Councils of Constantinople

General Information


The councils of Constantinople were four ecumenical Councils of the Christian church, held between the 4th and the 9th centuries. Constantinople I was called in 381 by Theodosius I, then Roman emperor of the East, primarily to confront Arianism, the heresy that had been subdued only temporarily by the First Council of Nicaea (325). More than 150 bishops, all from the Eastern empire, met to reaffirm the doctrines of the Nicene Creed and to depose Maximus, the Arian patriarch of Constantinople. They also condemned Apollinarianism, a position that denied the full humanity of Christ. The council defined the position of the Holy Spirit within the Trinity; it described the Holy Spirit as proceeding from God the Father, coequal and consubstantial with him. It also confirmed the position of the patriarch of Constantinople as second in dignity only to the bishop of Rome.

BELIEVE Religious Information Source - By Alphabet Our List of 2,300 Religious Subjects
Constantinople II was convoked by Justinian I in 553, to condemn the Nestorian writings called the "Three Chapters." Under the virtual tutelage of the emperor, the council proscribed Nestorianism and reconfirmed the doctrine that Christ's two natures, one human and one divine, are perfectly united in one person. Pope Vigilius at first defended the Three Chapters, but later accepted the council's ruling.

Constantinople III was summoned by Constantine IV in 680-81 with the consent of Pope Agatho. It condemned Monothelitism and affirmed that Christ has two wills, one human and one divine, but that these are without division or confusion. In addition, it condemned an earlier pope, Honorius I, for supporting that heresy.

Constantinople IV, meeting in 869-70, made no new dogmatic decisions; instead, it greatly contributed to the growing split between the Eastern and Western churches. The principal action was to depose Photius, the patriarch of Constantinople, for usurping his ecclesiastical position. Later, Photius was restored to his see, and he held another council in 879-80. This latter council, not that of 869, is considered ecumenical by the Orthodox church.

T. Tackett

Council of Constantinople

Advanced Information


The gathering in Constantinople of 150 Eastern bishops at the request of the Emperor Theodosius I was later regarded by the Council of Chalcedon (451) as the second great ecumenical council of the church. Most importantly it marked the end of over fifty years of Arian political and theological dominance in the East and the restoration and pneumatological extension of Nicene orthodoxy.

The path of history from Nicaea to Constantinople is twisted with various political and theological figures and several theological and synodal skirmishes between Arianism and orthodoxy. The varied array of heresies that emerged during this period is given in the council's first canon, where they are also anathematized. A brief examination of these will set the theological context.


This name was applied to those who tried to steer a middle course between Nicene orthodoxy and Arianism. Too sensitive to Sabellian implications and the biblical absence of the term homoousion to fully embrace Nicaea and recoiling from blatant Arian characterizations of the Son as a creature, they took refuge in the term homoiousion. By this they taught that the Son was like (homoios) the Father but not necessarily the same in essence. This ambiguous position was held by many who were very close to orthodoxy, e.g., Cyril of Jerusalem, as well as those who were more of an Arian disposition, e.g., Basil of Ancyra. Due to the efforts of Athanasius and Hilary of Poitiers many of this party were reconciled to orthodoxy, especially as more radical Arian positions developed.


In the post-Nicene period attention was turned to the Holy Spirit and his relation to the discussions on the Father and the Son. About 360, Athanasius wrote to correct an Egyptian heresy advocated by the Tropici in which the Spirit was taught to have been created out of nothing. Athanasius maintained instead the deity of the Spirit and his homoousia with the Father and the Son. After this the pneumatomachians (literally "Spirit-fighters") appeared within the homoiousion party. Led by Eustathius of Sebaste (after 373), they tried to assert a nondivine, noncreaturely, intermediate status for the Spirit, even after affirming the homoousia of the Son. They were opposed by the Cappadocians, who taught the full deity and homoousia of the Son. They were opposed by the Cappadocians, who taught the full deity and homoousia of the Spirit both implicity (as in Basil, On the Holy Spirit) and explicitly (as in Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration 31). It is this Cappadocian (and Athanasian) theology which prevailed at the Council of Constantinople.

Eunomians or Anomoians

Founded by Aetius of Antioch and led by Eunomius of Cyzicus at the time of the council, these held the radical Arian position which refused any compromise with orthodoxy. They taught a Neoplatonic hierarchy of three beings which were in essence utterly unlike (anomoios) each other, though possessing relative divinity (thus confirming the charge of polytheism).


These held a classical Arian position particularly advocated at the time of the council by the followers of Eudoxius, former bishop of Antioch (358) and Constantinople (360). He was known for the jest: "The Father is impious (since he worships no one), but the Son is pious (since he worships the Father)."

Sabellians, Marcellians, and Photinians

Since the Arians vigorously insisted that the homoousion logically reduced to Sabellianism, it was necessary for the council to repudiate this heresy. One who actually came close to espousing it was Marcellus of Ancyra, who resisted the Cappadocian Trinitarian development in which three hypostases were distinguished while maintaining one ousia. Marcellus preferred to speak of the expansion of an indivisible Monad (God) which resulted in the externalization of the (until then) immanently existing Logos (the Son) at the time of incarnation, with an expected future contraction of the Logos back into the Monad. Although he was exonerated of the Sabellian label at Rome (341) and Sardica (343), Constantinople condemned his deviant views. Photinus of Sirmium, a pupil of Marcellus, developed his teacher's views into an adoptionist Christology and was condemned for the heresy of Paul of Samosata at various councils.


Constantinople brought a final condemnation on this Christological heresy which originated within the Nicene camp. A former friend of Athanasius, Apollinarius of Laodicea zealously advocated the deity of the Logos and upheld the homoousion. However, in his concern to avoid the dualistic personality of an adoptionistic Christology, he capitulated to the Arian error in which the Logos completely replaced the human soul and mind in the incarnate Christ. For this deficient humanity he was opposed reluctantly by Athanasius and vigorously by the Cappadocians.

The theology of the Council of Constantinople is set forth first by the condemnation of these heresies. More positively, it was expressed in a published statement of doctrine, a tomos, and the creed of the council. Unfortunately, the tomos is no longer extant except for what is reflected of it in the letter of the synod of 382. The creed is to be found not in the records of Constantinople, but in those of the Council of Chalcedon (451), where a creed attributed to Constantinople (C) was read along with the Nicene Creed (N). C happens to be the creed that is read in churches today under the title the Nicene Creed, but it is more appropriately known as the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed. Without recounting the scholarly debates on C, it seems most likely that it was a local form of N, adopted by Constantinople and amended to reflect the council's pneumatology. Thus the Council of Constantinople did not see itself as producing a new creed but rather reaffirming and upholding the faith of Nicaea. At Chalcedon, however, concern for the pure form of N led them to distinguish between N and C.

The pneumatological emendation of the Nicene faith followed the example of Basil by limiting itself to biblical words and phrases. The Spirit is confessed to be the "Lord" and "Life-giver," the one "who with the Father and the Son is together worshiped and together glorified." The homoousia of the Spirit is not explicitly affirmed here, probably because of a last-minute attempt to reconcile the pneumatomachians. However, the homoousion apparently was affirmed in the tomos, since the letter of the synod of 382 summarizes the council's doctrine as faith in the uncreated, consubstantial, and coeternal trinity.

Besides the reaffirmation of Nicene orthodoxy, this developed pneumatology, which made possible a full Trinitarian doctrine for the East, was the most important contribution of the Council of Constantinople.

C A Blaising
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

"Canons of the One Hundred and Fifty Fathers," The Seven Ecumenical Councils, NPNF; H. M. Gwatkin, Studies of Arianism; J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Creeds and Early Christian Doctrines; C. E. Raven, Apollinarianism; R. Seeberg, The Textbook of the History of Doctrines; J. Taylor, "The First Council of Constantinople (381)," Pru 13:47-54, 91-97; W. P. DuBose, The Ecumenical Councils.

First Council of Constantinople - 381 A.D.

Advanced Information



In the year 380 the emperors Gratian and Theodosius I decided to convoke this council to counter the Arians, and also to judge the case of Maximus the Cynic, bishop of Constantinople. The council met in May of the following year. One hundred and fifty bishops took part, all of them eastern Orthodox, since the Pneumatomachi party had left at the start.

After Maximus had been condemned, Meletius, bishop of Antioch, appointed Gregory of Nazianzus as the lawful bishop of Constantinople and at first presided over the council. Then on Meletius's sudden death, Gregory took charge of the council up to the arrival of Acholius, who was to table Pope Damasus's demands: namely, that Maximus should be expelled as an interloper, and that the translation of bishops should be avoided. But when Timothy, bishop of Alexandria, arrived he declared Gregory's appointment invalid. Gregory resigned the episcopacy and Nectarius, after baptism and consecration, was installed as bishop and presided over the council until its closure.

No copy of the council's doctrinal decisions, entitled tomos kai anathematismos engraphos (record of the tome and anathemas), has survived. So what is presented here is the synodical letter of the synod of Constantinople held in 382, which expounded these doctrinal decisions, as the fathers witness, in summary form: namely, along the lines defined by the council of Nicaea, the consubstantiality and coeternity of the three divine persons against the Sabellians, Anomoeans, Arians and Pneumatomachi, who thought that the divinity was divided into several natures; and the enanthropesis (taking of humanity) of the Word, against those who supposed that the Word had in no way taken a human soul. All these matters were in close agreement with the tome that Pope Damasus and a Roman council, held probably in 378, had sent to the East.

Scholars find difficulties with the creed attributed to the council of Constantinople. Some say that the council composed a new creed. But no mention is made of this creed by ancient witnesses until the council of Chalcedon; and the council of Constantinople was said simply to have endorsed the faith of Nicaea, with a few additions on the holy Spirit to refute the Pneumatomachian heresy. Moreover, if the latter tradition is accepted, an explanation must be given of why the first two articles of the so-called Constantinopolitan creed differ considerably from the Nicene creed.

It was J. Lebon, followed by J. N. D. Kelly and A. M. Ritter, who worked at the solution of this problem. Lebon said that the Nicene creed, especially since it was adapted to use at baptism, had taken on a number of forms. It was one of these which was endorsed at the council of Constantinople and developed by additions concerning the holy Spirit. All the forms, altered to some extent or other, were described by a common title as "the Nicene faith". Then the council of Chalcedon mentioned the council of Constantinople as the immediate source of one of them, marked it out by a special name "the faith of the 150 fathers", which from that time onwards became its widely known title, and quoted it alongside the original simple form of the Nicene creed. The Greek text of the Constantinopolitan creed, which is printed below, is taken from the acts of the council of Chalcedon.

The council of Constantinople enacted four disciplinary canons: against the Arian heresy and its sects (can. 1), on limiting the power of bishops within fixed boundaries (can. 2), on ranking the see of Constantinople second to Rome in honour and dignity (can. 3), on the condemnation of Maximus and his followers (can. 4). Canons 2-4 were intended to put a stop to aggrandisement on the part of the see of Alexandria. The two following canons, 5 and 6, were framed at the synod which met in Constantinople in 382. The 7th canon is an extract from a letter which the church of Constantinople sent to Martyrius of Antioch.

The council ended on 9 July 381, and on 30 July of the same year, at the request of the council fathers, the emperor Theodosius ratified its decrees by edict .

Already from 382 onwards, in the synodical letter of the synod which met at Constantinople, the council of Constantinople was given the title of "ecumenical". The word denotes a general and plenary council. But the council of Constantinople was criticised and censured by Gregory of Nazianzus. In subsequent years it was hardly ever mentioned. In the end it achieved its special status when the council of Chalcedon, at its second session and in its definition of the faith, linked the form of the creed read out at Constantinople with the Nicene form, as being a completely reliable witness of the authentic faith. The fathers of Chalcedon acknowledged the authority of the canons -- at least as far as the eastern church was concerned -- at their sixteenth session. The council's dogmatic authority in the western church was made clear by words of Pope Gregory I: "I confess that I accept and venerate the four councils (Nicaea, Constantinople, Ephesus and Chalcedon) in the same way as I do the four books of the holy Gospel...."

The bishop of Rome's approval was not extended to the canons, because they were never brought "to the knowledge of the apostolic see''. Dionysius Exiguus knew only of the first four -- the ones to be found in the western collections. Pope Nicholas I wrote of the sixth canon to Emperor Michael III: "It is not found among us, but is said to be in force among you''.

The English translation is from the Greek text, which is the more authoritative version.

The exposition of the 150 fathers

We believe in one God the Father all-powerful, maker of heaven and of earth, and of all things both seen and unseen. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten from the Father before all the ages, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, consubstantial with the Father, through whom all things came to be; for us humans and for our salvation he came down from the heavens and became incarnate from the holy Spirit and the virgin Mary, became human and was crucified on our behalf under Pontius Pilate; he suffered and was buried and rose up on the third day in accordance with the scriptures; and he went up into the heavens and is seated at the Father's right hand; he is coming again with glory to judge the living and the dead; his kingdom will have no end. And in the Spirit, the holy, the lordly and life-giving one, proceeding forth from the Father, co-worshipped and co-glorified with Father and Son, the one who spoke through the prophets; in one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. We confess one baptism for the forgiving of sins. We look forward to a resurrection of the dead and life in the age to come. Amen.

A letter of the bishops gathered in Constantinople [1]

To the most honoured lords and most reverend brethren and fellow-ministers, Damasus, Ambrose, Britton, Valerian, Acholius, Anemius, Basil, and the rest of the holy bishops who met in the great city of Rome: the sacred synod of orthodox bishops who met in the great city of Constantinople sends greetings in the Lord.

It may well be unnecessary to instruct your reverence by describing the many sufferings that have been brought upon us under Arian domination, as if you did not know already. Nor do we imagine that your piety considers our affairs so trivial that you need to learn what you must be suffering along with us. Nor were the storms which beset us such as to escape your notice on grounds of insignificance. The period of persecution is still recent and ensures that the memory remains fresh not only among those who have suffered but also among those who have through love made the lot of those who suffered their own. It was barely yesterday or the day before that some were freed from the bonds of exile and returned to their own churches through a thousand tribulations. The remains of others who died in exile were brought back. Even after their return from exile some experienced a ferment of hatred from the heretics and underwent a more cruel fate in their own land than they did abroad, by being stoned to death by them in the manner of the blessed Stephen. Others were torn to shreds by various tortures and still carry around on their bodies the marks of Christ's wounds and bruises. Who could number the financial penalties, the fines imposed on cities, the confiscations of individual property, the plots, the outrages, the imprisonments? Indeed all our afflictions increased beyond number: perhaps because we were paying the just penalty for our sins; perhaps also because a loving God was disciplining us by means of the great number of our sufferings.

