COUNCIL

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COUNCIL; an assembly: by way of eminence, an assembly of the church, called, also, synod. Provincial councils were held as early as the 2d century, that is, synods consisting of the prelates of a single province. The assembled bishops and elders deliberated on doctrines, rites and church discipline, and promised to execute the resolutions of the synod in their churches. These assemblies were usually held in the capitals of the provinces (metropolis), the bishops of which, who, in the 3d century, received the title of metropolitans, usually presided over their deliberations. The councils had no other legislative authority than that which rested on the mutual agreement of the members. After Christianity had become the established religion of the Roman empire, in the beginning of the 4th century, the emperors summoned councils, which were called (Ecumenical, that is, universal councils, because all the bishops of the empire were invited to them. Among these, the most remarkable are, 1." the council of Nice (q. v.), in 325, by which the dogma respecting the Son of God was settled; % that of Constantinople (q. v.), 381, by which the doctrine concerning the Holy Ghost was decided ; 3. that of Ephesus, 431; and, 4. that of Chalcedon, 451; in which two last, the doctrine of the union of the divine and human nature in Christ was more precisely determined. In the 4th century, the opinion arose, that the councils were under the particular direction of the Holy Ghost; hence the great authority which their resolutions obtained. Like the Roman emperors, the German kings exercised, at first, the right of assembling synods; in particular, Charlemagne, during whose reign the clergy of the Frankish empire held a council at Frankfort on the Maine, in 749, which condemned the worship of images introduced among the Greeks. In the middle ages, the popes maintained the right of summoning councils, which, however, cannot be considered as general councils, since the Western church was soon separated from the Greek. The principal of these Latin councils are that of Clermont (1096), in the reign of Urban II, in which the first crusade was resolved upon, and some later ones, in which a reunion with the Greeks was attempted. In consequence of the great schism towards the end of the 14th century, which gave rise to, at first two, and afterwards three, candidates for the papal throne, the council of Pisa was convened, in 1409, which declared that the popes were subordinate to the general COUNCIL, and condemned the schismatic candidates. After the dissolution of the council of Pisa, without having terminated the schism, the council of Constance (q. v.) was held in 1414, the most solemn and numerous of all the councils, which revived the principle, that a general council is superior to the pope, adjusted the schism, and pronounced the condemnation of John Huss (1415), and of his friend Jerome of Prague (1416). The council of Bale (q. v.), in 1431, asserted the same principle, and intended a reformation, if not in the doctrines, yet in the constitution and discipline of the church. At the time of the reformation, the Protestants repeatedly demanded such a council; even the emperor, and the states which had remained faithful to the old doctrine, thought it the best means for restoring peace to the church. But the popes, recollecting the decisions at Pisa, Constance and Bale, so disadvantageous to their authority, constantly endeavored to evade it. At length the pope could no longer resist the importunities of the emperor and the states. He summoned a council at Trent (q. v.), which began its session in 1545, and labored chiefly to confirm the doctrines of the Catholic church against the Protestants. Since the council of Trent, there has been no council, in which all the Catholic states of the West have been represented; but there have been several national councils, particularly in France. The Lutherans have never settled their church concerns by councils; but in the Qalvinistic churches, many particular synods have been held, among which, that of Dort (1618), which confirmed the peculiar opinions of Calvin on election, in opposition to the Arminians, is distinguished. The Protestant councils could never have the same authority as the Catholic in matters of doctrine, for the Protestants do not consider their clergy as constituting the church: moreover, in the Protestant countries of Europe, each monarch has assumed the station of head of the church of his country. The chief questions in regard to councils are, 1. What is their authority in matters of doctrine and discipline ? 2. What is necessary to give them the character of oecumenical or general councils, and to which of those that have been held should this name be confined ? 3. Who has the right to convoke councils, to preside over thern, to be a member of them ? 4. Whether their decrees are authoritative per se, or whether they require to be confirmed by some other power, as the pope, for instance ? All these points are of vital interest to the Catholic church, and have occasioned violent contests. They involve top many considerations to be treated here, and we must refer the reader to Catholic works on this point. Among others, the Dictionnaire de Theologie, par ftergier, extrait de V Encyclopedic Methodique, Toulouse, 1817, contains a full article Concile.