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NPNF2-14. The Seven Ecumenical Councils
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Historical Introduction.

(Bossuet, Def. Cler. Gall., Lib. vij., Cap. ix. et seqq.  Abridged.  Translation by Allies.)

The innovation of Nestorius, Bishop of Constantinople, is known; how he divided into two the person of Christ.  Pope St. Celestine, watchful, according to his office, over the affairs of the Church, had charged the blessed Cyril, Bishop of Alexandria, to send him a certain report of the doctrine of Nestorius, already in bad repute.  Cyril declares this in his letter to Nestorius; and so he writes to Celestine a complete account, and sets forth the doctrines of Nestorius and his own; he sends him two letters from himself to Nestorius, who likewise, by his own letters and explanations, endeavoured to draw Celestine to his side.  Thus the holy Pontiff, having been most fully informed by letters from both sides, is thus inquired of by Cyril.  “We have not confidently abstained from Communion with him (Nestorius) before informing you of this; condescend, therefore, to unfold your judgment, that we may clearly know whether we ought to communicate with him who cherishes such erroneous doctrine.”  And he adds, that his judgment should be written to the other Bishops also, “that all with one mind may hold firm in one sentence.”  Here is the Apostolic See manifestly consulted by so great a man, presiding over the second, or at least the third, Patriarchal See, and its judgment awaited; and nothing remained but that Celestine, being duly consulted, should perform his Apostolic office.  But how he did this, the Acts have shewn.  In those Acts he not only approves the letters and doctrine of Cyril, but disapproves, too, the perverse dogma of Nestorius, and that distinctly, because he was unwilling to call the blessed Virgin Mother of God:  and he decrees that he should be deprived of the Episcopate and Communion unless, within ten days from the date of the announcing of the sentence, he openly rejects this faithless innovation, which endeavours to separate what Scripture joineth together—that is, the Person of Christ.  Here is the doctrine of Nestorius expressly disapproved, and a sentence of the Roman Pontiff on a matter of Faith most clearly pronounced under threat of deposition and excommunication:  then, that nothing be wanting, the holy Pope commits his authority to Cyril to carry into execution that sentence “associating,” he saith to Cyril, “the authority of our See, and using our person, and place, with power.”  So to Cyril; so to Nestorius himself; so to the clergy of Constantinople; so to John of Antioch, then the Bishop of the third or fourth Patriarchal See; so to Juvenal, Bishop of the Holy City, whom the Council of Nice had ordered to be especially honoured:  so he writes to the other Bishops also, that the sentence given may be duly and in order made known to all.  Cyril proceeds to execute his office, and performs all that he had been commanded.  He promulgates and executes the decrees of Celestine; declares to Nestorius, that after the ten days prescribed and set forth by Celestine, he would have no portion, intercourse, or place with the priesthood.  Nothing evidently is wanting to the Apostolical authority being most fully exercised.

But Nestorius, bishop of the royal city, possessed such influence, had deceived men’s minds with such an appearance of piety, had gained so many bishops and enjoyed such favour with the younger Theodosius and the great men, that he could easily throw everything into commotion; and thus there was need of an Ecumenical Council, the question being most important, and the person of the highest dignity; because many bishops, amongst these almost all of the East—that is, of the Patriarchate of Antioch, and the Patriarch John himself—were ill disposed to Cyril, and seemed to favour Nestorius:  because men’s feelings were divided, and the whole empire of the East seemed to fluctuate between Cyril and Nestorius.  Such was the need of an Ecumenical Council.

The Emperor, moved by these and other reasons, wrote to Cyril,—“It is our will that the holy doctrine be discussed and examined in a sacred Synod, and that be ratified which appeareth agreeable to the right faith, whether the wrong party be pardoned by the Fathers or no.”

Here we see three things:  First, after the judgment of St. Celestine, another is still required, that of the Council; secondly, that these two things would rest with the Fathers, to judge of doctrine and of persons; thirdly, that the judgment of the Council would be decisive and final.  He adds, “those who everywhere preside over the Priesthood, and through whom we ourselves are and shall be professing the truth, must be judges of this matter.”  See on whose faith we rest.  See in whose judgment is the final and irreversible authority.

