Ecumenical Councils – Not An Institution of Christ or the Apostles


One of Monsignor Pierre Battifol’s great essays on the Roman primacy was written in response to a Russian Orthodox historian M. Glubokovsky and his article in the London Review entitled “Papal Rome and the Orthodox East“, and Fr. Battifol brings up the subject of Ecumenical Councils. Battifol has the following to say, and it merits a discussion.

M. Glubokovsky would seem to think that Ecumenical Councils belong to the divine constitution of the Church — as a fact, they belong only to Ecclesiastical law (kirchencrecht). They were not, in reality, instituted either by Christ or by the Apostles. Their magisterium is the collective magisterium of the universal episcopate, which includes the bishop of Rome. The assistance of that which was promised to this universal episcopate.” (Catholic and Papacy: Some Anglican and Russian Difficulties, page 88)

This is a thought worth pondering. Ecumenical Councils were truly something of Ecclesiastical institution, and was not something even known as part of the pre-Constantinian Apostolic tradition. I understand many Orthodox would call the Council of Jerusalem 49 the paradigm of Ecumenical Councils, but I think we should be careful here. No one to my knowledge has ever called this the 1st Ecumenical Council. And the dictum “It seems good to us and the Holy Spirit” seems hardly applicable only to the 7 Councils of the 1st millennium that are numbered as “Ecumenical”. Many councils gathered together in this spirit. So I don’t think Jerusalem 49 is either the 1st Ecumenical Council, nor is a strict paradigm for the 7 Councils that became Ecumenical. And if this is true, than we cannot speak of Ecumenical Councils as a divine authority *in itself* which holds authority over the Episcopate, as an entity all on its own.

So it leaves us to question if Ecumenical Councils are not of divine and apostolic institution, but are rather a creation of the Church, and that, together with the Imperial government I will add, than what is the magisterium of the Church as created by Christ? Fr. Battifol rightly points us to the Episcopate as created by Christ in the Apostles, with Peter as the head and principle of unity.

Disregard Of Appeals To All Things West Unwarranted – 1st Millenium Primacy


“From the accession of Constantine to the Empire of the East (323) until the seventh Ecumenical Council (787) — that is to say, during a space of 464 years — I count no less than 203 years during which the Eastern Episcopate was and remained in schism from the Apostolic See” (Monsignor L. Duchesne, “The Churches Separated from Rome“, page 164)

This is a very significant statement. In modern Orthodox/Catholics dialogue, the East is often speaking of how the Orientals had a different perspective than the West on the issue of primacy, ecclesial unity, and the governmental administration of the visible Church. And yet, during the entirety of this primary segment of first millennia history, the Eastern churches were nearly 50% of the time out of communion with, not only with Catholicism, but with the only See which had never been in the trenches of heresy during this extent of time (by the East’s own admission), that is, the See of Rome.

The Eastern Episcopate had tampered with the Arian, Semi-Arian, Nestorian, Mono-physite, Mono-thelite, and Iconoclastic heresies, and in each instance of these Eastern churches coming into full communion with the Church, it was by coming back into union with the Roman See and what her Church taught since the beginning. <I’m calling it now…someone’s gonna mention Liberius/Vigilius/Honorius…..Do it….please>

And yet, supposedly we are not to take to heart the Roman rationale for ecclesiastical unity, which is nothing less than the Papal-theory encoded into dogma in 1870 together with the De Ecclesia of the Council of Vatican 2. Instead, we are told by the Orthodox, we should take more to heart the Eastern rationale for ecclesiastical unity. And yet, this statement by Duchesne illustrates just how poor a witness the Orient was in that very specific regard.

It is truly a wonder, therefore, why we are given even an attempt to deny the veracity of St. Maximos the Confessor and his own gloss on Rome. Probably just after the Council of Lateran 649 Maximos wrote the following after the successful council in Rome anathematizing monotheletism:

“For the extremities of the earth and all in every part of it who purely and rightly confess the Lord, look directly towards the most holy Roman Church and its confession and faith, as it were to a sun of unfailing light, awaiting from it the bright radiance of the sacred dogmas of our fathers, according to what the six inspired and holy councils have purely and piously decreed, declaring most expressly the symbol of faith. For from the coming down of the incarnate Word among us, all the Churches in every part of the world have possessed that greatest Church along as their base and foundation, seeing that, according to the promise of Christ our Savior, the gates of hell do never prevail against it, that it possesses the keys of a right confession and faith in Him, that it opens the true and only religion to such as approach with piety, and shuts up and locks every heretical mouth that speaks injustice against the Most High”

My goodness. This could have been written by none less than Pope St. Nicholas I, who unmistakably claiming a universal jurisdiction over the entire earth.

But yet we are often told that Maximos was quick to disregard Rome if she had communed with the heretical see of Constantinople. Well, such a statement comes from St Paul who said that even if himself were to preach a different gospel than what he had delivered, that it should not be received by the Galatians. Such a statement is hyperbolic. And it wouldn’t be right to make the issue so flippant. We really do have a statement from Maximos where he rests the infallibility of the Roman See on the promise of Christ our God. By what impression would we be influenced by to make such a serious claim? I would say because he at least believed it. On the other hand, when under interrogation, he was giving up his all to follow the Roman Council of Lateran 649 and in its accord with the Fathers of the Church. In other words, he was in duress, and the question of Rome contradicting her own finished viewpoint on the question of Christ’s wills is already in the realm of dreamy speculation. And we shouldn’t forget that Maximos wasn’t convinced that Rome had actually turned heretical. At least, I’ve not seen the evidence of this.

