Church Councils  

church fathers

For 300 years, Christianity was an outlawed religion

In 380 AD, a whole 347 years after Jesus' Crucifixion, Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire.

From thereon, Christian doctrine began its evolutionary journey.

The Bishop of Rome ('Pope') could call a Church Council of bishops to discuss religious matters. At the end, the Pope would officially sanction the decrees passed.

The table below lists ten major Church Councils and the decrees sanctioned.

Jesus' Crucifixion
33 AD
Although, the crucifixion of Jesus was not a formal Council, it was a gathering of 'a few women' followers of Jesus. What these women discussed as they watched on is unknown.
Year: 33 AD
Ecumenical: * NO
Attendance: A few women, based on gospel accounts
Discussed: Unknown
Council of Jerusalem I
48 AD
According to Acts, Jesus' disciples called the Council of Jerusalem to discuss major differences between two parties. This was not an official Council under Rome's rulership.

Peter & James
Jesus' disciples, Peter and James stressed the importance of Judaism, its laws and upholding the views of the stringent Jewish-Christian community that had lived and studied with Jesus in his lifetime. At the time, Jesus' followers were Jewish by birth, and even new Christian converts were considered within Judaism.

The other party, led by Paul stressed the mission of Christians to the whole inhabited world, with particular emphasis on the Gentiles (or non-Jews).

Christianity, a new religion for the Gentiles was born
Paul succeeded. Christianity would no longer be contained within Jerusalem. Christian theology would be updated in subsequent church councils and designed to appeal to mass audiences across the world.
Year: 48 AD
15-years after Jesus
Ecumenical: NO
Attendance: Unknown
  1. Relevance of Judaism
Council of Nicaea I
325 AD
The First Council of Nicaea, the first ecumenical council, devoted itself to the problem of the Trinity, in an attempt to settle the controversy raised by Arianism over the nature of the Trinity.

Jesus Christ is, 'God of God, and of one substance with the Father'
It was the decision of the council, formalized in the Nicene Creed, that God the Father and God the Son were consubstantial and co-eternal

The Arian belief that Jesus was created by and thus inferior to the Father was deemed heretical. Arius himself was excommunicated and banished.

The council was also important for its disciplinary decisions concerning the status and jurisdiction of the clergy in the early church and for establishing the date on which Easter is celebrated.
Year: 325 AD
292-years after Jesus
Ecumenical: YES
Attendance: 318
  1. Arianism, the nature of Christ
  2. celebration of Passover (Easter)
  3. ordination of eunuchs
  4. prohibition of kneeling on Sundays and from Easter to Pentecost
  5. validity of baptism by heretics
  6. lapsed Christians
  7. sundry other matters
Council of Constantinople I
381 AD
Constantinople I was called primarily to confront Arianism. It re-affirmed the doctrines of the Nicene Creed and condemned Apollinarianism. The council affirmed the doctrine that Jesus was fully human and fully God.

The Holy Spirit is co-equal with the Father
The council defined the position of the Holy Spirit within the Trinity; it described the Holy Spirit proceeded from God the Father, co-equal and consubstantial with him.
Year: 381 AD
348-years after Jesus
Ecumenical: YES
Attendance: 150
  1. Arianism
  2. Apollinarism
  3. Sabellianism
  4. Holy Spirit
  5. successor to Meletius
Council of Carthage
397 AD
The Bible Canon as we have it today, was finalized
Carthage formally decided on the Bible canon for the first-time ever, some 60 years after Constantine's death and 360 years after Jesus' crucifixion.

What we know of Carthage is limited, as the only surviving records are indirect accounts and depictions in other sources.

The actual compilation of the Bible was an incredibly complicated project that involved churchmen of different beliefs, in an atmosphere of dissension, jealousy, intolerance, persecution and bigotry.

It was also determined that besides the Canonical Scriptures nothing be read in the Church under the title of divine Scriptures.

The Canonical Scriptures are these: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua the son of Nun, Judges, Ruth, four books of Kings, two books of Paraleipomena, Job, the Psalter, five books of Solomon, the books of the twelve prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezechiel, Daniel, Tobit, Judith, Esther, two books of Esdras, two Books of the Maccabees.

Of the New Testament: four books of the Gospels [Mark, Matthew, Luke, John], one book of the Acts of the Apostles, thirteen Epistles of the Apostle Paul, one epistle of the same [writer] to the Hebrews, two Epistles of the Apostle Peter, three of John, one of James, one of Jude, one book of the Apocalypse of John.
Year: 397 AD
364-years after Jesus
Ecumenical: YES
Attendance: Unknown number
  1. Bible canon
  2. books to include and exclude
Council of Ephesus I
431 AD
Ephesus was significant for its dogmatic decrees on the position of the Virgin Mary and he nature of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. It was in response to the Nestorian teachings that Mary was the 'mother of Christ', and not the 'mother of God'.

Mary is the mother of God
After lengthy debates, the council reached a decision: Mary is the 'mother of God', was decreed by the council and accepted by all.

The council also refined the dogma on the human and divine nature of Jesus; two separate natures, though perfectly united in Christ.
Year: 431 AD
398-years after Jesus
Ecumenical: YES
Attendance: 200-250
  1. Nestorianism
  2. Theotokos
  3. Pelagianism
Council of Chalcedon
451 AD
Chalcedon defined how the divine and the human elements related in Jesus ("unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably"), used some terms that are unfamiliar to contemporary ears.

Jesus' is fully-God and fully-human
Chalcedon was in response to the confusion among the early theologians on the idea of the one divine person being both God and man, or were their two natures: human and divine, in the one person of the Word?
Year: 451 AD
418-years after Jesus
Ecumenical: YES
Attendance: 520
  1. Nature of Jesus' divinity
Council of Orange
529 AD
Augustine held that all humans required God's help to do good and His grace was a free gift from God regardless of human merit.

God decides who will receive Salvation
Thus God alone determines who will receive the grace that alone assures salvation; God predestines some to salvation.

Augustine's teaching was generally upheld by the church, but the further idea that some are predestined to condemnation was explicitly rejected at the Council of Orange.
Year: 529 AD
496-years after Jesus
Ecumenical: YES
Attendance: 15
  1. Salvation, pre-destined by God
Council of Constantinople II
553 AD
Constantinople II was convoked to condemn the Nestorian writings and re-confirm the doctrine that Jesus's two natures, one human and one divine, are perfectly united in one person.
Year: 553 AD
520-years after Jesus
Ecumenical: YES
Attendance: 152
  1. Nestorianism Origenism
Council of Constantinople III
680 AD
Constantinople III condemned Monothelitism and affirmed that Jesus has two wills, one human and one divine, and they are without division or confusion.
Year: 680 AD
647-years after Jesus
Ecumenical: YES
Attendance: 300
  1. Monothelitism
  2. human will of Jesus
  3. divine will of Jesus
Council of Nicaea II
787 AD
This Council ruled on the use of saints' images and icons in religious devotion, declaring that whereas the veneration of images was legitimate and the intercession of saints effective, the veneration of icons must be carefully distinguished from the worship due God alone.
Year: 787 AD
754-years after Jesus
Ecumenical: YES
Attendance: 350
  1. Iconoclasm

* Ecumenical Council is a conference of ecclesiastical dignitaries and theological experts convened to discuss and settle matters of Church doctrine and practice.

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