Monday, July 28, 2008

A Summary Of The First Eight Ecumenical Councils

Nicaea: (325)
The Council of Nicaea sought to address Arius’ distortion of the Gospel, whereby he said that not only was Christ subordinate to the Father, but that the Son was created from nothing. For Arius, there was no distinction between being “begotten” and being “made.” However, if the Son is “made”, then He is made ex nihilo and is but a mere creature and not God. Nicaea clarified that there is in fact a distinction and that the Son is “begotten, not made.” The revolutionary teaching of the Nicaea declared that there is a radical distinction between God and creatures. The Son is either God or not. There are no grades of divinity. The Son is homoousios (one in substance) with the Father.

Yet, even though Nicaea countered Subordinationism and Arianism, some rejected it because it was the first time that non-Scriptural language was inserted into a Creed of the Church. The Council also was able to be affirmed by Modalists. In an effort to clarify the teaching of the Gospel, the Cappadocian Fathers made the distinction between ousia (nature) and hypostasis (person). In the Trinity there are 3 hypostases in 1 ousia. The hypostases are what is particular and the ousia is what each has in common.

This new terminology carried into Constantinople I (381), which added the clause on the Holy Spirit in order to counter the Spirit Fighters. This council also condemned Apollinarus by affirming that Christ did indeed have a human mind. It also affirmed that Christ’s Kingdom will have no end, thus effectively denying the Modalist error which said that the Trinity was a temporary manifestation and that God the Father is merely acting as the Son and then as the Holy Spirit, but would later go back to being the Father again. Constantinople solidified the teaching of the Trinitarian unity of One God in Three Persons.

Once the Trinitarian Controversy was cleared up by the first two Ecumenical Councils, it gave way to hash out the Christological controversies.

These began with the debate between Nestorius, the Patriarch of Constantinople and Cyril, the Patriarch of Alexandria. Nestorius was teaching that Mary was not to be called Theotokos, the God bearer, because this leads to Arianism due to the implication that the Son came to be at a point in time and was not eternal. Nestorius said Mary is rather the Christotokos, the Christ bearer. Nestorius believed that Christ was two persons united in one prosopon.

When Cyril of Alexandria heard this teaching, he wrote to Nestorius to clarify what he had said. Nestorius did not respond, so Cyril wrote to the Egyptian bishops and monks in defense of Theotokos. Cyril said that Mary must be Theotokos because of the hypostatic union. The divine nature is distinct from the human, thus God did not change when He was born and died. Therefore, Theotokos does not lead to Arianism. Mary is the mother of a person, not a nature!
At the Council of Ephesus (431), led by Cyril, Nestorius was anathematized and Eutyches the monophysite was condemned because the dual nature of Christ was taught at Constantinople.

After Ephesus, the Robber Synod of 449 was called by Monophysites in order to exonerate Eutyches and condemn all those who supported Ephesus.

In 451, the Council of Chalcedon was called by the Emperor Marcion. Chalcedon reversed the Robber Synod’s decrees and put forth the clear teaching of the hypostatic union that Christ is One Person with two natures, both Fully human and Fully Divine. The two natures of Christ are united in One Person without confusion, change, division, or separation.

Unfortunately, after Chalcedon, Monophysitism still persisted. At the Council of Constantinople II (553), the Emperor Justinian had three Nestorians condemned in order to placate the Monophysites.

In an effort to appease both Monophysites and Chalcedonians, Sergius, the Patriarch of Constantinople suggested Monothelitism, meaning that Christ only had one will or energy. However, saying that Christ only has one energy means that He only had one nature. Maximus the Confessor argued that a single energy reduces to a single nature and denies the Incarnation. For nature, if it is there, is operative. If Christ only has one energy, then the divine nature will win out, thus Christ would not have a human nature. But as Chalcedon defined, Christ is one person with two natures, both human and divine. This means that since Christ has two natures, He also must have two wills or energies.

All this led up to Constantinople III (680-681) which was called by Constantine IV. This council clarified how we ought to understand the duality and union of Christ at the level of energies. What Chalcedon applied to the natures, Constantinople III applies to the energies. We insist on the unity of Christ without mixing at any level of the natures.

After this council, Iconoclasm began in 726. Iconoclasm is a Christological controversy because it relates to the Incarnational principle that the created world, even the material world, can manifest God Himself and yet remain what it is. Iconoclasm began when the Byzantine Emperor, Leo III, saw iconophiles as idolaters based on Exodus 20:4. He began a campaign against Icons and destroyed the Icon of Christ that was above the doors of the Imperial Palace. This controversy divided the Imperial Court.
The backers of Iconoclasm from the Fathers of the Church were Eusebius and Origin.

Constantine V made the argument that:
1. Christ’s two natures cannot be separated.
2. You can’t circumscribe the Divine Nature.
3. Therefore, you cannot depict Christ.

Constantine continued to inflict heavy persecution on iconodules.
He was combated by the Pope who fought back politically.
Germanus of Constantinople also clarified that it was not the wood that we worship, but the image.

In 787, Nicaea II was called by the Empress Irene. This council condemned iconoclasm as a movement that strikes at the heart of the Christian Faith. If you cannot have a picture of the Son of God, you deny the Incarnation. You deny Him bodily existence and therefore deny the capacity of the body to manifest the identity of God. Nicaea II also distinguished between the kinds of veneration: latria and dulia.

The last remnants of iconoclasm were stamped out in 869 at the council of Constantinople IV.

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