The Constitution Of The State Ch
The Church's constitution received its permanent form in this period. The
conciliar system was carried to its logical completion in the ecumenical
council representing the entire Church and standing at the head of a
system which included the provincial and patriarchal councils, at least in
theory. The clergy were organized into a hierarchy which rested upon the
basis of the single bishop in his diocese, who had under him his clergy,
and culminated in the patriarchs placed over the great divisions of the
State Church, corresponding to the primary divisions of the Empire. The
Emperor assumed the supreme authority in the Church, and the foundation
was laid for what became under Justinian Caesaropapism. By the institution
of the hierarchical gradation of authority and jurisdiction, for the most
part corresponding to the political and administrative divisions of the
Empire, the Church both assumed a rigidly organized form and came more
easily under the control of the secular authority.
(A) The Ecumenical Council
The Council of Nicaea was held before there was any definition of the place
of an ecumenical council. Many councils were held during the Arian
controversy that were quite as representative. It was taken for granted
that the councils were arranged in a scale of authority corresponding to
the extent of the Church represented. The first clear statement of this
principle is at the Council of Constantinople A. D. 382.
Council of Constantinople, A. D. 382, Canon 2. Text, Hefele, § 98.
The so-called second general council was held in 381, but in the
next year nearly the same bishops were called together by
Theodosius (cf. Theodoret, Hist. Ec., V. 9). In a letter
addressed to the Western bishops at a council at Rome this council
speaks of their previous meeting at Constantinople in 381 as being
an ecumenical council. The query suggests itself whether,
considering the fact that it actually only represented the East
and did represent more than one patriarchate, "ecumenical" might
not be understood as being used in a sense similar to that in
which the African bishops spoke of their councils as
universalis. See Hefele, § 100, note.
The following canon is printed as the sixth canon of
Constantinople, A. D. 381, in Hefele and the other collections,
e.g., Bruns and Percival.
If persons who are neither heretics, nor excommunicated, nor condemned,
nor charged with crime claim to have a complaint in matters ecclesiastical
against the bishop,(124) the holy synod commands such to bring their
charges first before all the bishops of the province, and to prove before
them the charges against the accused bishop. But should it happen that the
comprovincials be unable to settle the charges alleged against the bishop,
the complainants shall have recourse then to the larger synod of the
bishops of that diocese,(125) who shall be called together on account of
the complaint; and the complainants may not bring their complaint until
they have agreed in writing to take upon themselves the same punishment
which would have fallen upon the accused, in case the complainants in the
course of the matter should be proved to have brought a false charge
against the bishop. But if any one, holding in contempt these directions,
venture to burden the ear of the Emperor, or the tribunals of the secular
judges, or disturb an ecumenical synod,(126) dishonoring the bishops of
their patriarchal province, such shall not be admitted to make complaint,
because he despises the canons and violates the Church's order.
(B) The Hierarchical Organization
(a) Council of Nicaea, A. D. 325, Canons. Text, Hefele, § 42. Cf.
Kirch, nn. 364-368.
Canons of organization.
Canon 4 regulates the ordinations of bishops; Canon 5 orders that
excommunications in one diocese shall hold good everywhere; Canon
6 defines the larger provincial organization which eventually
resulted in the patriarchates; Canon 7 defines the position of the
bishopric of Jerusalem; Canons 15 and 16 place the bishops
permanently in their sees and the clergy under their own proper
Canon 4. It is by all means proper that a bishop should be appointed by
all the bishops in the province; but should this be difficult, either on
account of urgent necessity or because of distance, three at least should
assemble, and the suffrages of the absent should also be given and
communicated in writing, and then the ordination should take place. But in
every province the ratification of what is done should be left to the
Canon 5. Concerning those, whether of the clergy or of the laity, who have
been excommunicated in the several provinces, let the provisions of the
canon be observed by the bishops which provides that persons cast out by
some be not readmitted by others. Nevertheless, inquiry should be made
whether they have been excommunicated through captiousness, or
contentiousness, or any such like ungracious disposition in the bishops.
