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#43189 03/02/06 02:12 PM
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Ray S. Offline OP
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Each of the 7 Ecumenical Councils was started by the Emperor or Emperies of Byzantium.

Many Protestants don't have a problem with a church council, but the arguement ofter heard is by whos authority did these monarchs have to start an Ecumenical council.

So, I pose the question to the forum. What authority did the Emperor or Emperies have in starting Ecumenical councils.

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Dear Ray,

It is interesting that Protestants have a problem with Emperors starting an Ecumenical Council, but have no problem with King Henry VIII breaking with Rome and starting the Anglican church nor with German princes breaking with Rome to establish the Lutheran church . . . wink

The Emperors of Byzantium saw themselves as servants of the Church in the temporal sphere and as part of the "harmony" as symbolized by the two-headed eagle of the Byzantine Empire - as based on the tradition of the Kings of Israel in the Old Testament.

Heresies and turbulence in church life also affected peace within the empire and so the emperors had a direct interest in maintaining civil order and peace.

Many of them were devoted to the Church, were well-read in theology and otherwise assisted the Church's hierarchy in promoting Christianity.

Twenty Byzantine Emperors and Empresses are included in the Orthodox calendar of the Saints for their services to the spread and protection of the Church of Christ.

The Emperors simply ensured that the Councils happened - they didn't declare their own Canons or doctrines but enforced them afterwards.

Alex

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Ray S. Offline OP
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Yes, but by whos authority did the Emperors and Empresses (thanks for the correction) have in starting a council.

This is a very interesting point that I had not thought of. In modern times we don't have an Emperor or Empresses so the councils are started by the first among equals. Shouldn't this had been the ancient form as well?

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Ray,

In my opinion, this is probably the wrong (or at least an irrelevant) question. Here are two reasons why:

(1) In at least a few of the cases (I am not sure if it is the majority or not), the emperors did not call the councils at their own random initiative, but rather called them at the behest of the bishops. In other words, the bishops asked for a council, and the emperor then used the powers of the state to fulfill that wish and bring a council together (and care for the bishops who had travelled to the selected city, and so on). So it wouldn't be that the emperor is forcing his wishes upon Christendom; rather, it would be that the emperor is fulfilling the bishops' wishes. But this is perhaps a minor point compared to the next.

(2) It just doesn't matter if the emperors had any "authority" or not. The emperors did not have authority in doctrine, and while they could use their imperial authority to perhaps force bishops to come to the location of the council, the emperor himself did not (at least typically) participate in the theological discussion, and after the theological discussion had concluded the emperor's authority mattered little for the promulgation of doctrine within the Church. All that really matters is that the bishops had (and have) authority to promulgate doctrine. They came together, for whatever reason (even if at times they might have been forced to come together; I do not know for sure), into council, and they discussed and decided theological matters. After the council, they then collectively decided to accept that the council had been an authoritative one, and promulgated its doctrine to their respective churches. In time, the councils became accepted by the Church as a whole and came to be recognized as ecumenical. All that matters is these latter facts; if the bishops are authoritative, and they say a council is a council (regardless of how it was called by the emperor), then that's all we need. The authority or non-authority of the emperor is irrelevant; what matters is what the bishops say. In cases where the emperor did want to have authority over doctrine as well, the bishops opposed him; hence we have martyrs and confessors who were executed and/or harmed by the state for refusing to bow to the emperor's wishes, and so on.

The debate with Protestants will then likely go back to the debate about authority in the Church (specifically with reference to bishops), but that's a whole different issue, and at least the above material answers your question here.

May God bless you,
Maximos

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Ray S. Offline OP
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Maximos,

I don't think the problem is with the result from the council but rather the start of the council.

This could also lead to another discussion on who would have the authority to set up another Ecumenical Council without Emperors or Empresses.

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Dear Friends,

Well, certainly the Church herself respected a role for the Emperor in connection with Councils and temporal church affairs.

It prayed assiduously in her liturgical prayers for the Emperor and the Imperial family - and we still have those prayers at the beginning of Matins in the Byzantine tradition.

The Emperor's imperial/royal authority was certainly rooted in the blessing and approval of God through the Church.

For example, if an Emperor was deemed heretical or was otherwise excommunicated by the Church, then his subjects were automatically released from subservience to him - not a good thing, if you are an Emperor!

And at one time, as I understand, the rite of crowning an Emperor was considered by the Church to be a separate and unique Sacrament on its own (as was the rite of monastic tonsure).

The Emperor was as much a sacramental authority figure imbued with Grace from on High via the Church as he was a political leader.

That would never have occurred with republican presidents, but thankfully that "enlightened" age had hundreds of years before it would finally come about . . .

Alex

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Ray S. Offline OP
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Alex,

That is all nice but I don't remember Jesus giving the keys to an Emperor.

