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The General Councils of the Church

Introduction

This article reviews the twenty-one Councils generally accepted as being Oecumenical by the Roman Jurisdiction. Additionally, it describes the only recorded Apostolic Council: that of Jerusalem, and some Councils accounted either Oecumenical or "Pan-Orthodox" by some Byzantine Orthodox.

What does Oecumenical mean?

The Greek word Oecumenical literally means "World-wide" and is closely related to the Latin word "Catholic". The status "Oecumenical", as applied to Episcopal Synods, is problematic for a number of reasons.
The modern Roman view
In contemporary Roman thought, to be Oecumenical, a Synod must:
  1. be convened by the pope of Rome;
  2. be presided over either in person by the pope of Rome, or some other person specifically designated by him; and
  3. have each of its decrees and canons ratified by the pope of Rome
It need not:
  1. be either geographically or sociologically representative of the Church;
  2. either have - or have invited - participation from apparently schismatic or heretical bishops; or
  3. receive endorsement from:
    1. any patriarch other than that of Rome, or
    2. any secular governor, or
    3. the Church as a whole.
In other words, the contemporary Roman paradigm for Oecumenicity is juridical: based on the personal decree of the Roman Pontiff.
The modern Byzantine view
A council is styled 'oecumenical' if two conditions are met: first, every Orthodox bishop in the world has the prerogative to attend and fully participate; and second, the doctrinal and administrative decisions taken by the council are binding on the whole Church. Because of this second condition, it has sometimes taken a very long time for an Oecumenical Council to be accepted as such.

The IInd Council of Lyon and the Council of Florence are rejected, even though they fulfil these conditions, because the decisions made there proved to be unacceptable to the overwhelming majority of the Orthodox faithful. On the other hand,
the 14th century VIth Council of Constantinople, convened to vindicate St. Gregory Palamas and the spiritual doctrines subsumed under the rubric of 'hesychasm', is said by some Byzantine Orthodox to have 'oecumenical authority', despite the fact of it been a local council, and despite the fact that no subsequent Oecumenical Council has ever declared it to be such. Similar authority is granted by other Byzantines to the Vth Council of Constantinople and/or the Ist and IInd Councils of Jerusalem.

In other words, the contemporary Byzantine paradigm for Oecumenicity is consensual: based on the common recognition of the Orthodox Faithful.

The historical facts
Historically, Oecumenical originally meant "sociologically and geographically representative of the Whole Church". An Oecumenical Synod was:
  1. generally convened by the secular state (the Emperor);
  2. presided over by some patriarch or other, or by Roman legates: who might be presbyters;
  3. considered competent to judge any bishop, including the Bishop of Rome, for heresy and to depose him if appropriate;
  4. endorsed as such by the recognition of its teaching as orthodox by the Church as a whole.
Why have none of the Eastern Churches ("Byzantine", "Monophysite" or "Nestorian") called an Oecumenical Council since they split from Rome?
"Although doctrine is not the only business with which an Oecumenical Council occupies itself, historically they have been convened principally to formulate doctrine, and that only when "right belief" has been actively threatened by the circulation of heterodox doctrinal views. One final caveat is that all doctrines proclaimed by the seven Oecumenical Councils are essentially christological, even those having to do with the Mother of God or with icons.
  1. One reason there has not been an Ecumenical Council in over 1,200 years is that the Church has not been faced with any doctrinal disputes of a magnitude requiring such a council.
  2. Some opine that it will be nearly impossible to convene an Ecumenical Council without its being mandated by an emperor!  This makes sense when you bear in mind that no bishop, not even the Patriarch of Constantinople, possesses the authority in his person to mandate what other bishops do.  Hence, no bishop can "force" other bishops to attend a council.  An emperor, however, can impose penalties of one kind or another (such as imprisonment) on recalcitrant bishops. Such are the delights of human nature.
The absence of Oecumenical Councils does not mean that Orthodox bishops around the globe, and particularly primates (e.g., the respective Patriarchs of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, Moscow, Bucharest, Belgrade, etc.) are not in frequent contact with each other.  With the ease of modern travel, they are also frequently in the company of one another. What happens more often than not is that one local Orthodox church (say, the Church of Greece, or the Church of Romania - "local church" does not mean local parish!) decides to do something unilaterally, like, say, adopt the Gregorian calendar.  The other Orthodox churches must then take a position.  Some will accept that church's decision; others may choose to take the same decision for themselves; yet others may go so far as to break communion in order to register their disagreement; some may disagree forcefully without however breaking communion." [A Byzantine Orthodox Correspondent (May 2006)]
My reaction to this is as follows:
Reconciling theory and fact
Now, the Roman view is not incompatible with the historic facts, just in tension with them.
Degree of Oecumenicity of General Councils
City Dates Invitation Attendance Representative Recognized  Main issue
Jerusalem 50? Apostolic ? Apostolic ****** Mosaic Law
Nicea I 325 ***** 300 ***** ***** Arianism
Constantinople I 380 * 150 * ***** Semi-Arianism
Ephasus 431 *** 250+ **** ***** Nestorianism
Chalcedon 439 *** 500 **** **** Monophysitism
Constantinople II 553 ** 165 *** **** Monophysitism
Constantinople III 680 *** 43 ** **** Monothelatism
Nicea II 787 *** 300+ **** **** Iconoclasm
Constantinople IV 869 * 102 ** ** Condemnation of Photius
Constantinople V 879 *** ? *** * [not Rome] Rehabilitation of Photius
Lateran I 1123 * ? * * Politics (non-dogmatic)
Lateran II 1139 * ? * * Politics (non-dogmatic)
Lateran III 1179 * ? * * Albigensianism
Lateran IV 1215 * 412 * * Albigensianism
Lyon I 1245 * ? * * Politics (non-dogmatic)
Lyon II 1274 *** 500 ** * Reconciliation with Byzantium
Vienne 1311 - ? - * Suppression of the Templars
Constantinople VI 1341 * ? * * [not Rome] The Energies and Essence of God.
Constance 1414 * ? * * [final part] Healing of Papal Schism
Florence 1431 *** 162 **** *** [final part] Reconciliation with Byzantium
Lateran V 1512 * ? * ** Reform
Trent 1545 * lots! * ** Protestantism
Jerusalem I 1583 * ? * * [not Rome] Romanism
Jerusalem II 1672 * ? * * [not Rome] Protestantism
Vatican I 1869 *** lots! ** [Uniates] ** Liberalism
Vatican II 1962 * 2,200+ ** [Uniates] * Modernism (non-dogmatic)

0. The Apostolic Council of Jerusalem

Not long after the resurrection of Our Lord, Peter travelled to Jerusalem to tell his fellow Apostles that the Word of God had come to the Gentiles. The leaders of the Church gathered in council to debate the basis on which gentiles should be included in the New Covenant. The Apostles and hierarchy of Jerusalem first listened to Paul's testimony, then to the arguments of the Judaizers. There was a debate, then Peter addressed the council. He declared that it was proper that the Gentiles should "hear the word of the Gospel and believe" and that Holy Spirit had been given to Gentiles, just as to Jews. The assembly responded by deciding that it was unnecessary for Gentile converts either to adopt circumcision or abide by the Law of Moses. James, bishop of Jerusalem, then proposed pastoral guidelines which were accepted by the Council.

