Ecumenical Councils – Not An Institution of Christ or the Apostles


One of Monsignor Pierre Battifol’s great essays on the Roman primacy was written in response to a Russian Orthodox historian M. Glubokovsky and his article in the London Review entitled “Papal Rome and the Orthodox East“, and Fr. Battifol brings up the subject of Ecumenical Councils. Battifol has the following to say, and it merits a discussion.

M. Glubokovsky would seem to think that Ecumenical Councils belong to the divine constitution of the Church — as a fact, they belong only to Ecclesiastical law (kirchencrecht). They were not, in reality, instituted either by Christ or by the Apostles. Their magisterium is the collective magisterium of the universal episcopate, which includes the bishop of Rome. The assistance of that which was promised to this universal episcopate.” (Catholic and Papacy: Some Anglican and Russian Difficulties, page 88)

This is a thought worth pondering. Ecumenical Councils were truly something of Ecclesiastical institution, and was not something even known as part of the pre-Constantinian Apostolic tradition. I understand many Orthodox would call the Council of Jerusalem 49 the paradigm of Ecumenical Councils, but I think we should be careful here. No one to my knowledge has ever called this the 1st Ecumenical Council. And the dictum “It seems good to us and the Holy Spirit” seems hardly applicable only to the 7 Councils of the 1st millennium that are numbered as “Ecumenical”. Many councils gathered together in this spirit. So I don’t think Jerusalem 49 is either the 1st Ecumenical Council, nor is a strict paradigm for the 7 Councils that became Ecumenical. And if this is true, than we cannot speak of Ecumenical Councils as a divine authority *in itself* which holds authority over the Episcopate, as an entity all on its own.

So it leaves us to question if Ecumenical Councils are not of divine and apostolic institution, but are rather a creation of the Church, and that, together with the Imperial government I will add, than what is the magisterium of the Church as created by Christ? Fr. Battifol rightly points us to the Episcopate as created by Christ in the Apostles, with Peter as the head and principle of unity.

Disregard Of Appeals To All Things West Unwarranted – 1st Millenium Primacy


“From the accession of Constantine to the Empire of the East (323) until the seventh Ecumenical Council (787) — that is to say, during a space of 464 years — I count no less than 203 years during which the Eastern Episcopate was and remained in schism from the Apostolic See” (Monsignor L. Duchesne, “The Churches Separated from Rome“, page 164)

This is a very significant statement. In modern Orthodox/Catholics dialogue, the East is often speaking of how the Orientals had a different perspective than the West on the issue of primacy, ecclesial unity, and the governmental administration of the visible Church. And yet, during the entirety of this primary segment of first millennia history, the Eastern churches were nearly 50% of the time out of communion with, not only with Catholicism, but with the only See which had never been in the trenches of heresy during this extent of time (by the East’s own admission), that is, the See of Rome.

The Eastern Episcopate had tampered with the Arian, Semi-Arian, Nestorian, Mono-physite, Mono-thelite, and Iconoclastic heresies, and in each instance of these Eastern churches coming into full communion with the Church, it was by coming back into union with the Roman See and what her Church taught since the beginning. <I’m calling it now…someone’s gonna mention Liberius/Vigilius/Honorius…..Do it….please>

And yet, supposedly we are not to take to heart the Roman rationale for ecclesiastical unity, which is nothing less than the Papal-theory encoded into dogma in 1870 together with the De Ecclesia of the Council of Vatican 2. Instead, we are told by the Orthodox, we should take more to heart the Eastern rationale for ecclesiastical unity. And yet, this statement by Duchesne illustrates just how poor a witness the Orient was in that very specific regard.

It is truly a wonder, therefore, why we are given even an attempt to deny the veracity of St. Maximos the Confessor and his own gloss on Rome. Probably just after the Council of Lateran 649 Maximos wrote the following after the successful council in Rome anathematizing monotheletism:

“For the extremities of the earth and all in every part of it who purely and rightly confess the Lord, look directly towards the most holy Roman Church and its confession and faith, as it were to a sun of unfailing light, awaiting from it the bright radiance of the sacred dogmas of our fathers, according to what the six inspired and holy councils have purely and piously decreed, declaring most expressly the symbol of faith. For from the coming down of the incarnate Word among us, all the Churches in every part of the world have possessed that greatest Church along as their base and foundation, seeing that, according to the promise of Christ our Savior, the gates of hell do never prevail against it, that it possesses the keys of a right confession and faith in Him, that it opens the true and only religion to such as approach with piety, and shuts up and locks every heretical mouth that speaks injustice against the Most High”

My goodness. This could have been written by none less than Pope St. Nicholas I, who unmistakably claiming a universal jurisdiction over the entire earth.

