Session six of the Second Council of Nicea 2 has an interesting discussion of what is required for a council to be truly ecumenical:
It [the Council of Hiera] did not enjoy the cooperation [lit. συνέργεια] of the then Pope of Rome or his priests, neither by means of his representatives or an encyclical letter, as is the rule for councils; nor did it win the assent [lit. συμφρονοῦντας] of the patriarchs of the east, of Alexandria, Antioch, and the holy city, or of their priests and bishops…Nor did ‘their voice’, like that of the apostles, ‘go out into the whole earth or their words to the ends of the world’, as did those of the six holy ecumenical councils. (Price, p. 442)
The preceding definition is important because it delineates the differences between Rome and the rest of the Pentarchy. A true ecumenical council does not require Rome’s “assent” (as Father Price translates the term), but rather their “cooperation.” The Greek word for “cooperation” (συνέργεια) is a generalized word that literally translates to “with energy” or “activity.” “συμφρονοῦντας” is a compound word for “together” and “partisans” or “to be minded of.” The latter Greek term is more powerful, and implies a powerful faculty of thought that conceptualizes an issue. In other words, the passive cooperation of Rome is needed while hands-on, unconditional assent (hence, to be a partisan) is required of the rest of the Pentarchy. As Price notes in Footnote 58 on the same page:
As noted by Schatz (1987) 266, a distinction is made between the συνέργεια or ‘cooperation’ of the Roman see and the ‘assent’ (συμφρονοῦντας) of the oriental patriarchs. In fact, during the sessions of Nicaea II one of the oriental representatives, John the synkellos, played a more prominent role than either the Roman representatives.
Rome’s “cooperation” historically has proven to be indirect (through legates) or extremely indirect (vague, retroactive approvals). So, while Rome merely sent legates to some councils (Nicea I, Constantinople III, and Nicea II) it did not to others (Constantinople I and Constantinople II). Saint Cyril of Alexandria during the Council of Ephesus considered the council’s work binding before the Roman legates’ arrived, so it is sort of a cross between the preceding, the legates retroactively approving the work of the council they had not attended and approving its status as ecumenical retroactively at a later session.
Some of the historical details surrounding the councils with the most indirect Roman participation are quite illustrative. For example, while Constantinople I had some element of Roman participation though the Bishop of Thessalonica, Saint Ascholius. In fact, the Pope sent a letter to this effect. Yet, Saint Ambrose indicated in Letters 12 and 13 that his participation was not automatically accepted by the western Bishops, including the Pope (who maybe now had buyer’s remorse), as adequately representing them. They wanted eastern legates to finalize things in a council in the West. The Council replied with a synodical letter flatly refusing. Despite all of this, the Papacy as well as the rest of the West accepted the Creed and Canons of this council. One may perceive how Rome’s “cooperation” was inferred and justified by Rome’s tacit acceptance of the council, though without much fanfare.
Constantinople II takes the historian a little more digging in discerning how it met the criteria of Nicea II as laid out above. Unlike any other ecumenical council, the Pope (Vigilius) was actually “in town” and was supposed to attend. Instead of playing some chief role in presiding over the council, he was in opposition to it the whole time it was in session. He had in effect held a counter-council in penning the First Constitutim and disputed Constantinople II’s premises, with the intent of making this Rome’s (and other western Bishoprics) official position to the whole world. So, no legates of his attended Constantinople II.
In response, the council had in fact “excommunicated” him in its seventh session, as evidenced by his title as Bishop not being used and his name being removed from the diptychs (more formal excommunications occurred to Nestorius and Dioscorus in the two preceding councils, the fifth council merely deposing Vigilius for heresy but not for failing to answer three summons–likely for the reason that if he recanted his restoration would be much easier).
With the preceding taken into account, precisely how did the Pope “cooperate” during the fifth council so as to make it legitimate? It was either “by means of his representatives or an encyclical letter, as is the rule for councils.” One can discount the former criteria, because Vigilius did not send legates. So, the latter (“an encyclical letter”) is the means the Pope cooperated.
The seventh session of the council asserted that the Pope had pre-emptively cooperated despite his lack of cooperation in the present, citing an array of documents to this effect:
[A] brief and formal condemnation of the Three Chapters [from Vigilius], written in 547 to satisfy Justinian and not hitherto made public, a virtually identical document written for the empress Theodora, a long letter from Vigilius to his former deacons Rusticus and Sebastian, depriving them of their office as a penalty for the campaign they had been conducting…to undermine his authority and oppose his Iudicatum of 11 April 548 [a conciliar document], in which had condemned the Three Chapters, a letter from Vigilius to Bishop Valentinus of Tomi [about the Iudicatum]…, a similar letter from Vigilius to Bishop Aurelian of Arles…, the text of an oath taken by Vigilius on 15 August 550 and hitherto kept secret in which he had promised to cooperate with the emperor in securing the condemnation of the three chapters. (Price, Constantinople II, Vol 2, p. 72-73)
One can surmise that the preceding documents missed the mark of actual cooperation or an encyclical to that effect, with perhaps the exception of the Iudicatum. In any event, Constantinople II took the preceding as proof the Pope had approved of their work, condemned the Three Chapters (Nestorianism) in its eighth and final session, and otherwise asserted the necessity of conciliarity (over an against Vigilius’ claims in the First Constitutim that he had settled the matter himself in favor of the Three Chapters). Vigilius, due to his continued house arrest (and likely fear of losing his job due to his deposition, see Ibid., p. 214), wrote a letter to Eutychius of Constantinople recanting his previous position, affirming the canons of the council (Ibid.), and asserting that “we…are in agreement over the one faith” (Ibid., p. 215) This would have been sufficient retroactive cooperation with the council, but the audience was not wide enough due to it being specifically to one bishop. The letter would not properly be understood as an encyclical.
