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NPNF2-14. The Seven Ecumenical Councils
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The Imperial Sacra.

Read at the First Session.

(Found in Labbe and Cossart, Concilia, Tom. VII., col. 49.)

Constantine and Irene—Sovereigns of the Romans in the Faith, to the most holy Bishops, who, by the grace of God and by the command of our pious Sovereignty, have met together in the Council of Nice.

The Wisdom which is truly according to the nature of God and the Father—our Lord Jesus Christ, our true God—who, by his most divine and wonderful dispensation in the flesh, hath delivered us from all idolatrous error:  and, by taking on him our nature, hath renewed the same by the co-operation of the Spirit, which is of the same nature with himself; and having himself become the first High Priest, hath counted you holy men, worthy of the same dignity.

He is that good Shepherd who, bearing on his own shoulders that wandering sheep—fallen man, hath brought him back to his own peculiar folds—that is, the party of angelic and ministering powers (Eph. ii. 14, 15), and hath reconciled us in himself and having taken away the wall of partition, hath broken down the enmity through his flesh, and hath bestowed upon us a rule of conduct tending to peace; wherefore, preaching to all, he saith in the Gospel, Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God (Matt. v. 9).  Of which blessedness, confirming as it does the exaltation of the adoption of sons, our pious Sovereignty desiring above all things to be made partakers, hath ever applied the utmost diligence to direct all our Roman Commonwealth into the ways of unity and concord; and more especially have we been solicitous concerning the right regulation of the Church of God, and most anxious in every way to promote the unity of the priesthood.  For which cause the Chiefs of the Sacerdotal Order of the East and of the North, of the West and of the South, are present in the person of their Representative Bishops, who have with them respectively the replies written in answers to the Synodical Epistle sent from the most holy Patriarch; for such was from the beginning the synodical regulation of the Church Catholic, which, from the one end of the earth to the other, hath received the Gospel.  On this account we have, by the good will and permission of God, caused you, his most holy Priests, to meet together —you who are accustomed to dispense his Testimony in the unbloody sacrifice—that your decision may be in accordance with the definitions of former councils who decreed rightly, and that the splendour of the Spirit may illumine you in all things, for, as our Lord teaches, No man lighteth a candle and putteth it under a bushel, but on a candlestick, that it may give light to all that are in the house; even so, should ye make such use of the various regulations which have been piously handed down to us of old by our Fathers, that all the Holy Churches of God may remain in peaceful order.

As for us, such was our zeal for the truth—such our earnest desire for the interests of religion, our care for ecclesiastical order, our anxiety that the ancient rules and orders should maintain their ground—that though fully engaged in military councils—though all our attention was occupied in political cares—yet, treating all these affairs as but of minor importance, we would allow nothing whatever to interfere with the convocation of your most holy council.  To every one is given the utmost freedom of expressing his sentiments without the least hesitation, that thus the subject under enquiry may be most fully discussed and truth may be the more boldly spoken, that so all dissensions may be banished from the Church and we all may be united in the bonds of peace.

For, when the most holy Patriarch Paul, by the divine will, was about to be liberated from the bands of mortality and to exchange his earthly pilgrimage for a heavenly home with his Master Christ, he abdicated the Patriarchate and took upon him the monastic life, and when we asked him, Why hast thou done this? he answered, Because I fear that, if death should surprise me still in the episcopate of this royal and heaven-defended city, I should have to carry with me the anathema of the whole Catholic Church, which consigns me to that outer darkness which is prepared for the devil and his angels; for they say that a certain synod hath been held here in order to the subversion of pictures and images which the Catholic Church holds, embraces, and receives, in memory of the persons whom they represent.  This is that which distracts my soul—this is that which makes me anxiously to enquire how I may escape the judgment of God—since among such men I have been brought up and with such am I numbered.  No sooner had he thus spoken in the presence of some of our most illustrious nobles than he expired.

When our Pious Sovereignty reflected on this awful declaration (and truly, even before this event, we had heard of similar questionings from many around), we took counsel with ourselves as to what ought to be done; and we determined, after mature deliberation, that when a new Patriarch had been elected, we should endeavour to bring this subject to some decisive conclusion.  Wherefore, having summoned those whom we knew to be most experienced in ecclesiastical matters, and having called upon Christ our God, we consulted with them who was worthy to be exalted to the chair of the Priesthood of this Royal and God-preserved city; and they all with one heart and soul gave their vote in favour of Tarasius—he who now occupies the Pontifical Presidency.  Having, therefore, sent for him, we laid before him our deliberations and our vote; but he would by no means consent, nor at all yield to that which had been determined.  And when we enquired, Wherefore he thus refused his consent?—at first he answered evasively, That the yoke of the Chief Priesthood was too much for him.  But we, knowing this to be a mere pretext coveting his unwillingness to obey us, would not desist from our importunity, but persisted in pressing the acceptance of the dignity of the Chief Priesthood upon him.  When he found how urgent we were with him, he told us the cause of his refusal.  It is (said he) because I perceive that the Church which has been founded on the rock, Christ our God, is rent and torn asunder by schisms, and that we are unstable in our confession, and that Christians in the East, of the same faith with ourselves, decline communion with us, and unite them with those of the West; and so we are estranged from all, and each day are anathematized by all:  and, moreover, I should demand that an Ecumenical Council should be held, at which should be found Legates from the Pope of Rome and from the Chief Priests of the East.  We, therefore, fully understanding these things, introduced him to the assembled company of the Priests—of our most illustrious Princes—and of all our Christian people; and then, in their presence, he repeated to them all that he had before said to us; which, when they heard, they received him joyfully, and earnestly entreated our peace-making and pious Sovereignty that an Ecumenical Council might be assembled.  To this their request, we gave our hearty consent; for, to speak the truth, it is by the good will and under the direction of our God that we have assembled you together.  Wherefore as God, willing to establish his own counsel, hath for this purpose brought you together from all parts of the world, behold the Gospels now lying before you, and plainly crying aloud, “Judge justly;” stand firm as champions of religion, and be ready with unsparing hand to cut away all innovations and new fangled inventions.  And, as Peter the Chief of the Apostolic College, struck the mad slave and cut off his Jewish ear with the sword, so in like manner do ye wield the axe of the Spirit, and every tree which bears the fruit of contention, of strife, or newly-imported innovation, either renew by transplanting through the words of sound doctrine, or lay it low with canonical censure, and send it to the fires of the future Gehenna, so that the peace of the Spirit may evermore protect the whole body of the Church, compacted and united in one, and confirmed by the traditions of the Fathers; and so may all our Roman State enjoy peace as well as the Church.

We have received letters from Hadrian, most Holy Pope of old Rome, by his Legates—namely, Peter, the God-beloved Archpresbyter, and Peter, the God-beloved Presbyter and Abbot—who will be present in council with you; and we command that, according to synodical custom, these be read in the hearing of you all; and that, having heard these with becoming silence, and moreover the Epistles contained in two octavos sent by the Chief Priest and other Priests of the Eastern dioceses by John, most pious Monk and Chancellor of the Patriarchal throne of Antioch, and Thomas, Priest and Abbot, who also are present together with you, ye may by these understand what are the sentiments of the Church Catholic on this point.

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