Copyright © By Dr. Adel Elsaie, Book Title: "History of Truth, The Truth about God and Religions"

6.9 The Ecumenical Councils of Church

Translate this page

The First Council in Nicaea I - 325

The Second Council in Constantinople I - 381

The Third Council in Ephesus - 431

The Fourth Council in Chalcedon - 451

The Fifth Council in Constantinople II - 553

The Sixth Council of Constantinople III - 680-81

The Seventh Council of Nicaea II - 787

The word Ecumenical means the whole Catholic Church. The arguments of Fathers of the Church lead to confusing the average Christians about the relationship of the Father with the Son. A fierce theological passion occurred in the Churches of Egypt, Syria and Asia Minor. Gregory, Bishop of Nyssa complained that he could not obtain a straight answer to a simple question "If you ask someone to give you change, he philosophizes about the begotten and the unbegotten. If you say to an attendant: Is my bath ready, he will tell you that the Son was made out of nothing." Buying bread from a bakery turns to a heated argument about whether or not the Father is greater than the Son. These kinds of Byzantine arguments were heating up everywhere and on all levels of intellect. Is the Son of the same substance as the Father, or is it a similar substance? Does Jesus have one or two natures? Is the Son co-eternal with God or not? What is the relation of Christ to God the father? In what sense can God be the father, son, and the holy spirit, and yet still be one? How can there be a God with true unity combined with true diversity? During that time, no one can possibly prove anything definitively one way or another. The whole Byzantine Empire transformed into scholarly theologians! It is interesting to note that in the present day Egypt, the expression Byzantine argument means a useless argument in which each opposing party could never prove their point of views!

At the middle of the third century, political crises, inflation, civil war, drastic trade recession, and barbarian invasions almost brought the collapse of the Roman Empire. In 284, the emperor Diocletian took power with the armyís support. For the first nineteen years of his reign, persecution of the Church was not supported and the Church prospered in numbers. But the infiltration of Christianity in high places was strong, mainly through the governorís wives. Diocletian died in 306, and the army chose his son Constantine as his successor. Constantineís mother may have had Christian sympathies.

The average Christian may not know that councils of senior pastors established the Christian doctrine. Those pastors were arguing about theological subjects that Jesus himself did not introduce. A prerequisite for the appointment of an official in the councils was to have "charisma" which means that he was filled with the Holy Ghost. So when councils with famous members met, the Holy Ghost was among them, omnipotent and active!

The assembly of the first seven Ecumenical Councils of the early Christian world would establish the standards of the doctrine and hierarchy of the new religion. Usually pastors that represented the opposition to the final agreement of the council were fired or transferred to smaller churches. It is worthwhile to pause and take a look at how the Councils came into being and what decisions were made by them - presumably for all eternity. It is also important to examine the political background that surrounded the decision making process that changed Christianity forever.

The First Council in Nicaea I - 325

The first Ecumenical Council took place in Nicaea. Constantine sought to exploit the rapidly expanding religion, with its great potential, to strengthen the Roman Empire. Constantine was persuaded that the disunity of the church was destabilizing the empire. In 324 he felt sure that soon he would go to the Holy Land to see the sacred sites, and to be baptized in Jordan. But his plan was abruptly aborted. He found the Greek churches in Egypt, Palestine, Syria and Asia Minor boiling with controversy about the nature of Jesus. The intense theological emotion started in Alexandria by the charismatic presbyter Arius, who had a soft and impressive voice. He issued a challenge to his bishop Alexander, that the latter found impossible to ignore and even more difficult to argue: how could Jesus have been God of the same substance like God the father? Arius argued that it was blasphemous to think that Jesus was divine by nature. Jesus had specifically said that the father was greater than he. Alexander and his assistant Athanasius immediately realized the theological problem. Arius was asking vital questions about the nature of Jesus and his relationship to God. Arius followed the concept of the divine trinity as Origen had taught. It was not easy to endorse that the son and the father as being identical or of one substance without fairly complicated clarifications. Origen had felt the difficulty himself. He avoided the problem by saying that Jesusí relation to God is a characteristic of divine life. Arius reasoned that Jesus, who was physically born of Mary, grew in wisdom "Logos", suffered failure and death must be less than the unbegotten, deathless, and eternal father. He believed that God is beyond Jesus, and that Jesus coming on Earth was by the will of God, and not by the will of Jesus. Arius therefore clashed with a principle strongly stated by Irenaeus: "Through God alone can God be known."

Arius was not an idiot; he received the support from scholarly and politically powerful bishops. He knew the scriptures well and produced many texts to support his claim that Jesus, the Word, could only be a creature like us. The Logos had been the instrument used by God to bring all creatures into existence. The Word or the Logos had to be entirely different from God. He believed that Jesus had lived a perfect life; he had obeyed God even unto his death on the cross, notwithstanding the last words of Jesus on the cross according to Matthew. He contended that humans by imitating Jesus, the perfect creature, they too would be perfect creatures of God. Alexander and Athanasius harassed Arius. They had a different view regarding the weakness of humanity. Athanasius saw the need for God Himself to descent on earth and be crucified to save humanity because God alone is the Perfect Being. So a domestic dispute in Alexandria became a wide crisis in the Byzantine Empire!

