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NPNF2-14. The Seven Ecumenical Councils
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III.  Contents of the Caroline Books.

If the authorship and authority of these books are difficult subjects, the contents of the books are still more extraordinary, for it seems to be certain, past all possibility of doubt, that the authors of these books had never read the acts nor decrees of the Seventh Ecumenical Synod, of which they were writing; and further that he or they were also completely ignorant of what took place at the Conciliabulum of 754.

One example will be sufficient to prove this point.  In Book IV., Chapter XIV., and also in chapter XX., (Migne’s ed., col. 1213 and col. 1226), the charge is made that the Seventh Council, especially Gregory, the bishop of Neocæsarea, unduly flattered the Empress.  Now as a matter of fact the remarks referred to were made at the Conciliabulum of 754, and not at the Second Council of Nice; they were not made by Gregory of Neocæsarea at all, and the reason they are attributed to him is because he read them in the proceedings of that pseudo-council to the true council of 787.

Other examples could easily be given, but this is sufficient.  Ab uno disce omnes.  The most famous however of all the ignorant blunders found in these books must not here be omitted.  It occurs in Book III., chapter xvij., and is no less serious than to attribute to Constantius, the bishop of Cyprus, the monstrous statement that the sacred images were to be given the supreme adoration due to the Holy Trinity.  What a complete mistake this was, we have already pointed out, and will have been evident to anyone who has read the extracts of the acts given in the foregoing pages.  I have said “mistake;” and I have said so deliberately, because I am convinced that the Caroline books, the decree of Frankfort, and the decision of the Convention of Paris, all sprung from ignorance and blundering; and largely through the force of this particular false statement on which I am writing.  But I must not omit the statement of Sir William Palmer, a champion of these books, that “the acts of the synod of Nice having been sent to Rome in the year 787, Pope Hadrian himself, according to Hincmar, transmitted them into France to Charlemagne, to be confirmed by the bishops of his kingdom; and the Emperor [i.e. Charlemagne] also received the acts directly from Constantinople according to Roger Hovedon.  These prelates, thus furnished with an authentic copy and not a mere translation, composed a reply to the synod” (Treatise on the Church, Vol. II., p. 203).

If Sir William is right, then the author of the Caroline books is thrown into a dark shade indeed, for either he was too ignorant or too careless to read the original Greek, or else, knowing the real state of the case, deliberately misrepresented the synod.  Sir William feels this difficulty, and, a few lines below the sentence I have quoted, attributes the misstatements to a “mistranslation,” viz. the false statement—upon which alone all the rest hung—attributed to the bishop of Cyprus.  But the two claims are contraria inter se.  If they were using an authentic copy of the original sent from Constantinople then they could not have been misled by a “mistranslation;” if they used a mistranslation and took no pains to read the decrees, their opinion and their writings—as well as the decrees which followed from them—were evidently entirely without theological value, and this is the estimation in which they have been held by all unprejudiced scholars without exception, whether agreeing with their conclusions or no.

It will be well to set plainly before the reader the foundation upon which rests the dogmatic teaching of the Caroline Books.  This is, in short, the authority of the Roman See.  That there may be no possible doubt upon this point, I proceed to quote somewhat at length chapter vi., of Book I.; the heading of which reads as follows:  “That the Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church is placed above all other Churches, and is to be consulted at every turn when any controversy arises with regard to the faith.”

“Before entering upon a discussion of the witnesses which the Easterns have absurdly brought forward in their Synod, we think well to set forth how greatly the holy Roman Church has been exalted by the Lord above the other Churches, and how she is to be consulted by the faithful:  and this is especially the case since only such books as she receives as canonical and only such Fathers as she has recognized by Gelasius and the other Pontiffs, his successors, are to be accepted and followed; nor are they to be interpreted by the private will of anyone, but wisely and soberly.…For as the Apostolic Sees in general are to be preferred to all the other dioceses of the world, much more is that see to be preferred which is placed over all the other apostolic sees.  For just as the Apostles were exalted above the other disciples, and Peter was exalted above the other Apostles, so the apostolic sees are exalted above the other sees, and the Roman See is eminent over the other apostolic sees.  And this exaltation arises from no synodical action of the other Churches, but she holds the primacy (primatum) by the authority of the Lord himself, when he said, ‘Thou art Peter, etc.’…

“This church, therefore, fortified with the spiritual arms of the holy faith, and satiated with the health-giving fountains which flow from the well of light and from the source of goodness, resists the horrible and atrocious monsters of heresies, and ministers the honey-sweet cups of teaching to the Catholic Churches of the whole world.…Whence [i.e. from St. Jerome consulting the Pope] we can understand how Saints and learned men who were shining lights in different parts of the world, not only did not depart in faith from the holy Roman Church, but also asked aid of her in time of necessity for the strengthening of the faith.  And this all Catholic Churches should regularly observe, so that they may seek help from her, after Christ, for protecting the faith:  which (quæ) having neither spot nor wrinkle, smites the portentous heads of heresies, and strengthens the minds of the faithful in the faith.  And although many have separated from this holy and venerable communion, nevertheless never have the Churches of our part done so, but instructed by that apostolical erudition, and by his assistance from whom cometh every good and perfect gift, have always received the venerable charismata…; and are careful to follow the see of blessed Peter in all things, as they desire thither to arrive where he sits as keeper of the keys.  To which blessedness may he who deigned to found his Church upon Peter bring us, and make us to persevere in the unity of the holy Church; and may we merit a place in that kingdom of heaven through the intervention of him whose See we follow and to whom have been given the keys.”

