Councils of the Church
Councils of the Church
gatherings of the higher clergy of the Christian Church for the purpose of resolving questions of doctrine, government, and discipline and for selecting high-ranking hierarchs, replacing them, or putting them on trial, especially for the condemnation of heresies.
The first Church councils date from the mid-third century and consisted of meetings of bishops of a particular metropolitan see. As of the fourth century, church councils fell into two main categories: ecumenical councils, or meetings of representatives of all independent local churches, and local councils, or gatherings of representatives of the higher clergy of an independent local church or of church hierarchs of a specific administrative and geographical area.
Dogmas of faith and church canons are worked out by ecumenical councils, but in a number of instances canons that became part of general church legislation were issued by local councils, for example, the Synod of Ancyra (314–315), the Synod of Gangres (c. 340), and the Synod of Laodicea (364).
In the Russian state, especially from the 15th to the 17th century, local councils met regularly, although they were not officially called councils. The most important of these were the Stoglav Synod of 1551 and the Council of 1666–67 that condemned the Schism.
The ecumenical councils of the fourth to ninth centuries were called by the emperors of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium) and were presided over by them or their representatives. Councils that were held since the 12th century by the Catholic Church (which continued to call them ecumenical although the Orthodox clergy did not participate) were headed by the pope. Owing to historical conditions, the influence of the secular authorities on the councils of the Catholic Church has been less apparent than on those of the Orthodox Church.
In the Orthodox Church, a council has more authority than a patriarch, who, in spite of his right of precedence, a number of privileges, and his moral authority, is considered the “first among equals.” In the Catholic Church, the monarchial principle prevails: the authority of the pope is higher than that of an ecumenical council. With the strengthening of centralized national states in Europe, the conciliar movement, advocating the principle of the supremacy of ecumenical councils over the pope, arose in the late 14th and early 15th centuries; the movement, however, was unsuccessful. The Council of Trent (1545–63), held during the Counter-Reformation, strengthened the supreme authority of the pope. From the 16th century to the 19th century, the popes did not convene any ecumenical councils. An ecumenical council was held again by the Catholic Church only in 1869–70 (Vatican Council I); the next ecumenical council was held from 1962 to 1965 (Vatican Council II).