But yet we are often told that Maximos was quick to disregard Rome if she had communed with the heretical see of Constantinople. Well, such a statement comes from St Paul who said that even if himself were to preach a different gospel than what he had delivered, that it should not be received by the Galatians. Such a statement is hyperbolic. And it wouldn’t be right to make the issue so flippant. We really do have a statement from Maximos where he rests the infallibility of the Roman See on the promise of Christ our God. By what impression would we be influenced by to make such a serious claim? I would say because he at least believed it. On the other hand, when under interrogation, he was giving up his all to follow the Roman Council of Lateran 649 and in its accord with the Fathers of the Church. In other words, he was in duress, and the question of Rome contradicting her own finished viewpoint on the question of Christ’s wills is already in the realm of dreamy speculation. And we shouldn’t forget that Maximos wasn’t convinced that Rome had actually turned heretical. At least, I’ve not seen the evidence of this.

More Comments on Vigilius


This was a private response to someone who had brought up how the historical situation of Pope Vigilius vs the 5th Council is a dogmatic proof against Vatican I:

On the case of Vigilius. When one studies the history very closely, we see that if it is the “Achilies heel” to Papal claims, it is likewise the “Achilies heel” to modern Orthodoxy. For simple reasons: (1) Eastern saints would have all decried the actions of Justinian I on his initiative with the Three Chapters , Egypt, and Syria. From Ossius’ famous letter to Constantius, the Emperor who wanted to enforce homoiousias, to Maximus the confessor who told Theodosius that no Emperor has the right to mandate on doctrine or councils, all the way to Theodore of Studium/Nicephorus of Cple against the Emperor’s who were iconoclastic and appealed to a heretical council. No one can deny that no Eastern patriarch enforced the Edict on the 3 chapters. For the modern Eastern Orthodox to be so dedicated to canons , one would think they would first spend time critiquing the actions of justinian in deposing bishops, threatening exile, and imposing secular power over the bishops of the Church – especially on doctrine. <it really doesn’t matter if he was theologically correct>. The issue should have been submitted to review of the Patriarchs. That is it. Chalcedon would have been repeated as the standard, and that would have been the end of it. The monophysites didn’t find any reason to unite over Cple 553. So, it only shows that the Orthodox today are not true scholars, for if they were, they would first spend time showing the uncanonical process that embarked upon the foundations of Cple 553. (2) Vigilius *did* indeed claim to exercise authority over the Council, the patriarchs, etc,etc. But he was also not exactly a free man. He was just as free as we would say of President Obama if he was confiscated from the United States and was held prisoner in Russia under Putin. What kind of canon or apostolic rule would allow that? This isn’t a time to discern whether Vigilius was making the right claims or not. It is a time to begin speaking on the depressive state of affairs that were going on in the Church with the rise of Byzantinism. Although it saved the day in some cases, it could also spoil the church. (3) Without Vigilius, the Council of Cpl 553 is a local eastern synod, and it decided to go through with its process anyway – under Justiniain of course. They justified this on the basis of the text “wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in their midst”. Well Jimminy cricket , the semi-Arians could have told you that (Arminium 357). That doesn’t provide any theological justification for proceeding, finalizing the council, and then issue out depositions/excommunications on those who don’t adhere. I don’t know any modern Orthodox scholar who thinks “Ecumenical” councils can consist of only Eastern representation…..that is…..until the subject of Vigilius comes up. Then, all of a sudden, from the basement, they will claim Cple 553 was a true Council with true authority to bind the whole Church. (3) The Western churches didn’t receive Cple 553. If that isn’t a proof that something was irregular, I don’t know what proof can be offered. (4) Yes, western churches severed communion with Vigilius. But not many are interested in sharing the rationale of those western churches. For instance, the churches of Illyricum said that Vigilius had contradicted dogma under Leo, and that the only way for them to retain Roman communion was to stick with Leo. So they may have been the proto-sedevacantists. In other words, they thought Chalcedon was being overturned by Rome, but they didn’t think even Rome could do so, because Papally ratified synods, like Chalcedon, bind all future synods.


