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Home > Catholic Encyclopedia > N > The Second Council of Nicaea

The Second Council of Nicaea

Seventh Ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church, held in 787. (For an account of the controversies which occasioned this council and the circumstances in which it was convoked, see ICONOCLASM, Sections I and II.) An attempt to hold a council at Constantinople, to deal with Iconoclasm, having been frustrated by the violence of the Iconoclastic soldiery, the papal legates left that city. When, however, they had reached Sicily on their way back to Rome, they were recalled by the Empress Irene. She replaced the mutinous troops at Constantinople with troops commanded by officers in whom she had every confidence. This accomplished, in May, 787, a new council was convoked at Nicaea in Bithynia. The pope's letters to the empress and to the patriarch (see ICONOCLASM, II) prove superabundantly that the Holy See approved the convocation of the Council. The pope afterwards wrote to Charlemagne: "Et sic synodum istam, secundum nostram ordinationem, fecerunt" (Thus they have held the synod in accordance with our directions).

The empress-regent and her son did not assist in person at the sessions, but they were represented there by two high officials: the patrician and former consul, Petronius, and the imperial chamberlain and logothete John, with whom was associated as secretary the former patriarch, Nicephorus. The acts represent as constantly at the head of the ecclesiastical members the two Roman legates, the archpriest Peter and the abbot Peter; after them come Tarasius, Patriarch of Constantinople, and then two Oriental monks and priests, John and Thomas, representatives of the Patriarchs of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. The operations of the council show that Tarasius, properly speaking, conducted the sessions. The monks John and Thomas professed to represent the Oriental patriarchs, though these did not know that the council had been convoked. However, there was no fraud on their part: they had been sent, not by the patriarchs, but by the monks and priests of superior rank acting sedibus impeditis, in the stead and place of the patriarchs who were prevented from acting for themselves. Necessity was their excuse. Moreover, John and Thomas did not subscribe at the Council as vicars of the patriarchs, but simply in the name of the Apostolic sees of the Orient. With the exception of these monks and the Roman legates, all the members of the Council were subjects of the Byzantine Empire. Their number, bishops as well as representatives of bishops, varies in the ancient historians between 330 and 367; Nicephorus makes a manifest mistake in speaking of only 150 members: the Acts of the Council which we still possess show not fewer than 308 bishops or representatives of bishops. To these may be added a certain number of monks, archimandrites, imperial secretaries, and clerics of Constantinople who had not the right to vote.

The first session opened in the church of St. Sophia, 24 September, 787. Tarasius opened the council with a short discourse: "Last year, in the beginning of the month of August, it was desired to hold, under my presidency, a council in the Church of the Apostles at Constantinople; but through the fault of several bishops whom it would be easy to count, and whose names I prefer not to mention, since everybody knows them, that council was made impossible. The sovereigns have deigned to convoke another at Nicaea, and Christ will certainly reward them for it. It is this Lord and Saviour whom the bishops must also invoke in order to pronounce subsequently an equitable judgment in a just and impartial manner." The members then proceeded to the reading of various official documents, after which three Iconoclastic bishops who had retracted were permitted to take their seats. Seven others who had plotted to make the Council miscarry in the preceding year presented themselves and declared themselves ready to profess the Faith of the Fathers, but the assembly thereupon engaged in a long discussion concerning the admission of heretics and postponed their case to another session. On 26 September, the second session was held, during which the pope's letters to the empress and the Patriarch Tarasius were read. Tarasius declared himself in full agreement with the doctrine set forth in these letters. On 28, or 29, September, in the third session, some bishops who had retracted their errors were allowed to take their seats, after which various documents were read. The fourth session was held on 1 October. In it the secretaries of the council read a long series of citations from the Bible and the Fathers in favour of the veneration of images. Afterwards the dogmatic decree was presented, and was signed by all the members present, by the archimandrites of the monasteries, and by some monks; the papal legates added a declaration to the effect that they were ready to receive all who had abandoned the Iconoclastic heresy. In the fifth session on 4 October, passages form the Fathers were read which declared, or seemed to declare, against the worship of images, but the reading was not continued to the end, and the council decided in favour of the restoration and veneration of images. On 6 October, in the sixth session, the doctrines of the conciliabulum of 753 were refuted. The discussion was endless, but in the course of it several noteworthy things were said. The next session, that of 13 October, was especially important; at it was read the horos, or dogmatic decision, of the council [see VENERATION OF IMAGES (6)]. The last (eighth) was held in the Magnaura Palace, at Constantinople, in presence of the empress and her son, on 23 October. It was spent in discourses, signing of names, and acclamations.

The council promulgated twenty-two canons relating to points of discipline, which may be summarized as follows:

About this page

APA citation. Leclercq, H. (1911). The Second Council of Nicaea. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11045a.htm

MLA citation. Leclercq, Henri. "The Second Council of Nicaea." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11045a.htm>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Anthony A. Killeen.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. February 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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