So thanks be to God for this. He has instructed his own servants through the weight of their afflictions, and in accordance with his numerous mercies he has brought us back again to a place of refreshment The restoration of the churches demanded prolonged attention, much time and hard work from us if the body of the church which had been weak for so long was to be cured completely by gradual treatment and brought back to its original soundness in religion. We may seem on the whole to be free from violent persecutions and to be at the moment recovering the churches which have long been in the grip of the heretics. But in fact we are oppressed by wolves who even after expulsion from the fold go on ravaging the flocks up and down dale, making so bold as to hold rival assemblies, activating popular uprisings and stopping at nothing which might harm the churches. As we have said, this made us take a longer time over our affairs.

But now you have shown your brotherly love for us by convoking a synod in Rome, in accordance with God's will, and inviting us to it, by means of a letter from your most God-beloved emperor, as if we were limbs of your very own, so that whereas in the past we were condemned to suffer alone, you should not now reign in isolation from us, given the complete agreement of the emperors in matters of religion. Rather, according to the word of the apostle, we should reign along with you'. So it was our intention that if it were possible we should all leave our churches together and indulge our desires rather than attend to their needs. But who will give us wings as of a dove, so we shall fly and come to rest with you? This course would leave the churches entirely exposed, just as they are beginning their renewal; and it is completely out of the question for the majority. As a consequence of last year's letter sent by your reverence after the synod of Aquileia to our most God-beloved emperor Theodosius, we came together in Constantinople. We were equipped only for this stay in Constantinople and the bishops who remained in the provinces gave their agreement to this synod alone. We foresaw no need for a longer absence, nor did we hear of it in advance at all, before we gathered in Constantinople.

On top of this the tightness of the schedule proposed allowed no opportunity to prepare for a longer absence, nor to brief all the bishops in the provinces who are in communion with us and to get their agreement. Since these considerations, and many more besides, prevented most of us from coming, we have done the next best thing both to set matters straight and to make your love for us appreciated: we have managed to convince our most venerable and reverend brethren and fellow-ministers, Bishops Cyriacus, Eusebius and Priscian to be willing to undertake the wearisome journey to you. Through them we wish to show that our intentions are peaceful and have unity as their goal. We also want to make clear that what we are zealously seeking is sound faith.

What we have undergone -- persecutions, afflictions, imperial threats, cruelty from officials, and whatever other trial at the hands of heretics -- we have put up with for the sake of the gospel faith established by the 318 fathers at Nicaea in Bithynia. You, we and all who are not bent on subverting the word of the true faith should give this creed our approval. It is the most ancient and is consistent with our baptism. It tells us how to believe in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy Spirit: believing also, of course, that the Father, the Son and the holy Spirit have a single Godhead and power and substance, a dignity deserving the same honour and a co-eternal sovereignty, in three most perfect hypostases, or three perfect persons.

So there is no place for Sabellius's diseased theory in which the hypostases are confused and thus their proper characteristics destroyed. Nor may the blasphemy of Eunomians and Arians and Pneumatomachi prevail, with its division of substance or of nature or of Godhead, and its introduction of some nature which was produced subsequently, or was created, or was of a different substance, into the uncreated and consubstantial and co-eternal Trinity. And we preserve undistorted the accounts of the Lord's taking of humanity, accepting as we do that the economy of his flesh was not soulless nor mindless nor imperfect. To sum up, we know that he was before the ages fully God the Word, and that in the last days he became fully man for the sake of our salvation.

So much, in summary, for the faith which is openly preached by us. You can take even more heart concerning these matters if you think fit to consult the tome that was issued in Antioch by the synod which met there as well as the one issued last year in Constantinople by the ecumenical synod. In these documents we confessed the faith in broader terms and we have issued a written condemnation of the heresies which have recently erupted.

With regard to particular forms of administration in the churches, ancient custom, as you know, has been in force, along with the regulation of the saintly fathers at Nicaea, that in each province those of the province, and with them-should the former so desire -- their neighbours, should conduct ordinations as need might arise. Accordingly, as you are aware, the rest of the churches are administered, and the priests [= bishops] of the most prominent churches have been appointed, by us. Hence at the ecumenical council by common agreement and in the presence of the most God-beloved emperor Theodosius and all the clergy, and with the approval of the whole city, we have ordained the most venerable and God-beloved Nectarius as bishop of the church newly set up, as one might say, in Constantinople -- a church which by God's mercy we just recently snatched from the blasphemy of the heretics as from the lion's jaws.

Over the most ancient and truly apostolic church at Antioch in Syria, where first the precious name of "Christians" came into use, the provincial bishops and those of the diocese of the East came together and canonically ordained the most venerable and God-beloved Flavian as bishop with the consent of the whole church, as though it would give the man due honour with a single voice. The synod as a whole also accepted that this ordination was legal. We wish to inform you that the most venerable and God-beloved Cyril is bishop of the church in Jerusalem, the mother of all the churches. He was canonically ordained some time ago by those of the province and at various times he has valiantly combated the Arians.

We exhort your reverence to join us in rejoicing at what we have legally and canonically enacted. Let spiritual love link us together, and let the fear of the Lord suppress all human prejudice and put the building up of the churches before individual attachment or favour. In this way, with the account of the faith agreed between us and with christian love established among us, we shall cease to declare what was condemned by the apostles, "I belong to Paul, I to Apollo, I to Cephas"; but we shall all be seen to belong to Christ, who has not been divided up among us; and with God's good favour, we shall keep the body of the church undivided, and shall come before the judgment-seat of the Lord with confidence.



The profession of faith of the holy fathers who gathered in Nicaea in Bithynia is not to be abrogated, but it is to remain in force. Every heresy is to be anathematised and in particular that of the Eunomians or Anomoeans, that of the Arians or Eudoxians, that of the Semi-Arians or Pneumatomachi, that of the Sabellians that of the Marcellians, that of the Photinians and that of the Apollinarians.


Diocesan bishops are not to intrude in churches beyond their own boundaries nor are they to confuse the churches: but in accordance with the canons, the bishop of Alexandria is to administer affairs in Egypt only; the bishops of the East are to manage the East alone (whilst safeguarding the privileges granted to the church of the Antiochenes in the Nicene canons); and the bishops of the Asian diocese are to manage only Asian affairs; and those in Pontus only the affairs of Pontus; and those in Thrace only Thracian affairs. Unless invited bishops are not to go outside their diocese to perform an ordination or any other ecclesiastical business. If the letter of the canon about dioceses is kept, it is clear that the provincial synod will manage affairs in each province, as was decreed at Nicaea. But the churches of God among barbarian peoples must be administered in accordance with the custom in force at the time of the fathers.


Because it is new Rome, the bishop of Constantinople is to enjoy the privileges of honour after the bishop of Rome.


Regarding Maximus the Cynic and the disorder which surrounded him in Constantinople: he never became, nor is he, a bishop; nor are those ordained by him clerics of any rank whatsoever. Everything that was done both to him and by him is to be held invalid.


Regarding the Tome [2] of the Westerns: we have also recognised those in Antioch who confess a single Godhead of Father and Son and holy Spirit.


There are many who are bent on confusing and overturning the good order of the church and so fabricate, out of hatred and a wish to slander, certain accusations against orthodox bishops in charge of churches. Their intention is none other than to blacken priests' reputations and to stir up trouble among peace- loving laity. For this reason the sacred synod of bishops assembled at Constantinople has decided not to admit accusers without prior examination, and not to allow everyone to bring accusations against church administrators -- but with- out excluding everyone. So if someone brings a private (that is a personal) complaint against the bishop on the grounds that he has been defrauded or in some other way unjustly dealt with by him, in the case of this kind of accusation neither the character nor the religion of the accuser will be subject to examination. It is wholly essential both that the bishop should have a clear conscience and that the one who alleges that he has been wronged, whatever his religion may be, should get justice.

But if the charge brought against the bishop is of an ecclesiastical kind, then the characters of those making it should be examined, in the first place to stop heretics bringing charges against orthodox bishops in matters of an ecclesiastical kind. (We define "heretics" as those who have been previously banned from the church and also those later anathematised by ourselves: and in addition those who claim to confess a faith that is sound, but who have seceded and hold assemblies in rivalry with the bishops who are in communion with us.) In the second place, persons previously condemned and expelled from the church for whatever reason, or those excommunicated either from the clerical or lay rank, are not to be permitted to accuse a bishop until they have first purged their own crime. Similarly, those who are already accused are not permitted to accuse a bishop or other clerics until they have proved their own innocence of the crimes with which they are charged. But if persons who are neither heretics nor excommunicates, nor such as have been previously condemned or accused of some transgression or other, claim that they have some ecclesiastical charge to make against the bishop, the sacred synod commands that such persons should first lay the accusations before all the bishops of the province and prove before them the crimes committed by the bishop in the case. If it emerges that the bishops of the province are not able to correct the crimes laid at the bishop's door, then a higher synod of the bishops of that diocese, convoked to hear this case, must be approached, and the accusers are not to lay their accusations before it until they have given a written promise to submit to equal penalties should they be found guilty of making false accusations against the accused bishop, when the matter is investigated.

If anyone shows contempt of the prescriptions regarding the above matters and presumes to bother either the ears of the emperor or the courts of the secular authorities, or to dishonour all the diocesan bishops and trouble an ecumenical synod, there is to be no question whatever of allowing such a person to bring accusations forward, because he has made a mockery of the canons and violated the good order of the church.


Those who embrace orthodoxy and join the number of those who are being saved from the heretics, we receive in the following regular and customary manner: Arians, Macedonians, Sabbatians, Novatians, those who call themselves Cathars and Aristae, Quartodeciman or Tetradites, Apollinarians-these we receive when they hand in statements and anathematise every heresy which is not of the same mind as the holy, catholic and apostolic church of God. They are first sealed or anointed with holy chrism on the forehead, eyes, nostrils, mouth and ears. As we seal them we say: "Seal of the gift of the holy Spirit". But Eunomians, who are baptised in a single immersion, Montanists (called Phrygians here), Sabellians, who teach the identity of Father and Son and make certain other difficulties, and all other sects -- since there are many here, not least those who originate in the country of the Galatians -- we receive all who wish to leave them and embrace orthodoxy as we do Greeks. On the first day we make Christians of them, on the second catechumens, on the third we exorcise them by breathing three times into their faces and their ears, and thus we catechise them and make them spend time in the church and listen to the scriptures; and then we baptise them.

  1. Namely the synod of Constantinople in 382
  2. This tome has not survived; it probably defended Paul of Antioch

Translation taken from Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils

Second Council of Constantinople - 553 A.D.

Advanced Information



The emperor Justinian and Pope Vigilius decided to summon this council after the latter withdrew his "Judgment" condemning the "Three Chapters" of Theodore of Mopsuestia, Theodoret and Ibas. This "Judgment" had been issued on 11 April 548 but the bishops of the west and especially of Africa unanimously opposed it. The council was summoned by Justinian to Constantinople, although Vigilius would have preferred to convene it in Sicily or Italy so that western bishops might be present. It assembled on 5 May 553 in the great hall attached to Hagia Sophia cathedral.

Since the Roman pontiff refused to take part in the council, because Justinian had summoned bishops in equal numbers from each of the five patriarchal sees, so that there would be many more eastern than western bishops present, Eutychius, patriarch of Constantinople, presided. The decrees of the council were signed by 160 bishops, of whom 8 were Africans.

On 14 May 553 Pope Vigilius issued his "Constitution", which was signed by 16 bishops (9 from Italy, 2 from Africa, 2 from Illyricum and 3 from Asia Minor). This rejected sixty propositions of Theodore of Mopsuestia, but spared his personal memory and refused to condemn either Theodoret or Ibas since, on the testimony of the council of Chalcedon, all suspicion of heresy against them had been removed. Nevertheless, the council in its 8th session on 2 June 553 again condemned the "Three Chapters", for the same reasons as Justinian had done so, in a judgment which concludes with 14 anathemas.

After carefully considering the matter for six months, Vigilius ,weighing up the persecutions of Justinian against his clergy and having sent a letter to Eutychius of Constantinople, approved the council, thus changing his mind "after the example of Augustine". Furthermore he anathematized Theodore and condemned his writings and those of Theodoret and Ibas. On 23 February 554, in a second "Constitution", he tried to reconcile the recent condemnation with what had been decreed at the council of Chalcedon.

The council did not debate ecclesiastical discipline nor did it issue disciplinary canons. Our edition does not include the text of the anathemas against Origen since recent studies have shown that these anathemas cannot be attributed to this council.

For the 14 anathemas (pp. 114-122) the translation is from the Greek text, since this is the more authoritative version.

Sentence against the "Three Chapters"

Our great God and saviour Jesus Christ, as we are told in the parable in the gospel, gives talents to each one according to his ability, and at the proper time asks for an account of what has been done by each one. If the person to whom only one talent has been given is condemned because he has not worked and increased it, but has only preserved it without diminishment, how much more serious and more frightening must be the condemnation to which the person is subjected who not only fails to look after himself but scandalizes others and is a cause of offence to them ? It is clear to all believers that when a problem about the faith comes up it is not only the heretical person who is condemned but also the person who is in a position to correct the heresy of others and fails to do so. To those of us to whom the task has been given of governing the church of the Lord, there comes a fear of the condemnation which threatens those who neglect to do the Lord's work. We hurry to take care of the good seed of faith protecting it from the weeds of heresy which have been planted by the enemy. We observed that the pupils of Nestorius were trying to bring their heresy into the church of God by means of the heretical Theodore, bishop of Mopsuestia and his books as also by the writings of the heretical Theodoret and the disgraceful letter which is alleged to have been sent by Ibas to Mari the Persian. Our observations prompted us to correct what was happening. We assembled in this imperial city, summoned here by the will of God and the command of the most religious emperor.

The most religious Vigilius happened to be present in this imperial city and took part in all the criticisms against the three chapters. He had frequently condemned them by word of mouth and in his writings. Later he gave a written agreement to take part in our council and to study with us the three chapters so that we could all issue an appropriate definition of the true faith. The most pious emperor, prompted by what was acceptable to us, encouraged a meeting between Vigilius and ourselves because it is proper that the priesthood should impose a common conclusion to matters of common concern. Consequently we asked his reverence to carry out his written undertakings. It did not seem right that the scandal over these three chapters should continue and that the church of God should be further disturbed. In order to persuade him, we reminded him of the great example left us by the apostles and of the traditions of the fathers. Even though the grace of the holy Spirit was abundant in each of the apostles, so that none of them required the advice of another in order to do his work, nevertheless they were loathe to come to a decision on the issue of the circumcision of gentiles until they had met together to test their various opinions against the witness of the holy scriptures.