This was the first General Council of the Church. Strictly speaking it was Apostolic rather than Oecumenical.  It was the natural response of the Church to a dispute among Her members. It set a pattern for the resolution of future disputes:

  1. It consisted of a representative gathering of the hierarchy.
  2. Its purpose was to solve a dispute.
  3. The pope's role was prominent.
  4. Both sides of the dispute debated before judgement was passed.


Part I. The Ancient Eastern Councils

With Constantine's Edict of Milan in 313, the Church finally found peace with the world outside of itself, but began a history of internal discord. The fourth through the eighth centuries saw several heresies flourish in the eastern churches which resulted in seven general councils during this period.

1. Nicea I

The first great heresy began in the Syrian town of Antioch. Paul of Samosata, bishop of Antioch, began to teach the novel idea that Christ was merely an adopted son of the Father, not son by nature. One of Paul's disciples, a priest named Lucian, founded a theological school at Antioch where he taught a similar doctrine, that Christ was neither perfect God nor perfect man. Among his students were Eusebius - later bishop of Nicomedia and the first great Ecclesiastical historian - and one Arius.

Arius became a presbyter and moved to live in Alexandria. Towards the beginning of the fourth century he began to preach his own variant on Lucian’s doctrine, that Jesus Christ was a creature: the greatest of all creatures, and purposely created for the work of redemption, but a creature nevertheless. The bishop of Alexandria, one Alexander, attempted to silence Arius, but he was insistent.

Arius fled for protection to Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea.  Soon, the new heresy was well known in all corners of the east, sparking a great debate. Meanwhile, the other Eusebius, bishop of Nicomedia wrote letters to the emperor and his sister asking for help. It should be noted that Constantine, at this time, was not baptized and displayed little zeal for the faith. His primary concern was maintaining peace in his empire and he saw the issues surrounding Arius and his doctrine as a danger to that peace. He referred the matter to his friend Hosius, bishop of Cordova, Spain, who advised a council. Sylvester, bishop of Rome, concurred with this idea.

The council convened in the Spring of 325 in the palace at Nicea in Bithynia: now part of Turkey. About 300 bishops attended, including Hosius, who acted as papal legate. The emperor opened the proceedings. The theology of Arius was condemned almost unanimously. The council defined the doctrine of the Holy Trinity in the form of a creed. This was later modified at the Council of Constantinople. The Greek term central to the creed was "homo-ousios" which means "of the same-being". This is generally translated into latin as consubstantialem: "of the same substance". This term was at the centre of many later problems.

The council also resolved a few lesser issues:

Of more importance was the council's ruling concerning the role of certain apostolic sees, as it gave the bishops of Alexandria, and Antioch a degree of jurisdiction over all other eastern sees. The Nicene Council ended about one month after it convened. It was not the end of the Arian heresy.

2. Constantinople I

Eusebius of Nicomedia, Arius’ schoolmate, became the Archbishop of Constantinople, capital of the Eastern Empire. This same Eusebius retained his Arian sympathies, even though he had signed the confession of faith at Nicea . He convened a local council, which conspired against the orthodox patriarch, Eustathius of Antioch, under whose jurisdiction Constantinople fell. The synod condemned and made to depose the patriarch and the Emperor exiled him. In 335 A.D. the Emperor Constantine received Arius back from exile, accepting a vague confession of faith as satisfactory.

In that same year, Athanasius, the patriarch of Alexandria was sent into exile. He was already prominent as the staunchest defender of doctrinal orthodoxy. He was to become the leading figure in the controversy, preaching the faith with tireless zeal and suffering exile after exile for his constancy. The following year saw the death of Arius and in 336 A.D. Constantine died. The empire was divided between his three sons who co-ruled.

By 350 A.D. Constantine II was sole ruler of the Empire. He was virulently Arian. He saw to it that the majority of episcopal sees in the east were occupied by heretics. By now, they had divided into the two camps: the Arians and the semi-Arians. There was also a large "peace party". This last group formulated an ambiguous creed, which was thrust upon Pope Liberius in exile for his approval. Fearing for his life, Liberius signed the compromise formula.

In 379 A.D. the Catholic Theodosius became Emperor. In 380 A.D. he convoked a council in his capital city to finally resolve all remaining disputes. The council was to be presided over by the bishop of Constantinople: but that See was claimed by two men! The first: Paulinus, was backed by both Rome and Alexandria; and the other: Meletius, was backed by the other easterns. It was Meletius who in fact convened the 150 bishops from the patriarchates of Antioch and Jerusalem. He died shortly thereafter and was replaced by Gregory Nazianzen who was elected the new bishop of Constantinople. Gregory quickly became disillusioned by the machinations of his brother bishops and retired to the monastic life.

The council was a local council, not representative in either design or composition. No bishops from the Alexandrian or Roman patriarchates took part. It reaffirmed the faith of Nicea, further developing the Nicene creed into the form which is still used in the Byzantine liturgy. The text of this Creed was acknowledged as binding in the dogmatic statement of the Oecumenical Council of Chalcedon.

The synod condemned:

Otherwise, the council primarily focused on local issues of clerical discipline. One canon is worth noting however: the bishops elevated the See of Constantinople to patriarchal status giving it jurisdiction over the sees of Greece and Asia Minor. Further, they stated that it should receive the place of honour after the See of Rome, because "Constantinople is New Rome". This contradicted canons of Nicea, which gave primacy to the Apostolic Sees of Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem. This canon was never accepted or ratified by the See of Rome.