The Second Constitutim corrected this and reiterated what was stated in the letter to Eutychius, but in far more detail. The canons in Session VIII were affirmed in order, (Ibid., see Footnote 4) demonstrating that Vigilius approved of the decree of the council (which had, in effect, condemned him and upheld conciliarity). Just as the First Constitutim was directed to the whole Church against the council, the Second Constitutim was likewise directed to the whole Church in favor of it.
And so, Nicea II gave a realistic, historical criteria for what constitutes an ecumenical council. Rome does not have to affirm every jot and tittle of a council for it to be truly ecumenical. In fact, they could oppose a council while it is happening. Historically, “cooperation” can simply mean affirming the ecumenical council’s canons. This sufficed in lieu of Rome’s unconditional assent in every respect. In this way, Constantinople I and II, which had conditional Roman acceptance only after the time of the council (especially in the latter case), were in fact legitimate councils. Even Chalcedon, in which Rome would not affirm all of the council’s canons (specifically the 28th), confirmed this principle. The fact Rome in some official capacity cooperated with the council (in most respects) sufficed for the council to be official. Their full assent was not necessary for Canon 28 to be perceived as legitimate (and ironically, only after the Great Schism would Rome come around and accept this canon).
In conclusion, the difference in Greek wording as to what is required of Rome and the rest of the Pentarchy interestingly makes Rome of secondary importance when it comes to the work of an ecumenical council. The see’s full assent is not even required, according to the definition. However, to the chagrin of many Orthodox, the Orthodox Church today (though they can still have binding Pan-Orthodox Synods) cannot have an ecumenical council without the Pope of Rome.
In any event, one may readily perceive that the answers to these issues which history provides is often inconvenient to most people’s preconceptions. That is not always bad. It makes things more fun.
Well, if bishop of Rome had secondary role in ecumenical councils, according to you and the person you cited, then why after 1054 schism the East has not been able to convoke any ecumenical council? I believe you are not in communion with Patriarch of the East, how can you say they have primary role?
Same reason Rome has not according to Nicea II’s definition. The Orthodox have had several Pan Orthodox synods in the second millenium. (Constantinople 1351, Moldova 1642, Jerusalem 1672, Constantinople 1848).
What advantage does the RCC have in convoking an ecumenical council over the Orthodox?
To make official pronouncements on (1) matters not discussed in previous ecumenical councils or (2) on current disputes.
The Synod of 1998 which accepted any into the canonical Bulgarian Church was not rejected by the synod of Georgia convened on the same year so yes it meets the requirements of of being a dogmatic declaration of the Orthodox faith in action on an ecclesiastical matter. You are merely imposing a RC view of ratification that is not even congruent with your own “Church”‘s definition of ecclesiology. Care to take a second chance or continue being wrong?
Pan-Orthodox synods are not ecumenical, i.e. they are not accepted by all “auto-cephalus” churches. The last one, which you did not mention, if I am not wrong, was in 2016 in Cyprus. Russian Orthodox Church did not attend and did not accept it. They even severed ties with Constantinople, which was mentioned in the document you quoted.
Well, pan-orthodox synods *are* accepted by all autocephalys churches. This is why I did not mention cyprus 2016, because it did not meet this criteria.
In the text of Nicaea you quoted as the requirement of ecumenical council, and you think as more decisive than cooperation with bishop of Rome (ironically placed in the beginning), is assent to Patriarchs of Constantinople, Antioch, Alexandria and Jerusalem. Did 2026 Pan Orthodox Synod meet this criteria?
Why do you use the term “pan orthodox synod” and not “ecumenical council”?
2016 did not meet the criteria for pan-orthodox, let alone ecumenical.
So Pan Orthodox synod is not the same with ecumenical council. What are the criteria for the former?
According to this blog:
there was 1998 Pan-Orthodox council convoked and chaired by Bartholomew, Patriarch of Constantinople, and attended by all autocephalous, except that of Georgia. Is this considered as Pan Orthodox synod?
I would say so not knowing more about it. Georgia accepted the canonical Bulgarian chuch. So, what’s the issue, that I did not include this synod in my list?
Was 1998 synod a Pan ORthodox synod or not? If yes, it was convoked and chaired by Bartholomew, just the one in 2016, if I am not wrong
I just said that it appears to have been. It was not necessarily convoked by Bartholomew, as it appears it was the Bulgarian Patriarch inviting others into Bulgaria.
That doesnt answer the question though. I asked in what way does RCC have an advantage over the Orthodox in calling a synod. Points one and two have already been done by the Orthodox numerous times at this point.
I don’t know if it’s ever been argued, but couldn’t one argue that the first quote can be seen in a papal lens where Rome’s cooperation “is the rule for councils” and the assent of the other Patriarchs are just highly regarded and exemplified by the councils previous? In other words, although the assent of the other Churches is important, only the cooperation of the Rome is a necessity for a council being ecumenical.
If you read the blog (and the Greek linked on the blog and the scholarship cited on the blog) this reading is not probable.