When Constantine selected and brought together 318 bishops for the Council, it was a military and political decision. He needed the support of the new religion in his battles. He claimed that he saw a vision of the Cross in the middle of the sun, his god before converting to Christianity in his last day. Even the bishops had no illusion about that, for not only did the Emperor preside over the Council, he also proclaimed that his will was a divine law. The senior pastors accepted him as a "Universal Bishop" even though he was not baptized, and they let him take part in votes on church doctrine. Constantine was completely ignorant of Jesusí teachings. He was a follower of the solar monotheism of Mithras (the ancient Iranian god of light), who was portrayed on coins as the "invincible sun". When Constantine gave his name to the old Greek commercial city of Byzantium and made Constantinople in 330, five years after the Council, the capital of the Roman Empire, he had a mighty column erected for the ceremonial opening with the Emperor and the "invincible sun god" on the top of it.

When the bishops gathered to resolve the crisis, very few bishops shared Athanasiusí view of Christ. Most held position between Arius and Athanasius. Nevertheless, Athanasius used his powerful skills of argument to impose his theology on the bishops with the support of the atheist emperor. Only Arius and two companions refused to sign this creed. The creed stated, "the Creator, God the father, and the Redeemer, Son of God, were of the same nature, and that Jesus is the only begotten of the father." This absolutely vital Christian law became the churchís canon by imperial decree. That is how Jesus became identical with God. With this as a foundation, the bishops took Pauline Christianity to another level.

After the council, the bishops went on teaching the new creed, and the Arian crisis continued for another sixty years. Arius and his followers fought back and managed to regain imperial favor. Athanasius was exiled about five times. It was still very difficult to explain this creed because it was not in the scriptures and had pagan association. To an outsider or to an average Christian, these theological arguments seemed a waste of time: no one can possibly prove anything definitively one way or another, and the dispute simply proved to be divisive. No one disagreed about the special place that Christ holds, but the question remained in very many minds: What is Jesus Christ? Pauline Christianity had always been an inconsistent faith. Now at the first council, the church had added another paradox of incarnation, despite its apparent incompatibility with monotheism.

The atheist Constantine did the church another enormous favor. He was led by "divine inspiration" to discover the grave of Jesus, who had just become of the same substance of God. However, in spite of his spiritual inspiration and moral Christian values, Constantine did not stop murdering his close relatives during the same year: his son, his wife whom he had plunged into boiling water, and his father in law whom he forced to commit suicide. This is the image of the emperor and the Universal Bishop who managed the Nicene Creed, and who, when the council was over, told the Christians that the agreement was "the decision of God."

The Second Council in Constantinople I - 381

The first council provided the duality of God, while the second Ecumenical council extended the duality to the trinity. The emperor Theodosius I (347-395), who was appreciated when he made the Christian doctrine as the state religion, convened the second council at Constantinople. The church gave him the name "the Great". This Roman emperor was an oppressor of the poor. He overwhelmed the people with intolerable taxes. With his full imperial power, he prevented anyone to give refuge to his oppressed people. If they did so, he had all the inhabitants of the offending village slaughtered. In the year 390, he had seven thousand rebellious citizens murdered in a frightful blood bath; at the same time the "Halleluiah" came to be used in the Christian churches.

In this council, the dogma of the trinity of the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost was introduced and agreed upon as the church doctrine. Theodosius instructed the recognition of the "Nicene Creed," and the Council extended the worshipping to the Holy Ghost beside the Father and the Son. Also, the council declared the Holy Ghost to be made of the same substance of God. Today the church still feeds on this dogma of trinity that was added under Theodosius the Great.

The Third Council in Ephesus - 431

During this second phase of the next four councils, the center of interest shifted from the trinity to the identity of Christ. If Christ is truly God, then in what sense is he also human? And if at the same time God and man are the same, how can he be one? To answer these difficult questions, the Virgin Mary had to be brought in the picture. Notice the step by step formulation of the Christian doctrine that was never mentioned in the scriptures, even though their authenticity is highly questionable.

The East Roman emperor Theodosius II (408-450) and the West Roman emperor Valentianus III (425-455) convened this third Ecumenical Council. These two emperors were not really interested in religion or complicated theology. They were young and fun loving. Theodosius II devoted himself wholly to his hobbies, and tyrannically levied taxes on his subjects to pay for his extravagant way of life. It is no wonder that Theodosius was completely under the influence of his power hungry elder sister Pulcheria (399-453). For some time she acted as a regent for her brother and publicized herself as a virgin. After her brotherís death, she had his rival murdered. As for the West Roman Empire, Valentianus was controlled by his mother, and ultimately was assassinated.

This council declared that the Virgin Mary is "Godís bearer" or "Mother of God." The council stated that what Mary bore, was not a human closely united with God, but a single and undivided entity who is God and man at the same time. One attendant who expressed reservation on the title "Godís bearer" was condemned for making a big deal of contrast between Jesus the God and Jesus the man. The council of Ephesus led to a lasting division between the East and the West. The Christians in east Syria and Mesopotamia, living mainly in the Persian Empire and outside the Byzantine borders, felt unable to accept that definition of Mary. While in the West, it was believed that the Church of the East divided Christ into two different entities.