3. Ephesus

In 428 A.D. the monk Nestorius was elected patriarch of Constantinople. His zeal to condemn Arianism resulted in his espousing a near opposite error: that Christ was so clearly of one nature with the Father, that He could not have been truly human. The historical Jesus must therefore be a different identity altogether. Hence, the Christ was a composite of two identities: one human and another divine. When St. Cyril, Patriarch of Alexandria, heard of Nestorius’ error, he immediately wrote a defence of the traditional doctrine: that whereas in Christ there are two natures, one human and one divine; they are united by and under a single person. Nestorius attacked Cyril's defence, denouncing it as untraditional. St. Cyril then reported the recent events to the Pope and asked for a judgement.

The Pope responded in Cyril's favour. Cyril prepared a list of twelve anathemas against Nestorius. Nestorius managed to convince the Emperor that he was innocent and that Cyril was plotting against Constantinople. The emperor decided a General Council was in order. The location was to be Ephesus.

In the spring of 431 A.D., when the Synod was to convene, some Antiochene bishops, led by their patriarch, John, decided that Cyril's twelve anathemas were themselves heretical. They conspired with Nestorius against Cyril. They were, however, delayed in their journey to the opening of the council, as were the Roman legates. As the 250 available bishops gathered, the first note of discord sounded. Nestorius refused to attend until the Antiocheans arrived. However, at Cyril's insistence, the Synod opened. In one day the bishops condemned Nestorius and deposed him.

Two days later the Antiochene bishops arrived and held a council of their own. This declared Cyril to be deposed. The emperor then declared Cyril's proceedings null and void and commanded all the bishops to consider the matter again. Fortunately, the Roman legates arrived in time for this second session. St. Cyril presided over the council. The first act was the reading of a letter sent by Pope Celestine which condemned Nestorius’ opinions.  The bishops, in union with the pope, condemned the heresy of Nestorius, who was then deposed. Moreover, the Antiochene bishops were solemnly excommunicated.

Pope and Emperor were formally notified of the results. The Emperor was displeased. He decided that both Nestorius and Cyril should be deposed and instructed the bishops to return to their homes. The bishops, with the laity of Ephesus, rioted. One month later, the Emperor received delegates from both sides of the dispute and finally released Cyril to return to his see. The Pope urged the eastern bishops to seek a reconciliation between Cyril and John of Antioch. The excomunications were retracted and peace was restored to the East once again.

4. Chalcedon

The success of Ephesus was short-lived. St. Cyril's teaching on the singularity of Christ's Person was misunderstood by some as soon as the saint had died. This misunderstanding arose from Cyril's usage of the Greek word "physis". The word physis can mean nature and some took (or were taken to have taken) Cyril's teaching to mean that in Christ there was only one nature, the divine nature. They were called monophysites. Their leader was Eutyches, the abbot of the most influential monastery in Constantinople. It was not long before a local council at Constantinople, presided over by Patriarch Flavius, deposed him, suspended him from the priesthood and isolated him within his monastery.

Cyril's successor in the Alexandrian see, Patriarch Dioscoros, denounced these proceedings as an interference in the affairs of his own patriarchate. Meanwhile, Eutyches and emperor Theodosius sent a letter to Pope Leo, asking for a judgement. When the Patriarch of Constantinople's  report arrived in Rome, Leo judged against Eutyches. The Emperor decided a general council was in order to resolve the dispute, so he convened one in Ephesus, but he only invited the Eastern bishops, plus the Pope. Leo sent three legates with a letter to the emperor agreeing to Eutyches’ condemnation and a letter to Flavius defining the Church's doctrine on the Incarnation of Christ. This letter has traditionally been referred to as the Tome of Leo.

The council opened in 449 A.D. with 130 bishops, Dioscoros presiding. He refused to hear the Pope's letters, Eutyches was cleared and his accusers were instead deposed! The heated debates turned frantic, the imperial guards stormed the council, followed by a mob from the streets. Flavian was dragged away to prison, then exiled. Within three days of his exile he died of injuries sustained  in the riot. When Pope Leo heard of the proceedings, he described the gathering a "Latrocinium," that is, a gathering of bandits. He sent a letter to the Emperor, demanding a new council, this time in Italy. After some delay, Theodosius replied, to the effect that his council had done good work and there was no need for another. That same year Theodosius died and his successor, Marcian, agreed to a new council.

The new council convened in the Church of St. Euphemia in Chalcedon. It opened with 500 bishops in attendance. In a letter, Pope Leo instructed the council to accept his Tome and authorized his legate, bishop Paschasinus of Sicily, to preside over the council. When the Tome was read, the bishops enthusiastically acclaimed its teaching as Apostolic. Patriarch Discoros was deposed and exiled.

The council enacted several canons on discipline, one of which gave further power to the See of Constantinople. The Roman legates were not in attendance that day and later demanded that it be annulled. The bishops refused, but nevertheless sent a letter to Leo, thanking him for his leadership of the Church. Leo responded by condemning the offending canon as being opposed to Nicea which had established the patriarchate of Alexandria as second in honour and Antioch as third.

5. Constantinople II

The numbers of those christians characterized as monophysites grew after Chalcedon, especially in the patriarchates of Alexandria and Antioch. It is of interest that those jurisdictions which presently reject the decisions of the Council of Chalcedon: the Coptic, Abyssinian and other Oriental Orthodox churches and that are today termed monophysite, do not in fact deny that the Incarnate Christ is both fully human and fully divine. It is therefore acutely possible that the whole controversy was a terrible misunderstanding over language.

In 474 A.D. the monophysite Basiliscus was crowned emperor. He died soon enough, but his successor, the monophysite Zeno, issued an edict which he hoped would define the faith for his subjects. This edict was prepared by the Patriarch of Constantinople, Acacius; for this he was deposed and excommunicated by Pope Felix III. Patriarch Acacius retaliated by open schism.

In 518 A.D., the Catholic Justin became Emperor. Pope Hormisdas sent legates to Justin, carrying a new formula for all the bishops to sign, a formula which he hoped would bring peace throughout the empire. The bishops consented. Justin was succeeded by his son, Justinian, who ruled with his wife, Theodora, a monophysite. Justinian thought, with some justice, that the entire controversy was a huge misunderstanding and he resolved to sort it out. His attempt was short-lived. After Pope Agapetus arrived in Constantinople, the Emperor seems to have changed his mind.

In the year 540 A.D., Pope Vigilius took a stand against monophysitism in two letters sent to Constantinople, one addressed to the Emperor Justinian, the other to the Patriarch Menas.