(5) Justinian I began to threaten clerics  for non-adherence to his three chapters Edicts. Some will try to say the same thing was accepted under the pontificate of Hormisdas of Rome. But then, it was after the Church had spoken via her Head, the Pope. It is entirely different for the secular power to enforce dogma when there hasn’t been the necessary channels of ecclesial deliberation. They weren’t under the “reception” idea. Now, let’s say that the Orthodox, like Todd (Orthodox), tries to say that the Synod of Cple 553 possessed some legitimate degree of authority, de jure; Now you have the reception process, wherein it is possible that it is found to be heretical (Ephesus 449/Lyons 2/Florence). Then that would mean that the Church was allowed to make a fundamental error on doctrine for so many years (centuries?), and even enforce penalties on bishops/priests/all christians for not submitting to the heretical innovations.(6) Also, if Cple 553 has, de jure, the authority the Orthodox want, then Ephesus 449 would have also had authority, de jure. But the problem with that is we have three eastern bishops, Flavian/Eusebius of Dorylaeum/Theodoret of Cyrus, who appealed to Pope Leo in order to either confirm or overturn the judgement of the Council. Now, why would they appeal to Rome to overturn a de jure Council, which was conducted under the Emperor? And lastly, (7), the EO cannot avoid the backlash. They want to point out Papal powerlessness, they will have to face the Conciliar powerlessness. Many do, and recognize this is why they need a reception-program for addressing just what is infallible authority. If Papalism is falsified by its inability to coerce wills to conform, then Conciliarism will likewise be falsified. With the reception doctrine, there is no need for the Pope or a Council to necessarily squash problems and disputes. There is the digestion process by which the Church either absorbs it into her bloodstream (i.e. becomes Ecumenical), or it gets vomited out (Florence, for ex).

Historiography on the Papal-claims of Pope Leo I (400-461): Protestant & Eastern Orthodox Scholarship


Pope St. Leo I

It has been common knowledge that Pope St. Leo the Great occupies a special place in the 5th century Christian Church. In particular, his special claims to hold the authority of the Apostle Peter towards the universal Church has been one of the most distinctive characteristics of his writings. Although this is not a matter of controversy in historical scholarship, in my goings back-and-forth with the Eastern Orthodox on the history of the Councils of Ephesus 449 and Chalcedon 451, there has been a habit of  downplaying what Leo thought of the Papal-office on the part of my interlocutors. But as the data of his claims becomes more revealed, I find that what is often said back comes sort of like, ‘Who cares what Leo said’? I’ve even heard that Leo was habitually making false self-aggrandizing  claims about the power of his position. There are also those who would say that Catholics have misinterpreted or misapprehended what St. Leo really meant. That is a more serious and rational discussion to have. But in any case, what may come as a bit of a surprise to some Orthodox are the liturgical hymns which have St. Leo as the subject. Continue reading

Ramblings on Eastern Orthodoxy, Church History, Roman Primacy, & Historical Hermeneutics

This is a series of quotations from a recent private message conversation where subjects like Orthodoxy, Church History, and Roman Primacy came up. It is somewhat disorganized, so I forewarn readers from trying to piece it all perfectly together.

Also, please keep in mind I have great respect and charity towards the Orthodox churches, and have many friends who are not only Orthodox but who are in the process of becoming. The tone of these comments are within a context that was “off the cuff” you could say. I welcome any criticisms, corrections, and thoughts worth re-considering my view. Happy reading.


“This is the problem with allowing historical events be the controlling hermeneutic for understanding the doctrine of the Church. I call it “historical event-ism”. So you have this *event* where Pope Vigilius is “struck from the diptycha”, Pope Honorius is posthumously “condemned as a monothelite heretic”, and the willing subservience of the Pope’s to the Byzantine Emperor’s during the 6th/7th centuries seen by their “receiving confirmation of elections”, and all of the sudden, the puzzle pieces, wherever they fit together, construct an image where the Papal seat can be done away with, removed from the Church, and judged by a Council.”

“But by the same “historical event-ism” hermeneutic, we could strip the Council of any power. Heck, Nicaea was revised… many times? There goes any public ecclesiastical authority vested in a Council. Hmmm. What about the Patriarchs of Alexandria, Dioscorus and Nestorius, who both thought that the authentic Christian tradition can be had in isolation from Councils, Rome, and even the whole West? There goes the Councils of Ephesus & Chalcedon. No need for Popes. No need for Councils. Sorta sounds like a German lawyer who joined the priesthood some 500 years ago, don’t it?”

“Ironically, the Orthodox over at the War Zone are willing to strip Councils of their Christ-immediate authority in favor of a “gradual” over time vesting of authority via reception, but when it comes to the almighty power of Constantinople 553, wherein a Pope is struck from the diptychal mystery…. OH YES!!! A Council in its shining armor!!!”


“The West has taken a more *theological* reflection to the Papal office, and discerns more of what theory was passed down, rather than letting every bit of historical mishap be the controlling figure.