The Fourth Council in Chalcedon - 451

Unable to obtain a fair hearing at the third council, the Christians from Antioch were, to some extent, reinstated at the fourth ecumenical council at Chalcedon. This council was formally convened by the Byzantine emperor Marcianus (396-457), but in reality it was run by the virgin Pulcheria, who had married Marcianus after the death of her brother Theodosius. She knew far better than the bishops what she wanted. She convened the council against the will of the various churches, and she held the deliberations firmly in her hand.

Pope Leo I initiated the dogmatic formula that Jesus had two natures. The council proclaimed the doctrine that divine and human nature are inseparably united in the person Jesus. This was an attempt to compromise and strike a balance between the Alexandrine and Antiochene approaches, allowing for both the diversity and the unity within the incarnate Christ. However, in Alexandria they felt that Antioch had imposed their approach on them, and this further increased the division between the churches. They were willing to say that Christ is "from two natures" but not that he is "in two natures." This double nature still persists as the Chalcedon creed. The council also entrusted the preservation of the unity of the doctrine to the Pope, who would intervene when he saw fit. This is how the religious dominance of Rome started. Today the Vatican people must still be grateful to Pulcheria for pushing through the council of Chalcedon.

The Fifth Council in Constantinople II - 553

The East Roman emperor Justinian I (483-565) staged this council. The bishops of this council had virtually nothing major to do. Anything that Justinian had in mind had been achieved long before by imperial decrees and laws. It is not without irony that this assembly is described in the theological literature as the "council of acclamation." Justinian summoned Pope Vigilius (537-555) who was later quoted by opponents of Papal infallibility to prove their case. Vigilius and the bishops submitted themselves to the powerful political interest of the emperor, who found his place in history books because of his savage laws against heretics. Therefore, a heretic was defined as anyone who denied the Christian doctrine, and was subject to savage punishment, or death. An army of Roman officials tracked down dissenters, rounding them up in droves and forcing them to accept the Christian baptism on Justinianís orders. The third council proclaimed that "God was born", and this council stated that "God died", and the lord was "crucified in flesh." This council also condemned the critical examination of the Bible by Origen for his deviations as unorthodox. When the council took this decision, persecution was not confined to Origenís numerous followers; it also included many others who were not following all the decrees of the councils.

The Sixth Council of Constantinople III - 680-81

The saga of the dual nature of Jesus continued in this council. The council researched the question that if Jesus had two natures; did he have one or two wills? If Jesus was genuinely human, then he must have possessed authentic human freedom. The fourth council gave Jesus two natures, and the sixth council gave him two wills; a divine will as well as a human will. This was a compromise between two opposing parties. Both parties agreed that Christ was truly divine as well as truly human. It was ironic that in the two centuries following the fourth council a lasting agreement between the two sides proved impossible.

The Seventh Council of Nicaea II - 787

The next stage of the Christian era of the seventh council was another controversy about icons. By icons is meant an image, visual representation, or a statue of Christ, the Virgin Mary, the Angels, and saints. It may take the form of a painted panel of wood, but could be a mosaic on the churchís wall, a portrait in metal, or a statue, although statues were extremely rare in the East Christian art. The first attack on the use of icons lasted from 726 until 780. This conflict, as usual, needed imperial politics, and the Empress Irene brought it to an end. Therefore the council convened by the Empress, and stated that it was theologically correct to depict Jesus, Mary, and the saints as icons. In 843, Empress Theodora ordered the restoration of the holy icons. It is interesting that the imperial champions of icon adoration should both have been women, who happened to like art. This seventh council finally transformed the monotheistic religion of Jesus Christ to a polytheistic and pagan religion.

It is important to know the history of the evolution of Christian doctrines that was developed by humans and not by Jesus. Humans developed serious and complex fundamental Christian concepts. If these concepts were true, they should have been spelled out plainly by Jesus in the clearest way. They should not have been left to human interpretations of the Fathers of the Church or the Ecumenical Councils of Church. The job of the messenger of God is to deliver clearly the message of God and live as a role model of the teachings of the religion. This is what Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad did. The messages of Moses and Jesus were blurred and smeared by tribal feud and outrageous incorrect interpretations. On the other hand, Muhammad kept the message of God faithfully and steadfastly.

Consequently, it is important to remember the story of the people of Noah, and how the devil convinced them to commemorate the righteous people by making pictures of them. The next step was to persuade the people to make statues for those righteous people. The last step was to worship the statues, and that was when God sent Noah to them. These stories of the past, we see in churches today. And there is no difference between a Christian church, and a Buddhist or Hindu temple; they all have statues that people worship. Christians, in churches, are presented by the pure moral teachings of Jesus Christ, Peace and Blessing of Allah be upon him, mixed with polytheism and paganism. The memories of moral values affect anyone and make them feel good, while the Emperors and Empresses smile from beyond!

[Next] [Table of Contents] [Home]