||This post will concentrate on giving some idea of the authority of both the Popes and Ecumenical Councils
of the Catholic Church. I'll list both the General Councils and quote some remarks about them from
Fr. Philip Hughes' THE CHURCH IN CRISIS: A HISTORY OF THE GENERAL COUNCILS, 325-1870
(Hanover House: 1961).
1. The First General Council of Nicaea, 325
2. The First General Council of Constantinople, 381
3. The General Council of Ephesus, 431
4. The General Council of Chalcedon, 451
5. The Second General Council of Constantinople, 553
6. The Third General Council of Constantinople, 680-81
7. The Second General Council of Nicaea, 787
8. The Fourth General Council of Constantinople, 869-70
9. The First General Council of the Lateran, 1123
10. The Second General Council of the Lateran, 1139
11. The Third General Council of the Lateran, 1179
12. The Fourth General Council of the Lateran, 1215
13. The First General Council of Lyons, 1245
14. The Second General Council of Lyons, 1274
15. The General Council of Vienne, 1311-12
16. The General Council of Constance, 1414-18
17. The General Council of Basel-Ferrara-Florence, 1431-45
18. The Fifth General Council of the Lateran, 1512-17
19. The General Council of Trent, 1545-63
20. The First General Council of the Vatican, 1869-70
21. The Second General Council of the Vatican, 1962-65
The following extracts came from pages 12 and 13 of Fr. Philip Hughes THE CHURCH IN CRISIS:
The first General Council met in 325. The Church had then been an established fact for nearly three hundred
years. How did councils begin -- i.e., meetings of bishops to discuss matters of common interest? When and where
did the first church councils take place? And what about the beginnings of the "prestige" of these councils? That is,
of the idea that what bishops collectively agree is law has a binding force that is greater than any of their individual
instructions to their own see.
To begin with the last point, it is a safe statement that from the moment when history first shows us the Church of
Christ as an institution, the exclusive right of the Church to state with finality what should be believed as Christ's
teaching is manifestly taken for granted. To bring out a theory of belief, or to propose a change in morals which conflicts
with what the Church universally holds is, from the very beginning, to put oneself fatally in the wrong. The immediate,
spontaneous reaction of the Church to condemn thinkers with new and original views of this kind is perhaps the most
general, as it is the most striking, of all the phenomena of the Church's early history, so far back as the record goes.
When it was that bishops first formed the habit of coming together in council, we do not know. It is such an obvious
act, on the part of officials with like problems and responsibilities and authority, that to do this was second nature
surely. What we do know is that as early as the second century (100-200 AD) it was the custom for the bishops who
came together for a bishop's funeral to take charge of the election of his successor. Here is one likely source, it is
suggested, from which came the council of bishops as a recurring feature of ordinary Christian life.
About the year 190 a furious controversy as to the date at which the feast of Easter should be kept, shook the whole
Church, and the pope, St. Victor I, sent orders to the places most troubled that the bishops should meet and report to
him their findings. And a series of councils were then held, in Palestine, in Asia Minor, and in Gaul. Sixty years later
when, with the great career of St. Cyprian, the mists clear away from Roman Africa, we perceive that the bishops'
council is already a long-established practice there.
The following text has been quoted from pages 15-16 of Fr. Hughes' THE CHURCH IN CRISIS:
Ever since the popes were first articulate about the General Council, they have claimed the right to control
its action and, to take their place in it (whether personally or by legates sent in their name) or by their
subsequent acceptance of the council, to give or withhold an approbation of its decisions, which stamps them as
the authentic teaching of the Church of Christ. Only through their summoning it, or through their consenting
to take their place at it, does the assembly of bishops become a General Council. No member of the Church
has ever proposed that a General Council shall be summoned and the pope be left out, nor that the pope should
take any other position at the General Council but as its president.
The history of the twenty General Councils shows that the bishops--a section of them--not infrequently
fought at the council the policies of the popes who had summoned the council, and fought even bitterly. But in no
council has it been moved that the bishop of X be promoted to the place of the Bishop of Rome, or that the Bishop of
Rome's views be disregarded, and held of no more account than those of the bishop of any other major see. There are,
indeed, gaps in our knowledge of the detail of all these events; the mist of antiquity, at times, no doubt obscures
our view, but through the mist at its worst the general shape is ever discernible of a Roman Primacy universally
recognised, and submitted to, albeit (at times) unwillingly--recognised and
submitted to because, so the bishops believed, it was set up by God
This should be enough, for a start, at giving the orthodox view of authority within the Church.
Pax tecum. Sean M. Brooks