No doubt, some historical events, if taken to be a pure expression of truth, would undermine every single cardinal doctrine we hold today.

Which only means that historical events don’t always accurately reflect the truth of the apostolic paradosis, and that our study of historical theology has to be sensitive and prepared to dealing with events which seem to contradict contemporary stated doctrine.

I think that we have shown that modern Catholic teaching on the authority of Councils, the Pope, and the episcopal Church can absorb the historicla mishaps

Now, the Orthodox do not have an easy road to travel on this account. Having digested the “receptionist” theory via Khamiokov’s essay (which pre-dates him as well), the Orthodox have not been able to effectively monitor what counts for ecclesiastical authority *in the now*. A perfect example is Bulgaria’s recent declaration that the Council of Crete is neither holy, Great, nor Pan-Orthodox.

But behold, the doctrine of reception can be a gift with plenty of surprises……

just like Chalcedon was rejected by almost all of Egypt and parts of Syria, just immediately post-Council, and just like the sees of C’ple, Alexandria, and Antioch rejected Chalcedon just a matter of a couple or more decades post-Council, so also the Council of Crete can receive all sorts of declaratory condemnations today whether that be from Bulgaria, Georgia, or even Constantinople……sooner or later, it may end up being the 9th Ecumenical Council, and the Orthodox Christians thence-forward will have no choice but to explain away the contemporary dissidence on the happy ole “Reception” doctrine


“Catholicism has a conditioned conciliarism, wherein the conditions are centered on the Papal office . Ipso facto and de facto, bishops who break communion with the Pope are not in the concilia of conciliarism. This is why all front attacks by the Orthodox against Catholicism all center on a failed Papacy.

The Orthodox , like the Anglicans, hold to conciliarism with conditions that are more subjective to privatized community interpretation . Who gets to be the norm for the concilia of conciliarism can lead to a variety .

So pentarchic hermeneutics only leaves the ball at the same yard.


One of the clearest examples that the “historical eventist” hermeneutic falls prey to failure is the history of iconoclasm. Here you have a heresy, born in the East w/ the Emperor having the self-proclaimed control on the matter. Eventually, after the preliminary Roman Synod, a Synod is held in 787 on the matter, and which serves as a mark of opposition to the Imperial direction since the synod of Hieria 754 (might be off on the year). However, iconoclasm doesn’t find anything close to a death blow until the 9th century. Isn’t it 842 that we celebrate the “Year of Orthodoxy”? And it was thanks to a converted Imperial power-house that overturned the iconoclasm of previous Emperors.

But even then, during the later half of the 9th century, part of the stated reason that Photius invited Papal legates to Constantinople was for a firm re-condemnation of iconoclasm, then not fully dead.

So a purely objective historian (no theologian) looks at this and sees that neither the preliminary iconoclastic Imperium had the authority to terminally settle a ban on the image worship; neither do the ecclesiastical officers who met in 787 @ Nicaea II, since iconoclasm didn’t get flushed by it; and neither does an Byzantine imperium turned away from iconoclasm (842) put a total death blow to threat against images.

When it comes to the pure historian, what serves as the arbiter for belief is *pure happenstance*.

The theologian, however, has to sift through these events and determine just what would have been the voice of the Church .

I’d hope both Orthodox and Catholics would say Nicaea II (797) if not prior to. But given the hermeneutics of the Orthodox today, and their “historicial eventist” hermenutic, I’d find it difficult for them to even say Nicaea II was the voice of the Church.”


“Clergy/Theologians appealed from the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus 449 to the Pope, for an overturning of their depositions. I say “Ecumenical”, because for all intents and purposes, that is what is was. You have the Emperor convene, you had the presence of the patriarchs, and you have a finalization that was satisfactory for the Emperor

So the fact that Leo believed his ruling could undo that of the conciliar decrees @ Ephesus 449 shows that he believed that the Sardican canons could apply to overrule a council of whatever size

You have the earlier example of Athanasius who was restored to his episcopate by Pope Julius, effectively overturning (or showing to be inauthentic from the get to) the councils of Tyre and Jerusalem”

“And I think this whole Pentarchic/Conciliarity thing comes to a screeching halt when we consider the state of affairs post-Chalcedon. It was all thee major Eastern sees which had succumed to revising or rejecting Chalcedon and the Tome of Pope Leo. And yet Rome never budged on the orthodoxy of Chalcedon. can this be considered a time when Rome was acting without conciliarity? If so, I thank God for it. It was only via the Pontificate of Hormisdas that the Eastern patriarchs, and the Emperor himself, was brought back into communion with the Catholic Church.”

