How To Defend the Authority of the early church councils, since they weren't even initated by the Church?

A non-Catholic person suggested to me that the early ecumenical councils of the Church were not authoritative since they weren’t even initiated by The Church, but rather by the Roman emperors. The suggestion here was that political power was used to justify theology, doctrine instead of relying on the power of the Holy Spirit. I didn’t have a good way to answer this.

How do we defend the legitimacy of these councils if they weren’t even convened by the Church?

Who participated, debated, spoke, and wrote at the church councils?
Emperors and political figures or churchmen?

*Peter *(meaning his successor) confirmed them.

Via the authority given by Christ.

Enough said.

Authority doesn’t come through the person who calls for the council. It comes from the Bishops who attend (and vote) and the Pope who ratifies.

Heck, YOU could call for an Ecumenical Council. If the Pope agrees and a bunch of Bishops show up, you’ve got yourself an Ecumenical Council.

Take for example the Council of Nicaea. The problem of the day was the Arian heresy, and it was causing great disagreement and trouble in the empire. The emperor, Constantine, wanted this to end. So he called on the bishops to meet and hammer this out once and for all.

So they all came together and decided the issue. Constantine didn’t control the proceedings. He actually favored the Arian view, but once the bishops decided and the Pope confirmed it, the matter was settled.

How is this authority invalid?

And Constantine was THERE. He attended the Council (though he did not vote).

So here’s the pro-Arian Emperor of the Roman Empire sitting there, and those Bishops voted against him. Considering that being a Christian could get you killed just a few years ago, this took courage. Either that, or divine inspiration.

Yes. In fact, the very first Council was called by Constantine.

But who ratified the canons?

So did the other bishops not present at the councils, when they received the acts of the councils. :shrug:

I think you left out a word or two. That doesn’t make sense.

I think he means, some bishops were unable to make it to the councils, but sent messengers to receive the minutes of the councils as taken down by scribes. When those messengers returned home with the minutes, the bishop of their province signed them. Hence, “the other bishops not present at the councils [confirmed the councils] when they received the acts of the councils.”

Councils. (Just had to use the word one more time.)

You should invest in a copy of Devon Rose’s The Protestant’s Dilemma

He’s got a chapter on this very thing that would help you immensely. The whole rest of the book would just be gravy for the future.:thumbsup:

There’s a good excerpt to get you on your way at Why Catholicism Is Preferable to Protestantism

Is this person a Christian? If he is, then he must come to terms with the fact that the Trinity, Scripture, the Hypostatic Union, etc., all developed from the approval of the community of Christians, which is a nice way of saying the Bishops of the Church guiding the Baptized (back then, the fact that most Protestants didn’t have Bishops defending their views would meanthat Christians would ignore them. Anyone could claim to be representing the real Church, but only those with an ordination going back to the Apostles held any authority. At least the Arians had many of the ordained on their side! :smiley: ).

If he isn’t, then I can see how he would believe that the Councils are just political power grabs: without faith (or at least the consideration of faith), your friend literally cannot see the difference between the a Holy Spirit and practical politics. The distinction is possible, and reasonable, considering the basics of the Christian Faith, but to outright deny these principles a priori leaves someone with really no other choice other than to see the Councils as mere power struggles. In this case, you must address to reasonability of Christianity itself first.

You first have to ask your friend: what is an Eccumentical council? And I mean “what is it most essentially?”

A Catholic would answer (this is a simplification) that an Eccumentical council is a gathering of Bishops, who are clarifying dogma and doctrine, which are eventually approved by the Head of the Church (aka the Bishop of Rome aka the Pope). This is what a council is, period. How the Bishops ended up together doing this or whatever else is “by happening” or accidental to what a Eccumentical council is.

Charles V basically organized Trent, St. Cyril sneakily planned Ephesus so that less representatives of Antioch would be there, and St. Nicolaus took a wack at Arius at Nicea. Do any of these deny the essential definition of a Council? Does the fact that Nicea was conducted in Greek do anything to make a Council not a Council? If we assume that Nicea was a valid council, would Vatican II not be a council because the Fathers of Nicea traveled to Nicea on horses, while the Vatican II Fathers traveled in planes? Of course not! All these things are merely accidental to what a Council is. The language of the council members, the nationality of most of the members, the hairstyle, the mode of transportation, the political forces that gathered those Bishops together, and even the Heresy that the Council is responding to are all irrelevant to what a Council is, in a Catholic’s eyes.

The trick is defending that definition, however. If the definition is assumed, it is quite easy to see why a Catholic isn’t worried about Constantine’s Arians tendency (which would be a point in favor of Nicea not being corrupted by him) or St. Nicholas’s fighting tendencies. However, such a definition is hard to defend in just a post.

Christi pax,


St. John the Baptist, pray for us!

So did the other bishops (confirm the acts of the councils) not present at the councils (who for whatever reason were not able to be present at the councils), when they received the acts of the councils (all bishops across the empire and beyond who could not be at the councils were sent a copy of the precedings)

No words were left out. Don’t know why you couldn’t make sense of it.

Are you asking if Bishops who were invited to attend Nicea but could not, if they accepted the Council resolutions?

Because the post had no PREDICATE (verb). In the English language, every sentence must have both a subject (noun) and a predicate (verb).

Did you see a question mark?

Because the post had no PREDICATE (verb). In the English language, every sentence must have both a subject (noun) and a predicate (verb).

The predicate (verb) was in the post I quoted. “confirming (the councils)” was the context to which I was referring to so there was no need to repeat the word in my sentence.

The decisions and acts of the Councils were passed with the authority of the Church as exercised by the college of bishops and the Holy Spirit was promised to lead and keep their decisions true to revelation. They were not passed by imperial authority, which has received no such promise or grace.

Tell him you think he’s right, and then take a bible and throw it in the trash. When he looks at you in wonder say: “since I don’t accept the legitimacy of Nicaea, why should I accept this canon of scripture that they came up with as legitimate?”

So, are you asking if Bishops who did not attend the Council somehow “confirmed” it?

No. The Catholic Church has never had (and still does not have) a “vote by mail” system or any such thing.

Prodromos is pointing out (not asking) that numerous bishops who weren’t present at the Council declared their agreement with its decisions after the fact.

Since prodromos is Orthodox, I presume the point is to counter the idea that ratification by the bishop of Rome was an extra-special element of the Council’s authority. In Orthodox eyes, the Pope would just be one of the many bishops who didn’t attend but later declared their agreement with the canons of the Council.


Except if the pope did not ratify the council, the council’s canons were null.

Also, the pope could reject individual canons as seen from the following taken from this website:

So, the matter was settled; and, for the next 6 centuries, all Eastern churches speak of only 27 canons of Chalcedon – the 28th Canon being rendered null and void by Rome’s “line item veto.” This is supported by all the Greek historians, such as Theodore the Lector (writing in 551 AD), John Skolastikas (writing in 550 AD), Dionysius Exegius (also around 550 AD); and by Roman Popes like Pope St. Gelasius (c. 495) and Pope Symmachus (c. 500) – all of whom speak of only 27 Canons of Chalcedon.

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