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NPNF2-14. The Seven Ecumenical Councils
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Historical Introduction.

Of the Synod of Antioch which adopted the canons subsequently received into the code of the universal church we know the exact date.  This is fixed by the fact that the synod was held at the time of the dedication of the great church in Antioch, known as the “Golden,” which had been begun by his father, Constantine the Great, and was finished in the days of Constantius.  The synod has for this reason always been known as the Synod of Antioch in Encæniis, i.e., at the dedication (in Dedicatione), and was holden in the summer of the year 341.  Ninety-seven bishops assembled together and a large number of them were hostile to St. Athanasius, being professed Eusebians, all of them were Orientals and most of them belonged to the patriarchate of Antioch.  Not a single Western or Latin bishop was present and the pope, Julius, was in no way represented.  This fact gave Socrates the historian the opportunity of making the statement (around which such polemics have raged), that “an ecclesiastical canon commands that the churches should not make decrees against the opinion of the bishop of Rome.”160160    Socrates.  H. E., Lib. II., cap. viij.  Hefele thinks the statement may rest upon nothing more than the letter of Julius I. that the matter should first have been referred to Rome (Hefele.  Hist. Councils, Vol. II., p. 59, n. 2).  But the word used by Socrates is κανών!

But while this much is all clear, there is no council that presents a greater amount of difficulty to the historian as well as to the theologian.  No one can deny that St. Hilary of Poictiers, who was a contemporary, styled it a Synod of Saints (Synodus Sanctorum)161161    Hilar. Pict. De Synodis, seu de Fide Orient., C. xxxii. Ed. Ben., 1170.; that two of its canons were read at Chalcedon as the “canons of the Holy Fathers”; and that Popes John II., Zacharias, and Leo. IV. all approved these canons, and attributed them to “Holy Fathers.”  And yet this synod set forth creeds to rival that of Nice, and, it is said, that some of the canons were adopted to condemn Athanasius.

Various attempts have been made to escape from these difficulties.

It has been suggested that there really were two Synods at Antioch, the one orthodox, which adopted the canons, the other heretical.

Father Emanuel Schelstraten, S. J.162162    Schelstraten, S. J. Sacrum Antiochenum Concil. auctoritati suæ restitutum.  (Ant. 1680.) improved on this theory.  He supposed that the Eusebians stopped behind in Antioch after the orthodox bishops left and then passed the decrees against Athanasius, giving out that the synod was still in session.  This has been adopted by Pagi, Remi Ceillier, Walch, and to a certain extent by Schröckh and others.  But Tillemont demurs to this view, urging that according to Socrates163163    Socrates.  H. E., Lib. II., Cap. viij. the deposition of Athanasius came first and the adoption of the canons afterwards.  But Tillemont would seem to have misunderstood Socrates on this point and this objection falls to the ground.  But another objection remains, viz., that both Socrates and Sozomen say that the creeds were drawn up after the deposition of Athanasius, “and yet” (as Hefele remarks, Vol. II., p. 63), “St. Hilary says that these creeds proceeded from a ‘Synod of Saints.’”

Schelstraten’s hypothesis not being satisfactory, the learned Ballerini, in their appendix to the Opera S. Leonis M., have set forth another theory with which Mansi agrees in his “Notes on Alexander Natalis’s Church History.”  These maintain that the canons did not come from the Council in Encæniis at all, but from another synod held before, in 332; but Hefele rejects this hypothesis altogether, on the following grounds.  First and chiefest because it has no external evidence to support it; and secondly because the internal evidence is most unsatisfactory.  But even if the 25 canons were adopted by a synod at Antioch in 332, the real difficulty would not be obviated, for Socrates says164164    Socrates.  H. E., Lib. I., Cap. xxiv. of that synod that there too the “opposers of the Nicene faith” were able to elect their candidate to fill the place of the banished bishop Eustathius!

Hefele seems to give the true solution of the whole difficulty when he says:  “Certainly Athanasius identified the Eusebians with the Arians and we regard them as at least Semi-arians; but at that time, after they had made the orthodox confession of faith, and repeatedly declared their disapproval of the heresies condemned at Nice, they were considered, by the greater number, as lawful bishops, and thoroughly orthodox and saintly men might without hesitation unite with them at a synod.”165165    Hefele.  History of the Councils.  Vol. II., p. 66.  I have in this introduction done little more than condense Hefele.

Pope Julius styles the very Eusebian synod that deposed Athanasius “dear brethren” while blaming their action, and invited them to a common synod to enquire into the charges made against the Saint.  In view of all this we may well believe that both orthodox and Eusebians met together at the consecration of the Emperor’s new church, and that the whole church afterwards awarded the canons then adopted a rank in accordance with their intrinsic worth, and without any regard to the motives or shades of theological opinion that swayed those who drafted and voted for them.


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