“Read the War Zone. They flip flop between a few buttons. Button 1 – flowery but not insincere language. Button 2 – who cares what the Pope said? . Button 3 – The mighty powerful Council of Constantinople 553 deposed the Pope (even though its was an eastern synod under the Emperor without the Pope). Button 4 – Pope HOnorius was a heretic!. Button 5 – The Church always dealt in Council to confront matters threatening to the faith and to the Church’s unity (even though almost none of the councils effectively did this). Button 6 – Your quote mining!

If this is what you’d call effective argumentation, then I don’t know how I could proceed to discuss the issue

You have the EO who try to say Leo was claiming something compatible with modern Orthodoxy, but yet you have non-Catholic scholars who admit the contrary. Then when they realize this, they say that no one listened to Leo. But then the question goes to them – What did people listen to ? They answer “Ecumenical Council”, but then you process Nicaea and Chalcedon, both of which were not listened to, they reduce the “listening” subject to their own drawn circle of people, and call that the true discerning Church.

But this isn’t to say that the Catholic ecclesiogy is true over against the Orthodox *just because* the Orthodox have difficulty monitoring ecclesial authority *in the now*. Catholics are well open to suffering the same fate, at least for a time. A good example of this is the Great Western Schism, where you had 3 claimants to the Papal chair.

The non-Catholic can meritoriously say “Ah ha! Where you your clear visible and manifest singular principle of unity now??!?!?! You have 3 different Popes!! And you are left to private or public arguments that are all debatable to resolve which one you will follow!”

So the veracity of Catholic ecclesiology doesn’t rest on its immunity from this”


“Well, I’d agree that the orthodox tradition is a bigger reality than the Pope, if by orthodoxy we are speaking of the eternal truth of the gospel and if by “Pope” we mean the creature who occupies the universal chair of Peter. But on the other hand, the highest authority which is the Pope’s is inclusive within the “orthodox tradition”. This only means that during authentic teaching acts, the faithful are bound in certain respective ways.

The subject of historical hermeneutics is what drew me into this discussion. You’ll notice that the Eastern Orthodox have certain tendencies in their interpretation of history (and they are free to do so). A situation like Pope Liberius is a fatality to Roman Catholic dogma. The “deposition” of Pope Vigilius proves that the Council, devoid and separated from the person of the Pope [and the entire West, I might add], has more authority than the Papacy. The mutli-condemnations of Pope Honorius in, throughout, and after the Council of Constantinople 681 shows that a Pope *cannot* be infallible, and/or that even if it were the case that the Pope is right above others, it doesn’t mean that the Council cannot stand in superior scrutiny of the doctrine of the Apostolic See.

These issues above cross out the Vatican Council for the Orthodox.

So what counts as a promising model for authentic Christian ecclesiology?


But here is where I find difficulty. It is almost as if it were the case that the Orthodox find that 7 Councils is another mark to the Creedal church. The one, holy, catholic, apostolic, and 7 council’d church. Rubbish. There were *many many many* councils, all of which are closer to triple digits than the single close to 7.

Now, while the Orthodox & the Protestants [mainly Anglican/Presbyterian] historians like to detail the relative impotence of Pope’s in a number of occasions (Peter @ Antioch, Victor vs Asia, Stephen vs Africa, Liberius vs Nicaea, Leo vs the Illyricum churches @ Chalcedon, Pope Vigilius vs C’ple 553, Pope Honorius vs C’ple 681, just to name a few), they do not seem to be all that interested in giving detail to the relative impotence of these great almighty 7 councils .

Nicaea vs Semi-Arian triumph of the 340-379, that Cple 381 didn’t have Western recognition until the 6th century [150 years is quite a long time not to recognize infallible authority], Chalcedon vs the post-Monophysite engulfment of the East between 460s to 520, the difficulty of the Western churches to accept C’ple 553 & the condemnation of the Three Chapters, the thumbing of the nose against the orthodox doctrine of images, etc,etc,etc.

In comes the doctrine of Khamiokov’s reception-theory. We’ve already discussed what this can devolve into , but I can’t seem to find any corroborative evidence for this theory anyhow. Put simply, I think that the magisterium instituted by Jesus Christ was created for the purpose of coming to definitive teaching moments for the benefit of the faithful, sort of like the Council of Jerusalem 49. The letter of the council was passed around as the definitive Apostolic teaching. I think this is how it works. When Nicaea, Ephesus, and Chalcedon were completed under both Head & members, the doctrine therein is of the “authority next after the Sacred Scriptures”, as Ferrandus of Carthage, famous canonist of the 6th century, stated in a letter to Pelagius the Roman deacon.”