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Canons of the seven ecumenical councils
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The First Ecumenical Council was held in Nicea, Asia Minor, in 325 on the occasion of the heresy of Arius (Arianism). In order to expedite the assembling of the Council, the emperor Constantine placed at the disposal of the bishops the public conveyances and posts of the empire; moreover, while the Council lasted he provided abundantly for the maintenance of the members. The choice of Nicaea was favourable to the assembling of a large number of bishops. It was easily accessible to the bishops of nearly all the provinces, but especially to those of Asia, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Greece, and Thrace. The sessions were held in the principal church, and in the central hall of the imperial palace. A large place was indeed necessary to receive such an assembly, though the exact number is not known with certainty. St. Athanasius, a member of the council speaks of 300, and in his letter "Ad Afros" he says explicitly 318. This figure is almost universally adopted. Most of the bishops present were Greeks; among the Latins we know only Hosius of Cordova, Cecilian of Carthage, Mark of Calabria, Nicasius of Dijon, Donnus of Stridon in Pannonia, and the two Roman priests, Victor and Vincentius, representing the pope. The assembly numbered among its most famous members St. Alexander of Alexandria, Eustathius of Antioch, Macarius of Jerusalem, Eusebius of Nicomedia, Eusebius of Caesarea, and Nicholas of Myra. Some had suffered during the last persecution; others were poorly enough acquainted with Christian theology. Among the members was a young deacon, Athanasius of Alexandria, for whom this Council was to be the prelude to a life of conflict and of glory.
The Council was opened by Constantine with the greatest solemnity. The emperor began by making the bishops understand that they had a greater and better business in hand than personal quarrels and interminable recriminations. Nevertheless, he had to submit to the infliction of hearing the last words of debates which had been going on previous to his arrival. Eusebius of Caesarea and his two abbreviators, Socrates and Sozomen, as well as Rufinus and Gelasius of Cyzicus, report no details of the theological discussions. Rufinus tells us only that daily sessions were held and that Arius was often summoned before the assembly; his opinions were seriously discussed and the opposing arguments attentively considered. The majority, especially those who were confessors of the Faith, energetically declared themselves against the impious doctrines of Arius. St. Athanasius assures us that the activities of the Council were nowise hampered by Constantine's presence. To St. Athanasius may be attributed a preponderant influence in the formulation of the symbol of the First Ecumenical Council, of which the following is a literal translation:
We believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible; and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten of the Father, that is, of the substance [ek tes ousias] of the Father, God of God, light of light, true God of true God, begotten not made, of the same substance with the Father [homoousion to patri], through whom all things were made both in heaven and on earth; who for us men and our salvation descended, was incarnate, and was made man, suffered and rose again the third day, ascended into heaven and cometh to judge the living and the dead. And in the Holy Ghost. Those who say: There was a time when He was not, and He was not before He was begotten; and that He was made our of nothing (ex ouk onton); or who maintain that He is of another hypostasis or another substance [than the Father], or that the Son of God is created, or mutable, or subject to change, [them] the Catholic Church anathematizes.
The adhesion was general and enthusiastic. All the bishops save five declared themselves ready to subscribe to this formula, convince that it contained the ancient faith of the Apostolic Church. The opponents were soon reduced to two, Theonas of Marmarica and Secundus of Ptolemais, who were exiled and anathematized. Arius and his writings were also branded with anathema, his books were cast into the fire, and he was exiled to Illyria.
Other matters dealt with by this council were the controversy as to the time of celebrating Easter and the Meletian schism.
Of all the Acts of this Council, which, it has been maintained, were numerous, only three fragments have reached us: the creed, or symbol, given above; the canons; the synodal decree. In reality there never were any official acts besides these. But the accounts of Eusebius, Socrates, Sozomen, Theodoret, and Rufinus may be considered as very important sources of historical information, as well as some data preserved by St. Athanasius, and a history of the Council of Nicaea written in Greek in the fifth century by Gelasius of Cyzicus. There has long existed a dispute as to the number of the canons of First Nicaea. All the collections of canons, whether in Latin or Greek, composed in the fourth and fifth centuries agree in attributing to this Council only the twenty canons, which we possess today. Of these the following is a brief résumé:
Canon 1: On the admission, or support, or expulsion of clerics mutilated by choice or by violence.
Canon 2: Rules to be observed for ordination, the avoidance of undue haste, the deposition of those guilty of a grave fault.
Canon 3: All members of the clergy are forbidden to dwell with any woman, except a mother, sister, or aunt.
Canon 4: Concerning episcopal elections.
Canon 5: Concerning the excommunicate.
Canon 6: Concerning patriarchs and their jurisdiction.
Canon 7: confirms the right of the bishops of Jerusalem to enjoy certain honours.
Canon 8: concerns the Novatians.
Canon 9: Certain sins known after ordination involve invalidation.
Canon 10: Lapsi who have been ordained knowingly or surreptitiously must be excluded as soon as their irregularity is known.
Canon 11: Penance to be imposed on apostates of the persecution of Licinius.
Canon 12: Penance to be imposed on those who upheld Licinius in his war on the Christians.
Canon 13: Indulgence to be granted to excommunicated persons in danger of death.
Canon 14: Penance to be imposed on catechumens who had weakened under persecution.
Canon 15: Bishops, priests, and deacons are not to pass from one church to another.
Canon 16: All clerics are forbidden to leave their church. Formal prohibition for bishops to ordain for their diocese a cleric belonging to another diocese.
Canon 17: Clerics are forbidden to lend at interest.
Canon 18: recalls to deacons their subordinate position with regard to priests.
Canon 19: Rules to be observed with regard to adherents of Paul of Samosata who wished to return to the Church.
Canon 20: On Sundays and during the Paschal season prayers should be said standing.