And that this matter may have due investigation, it is decreed that in
every province synods shall be held twice a year, in order that when all
the bishops of the province are assembled together, such questions may be
thoroughly examined by them, that so those who have confessedly offended
against their bishop may be seen by all to be for just causes
excommunicated, until it shall appear fit to a general meeting of the
bishops to pronounce a milder sentence upon them. And let these synods be
held, the one before Lent (that the pure gift may be offered to God after
all bitterness has been put away) and let the second be held about autumn.
Canon 6. Let the ancient customs in Egypt, Libya, and Pentapolis prevail,
that the bishop of Alexandria shall have jurisdiction in all these, since
the like is customary for the bishop of Rome also.(127) Likewise in
Antioch and the other provinces, let the churches retain their privileges.
And this is to be universally understood, that if any one be made bishop
without the consent of his metropolitan, the great synod has declared that
such a man ought not to be bishop. If, however, two or three bishops
shall, from natural love of contradiction, oppose the common suffrage of
the rest, it being reasonable and in accordance with the ecclesiastical
law, then let the choice of the majority prevail.
Canon 7. Since custom and ancient tradition have prevailed that the bishop
of AElia [i.e., Jerusalem] should be honored, let him, saving its due
dignity to the metropolis, have the next place of honor.
Canon 15. On account of the great disturbance and discords that occur, it
is decreed that the custom prevailing in certain places contrary to the
canon must wholly be done away; so that neither bishop, presbyter, nor
deacon shall pass from city to city. And if any one, after this decree of
the holy and great synod, shall attempt any such thing or continue in such
course, his proceedings shall be utterly void, and he shall be restored to
the church for which he was ordained bishop or presbyter.
Canon 16. Neither presbyters, nor deacons, nor any others enrolled among
the clergy, who, not having the fear of God before their eyes, nor
regarding the ecclesiastical canon, shall recklessly remove from their own
church, ought by any means to be received by another church; but every
constraint should be applied to restore them to their own parishes;(128)
and, if they will not go, they must be excommunicated. And if one shall
dare surreptitiously to carry off and in his own church ordain a man
belonging to another, without the consent of his own proper bishop from
whom, although he was enrolled in the clergy list, he has seceded, let the
ordination be void.
(b) Synod of Antioch, A. D. 341. Canons, Bruns, I, 80 f., Cf.
Kirch, nn. 439 ff.
For the Council of Antioch, see § 65, c. These canons on
discipline were held in highest authority in the Church, although
enacted by Arians whose creed was rejected. They obtained this
position in the law of the Church because they carried further the
natural line of development long since taken in the ecclesiastical
system. Cf. Hefele, § 56.
Canon 2. All who enter the Church of God and hear the Holy Scriptures, but
do not communicate with the people in prayers, or who turn away, by reason
of some disorder, from the holy partaking of the eucharist, are to be cast
out of the Church until, after they shall have made confession, have
brought forth fruits of penance, and have made earnest entreaty, they
shall have obtained forgiveness; and it is unlawful to communicate with
excommunicated persons, or to assemble in private houses and pray with
those who do not pray in the Church; or to receive in one church those who
do not assemble with another church. And if any one of the bishops,
presbyters, or deacons, or any one in the canon shall be found
communicating with excommunicated persons, let him also be excommunicated,
as one who brings confusion on the order of the Church.
Canon 3. If any presbyter or deacon or any one whatever belonging to the
priesthood shall forsake his own parish and shall depart, and, having
wholly changed his residence, shall set himself to remain for a long time
in another parish, let him no longer officiate; especially if his own
bishop shall summon and urge him to return to his own parish, and he shall
disobey. And if he persist in his disorder, let him be wholly deposed from
his ministry, so that no further room be left for his restoration. And if
another bishop shall receive a man deposed for this cause, let him be
punished by the common synod as one who nullifies the ecclesiastical laws.
Canon 4. If any bishop be deposed by a synod, or any presbyter or deacon,
who has been deposed by his bishop, shall presume to execute any part of
the ministry, whether it be a bishop according to his former function, or
a presbyter, or a deacon, he shall no longer have any prospect of
restoration in another synod, nor any opportunity of making his defence;
but they who communicate with him shall be cast out of the Church, and
particularly if they have presumed to communicate with the persons
aforementioned, knowing the sentence pronounced against them.