In 543 A.D. Justinian issued a decree which condemned the various (supposed) material heresies of the prominent Coptic theologian Origen; this decree was sent for signature to all the Patriarchs. In order to draw the Emperor's thoughts from Origenism, the Bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia, suggested that condemnation of various representatives of the Antiochene school, including his namesake Theodore of Mopsueta, who were reputed to have championed Nestorianism, would make union with the Egyptian Copts easier. The emperor, who was keen to win over the Copts, agreed to this, and he issued a new edict condemning "The Three Chapters", a summary of Theodore's theology.

Since the three authors were long dead and their writings had never been condemned, there was some reluctance to agree to Justinian's edict. After some coercion, the Eastern Bishops nevertheless signed Justinian's edict. The Western Episcopate however considered that this procedure risked detracting from the Oecumenical Council of Chalcedon. Pope Vigilius refused to acknowledge the imperial edict and in 545 A.D. he was kidnapped to Constantinople by the Emperor, in order to settle the matter there with a synod. Justinian proceeded to convene a Council intending it both to condemn Origenism and to rescind the condemnation of monophysitism.

Justinian attempted to prepare a document for the council, which would merely require approval of the bishops. Pope Vigilius refused to acknowledge such a document prepared by the civil authority and threatened to excommunicate Justinian should he proceed with his plans. In retaliation, Justinian ordered Virgules to be arrested, but he escaped to Chalcedon, from where he issued a decree excommunicating everyone who sided with the Emperor. Defeated by public opinion, Justinian retracted his own statements on the subject and ended the persecution. Finally, the council was called.

The council opened in the Spring of 553 A.D. With 145 bishops present, none of them from the Latin church, Justinian read his monophysite declaration to the council and requested approval. The bishops responded that the Pope should preside over the council, but Vigilius made it clear that he would not attend the council unless other Latin bishops attended as well. Rather, he sent a document on the Three Chapters, which declared that the judgement of Chalcedon could not be changed; Chalcedon had examined the Three Chapters and refused condemnation. Justinian responded to the document by producing a letter written by the Pope which effectively condemned the Three Chapters.

The eleventh anathema of the Council included Origen's name in a list of heretics. Moreover, the Council condemned "The Three Chapters". It went further, condemning Theodore of Mopsueta himself, even though he had been dead over a century and had died in communion with the Church. Nevertheless, Justinian was disappointed, because the Council did nothing positive to aid reconciliation with the Copts.

This wasn't an outcome to Pope Vigilius' quasi-Nestorian taste. At first he refused to go along with it. He issued his own Constitutum which condemned certain propositions from Theodore's writing, but not his writings as a whole nor the person himself. The Constitutum also anathematized those who condemned Theodore's "Three Chapters" by name: in effect, the members of the Synod then meeting, which the pope later recognized as Oecumenical! Although the Constitutum could be understood as fairer to Theodore than was the Council, it was in direct conflict with promises previously made by Pope Vigilius to condemn Theodore and the "Three Chapters".

As a result of this action, the Pope was excommunicated for heresy, first by an African Council and then also by the Council of Eastern bishops still meeting in Constantinople. Moreover, the Archbishops of Milan and Aquileia broke communion with Rome, and criticisms were issued by the bishops of Gaul. Faced with such strong opposition in the West, Vigilius was forced to publicly annul the Constitutum, although he continued to support it privately in correspondence with the Emperor. In December 553 A.D. he wrote a letter to Eutychius, Patriarch of Constantinople, repenting his own writing, ratifying the decisions of the Second Synod of Constantinople (hence making it Oecumenical) and saying that he had been deceived by the devil. Finally, the Pope declared his judgement in detail in a Constitution of 26 February, 554 A.D. At the end of a sorrowful residence of eight years at Constantinople, Pope Vigilius was allowed to set off home to Rome in the spring of 555 A.D.

The Byzantine Orthodox view Justinian to be a saint and his actions to be entirely proper.

6. Constantinople III

The East was soon racked by a new disaster: the spread of Islam. When the muslims threatened Constantinople itself, her rulers realized that they must do something drastic. National unity was needed, and that required the running sore of monophysitism to be salved. Emperor Heraclius called on the patriarch Sergius, to sort out the mess. Sergius proposed the doctrine that in Christ there was only one will: the Divine will. This position came to be known as monothelatism. The emperor put one Cyrus in the Patriarchal See of Alexandria and managed to unite all the Christians of Egypt in 633 A.D.

Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem, condemned this proposal as heresy in letters that he sent to the other patriarchs. Sergius penned a defence to Pope Honorius, who replied that in Christ only one will operated, which exonerated monothelatism.

Several years later, Pope John IV held a Roman synod which judged against monothelatism and this decision was sent to the emperor. Within the year, Heraclius’ grandson, eleven year old Constans II assumed the throne. In his name, the imperial court defended monothelatism. The patriarch of Constantinople, Paul, sided with the emperor and was excommunicated by the pope. The emperor then imposed his will in much harsher measure on the citizens. The Pope then convened a Roman Council, which proceeded to condemned monothelatism.

In 653 A.D., the Pope was kidnapped to Constantinople. He was convicted of treason and then exiled to Crimea where he soon died. In 668 A.D. Constantine IV, assumed the throne and sought reconciliation with the Roman See. He asked Pope Agatho for a council to settle the monothelite controversy. The pope agreed and prepared a profession of faith. It was sent to Constantinople in the hands of five papal legates. On their arrival, Constantine summoned the bishops of his empire.

The council opened in November of 680 A.D. in the Emperor's palace with 43 bishops. Constantine himself presided over most of the sessions. The notorious letter of Pope Honorious was read and denounced, the papal legates leading its condemnation. When Pope Agatho's profession of faith was read, the bishops cried out, "It is Peter who is speaking through Agatho!" All but one of them signed the profession, and the single dissenter was deposed.

7. Nicea II

The next attack on doctrine concerned the veneration of icons. A movement began in the East which saw such veneration as superstitious. The emperor Leo III was such an iconoclast, and removed an image of Christ from the main palace gate. This provoked a city riot. When the Emperor demanded the Pope yield to the iconoclast movement, the Italian peoples revolted against the empire. Leo III died in 740 A.D. and was succeeded by his son Constantine V, an equally zealous iconoclast. The empire now engaged in the outright persecution of Catholics, killing many and destroying precious relics. In 780 A.D., Constantine VI took the throne at the age of five. His mother, the Catholic Empress Irene, ruled on his behalf.

The Empress and the Patriarch of Constantinople decided that a general council would be the best way to settle the controversy.  Pope Adrian agreed. Three hundred bishops assembled in Nicea in May, 787 A.D. A letter from Pope Adrian defining the doctrine was read by his legates, who demanded that each bishop rise and declare his acceptance. The council affirmed the doctrine of image veneration.


