); Coleti (Venice, 1728, 23 vols. 4to, with supplement by Mansi. 1748-52, 6 vols. going down to the year 1727); Mansi, Sacr. Concil. nova et ampliss. Collectio (Florence, 1759-98, 31 vols. fol.). Tha abbe Migne proposes a complete collection, in 80 vols. There are special collections of the acts of national and provincial councils; e.g. for France, Sirmond (Paris, 1629), La Lande (Paris, 1666); for Spain, Aguirre (Madrid, 1781); for Germany, Binterim (Mainz, 1335-43, 7 vols.). Of manuals, histories of councils, etc., the following are the most important: Walch, Kirchenversammlungen (Leips. 1759); Grier, Epitome of General Councils (Dublin, 1828, 8vo); Landon, Manual of Councils (Lond. 1846, 12mo); Beveridge, Synodicon, sive Pandectce Canonum S. S. Apostolorum et Conciliorum (Oxon. 1672- 82, 2 vols. fol.); Hefele, Conciliengeschichte (Freiburg, 1855 sq., 6 vols. 8vo-yet unfinished). See also Gibbon, Decline and Fall, chap. 20; Lardner, Works, 4:63; Elliott, Delineation of Romaninsm, bk. 3, ch. 3; Ferraris, Prormta Bibliotheca, s.v. Concilium; Schaff, History of the Christian Church, vol. 2, § 65; James, Corruptions of Scripture, Fathers, and Councils, by the Church of Rome (Lond. 1688, 8vo); Comber, Roman Forgeries in the Councils, etc. (Lond. 1689, 4to); Browne, On the Thirty- nine Articles, Art. XXI; Palmer, On the Church, 2:144; Cramp, Textbook of Popery, p. 474; Siegel, Alterthumer, 4:406.