Canon 6. If any one has been excommunicated by his own bishop, let him not
be received by others until he has either been restored by his own bishop,
or until, when a synod is held, he shall have appeared and made his
defence, and, having convinced the synod, shall have received a different
sentence. And let this decree apply to the laity, and to the presbyters
and deacons, and all who are enrolled in the clergy list.
Canon 9. It behooves the bishops in each province to acknowledge the
bishop who presides in the metropolis, and who has to take thought of the
whole province; because all men of business come together from every
quarter to the metropolis. Wherefore it is decreed that he have precedence
in rank, and that the other bishops do nothing extraordinary without him,
according to the ancient canon which prevailed from the time of our
fathers, or such things only as pertain to their own particular parishes
and the districts subject to them. For each bishop has authority over his
own parish, both to manage it with piety, which is incumbent on every one,
and to make provision for the whole district which is dependent upon his
city; to ordain presbyters and deacons; and to settle everything with
judgment. But let him not undertake anything further without the bishop of
the metropolis; neither the latter without the consent of the others.
Canon 10. The holy synod decrees that those [bishops] living in village
and country districts, or those who are called chorepiscopi, even though
they have received ordination to the episcopate, shall regard their own
limits and manage the churches subject to them, and be content with the
care and administration of these; but they may ordain readers, subdeacons,
and exorcists, and shall be content with promoting these; but they shall
not presume to ordain either a presbyter or a deacon, without the consent
of the bishop of the city to which he and his district are subject. And if
he shall dare to transgress these decrees, he shall be deposed from the
rank which he enjoys. And a chorepiscopus is to be appointed by the bishop
of the city to which he is subject.
(c) Council of Sardica, A. D. 343 or 344, Canons, Bruns, I, 88. Cf.
Mirbt, n. 113, and Kirch, nn. 448 ff.
The Council of Sardica was intended to be composed of
representatives from the entire Empire who might be able to settle
once and for all the Arian question. It met at Sardica on the
boundary between the two divisions of the Empire as they were then
defined. The Eastern ecclesiastics, strongly Arian, found
themselves outnumbered by the Western bishops who supported
Athanasius and the Nicene definition of faith. The Eastern
representatives withdrew to Philippopolis near by, and held their
own council. The following canons were intended to provide a
system of appeal for cases like that of Athanasius, and although
they do not seem to have been acted upon enough to have become a
part of the Church's system, yet they were of great importance
inasmuch as subsequently they were used as late as the ninth
century for a support to a wholly different system of appeals.
These canons were very early attributed to the Council of Nicaea A.
Canon 3. Bishop Hosius said: This, also, it is necessary to add--that
bishops shall not pass from their own province to another province in
which there are bishops, unless perchance they are invited by their
brethren, that we seem not to close the door to charity. But if in any
province a bishop have an action against his brother bishop, neither shall
call in as judge a bishop from another province. But if judgment shall
have gone against any bishop in a case, and he think that he has a good
case, in order that the question may be heard, let us, if it be your
pleasure, honor the memory of St. Peter the Apostle, and let those who
have tried the case write to Julius, the bishop of Rome, and if he shall
decide that the case should be retried, let it be retried, and let him
appoint judges; but if he shall be satisfied that the case is such that
what has been done should not be disturbed, what has been decreed shall be
Is this the pleasure of all? The synod answered: It is our pleasure.
Canon 4. Bishop Gaudentius said: If it please you, it is necessary to add
to this sentence, which full of sincere charity thou hast pronounced, that
if any bishop has been deposed by the judgment of those bishops who
happened to be in the vicinity, and he asserts that he has fresh matter in
defence, a new bishop is not to be settled in his see, unless the bishop
of Rome judge and render a decision as to this.
Latin Version of Canon 4. Bishop Gaudentius said: If it please you,
there ought to be added to this sentence, which full of holiness thou hast
pronounced, that if any bishop has been deposed by the judgment of those
bishops who dwell in the vicinity, and he asserts that the business ought
to be conducted by him in the city of Rome, another bishop should in
nowise be ordained in his see after the appellation of him who appears to
have been deposed, unless the cause shall have been determined by the
judgment of the bishop of Rome.