Part 2. The Early Medieval Councils

The next councils represent clashes between the Holy See and other powers.

8. Constantinople IV

The first of these disputes surrounded, Photius, one of the great and holy men of his age: a brilliant scholar and statesman. Although a layman, he was chosen by Emperor Michael III to assume the Patriarchal See of Constantinople in 858 A.D. The problem was that it was already occupied: by one Ignatius. Those loyal to Ignatius were scandalized and refused to acknowledge Photius.

Photius wrote to Rome informing the Pope of his election and Pope Nicholas decided it best to examine Ignatius’ deposition further. He sent two bishop legates to Constantinople where they took part in a synod which deposed Ignatius, however the Pope refused to ratify the decisions of the synod. A year later, he received Ignatius’ appeal, and convened a Roman synod which deposed Photius and his followers. Ignatius was restored, in the eyes of Rome, and the affair was quickly forgotten in the West. Two years later, the Emperor sent a letter to Nicholas asking that he hear the case against Ignatius. The Pope agreed, but insisted such a hearing be held in Rome. The Emperor and Patriarch rejected the idea that the hearing be in Rome and the Pope retaliated by accusing them both of disobedience.

Meanwhile, a dispute arose between Rome and Constantinople over ecclesiastical jurisdiction in the mission territory of Bulgaria. When Byzantine missionaries were expelled from Bulgaria they returned to Constantinople and reported on Western practices, including the use of the Creed with the Filioque. In 867 A.D. Photios, addressed an encyclical commenting on the crisis in Bulgaria and the tensions between Constantinople and Rome. He called the Filioque a blasphemy, and presented a theological argument against the view of the Trinity which he believed it depicted: of two original causes in the Trinity, and a denial of the monarchy of the Father. He denounced Nicholas as a tyrant and proceeded to call a synod in 867 A.D. which formally deposed and excommunicated the Pope. Pope Nicholas died that same year.

Then Basil the Macedonian usurped the imperial throne. He proceeded to depose Photius and reinstate Ignatius. Basil wrote to the new Pope, Adrian II, requesting a General Council to settle matters. Adrian convened a Roman synod which condemned the Eastern council of 867 A.D. excommunicated Photius, condemned all of his acts as Patriarch and sent legates to Constantinople to an Oecumenical Council.

The Fourth Council of Constantinople opened toward the end of 869 A.D. with Ignatius, the legates and a mere eighteen bishops. The Pope had refused admission to anyone who was consecrated by Photius or who remained loyal to him! Most of the sessions were spent interviewing bishops and determining their admissibility. By the final session there were 102 bishops, including 37 metropolitans. The council's main task was to deal with the Photius affair. In accordance with the Pope's instructions, no trial was held; Photius was condemned and his writings plus the proceedings of the 867 A.D. council were ceremonially burned.

Pope Adrian was succeeded by John VIII in 872 A.D. He wrote to Ignatius regarding the Bulgarian situation, but when his letter reached Constantinople, Ignatius was dead and had been legitimately succeeded by Photius in 877 A.D.! The new Patriarch made himself out to be a reformed figure.

Constantinople V

Another council was then held in Constantinople, between 879 and 880 A.D. It had full Papal approval and was presided over by John's legates who agreed to all its canons. This Synod is considered to have been Oecumenical by modern Orthodox theologians. It annulled the decrees against Photius issued by the Oecumenical Council of 869 A.D. and gave him a gift of patriarchal insignia. The Council spoke of the Roman see in terms of great respect.  It established that the Symbol of Faith from Constantinople I (the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed) was to be forever 'un-innovated' and 'immutable'. Required those excommunicated by Rome to be treated as such by Constantinople and vice-versa. The difficult question of the competing claims of the Pope and the Patriarch of Constantinople to jurisdiction in Bulgaria was left to be decided by the Emperor. After the Council, the Filioque continued to be used in the Creed in parts of Western Europe, despite the intentions of Pope John VIII, who, like all his predecessors, maintained the text sanctioned by the first Council of Constantinople. No mention is made of this council by Denzinger.

When the papal legates returned to Rome, Photius sent the Acts of the Synod to the pope. Pope John refused to do so and excommunicated Photius again. So the schism broke out again. This time it lasted seven years, till the Emperor Basil's death in 886 AD.

Basil was succeeded by his son Leo VI (886-912), who strongly disliked Photius and immediately banished him. The Emperor had his younger brother, Stephen, made patriarch. This was a glaring offence against canon law and Rome refused to recognize him. It was only under his successor Patriarch Anthony II (893-95) that a synod was held which re-established union between East and West.

Unfortunately, the Photius affair opened a crack which grew to became a permanent rift between East and West. 1054 A.D. saw the complete separation of the Greek Church and Latin Churches. In the end, it was largely the West's fault, but the underlying causes were cultural and went back years.

Round about this time the powerful German empire that Charlemagne had established fractured into a group of petty states, leaving Europe devoid of any real power. Moreover, in Rome, a number of unscrupulous men succeeded each other on the papal throne through murder, depositions and intrigues.

The Oecumenical status of the next four Councils is hardly apparent. Each was

Moreover, other similar councils that are not accounted Oecumenical were held over this period, both in the East and the West.

9. Lateran I

Towards the end of the tenth century, Otto I reunited the empire in Germany. The feudal structure that resulted made the clergy into vassals of secular princes. In response, the Church evolved her own feudal structures, but the net effect was the spread of corruption and simony. Moreover, it became nearly impossible for a bishop to control his priests, especially regarding the law of celibacy.

A reform movement arose which sought to combat these abuses. Pope Leo IX was the first pope to give impetus to the movement. His successor, Nicholas II legislated that future popes should be selected by the college of cardinals, rather than by a civil ruler. The first to be selected in this way was Pope Gregory VII. He decreed that no one was to receive an episcopal appointment from a layman. The Emperor ignored Gregory's decree and continued to select his own bishops. These in turn deposed the Pope in a synod. He died in exile in 1085 A.D. The dispute between the church and state raged on. Finally, in 1122 A.D. Emperor Henry V and Pope Calixtus II negotiated a truce. To confirm this concordat, a synod was held in Rome. Unfortunately, the proceedings of this, the First Oecumenical Lateran Council have been lost!

The next century saw four Councils convened in quick succession.