In this way they unanimously reached the conclusion which they wrote to the gentiles: It has seemed good to the holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from unchastity.

The holy fathers, who have gathered at intervals in the four holy councils, have followed the examples of antiquity. They dealt with heresies and current problems by debate in common, since it was established as certain that when the disputed question is set out by each side in communal discussions, the light of truth drives out the shadows of lying.

The truth cannot be made clear in any other way when there are debates about questions of faith, since everyone requires the assistance of his neighbour. As Solomon says in his proverbs: A brother who helps a brother shall be exalted like a strong city; he shall be as strong as a well-established kingdom. Again in Ecclesiastes he says: Two are better than one, for they have a good reward for their toil. And the Lord himself says: Amen I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them. Vigilius was frequently invited by us all, and most distinguished judges were sent to him by the most pious emperor. Eventually he promised to give judgment personally on the three chapters. When we heard this promise, we remembered the warning of the Apostle that each of us shall give an account of himself to God. We were afraid of the condemnation which threatens those who scandalize one of the least important, and of the much more serious one which threatens those who scandalize so very christian an emperor, the people and all the churches.

We also remembered what was said by God to Paul: Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not be silent; for I am with you, and nobody shall be able to harm you. When we met together, therefore, we first of all briefly made a confession of the faith which our lord Jesus Christ true God, handed down to his holy apostles and by means of them to the holy churches, the same faith which those who afterwards were holy fathers and doctors handed down to the people entrusted to them. We confessed that we believe, protect and preach to the holy churches that confession of faith which was set out at greater length by the 318 holy fathers who met in council at Nicaea and handed down the holy doctrine or creed. The 150 who met in council at Constantinople also set out the same faith and made a confession of it and explained it. The 200 holy fathers who met in the first council of Ephesus agreed to the same faith. We follow also the definitions of the 630 who met in council at Chalcedon, regarding the same faith which they both followed and preached. We confessed that we held to be condemned and anathematized all those who had been previously condemned and anathematized by the catholic church and by the aforesaid four councils.

When we had made this confession in this way, we made a start on the examination of the three chapters. First, we considered Theodore of Mopsuestia. When all the blasphemies in his works were exposed, we were astonished at God's patience, that the tongue and mind which had formed such blasphemies were not straightaway burned up by divine fire. We would not even have allowed the official reader of these blasphemies to continue, such was our fear of the anger of God at even a rehearsal of them (since each blasphemy was worse than the one before in the extent of its heresy and shook to their foundation the minds of their listeners), if it had not been the case that those who revelled in these blasphemies seemed to us to require the humiliation which their exposure would bring upon them. All of us, angered by the blasphemies against God, burst into attacks and anathemas against Theodore, during and after the reading, as if he had been living and present there. We said: Lord, be favourable to us; not even the demons themselves have dared to speak such things against you.

O his intolerable tongue! O the wickedness of the man ! O the proud hand he raised against his creator! This disgraceful man, who had made a promise to understand the scriptures, did not remember the words of the prophet Hosea: Woe to them, for they have strayed from me! They have become notorious because of their impiety towards me. They spoke evil things about me, and after they had considered them, they spoke even worse things against me. They will fall into a trap because of the depravity of their tongues. Their contempt will be turned inwards on themselves, because they have broken my covenant and acted impiously against my law. The impious Theodore deserves to come under these curses. He dismissed the prophecies about Christ and he vilified, as far as he could, the great mystery of the arrangements that have been made for our salvation. In many ways he tried to demonstrate that the divine word was nothing but fables composed for the amusement of the gentiles. He ridiculed the other condemnations of the impious made by the prophets, especially the one in which holy Habakkuk says of those who teach false doctrines: Woe to him who makes his neighbours drink of the cup of his wrath, and makes them drunk, to gaze on their caverns. This refers to their teachings which are full of darkness and quite separate from the light.

Why ought we to add anything more? Anyone who wishes can consult the volumes of the heretical Theodore or the heretical chapters from his heretical books which have been included in our acts. Anyone can see his unbelievable folly and the disgraceful utterances made by him. We fear to continue and to rehearse again those shameful things. The writings of the holy fathers against him were also read out to us. We heard what had been written against his folly which was more than all the other heretics, and the historical records and imperial laws which set out his heresy from its beginning. Despite all this, those who defended his heresy, delighting in the insults offered by him to his creator, declared that it was improper to anathematize him after his death. Although we were aware of the ecclesiastical tradition concerning heretics, that they are anathematized even after death, we deemed it necessary to go into this matter as well and it can be found in the acts how several heretics were anathematized after they were dead. In many ways it has become clear to us that those who put forward this argument have no concern for God's judgments, nor for the pronouncements of the apostles, nor for the traditions of the fathers. We would willingly question them concerning what they would say about the Lord, who said of himself: He who believes in him is not condemned, he who does not believe in him is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God. And about that claim of the Apostle: Even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what you have received, let him be accursed. As we said earlier, I repeat once more: If anyone preaches to you a gospel contrary to what you have received, let him be accursed.

Since the Lord declares that the person is judged already, and the Apostle curses even the angels if they instruct in anything different from what we have preached, how is it possible even for the most presumptuous to assert that these condemnations apply only to those who are still alive? Are they unaware, or rather pretending to be unaware, that to be judged anathematized is just the same as to be separated from God? The heretic, even though he has not been condemned formally by any individual, in reality brings anathema on himself, having cut himself off from the way of truth by his heresy. What reply can such people make to the Apostle when he writes: As for someone who is factious, after admonishing him once or twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is perverted and sinful; he is self-condemned.

It was in the spirit of this text that Cyril of holy memory, in the books which he wrote against Theodore, declared as follows: "Whether or not they are alive, we ought to keep clear of those who are in the grip of such dreadful errors. It is necessary always to avoid what is harmful, and not to be worried about public opinion but rather to consider what is pleasing to God". The same Cyril of holy memory, writing to bishop John of Antioch and to the synod which met there about Theodore who was condemned with Nestorius, says, "It was necessary that a brilliant festival should be kept since all those who had expressed opinions in accordance with Nestorius had been rejected, whoever they were. Action was taken against all those who believed, or had at any time believed, in these mistaken views. This is exactly what we and your holiness pronounced: 'We anathematize those who assert that there exist two sons and two Christs. He who is preached by you and us is, as was said, the single Christ, both Son and Lord, the only-begotten as man, as learned Paul says'". Moreover in his letter to the priests and fathers of monks,

Alexander, Martinian, John, Paregorious and Maximus, and to those who were living as solitaries along with them, he says: "The holy synod of Ephesus, meeting in accordance with the will of God, has pronounced sentence against the heresy of Nestorius and has condemned according to justice and with accuracy both Nestorius himself and all those who might later, in inane fashion, adopt the same opinions as he held, and those who had previously adhered to the same opinions and who were bold enough to put them in writing, placing upon them all an equal condemnation. It was quite logical that when a condemnation was issued against one person for such stupidity in what he said, then that condemnation should apply not only to that person alone but also, so to speak, against all those who spread the heresies and untruths. They express these falsehoods against the true dogmas of the church, offering worship to two sons, trying to divide what cannot be divided, and introducing to both heaven and earth the offence of the worship of man. But the sacred band of heavenly spirits worship along with us only one lord Jesus Christ".

Moreover, several letters of Augustine of sacred memory, who was particularly outstanding among the African bishops, were read in which he indicates that it is correct to condemn heretics even after their death. Other most reverend bishops of Africa have also observed this church custom; moreover the holy church of Rome has issued anathemas against certain bishops even after they were dead, although they had not been accused on matters of faith while they were alive; the acts of our deliberations bear witness to both these cases. Since the followers of Theodore and his heresy, who are plainly opposed to the truth, have tried to adduce some sections of the writings of Cyril and Proclus of holy memory, as though these were in favour of Theodore, it is appropriate to apply to these attempts the observation of the prophet when he writes: The ways of the Lord are right, and the upright walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them. These followers have willfully misunderstood what the holy fathers wrote, even though it was true and appropriate; they have quoted these writings, dissembling excuses for their own iniquities.

It seems that the fathers did not lift the anathema against Theodore but rather used the language of concession in order to lead away from their mistake those who offered some defence of Nestorius and his heresy; their aim was to lead them to perfection and to instruct them that not only was Nestorius, the disciple of heresy, condemned but also his teacher Theodore. The fathers indicate their intention in this matter despite the conciliatory forms used: Theodore was to be anathematized. This has been very clearly shown to be the case by us in our acts from the works of Cyril and Proclus of blessed memory in respect of the condemnation of Theodore and his heresy. This conciliatory attitude is also to be found in the holy scriptures.

The apostle Paul employed this tactic at the start of his ministry when he was dealing with those who had been Jews; he circumcised Timothy so that by this conciliation and concession he might lead them to perfection. Afterwards, however, he ruled against circumcision, writing on the subject to the Galatians: Now I Paul say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. We found that the defenders of Theodore have done exactly what the heretics were accustomed to do. They have tried to lift the anathema on the said heretical Theodore by omitting some of the things which the holy fathers had written, by including certain confusing falsehoods of their own, and by quoting a letter of Cyril of blessed memory, as if all this were the evidence of the fathers. The passages which they quoted made the truth absolutely clear once the omitted sections were put back in their proper place. The falsehoods were quite apparent when the true writings were collated. In this matter those who issued these empty statements are those who, in the words of scripture, rely on lies, they make empty pleas; they conceive mischief and bring forth iniquity, they weave the spider's web.

After we had investigated in this way Theodore and his heresy, we took the trouble to quote and include in our acts a few of Theodoret's heretical writings against true faith, against the twelve chapters of holy Cyril and against the first synod of Ephesus. We also included some of Theodoret's writings on the side of the heretical Theodore and Nestorius so that it would be made clear, to the satisfaction of anyone reading our acts, that these opinions had been properly rejected and anathematized.

Thirdly, the letter which is alleged to have been written by Ibas to Mari the Persian was brought under scrutiny and we discovered that it too ought to be officially read out. When the letter was read out, its heretical character was immediately apparent to everyone. Until this time there had been some dispute as to whether the aforesaid three chapters ought to be condemned and anathematized. Since the supporters of the heretics Theodore and Nestorius were conspiring to strengthen in another way the case of these men and their heresy, and were alleging that this heretical letter, which approves and defends Theodore and Nestorius, had been accepted by the holy council of Chalcedon, it was therefore necessary for us to demonstrate that that holy synod was unaffected by the heresy which is present in that letter, and that clearly those who make such allegations are doing so not with the assistance of the holy council but so as to give some support to their own heresy by associating it with the name of Chalcedon.

It was demonstrated in our acts that Ibas was previously accused of the same heresy which is contained in this letter. This accusation was levelled first by Proclus of holy memory, bishop of Constantinople, and afterwards by Theodosius of blessed memory and Flavian, the bishop there after Proclus, both of whom gave the task of examining the whole matter to Photius, bishop of Tyre, and to Eustathius, bishop of the city of Beirut. When Ibas was later found to be blameworthy, he was deposed from the episcopate. This being the state of affairs, how could anyone be so bold as to allege that that heretical letter was accepted by the holy council of Chalcedon or that the holy council of Chalcedon agreed with it in its entirety? So as to prevent those who misrepresent the holy council of Chalcedon in this way from having any further opportunity to do so we instructed that there should be a formal reading of the official pronouncements of the holy synods, namely the first of Ephesus and that of Chalcedon, on the subject of the letters of Cyril of holy memory and of Leo of blessed memory, formerly pope of older Rome.

We gathered from these authorities that nothing which has been written by anyone ought to be accepted unless it has been shown conclusively that it is in accord with the true faith of the holy fathers. Therefore we broke off from our deliberations so as to reiterate in a formal declaration the definition of faith which was promulgated by the holy council of Chalcedon. We compared what was written in the letter with this official statement. When this comparison was made, it was quite apparent that the contents of the letter were quite contradictory to those of the definition of faith. The definition was in accord with the unique, permanent faith set out by the 318 holy fathers, and by the 150, and by those who gathered for the first council at Ephesus. The heretical letter, on the other hand, included the blasphemies of the heretical Theodore and Nestorius and even gave support to them and describes them as doctors, while it condemns the holy fathers as heretics.

We make it quite clear to everyone that we do not intend to omit what the fathers had to say in the first and second investigations, which are adduced by the supporters of Theodore and Nestorius in support of their case. Rather these statements and all the others were formally read out and what they contained was submitted to official scrutiny, and we found that they had not allowed the said Ibas to be accepted until they had obliged him to anathematize Nestorius and his heretical doctrines which were affirmed in that letter. This was the view not only of the two bishops whose interventions some have tried to misapply but also of the other religious bishops of that holy council. They also acted thus in the case of Theodoret and insisted that he anathematize those opinions about which he was accused. If they would permit the acceptance of Ibas only if he condemned the heresy which was to be found in his letter, and on condition that he subscribed to a definition of faith set out by the council, how can an attempt be made to allege that this heretical letter was accepted by the same holy council? We are rightly told: What partnership has righteousness with iniquity? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? What participation has the temple of God with idols?

Now that we have given the details of what our council has achieved, we repeat our formal confession that we accept the four holy synods, that is, of Nicaea, of Constantinople, the first of Ephesus, and of Chalcedon. Our teaching is and has been all that they have defined concerning the one faith. We consider those who do not respect these things as foreign to the catholic church. Furthermore, we condemn and anathematize, along with all other heretics who have been condemned and anathematized by the same four holy councils and by the holy, catholic and apostolic church, Theodore, formerly bishop of Mopsuestia, and his heretical writings, and also what Theodoret heretically wrote against the true faith, against the twelve chapters of holy Cyril and against the first synod of Ephesus, and we condemn also what he wrote defending Theodore and Nestorius. Additionally, we anathematize the heretical letter which Ibas is alleged to have written to Mari the Persian. This letter denies that God the Word was made incarnate of the ever virgin Mary, the holy mother of God, and that he was made man.

It also condemns as a heretic Cyril of holy memory, who taught the truth, and suggests that he held the same opinions as Apollinarius. The letter condemns the first synod of Ephesus for deposing Nestorius without proper process and investigation. It calls the twelve chapters of holy Cyril heretical and contrary to the orthodox faith, while it supports Theodore and Nestorius and their heretical teachings and writings. Consequently we anathematize the aforesaid three chapters, that is, the heretical Theodore of Mopsuestia along with his detestable writings, and the heretical writings of Theodoret, and the heretical letter which Ibas is alleged to have written. We anathematize the supporters of these works and those who write or have written in defence of them, or who are bold enough to claim that they are orthodox, or who have defended or tried to defend their heresy in the names of holy fathers or of the holy council of Chalcedon.