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Ray S. Offline OP
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In other words Alex, I don't see the authority ever given to Emperors by Christ.

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Ray S. Offline OP
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Let me state this to be clear, I am playing devils advocate because I am not sure how to answer this question.

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Ray,

What exactly are you asking? The "authority" that the emperors had to call Ecumenical Councils was, as far as I understand it, a purely civil/imperial authority. It was not necessarily (although, as Alex notes, in certain cases it was also) a religious authority. Typically, the emperors called these councils because either (1) they perceived that there was chaos amongst Christians (which represented a threat to the stability of the empire) and they wanted doctrine defined, or (2) they themselves wanted to serve Christianity by helping resolve potential schisms and disagreements and by answering the calls of bishops to bring together a council so that such matters could be ultimately worked out. The bishops either answered or did not answer these calls (there are instances, for example, where Rome or some other patriarchy refused to be present); presumably when they did answer it was either out of their own concern for Christianity or it was out of obedience (i.e., a "render unto Caesar" sort of thing). The emperor certainly had no authority to "rule over" Christianity, and the Popes of Rome in particular frequently chastized them about this; on occasion, however, they answered the calls for ecumenical councils. As you and I have both already noted, the result of the council is only authoritative because the bishops are authoritative, not because the emperor is. The emperor has no intrinsic religious authority, as far as I know. So what?

I just don't see this as a problem whatsoever. The fact that emperors called councils does not in any way imply that they "have the keys" or any such things; the bishops themselves answered the call, discussed doctrine, and received the councils. That's what matters. Also, some of them refused, as the history of Christianity shows us (we have the Arians, we have the split between the Nestorian churches and the Orthodox churches, we have the split over Chalcedon, etc., etc.). Can you find me any theological argument anywhere that ever said that people were judged as heretics because they disobeyed the emperor? No; rather, heretics and/or schismatics were called such because they refused to obey the authority of given bishops and their communal authority at councils. The result is what really matters. If somehow I myself demanded that there be an ecumenical council, and all of the bishops came together and answered my call, and the Church then received that council as authoritative, it would be authoritative all the same not because I called it (that's largely irrelevant), but because the Church and her bishops were present and then also received it as such.

Now, as for the discussion of who gets to call the councils now, I don't know the answer to that. I think the "First Among Equals" (i.e., the Pope) is the most sensible idea, given the way the world is situated these days and given the fact that there is a papal state which would be capable of hosting such councils. This is no dogmatic issue, though, as far as I can see.

As an historical example, the 2nd ecumenical council wasn't even intended as an ecumenical council when it was called. It was convened as a local council, but then acheived its ecumenical authority when it was received as such by the rest of the bishops. The circumstances surrounding its convocation are largely irrelevant.

May God bless you,
Maximos

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In other words, any argument against the authority of ecumenical councils that begins by arguing that the emperor has no authority over the Church does nothing but create a red herring.

Perhaps this is where I'm misunderstanding you, Ray? Are you presenting this question as a question against the authority of ecumenical councils in general because they were called by the emperor, who has no intrinsic religious authority? Or are you asking some different question: perhaps how we are to decide who is to call such a council now, for example? The latter question is perhaps a good, reasonable, and difficult one (see my above suggestion that it be the Pope).

Maximos

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Quote
Originally posted by Ray S.:
Alex,

That is all nice but I don't remember Jesus giving the keys to an Emperor.
That is an interesting question, re the keys. I actually ran across an article the other day in the Tablet that rather surprised me. I'll bold the parts that I thought really stood out.

Quote
At least since the high Middle Ages the papacy has been understood as an institution directly created by Jesus Christ in his own lifetime: he willed that his Church should be ruled by the Apostles and their successors, and he gave to Peter, as leader of the apostles, the fullness of spiritual power, the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Peter came to Rome, and there appointed his own successors, whose names are recited to this day in the canon of the Mass � Linus, Cletus, Clement, and so on down to John Paul II. All that the modern Church claims for the pope, his authority in doctrine and his power over institutions, is on this account a simple unfolding of the dominical bestowal of the keys, and the post-resurrection command to Peter to feed Christ�s sheep.

We have known for more than a century that the historical underpinning of this account is unfortunately not quite so simple. The Church of Rome during its first two centuries based its claims to precedence not on the Lord�s words to Peter, but on the preaching and death in Rome of two apostles, Peter and Paul. The commission in Matthew 16:18, "Thou art Peter, and upon this Rock I will build my Church, and I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven", is quoted in no Roman source before the time of the Decian persecution, in the middle of the third century, and even then the claims which the Pope of the time tried to base on that quotation were indignantly rejected by the Churches of Africa to whom he was addressing himself.