Both the Emperor affirmed, and the bishops confessed, that this was done according to the Ecclesiastical Canons.  And so all, and Celestine himself, prepared themselves for the Council.  Cyril does no more, though named by Celestine to execute the pontifical decree, Nestorius remained in his original rank; the sentence of the universal Council is awaited; and the Emperor had expressly decreed, “that before the assembling and common sentence of the most holy Council, no change should be made in any matter at all, on any private authority.”  Rightly, and in order; for this was demanded by the majesty of an universal Council.  Wherefore, both Cyril obeyed and the bishops rested.  And it was established, that although the sentence of the Roman Pontiff on matters of Faith, and on persons judged for violation of the Faith, had been passed and promulged, all was suspended, while the authority of the universal Council was awaited.

Having gone over what preceded the Council, we review the acts of the Council itself, and begin with the first course of proceeding.  After, therefore, the bishops and Nestorius himself were come to Ephesus, the universal Council began, Cyril being president, and representing Celestine, as being appointed by the Pontiff himself to execute his sentence.  In the first course of proceeding this was done.  First, the above-mentioned letter of the Emperor was read, that an Ecumenical Council should be held, and all proceedings in the mean time be suspended; this letter, I say, was read, and placed on the Acts, and it was approved by the Fathers, that all the decrees of Celestine in the matter of Nestorius had been suspended until the holy Council should give its sentence.  You will ask if it was the will of the Council merely that the Emperor should be allowed to prohibit, in the interim, effect being given to the sentence of the Apostolic See.  Not so, according to the Acts; but rather, by the intervention of a General Council’s authority (the convocation of which, according to the discipline of those times, was left to the Emperor), the Council itself understood that all proceedings were of course suspended, and depended on the sentence of the Council.  Wherefore, though the decree of the Pontiff had been promulged and notified, and the ten days had long been past, Nestorius was held by the Council itself to be a bishop, and called by the name of most religious bishop, and by that name, too, thrice cited and summoned to take his seat with the other bishops in the holy Council; for this expression, “to take his seat,” is distinctly written; and it is added, “in order to answer to what was charged against him.”  For it was their full purpose that he should recognise in whatever way, the Ecumenical Council, as he would then afterwards be, beyond doubt, answerable to it; but he refused to come, and chose to have his doors besieged with an armed force, that no one might approach him.

Thereupon, as the Emperor commanded, and the Canons required, the rule of Faith was set forth, and the Nicene Creed read, as the standard to which all should be referred, and then the letters of Cyril and Nestorius were examined in order.  The letter of Cyril was first brought before the judgment of the Council.  That letter, I mean, concerning the Faith, to Nestorius, so expressly approved by Pope Celestine, of which he had declared to Cyril, “We see that you hold and maintain all that we hold and maintain”; which, by the decree against Nestorius, published to all Churches, he had approved, and wishes to be considered as a canonical monition against Nestorius:  that letter, I repeat, was examined, at the proposition of Cyril himself, in these words:  “I am persuaded that I have in nothing departed from the orthodox Faith, or the Nicene Creed; wherefore I beseech your Holiness to set forth openly whether I have written this correctly, blamelessly, and in accordance with that holy Council.”

And are there those who say that questions concerning the Faith, once judged by the Roman Pontiff on his Apostolical authority, are examined in general Councils, in order to understand their contents, but not to decide on their substance, as being still a matter of question?  Let them hear Cyril, the President of the Council; let them attend to what he proposes for the inquiry of the Council; and though he were conscious of no error in himself yet, not to trust himself, he asked for the sentence of the Council in these words “whether I have written correctly and blamelessly, or not.”  This Cyril, the chief of the Council, proposes for their consideration.  Who ever even heard it whispered that, after a final and irreversible judgment of the Church on a matter of Faith, any such inquiry or question was made?  It was never done, for that would be to doubt about the Faith itself, when declared and discussed.  But this was done after the judgment of Pope Celestine; neither Cyril, nor anyone else, thought of any other course:  that, therefore, was not a final and irreversible judgment.

In answer to this question the Fathers in order give their judgment—“that the Nicene Creed, and the letter of Cyril, in all things agree and harmonise.”  Here is inquiry and examination, and then judgment.  The Acts speak for themselves—we say not here a word.