These matters having been treated with thorough-going exactness, we bear in mind what was promised about the holy church and him who said that the gates of hell will not prevail against it (by these we understand the death-dealing tongues of heretics); we also bear in mind what was prophesied about the church by Hosea when he said, I shall betroth you to me in faithfulness and you shall know the Lord; and we count along with the devil, the father of lies, the uncontrolled tongues of heretics and their heretical writings, together with the heretics themselves who have persisted in their heresy even to death. So we declare to them: Behold all you who kindle a fire, who set brands alight! Walk by the light of your fire, and by the brands which you have kindled! Since we are under command to encourage the people with orthodox teaching and to speak to the heart of Jerusalem, that is the church of God, we very properly hurry to sow in righteousness and to reap the fruit of life. In doing this we are lighting for ourselves the lamp of knowledge from the scriptures and the teachings of the fathers. It has therefore seemed necessary to us to sum up in certain statements both our declarations of the truth and our condemnations of heretics and their heretical teachings.

Anathemas against the "Three Chapters"

  1. If anyone will not confess that the Father, Son and holy Spirit have one nature or substance, that they have one power and authority, that there is a consubstantial Trinity, one Deity to be adored in three subsistences or persons: let him be anathema. There is only one God and Father, from whom all things come, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things are, and one holy Spirit, in whom all things are.
  2. If anyone will not confess that the Word of God has two nativities, that which is before all ages from the Father, outside time and without a body, and secondly that nativity of these latter days when the Word of God came down from the heavens and was made flesh of holy and glorious Mary, mother of God and ever-virgin, and was born from her: let him be anathema.
  3. If anyone declares that the [Word] of God who works miracles is not identical with the Christ who suffered, or alleges that God the Word was with the Christ who was born of woman, or was in him in the way that one might be in another, but that our lord Jesus Christ was not one and the same, the Word of God incarnate and made man, and that the miracles and the sufferings which he voluntarily underwent in the flesh were not of the same person: let him be anathema.
  4. If anyone declares that it was only in respect of grace, or of principle of action, or of dignity or in respect of equality of honour, or in respect of authority, or of some relation, or of some affection or power that there was a unity made between the Word of God and the man, or if anyone alleges that it is in respect of good will, as if God the Word was pleased with the man, because he was well and properly disposed to God, as Theodore claims in his madness; or if anyone says that this union is only a sort of synonymity, as the Nestorians allege, who call the Word of God Jesus and Christ, and even designate the human separately by the names "Christ" and "Son", discussing quite obviously two different persons, and only pretending to speak of one person and one Christ when the reference is to his title, honour, dignity or adoration; finally if anyone does not accept the teaching of the holy fathers that the union occurred of the Word of God with human flesh which is possessed by a rational and intellectual soul, and that this union is by synthesis or by person, and that therefore there is only one person, namely the lord Jesus Christ, one member of the holy Trinity: let him be anathema.

    The notion of "union" can be understood in many different ways. The supporters of the wickedness of Apollinarius and Eutyches have asserted that the union is produced by a confusing of the uniting elements, as they advocate the disappearance of the elements that unite. Those who follow Theodore and Nestorius, rejoicing in the division, have brought in a union which is only by affection. The holy church of God, rejecting the wickedness of both sorts of heresy, states her belief in a union between the Word of God and human flesh which is by synthesis, that is by a union of subsistence. In the mystery of Christ the union of synthesis not only conserves without confusing the elements that come together but also allows no division.

  5. If anyone understands by the single subsistence of our lord Jesus Christ that it covers the meaning of many subsistences, and by this argument tries to introduce into the mystery of Christ two subsistences or two persons, and having brought in two persons then talks of one person only in respect of dignity, honour or adoration, as both Theodore and Nestorius have written in their madness; if anyone falsely represents the holy synod of Chalcedon, making out that it accepted this heretical view by its terminology of "one subsistence", and if he does not acknowledge that the Word of God is united with human flesh by subsistence, and that on account of this there is only one subsistence or one person, and that the holy synod of Chalcedon thus made a formal statement of belief in the single subsistence of our lord Jesus Christ: let him be anathema. There has been no addition of person or subsistence to the holy Trinity even after one of its members, God the Word, becoming human flesh.
  6. If anyone declares that it can be only inexactly and not truly said that the holy and glorious ever-virgin Mary is the mother of God, or says that she is so only in some relative way, considering that she bore a mere man and that God the Word was not made into human flesh in her, holding rather that the nativity of a man from her was referred, as they say, to God the Word as he was with the man who came into being; if anyone misrepresents the holy synod of Chalcedon, alleging that it claimed that the virgin was the mother of God only according to that heretical understanding which the blasphemous Theodore put forward; or if anyone says that she is the mother of a man or the Christ-bearer, that is the mother of Christ, suggesting that Christ is not God; and does not formally confess that she is properly and truly the mother of God, because he who before all ages was born of the Father, God the Word, has been made into human flesh in these latter days and has been born to her, and it was in this religious understanding that the holy synod of Chalcedon formally stated its belief that she was the mother of God: let him be anathema.
  7. If anyone, when speaking about the two natures, does not confess a belief in our one lord Jesus Christ, understood in both his divinity and his humanity, so as by this to signify a difference of natures of which an ineffable union has been made without confusion, in which neither the nature of the Word was changed into the nature of human flesh, nor was the nature of human flesh changed into that of the Word (each remained what it was by nature, even after the union, as this had been made in respect of subsistence); and if anyone understands the two natures in the mystery of Christ in the sense of a division into parts, or if he expresses his belief in the plural natures in the same lord Jesus Christ, God the Word made flesh, but does not consider the difference of those natures, of which he is composed, to be only in the onlooker's mind, a difference which is not compromised by the union (for he is one from both and the two exist through the one) but uses the plurality to suggest that each nature is possessed separately and has a subsistence of its own: let him be anathema.
  8. If anyone confesses a belief that a union has been made out of the two natures divinity and humanity, or speaks about the one nature of God the Word made flesh, but does not understand these things according to what the fathers have taught, namely that from the divine and human natures a union was made according to subsistence, and that one Christ was formed, and from these expressions tries to introduce one nature or substance made of the deity and human flesh of Christ: let him be anathema. In saying that it was in respect of subsistence that the only-begotten God the Word was united, we are not alleging that there was a confusion made of each of the natures into one another, but rather that each of the two remained what it was, and in this way we understand that the Word was united to human flesh. So there is only one Christ, God and man, the same being consubstantial with the Father in respect of his divinity, and also consubstantial with us in respect of our humanity. Both those who divide or split up the mystery of the divine dispensation of Christ and those who introduce into that mystery some confusion are equally rejected and anathematized by the church of God.
  9. If anyone says that Christ is to be worshipped in his two natures, and by that wishes to introduce two adorations, a separate one for God the Word and another for the man; or if anyone, so as to remove the human flesh or to mix up the divinity and the humanity, monstrously invents one nature or substance brought together from the two, and so worships Christ, but not by a single adoration God the Word in human flesh along with his human flesh, as has been the tradition of the church from the beginning: let him be anathema.
  10. If anyone does not confess his belief that our lord Jesus Christ, who was crucified in his human flesh, is truly God and the Lord of glory and one of the members of the holy Trinity: let him be anathema.
  11. If anyone does not anathematize Arius, Eunomius, Macedonius, Apollinarius Nestorius, Eutyches and Origen, as well as their heretical books, and also all other heretics who have already been condemned and anathematized by the holy, catholic and apostolic church and by the four holy synods which have already been mentioned, and also all those who have thought or now think in the same way as the aforesaid heretics and who persist in their error even to death: let him be anathema.
  12. If anyone defends the heretical Theodore of Mopsuestia, who said that God the Word is one, while quite another is Christ, who was troubled by the passions of the soul and the desires of human flesh, was gradually separated from that which is inferior, and became better by his progress in good works, and could not be faulted in his way of life, and as a mere man was baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the holy Spirit, and through this baptism received the grace of the holy Spirit and came to deserve sonship and to be adored, in the way that one adores a statue of the emperor, as if he were God the Word, and that he became after his resurrection immutable in his thoughts and entirely without sin. Furthermore this heretical Theodore claimed that the union of God the Word to Christ is rather like that which, according to the teaching of the Apostle, is between a man and his wife: The two shall become one.

    Among innumerable other blasphemies he dared to allege that, when after his resurrection the Lord breathed on his disciples and said, Receive the holy Spirit, he was not truly giving them the holy Spirit, but he breathed on them only as a sign. Similarly he claimed that Thomas's profession of faith made when, after his resurrection, he touched the hands and side of the Lord, namely My Lord and my God, was not said about Christ, but that Thomas was in this way extolling God for raising up Christ and expressing his astonishment at the miracle of the resurrection. This Theodore makes a comparison which is even worse than this when, writing about the acts of the Apostles, he says that Christ was like Plato, Manichaeus, Epicurus and Marcion, alleging that just as each of these men arrived at his own teaching and then had his disciples called after him Platonists,

    Manichaeans, Epicureans and Marcionites, so Christ found his teaching and then had disciples who were called Christians. If anyone offers a defence for this more heretical Theodore, and his heretical books in which he throws up the aforesaid blasphemies and many other additional blasphemies against our great God and saviour Jesus Christ, and if anyone fails to anathematize him and his heretical books as well as all those who offer acceptance or defence to him, or who allege that his interpretation is correct, or who write on his behalf or on that of his heretical teachings, or who are or have been of the same way of thinking and persist until death in this error: let him be anathema.

  13. If anyone defends the heretical writings of Theodoret which were composed against the true faith, against the first holy synod of Ephesus and against holy Cyril and his Twelve Chapters, and also defends what Theodoret wrote to support the heretical Theodore and Nestorius and others who think in the same way as the aforesaid Theodore and Nestorius and accept them or their heresy and if anyone, because of them, shall accuse of being heretical the doctors of the church who have stated their belief in the union according to subsistence of God the Word; and if anyone does not anathematize these heretical books and those who have thought or now think in this way, and all those who have written against the true faith or against holy Cyril and his twelve chapters, and who persist in such heresy until they die: let him be anathema.
  14. If anyone defends the letter which Ibas is said to have written to Mari the Persian, which denies that God the Word, who became incarnate of Mary the holy mother of God and ever virgin, became man, but alleges that he was only a man born to her, whom it describes as a temple, as if God the Word was one and the man someone quite different; which condemns holy Cyril as if he were a heretic, when he gives the true teaching of Christians, and accuses holy Cyril of writing opinions like those of the heretical Apollinarius ;which rebukes the first holy synod of Ephesus, alleging that it condemned Nestorius without going into the matter by a formal examination; which claims that the twelve chapters of holy Cyril are heretical and opposed to the true faith; and which defends Theodore and Nestorius and their heretical teachings and books. If anyone defends the said letter and does not anathematize it and all those who offer a defence for it and allege that it or a part of it is correct, or if anyone defends those who have written or shall write in support of it or the heresies contained in it, or supports those who are bold enough to defend it or its heresies in the name of the holy fathers of the holy synod of Chalcedon, and persists in these errors until his death: let him be anathema.

Such then are the assertions we confess. We have received them from

  1. holy Scripture, from
  2. the teaching of the holy fathers, and from
  3. the definitions about the one and the same faith made by the aforesaid four holy synods.
Moreover, condemnation has been passed by us against the heretics and their impiety, and also against those who have justified or shall justify the so-called "Three Chapters", and against those who have persisted or will persist in their own error. If anyone should attempt to hand on, or to teach by word or writing, anything contrary to what we have regulated, then if he is a bishop or somebody appointed to the clergy, in so far as he is acting contrary to what befits priests and the ecclesiastical status, let him be stripped of the rank of priest or cleric, and if he is a monk or lay person, let him be anathema.

Introduction and translation taken from Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, ed. Norman P. Tanner

Third Council of Constantinople - 680 - 681 A.D.

Advanced Information


Exposition of faith


To make an end of the Monothelite controversy, Emperor Constantine IV asked Pope Donus in 678 to send twelve bishops and four western Greek monastic superiors to represent the pope at an assembly of eastern and western theologians. Pope Agatho, who meanwhile had succeeded Donus, ordered onsultation in the west on this important matter. Around Easter 680 a synod in Rome of 125 Italian bishops, with Pope Agatho presiding, assessed the replies of the regional synods of the west and composed a profession of faith in which Monothelitism was condemned. Legates of the pope took this profession to Constantinople, arriving at the beginning of September 680.

On 10 September 680 the emperor issued an edict to Patriarch George of Constantinople, ordering a council of bishops to be convoked. The council assembled on 7 November in the hall of the imperial palace in Constantinople. It immediately called itself an ecumenical council. There were 18 sessions, at the first eleven of which the emperor presided.

In the 8th session, on 7 March 681, the council adopted the teaching of Pope Agatho in condemnation of Monothelitism. Patriarch Macarius of Antioch was one of the few who refused his assent; he was deposed in the 12th session.

The doctrinal conclusions of the council were defined in the 17th session and promulgated in the 18th and last session on 16 September 681. The acts of the council, signed both by 174 fathers and finally by the emperor himself, were sent to Pope Leo II, who had succeeded Agatho, and he, when he had approved them, ordered them to be translated into Latin and to be signed by all the bishops of the west. Constantine IV, however, promulgated the decrees of the council in all parts of the empire by imperial edict. The council did not debate church discipline and did not establish any disciplinary cannons.

Exposition of faith

The only Son and Word of God the Father, who became a man like us in all things but sin, Christ our true God, proclaimed clearly in the words of the gospel; I am the light of the world; anyone who follows me shall not walk in darkness but shall have the light of life, and again, My peace I leave to you, my peace I give you. Our most mild emperor, champion of right belief and adversary of wrong belief, guided in godly wisdom by this teaching of peace spoken by God, has brought together this holy and universal assembly of ours and set at one the whole judgment of the church.

