Emperors and councils

I’ve been reading alot about the Church Fathers, and I see something that seems consistant since Constatine and the Council of Nicea. I see that after the Edict of Milan, it seems as if the emperors had the “authority” to call upon a council of bishops in a particular place. Now, some of the thoughts that have crossed my mind about this supposed power of the emperors over the Church, are that they themselves are christian, and the bishops seemed to respect the governing ruler in their diocese. Especially when things like heresy sprang up, and they wanted to end the confusion as soon as possible. Another thought is that, the Church did not have a seperation of Church and state as we do, and the two were united, even at choosing a bishop for a particular see.

Ending confusion as soon as possible is always a great excuse for doing all sorts of things.

Hi, Rivera,

While Constantine was fighting Licinius, the Arian controversy exploded. After defeating Licinius, Constantine turned his attention to the religious field, which was also threatening civil peace. He did not “call” the council, but urged the bishops of the world to come together to settle lthe question. In those days, it was very dilfficult to organize a meeting of these proportions without the cooperation of the civil authorities, who alone could offer travelling facilities and protection.

See the Catholic encyclopedia at newadvent.org/cathen/11044a.htm


Thank you! I’ve actually been reading about the fathers from New Advent, and that’s where I’ve read that on numerous ocassions the emperors, the way that the Catholic Enciclopedia makes it seem, would “call” upon a council and at times had the power to “elect” the bishop. But your reply makes sense.

FWIW, The first seven Councils were convoked by the Emperor. The eighth (Constantinople 4) was convoked jointly by the Emperor and the Pope. The ninth (Lateran 1) and all subsequent Councils were convoked by the Pope alone.

Oddly enough, I am unable to find ANY modern Canons regarding the convocation and administration of a Council. My copy of Canon Law includes editorial content and commentary. At the end of Part 2, Section 1 (just after Canon 367) is a list of 21 Councils with their dates. It’s just a list - there is no additional text. I don’t know if this list is part of Canon Law proper or if it is part of the additional editorial content of my book.

However, although the teaching office of the Church is part of the Deposit of Faith, the manner in which a Council is called (or a Pope named, etc) is not. A Council is not Ecumenical because of who convoked it, but because of who attends (the Bishops) and who accepts it (the Pope).

I suppose YOU could convoke a Council. Rent a big place, send out invitations to the Bishops, and see what happens. If a bunch of Bishops show up, and the Pope approves, you’ve got yourself an Ecumenical Council.

That’s what my understanding is too. The main qualifier for a coumcil to be Ecumenical is acceptance by the Pope. It is interesting too note that it doesn’t even seem strictly necassary for a Pope to accept a whole council. If memory serves, the Pope accepted all the acts of Chalcedon except the one regardin Constantinople’s equality wtih Rome.

It would also seem, especially if you look at the early councils, that which Bishop’s attend isn’t really important. Most of the early councils had relatively few, if any representatives from the West, but weren’t seen as any less Ecumenical, likewise, some councils (I don’t have the numbers at hand) had relatively few Bishops in attendance, but again, weren’t considered any less because of this.


I once heard that emperors and kings used to attend councils of the Church. There was a special place alloted to them. The last King to attend a council as a faithful monarch was the King of Portugal who alone attended Vatican I in 1869-70. It was because of this that heaven chose Fatima, Portugal as the only place left worthy of a public apparition. Our Lady also said Portugal would never lose the faith, whatever she meant by that. I suspect it means that the message of Fatima will forever be true. Any thoughts or corrections?

Thank you for the concise information! Makes a lot more sense now.

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