Council. BM551, 1372

adapted from The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church

THE First Council of Constantinople (381) was convened by the Emperor. Theodosius I to unite the Eaestern Church at the end of the lengthy Arian controversy on the basis of the Nicene faith. It met under the presidency of Melitius, Bishop of Antioch (who died during the Council) and was attended by 150 orthodox bishops and 36 bishops of Pneumatomachian sympathies who later withdrew. Although neither W. bishops nor Roman legates were present, its achievement was sufficiently significant for it to come to be regarded as the Second General Council in both East and West. The work of the Council of Nicaea with regard to the doctrine of Christ was ratified, and the humanity of Christ safeguarded by condemning Apollinarianism. The so-called Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, traditionally ascribed to this Council, was probably not drawn up by it, though it may well have been endorsed by it in the course of its deliberations (so A. M. Ritter, followed by J. N. D. Kelly).

In ecclesiastical matters the Council[:]

(a) appointed Nectarius as Bp. of Constantinople, in place of St Gregory of Nazianzus;

(b) granted to Constantinople honorary precedence (τὰ πρεσβεῖα τς τιμῆς) over all Churches save Rome; and

(c) misguidedly appointed as Bp. of Antioch Flavian rather than Paulinus, who, by an agreement of the schismatic parties, should have succeeded Melitius.

Hardouin, 1, cols. 807–26; Mansi, 3 (1759), cols. 521–600; Tanner, Decrees (1990), pp. 21–35. Hefele and Leclercq, 2 (pt. 1; 1908), pp. 1–48. Crit. edn. of Lat. versions of canons in EOMIA 2. 3 (1929), pp. 401–72. Gk. text of canons with names of Bishops ed. from two Patmos MSS by C. H. Turner in JTS 15 (1914), pp. 161–78. W. Bright, Notes on the Canons of the First Four General Councils (2nd edn., 1892), pp. 90–128. I. Ortiz de Urbina, SJ, Nicée et Constantinople (Histoire des Conciles Œcuméniques, 1; 1963), esp. pp. 139–242. A. M. Ritter, Das Konzil von Konstantinopel und sein Symbol: Studien zur Geschichte und Theologie des II. Ökumenischen Konzils (Forschungen zur Kitchen- und Dogmengeschichte, 15; 1965). N. Q. King, ‘The 150 Holy Fathers of the Council of Constantinople 381 AD; Some notes on the Bishoplists’, in K. Aland and F. L. Cross (eds.), Studia Patristica, 1 (TU 63; 1957), pp. 635–41. CPG 4 (1980), pp. 25–7 (nos. 8598–8601). J. Bois in DTC 3 (1908), cols. 1227–31, s.v.; R. Janin, AA, in DHGE 13 (1956), cols. 754–7, s.v.

 [from Tanner, ed. Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils]

In the year 380 the emperors Gratian and Theodosius I decided to convoke this council to counter the Arians, and also to judge the case of Maximus the Cynic, bishop of Constantinople. The council met in May of the following year. One hundred and fifty bishops took part, all of them eastern Orthodox, since the Pneumatomachi party had left at the start.

After Maximus had been condemned, Meletius, bishop of Antioch, appointed Gregory of Nazianzus as the lawful bishop of Constantinople and at first presided over the council. Then on Meletius’ sudden death, Gregory took charge of the council up to the arrival of Acholius, who was to table Pope Damasus’ demands: namely, that Maximus should be expelled as an interloper, and that the translation of bishops should be avoided. But when Timothy, bishop of Alexandria, arrived he declared Gregory’s appointment invalid. Gregory resigned the episcopacy and Nectarius, after baptism and consecration, was installed as bishop and presided over the council until its closure.

No copy of the council’s doctrinal decisions, entitled tomos kai anathematismos engraphos (record of the tome and anathemas), has survived. So what is presented here is the synodical letter of the synod of Constantinople held in 382, which expounded these doctrinal decisions, as the fathers witness, in summary form: namely, along the lines defined by the council of Nicaea, the consubstantiality and co-eternity of the three divine persons against the Sabellians, Anomoeans, Arians and Pneumatomachi, who thought that the divinity was divided into several natures; and the enanthropesis (taking of humanity) of the Word, against those who supposed that the Word had in no way taken a human soul. All these matters were in close agreement with the tome that Pope Damasus and a Roman council, held probably in 378, had sent to the East.

Scholars find difficulties with the creed attributed to the council of Constantinople. Some say that the council composed a new creed. But no mention is made of this creed by ancient witnesses until the council of Chalcedon; and the council of Constantinople was said simply to have endorsed the faith of Nicaea, with a few additions on the holy Spirit to refute the Pneumatomachian heresy. Moreover, if the latter tradition is accepted, an explanation must be given of why the first two articles of the so-called Constantinopolitan creed differ considerably from the Nicene creed.

It was J. Lebon, followed by J. N. D. Kelly and A. M. Ritter, who worked at the solution of this problem. Lebon said that the Nicene creed, especially since it was adapted to use at baptism, had taken on a number of forms. It was one of these which was endorsed at the council of Constantinople and developed by additions concerning the holy Spirit. All the forms, altered to some extent or other, were described by a common title as “the Nicene faith”. Then the council of Chalcedon mentioned the council of Constantinople as the immediate source of one of them, marked it out by a special name “the faith of the 150 fathers”, which from that time onwards became its widely known title, and quoted it alongside the original simple form of the Nicene creed. The Greek text of the Constantinopolitan creed, which is printed below, is taken from the acts of the council of Chalcedon.

The council of Constantinople enacted four disciplinary canons: against the Arian heresy and its sects (can. 1), on limiting the power of bishops within fixed boundaries (can. 2), on ranking the see of Constantinople second to Rome in honour and dignity (can. 3), on the condemnation of Maximus [the Cynic, would-be usurper of the see of Constant.] and his followers (can. 4). Canons 2-4 were intended to put a stop to aggrandisement on the part of the see of Alexandria.

The two following canons, 5 and 6, were framed at the synod which met in Constantinople in 382. The 7th canon is an extract from a letter which the church of Constantinople sent to Martyrius of Antioch.

The council ended on 9 July 381, and on 30 July of the same year, at the request of the council fathers, the emperor Theodosius ratified its decrees by edict .

Already from 382 onwards, in the synodical letter of the synod which met at Constantinople, the council of Constantinople was given the title of “ecumenical”. The word denotes a general and plenary council. But the council of Constantinople was criticised and censured by Gregory of Nazianzus. In subsequent years it was hardly ever mentioned. In the end it achieved its special status when the council of Chalcedon, at its second session and in its definition of the faith, linked the form of the creed read out at Constantinople with the Nicene form, as being a completely reliable witness of the authentic faith. The fathers of Chalcedon acknowledged the authority of the canons — at least as far as the eastern church was concerned — at their sixteenth session. The council’s dogmatic authority in the western church was made clear by words of Pope Gregory I: “I confess that I accept and venerate the four councils (Nicaea, Constantinople, Ephesus and Chalcedon) in the same way as I do the four books of the holy Gospel....”

The bishop of Rome’s approval was not extended to the canons, because they were never brought “to the knowledge of the apostolic see’’. Dionysius Exiguus knew only of the first four — the ones to be found in the western collections. Pope Nicholas I wrote of the sixth canon to Emperor Michael III: “It is not found among us, but is said to be in force among you’’.

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