Wherefore this holy and universal synod of ours, driving afar the error of impiety which endured for some time even till the present, following without deviation in a straight path after the holy and accepted fathers, has piously accorded in all things with the five holy and universal synods: that is to say, with

  1. the synod of 318 holy fathers who gathered at Nicaea against the madman Arius, and
  2. that which followed it at Constantinople of 150 God-led men against Macedonius, opponent of the Spirit, and the impious Apollinarius; similarly too, with
  3. the first at Ephesus of 200 godly men brought together against Nestorius, who thought as the Jews and
  4. that at Chalcedon of 630 God-inspired fathers against Eutyches and Dioscorus, hateful to God; also, in addition to these, with
  5. the fifth holy synod, the latest of them, which was gathered here against Theodore of Mopsuestia, Origen, Didymus and Evagrius, and the writings of Theodoret against the twelve chapters of the renowned Cyril, and the letter said to have been written by Ibas to Mari the Persian.
Reaffirming the divine tenets of piety in all respects unaltered, and banishing the profane teachings of impiety, this holy and universal synod of ours has also, in its turn, under God's inspiration, set its seal on the creed which was made out by the 318 fathers and confirmed again with godly prudence by the 150 and which the other holy synods too accepted gladly and ratified for the elimination of all soul-corrupting heresy

We believe in one God ...[Creed of Nicaea and of Constantinople 1]

The holy and universal synod said:

This pious and orthodox creed of the divine favour was enough for a complete knowledge of the orthodox faith and a complete assurance therein. But since from the first, the contriver of evil did not rest, finding an accomplice in the serpent and through him bringing upon human nature the poisoned dart of death, so too now he has found instruments suited to his own purpose--namely Theodore, who was bishop of Pharan, Sergius, Pyrrhus, Paul and Peter, who were bishops of this imperial city, and further Honorius, who was pope of elder Rome, Cyrus, who held the see of Alexandria, and Macarius, who was recently bishop of Antioch, and his disciple Stephen -- and has not been idle in raising through them obstacles of error against the full body of the church sowing with novel speech among the orthodox people the heresy of a single will and a single principle of action in the two natures of the one member of the holy Trinity Christ our true God, a heresy in harmony with the evil belief, ruinous to the mind, of the impious Apollinarius, Severus and Themistius, and one intent on removing the perfection of the becoming man of the same one lord Jesus Christ our God, through a certain guileful device, leading from there to the blasphemous conclusion that his rationally animate flesh is without a will and a principle of action.

Therefore Christ our God has stirred up the faithful emperor, the new David, finding in him a man after his own heart, who, as the scripture says, did not allow his eyes sleep or his eyelids drowsing until through this holy assembly of ours, brought together by God, he found the perfect proclamation of right belief; for according to the God-spoken saying, Where there are two or three gathered in my name, there am I in their midst.

This same holy and universal synod, here present, faithfully accepts and welcomes with open hands the report of Agatho, most holy and most blessed pope of elder Rome, that came to our most reverend and most faithful emperor Constantine, which rejected by name those who proclaimed and taught, as has been already explained, one will and one principle of action in the incarnate dispensation of Christ our true God; and likewise it approves as well the other synodal report to his God-taught serenity, from the synod of 125 bishops dear to God meeting under the same most holy pope, as according with the holy synod at Chalcedon and with the Tome of the all-holy and most blessed Leo, pope of the same elder Rome, which was sent to Flavian, who is among the saints, and which that synod called a pillar of right belief, and furthermore with the synodal letters written by the blessed Cyril against the impious Nestorius and to the bishops of the east.

Following the five holy and universal synods and the holy and accepted fathers, and defining in unison, it professes our lord Jesus Christ our true God, one of the holy Trinity, which is of one same being and is the source of life, to be perfect in divinity and perfect in humanity, the same truly God and truly man, of a rational soul and a body; consubstantial with the Father as regards his divinity, and the same consubstantial with us as regards his humanity, like us in all respects except for sin; begotten before the ages from the Father as regards his divinity, and in the last days the same for us and for our salvation from the holy Spirit and the virgin Mary, who is properly and truly called mother of God, as regards his humanity; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only-begotten, acknowledged in two natures which undergo no confusion, no change, no separation, no division; at no point was the difference between the natures taken away through the union, but rather the property of both natures is preserved and comes together into a single subsistent being [in unam personam et in unam subsistentiam concurrente]; he is not parted or divided into two persons, but is one and the same only-begotten Son, Word of God, lord Jesus Christ, just as the prophets taught from the beginning about him, and as Jesus the Christ himself instructed us, and as the creed of the holy fathers handed it down to us.

And we proclaim equally two natural volitions or wills in him and two natural principles of action which undergo no division, no change, no partition, no confusion, in accordance with the teaching of the holy fathers. And the two natural wills not in opposition, as the impious heretics said, far from it, but his human will following, and not resisting or struggling, rather in fact subject to his divine and all powerful will. For the will of the flesh had to be moved, and yet to be subjected to the divine will, according to the most wise Athanasius. For just as his flesh is said to be and is flesh of the Word of God, so too the natural will of his flesh is said to and does belong to the Word of God, just as he says himself: I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of the Father who sent me, calling his own will that of his flesh, since his flesh too became his own. For in the same way that his all holy and blameless animate flesh was not destroyed in being made divine but remained in its own limit and category, so his human will as well was not destroyed by being made divine, but rather was preserved, according to the theologian Gregory, who says: "For his willing, when he is considered as saviour, is not in opposition to God, being made divine in its entirety."

And we hold there to be two natural principles of action in the same Jesus Christ our lord and true God, which undergo no division, no change, no partition, no confusion, that is, a divine principle of action and a human principle of action, according to the godly-speaking Leo, who says most clearly: "For each form does in a communion with the other that activity which it possesses as its own, the Word working that which is the Word's and the body accomplishing the things that are the body's". For of course we will not grant the existence of only a single natural principle of action of both God and creature, lest we raise what is made to the level of divine being, or indeed reduce what is most specifically proper to the divine nature to a level befitting creatures for we acknowledge that the miracles and the sufferings are of one and the same according to one or the other of the two natures out of which he is and in which he has his being, as the admirable Cyril said.

Therefore, protecting on all sides the "no confusion" and "no division", we announce the whole in these brief words: Believing our lord Jesus Christ, even after his incarnation, to be one of the holy Trinity and our true God, we say that he has two natures [naturas] shining forth in his one subsistence[subsistentia] in which he demonstrated the miracles and the sufferings throughout his entire providential dwelling here, not in appearance but in truth, the difference of the natures being made known in the same one subsistence in that each nature wills and performs the things that are proper to it in a communion with the other; then in accord with this reasoning we hold that two natural wills and principles of action meet in correspondence for the salvation of the human race.

So now that these points have been formulated by us with all precision in every respect and with all care, we definitely state that it is not allowable for anyone to produce another faith, that is, to write or to compose or to consider or to teach others; those who dare to compose another faith, or to support or to teach or to hand on another creed to those who wish to turn to knowledge of the truth, whether from Hellenism or Judaism or indeed from any heresy whatsoever, or to introduce novelty of speech, that is, invention of terms, so as to overturn what has now been defined by us, such persons, if they are bishops or clerics, are deprived of their episcopacy or clerical rank, and if they are monks or layfolk they are excommunicated.

Introduction and translation taken from Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, ed. Norman P. Tanner

Fourth Council of Constantinople - 869 - 870 A.D.

Advanced Information



This council, designated as the eighth ecumenical council by western canonists, is not found in any canonical collections of the Byzantines; its acts and canons are completely ignored by them. Modern scholars have shown that it was included in the list of ecumenical councils only later, that is, after the eleventh century. We have decided to include the council, for the sake of historical completeness.

Emperor Basil I and the patriarch Ignatius, after being restored to his see of Constantinople, asked Pope Nicholas I to call a council to decide about the bishops and priests who had been ordained by Photius. It was held at Constantinople after the arrival of legates from Pope Hadrian II, who had meanwhile succeeded Nicholas. These legates were Donatus, Stephen and Marinus and they presided at the council. It began in the cathedral of Hagia Sophia on 5 October 869. The tenth and last session was held on 28 February 870, when 27 canons were read out and approved by the council. All who were willing to sign the Liber satisfactionis, which had been sent by Pope Hadrian II, were admitted to the council. The account made by Anastasius contains the authentic list of those who signed the acts of the council. Emperor Basil I and his sons, Constantine and Leo, signed the acts after the patriarchs and in the same year they promulgated the council's decisions, after drawing up a decree for this purpose.

As regards the canonical authority of these deliberations, various facts regarding the council held in the cathedral of Hagia Sophia in November 879, so that Photius might be restored to the see of Constantinople, should be remembered. Peter, a Roman cardinal, presided at this council. It took account of a letter of Pope John VIII, which had been sent to the emperor and translated into Greek. This reads (chapter 4): "We declare that the synod held at Rome against the most holy patriarch Photius in the time of the most blessed pope Hadrian, as well as the holy synod of Constantinople attacking the same most holy Photius (i.e., in 869-870), are totally condemned and abrogated and must in no way be invoked or named as synods. Let this not happen". Some people have thought that this text had been altered by Photius; but in the so-called "unaltered" text of the letter this passage is replaced by dots (. . .), and the following passage reads: "For the see of blessed Peter, the key-bearer of the heavenly kingdom, has the power to dissolve, after suitable appraisal, any bonds imposed by bishops.

This is so because it is agreed that already many patriarchs, for example Athanasius .. .. after having been condemned by a synod, have been, after formal acquittal by the apostolic see, promptly reinstated". Ivo of Chartres explicitly affirms: "The synod of Constantinople which was held against Photius must not be recognised. John VIII wrote to the patriarch Photius (in 879): We make void that synod which was held against Photius at Constantinople and we have completely blotted it out for various reasons as well as for the fact that Pope Hadrian did not sign its acts". Ivo adds from the instructions that John VIII gave to his legates for the council in 879: "You will say that, as regards the synods which were held against Photius under Pope Hadrian at Rome or Constantinople, we annul them and wholly exclude them from the number of the holy synods". For these reasons there is no ground for thinking that the text was altered by Photius.

An authentic copy of the acts of the council of 869-870 was sent to Rome, as of right. Anastasius, the librarian, ordered a complete copy to be made for himself. Then, when the legates' copy was stolen, he translated his own copy into Latin, on Pope Hadrian's orders, making a word for word translation. Anastasius also makes it plain that the Greeks adopted every means to distort the acts, "by abbreviating here and by expanding or changing there". He adds: "Whatever is found in the Latin copy of the acts of the eighth synod is completely free from the alloy of falsehood; however, whatever more is found in the Greek text is thoroughly infected with poisonous lies".

The Greek text has been partly preserved from total destruction in the summary of an anonymous writer who copied out anti-Photian texts. This summary has 14 canons, as opposed to the 27 of Anastasius, and only contains excerpts, dealing with the most important points, of these canons. Where comparison is possible, the Latin version of Anastasius hardly departs from the Greek text. Indeed it is so literal that at times it can only be understood by comparison with the Greek text, and when the latter is missing we must sometimes rely on conjecture.

The documents printed below are taken from the following: the "Definition" from the Roman edition, (Concilia generalia Ecclesiae catholicae [Editio Romana], Rome 4 vols, 1608-1612) 3, 284-287; the canons from Les canons des conciles oecumeniques, ed. P-P. Jouannou (Pontificia commissione per la redazione del codice di diritto canonico orientale. Fonti. Fasc. IX: Discipline generale antique [IIe-IXe s.] tome 1 part 1), Grottaferata 1962 289-342.

The English translation is from the Latin text, for the reasons mentioned above. The material in curly brackets { } has been added by the hypertext editor, as also has some of the formatting

[Definition of the holy and universal eighth synod]

The holy, great and universal synod, which was assembled by God's will and the favour of our divinely approved emperors Basil and Constantine, the holy friends of Christ, in this royal and divinely protected city and in the most famous church bearing the name of holy and great Wisdom, declared the following.

The Word, of one nature with the almighty God and Father, is he who established heaven like a vault and fixed the ends of the earth and the place of all other things. He made it to be contingent and he rules, preserves and saves it. He says through the voice of the prophet, Isaiah: Lift up your eyes to heaven, because heaven has been fashioned like smoke, but the earth shall wear out like a garment; its inhabitants shall perish like them; but my salvation shall last for ever and my justice shall not fail. He was made like us for our sake and has established on earth heavenly justice and said, Heaven and earth shall pass away but my words shall not pass away. He said to all who believed in him: If you continue in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.

It was our God and Lord of infinite power alone who, just like a farmer of supreme wisdom and power, uprooted and scattered and rightfully obliterated many others from an earlier time and from long ago who, given over to lies and in opposition to the truth, were sowing -- to use the gospel image -- evil tares in his field, that is, in the church, and were trying to overwhelm the pure grain of divine justice. He always prepared his manner of deliverance so as to give warning, he established his justice and revealed it with greater clarity. But nevertheless, in our time too, the sower of tares is trying to make the field of the church useless through some utterly depraved and impious people. With that one and the same providence, he has shown that this field is worthy of compassion and snatched it from the filth of iniquity and called it back to its ancient purity. For, to destroy injustice and reinforce divine justice, he has raised up, as an unwavering follower of his commandments, a person proved to be incorrupt in both his knowledge and his maintenance of the truth, our most devout and serene emperor, who is a friend of divine justice and an enemy of injustice. He, by means of the divine help and the overall favour of the church, has gathered together architects from the ends of the earth into this royal city, which must be built up by God, and has assembled a universal synod which, while guarding the strong defences of

has revived the established forms of right conduct and proclaimed truth and justice in the courts of the church.

{Now the customary recapitulation and reassertion of all previous ecumenical councils}

Consequently, all of us bishops who have come to take part in the synod and to strengthen the true and undefiled faith of Christians and the teaching of orthodox religion, we declare our belief in one God, in three persons consubstantial, divine and autonomous, as, for example, we may look at the one nature of light in three suns not unlike each other or in the same number of dazzling objects. We confess, indeed, God to be one, unique in respect of substance, but threefold or three if we are speaking of him in respect of persons, and we declare he has not received from himself that he has been made, nor in any way whatsoever from anyone else; but that he is alone, ever existing without beginning, and eternal, ever the same and like to himself, and suffering no change or alteration, that he exists as the maker and source of all beings endowed with intelligence and feeling. For the holy and great synod of { 1 } Nicaea spoke thus when expounding the creed: Light from light, true God, clearly declaring the Son to be from the Father who is true God, and the rest as the catholic church received it.

We too, accepting this in the identical meaning, anathematize as of unsound mind and an enemy of the truth, Arius and all who, with him and following him, speculate with faulty perceptions on the term "hetero-substantial", that is otherness of substance and unlikeness, with reference to the divinely-ruling and blessed Trinity. But no less do we accept the second, holy and universal synod {2 Constantinople I}, and we anathematize that adversary of the Spirit or rather adversary of God, Macedonius; for we admit in the distinction of persons no difference of substance between the Father, the Son and the divine and autonomous Spirit, as the aforementioned heresiarchs did, nor do we confuse, like the lunatic Sabellius, the persons in one and the same substance. Moreover, we also confess that the unique Word of God became incarnate and was made like us for our sake, for it was not an angel or an envoy but the Lord himself who came and saved us and was made Emmanuel with us; and he was true God, God of Israel and saviour of all, in accordance with the divine and prophetic utterances. For this reason we confess that Mary, most holy and without experience of marriage, who bore him, is properly and truly mother of God, just as the third universal synod, which first assembled at 3 } Ephesus, proclaimed.