More Comments on Vigilius


This was a private response to someone who had brought up how the historical situation of Pope Vigilius vs the 5th Council is a dogmatic proof against Vatican I:

On the case of Vigilius. When one studies the history very closely, we see that if it is the “Achilies heel” to Papal claims, it is likewise the “Achilies heel” to modern Orthodoxy. For simple reasons: (1) Eastern saints would have all decried the actions of Justinian I on his initiative with the Three Chapters , Egypt, and Syria. From Ossius’ famous letter to Constantius, the Emperor who wanted to enforce homoiousias, to Maximus the confessor who told Theodosius that no Emperor has the right to mandate on doctrine or councils, all the way to Theodore of Studium/Nicephorus of Cple against the Emperor’s who were iconoclastic and appealed to a heretical council. No one can deny that no Eastern patriarch enforced the Edict on the 3 chapters. For the modern Eastern Orthodox to be so dedicated to canons , one would think they would first spend time critiquing the actions of justinian in deposing bishops, threatening exile, and imposing secular power over the bishops of the Church – especially on doctrine. <it really doesn’t matter if he was theologically correct>. The issue should have been submitted to review of the Patriarchs. That is it. Chalcedon would have been repeated as the standard, and that would have been the end of it. The monophysites didn’t find any reason to unite over Cple 553. So, it only shows that the Orthodox today are not true scholars, for if they were, they would first spend time showing the uncanonical process that embarked upon the foundations of Cple 553. (2) Vigilius *did* indeed claim to exercise authority over the Council, the patriarchs, etc,etc. But he was also not exactly a free man. He was just as free as we would say of President Obama if he was confiscated from the United States and was held prisoner in Russia under Putin. What kind of canon or apostolic rule would allow that? This isn’t a time to discern whether Vigilius was making the right claims or not. It is a time to begin speaking on the depressive state of affairs that were going on in the Church with the rise of Byzantinism. Although it saved the day in some cases, it could also spoil the church. (3) Without Vigilius, the Council of Cpl 553 is a local eastern synod, and it decided to go through with its process anyway – under Justiniain of course. They justified this on the basis of the text “wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in their midst”. Well Jimminy cricket , the semi-Arians could have told you that (Arminium 357). That doesn’t provide any theological justification for proceeding, finalizing the council, and then issue out depositions/excommunications on those who don’t adhere. I don’t know any modern Orthodox scholar who thinks “Ecumenical” councils can consist of only Eastern representation…..that is…..until the subject of Vigilius comes up. Then, all of a sudden, from the basement, they will claim Cple 553 was a true Council with true authority to bind the whole Church. (3) The Western churches didn’t receive Cple 553. If that isn’t a proof that something was irregular, I don’t know what proof can be offered. (4) Yes, western churches severed communion with Vigilius. But not many are interested in sharing the rationale of those western churches. For instance, the churches of Illyricum said that Vigilius had contradicted dogma under Leo, and that the only way for them to retain Roman communion was to stick with Leo. So they may have been the proto-sedevacantists. In other words, they thought Chalcedon was being overturned by Rome, but they didn’t think even Rome could do so, because Papally ratified synods, like Chalcedon, bind all future synods.


(5) Justinian I began to threaten clerics  for non-adherence to his three chapters Edicts. Some will try to say the same thing was accepted under the pontificate of Hormisdas of Rome. But then, it was after the Church had spoken via her Head, the Pope. It is entirely different for the secular power to enforce dogma when there hasn’t been the necessary channels of ecclesial deliberation. They weren’t under the “reception” idea. Now, let’s say that the Orthodox, like Todd (Orthodox), tries to say that the Synod of Cple 553 possessed some legitimate degree of authority, de jure; Now you have the reception process, wherein it is possible that it is found to be heretical (Ephesus 449/Lyons 2/Florence). Then that would mean that the Church was allowed to make a fundamental error on doctrine for so many years (centuries?), and even enforce penalties on bishops/priests/all christians for not submitting to the heretical innovations.(6) Also, if Cple 553 has, de jure, the authority the Orthodox want, then Ephesus 449 would have also had authority, de jure. But the problem with that is we have three eastern bishops, Flavian/Eusebius of Dorylaeum/Theodoret of Cyrus, who appealed to Pope Leo in order to either confirm or overturn the judgement of the Council. Now, why would they appeal to Rome to overturn a de jure Council, which was conducted under the Emperor? And lastly, (7), the EO cannot avoid the backlash. They want to point out Papal powerlessness, they will have to face the Conciliar powerlessness. Many do, and recognize this is why they need a reception-program for addressing just what is infallible authority. If Papalism is falsified by its inability to coerce wills to conform, then Conciliarism will likewise be falsified. With the reception doctrine, there is no need for the Pope or a Council to necessarily squash problems and disputes. There is the digestion process by which the Church either absorbs it into her bloodstream (i.e. becomes Ecumenical), or it gets vomited out (Florence, for ex).