Next that letter of Nestorius was produced, which Celestine had pronounced blasphemous and impious.  It is read:  then at the instance of Cyril it is examined, “whether this, too, be agreeable to the Faith set forth by the holy Council of the Nicene Fathers, or not.”  It is precisely the same form according to which Cyril’s letter was examined.  The Fathers, in order, give judgment that it disagreed from the Nicene Creed, and was, therefore, censurable.  The letter of Nestorius is disapproved in the same manner, by the same rule, by which that of Cyril was approved.  Here, twice in the same proceeding of the Council of Ephesus, a judgment of the Roman Pontiff concerning the Catholic Faith, uttered and published, is reconsidered.  What he had approved, and what he had disapproved, is equally examined, and, only after examination, confirmed.

In the mean time, the bishops Arcadius and Projectus, and the presbyter Philip, had been chosen by Celestine to be present at the Council of Ephesus, with a special commission from the Apostolic See, and the whole Council of the West.  So they come from Rome to Ephesus, and appear at the holy Council, and here the second procedure commences.

After reading the letter of Celestine, the Legates, in pursuance, say to the bishops:  “Let your Holiness consider the form of the letters of the holy and venerable Pope Celestine the Bishop, who hath exhorted your Holiness, not as instructing those who are ignorant, but as reminding those who are aware:  in order that you may command to be completely and finally settled according to the Canon of our common Faith, and the utility of the Catholic Church, what he has before determined, and has now the goodness to remind you of.”  This is the advantage of a Council; after whose sentence there is no new discussion, or new judgment, but merely execution.  And this the Legates request to be commanded by the Council, in which they recognise that supreme authority.

It behoved, also, that the Legates, sent to the Council on a special mission, should understand whether the proceedings against Nestorius had been pursued according to the requisition of the Canons, and due respect to the Apostolic See.  This we have already often said.  Wherefore, with reason, they require the Acts to be communicated, “that we, too,” say they, “may confirm them.”  The proceedings themselves will declare what that confirmation means.  After that, at the request of the Legates, the Acts against Nestorius were given them, they thus report about them at the third procedure:  “We have found all things judged canonically, and according to the Church’s discipline.”  Therefore judgments of the Apostolic See are canonically and, according to the Church’s discipline, reconsidered, after deliberation, in a General Council, and judgment passed upon them.  After the Legates had approved the Acts against Nestorius communicated to them, they request that all which had been read and done at Ephesus from the beginning, should be read afresh in public Session, “in order,” they say, “that obeying the form of the most holy Pope Celestine, who hath committed this care to us, we may be enabled to confirm the judgment also of your Holiness.”  After these all had been read afresh, and the Legates agreed to them, Cyril proposes to the holy Council, “That the Legates, by their signature, as was customary, should make plain and manifest their canonical agreement with the Council.”  To this question of Cyril the Council thus answers, and decrees that the Legates, by their subscription, confirm the Acts; by which place this confirmation, spoken of by the Council, is clearly nothing else but to make their assent plain and manifest, as Cyril proposed.

Finally, Celestine himself, after the conclusion of the whole matter, sends a letter to the holy Council of Ephesus, which he thus begins:  “At length we must rejoice at the conclusion of evils.”  The learned reader understands where he recognizes the conclusion; that is, after the condemnation of Nestorius by the infallible authority of an Ecumenical Council, viz., of the whole Catholic Church.  He proceeds:  “We see, that you, with us, have executed this matter so faithfully transacted.”  All decree, and all execute, that is, by giving a common judgment.  Whence Celestine adds, “We have been informed of a just deposition, and a still juster exaltation:”  the deposition of Nestorius, begun, indeed, by the Roman See, but brought to a conclusion by the sentence of the Council; to a full and complete settlement, as we have seen above:  the exaltation of Maximianus, who was substituted in place of Nestorius immediately after the Ephesine decrees; this is the conclusion of the question.  Even Celestine himself recognises this conclusion to lie not in his own examination and judgment, but in that of an Ecumenical Council.  And this was done in that Council in which it is admitted that the authority of the Apostolic See was most clearly set forth, not only by words, but by deeds, of any since the birth of Christ.  At least the Holy Council gives credence to Philip uttering these true and magnificent encomiums, concerning the dignity of the Apostolic See, and “Peter the head and pillar of the Faith, and foundation of the Catholic Church, and by Christ’s authority administering the keys, who to this very time lives ever, and exercises judgment, in his successors.”  This, he says, after having seen all the Acts of the Council itself, which we have mentioned, so that we may indeed understand, that all these privileges of Peter and the Apostolic See entirely agree with the decrees of the Council, and the judgment entered into afresh, and deliberation upon matters of Faith held after the Apostolic See.

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