In union with that council we too anathematize Nestorius, that worshipper of the man and most self-opinionated individual who possessed a Jewish mentality. We teach that the one and same Christ and Lord is twofold, that is, perfect God and perfect man, possessing in one person the differences of each nature but keeping their properties always unchangeable and unconfused, just as the fourth, holy and universal synod {4 Chalcedon } solemnly taught. In accepting this synod together with the three councils previously enumerated, just like the quadruplicity of the holy gospels, we anathematize the insane Eutyches and the mad Dioscorus. In addition, proclaiming the two natures in the one Christ, according to the still clearer teaching of the fifth, holy and universal synod { 5 Constantinople II}, we anathematize Severus , Peter and Zoharas the Syrian, as well as Origen with his useless knowledge, Theodore of Mopsuestia and Didymus along with Evagrius, who also, although of the same or different opinions, were ensnared in the same pit of damnation.

Further, we accept the sixth, holy and universal synod {6 Constantinople III}, which shares the same beliefs and is in harmony with the previously mentioned synods in that it wisely laid down that in the two natures of the one Christ there are, as a consequence, two principles of action and the same number of wills. So, we anathematize Theodore who was bishop of Pharan, Sergius, Pyrrhus, Paul and Peter, the unholy prelates of the church of Constantinople, and with these, Honorius of Rome, Cyrus of Alexandria as well as Macarius of Antioch and his disciple Stephen, who followed the false teachings of the unholy heresiarchs Apollinarius, Eutyches and Severus and proclaimed that the flesh of God, while being animated by a rational and intellectual soul, was without a principle of action and without a will, they themselves being impaired in their senses and truly without reason.

For if the one and same Christ and God exists as perfect God and perfect man, it is most certain that none of the natures which belong to him can exist partially without a will or without a principle of action, but that he carried out the mystery of his stewardship when willing and acting in accordance with each substance; this is how the chorus of all God's spokesmen, having knowledge of it from the apostles down to our own time, have constructed a colourful representation of that human form, assigning to each part of the one Christ natural properties distinct from each other, by which the meanings and conceptions of his divine nature and of his human nature are believed beyond all doubt to remain without confusion.

We also know that the seventh, holy and universal synod, held for the second time at { 7 } Nicaea, taught correctly when it professed the one and same Christ as both invisible and visible lord, incomprehensible and comprehensible, unlimited and limited, incapable and capable of suffering, inexpressible and expressible in writing. In agreement with that synod, this holy and universal synod publicly anathematizes Anastasius , Constantine and Nicetas , that irrational prelature whose name stinks, or, to put it better, that plain corruption; so too Theodosius of Ephesus, Sisinnius Pastilas and Basil Tricacabus, not forgetting Theodoret, Antony and John, once prelates of new Rome, the royal city of Christians, but better called defamers of Christ.

They declared by word and deed that, despite what the list of prophets proclaimed about Christ, he had been incapable of destroying the statues of the idols. Furthermore, we also anathematize Theodore, who was called Krithinos, whom this great and holy synod summoned and condemned and loudly dinned an anathema into his ears. Similarly we anathematize all those who agreed with or supported those who said that the Word of the divine incarnation came about and existed by fantasy and supposition, indeed that through the removal of the image of our Christ and saviour there came the simultaneous removal of the accepted form of the true body which bore God within it. Everything which cannot be grasped by the imagination is surely to be understood in two ways, either as not existing or as in fact existing but minimally understandable, inasmuch as being invisible and hidden.

Therefore, if anyone happens to have taught any of these things about Christ the God and saviour of us all, he will be clearly proclaimed an enemy of true religion, since the first of these declares that Emmanuel was not truly made man and the second declares that he was indeed man but lacked human qualities, laid aside the flesh he assumed and had recourse in everything to his divine [nature] and to his incomprehensibility; this is alien to all the divinely inspired scriptures, which also clearly state that he will come once more as judge of all, and he is to be seen in the same way as he was seen by his disciples and apostles when he was taken up into heaven.

That theory is full of Manichaean ideas and ungodliness inasmuch as it foolishly declares that a saying of the divinely inspired David was spoken about Christ, in which it says, He has set his tabernacle in the sun, since this impiety supposes that the casting off and laying aside of the Lord's deified body is meant. But the word of truth confidently says, both concerning the well-named Manes and all those who share his thought and are authors of the heresy about the destruction of icons and all other heresiarchs and enemies of religion: They have not known nor understood, but they walked in darkness. 0 you who abandon the right way and walk in the way of darkness, who rejoice in wrongdoing and exult in evil conversion; O you whose paths are evil and steps crooked so that they take you far from the right way and make you foreign to right thinking! Again, those who sowed what was corrupted by the wind have received destruction as their reward; and again, He that trusts in lies feeds the winds: and the same person runs after birds that fly away. For he has abandoned the rows of his vines, he wanders in the furrows of his field; for he wanders through a waterless desert and a great parched plain, yet gathers no fruit in his hands.

For this reasons [the church] brands all these with an anathema and, besides recognizing the seven, holy and universal synods already enumerated by us, has gathered together this eighth universal synod through the grace of our all powerful Christ and God and the piety and zeal of our most serene and divinely strengthened emperor, to cut down and destroy the shoots of injustice that have sprung up against those synods, together with the evil stirrings and influences, in order to bring about peaceful order in the church and stability in the world. For it is not only the removal of true teaching which knows how to destroy those of evil mind and to agitate and disturb the church, but also quibbling over the meaning of the divine commandments equally brings the same destruction on those who are not vigilant, and the world is filled with storms and disturbances by those who are reckoned as Christians.

{Now the council strikes out on its own}

This is what happened in recent times through the folly, cunning and evil machinations of the wretched Photius. He entered the sheepfold not through the door but through a window, and, like a thief or a robber, a destroyer of souls, as the Lord's words indicate, has tried, on every occasion and by every means, to steal, slaughter and destroy the right-thinking sheep of Christ and, by engineering all manner of persecution, he has not ceased from contriving numerous arrests and imprisonments, confiscations of property, protracted periods of exile and, in addition to these, accusations, charges, false testimonies and forgeries against all who worked for true religion and fought for the truth. For he, like another Severus or Dioscorus, engineered the expulsion of the most just, lawful and canonically appointed high priest of the church of Constantinople, namely the most holy patriarch Ignatius, and like an adulterous robber, breaking into his see and repeatedly submitting him to a thousand charges involving dethronement and as many anathemas, he roused continuous turmoil and storms for all the churches of Christ our saviour, in a multiplicity of ways.

However, the salt of the earth has not lost its savour, nor has the eye of the church become completely darkened, nor has the light of true religion been extinguished by the spirits of wickedness; nor has the fire of divine charity lost its destroying and burning power over sinful and worthless material, nor has the word of the Lord, which is sharper than a two-edged sword and a discerner of thoughts, been found ineffectual, nor did the foundation of solid stone collapse when submerged by swollen waters and floods of rivers and storms, but the precious cornerstone, which was laid down in Sion, that is, in the church, upon which the foundation stone of the apostles and prophets was laid for the building up of the church, in our time has sent out from every one of the church's established ranks, even into the ruling city, the new Rome, many other stones rolling over the land, as the prophet says, to destroy and lay waste the intrigues of those who desired and attempted to destroy truth and divine justice.

But with greater force and particular significance, Nicholas, the most blessed and aptly-named pope of old Rome, was sent from above as another cornerstone for the church, preserving as far as possible the figurative likeness, as from an exalted and pre-eminent place, to confront the carefully organised opposition of Photius. By the missiles of his letters and speeches, he struck down the powerful leading supporters of Photius and, reflecting a story of the old Testament, after the manner of the zealot Phinehas, he pierced Photius with the lance of truth as if he were another Midianite defiling the assembly of Israel; and he completely destroyed him on his not [added in Hrd [1]] agreeing to accept the remedies of a healing discipline aimed at treating the scars and healing the adulterous wound, and just as another Peter dealt with Ananias and Sapphira, who stole what belonged to God, by an anathema included as it were in his priestly dignity, he committed him to death.

Following these directives and decrees, the most religious friend of Christ, our emperor, whom the heavenly Emperor and Lord of majesty has raised up for the salvation of the world, has consigned Photius to a suitable place and recalled the most holy patriarch Ignatius to his rightful seat. Furthermore, for the perfect discernment and definition of what is agreed to be good and is beneficial, he has gathered together vicars from all the patriarchal seats and the whole college of bishops which is under his authority. Those of us who came together have celebrated this great and universal synod and, with much examination, testing and discussion, with due care and consistency, we have cut out with the sword of the spirit the roots of scandals and weeds along with their shoots, as we establish the truly innocent and most holy patriarch Ignatius in the controlling seat, while we condemn Photius, the interloper and illegal occupier with all his supporters and promoters of evil. For almighty God says somewhere by the mouth of a prophet: Because of the wickedness of their deeds I will drive them out of my house.

I will do no more to love them. Ephraim is stricken, their root is dried up, they shall bear no fruit; and again: Canaan, there is a deceitful balance in his hand, he has loved oppression. And Ephraim said: But yet I am become rich, I have found for myself a place of repose: all his labours shall not find me, despite the iniquities that I have committed; and again: And the house of Jacob shall possess their own possessions. The house of Jacob shall be afire and the house of Joseph aflame, and the house of Esau stubble; they shall burn them and consume them, and there shall be no survivor to the house of Esau, for the Lord has spoken.

For the wretched Photius was truly like the person who did not make God his refuge; but trusted in the abundance of his cunning and sought refuge in the vanity of his iniquities, following the example of Ephraim of old, in turning his back on the divine mercy; the word of the prophet mocks and derides him, saying: Ephraim is become as bread baked under ashes, that is not turned. Strangers have devoured his strength and he knew it not, grey hairs also are spread upon him, and he is ignorant of it. He shall be humbled by the insult of Israel before his face; and in all this he has not returned to the Lord, his God. Ephraim is become as a dove, that called upon the table of Egypt and went to the Assyrians. When they shall go, I will spread my net upon them as upon the birds of the air; I will bring them down, I will strike them to make their tribulation heard. For Photius was lifted up to the heights of arrogance in attacking the most blessed pope of old Rome, Nicholas, and he vomited out the poison of his evil.

He gathered together false vicars from three supposedly eastern sees, set up what was thought to be a synodical council, and, making lists of the names of accusers and witnesses, fashioning profiles and speeches which seemed to be suited to each person who plays a part in a synodical investigation, and making up, writing down and organizing forged records as accounts of those proceedings, he had the audacity to anathematize the aforementioned most blessed pope Nicholas and all those in communion with him. Photius did this in such a way that as a result all the existing bishops and priests, that is, the other patriarchal sees and all the clerics within them, were included in the same anathema, for all were most certainly in communion with the leading bishop, and amongst them himself and his followers. The word of the prophet condemns and refutes him when it says: They have multiplied their transgressions, they have enacted extraneous laws and invoked their confession; and again: They conceived in their heart lying words and turned justice back, and righteousness has stood afar off from them; for truth has been destroyed in their streets and they have been unable to follow the right path.

Truth has disappeared and changed their mind so that it cannot understand. And: He who turns from evil is attacked, and the Lord saw and it displeased him because there was no judgment, and again: Thus says the Lord: For three transgressions of Judah and for four, I will grant them no reprieve; because they have rejected the law of the Lord and have not kept his statutes. Therefore, as regards the man who has acted in this way and has disturbed and shaken the whole holy, catholic and apostolic church with so many brazen attacks of this kind, has utterly refused to be converted and repent, and has refused to submit to the decrees and judgment of the holy patriarchal sees, just as long ago the most blessed pope Nicholas and then his successor, the most holy pope Hadrian,

anathematized him, so too this holy and universal synod has reproved him and put him under an ever severer anathema while addressing to him, in the person of all God's people, the words of the prophet Isaiah: Just as a garment soiled in blood will not be clean, so you will not be clean, for you have defiled the church of Christ and have been a source of scandal and destruction to the people of God on many counts and in many ways. We command that those who do not share this view, but give Photius their willing support, if they are bishops or clerics, must be deposed for ever; we anathematize monks or lay people, until such time as they are converted from their false ways and wickedness.



If we wish to proceed without offence along the true and royal road of divine justice, we must keep the declarations and teachings of the holy fathers as if they were so many lamps which are always alight and illuminating our steps which are directed towards God. Therefore, considering and esteeming these as a second word of God, in accordance with the great and most wise Denis, let us sing most willingly along with the divinely inspired David, The commandment of the Lord is bright, enlightening the eyes, and, Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my paths; and with the author of Proverbs we say, Your commandment is a lamp and your law a light, and like Isaiah we cry to the lord God with loud voice, because your commands are a light for the earth. For the exhortations and warnings of the divine canons are rightly likened to light inasmuch as the better is distinguished from the worse and what is advantageous and useful is distinguished from what is not helpful but harmful.

Therefore we declare that we are preserving and maintaining the canons which have been entrusted to the holy, catholic and apostolic church by the holy and renowned apostles, and by universal as well as local councils of orthodox [bishops], and even by any inspired father or teacher of the church. Consequently, we rule our own life and conduct by these canons and we decree that all those who have the rank of priests and all those who are described by the name of Christian are, by ecclesiastical law, included under the penalties and condemnations as well as, on the other hand, the absolutions and acquittals which have been imposed and defined by them. For Paul, the great apostle, openly urges us to preserve the traditions which we have received, either by word or by letter, of the saints who were famous in times past.


Obey your leaders and submit to them; for they are keeping watch over your souls, as persons who will have to give account, commands Paul, the great apostle. So, having both the most blessed pope Nicholas as the instrument of the holy Spirit and his successor, the most holy pope Hadrian, we declare and order that everything which has been expounded and promulgated by them in a synod at various times, both for the defence and well-being of the church of Constantinople and of its chief priest, namely Ignatius, its most holy patriarch, as well as for the expulsion and condemnation of Photius, the upstart and usurper, should be maintained and observed together with the canons there set forth, unchanged and unaltered, and no bishop, priest or deacon or anyone from the ranks of the clergy should dare to overturn or reject any of these things.

