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NPNF2-14. The Seven Ecumenical Councils
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Preface.

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The work intrusted to me of preparing this volume evidently can be divided into two separate parts.  The first, the collecting of the material needed and the setting of it before the reader in the English tongue; the other, the preparation of suitable introductions and notes to the matter thus provided.  Now in each of these departments two courses were open to the editor:  the one, to be original; the other, to be a copyist.  I need hardly say that of these the former offered many temptations.  But I could not fail to recognize the fact that such a course would greatly take from the real value of the work, and therefore without any hesitation I have adopted the other alternative, and have endeavoured, so far as was at all possible, to keep myself out of the question altogether; and as a general rule even the translation of the text (as distinguished from the notes) is not mine but that of some scholar of well-established reputation.

In the carrying out of this method of procedure I have availed myself of all the translations which I could find, and where, after comparing them with the original, I have thought them substantially accurate, I have adopted them and reproduced them.  Where I have thought that the translation was misleading, I have amended it from some other translation, and, I think, in no case have I ventured a change of translation which rests upon my own judgment alone.  A very considerable portion, however, of the matter found in this volume is now translated into English for the first time.  For some of this I am indebted to my friends, who have most kindly given me every assistance in their power, but even here no translation has been made from the Greek without careful reference being had to the traditional understanding, as handed down in the Latin versions, and wherever the Latin and Greek texts differ on material points the difference has been noted.  I have not thought it necessary nor desirable to specify the source of each particular translation, but I have provided for the use of the reader a list of all the translations which I have used.  I should also add that I have not considered any one text sufficiently well established as to command any deference being paid to it, and that I have usually followed (for my own convenience rather than for any other reason) the text contained in Labbe and Cossart’s Concilia.  No doubt Hardouin and Mansi are in some respects superior, but old prejudices are very strong, and the reader will remember that these differing Concilia gave rise to a hard-fought battle in the history of the Gallican Church.  I should add, however, that where more recent students of the subject have detected errors of importance in Labbe’s text, I have corrected them, usually noting the variety of reading.  With regard then to the text I entirely disclaim any responsibility, and the more so as on such a matter my opinion would be entirely valueless.  And with regard to the translation my responsibility goes no further than the certifying the reader that, to all intents and purposes, the meaning of the original is presented to him in the English language and without interpretation being introduced under the specious guise of translation.  Some portions are mere literal translations, and some are done into more idiomatic English, but all—so far as I am able to judge—are fair renderings of the original, its ambiguities being duly preserved.  I have used as the foundation of the translation of the canons of the first four synods and of the five Provincial Synods that most convenient book, Index Canonum, by the Rev. John Fulton, D.D., D.C.L., in which united to a good translation is a Greek text, very well edited and clearly printed.

In preparing the other division of the book, that is to say, the Introduction and Notes, I have been guided by the same considerations.  Here will be found no new and brilliant guesses of my own, but a collection of the most reliable conclusions of the most weighty critics and commentators.  Where the notes are of any length I have traced the source and given the exact reference, but for the brief notes, where I have not thought this necessary, the reader may feel the greatest confidence that he is not reading any surmises of mine, but that in every particular what he reads rests upon the authority of the greatest names who have written on the subject.  In the bibliographical table already referred to I have placed the authorities most frequently cited.

I think it necessary to make a few remarks upon the rule which I have laid down for myself with regard to my attitude on controverted questions bearing upon doctrine or ecclesiastical discipline.  It seems to me that in such a work as the present any expression of the editor’s views would be eminently out of place.  I have therefore confined myself to a bare statement of what I conceive to be the facts of the case, and have left the reader to draw from them what conclusions he pleases.  I hope that this volume may be equally acceptable to the Catholic and to the Protestant, to the Eastern and to the Western, and while I naturally think that the facts presented are clearly in accordance with my own views, I hope that those who draw from the same premises different conclusions will find these premises stated to their satisfaction in the following pages.  And should such be the case this volume may well be a step toward “the union of all” and toward “the peace of all the holy churches of God,” for which the unchanging East has so constantly prayed in her liturgy.

