Ecumenical Councils

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Ecumenical Councils


congresses of the highest clergy of the Christian church—patriarchs, archbishops, and bishops. At ecumenical councils problems are discussed and resolutions are issued that are theological, concerned with church government, or disciplinary in character. The Orthodox Church recognizes only the first seven ecumenical councils, which were held prior to the schism of the church (the beginning of which dates back to the third quarter of the ninth century) and which were convoked by the Roman, and later by the Byzantine, emperors in order to strengthen the Christian church’s position as the ruling church. After the split between the churches the Roman popes renewed these congresses of the highest clergy of the Catholic Church; they continued, however, to call them ecumenical councils, and correspondingly assigned them numbers in sequence after the first seven.

The ecumenical councils (with an indication of the most important problems facing each) are as follows:

(1) Nicaea I (325), condemnation of Arianism and the formulation of the Creed, which laid the foundation of orthodox Christianity.

(2) Constantinople I (381), a repeated condemnation of Arianism and reaffirmation of the orthodox doctrine of the trinity.

(3) Ephesus (431), condemnation of Nestorianism; in 449 a new council at Ephesus was convoked at which the Monophysites were victorious but which was called the robber council by the next council and accordingly was excluded from the numbering of the ecumenical councils; thus, the fourth ecumenical council is considered to be the council of 451.

(4) Chalcedon (451), condemnation of Monophysitism and the abolition of the resolutions passed by the council at Ephesus of 449.

(5) Constantinople II (553), concessions to the Monophy-sites and the condemnation of three ecclesiastical writers of the fifth century who were followers of Nestorianism; until the end of the sixth century the Roman Church refused to recognize the resolutions of this council.

(6) Constantinople III (680-81), condemnation of the Monothelites; in 692 the Synod in Trullo was convoked in Constantinople (the sessions were held in palatial chambers named Trullo); its resolutions supplemented the canons of the fifth and sixth ecumenical councils, and therefore it is regarded as a supplement to the fifth and sixth councils (hence it is known by the name Quinisext).

(7) Nicaea II (787), condemnation of iconoclasm.

(8) Constantinople IV (869-70), condemnation of Photius, the patriarch of Constantinople; this council revealed the sharp contradictions between the Western Christian and the Eastern Christian churches; the subsequently formed Orthodox and Catholic bodies evaluate the council differently —Catholicism recognizes it as the eighth ecumenical council, whereas Orthodoxy does not recognize it at all.

(9) Lateran I (1123), held in the Lateran Palace, the residence of the popes in Rome; affirmation of the Concordat of Worms, which put an end to the struggle over investiture.

(10) Lateran II (1139), condemnation of Arnold of Brescia.

(11) Lateran III (1179), condemnation of the Waldenses and Cathari and the establishment of a system for electing popes.

(12) Lateran IV (1215), condemnation of the Albigenses and the Waldenses and sanction of the inquisition.

(13) Lyons I (1245), excommunication of Frederick II of Staufen.

(14) Lyons II (1274), union with the Orthodox Church.

(15) Vienne (1311-12), convoked by the first Avignon pope, Clement V; abolition of the Order of Knights Templar.

(16) Constance (1414-18), put an end to the Great Schism and pronounced the execution of J. Hus and the condemnation of J. Wycliffe.

(17) Basel (1431-49), sometimes Catholic historiographers of the 17th ecumenical council consider it to be the council of Florence and the first 25 sessions at Basel are regarded as its beginning.

(18) Lateran V (1512-17), church reform.

(19) Trent (1545-63).

(20) Vatican I (1869-70).

(21) Vatican II (1962-65).


Sheinman, M. M. Papstvo. Moscow, 1959.
Lozinskii, S. G. Istoriia papstva. Moscow, 1961.
Jedin, H. Kleine Konziliengeschichte. Freiburg im Breisgau-Basel-Vienna, 1959.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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