Whoever, then, shall be found, after these directives of ours, despising any of the articles or decrees which have been promulgated by these popes, must be stripped of his dignity and rank, if he is a priest or cleric; a monk or lay person, of whatever dignity, must be excommunicated until he repents and promises to observe all the decrees in question.


We decree that the sacred image of our lord Jesus Christ, the redeemer and saviour of all people, should be venerated with honour equal to that given to the book of the holy gospels. For, just as through the written words which are contained in the book, we all shall obtain salvation, so through the influence that colours in painting exercise on the imagination, all, both wise and simple, obtain benefit from what is before them; for as speech teaches and portrays through syllables, so too does painting by means of colours. It is only right then, in accordance with true reason and very ancient tradition, that icons should be honoured and venerated in a derivative way because of the honour which is given to their archetypes, and it should be equal to that given to the sacred book of the holy gospels and the representation of the precious cross.

If anyone then does not venerate the icon of Christ, the saviour, let him not see his face when he comes in his father's glory to be glorified and to glorify his saints', but let him be cut off from his communion and splendour; similarly the image of Mary, his immaculate mother and mother of God, we also paint the icons of the holy angels just as divine scripture depicts them in words; we also honour and venerate those of the highly renowned apostles, prophets, martyrs and holy men as well as those of all the saints. Let those who are not so disposed be anathema from the Father, the Son and the holy Spirit.


In tearing up by the roots the love of power, as being an evil root nourishing the scandals which have arisen in the church, we condemn, with a just decree, him who boldly, cunningly and unlawfully, like a dangerous wolf, leapt into the sheepfold of Christ; we are speaking about Photius, who has filled the whole world with a thousand upheavals and disturbances. We declare that he never was nor is now a bishop, nor must those, who were consecrated or given advancement by him to any grade of the priesthood, remain in that state to which they were promoted. Moreover, we debar from this kind of preferment those who received from Photius the customary rescripts for promotion to special office.

As for the churches which Photius and those who were ordained by him are thought to have consecrated and the altars which they are thought to have renovated after they had been torn down, we decree that they are to be consecrated, anointed and renovated again. In sum, everything that was done in his person and by him, for the establishing or penalizing of the sacerdotal state, has been abrogated. For the God of the whole universe says through his prophet: Because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me and, You have forgotten the laws of your God, I also will forget your children. The more they increased, the more they sinned against me; I will change their glory into shame. They feed on the sin of my people; they bloat their souls with their iniquities. And again he says: Because Ephraim has multiplied altars for sinning, they have become to him altars for sins; 1 will write copiously about them.


Since we desire to ensure, in Christ, that the stability of the canons should always remain firm in the churches, we renew and confirm the limits and conditions which were formerly decreed by the holy apostles and our holy fathers and which made it a law in the church that nobody, who is a neophyte in the faith or priestly office, should be made a bishop, lest he be puffed up and fall into the judgment and snare of the devil, as the Apostle says. Therefore, in accordance with the previous canons, we declare that nobody of senatorial rank or a secular way of life, who has recently been admitted to the tonsure with the intention or expectation of the honour of becoming a bishop or patriarch, and who has been made a cleric or monk, should rise to such a level, even if he is shown to have completed a considerable time in each stage of the divine priesthood. For it is clear that the tonsure was not received for religious reasons, love of God or hope of progressing along the path of the virtues, but for love of glory and honour. We exclude such people still more rigorously if they are pushed forward by imperial backing.

However, if someone gives no suspicion of seeking the worldly benefits just mentioned, but, prompted by the actual good of a humility which is centered on Christ, renounces the world and becomes a cleric or monk and, while passing through every ecclesiastical grade, is found without reproach and of good character during the periods of time currently established, so that he completes one year in the order of lector, two in that of subdeacon, three as deacon and four as priest, this holy and universal synod has decreed that such a one may be chosen and admitted. As for those who have remained religiously in the order of cleric or monk and have been judged worthy of the dignity and honour of the episcopacy, we reduce the aforesaid period of time to that which the superiors of these bishops approved at the time. If, however, anyone has been advanced to this supreme honour contrary to this directive of ours, he must be condemned and completely excluded from all priestly functions, because he has been elevated contrary to the sacred canons.


It appears that Photius, after the sentences and condemnations most justly pronounced against him by the most holy pope Nicholas for his criminal usurpation of the church of Constantinople, in addition to his other evil deeds, found some men of wicked and sycophantic character from the squares and streets of the city and proposed and designated them as vicars of the three most holy patriarchal sees in the east. He formed with these a church of evil-doers and a fraudulent council and set in motion accusations and charges entailing deposition against the most blessed pope Nicholas and repeatedly, impudently and boldly issued anathemas against him and all those in communion with him. The records of all these things have been seen by us, records which were cobbled together by him with evil intent and lying words, and all of which have been burnt during this very synod.

Therefore, to safeguard church order, we anathematize first and foremost the above-mentioned Photius for the reason given; next everyone who henceforth acts deceitfully and fraudulently and falsifies the word of truth and goes through the motions of having false vicars or composes books full of deceptions and explains them in favour of his own designs. With equal vigour Martin, the most holy pope of Rome, a valiant contender for the true faith, rejected behaviour of this kind by a synodal decree.


Moses, the divine spokesman, clearly declares in his law that what is right should also be rightly executed, since a good act is not good unless it is carried out in accordance with reason. So it is indeed good and very advantageous to paint holy and venerable images as also to teach others the disciplines of divine and human wisdom. But it is not good nor at all profitable for any of these things to be done by those who are unworthy.

For this reason we declare and proclaim that those declared anathema by this holy and universal synod may not, on any account, work on sacred images in holy places of worship nor teach anywhere at all, until they are converted from their error and wickedness. Whoever, therefore, after this directive of ours, admits them in any way to paint sacred images in churches, or to teach, must be removed from office if he is a cleric; if he is a lay person, he must be excommunicated and debarred from taking part in the divine mysteries.


The great apostle Paul says somewhere: All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things are beneficial. Therefore, we ought to do everything for the advantage and perfection of the holy church of God and nothing at all to promote controversy and vainglory. Since a report has come to our ears that not only heretics and those who have wrongly obtained the patriarchate of Constantinople, but also the orthodox and legitimate patriarchs, demand and extract from the order of priests guarantees, written in their own hands, which are designed for the security, benefit and, as it were, permanence of the above persons, it has therefore seemed good to this holy and universal synod that nobody at all should do this from now on, with the exception of what is demanded at the time of episcopal consecrations, according to rule and custom, in order to witness to the purity of our faith; every other way of doing it is completely inappropriate and has no part in the building up of the church. So whoever dares to nullify this directive of ours, either by asking for such a document or by providing it to those who ask, shall lose his own office.


From the very beginning the wretched Photius brought about in the church of Constantinople an abundance of all kinds of wickedness. We have learnt that even before his tyrannical period in office he used to give documents, signed by his own hand, to his followers who were learning the wisdom that has been made foolish by God, even though this system was clearly a new invention and thoroughly alien to our holy fathers and doctors of the church.

Since therefore they direct us to loose every bond of wickedness and to make void enforced contracts, the holy and universal synod has declared that nobody, from now on, should hold or keep such a contract, but all, without hindrance, hesitation or fear, may both teach and study if they are competent for either task, with the exception of those who are found to be enslaved to error or heretical beliefs since we strictly forbid such persons to teach or to pursue studies. If anyone shall be found rejecting and transgressing against this directive, he shall lose his rank if he is a cleric; if a lay person, he shall be excommunicated as one who does not believe the Lord's word which says, Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven .


As divine scripture clearly proclaims, Do not find fault before you investigate, and understand first and then find fault, and does our law judge a person without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?. Consequently this holy and universal synod justly and fittingly declares and lays down that no lay person or monk or cleric should separate himself from communion with his own patriarch before a careful enquiry and judgment in synod, even if he alleges that he knows of some crime perpetrated by his patriarch, and he must not refuse to include his patriarch's name during the divine mysteries or offices.

In the same way we command that bishops and priests who are in distant dioceses and regions should behave similarly towards their own metropolitans, and metropolitans should do the same with regard to their own patriarchs. If anyone shall be found defying this holy synod, he is to be debarred from all priestly functions and status if he is a bishop or cleric; if a monk or lay person, he must be excluded from all communion and meetings of the church until he is converted by repentance and reconciled.


Though the old and new Testament teach that a man or woman has one rational and intellectual soul, and all the fathers and doctors of the church, who are spokesmen of God, express the same opinion, some have descended to such a depth of irreligion, through paying attention to the speculations of evil people, that they shamelessly teach as a dogma that a human being has two souls, and keep trying to prove their heresy by irrational means using a wisdom that has been made foolishness.

Therefore this holy and universal synod is hastening to uproot this wicked theory now growing like some loathsome form of weed. Carrying in its hand the winnowing fork of truth, with the intention of consigning all the chaff to inextinguishable fire, and making clean the threshing floor of Christ, in ringing tones it declares anathema the inventors and perpetrators of such impiety and all those holding similar views; it also declares and promulgates that nobody at all should hold or preserve in any way the written teaching of the authors of this impiety. If however anyone presumes to act in a way contrary to this holy and great synod, let him be anathema and an outcast from the faith and way of life of Christians.


The apostolic and conciliar canons clearly forbid the nomination and consecration of bishops which have come about as a result of the power and intrigues of the civil authorities. Therefore we declare and proclaim, in full agreement with them, that if any bishop has received his consecration through the manipulation and constraint of such persons, he should be deposed absolutely as one who has desired and consented to have the gift of God not from the will of God and ecclesiastical law and decree, but from human beings and through their machinations as a result of the prompting of carnal desire.


The divine word says, The worker is worthy of his pay For this reason we too decree and proclaim that the clerics of the great church [of Constantinople], who have served in the lower orders, may rise to the higher grades and, if they have shown themselves worthy, may deservedly enjoy higher dignities, since some of those who now enjoy them either will be called through promotion to more important duties or will vacate them by dying. But those who do not belong to this particular clergy and yet insinuate themselves into it, must not receive the dignities and honours due to those who have laboured in it a long time, for in that case the clerics of the church [of Constantinople] would be found to have no promotion.

Those who manage the houses or estates of leading persons must by no means have the possibility of being admitted or inducted into the clergy of the great church [of Constantinople]: No soldier on service for God gets entangled in civilian pursuits. If indeed anyone, contrary to the directive we have now issued, is promoted to any dignity whatsoever in this great church, he must be excluded from all ecclesiastical dignity as one who has been promoted contrary to the decision of the great synod.


We declare that those who are called by divine grace to the office of bishop, since they bear the image and likeness of the holy hierarchies in heaven, that is of the angels, in accordance with what is clearly an hierarchical dignity and function, should be held as worthy of all honour on the part of everyone, rulers and ruled alike.

We also declare that they must not go to meet a general or any other high official a long way from their churches, nor should they dismount from their horses or mules a long way off or bow down in fear and trembling and prostrate themselves; nor should they go to table for dinner with secular dignitaries and show the same honours as they do to generals, but according to what is in keeping with their own spiritual dignity and honour, they should render to everyone his due: Tribute to whom tribute is due, honour to whom honour is due. They must show that the confessors of the emperors, who are friends of Christ, and those who have the same dignity, deserve great respect from the leading persons of those emperors. Thus the bishop will have the courage to reprimand generals and other leading officials and all other secular authorities as often as he finds them doing something unjust or unreasonable, and in this way to correct them and make them better.

But if some bishop, after the holy directive of this council, shall ignore the honour duly and canonically bestowed on him, and permits something to happen according to the old, debased and disordered custom which is contrary to what has now been declared, he must be suspended for a year and the official involved is to be considered unworthy to take part in the mysteries or the means of grace for two years.


This holy and universal synod, in renewing the canons of the apostles and fathers, has decreed that no bishop may sell or in any way dispose of precious objects or consecrated vessels except for the reason laid down long ago by the ancient canons, that is to say, objects received for the redemption of captives. They must not hand over endowments of churches by emphyteutic leases nor put on sale other agricultural properties, thereby damaging ecclesiastical revenues. We decree that such revenues are for church purposes, the feeding of the poor and the assistance of pilgrims. However, bishops have full powers to improve and enlarge, as opportunity offers, the ecclesiastical properties which produce these revenues. Moreover, they have the right to apportion or bestow their own property on whomsoever they wish and choose, in accordance with their own powers and rights of ownership.

Now that this decree has been made, whoever appears to have acted in a way contrary to this holy and universal synod, must be deposed on the grounds of violating divine law and precepts. Any sale which was made by the bishop, either in writing or otherwise, must be made entirely void, as well as any emphyteutic lease or any other act disposing of precious objects or endowments. Whoever buys or acquires any of the aforementioned precious objects or endowments and does not restore to the church what belongs to it and does not hand over for burning the bills of sale or leases, is anathema until he does what has been determined by this holy and universal synod.

If a bishop is found guilty of having built a monastery with the revenues of a church, he must hand over the monastery to the same church. But if he built it from his own money or other sources, he may have it for his whole life under his own jurisdiction and direction; he may also bequeath it after his death to whomsoever he wishes, but it may not be used as a secular dwelling.


A matter which merits great sorrow, even many tears, has come to our ears from many of the faithful. They say that under the previous emperor some laymen of the senatorial order were seen to plait their hair and arrange it on their heads, and to adopt a kind of priestly dignity in accordance with their different ranks at the emperor's court. They did this by wearing various ornaments and articles of clothing which are proper to priests and, as it was thought, made themselves out to be bishops by wearing a pallium over their shoulders and every other piece of episcopal dress. They also adopted as their patriarch the one who took the leading role in these buffooneries. They insulted and made a mockery of a variety of holy things, such as elections, promotions and consecrations of bishops, or by bringing up subtle but false accusations against bishops, and condemning and deposing them, switching in turn from distress to collusion as prosecutors and defendants.

Such a way of behaving has never been heard of since time began, even among the pagans. It shows that those we have now brought to light are in a worse and more wretched state than the pagan nations. The sacred and universal synod, therefore, has declared and promulgated that these attempts to do evil must be condemned as crimes, and no member of the faithful who bears the name of Christian should henceforth attempt to do or tolerate such a thing, or to protect by silence anyone who has committed such an impious act. If any emperor or any powerful or influential person should attempt to mock holy things in such a way, or with evil intent to carry out or permit such a great wrong to be done against the divine priesthood, he must first be condemned by the patriarch of the time, acting with his fellow bishops, and be excommunicated and declared unworthy to share in the divine mysteries, and then he must accept certain other corrective practices and penances which are judged appropriate. Unless he repents quickly, he must be declared anathema by this holy and universal synod as one who has dishonoured the mystery of the pure and spotless faith.