10. Lateran II

When Pope Honorius II died in 1030 A.D. two feuding Roman families each elevated one of their own to the papacy. Eventually a General Council was convened to sort out the dispute. The council also issued thirty canons related to disciplinary issues such as the morality of jousting, the military use of catapults and usury.

11. Lateran III

In March of 1179 A.D. Pope Alexander convened a General Council to seek reconciliation with the German Emperor, with whom the Pope and his secular allies had been in military conflict. The council also issued a number of canons dealing with such diverse topics as education, lepers, the Jews and the Albigensians.
 
"Clergy in holy orders, who maintain their wives incontinently in their homes should either expel them, and live continently, or be deprived of ecclesiastical office and benefice.Whoever is caught involved in that incontinence which is against nature, and because of which "the wrath of God came upon the sons of  disobedience" [Eph. 5:6], and five cities were consumed by fire [Gen 14:24-35], if they are clerics, they should be deposed from clerical office and placed in a monastery to do penance; if they are laymen, they are to be excommunicated and completely isolated from contact with believers.If any cleric, without clear and necessary cause, should especially frequent nunneries, he should be restrained by the bishop, and if he does not cease, he should be deposed from his ecclesiastical benefice"
This is the only canon of an Oecumenical council which could be construed as condemning homosexuality.  It is clearly a disciplinary decree, not dogmatic. Moreover, the "incontinence which is against nature" could be bestiality. The standard gloss by Bernard of Palma, 1263 AD links it with novellas of Justinian.

12. Lateran IV

This council was convened to condemn the dualist heresy of Albigensianism. Already, the Church had responded to its populist appeal by sending Dominican friars to preach against its doctrine and by setting up the Holy Office of the Inquisition. The Council opened in 1215 A.D. with 412 bishops plus about 800 abbots. They issued seventy canons on ecclesiastical law.

13. Lyons I

The next General Council was held in 1245 A.D. It was almost entirely taken up with a political dispute between Pope Innocent IV and Emperor Frederick II.


Part 3. Councils of the High Middle Ages and the Renaissance

14. Lyons II

In the year 1204 A.D. the fourth crusade failed in its mission to reclaim the Holy Lands. Its prosecutors decided to minimize their monetary losses by conquering Constantinople. The crusaders went so far as to set up a Latin prince as Emperor. Pope Innocent III worsened the situation by creating a Latin archbishop for Constantinople! His successor Innocent IV realized that negotiations were in order and began such with the Emperor, but both died soon after the talks began.

In 1261 A.D., Michael VIII Palaelogus reclaimed the imperial throne for the Greeks. Amazingly, he held no animosity towards the Pope or the West. He desired an alliance between East and West which would strengthen Byzantium against her enemies. Michael's desire seemed about to be realized when in 1271 A.D. Gregory X became Pope. He was sensitive to the delicate relationship between East and West and made it his first priority. He contacted Emperor Michael and recommended a General Council, which would meet in the neutral town of Lyon.

The council opened in May of 1274 A.D. with 500 bishops in attendance and the Franciscan Platonist theologian, Bonaventure presiding for the Pope. St. Bonaventure worked hard for the reunification of East and West. The Greek delegation arrived six weeks after the council opened. Unfortunately, it consisted of only two Bishops: Patriarch Germanus of Constantinople, Archbishop Theophanos of Nicea and some lay officials of the imperial court. On July 6, a formal reunion between the Latin and Greek churches was accomplished.

The Council taught positively, but did not define that:

"The souls of those who die in mortal sin or with original sin only .... immediately descend to hell, yet to be punished with different punishments".
In apparent conflict with the later doctrine of "The Limbo of Innocents".

The council issued a dogmatic constitution on the filioque which read partly as follows:

"In faithful and devout profession we declare that the Holy Spirit proceeds eternally from the Father and the Son, not as from two beginnings, but from one beginning, not from two breathings, but from one breathing. The most holy Roman Church, the mother and teacher of all the faithful, has up to this time professed, preached and taught this; this she firmly holds, preaches, declares and teaches; the unchangeable and true opinion of the orthodox Fathers and Doctors, Latin as well as Greek, holds this."
Unfortunately, this reconciliation did not take root. The Emperor Michael tried to force it upon Bishops who were very unhappy with its terms, which were overwhelmingly favourable to the Western viewpoint. Emperor Michael's sister stated: "Better my brother's empire should perish than the purity of the Orthodox faith".

15. Vienne

The Order of the Knights of the Temple of Jerusalem had been formed to guard the holy places of Palestine, and the routes of the pilgrims. Their rule was said to have been devised by St Bernard. Novices were initiated at night behind guarded doors, in rituals that remain secret. As the Crusades declined the order became the bankers of the Mediterranean, and much of Europe.

At dawn on Friday, October 13th ,1307 A.D., all the Templars in France - some two thousand in number - were arrested and charged with idol worship and obscene practices. Tortured, they confessed that they worshipped idols, one shaped like a cat, another like the devil and another like a satyr; that they had spat on the cross; that they had engaged in sodomitical practices and that they had betrayed the cause of the Crusades and had plotted against the Pope and the King of France.

While charges of widespread homosexuality among the Templars is likely true, it is doubtful that it was ever officially sanctioned by the Order. The real motive for attacking the Templars was to plunder their vast treasuries, and to break their considerable power.

A Council was convened in 1311 A.D. in the French city of Vienne to finalize the condemnation and suppression of the Order.
This was a despicable enterprise initiated by King Philip of France and his puppet Pope, Clement V. They invited only certain bishops to the Council. This fact casts grave doubt on its Oecumenicity. Moreover, a novel process was improperly imposed. Each issue was to be studied by a commission and whatever proposal resulted be placed before the college of cardinals. If they approved the resolution, then the Council proper would be forced to give its approval without debate!

Surprisingly, the commission on the Knights Templar recommended that the knights be allowed to defend themselves in council. King Philip had this recommendation changed: the commission suddenly voted to suppress the order. Clement immediately issued a bull of suppression and commanded submission of all the bishops.

The council also made three doctrinal pronouncements. The first two were at best unwise.

  1. A declaration that the rational soul is the form of the human body:

  2. an attempted swipe at Platonist teaching by Aristotelian philosophers then in the ascendancy.
  3. A condemnation of the proposition that "usury is not a sin".
  4. A condemnation of the teachings of those known as the Beghards or the Beguines.

