Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Brief History of Councils of the Church through 1884

List of the General Councils held in the Church of God from the time of the Apostles to A.D. 1884.

From Catholic Belief by the Very Rev. Joseph Faa Di Bruno, D.D., copyright 1884

[Note: I think it is useful for students, particularly at the high school level, to read about the various Church councils in history and particularly what dogmas were defined and what heresies were rejected at each one. This is helpful for understanding the nature of the Church and avoiding the errors treated at each council. Because this material comes from an older text, it does not include material about the Second Vatican Council.]

The First Council of Nice (now called Isnick, in Asia Minor, about 90 miles from Constantinople), was held in the year 325 under Pope Sylvester I., in the Palace of the Emperor. There were present 318 Bishops, the Emperor Constantine the Great also assisting. Arius, Presbyter of Alexandria, was condemned for denying the divinity of the Word, or Son of God, and His consubstantiality with the Father; at this Council the greater part of what is commonly called the Nicene Creed was published.

Catholic Encyclopedia: FIRST COUNCIL OF NICAEA

The First Council of Constantinople, the ancient Byzantium, was held in 381, in the Emperor's Palace, confirmed by Pope Damasus I.; 150 Bishops and the Emperor Theodosius the Elder attended. The followers of Macedonius were condemned for denying the Divinity of the Holy Ghost and His consubstantiality with the Father and the Son. A few more things were added to the Nicene Creed.


The Council of Ephesus, Asia Minor, was held in the Church of St. Mary in 431, under Pope Celestine I. About 200 Bishops and Theodosius the Younger were present. Nestorius was deposed from his See of Constantinople, and condemned for maintaining that in Jesus Christ there were two distinct persons; a human person, born of the Virgin Mary, and the Divine person, that is, the Eternal Word. In consequence of this error he denied to the Blessed Virgin the title of Theotokos (or mother of God), contrary to the Catholic doctrine, which confesses Mary to be the Mother of that DIVINE PERSON in whom are intimately and indissolubly united, by what is called the hypostatic union, the Divine and human nature.

The Council of Chalcedon (now called Scutari), facing Constantinople, in Asia Minor, under Pope Leo the Great, was held in 451, in the Church of St. Euphemia the Martyr, near the Bosphorus in Bithynia. Paschasinus and Lucentius, Bishops, and Boniface, Priest, presided at this Council as Legates of Pope Leo the Greta. Six hundred and thirty Bishops, and the Roman Emperor Marcian were present. Papal Supremacy was acknowledged. Eutyches, Abbot of Constantinople, and Dioscorus, Archbishop of Alexandria, were condemned for teaching that in JESUS CHRIST there was only one nature.

The Second Council of Constantinople, held in the Sacristy of the Cathedral in 553, and confirmed by Pope Vigilius. 165 Bishops, and the Emperor Justinian, were present. Though neither the Pope nor his Legates attended, yet the Council is considered Ecumenical from its having afterwards received the sanction of the Pope. The so-called 'Three Chapters' or heretical writings of Theodorus of Mopsuesta, and of Theodoretus and of Iba, favoring the already anathematized doctrines of Nestorius, were condemned.


The Third Council of Constantinople, held in the Hall of the Imperial Palace, in the years 680 and 681, under Pope Agatho, attended by 170 Bishops. The Monothelites, with their leaders, Cyrus, Sergius, and Pyrrhus, were condemned for maintaining, as their name implies, that in JESUS CHRIST there was only one operation and one will, namely, the Divine Will. This heresy attempted to revive under a new form the error of Eutyches, which had been already condemned. Pope Agatho dying before the Council came to an end it was confirmed by Leo II., his successor, who translated the Acts of this Council from Greek into Latin.

The Second Council of Nice, held in the Church of St. Sophia in 787, under Pope Adrian I., attended by 367 Bishops. In this Council the Iconoclasts (image breakers) were condemned for rejecting the use of holy images, and the practice of paying them due respect. The last Session of this Council was held at Constantinople.

