Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series II/Volume XIV/The Second Ecumenical Council/Historical Introduction
In the whole history of the Church there is no council which bristles with such astonishing facts as the First Council of Constantinople. It is one of the “undisputed General Councils,” one of the four which St. Gregory said he revered as he did the four holy Gospels, and he would be rash indeed who denied its right to the position it has so long occupied; and yet
1. It was not intended to be an Ecumenical Synod at all.
2. It was a local gathering of only one hundred and fifty bishops.
3. It was not summoned by the Pope, nor was he invited to it.
4. No diocese of the West was present either by representation or in the person of its bishop; neither the see of Rome, nor any other see.
5. It was a council of Saints, Cardinal Orsi, the Roman Historian, says: “Besides St. Gregory of Nyssa, and St. Peter of Sebaste, there were also at Constantinople on account of the Synod many other Bishops, remarkable either for the holiness of their life, or for their zeal for the faith, or for their learning, or for the eminence of their Sees, as St. Amphilochius of Iconium, Helladius of Cesarea in Cappadocia, Optimus of Antioch in Pisidia, Diodorus of Tarsus, St. Pelagius of Laodicea, St. Eulogius of Edessa, Acacius of Berea, Isidorus of Cyrus, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Gelasius of Cesarea in Palestine, Vitus of Carres, Dionysius of Diospolis, Abram of Batnes, and Antiochus of Samosata, all three Confessors, Bosphorus of Colonia, and Otreius of Melitina, and various others whose names appear with honour in history. So that perhaps there has not been a council, in which has been found a greater number of Confessors and of Saints.”
6. It was presided over at first by St. Meletius, the bishop of Antioch who was bishop not in communion with Rome, who died during its session and was styled a Saint in the panegyric delivered over him and who has since been canonized as a Saint of the Roman Church by the Pope.
7. Its second president was St. Gregory Nazianzen, who was at that time liable to censure for a breach of the canons which forbade his translation to Constantinople.
8. Its action in continuing the Meletian Schism was condemned at Rome, and its Canons rejected for a thousand years.
9. Its canons were not placed in their natural position after those of Nice in the codex which was used at the Council of Chalcedon, although this was an Eastern codex.
10. Its Creed was not read nor mentioned, so far as the acts record, at the Council of Ephesus, fifty years afterwards.
11. Its title to being (as it undoubtedly is) the Second of the Ecumenical Synods rests upon its Creed having found a reception in the whole world. And now—mirabile dictu—an English scholar comes forward, ready to defend the proposition that the First Council of Constantinople never set forth any creed at all!
- Orsi, Ist. Eccl., xviii., 63.
- E. B. Pusey. The Councils of the Church, a.d. 51–381, p. 306. Tillemont, Mémoires, xvj., 662, who says, “If none of those who die out of communion with Rome can merit the title of Saints and Confessors, Baronius should have the names of St. Meletius, St. Elias of Jerusalem and St. Daniel the Stylite stricken from the Martyrology.” Cf. F. W. Puller, The Primitive Saints and See of Rome, pp. 174 and 238. Many attempts have been made to explain this fact away, but without success. Not only was the president of the Council a persona non grata to the Pope, but the members of the Council were well aware of the fact, and much pleased that such was the case, and Hefele acknowledges that the reason the council determined to continue the Meletian Schism was because allowing Paulinus to succeed to Meletius would be “too great a concession to the Latins” (vol. III., p. 346).
- F. J. A. Hort, Two Dissertations. I. On μονογένης Θέος in Scripture and tradition, II. On the Constantinopolitan Creed and other Eastern Creeds of the 4th Century. It should be added that Dr. Hort acknowledges that, “we may well believe that they [i.e. the 150 fathers of Constantinople] had expressed approval” of the creed ordinarily attributed to them (p. 115). The whole dissertation is a fine example of what Dr. Salmon so well called Dr. Hort’s “perfervidum ingenium as an advocate,” and of his “exaggeration of judgment.” (Salmon. Criticism of the Text of the New Testament, p. 12, also see p. 34.) Swainson, in his The Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds, has all the material points found in Hort’s Dissertation. Harnack goes much further. He is of opinion that the Creed of Constantinople (as we call it), the Creed which has been the symbol of orthodoxy for fifteen hundred years, is really a Semi-Arian, anti-Nicene, and quasi Macedonian confession! The first contention he supports, not without a show of plausibility, by the fact that it omits the words (which were really most crucial) “that is to say of the substance of the Father.” In support of the second opinion he writes as follows: “The words [with regard to the Holy Ghost] are in entire harmony with the form which the doctrine of the Holy Spirit had in the sixties. A Pneumatochian could have subscribed this formula at a pinch; and just because of this it is certain that the Council of 381 did not accept this creed.” Some scholars arrive at “certainty” more easily than others, even Harnack himself only attains this “certainty” in the foot-note! The reader will remark that what Harnack is “certain ”of in the foot-note is that the Council “did not accept” this creed, not that it “did not frame” it, which is entirely a different question. (Adolf Harnack, History of Dogma, [Eng. Trans.], Vol. iv., p. 99.)