Such is the doctrinal foundation of the Caroline books, viz.:  the absolute authority of the Roman See in matters pertaining to the faith of the Church.  It is certainly very difficult to understand how the author of these books could have known that the doctrinal decree of the Synod of Nice had received the approbation of this supreme power which it was so necessary to consult and defer to; and that the Synod which he denounces and rejects had been received by that chief of all the Apostolic Sees as the Seventh of the Ecumenical Councils of the Catholic Church.

Whether the author [or authors] had ever seen the Pope’s letter or no, one thing is certain, he never read with any care even the imperfect translation with which he had been furnished, and of that translation Anastasius Bibliothetius says:  “The translator both misunderstood the genius of the Greek language as well as that of the Latin, and has merely translated word for word; and in such a fashion that it is scarcely ever possible to know (aut vix aut nunquam) what it means; moreover nobody ever reads this translation and no copies of it are made.”548548    Mansi, Tom. xii., 981.

This being the case, when we come to examine the Caroline Books, we are not astonished to find them full of false statements.

In the Preface we are told that the Conciliabulum was “held in Bithynia;” of course as a matter of fact it met in Constantinople.

In Bk. I., chapter j., we find certain words said to occur in the letters of the Empress and her son.  On this Hefele remarks:  “One cannot find the words in either of the two letters of these sovereigns, which are preserved in the acts of the Council of Nice, it is the synod that uses them.549549    Hefele.  Hist. of Councils, Bk. xx., chap. ij., § 400.

In the Second Book, chapter xxvij., the council is charged with saying “Just as the Lord’s body and blood pass over from fruits of the earth to a notable mystery, so also the images, made by the skill of the artificers, pass over to the veneration of those persons whose images they bear.”  Now this was never said nor taught by the Nicene Synod, but something like it was taught by the Constantinopolitan conciliabulum of 754; but the very words cited occur neither in the one set of acts nor in the other!  The underlying thought however was, as we have said, clearly exposed by the iconoclastic synod of 754 and as clearly refuted by the orthodox synod of 787.

In Book III., chapter V., we are told that “Tarasius said in his confession of faith that the Holy Spirit was the companion (contribulum in the Caroline Books) of the Father and of the Son.”  It was not Tarasius who said so at all, but Theodore of Jerusalem, and in using the word ὁμόφυλος he was but copying Sophronius of Jerusalem.

Chapter XVII. begins thus:  “How rashly and (so to speak) like a fool, Constantine, bishop of Constantia in Cyprus, spoke when he said, with the approval of the rest of the bishops, that he would receive and honourably embrace the images; and babbled that the service of adoration which is due to the consubstantial and life-giving Trinity, should be given images, we need not here discuss, since to all who either read or hear this it will be clear that he was swamped in no small error, to wit to confess that he exhibited to creatures the service due to the Creator alone, and through his desire to favour the pictures overturned all the Holy Scriptures.  For what sane man ever either said or thought of saying such an absurdity, as that different pictures should be held in the same honour as the holy, victorious Trinity, the creator of all things, etc.”  But as will be seen by a glance at the acts this is exactly the opposite of what Constantine did say.  Now if, as Sir William Palmer asserts, the author had before him the genuine acts in the original, I do not see how his honesty can be defended, or if his honesty is kept intact, it must be at the expense of his learning or carefulness.  Bower felt this so keenly that he thinks the Caroline Books attribute the words to Constantine the bishop alone and not to the council.  But the subterfuge is vain, for, as we have just seen, the author affirms that Constantine’s speech received “the assent of the rest of the bishops (cæteris consentientibus),” and further not obscurely suggests that Constantine had the courage to say what the others were content to think, but did not dare to say.

In Book IV., the third chapter distinctly states that while lights and incense were used by them in their churches, yet that neither the one nor the other was placed before images.  If this can be relied upon it would seem to fix the Frankish custom of that date.

Chapters XIV. and XX. are distinguished by the most glaring blunders, for they attribute to the Council of Nice the teachings of the Conciliabulum, and in particular they lay them to the door of Gregory of Neocæsarea because he it was who read them.

Finally, in chapter the twenty-eighth, the ecumenical character of II. Nice is denied, on the ground that it has not preserved the faith of the Fathers, and that it was not universal in its constitution.  I beg the reader, who has fresh in his memory the Papal claims set forth in a previous chapter, to consider whether it is possible that the author of that chapter should have seen and known of the Papal acceptance of the Seventh Synod and yet have written as follows:  “Among all the inanities said and done by this synod, this does not seem by any means to be the least, that they styled it ecumenical, for it neither held the purity of the ecumenical faith, nor did it obtain authority through the ecumenical action of the Churches.…If this synod had kept clear of novelties and had rested satisfied with the teachings of the ancient Fathers, it might have been styled ecumenical.  But since it was not contented with the teachings of the ancient Fathers it cannot be styled ecumenical,” etc., etc.

Such are in brief the contents and spirit of the Caroline Books.  Binius indeed says that he found a twenty-ninth chapter in a French ms. of Hadrian’s Epistle.  It is lacking in the ordinary codices.  Petavius thinks it was added by the Council of Frankfort.  It is found in Migne (col. 1218) and the main point is that St. Gregory’s advice is to be followed, viz.:  “We permit images of the Saints to be made by whoever is so disposed, as well in churches as out of them, for the love of God and of his Saints; but never compel anyone who does not wish to do so to bow to them (adorare eas); nor do we permit anyone to destroy them, even if he should so desire.”  I cannot but think that this would be a very lame conclusion to all the denunciation of the preceding chapters.


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