Constantinople VI

A Council was convened in Constantinople in 1341 AD regarding Barlaam the Calabrian and Acindynus. It is accounted the Ninth Oecumenical Synod by some Byzantine Orthodox.  It was resumed in 1349, and 1351 AD. It condemned:

16. Constance

Emperor Sigismund called a General Council in the Italian town of Constance in October of 1414 A.D. to decide which of three claimants to the Papal throne was in fact Pope. One of them formally convened the council which proceeded to reject his claim to the Papacy! The council then issued a decree, "Sacrosanctum", which declared that the pope is subject to a General Council. This act of the Ordinary Magisterium is contrary to the current understanding of the Catholic Faith. A second papal claimant then sent two bulls to the council. The first set out to formally convene the council. The second was a bull of abdication. The council accepted these and went on to decide that the third claimant had not been validly elected. A new Pope was then elected, Martin V.

At the close of the Council in 1418 A.D., Martin V approved seven administrative decrees of minor note. The issue of the heretics John Wycliffe, John Hus and Jerome of Prague is of greater importance. John Wycliffe was an English priest who preached various doctrines that later became characteristic of protestant teaching. He had died in 1384 A.D. John Hus was a professor at the University of Prague and a follower of Wycliffe. He refused to recant his views before the Council, so the bishops declared him a heretic and the civil authorities burned him at the stake. The doctrines of Wycliffe and his followers Hus and Jerome were condemned by the council.

The Council positively taught that a General Council is the highest authority in the Church, and required that the Bishops should  meet regularly in general council.

17. Basel-Ferrara-Florence

Martin's successor, Eugene IV, convened an Oecumenical Council in Basel, Switzerland, in 1431 A.D; in accordance with the decree of Constance. The bishops decided that the followers of Huss should be invited to address the Council and re-affirmed that a General Council was superior in authority to a pope. At this, Pope Eugene issued a bull dissolving the council. After receiving the bull, the council declared that a pope had no authority to dissolve it, and the bishops continued their sessions at Basel. Within a year, Eugene gave in. The council replied by restricting the pope from any interference in the appointment of bishops. Despite Eugene's rather timid attitude towards the council, at no time did he formally revoke his bull of dissolution. Hence the juridical status of Basel remained ambiguous.

In 1437 A.D., Pope Eugene began negotiations with the Byzantine emperor, John VIII, for the reunion of the Greeks with the Latin Church. Eugene and John decided that a general council of Greeks and Latins together could resolve any differences and end the schism. The Pope then formally denounced the proceedings at Basel and reconvened the council at Ferrera near Bologna, Italy. His legates at Basel obeyed, and they together with a minority of the bishops decamped to Ferrera.

In 1438 A.D. the new session opened, with 131 Latin bishops and 31 Greek bishops - including the Patriarch of Constantinople - plus the Byzantine Emperor, John. It moved again a year later to Florence. After some months of discussions the Greek and Latin bishops agreed that they believed essentially the same doctrine. The council issued a decree to this effect and the Greeks returned to their homes in 1439 A.D. While the Greek bishops were still travelling home, a group of Armenian dissidents arrived in Italy to make peace. They were followed by the Copts and then some Nestorians. It seemed that all East and West would become one. The council issued decrees that repeated the teaching of Lyons II on the effective culpability of original sin  to the extent of seeming to define this; characterized the practice of circumcision as mortal sin; and that condemned all non-Catholics to eternal damnation. It finally closed in 1445 A.D.

Meanwhile, many bishops remained at Basel, insisting that the Pope had no authority to dissolve their council. They attempted to depose the pope and declared themselves infallible. Eugene responded by excommunicating them.

The reunion was short lived. Most eastern christians repudiated Florence. Upon their return home, most of the Byzantine bishops renounced the agreement which they claimed had been forced on them by the Emperor John. However, the decisions of the Synod were only officially repudiated by Constantinople Patriarchate after thirty-three years: in 1472 A.D.


Part 4. The Modern Councils

18. Lateran V

In 1511 A.D. a number of bishops from France and northern Italy held what they styled a general council in Pisa. Their intention was to depose the pope, Julius II, who was in secular dispute with King Louis of France.

Pope Julius, for his part, convened an Oecumenical Council in the Lateran in 1512 A.D. Its purpose was general reform and to determine the status of the gathering at Pisa. Julius died after the sixth session and was succeeded by Pope Leo X, who negotiated a peace with King Louis.

The council then moved on to the issues of reform. The worldliness of the Renaissance had resulted in many corruptions entering the life of the Church. Many priests were ignorant and incapable of preaching. The laity had adopted religious practices which were mechanical and superstitious. The council enacted several reforms, none of which accomplished much. A single dogmatic definition was made: the defence of the immortality and multiplicity of the soul, against those scholastic theologians who embraced the teachings of Averroes. The council ended in March of 1517 A.D.

19. Trent

The failure of Lateran V to reform the Church led many to feel that abuses were not the result of a hierarchy gone bad, but of the very existence of hierarchy. They blamed the very existence of priests and bishops, and the sacraments which they administered, for the weak state of Christianity. They saw the problem as one of authority: when men held authority, they abused it; hence authority must be eliminated from the Church.

In October of 1534 A.D. Paul III became Pope. He decided to convene another council, but not before he had cleaned up the papal household first, including the College of Cardinals. A commission of reform was established.

The council convened in Trent cathedral, in northern Italy, on December 13, 1545. There are three periods of the council, the first lasting until 1549 A.D. In his opening address, Cardinal Pole of England, secretary of the council, criticized the bishops as the source of all trouble in the church. It was during this first period that decrees were enacted to reform the bishops and priests. The Council also made dogmatic pronouncements on original sin, justification and the sacraments. These were all topics that under severe attack by the Protestants. The council broke in 1549 A.D. in the midst of political problems.

The second period of the council began in 1551 A.D. when Pope Julius III reconvened it. Over the space of the next year the bishops continued the clarification of sacramental theology. This period ended when threats of war caused the bishops to flee home for safety. In 1555 A.D., Cardinal Carafa became Pope Paul IV. He continued the cleanup of Rome making harsh use of  the Inquisition and Index of Forbidden Books. He was succeeded by Pius IV, who reconvened the council in 1562 A.D.

In 1566, PopePius V assumed the papal throne and effectively completed the reform of Rome begun by his predecessors. Pius carried out the full work of the reform; the liturgy was codified, catechesis made the hallmark of the Teaching Church, priests were finally trained in an adequate manner following the Summa of St. Thomas Aquinas, religious orders returned to their apostolates. Unfortunately, the reform of Trent was too late to eliminate the Protestant heresy. The teachings of Luther, Calvin and Zwingli held sway over many in Europe who desired freedom from the authority of the Church.

