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Home > Fathers of the Church > Council of Neocæsarea (A.D. 315)

Council of Neocæsarea (A.D. 315)

The Synod gathered together at Neocæsarea, which is a city of Pontus, is next in order after that of Ancyra, and earlier in date than the rest, even than the First Ecumenical Synod at Nice. In this synod the Holy Fathers gathered together, among whom was the holy Martyr Basil, bishop of Amasea, adopted canons for the establishing of ecclesiastical order as follow—

The Canons of the Holy and Blessed Fathers Who Assembled at Neocæsarea, Which are Indeed Later in Date Than Those Made at Ancyra, But More Ancient Than the Nicene: However, the Synod of Nice Has Been Placed Before Them on Account of Its Peculiar Dignity.

Canons

Canon 1

If a presbyter marry, let him be removed from his order; but if he commit fornication or adultery, let him be altogether cast out [i.e. of communion] and put to penance.

Canon 2

If a woman shall have married two brothers, let her be cast out [i.e. of communion] until her death. Nevertheless, at the hour of death she may, as an act of mercy, be received to penance, provided she declare that she will break the marriage, should she recover. But if the woman in such a marriage, or the man, die, penance for the survivor shall be very difficult.

Canon 3

Concerning those who fall into many marriages, the appointed time of penance is well known; but their manner of living and faith shortens the time.

Canon 4

If any man lusting after a woman purposes to lie with her, and his design does not come to effect, it is evident that he has been saved by grace.

Canon 5

If a catechumen coming into the Church have taken his place in the order of catechumens, and fall into sin, let him, if a kneeler, become a hearer and sin no more. But should he again sin while a hearer, let him be cast out.

John Zonaras: "There are two sorts of catechumens. For some have only just come in and these, as still imperfect, go out immediately after the reading of the scriptures and of the Gospels. But there are others who have been for some time in preparation and have attained some perfection; these wait after the Gospel for the prayers for the catechumens, and when they hear the words Catechumens, bow down your heads to the Lord, they kneel down. These, as being more perfect, having tasted the good words of God, if they fall, are removed from their position; and are placed with the hearers; but if any happen to sin while hearers they are cast out of the Church altogether."

Canon 6

Concerning a woman with child, it is determined that she ought to be baptized whenever she will; for in this the woman communicates nothing to the child, since the bringing forward to profession is evidently the individual [privilege] of every single person.

Canon 7

A presbyter shall not be a guest at the nuptials of persons contracting a second marriage; for, since the digamist is worthy of penance, what kind of a presbyter shall he be, who, by being present at the feast, sanctioned the marriage?

Canon 8

If the wife of a layman has committed adultery and been clearly convicted, such [a husband] cannot enter the ministry; and if she commit adultery after his ordination, he must put her away; but if he retain her, he can have no part in the ministry committed to him.

Canon 9

A presbyter who has been promoted after having committed carnal sin, and who shall confess that he had sinned before his ordination, shall not make the oblation, though he may remain in his other functions on account of his zeal in other respects; for the majority have affirmed that ordination blots out other kinds of sins. But if he do not confess and cannot be openly convicted, the decision shall depend upon himself.

Canon 10

Likewise, if a deacon have fallen into the same sin, let him have the rank of a minister.

Canon 11

Let not a presbyter be ordained before he is thirty years of age, even though he be in all respects a worthy man, but let him be made to wait. For our Lord Jesus Christ was baptized and began to teach in his thirtieth year.

Canon 12

If any one be baptized when he is ill, forasmuch as his [profession of] faith was not voluntary, but of necessity [i.e. though fear of death] he cannot be promoted to the presbyterate, unless on account of his subsequent [display of] zeal and faith, and because of a lack of men.

The word used in the Greek for baptized is illuminated (φωτισθῇ), a very common expression among the ancients.

Zonaras explains that the reason for this prohibition was the well-known fact that in those ages baptism was put off so as the longer to be free from the restraints which baptism was considered to impose.

Canon 13

Country presbyters may not make the oblation in the church of the city when the bishop or presbyters of the city are present; nor may they give the Bread or the Cup with prayer. If, however, they be absent, and he [i.e., a country presbyter] alone be called to prayer, he may give them.

Many scholars, including Dionysius Exiguus and Isidore, read the last clause in the plural. In many manuscripts this canon is united with the following and the whole number given as 14.

Canon 14

The chorepiscopi, however, are indeed after the pattern of the Seventy; and as fellow-servants, on account of their devotion to the poor, they have the honour of making the oblation.

See the note under the previous canon, as in many manuscripts the two canons are united in the Ancient Epitome.

Canon 15

The deacons ought to be seven in number, according to the canon, even if the city be great. Of this you will be persuaded from the Book of the Acts.

This canon was observed in Rome and it was not until the xith century that the number of the Seven Cardinal Deacons was changed to fourteen. That Gratian received it into the Decretum (Pars. I., Dist. XCIII., c. xij.) is good evidence that he considered it part of the Roman discipline. Eusebius gives a letter of Pope Cornelius, written about the middle of the third century, which says that at that time there were at Rome forty-four priests, seven deacons, and seven subdeacons; and that the number of those in inferior orders was very great. Thomassinus says that, no doubt in this the Roman Church intended to imitate the Apostles who only ordained seven deacons. But the other Churches did not keep themselves so scrupulously to that number.

In the acts of the Council of Chalcedon it is noted that the Church of Edessa had fifteen priests and thirty-eight deacons. And Justinian, we know, appointed one hundred deacons for the Church of Constantinople. Van Espen well points out that while this canon refers to a previous law on the subject, neither the Council itself, nor the Greek commentators Balsamon or Zonaras give the least hint as to what that Canon was.

The Fathers of Neocæsarea base their limiting of the number of deacons to seven in one city upon the authority of Holy Scripture, but the sixteenth canon of the Quinisext Council expressly says that in doing so they showed they referred to ministers of alms, not to ministers at the divine mysteries, and that St. Stephen and the rest were not deacons at all in this latter sense. The reader is referred to this canon, where to defend the practice of Constantinople the meaning of the canon we are considering is entirely misrepresented.

About this page

Source. Translated by Henry Percival. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 14. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1900.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/3803.htm>.

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