And indeed, the very roots of what may be called the foundation myth of the papacy are themselves uncomfortably complicated. The Church established itself in Rome some time in the AD 40s: we now know that for the best part of the century that followed, there was nothing and nobody in Rome who could recognisably be called a pope. Christianity in Rome evolved out of the Roman synagogues, and to begin with it was not so much a single Church as a constellation of independent churches, meeting in the houses of wealthy converts or in hired halls and public baths, without any central ruler or bishop. The Roman synagogues � there were 14 of them in the first century � unlike the synagogues in other great Mediterranean cities like Antioch . . . were all independent, with no central organisation or single president, and to begin with at least, the churches of Rome also functioned independently. Many of them were in any case ethnic or regional churches, groups of Syrian, Greek, Asian residents in Rome, using their own languages, following the customs of the Christian communities back in their home regions.

Elsewhere in the first century, episcopacy emerged as the dominant form of church order � the rule of each church by a single senior presbyter who took the lead in ordinations and the celebration of the Eucharist, and who was the focus of unity for all the Christians of a city or region. But Rome, probably because of the complexity and ethnic and cultural diversity of the Christian communities of the capital of the world, was very slow to adopt this system.

In the conventional accounts of the history of the papacy, the letter of Clement, written from Rome to the Church at Corinth around the year AD 95, is often thought of as the first papal encyclical, attributed to Pope Clement, Peter�s third successor and the last pope personally known to the Prince of the Apostles. In fact, the letter is written on behalf of the whole Roman Church, it is unsigned, and the author speaks unequivocally of "the elders who rule the Church", in the plural.

EVERYTHING we know about the Church at Rome in its first century or so points in the same direction, to a community which certainly thought of itself as one Church, but which was in practice a loose and often divided federation of widely different communities, each with its own pastors and its own distinctive and often conflicting liturgies, calendars and customs. It was in fact the threat of heresy within this seething diversity, and the Roman need to impose some sort of unity and coherence on the Church in the city, that led to the emergence of the Roman episcopate, and the firming up of the Roman community�s pride in the life and death among them of the two greatest apostles, into a succession narrative. By the 160s the graves of Peter and Paul had shrines built over them and were being shown to Christian visitors to Rome: by the early third century the bishops of Rome were being buried in a single crypt in what is now the catacomb of San Callisto, as a sort of visible family tree stretching back, it was believed, to the apostolic age. But all this was a construct, tidying the mess and confusion of real history into a neat and orderly relay race, with the baton of apostolic authority being handed from one bishop to another.
The full link is here [thetablet.co.uk] .

What does that say about the keys?

Andrew

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Ray S. Offline OP
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Keys are only needed if heresy arises.

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Well, there is the perenially interesting case of the Emperor and the Council of Constance.

Incognitus

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Andrew,

A book I would strongly recommend on papal primacy, if you have not read it yet, is Papal Primacy: From Its Origins to the Present by Klaus Schatz, SJ. It's probably one of the most bluntly honest books about papal primacy that I've ever read -- for example, it begins with basically all of the facts you provide with that article from The Tablet -- but it was also, for what it's worth, the book that really made me take a long hard look at the question of primacy and ultimately come around much more favorably to it.

Here is a bit from Schatz's first chapter:
Quote
If one had asked a Christian in the year 100, 200, or even 300 whether the bishop of Rome was the head of all Christians, or whether there was a supreme bishop over all the other bishops and having the last word in questions affecting the whole Church, he or she would certainly have said no.

But are these the right questions? Is a negative answer not inevitable if we approach the first centuries using the yardstick of our modern, fully developed doctrine of primacy, or especially the standards of Vatican I? Is such an inquiry really historical? If we ask the questions in such a way as to evoke a negative answer, are we not precluding any serious theological investigation? . . . If one . . . cites evidence that establishes a certain higher status accorded to the Roman community but not subject to description in familiar legal categories, they are immediately measured against the concept of primacy in later times, or even that of Vatican I. The conclusion that follows is that such a primacy can by no means be derived from those documents. In the present state of research, this kind of conclusion, of course, is not a scholarly achievement; it is a truism.

What is lacking is not critical historical knowledge, but historical hermeneutics. The question is too unrefined to do justice to the Church's historical reality . . . A correct view of the situation of the Roman church in the earliest period . . . can only be perceived in the overall context of the ancient Church's struggle to locate a fixed point of unity. How were the standards for Church unity and the genuine tradition of the Church established? What was the significance of the Roman church in that context? We can discover, in essence, four stages or steps in development, although of course they overlap to some degree . . . " (p. 3).
Actually, now that I look back at this, the book may interest you a bit too, Ray. It answers a lot of questions regarding the role of the emperor and the bishop/Pope in the Church.

May God bless you both,
Maximos

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