I wish to explain to the reader one other principle on which I have proceeded in preparing this volume.  It professes to be a translation of the decrees and canons of certain ecclesiastical synods.  It is not a history of those synods, nor is it a theological treatise upon the truth or otherwise of the doctrines set forth by those synods in their legislation.  I have therefore carefully restricted my own historical introductions to a bare statement of such facts as seemed needed to render the meaning of the matter subsequently presented intelligible to the reader.  And with regard to doctrine I have pursued the same course, merely explaining what the doctrine taught or condemned was, without entering into any consideration of its truth or falsity.  For the history of the Church and its Councils the reader must consult the great historians; for a defence of the Church’s faith he must read the works of her theologians.

I need hardly say that the overwhelming majority of the references found in this volume I have had no opportunity of verifying, no copy of many of the books being (so far as I know) to be found in America.  I have, however, taken great pains to insure accuracy in reproducing the references as given in the books from which I have cited them; this, however, does not give me any feeling of confidence that they may be relied on, especially as in some cases where I have been able to look them up, I have found errors of the most serious kind.

It now only remains that I thank all those who have assisted me in this work, and especially I must mention his Excellency the High Procurator of the Holy Governing Synod of Russia, who directed the bibliographical table of Russian editions of the Canons, etc., which is found in this volume, to be prepared for me by Professor Glubokoffski of the Ecclesiastical Academy at St. Petersburgh.  My special thanks are due to the learned professor just named for the very admirable manner in which he has performed the work, and to Mr. W. J. Birkbeck, who has added one more to his numerous labours for making the West better acquainted with the East by translating the Russian ms. into English.  I cannot but pause here to remark how deep my regret is that my ignorance of the Russian and Slavic tongues has prevented me from laying before my readers the treasures of learning and the stores of tradition and local illustration which these volumes must contain.  I am, however, extremely well pleased in being able to put those, who are more fortunate than myself in this respect, in the way of investigating the matter for themselves, by supplying them with the titles of the books on the subject.  I desire also to offer my thanks to Professor Bolotoff for the valuable information he sent me as well as for a copy of his learned (and often most just) strictures upon Professor Lauchert’s book, “Die Kanones der wichtigsten altkirchlichen Concilien nebst den Apostolischen Kanones.”  (Freiburg in B. und Leipzig, 1896.)

The Rev. Wm. McGarvey has helped me most kindly by translating parts of the Second Council of Nice, and one or more of the African Canons; and by looking over the translation of the entire African Code.

The Rev. F. A. Sanborn translated two of St. Cyril’s letters, and the Rev. Leighton Hoskins the Sardican Canons.  To these and many other of my friends, who in one way or another helped me, I wish to return my deep thanks; also to the Nashotah Theological Seminary and to the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Mt. Airy, Philadelphia, for having placed their libraries entirely at my disposal; nor can I end this list without mention of my sister, who has assisted me most materially through the entire progress of the work, and without whom I never could have undertaken it.

When I think of the great number of authors cited, of the rapidity with which most of the translation has had to be done, of the difficulty of getting access to the necessary books, and of the vast range of subjects touched upon (including almost every branch of ecclesiastical and theological learning), I feel I must throw myself and my work upon the reader’s indulgence and beg him to take all this in consideration in making his estimate of the value of the work done.  As for me, now that it is all finished, I feel like crying out with the reader, in deep shame at the recollection of the many blunders he has made in reading the lesson,—“Tu autem, Domine, miserere nobis!”

In conclusion I would add that nothing I have written must be interpreted as meaning that the editor personally has any doubt of the truth of the doctrines set forth by the Ecumenical Councils of the Christian Church, and I wish to declare in the most distinct manner that I accept all the doctrinal decrees of the Seven Ecumenical Synods as infallible and irreformable.

Henry R. Percival.

Pentecost, 1899.

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