Ecumenical Councils questions

I came across Orthodox claims that the Second Ecumenical Council was presided by Meletius, who was not in union with Rome, and that the Fourth council was convened against the wishes of the Pope… Anyone know more about this? How were these Councils accepted by the Catholic Church - did the Pope later accept them or something?

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Meletius of Antioch; died in 381

Second Ecumenical Council: Constantinople I (381)

The First General Council of Constantinople, under Pope Damasus and the Emperor Theodosius I, was attended by 150 bishops. It was directed against the followers of Macedonius, who impugned the Divinity of the Holy Ghost. To the above-mentioned Nicene Creed it added the clauses referring to the Holy Ghost (qui simul adoratur) and all that follows to the end.

I did come across this quote… "According to Photius (Mansi, III, 596) Pope Damasus approved it, but if any part of the council were approved by this pope it could have been only the aforesaid creed. "

The whole situation with Meletius is confusing though. Did the Pope favour Paulinus but later change his mind? Or did he? I am having trouble understanding why? Has anyone ever looked into this?

Here’s what Catholic Answers says about Meletius:

“The fact that Meletius of Antioch presided at Constantinople I, and the absence of any Roman legates, might appear to be evidence against the Roman primacy. It must be remembered that the Council was not originally intended to be ecumenical in the same sense as Nicaea. … It included, after all, only 150 bishops from Thrace, Asia Minor, and Egypt and was convoked to deal with certain Eastern problems.New Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. ‘Constantinople, First Council of.’] In fact, it was not recognized as ecumenical by the Council of Ephesus half a century later, and it was left to Pope Gregory the Great to elevate it to that status. [Rivington, 256-68.]” source

Thank you!

I also read about the Fourth Council and the source did say that the Pope wasn’t really keen on starting it (wikipedia says with “reluctant approval”), but later there was the situation with the Tome of Leo so the Pope was there or approved it, - but not the 28th canon.

I guess the only question now is why the Pope was against Meletius and did he change his mind later? I don’t mean the Meletian heresy, I mean the other Meletius

I am not aware of any evidence that the pope didn’t want the fourth ecumenical council to happen, but what comes to mind is that papal legates were present at the council and played a very commanding role, including forbidding entrance to certain people. One of the people they forbade was Diocorus of Alexandria, who the pope recognized as a heretic. In the first session of the Council, the papal legates spoke up and said, “We received directions at the hands of the most blessed and apostolic bishop of the Roman city, which is the head of all the churches…that Dioscorus is not to be allowed a seat in this assembly, but that if he should attempt to take his seat he is to be cast out.” (Session 1) Dioscorus was promptly removed from the seats where the bishops sat and was put in a chair where he was to be judged, and was apparently found guilty of Eutychianism, which was/is a heresy. So it doesn’t sound to me like the pope didn’t want the council to happen – not from the description of its proceedings, anyway.

I guess the only question now is why the Pope was against Meletius and did he change his mind later? I don’t mean the Meletian heresy, I mean the other Meletius

I don’t know if he did or did not change his mind. If Meletius was out of communion with the pope, and presided at the council, that might explain in part why I’ve read authors who say that no one at the time regarded that council as ecumenical. If a later pope raised it to ecumenical status, perhaps he didn’t know the presider was not in communion with the pope, or it was water under the bridge by then and he didn’t think it mattered, or maybe no one told him, or maybe he recognized that there were still holy people who were in communion with Meletius even though the pope was not. As far as I am aware, no one doubts the sanctity of the Council Fathers who attended the Second Ecumenical Council and communed with Meletius. I’m not sure if he was really out of communion with the pope or if he wasn’t, what was the reason, but I think it was possible in that time for Group A to be in communion with both Groups B and C, even while Groups B and C were not in communion with each other. Things like that got kind of messy, I think. “We like you, Bob, but we don’t like your friend Jim and we’re not going to talk to him anymore.” – “Okay, well I’m going to keep talking to Jim.” – “Okay, and we’ll keep talking to you. But we still don’t like Jim and we won’t talk to him even if you do.” – “Alright.” <-- I think it went something like that.

Meletius did not give a clear profession of orthodox faith, which is why Rome and Alexandria supported the successors of Paulinus at Antioch. It’s not like they excommunicated Meletius and his followers, they simply recognized someone else as Patriarch of Antioch.

Eventually Meletius and his followers did make an orthodox profession of faith that was acceptable to Rome, and the followers of Paulinus accepted the successors of Meletius.


a) What is your understanding of what makes a council ecumenical?

b) Why does this particular question matter to you? What difference does it make? Is someone trying to sway you away from the Catholic Church to the Orthodox with selective quotes and their interpretation of events?

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