However, if the patriarch of Constantinople and his suffragan bishops come to know of any others who have committed crimes of this kind and neglect to act against them with the necessary zeal, they must be deposed and debarred from the dignity of their priesthood. Those who in any way have shown, or shall show in future, such impious conduct and have not confessed it in any way and received the appropriate penance, are declared excommunicate by this synod for three years; during the first year they must remain outside the church as public penitents, during the second year they may stand inside the church among the. ranks of the catechumens, during the third year they may join the faithful and thus become worthy of the sanctifying effects of the holy mysteries.


The first, holy and universal synod of Nicaea orders that the ancient custom should be preserved throughout Egypt and the provinces subject to her, so that the bishop of Alexandria has them all under his authority; it declares, "Because such a custom has prevailed in the city of Rome". Therefore this great and holy synod decrees that in old and new Rome and the sees of Antioch and Jerusalem the ancient custom must be preserved in all things, so that their prelates should have authority over all the metropolitans whom they promote or confirm in the episcopal dignity, either through the imposition of hands or the bestowal of the pallium; that is to say, the authority to summon them, in case of necessity, to a meeting in synod or even to reprimand and correct them, when a report about some wrongdoing leads to an accusation.

But since some metropolitans give as an excuse for not responding to the summons of their apostolic prelate that they are detained by their temporal rulers, it has been decided that such an excuse will be utterly invalid. For since a ruler frequently holds meetings for his own purposes, it is intolerable that he should prevent leading prelates from going to synods for ecclesiastical business or hold some back from their meetings. We have learnt, however, that such an obstacle and alleged refusal of permission can come about in various ways at the suggestion of the metropolitan.

Metropolitans have had the custom of holding synods twice a year and therefore, they say, they cannot possibly come to the chief one, that of the patriarch. But this holy and universal synod, without forbidding the meetings held by the metropolitans, is conscious that the synods summoned by the patriarchal see are more necessary and profitable than the metropolitan ones, and so demands that they take place.

A metropolitan synod affects the good order of only one province, a patriarchal synod often affects the good order of a whole civil diocese, and in this way the common good is provided for. So it is fitting that the common good take priority over a particular one, especially when the summons to meet has been issued by those of greater authority. The fact is that certain metropolitans seem to regard with contempt the ancient custom and canonical tradition, by their not meeting together for the common good. Therefore the laws of the church demand, with severe penalties and leaving no loop-hole, that they comply with the summons of their patriarchs whether they are summoned as a body or individually.

We refuse to listen to the offensive claim made by some ignorant people that a synod cannot be held in the absence of the civil authorities. The reason for this is that the sacred canons have never prescribed the presence of secular rulers at synods but only the presence of bishops. Hence we find that they have not been present at synods but only at universal councils.

Furthermore, it is not right that secular rulers should be observers of matters that sometimes come before the priests of God.

Therefore, if any metropolitan ignores his patriarch and disobeys his summons, whether addressed to him alone or to several or to all, unless prevented by a genuine illness or a pagan invasion, and for two whole months after notice of the summons makes no attempt to visit his patriarch, or if he hides in some way or pretends he has no knowledge of the patriarch's summons, he must be excommunicated. If he shows the same stubbornness and disobedience for a year, he must be unconditionally deposed and suspended from all sacerdotal functions and excluded from the dignity and honour that belong to metropolitans. If any metropolitan disobeys even this directive, let him be anathema.


This holy and great synod has decided that the goods or privileges which belong to the churches of God as a result of long enduring custom and have been granted, whether in writing or not, by emperors of revered memory or by other religious people and possessed by the churches for thirty years, must in no way be removed by force on the part of any secular person, or taken away by him on any pretext whatsoever, from the jurisdiction of the prelate who has them. Whatever is known to have been possessed by the churches for thirty years must remain subject to the control and use of the prelate of the church. Any secular person who acts in a way contrary to this present decree shall be ad judged as one who commits sacrilege and, until he reforms himself and restores or gives back the privileges and goods belonging to the church, let him be anathema.


Paul, the great apostle, condemns greed as another form of idolatry and wants all who unite under the name of Christian to abstain from every form of shameful love of gain. It is all the more wrong, therefore, for those who have the ministry of the priesthood to burden their fellow-bishops and suffragans in any way whatsoever.

For this reason this holy and universal synod has decreed that no archbishop or metropolitan should leave his own church and visit other churches under the pretext of an official visitation, nor abuse his authority over other churches and consume the revenues which they have at their disposal and for feeding the poor, and thus, by a form of greed, be a burden to the consciences of our brothers and fellow ministers. An exception is made in the case of hospitality, which may sometimes arise on account of necessary travel. But even then he must accept, with reverence and fear of God, nothing else than what is found prepared from that which is currently at hand. He should quickly continue the journey he has undertaken without asking or demanding any at all of the things which belong to that church or the suffragan bishop. For if the sacred canons decree that every bishop should be sparing in his use of what belongs to his own church, and should no way spend or consume the ecclesiastical revenues in an unfitting or unreasonable way for his own advantage, what kind of impiety do you think he will be found guilty of if he has no scruples about going around and burdening the churches entrusted to other bishops and thereby incurring the charge of sacrilege ?

Whoever attempts to do such a thing, after this directive of ours, shall incur from the patriarch of the time the punishment commensurate with his unjust and greedy behaviour, and shall be deposed and excommunicated as the sacrilegious person he is or, to put it otherwise, as an idolater, according to the teaching of the great Apostle.


It has come to the ears of this holy synod that in certain places some, on their own authority and without the agreement of those who are entrusted with such decisions, callously and mercilessly expel people who have received some of their lands by emphyteusis, on the pretext that the contract about the agreed rent has been broken.

This must not be allowed to happen unless the person who made the emphyteutic contract first listens to the objections through the mediation of some suitable and trustworthy persons. Then, if the leaseholder has not paid for three years the rent due, he may be expelled from his lands. But it is necessary, after the rent has been unpaid for three years, to go to the authorities of the city or region and bring before them a charge against the person who obtained the emphyteutic lease, and to show how he has defaulted. Only then, after the decision and judgment of the officials, may the church take back its property. Nobody may effect the confiscation of the aforesaid lands on his own initiative and authority, since this would be a sign of the worst form of profiteering and greed.

So, if any bishop or metropolitan, contrary to this directive of ours, confiscates any property from anyone, thinking he is protecting his own church, let him be suspended by his patriarch for a time, having first restored what he took away. If he persists in his disobedience to the decision of this holy universal synod, he must be completely removed from office.


We believe that the saying of the Lord that Christ addressed to his holy apostles and disciples, Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever despises you despises me, was also addressed to all who were likewise made supreme pontiffs and chief pastors in succession to them in the catholic church. Therefore we declare that no secular powers should treat with disrespect any of those who hold the office of patriarch or seek to move them from their high positions, but rather they should esteem them as worthy of all honour and reverence. This applies in the first place to the most holy pope of old Rome, secondly to the patriarch of Constantinople, and then to the patriarchs of Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem. Furthermore, nobody else should compose or edit writings or tracts against the most holy pope of old Rome, on the pretext of making incriminating charges, as Photius did recently and Dioscorus a long time ago. Whoever shows such great arrogance and audacity, after the manner of Photius and Dioscorus, and makes false accusations in writing or speech against the see of Peter, the chief of the apostles, let him receive a punishment equal to theirs.

If, then, any ruler or secular authority tries to expel the aforesaid pope of the apostolic see, or any of the other patriarchs, let him be anathema. Furthermore, if a universal synod is held and any question or controversy arises about the holy church of Rome, it should make inquiries with proper reverence and respect about the question raised and should find a profitable solution; it must on no account pronounce sentence rashly against the supreme pontiffs of old Rome.


This holy and universal synod declares and decrees, in agreement with earlier councils, that the promotion and consecration of bishops should be done by means of an election and decision of the college of bishops. So it promulgates as law that no lay authority or ruler may intervene in the election or promotion of a patriarch, a metropolitan or any bishop, lest there be any irregularity leading to improper confusion or quarrelling, especially since it is wrong for any ruler or other lay person to have any influence in such matters. Rather he should be silent and mind his own business until the election of the future bishop has been completed with due process by the ecclesiastical assembly. But if any lay person is invited by the church to join in the discussion and to help with the election, he is permitted to accept the invitation with respect, if he so wishes. For in this way he may be able to promote a worthy pastor in a regular manner, to the benefit of his church.

If any secular authority or ruler, or a lay person of any other status, attempts to act against the common, agreed and canonical method of election in the church, let him be anathema- this is to last until he obeys and agrees to what the church shows it wants concerning the election and appointment of its leader.


We have also learnt that some bishops, at the request of certain people, have unreasonably made a gift of properties belonging to other churches. Thus they usurp the authority of other bishops, so far as they can. This conduct will clearly bring on them the curse of the prophet who says, Woe to those who add house to house and field to field in order to defraud their neighbour, and it has made them guilty of sacrilege. For this reason, this great and universal synod has decided that no brother of ours in the episcopate or anyone else may transact such a wicked property deal, nor, if asked by someone, dispose of any property belonging to other churches, nor install priests or any other clerics in churches that are not under his jurisdiction, without the permission of the bishop responsible for the church in question. Furthermore, no priests or deacons, who are consecrated for holy functions, should perform, of their own accord and decision, any sacred functions in churches to which they have not been appointed from the beginning. This behaviour is unlawful and utterly alien to the canonical regulations.

Whoever, after this declaration of ours, shall be seen to do any of these things which have now been forbidden, must be excommunicated for a period of time, and the contractual arrangements, whether written or not, must be completely dissolved and abrogated because they were made in contravention of the canons. Likewise, the priest or deacon is to be suspended until he withdraws from the church to which he does not belong. But if he ignores the suspension, he must be got rid of completely and dispossessed of every sacred office.


Divine scripture says, Cursed is everyone who does the work of the Lord with slackness Yet some metropolitans have fallen into the depths of negligence and sloth. They summon the bishops subject to their jurisdiction and commit to them the divine offices of their own church as well as litanies and all the sacred ministries which are personal to themselves. The consequence is that they celebrate through the agency of these bishops everything they should readily do themselves. In this way they make those who have merited the dignity of bishop seem like clerics in their service.

These metropolitans, contrary to church law, give themselves to secular business and administration, failing to persevere in prayers and petitions for their own sins and the ignorance of their people. Some excuse this behaviour even though it is utterly and completely contrary to canonical regulations. What is still more serious, it is said that the bishops are told to complete the above ministries at allotted times each month at their own expense. This is totally alien to all apostolic sanction. All this makes such people worthy of the most severe condemnation possible, for they are shown by their actions to be infected by a form of satanic pride and arrogance.

Any metropolitan who, after this directive of the holy and universal synod, is consumed by a similar pride, arrogance or contempt and does not carry out with fear, promptitude and a good conscience the necessary ministries in his own city, but seeks to carry them out through his suffragan bishops, must be punished by his patriarch and be either reformed or deposed.


The holy synod has duly decided that the bishops, priests, deacons and subdeacons of the great church [of Constantinople], who received their consecration from Methodius and Ignatius, the most holy patriarchs, and became hard of heart like the arrogant and unfeeling heart of Pharaoh, and even now are in complete disagreement with this holy and universal synod and, while rejecting harmony with us in the word of truth, have wholeheartedly supported the cause of the usurper Photius, must be deposed and suspended from all sacerdotal functions, just as the most blessed pope Nicholas decreed not long ago. On no account are such men to be readmitted into the ranks of the clergy, even if they wish in future to change their ways. An exception will be made in regard to receiving the means of holiness, and it is only our mercy which makes us think that they are worthy of this. They do not deserve to have the opportunity of being restored by their repentance to their former status, as is illustrated by the case of the odious Esau, though he begged in tears for that favour.


This holy synod has also decided that any priest or deacon who has been deposed by his bishop for some crime, or who alleges he has suffered some kind of injustice and is not satisfied with the judgment of his bishop, saying that he does not trust him and that he has been wronged, either because of the enmity which the bishop has for him or because of favours the bishop wants to bestow on certain others, such a person has the right to have recourse to the metropolitan of his province and to denounce his deposition from office, which he thinks is unjust, or any other injury. The metropolitan should be willing to take up such cases and to summon the bishop who has deposed the cleric or injured him in any way. He should examine the case himself, with the help of other bishops, so as either to confirm the deposition of the cleric beyond all doubt, or to quash it by means of a general synod and the judgment of many persons.

In the same way we decree that bishops may have recourse to the patriarch, their head, if they complain that they have suffered similar things from their metropolitan, so that the business in question may receive a just and right decision from their patriarch and the metropolitans under him. No metropolitan bishop may be judged by his neighbouring metropolitan bishops, even though it is alleged that he has committed serious crimes, but he may only be judged by his own patriarch; we decree that this judgment will be just and beyond suspicion because a number of esteemed people will be gathered around the patriarch, and for this reason his judgment will be fully ratified and confirmed. If anyone does not, agree with what we have promulgated, let him be excommunicated.


We decree that, in ecclesiastical promotions and consecrations, the marks which signify the rank to which each person belongs, should be kept, in accordance with the traditional usages of each province, region and city. Thus bishops who have been permitted to wear the pallium at certain times, may wear it at those times and places but should not abuse so great and honourable a garment through pride, vainglory, human conceit and self-love, by wearing it unnecessarily throughout the divine sacrifice and every other ecclesiastical ceremony. We decree that those who have devoutly embraced the monastic life and merited the dignity of a bishop, should keep the appearance and garments of the monastic habit and that holy way of life. None of them has the right to lay aside that type of dress out of pride and wilful arrogance, lest he is found thereby to violate his personal vows. Just as the continual wearing of the pallium shows the bishop as given to ostentation and vainglory, so the laying aside of the monastic habit exposes him to the same charges.

Therefore, any bishop who wears the pallium outside the occasions stipulated in writing, or lays aside the monastic dress, must either be corrected or be deposed by his patriarch.


[1] J. Hardouin, Conciliorum collectio regia maxima adp. Philippi Labbei et p. Gabrielis Cossartii e Societate Jesu labores haud modica accessione facta et emendationibus pluribus additis ..., 12 vols. Paris 1714-1715

Introduction and translation taken from Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, ed. Norman P. Tanner

Also, see:
Ecumenical Church Councils

The individual articles presented here were generally first published in the early 1980s. This subject presentation was first placed on the Internet in May 1997.

This page - - - - is at
This subject presentation was last updated on - -

Copyright Information

Send an e-mail question or comment to us: E-mail

The main BELIEVE web-page (and the index to subjects) is at: BELIEVE Religious Information Source - By Alphabet