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Home > Catholic Encyclopedia > C > First Council of Constantinople

First Council of Constantinople

(SECOND GENERAL COUNCIL.)

This council was called in May, 381, by Emperor Theodosius, to provide for a Catholic succession in the patriarchal See of Constantinople, to confirm the Nicene Faith, to reconcile the semi-Arians with the Church, and to put an end to the Macedonian heresy.

Originally it was only a council of the Orient; the arguments of Baronius (ad an. 381, nos. 19, 20) to prove that it was called by Pope Damasus are invalid (Hefele-Leclercq, Hist. des Conciles, Paris, 1908, II, 4). It was attended by 150 Catholic and 36 heretical (Semi-Arian, Macedonian) bishops, and was presided over by Meletius of Antioch; after his death, by the successive Patriarchs of Constantinople, St. Gregory Nazianzen and Nectarius.

Its first measure was to confirm St. Gregory Nazianzen as Bishop of Constantinople. The Acts of the council have almost entirely disappeared, and its proceedings are known chiefly through the accounts of the ecclesiastical historians Socrates, Sozomen, and Theodoret. There is good reason to believe that it drew up a formal treatise (tomos) on the Catholic doctrine of the Trinity, also against Apollinarianism; this important document has been lost, with the exception of the first canon of the council and its famous creed (Nicæano-Constantinopolitanum). The latter is traditionally held to be an enlargement of the Nicene Creed, with emphasis on the Divinity of the Holy Spirit. It seems, however, to be of earlier origin, and was probably composed (369-73) by St. Cyril of Jerusalem as an expression of the faith of that Church (Bois), though its adoption by this council gave it special authority, both as a baptismal creed and as a theological formula. Recently Harnack (Realencyklopadie fur prot. Theol. und Kirche, 3rd ed., XI, 12-28) has maintained, on apparently inconclusive grounds, that not till after the Council of Chalcedon (451) was this creed (a Jerusalem formula with Nicene additions) attributed to the Fathers of this council. At Chalcedon, indeed, it was twice recited and appears twice in the Acts of that council; it was also read and accepted at the Sixth General Council, held at Constantinople in 680. The very ancient Latin version of its text (Mansi, Coll. Conc., III, 567) is by Dionysius Exiguus.

The Greeks recognize seven canons, but the oldest Latin versions have only four; the other three are very probably (Hefele) later additions.

At the close of this council Emperor Theodosius issued an imperial decree (30 July) declaring that the churches should be restored to those bishops who confessed the equal Divinity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and who held communion with Nectarius of Constantinople and other important Oriental prelates whom he named. The ecumenical character of this council seems to date, among the Greeks, from the Council of Chalcedon (451). According to Photius (Mansi, III, 596) Pope Damasus approved it, but if any part of the council were approved by this pope it could have been only the aforesaid creed. In the latter half of the fifth century the successors of Leo the Great are silent as to this council. Its mention in the so-called "Decretum Gelasii", towards the end of the fifth century, is not original but a later insertion in that text (Hefele). Gregory the Great, following the example of Vigilius and Pelagius II, recognized it as one of the four general councils, but only in its dogmatic utterances (P.G., LXXVII, 468, 893).

About this page

APA citation. Shahan, T. (1908). First Council of Constantinople. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04308a.htm

MLA citation. Shahan, Thomas. "First Council of Constantinople." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04308a.htm>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Sean Hyland.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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