Is An Ecumenical Council Authoritative Enough? (More on Eastern and Western Papal Claims)

Well, Cathedra Unitatis, to give him credit, did take notice of the post put up by Perry taking a cite from the 5th Ecumenical Council.  The discussion there is well underway now, with about 45 responses at the time of this post.

Relative to papal claims, why is this important? 

In summary, because it establishes, unequivocally, the standard of collegiality among the bishops. And it presents the Roman Pope Vigilius as issuing a dogmatic decree, retracting it, and submitting to the decision of the council.

Take a look again at the text cited by Perry (with his emphases):

And to this end we brought to his remembrance the great examples left us by the Apostles, and the traditions of the Fathers. For although the grace of the Holy Spirit abounded in each one of the Apostles, so that no one of them needed the counsel of another in the execution of his work, yet they were not willing to define on the question then raised touching the circumcision of the Gentiles, until being gathered together they had confirmed their own several sayings by the testimony of the divine Scriptures.

And thus they arrived unanimously at this sentence, which they wrote to the Gentiles: ‘It has seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us, to lay upon you no other burden than these necessary things, that ye abstain from things offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication.’

But also the Holy Fathers, who from time to time have met in the four holy councils, following the example of the ancients, have by a common discussion, disposed of by a fixed decree the heresies and questions which had sprung up, as it was certainly known, that by common discussion when the matter in dispute was presented by each side, the light of truth expels the darkness of falsehood.

Nor is there any other way in which the truth can be made manifest when there are discussions concerning the faith, since each one needs the help of his neighbour, as we read in the Proverbs of Solomon: ‘A brother helping his brother shall be exalted like a walled city; and he shall be strong as a well-founded kingdom;’ and again in Ecclesiastes he says: ‘Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour.’”

So also the Lord himself says: ‘Verily I say unto you that if two of you shall agree upon earth as touching anything they shall seek for, they shall have it from my Father which is in heaven. For wheresoever two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

Take a look also at the historical introduction and and one of the excurses surrounding the text Perry cites.

From the introduction:

Thus inquiry was made at the fifth Council how the writings on the Faith were wont to be approved in former Councils. The Acts of the third and fourth Council, those which we have mentioned above respecting the letter of St. Cyril and of St. Leo, were set forth. Then the holy Council declared: “It is plain, from what has been recited, in what manner the holy Councils are wont to approve what is brought before them. For great as was the dignity of those holy men who wrote the letters recited, yet they did not approve their letters simply or without inquiry, nor without taking cognizance that they were in all things agreeable to the exposition and doctrine of the holy Fathers, with which they were compared.” But the Acts proved that this course was not pursued in the case of the letter of Ibas; they inferred, therefore, most justly, that that letter had not been approved. So, then, it is certain from the third and fourth Councils, the fifth so declaring and understanding it, that letters approved by the Apostolic See, such as was that of Cyril, or even proceeding from it, as that of Leo, were received by the holy Councils not simply, nor without inquiry. The holy Fathers proceed to do what the Bishops at Chalcedon would have done, had they undertaken the examination of Ibas’s letter. They compare the letter with the Acts of Ephesus and Chalcedon. Which done, the holy Council declared—“The comparison made proves, beyond a doubt, that the letter which Ibas is said to have written is, in all respects, opposed to the definition of the right Faith, which the Council of Chalcedon set forth.” All the Bishops cried out, “We all say this; the letter is heretical.” Thus, therefore, is it proved by the fifth Council, that our holy Fathers in Ecumenical Councils pronounce the letters read, whether of Catholics or heretics, or even of Roman Pontiffs, and that on matter of Faith, to be orthodox or heretical, according to the same procedure, after legitimate cognizance, the truth being inquired into, and then cleared up; and upon these premises judgment given. . . .

