A History of the Ecumenical Councils of the Church – Introduction (Story Series – Ep1)

The history of all that has passed since our Lord Jesus Christ laid his back in a manger with infant eyes piercing the earth from within a cave contains the events which have moved the world the most. Events which so moved the world that every point in history is now said to have happened sometime Before Christ (BC) or in Anno Domini (AD) – in the year of the Lord.

Christ, before His Ascension, commissioned His disciples to go into all the world, to every nation under heaven, teaching all men all things whatsoever He had commanded them. He vested His Apostles with power to forgive sins, tied the salvation of every soul to the belief (or disbelief) of their teachings, and promised to be with them until the very consummation of the world. He constituted a teaching authority from whom men of all nations and in every age must learn His truths. This authority is what is called the Catholic Church.

There are few (if any) institutions in all the world as ancient as the Catholic Church. How is it that an institution run by men has not collapsed like so many other nations, and states, even philosophies and schools of thought? An uninterested run through the history of the Church reveals one startling continuous fact: from her very first days until now there seem to be concerted efforts by men in every age to ruin the Church. From the Crucifixion of Christ to the bloody Roman persecutions, to the rebellion of her own children: the many heresies, and schisms. In one age, the popes were murdered by heathens; in the next, one from the flock of the pope claimed he was pope instead. At one time, some from the Church denied the Lord as ever having come in the flesh, in another, other some said Christ was only an angel.

How is it that this Church survived all these and remains rooted screaming “I, and I alone am the Truth” two thousand years into time? The Church is first a divine institution, because, “the Most High hath found her”. But She is also a human institution because flesh and blood constitute her membership and her government.
It is clear that the words of Gamaliel, teacher of St. Paul the Apostle has been retold to every adversary of the Church in every age:

“Refrain from these men and let them alone. For if this council or this work be of men, it will come to naught: but if it be of God, you cannot overthrow it, lest perhaps you be found even to fight against God.”
[Acts 5:38-39]

The Church has bullied all expectations of her demise as a result of a wondrous interplay of God and man. The definitive end of the Roman persecutions with Emperor Constantine the Great is nothing short of an Act of the Finger of God. Other times she has had recourse to something akin to what an extended family would do when there is a problem in the home – call a meeting of the heads of each family.

Most of the troubles the Church has had to battle especially in matters bearing on the truths of the Faith as handed down by the Divine Master, She has done so by the gathering together of her chief shepherds (Bishops) and with the aid of the Holy Ghost. This gathering of bishops is called a council or a synod.

There have been many such councils beginning with the very Apostles themselves. A council may be provincial, national, general or ecumenical. The nature of the council is determined by the bishops required to constitute it. The most important kind of councils are the ecumenical councils. Whereas in a provincial council, only the bishops in a particular province are required to attend, in an ecumenical council all the bishops in all the world are summoned.

You would think it impossible to bring all the bishops in all the world to one place and that maybe only two or three, if not only one, ecumenical council has been held. Until now there have been 21 ecumenical councils.
Who summons an ecumenical council? What is so important to have brought all the world to one place so many times in the course of time? What and what did these bishops discuss in these gatherings?

To the first question, it suffices to say the Pope. The salvation of souls – the Church’s only business – answers the second. As to what was discussed it is impossible to tell in one brief post except you want to see a boring bullet list.

Who doesn’t like stories?
From next Sunday and every Sunday for as many weeks as are required to tell the tale, we’d travel back to Gaul, Arles, Nicomedia, Carthage, Ephesus in the ancient Roman Empire; Antioch, and Constantinople (modern day Turkey), nay even Jerusalem to see for ourselves.

We’d meet Ss. Peter and Paul and the other Apostles; further down St. Polycarp would bid us welcome, St. Augustine, St. Basil and many men (and women) of eminent learning and sanctity.
At some point, we’d be led by a Eusebius or a Ss. Epiphanus and Jerome; eminent church historians.
We’d meet heretics, from Luther and Calvin in recent times to Arius and Pelagius in ancient days. There is also Novatian who claimed to be pope and many other schismatics after him.
There will be summons, and travels, and wisdom, and heated debate as well. I think there was a slap in one such council.

Who is a heretic? What does schismatic mean? And, wait, who slapped who, and why?

You have questions, the Church has answers, and I will try to tell the tale in subsequent posts. Come back here every Sunday, and please God, you’d find an episode in this story of the councils.

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