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Christian Councils

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Below is chronology of Councils during the history of Christianity, from the very beginning until today. Included with each, where possible, is in formation on the doctrinal decisions made there. Not all councils are "ecumenical" - i.e., accepted by all Christians denominations.

Words in red are linked to our glossary - so clicking on them will take you to much more information than can be included in brief chronology like this.

Christian Councils
325 First Ecumenical Council of Nicea was convened by emperor Constantine: established the Nicene Creed as the fundamental statement of Christian faith.
c. 364 The Church Council of Laodicea ordered that religious observances were to be conducted on Sunday, not Saturday. Sunday became the new Sabbath:
Christians shall not Judaize and be idle on Saturday, but shall work on that day.
381 First Council of Constantinople. Convened by Theodosius I, then emperor of the East and a recent convert, to confirm the victory over Arianism, the council drew up a dogmatic statement on the Trinity and defined Holy Spirit as having the same divinity expressed for the Son by the Council of Nicaea 56 years earlier.
394 Council of Carthage - first council to uphold doctrines of prayers for the dead and purgatory.
431 Ecumenical Council of Ephesus denounced the teachings of Nestorius (d. 451), who argued that Christ had completely separate human and divine natures.
451 Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon> voted that Christ is simultaneously "truly man and truly God."

A little known statement of the Council was Canon #15 (1):
No woman under 40 years of age is to be ordained a deacon, and then only after close scrutiny.
This is appears to have been the last time in church history that the ordination of women was mentioned as a routine practice in any form, and certainly establishes that women did hold, at one time, important church offices.
553 Second Council of Constantinople, convened by Byzantine Emperor Justinian I to settle the dispute known as the Three Chapters. In an attempt to reconcile moderate Monophysite parties to orthodoxy, Justinian had issued (544) a declaration of faith. The last three chapters anathematized the writings of Theodore of Mopsuestia, Theodoret of Cyrus, and Ibas of Edessa for Nestorianism.

While the charge was true of their writings to a certain extent, the Council of Chalcedon had cleared those men of any personal heresy. Justinian's edict slighted the council and encouraged Monophysitism; it was deeply resented in the West. Pope Vigilius, resisted at first, but eventually was forced to support the edict.

Under pressure from the Western bishops he then reversed himself. In retaliation, Justinian called a council at Constantinople; it was attended by only six Western bishops, boycotted by Vigilius, and dominated by Justinian and the Eastern bishops. The council approved the imperial edict and seems to have censured Vigilius. The pope was forced to ratify the council's work the following year. The West, in general, was slow in recognizing it as an ecumenical council, but ultimately it was accepted - mainly because of the orthodoxy of its pronouncements.
680-81 Third Council of Constantinople. It was convoked by Byzantine Emperor Constantine IV to deal with Monotheletism.
787 The Second Nicean Council met - this was the last of the seven church councils commonly accepted as authoritative by both Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. The Council voted to allow the veneration but not the worship of icons.
869-70 Fourth Council of Constantinople. It has never been accepted by the Orthodox Church, which instead recognizes the council of 880 that supported Photius. The council of 869 was convened at the suggestion of Basil I, the new Byzantine emperor, to confirm the restoration of St. Ignatius of Constantinople to the see that Photius had resigned.

Photius had already been condemned, without a hearing, at a Roman synod. At Constantinople his defense was cut short, and when he refused to sign his own condemnation, he was excommunicated. The result of these councils was to intensify the bitterness between East and West.
1085 At the Council of Clermont, the First Crusade (out of a total of eight official crusades) was called by Pope Urban II (c. 1035 - 1099) against Muslims in the Holy Lands.
1123 First Lateran Council. Summoned by Pope Calistus II to signal the end of the investiture controversy by confirming the Concordat of Worms (1122), it was held in the Lateran Palace, Rome, making it the first council to be held in Western Europe. Many of the council's decrees became part of the evolving corpus of canon law.
1139 Second Lateran Council. Convened at the Lateran Palace, Rome, by Pope Innocent II, the council attempted to heal the wounds left by the schism of the antipope Anacletus II (d. 1138) and condemned the theories of Arnold of Brescia.
1179 Third Lateran Council. Convened at the Lateran Palace, Rome, by Pope Alexander III after the Peace of Venice (1178) had reconciled him with Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I, it included an envoy from the Orthodox Greeks. The most important legislation was the first canon, which confirmed that the election of the pope was to be in the hands of the cardinals alone, two thirds being necessary for election.
1215 Pope Innocent III organized the Fourth Lateran Council in Rome in order to discuss and define central dogmas of Christianity. It was one of the most important councils ever held, and its canons sum up Innocent's ideas for the church. It recognizes the necessity of the Eucharist and penance as sacraments for salvation.
1408 Council of Oxford prohibited translations of the Scriptures into the vernacular unless and until they were fully approved by Church authority, a decision sparked by the publication of the Wycliffite Bible.
1409 Council of Pisa ended the Great Schism by declaring both rival popes deposed and electing a third: Pope Martin V.
1417 The Council of Constance, largest Church meeting in medieval history, officially ended the Great Schism.

It replaced a papal monarchy with a conciliar government, which recognized a council of prelates as the pope's authority and mandated the frequent meeting of councils. This new period was known as the Italian territorial papacy and lasted until 1517 CE.

John Hus traveled to the Council of Constance to propose his reforms for the Church. Upon his arrival at the Council, Hus was tried for heresy and burned. His death encouraged further revolt by his followers.
1545-1563 Council of Trent, Catholic Reformation, or counter-reformation, met Protestant challenge by clearly defining an official theology
1869-1870 First Vatican Council, 20th ecumenical, affirmed doctrine of papal infallibility (i.e. when a pope speaks ex cathedra on faith or morals he does so with the supreme apostolic authority, which no Catholic may question or reject).
1962-1965 Second Vatican Council, 21st ecumenical, announced by Pope John XXIII in 1959, produced 16 documents which became official after approval by the Pope, purpose to renew "ourselves and the flocks committed to us" (Pope John XXIII).


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