Catholic Encyclopedia: Nicaea, Second Council of

The Fourth Council of Constantinople, held in the Church of St. Sophia in 869 and 870, under Pope Adrian II., attended by 102 Bishops. The Patriarch Photius, the author of the Greek Schism, was condemned and deposed, and St. Ignatius was restored to his See of Constantinople, which had been unjustly usurped by Photius. This is the last General Council held in the Eastern part of Christendom.

The First Council of Lateran, held in the Basilica of St. John Lateran, in Rome, in 1123, under Pope Calistus II., attended by 300 Bishops and 600 mitred Abbots. The contest regarding investitures, or appointment to benefices, was settled. The rights of the Church and of the Emperors in the important matter of election of Bishops and Abbots were regulated.

The Second Council of Lateran, held at Rome in 1139, under Pope Innocent II., attended by 1000 Bishops, the Pope himself presiding. The errors of the Albigenses and the heresies of Peter De Bruys and his disciple, Arnold of Brescia, were condemned and the schism of Peter Leo was repressed. One of the decrees of this Council anathematized those heretics who rejected Infant Baptism, the Holy Eucharist, the Priesthood, and Matrimony.

The Third Council of Lateran, held at Rome in 1179, under Pope Alexander III., who presided in person. It was attended by 300 Bishops. The errors of the Waldenses were condemned and a better form of electing the Sovereign Pontiff was prescribed. Most beneficial rules were also framed for the elections of Bishops, for regulating the rights of patrons, and for the gratuitous instruction of the people, especially of poor children.

The Fourth Council of Lateran, held at Rome in 1215, under the great Pope Innocent III., attended by 412 Bishops and upward of 800 Abbots and Friars, besides the representatives of all Sovereigns and Princes of Christendom. A short exposition of the Catholic Faith was drawn up in opposition to the errors of the time, especially those of the Albigenses and the Waldenses. Ecclesiastical laws were framed for the reformation of morals among Christians. The obligation of Confession for adults, instead of several times a year, was reduced to once a yer at least; and Holy Communion likewise to at least once a year, and that at Easter-time. A decree authorizing an expedition (known as Crusade) for the recovery of the Holy Places in Palestine was likewise published, and the election of Frederic II., of Germany, as Roman Emperor was confirmed.

The First Council of Lyons, ancient Lugdunum (Rhone), France, held in 1245 in the Monastery of St. Just, under Pope Innocent IV, who himself generally presided, attended by 140 Bishops and many Abbots and Procurators of Chapters. There was also present Baldwin, Emperor of Constantinople, with other Princes and various Ambassadors. The Emperor, Frederic II., (a noted persecutor of the Church, who, owing to the aid of Pope Innocent III., his godfather, ascended the throne of the German Empire) was excommunicated and deposed after a powerful defence made y his Imperial representatives and advocates, had been heard.

The Second Council of Lyons, held in the Church of St. John in 1274, under Pope Gregory X., attended by 500 Bishops of the Latin and the Greek Rite, nearly 70 Abbots and about 1000 minor Prelates, the Pope presiding in person. The schismatic Greeks returned to the unity of the Church, acknowledging the Pope as the head of the whole Church, of the Greek as well as of the Latin Rite.

The Council of Vienna in France, the ancient Vienne Allobrogum (Isere, Dauphiny), was held in the Metropolitan Church in the year 1311 and 1312, under Pope Clement V. There were 300 Bishops and many other Prelates present. The Order of Knights Templars was abolished. The errors of the Begards, who pretended that man is capable of attaining such perfection in this life as to become impeccable (or incapable of sinning), even when freely gratifying the evil propensities of the body, were condemned.

The Council of Constance or Constantia, on the Lake of Constance, Baden, was assembled in 1414, when, owing to the interference of States, there were three candidates contending for the Papal Chair, namely - John XXIII., Gregory XII., and Benedict XIII. It was attended by about 200 Bishops and a number of other Prelates. At this Council the serious schism caused by this usurpation which had so long disturbed the Church of God ended, and the errors of John Wickliff and others were condemned. In November 1417, Pope Martin V. was recognized by all as the lawfully elected Pope, and he, presided over the Council until it closed. In the last Session Pope Martin V. approved and ratified all that the Council had defined conciliariter, that is, according to the strict rules of defining in General Councils and, therefore, in these definitions the Council was received as Ecumenical, although it does not rank among the Ecumenical Councils, because in some of its Sessions it was not strictly Ecumenical.