Canon 5.(129) Bishop Hosius said: Let it be decreed that if a bishop shall
have been accused and the assembled bishops of the same region shall have
deposed him from his office, and he, so to speak, appeals and takes refuge
with the bishop of the Roman Church and wishes to be heard by him, if
he(130) think it right to renew the examination of his case, let him be
pleased to write to those of fellow-bishops who are nearest the province
that they may examine the particulars with care and accuracy and give
their votes on the matter in accordance with the word of truth. And if any
one demand that his case be heard yet again, and at his request it seems
good to the bishop of Rome to send presbyters from his own side, let it be
in the power of that bishop, according as he judges it to be good and
decides it to be right, that some be sent to be judges with the bishops
and invested with his authority by whom they were sent. And be this also
ordained. But if he thinks that they [the bishops] are sufficient for the
hearing and determining of the matter of the bishop, let him do what shall
seem good in his most prudent judgment.
The bishops answered: What has been said is approved.
(d) Gratian and Valentinian, Rescript; A. D. 378. (MSG, 13:586.)
Mirbt, nn. 118, f.
This rescript was sent in answer to a petition addressed to the
emperors by a Roman council under Damasus. It is, therefore, found
connected with an epistle in the works of Damasus. It does not
seem to have been the foundation of any claim or to have played
any considerable part in the development of the Roman primacy. It
is of importance in the present connection as illustrating the
part emperors took in the internal affairs of the Church. For
Damasus and the disturbances in connection with his election, v.
infra, § 74, a. The rescript may be found in Mansi, III, 624;
Hardouin, I, 842; and in Gieseler, I, 380.
6. If any one shall have been condemned by the judgment of Damasus, which
he shall have delivered with the council of five or seven bishops, or by
the judgment or council of those who are Catholics, and if he shall
unlawfully attempt to retain his church,(131) in order that such a one,
who has been called to the priestly judgment, shall not escape by his
contumacy, it is our will that such a one be remitted by the illustrious
prefects of Gaul and Italy, either by the proconsul or the vicars, use
having been made of due authority, to the episcopal judgment, and shall
come to the city of Rome under an escort; or if such insolence of any one
shall appear in parts very far distant, the entire pleading of his case
shall be brought to the examination of the metropolitan of the province in
which the bishop is, or if he himself is the metropolitan, then of
necessity he shall hasten without delay to Rome, or to those whom the
Roman bishop shall assign as judges, so that whoever shall have been
deposed shall be removed from the confines of the city in which they were
priests. For we punish those who deserve punishment less severely than
they deserve, and we take vengeance upon their sacrilegious stubbornness
more gently than it merits. And if the unfairness or partiality of any
metropolitan, bishop, or priest is suspected, it is allowed to appeal to
the Roman bishop or to a council gathered of fifteen neighboring bishops,
but so that after the examination of the case shall have been concluded
what was settled shall not be begun over again.
(e) Codex Theodosianus, XVI, 1, 2; Feb. 27, A. D. 380. Cf. Kirch, n.
The following edict was issued by Gratian, Valentinian and
Theodosius, requiring the acceptance of the orthodox faith by all
subjects. In other words, the emperors, following the example of
Constantius and Valens in enforcing Arianism, are now enforcing
the Nicene theology. Sozomenus, Hist. Ec., VII, 4, gives the
circumstances under which this edict was issued.
It is our will that all the peoples whom the government of our clemency
rules shall follow that religion which a pious belief from Peter to the
present declares the holy Peter delivered to the Romans, and which it is
evident the pontiff Damasus and Peter, bishop of Alexandria, a man of
apostolic sanctity, follow; that is, that according to the apostolic
discipline and evangelical doctrine we believe in the deity of the Father
and the Son and the Holy Ghost of equal majesty, in a holy trinity. Those
who follow this law we command shall be comprised under the name of
Catholic Christians; but others, indeed, we require, as insane and raving,
to bear the infamy of heretical teaching; their gatherings shall not
receive the name of churches; they are to be smitten first with the divine
punishment and after that by the vengeance of our indignation, which has
the divine approval.
(f) Codex Theodosianus, XVI, 1, 3.
Gratian, Valentinian, and Theodosius to Auxonius, proconsul of
To enforce still further the principles of Nicene orthodoxy
certain bishops were named as teachers of the true faith,
communion with whom was a test of orthodoxy.
