Ecumenical Councils – Synodality
Historically, one of the fundamental exercises of Synodality was the calling of an Ecumenical Council. These were called because of serious crises in the life of the Church. Civil authorities and theologians often played a major part in them as well as the bishops. In numbers of participants and degree of importance, they vary a good deal.
The first four Councils (4th and 5th centuries) are accepted by all the major Christian traditions. They dealt with the sorting out of the major questions of the understanding of Christ and the Trinity. These four were: Nicea (325), Constantinople I (381), Ephesus (431) and Chalcedon (451). All of these were convoked by the Emperor and later approved by the Pope explicitly or implicitly.
There were 4 other Councils in the East: Constantinople II (553), Constantinople III (680), Nicea II (787), and Constantinople IV (869-870).
Then there were 14 Councils in the Western Church: Lateran I (1123), Lateran II (1139), Lateran III (1179), Lateran IV (1215), Lyon I (1245), Lyon II (1274), Vienne (1311-12), Constance (1414 -1418), Basle, Ferrara, Florence, Rome (1431,1438, 1439, 1443), Lateran V (1512), Trent (1545-1563), Vatican I (1869-70), and Vatican II (1962-5).
These Western Councils – which came after the split between the Western and Eastern Churches – dealt only with Western issues, many of them concerning the reform of the church. These Western Councils are often called General Councils since they did not involve the whole of Christendom, East and West.
The Eastern Churches do not believe that there can be a true Ecumenical Council while the Church is divided. What takes the place of an Ecumenical Council is the Pan-Orthodox Synod which gathers the various Orthodox Churches together, under the leadership of the Patriarch of Constantinople, the Ecumenical Patriarch.
By Fr Frank O’Loughlin
Towards the Plenary Council Parts One to Six are available on the Parish Blog.