Jerusalem I

This was a Pan-Byzantine Orthodox Council, convened in 1583 A.D. as a response to Trent.

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

The Synod condemned the following:

Jerusalem II

A certain Cyril Lucar became the Patriarch of Constantinople in 1620 AD. Before this, he had studied for a while in western Europe. In 1629, a "Confession of Faith", written in Latin and ascribed to Cyril, was published in Geneva.

     "In its eighteen articles [it] professed virtually all the major doctrines of Calvinism; predestination, justification by
     faith alone, acceptance of only two sacraments (instead of seven, as taught by the Eastern Orthodox Church),
     rejection of icons, rejection of the infallibility of the church, and so on. In the Orthodox church the Confession
     started a controversy that culminated in 1672 AD in a convocation by Dositheos, patriarch of Jerusalem, of a
     church council that repudiated all Calvinist doctrines and reformulated Orthodox teachings in a manner intended to
     distinguish them from both Protestantism and Roman Catholicism." [The Encyclopaedia Britannica]

The Synod re-affirmed the single procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father. It explicitly listed Wisdom; Judith; Tobit; The History of Bell and the Dragon; Susanna; Maccabees and Sirach (Ecclesisticus) as "genuine parts of Scripture". It roundly condemned the Lutheran doctrines of "justification through faith alone" and "totally depravity"..

20. Vatican I

Pope Pius IX assumed the See of Rome in 1846 A.D. His Syllabus of 1869 remains a summary of the evils of nineteenth century Europe. He convened a General Council to decide how to cope with the new world in which the Church found itself. A body of one hundred theologians and canonists were commissioned to draft a list of decrees which the council would discuss. Only two were sanctioned. The first "Pastor Aeternus" concerned papal infallibility and the second, "Dei Filius", was a defence of the Faith against Modernism.

In September 1868, an apostolic letter was issued “to all Bishops of Churches of the Eastern Rite not in communion with the Apostolic See.” The Pope's messenger, known as a vicar apostolic, carried the letter to the patriarch of Constantinople. In his letter, Pope Pius first strongly reasserted the primacy of the papacy and then proceeded to invite the patriarch and all others among the Eastern Rite Churches to the Council, expressing his strong desire that the schism of West and East would be healed.

This effort to heal the Great Schism was thwarted from its inception, however, because the Pope's letter got to the press before it got to the patriarch of Constantinople, who returned it unopened via the apostolic vicar who had delivered it. In his reply to the Pope, the Patriarch said that he had already seen the contents of the letter because he had read it in the paper. He continued by saying that “if his Holiness the Pope of Rome has respect for apostolic equality and brotherhood,” he should have sent a letter to each of the patriarchs and synods of the East “as a brother to brethren, equal in honour and degree, to ask them how, where, and in what conditions they would agree to the assembling of a Holy Council.” This, the Patriarch said, would have been better than dictating the time and location. He refused to attend. The leaders of the other Byzantine Churches followed his cue.

The council opened on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception in 1869 in the Basilica of St. Peter.

The bishops debated the language of "Dei Filius" extensively, finally giving unanimous consent on Low Sunday of 1870 A.D. This dogmatic constitution dealt with various matters of Natural Theology.

Next, the bishops took themselves to the other subject, that of papal infallibility. On this subject, the bishops were divided into two distinct camps: the Ultramontanists who were impatient for the definition to be made in the most sweeping terms and the Inopportunists who believed that the time was not right for a definition and that it would be misconceived. Some thought their efforts to convert Protestants would be frustrated and others that it would become impossible to continue to peacefully coexist with Protestants. Others thought such a definition would lead to a tyrannical papacy. "Pastor Aeternus" underwent numerous re-writes before the council voted on it. Eventually, it was passed with two bishops voting against it..

The Franco-German war began the same week and Napoleon III withdrew his troops from the Vatican. With no protection, the Pope surrendered to Italy and suspended the council indefinitely. It was never formally closed.

A group of German, Swiss and Dutch catholics rejected "Pastor Aeternus" and joined with the autocephalous diocese of Utrecht to form the Old Catholic Church. This body continues to this day, though sadly it has fragmented into numerous jurisdictions with many and various liturgical styles, theological stances and pastoral disciplines.

21. Vatican II

The Vatican council did not succeed in dispelling rationalism among the clergy. By the end of the nineteenth century, a group of theologians, the "Modernists", were secretly teaching ideas subversive of the Catholic Faith. Pope Pius X met the attack with the encyclical, Pascendi. In it he analysed and condemned Modernism, and implementing proscriptive measures to defend the Church against what he called "the synthesis of all heresies." However, he knew that he had merely driven the Modernists underground for a while rather than thoroughly confounding them.

During World War II, papal attention was distracted from theological matters. The modernists took the opportunity to re-establish themselves in the seminaries. After the war, the Pope Pius XII issued the encyclical Humani Generis. His purpose was to  halt the spread of Modernism, but it was too late. By the time Pope John XXIII decided to convene a General Council, the Catholic academia of northern Europe and much of America had been captivated by modernism.

Why did Pope John call a council? He never clarified his reason, other than to claim that he had received a divine inspiration.
Preparations for it began in 1960 A.D. Numerous draft decrees were prepared on a variety of topics from communism to the liturgy. The council opened in 1962 A.D. Pius IX's well intentioned but misguided invitation to the Byzantine and Oriental Bishops was not repeated. Instead they were invited to attend as observers. A number did attend in this role. However, the fact that they were never invited to attend as full participants undermines the status of this Synod as Oecumenical.

Immediately, the bishops of northern Europe, led by Cardinals Fringes and Suenens, gained political control of the council by establishing new standing orders. All but one draft decree: that on the liturgy, was discarded. A new agenda was established. The Modernist theologian experts now controlled the council through the bishops that they advised.

Sixteen documents were issued during the council's four sessions. Two dogmatic constitutions: on the Church and Revelation, attempted to complete the work of the first Vatican council. The remaining documents were pastoral in nature.

Vatican II has turned out to be the most remarkable and controversial of all Councils. The impact of Modernism in its workings  and in the life of the Church afterwards has been profound. The liturgy underwent a sudden and shocking transformation. The Church became involved in the ecumenical movement and inter-faith dialogue: both previously condemned by several popes. The Church engaged in a process of accommodation with Marxism. Catholics came to feel justified in disregarding any aspect of Catholic teaching that they found troublesome. In summary, Catholic Order was entirely subverted.