We command that all churches be forthwith delivered up to the bishops who
confess the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost to be of one majesty and
power; of the same glory and of one splendor, making no distinction by any
profane division, but rather harmony by the assertion of the trinity of
the persons and the unity of the Godhead, to the bishops who are
associated in communion with Nectarius, bishop of the Church of
Constantinople, and with Timotheus in Egypt, bishop of the city of
Alexandria; in the parts of the Orient, who are in communion with
Pelagius, bishop of Laodicaea and Diodorus, bishop of Tarsus; in
proconsular Asia and in the diocese of Asia, who are in communion with
Amphilochius, bishop of Iconium, and Optimus, bishop of Antioch; in the
diocese of Pontus, who are in communion with Helladius, bishop of Caesarea,
and Otreius, bishop of Melitina, and Gregory, bishop of Nyssa, Terennius,
bishop of Scythia, Marmarius, bishop of Marcianopolis. Those who are of
the communion and fellowship of approved priests(132) ought to be admitted
to possess the Catholic churches; but all who dissent from the communion
of the faith of those whom the special list has named ought to be expelled
from the churches as manifest heretics; and no opportunity whatsoever
ought to be allowed them henceforth of obtaining episcopal churches(133)
that the priestly orders of the true and Nicene faith may remain pure and
no place be given to evil cunning, according to the evident form of our
(g) Council of Constantinople, A. D. 381. Address to Theodosius. See
Mansi, III, 557.
The following letter illustrates the relation of the councils in
the East to the imperial authority. The emperors called the
various general councils, directed their discussions and confirmed
the results. In this way their findings were given the force of
laws and authority throughout the Church. V. infra, §§ 90, 91.
To the most religious Emperor Theodosius, the holy synod of bishops
assembled in Constantinople out of different provinces.
We begin our letter to your Piety with thanks to God, who has established
the Empire of your Piety for the common peace of the churches and for the
support of the true faith. And, after rendering due thanks unto God, as in
duty bound, we lay before your Piety the things which have been done in
the holy synod. When, then, we had assembled in Constantinople, according
to the letter of your Piety, we first of all renewed our unity of heart
each with the other, and then we pronounced some concise definitions,
ratifying the faith of the Nicene Fathers, and anathematizing the heresies
which have sprung up contrary thereto. Besides these things, we also
framed certain canons for the better ordering of the churches, all which
we have subjoined to this our letter. We therefore beseech your Piety that
the decree of the synod may be ratified, to the end that as you have
honored the Church by your letter of citation, so you should set your seal
to the conclusion of what has been decreed. May the Lord establish your
Empire in peace and righteousness, and prolong it from generation to
generation; and may He add unto your earthly powers the fruition of the
heavenly kingdom also. May God, by the prayers of the saints, show favor
to the world, that you may be strong and eminent in all good things as an
Emperor most truly pious and beloved of God.
(h) Synod of Antioch, A. D. 341, Canons, Bruns, I, 80.
The following canons passed at Antioch are the first touching a
habit which they did little to correct. The so-called sixth canon
of Constantinople, 381, in reality a canon of the council of the
next year, took up the matter again. All through the great
controversies appeals were constantly made to the emperors
because, after all, they alone had the authority. Cf. Hefele, §
Canon 11. If any bishop, or presbyter, or any one whatever of the canon
shall presume to betake himself to the Emperor without the consent and
letters of his bishop of the province and particularly of the bishop of
the metropolis, such a one shall be publicly deposed and cast out, not
only from the communion, but also from the rank which he happens to have
had; inasmuch as he dares to trouble the ears of our Emperor, beloved of
God, contrary to the law of the Church. But, if necessary business shall
require any one to go to the Emperor, let him do it with the advice and
consent of the metropolitan and other bishops in the province, and let him
undertake his journey with the letters from them.
Canon 12. If any presbyter or deacon deposed by his own bishop, or any
bishop deposed by a synod, shall dare trouble the ears of the Emperor,
when it is his duty to submit his case to a greater synod of bishops, and
to refer to more bishops the things which he thinks right, and to abide by
the examination and decision made by them; if, despising these, he shall
trouble the Emperor, he shall be entitled to no pardon, neither shall he
have opportunity of defence, nor any hope of future restoration.
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