The Emperor Justinian desired that the question concerning the above-mentioned Three Chapters should be considered in the Church. He therefore sent for Pope Vigilius to Constantinople. There he not long after assembled a council. He and the Orientals thought it of great moment that these Chapters should be condemned, against the Nestorians, who were raising their heads to defend them; Vigilius, with the Occidentals, feared lest this occasion should be taken to destroy the authority of the Council of Chalcedon: because it was admitted that Theodoret and Ibas had been received in that Council, whilst Theodore, though named, was let go without any mark of censure. Though then both parties easily agreed as to the substance of the Faith, yet the question had entirely respect to the Faith, it being feared by the one party lest the Nestorian, by the other lest the Eutychian, enemies of the Council of Chalcedon should prevail. Vigilius on the 11th of April, 548, issues his “Judicatum” against the Three Chapters, saving the authority of the Council of Chalcedon. Thereupon the Bishops of Africa, Illyria, and Dalmatia, with two of his own confidential Deacons, withdraw from his communion. In the year 550 the African Bishops, under Reparatus of Carthage, not only reject the Judicatum, but anathematize Vigilius himself, and sever him from Catholic Communion, reserving to him a place for repentance. At length the Pope publicly withdraws his “Judicatum.” While the Council is sitting at Constantinople he publishes his “Constitutum,” in which he condemns certain propositions of Theodore, but spares his person; the same respecting Theodoret; but with respect to Ibas, he declares that his letter was pronounced orthodox by the Council of Chalcedon. However this may be, so much is clear, that Vigilius, though invited, declined being present at the council: that nevertheless the council was held without him . . . .

Such was the decree of Vigilius, issued upon the authority with which he was invested. But the council, after his Constitution, both raised a question about the Three Chapters, and decided that question was properly raised concerning the dead, and that the letter of Ibas was manifestly heretical and Nestorian, and contrary in all things to the Faith of Chalcedon, and that they were altogether accursed, who defended the impious Theodore of Mopsuestia, or the writings of Theodoret against Cyril, or the impious letter of Ibas defending the tenets of Nestorius: and all such as did not anathematize it, but said it was correct.

In these latter words they seemed not even to spare Vigilius, although they did not mention his name. And it is certain their decree was confirmed by Pelagius the Second, Gregory the Great, and other Roman Pontiffs. These things prove, that in a matter of the utmost importance, disturbing the whole Church, and seeming to belong to the Faith, the decrees of sacred councils prevail over the decrees of Pontiffs, and that the letter of Ibas, though defended by a judgment of the Roman Pontiff, could nevertheless be proscribed as heretical.

And the excursus on the aftermath of the Council:

Pope Vigilius died on his way home, but not until, as we have seen, he had accepted and approved the action of the council in doing exactly that which he “by the authority of the Apostolic See” in his Constitutum had forbidden it to do.* He died at the end of 554 or the beginning of 555.

Pelagius I., who succeeded him in the See of Rome, likewise confirmed the Acts of the Fifth Synod. The council however was not received in all parts of the West, although it had obtained the approval of the Pope. It was bitterly opposed in the whole of the north of Italy, in England, France, and Spain, and also in Africa and Asia. The African opposition died out by 559, but Milan was in schism until 571, when Pope Justin II. published his “Henoticon.” In Istria the matter was still more serious, and when in 607 the bishop of Aquileia-Grado with those of his suffragans who were subject to the Empire made their submission and were reconciled to the Church, the other bishops of his jurisdiction set up a schismatical Patriarchate at old Aquileia, and this schism continued till the Council of Aquileia in 700. But before this the II. Council of Constantinople was received all the world over as the Fifth Ecumenical Council; and was fully recognized as such by the Sixth Council in 680.

*The last sentence of the Constitutum, the sentence which the Pope gave and which the council rejected, is as follows: “We ordain and decree that it be permitted to no one who stands in ecclesiastical order of office, to write or bring forward, or undertake, or teach anything contrary to the contents of this Constitutum in regard to the Three Chapters, or, after this declaration begin a new controversy about them. And if anything has already been done or spoken in regard of the Three Chapters in contradiction of this our ordinance by anyone whomsoever, this we declare void by the authority of the Apostolic See.” It is perfectly clear that the Emperor is the “anyone” referred to.

[Note: Comments are closed for this post. Make reply and/or follow the discussion over at Perry’s blog.]