The Council of Florence, Italy, held in 1438 and 1439, under Pope Eugenius IV. Attended by 200 Bishops of the Latin and of the Greek Rite, and by the Emperor of the Greeks, John Paleologus. The Supremacy of the Pope over the whole Church was declared. Once more the Eastern and Russian Schismatic Bishops who were present submitted to the Supremacy of the Pope, and were thereby re-united to the Catholic Church.

The Fifth Council of Lateran, held at St. John Lateran, Rome, A.D. 1512-1517, under Popes Julius II and Leo X., attended by 120 Bishops. Many representatives of Kings and Princes were also present. It abolished the Pragmatic Sanction, that is, the collection of 38 decrees, which the Council of Bale had published concerning the rights and privileges of the Roman Pontiff, the authority of Councils, the election of Prelates, and other ecclesiastical matters. The dogma relating to the immortality of the soul was defined. The Council of Pisa was condemned, and the ecclesiastical discipline reformed. An impulse was given to an expedition or crusade against the Turks, who were at the time threatening to overrun Christendom.

The Council of Trent (in the Austrian Tyrol), held between 1545 and 1563 under the Popes Paul III., Julius II., Marcellus II, Paul IV, and Pius IV. It was attended by about 200 Bishops, 7 Abbots, and 7 Generals of Religious Orders, and by the Representatives of Kings and Princes. Including an adjournment of four years, and a suspension of ten years, this Council lasted eighteen years. The Catholic doctrines regarding the Holy Scripture, Tradition, Original Sin, Justification, and the Seven Sacraments, were clearly explained; the contrary errors were condemned, and abuses in morals and discipline were reformed.

The Vatican Council held in the Basilica of St. Peter, Rome, was opened on the 8th of December 1869, and continued to the 18th of July 1870. It was summoned by Pope Pius IX., of glorious memory, who presided occasionally in person, but generally by his Legates. The Patriarchs, Archbishops, and Bishops, present at this Council, at any time between December the 8th, 1869, and July the 18th, 1870, were 704. This number included 113 Archbishops and Bishops in partibus infidelium (in infidel regions), of whom all but 38 held the office of Administrator, Auxiliary, Coadjutor, Vicar-Apostolic, or Prefect-Apostolic. In this Council the dogma of the Supremacy of St. Peter and his Successors, previously recognized in the First Council of Ephesus, A.D. 431, and more fully explained in the Council of Florence, A.D. 1438, was again solemnly affirmed and defined. This dogma of faith teaches that on St. Peter was conferred a Primacy of Jurisdiction over the other Apostles, and over the whole flock of Jesus Christ, and that the Bishop of Rome is the successor of St. Peter in that jurisdiction. It was also declared that this jurisdiction extends over the whole Church on earth, and over every member of the Church, and that all the faithful are bound to submit to it, not only in things that belong to faith or morals, but also in things that belong to the discipline and government of the Church. At this Council the Pope's infallibility, when speaking ex cathedra in matters of Faith or Morals, was also solemnly defined. Besides the Supremacy and the Infallibility of the Pope, this Council also defined the existence of a personal God against the daring attacks of modern infidelity. Some people wrongly imagine that the dogma of the infallibility of the Pope is a new doctrine, because it was for the first time defined explicitly as an article of faith at the Vatican Council; but they who argue thus might with as much reason assert that the dogma which teaches the existence of a personal God is also a new doctrine because that article of the faith was for the first time defined as a dogma (in order to oppose modern heresy) in this Council, or that the dogma of the immortality of the soul was a new doctrine because it was first defined at the Fifth Council of Lateran, A.D. 1512-15127. This Vatican Council issued likewise some very important decrees relating to Discipline.

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