This may be considered a myopic debate, but it pertains to the question whether or not the Church of Rome accepted the Canons of the Council of Trullo (i.e. the Quinisext Council). The ramifications of whether they did, or did not, will not be discussed in detail here. Rather, the history of whether they at one time were accepted will be.

Arguments In Favor of the Acceptance of Trullo’s Canons. The historical evidence that Rome accepted the Council of Trullo is extremely strong. Rome had one (questionable) legate (Basil of Gortyna, who also acted as a legate during Constantinople III; Price, The Canons of the Qunisext Council, p. 35) and 11 additional bishops in their jurisdiction attending (Sissius of Dyrrachion, Ibid., and 10 from East Illyricum, Ibid., p. 11). These aformentioned attendees signed onto the council. The preceding demonstrates that Rome had some element of participation in the council through representatives, even if it was relatively minimal.

The Liber Pontificalis (a source which was updated during the 8th century) notes that Pope Saint Gregory II appears to have accepted the Council. He went to Constantinople and questioned Emperor Justinian II (who had convened the Trullo) about the Council. After receiving “an excellent reply” from Justinian II, his earlier opposition to Trullo had vanished as the emperor “resolved every question.” (Ibid., p. 43; passage in question is dated to the 740s) This is corroborated by a letter between Gregory II and Patriarch Germanos I quoted during Nicea II. It explicitly quotes Canon 82 of Trullo as from “the assembly of the holy [fathers].” (Price, The Acts of the Second Council of Nicea, p. 330) It should be noted that Canon 82 forbade the depiction of Christ as a lamb (opting for the depiction of His incarnate hypostasis–i.e. as a human). Interestingly, this Canon was anti-Roman, as the Church of Rome had followed this practice. (cf Price, The Canons of the Qunisext Council, p. 23) The fact that Rome had actually ceased conducting this practice immediately after the Trullan Council, as evidenced by a fresco commissioned by Pope John VII (approx 706-707 AD) which deliberately avoided the lamb depiction in conformance with the aforementioned canon, additionally implies the acceptance of Trullo. (Ibid., p. 42)

The preceding may imply full acceptance of Trullo, but it is not explicit evidence of such. However, such explicit evidence soon makes itself apparent. During the Council of Nicea 2, Canon 1 explicitly accepts all “the divine canons…those composed by the holy apostles, the celebrated trumpets of the Spirit, those published by the six holy ecumenical councils and by the councils convened locally to issue such injunctions, and those of our holy fathers.” (Price, Nicea 2, p. 610) This canon of Nicea 2, accepted by the West, clearly affirms Trullo. First, the fifth and sixth councils did not have canons and so by invoking the canons of “the six holy ecumenical councils,” it would have to be referencing the introduction to the Trullan canons. In this introduction, it asserts it is providing the canons the fifth and sixth canons lacked. (Price, The Canons of the Quinisext Council, p. 73) Second, the criteria of Canon 1 of Nicea 2, in its affirmation of both local councils and “those of our fathers,” is clearly is a citation of Canon 2 of Trullo. Canon 2 explicitly lists exactly which local councils and fathers are at issue.

Why this canon alone does not solve the dispute of whether the West accepted the Trullan canons is a question that there is no good answer to. It is on the basis of this canon that Nedungatt (2010) observes, “Recent scholarship, however, has rescued it [Trullo] and placed it back in the canon of the ecumenical councils.” (“The Council in Trullo Revisited,” p. 661) He calls this a “scholarly consensus.” (Ibid., p. 662)

There is a good reason for this consensus on the basis of corroborating evidence surrounding Nicea 2. Pope Adrian I in two separate occasions had accepted the Trullan canons. In his Letter to Taurisius (JE 2449) it is stated that , “I also accept the work of the same holy sixth council with all the canons,” a statement found intact in both the Greek and Latin manuscripts. (cf Price, The Acts of the Second Council of Nicea, p. 176) On top of this, Adrian I in a letter directed to Charlemagne cites Canon 82 of Trullo and attributes it to the “holy sixth council.” (Price, The Canons of the Qunisext Council, p. 50)

The Latin tradition since Nicea 2 has affirmed that the Trullan canons were accepted by Rome. In so doing, this tradition in time reconciled its anti-Roman canons as disciplinary and only applicable to the local context in the East. While this is a questionable reconciliation, it is a plausible (re-)interpretation of the “excellent reply” given by Justinian II which was accepted by Gregory II. How so? Justinian II probably put forward a compromise that allowed both sides to save face by employing economia. This worked due to the Trullan canons having great leeway in their application, thanks to the 102nd canon. In effect, Rome would be able to canonically not apply canons they found objectionable. The Trullan canons, such as Canon 30, had already explicitly applied economia in contexts which would otherwise forbid Roman practices. (Ibid., p. 38-39)

Economia, a canonical practice which appears to have lost its appreciation in the medieval Latin tradition, was never cited in their understanding of Trullo’s application (and lack thereof). Anastasius the Librarian felt it necessary to (in his explanation of the quote in JE 2449 which emphatically accepts all of Trullo’s canons) modify the statement with the following opinion: “The principal see [i.e. Rome]…in no way receives those of these [canons of Trullo] which contradict earlier [Roman] canons or the decrees of the holy pontiffs [i.e. Papal decretals].” (Ibid., p. 51) Pope John VIII echoed this, perhaps due to Anastasius acting as his ghost writer: that Rome accepted all canons that “were not contrary to previous canons or decrees of the Holy Pontiff of this see or good morals.”(Source) In other words, instead of Rome following the principle of economia in not applying certain canons (surely the interpretation Justinian II would have intended), Anastasius (approximately two centuries after the council) imagined the state of affairs to be that Rome had not fully accepted the canons in some sense.

This re-imagining of events (even if fundamentally accurate by sheer luck as an actual accounting of events occurring one to two centuries beforehand would have been impossible in Anastasius’ time), apparently was neither accepted nor understood. This may be because Rome had dropped the pretense of not accepting this or that canon on the basis of “good morals.” Nedungatt notes that Constantinople IV (879-880) “formally ratified” the Council of Nicea 2, in effect ending all debate on Trullo. (“The Council in Trullo Revisited,” p. 662) Presuming that John VIII had permitted this compromise, it explains the treatment of later Latin canonists. They were under the impression that all the canons of Trullo were received (and perhaps not coincidentally accepted the authority of Constantinople IV 879-880). Both Ivo of Chartes (11th century) and Gratian (12th century), the latter making the definitive compilation of Latin canon law which was in effect until the 20th century, affirmed “all the canons” of Trullo on the basis that Pope Adrian I explicitly stated that he did. (Price, The Canons of the Qunisext Council, p. 52)

Nedungatt may be over-emphasizing the role of Constantinople IV (879-880), because the preceding Council of Constantinople in 869-870 in its first canon likewise accepted the canons of Trullo. (Price and Montinaro, The Acts of the Council of Constantinople 869-870, p. 391-392) An open source translation words it as follows:

Therefore we declare that we are preserving and maintaining the canons which have been entrusted to the holy, catholic and apostolic church by the holy and renowned apostles, and by universal as well as local councils of orthodox [bishops], and even by any inspired father or teacher of the church.

The same council likewise accepted Nicea 2 (“[w]e also know that the seventh, holy and universal synod, held for the second time at Nicaea…”) in its definition. (Price and Montinaro, The Acts of the Council of Constantinople 869-870, p. 415) However, one may detect that by not literally listing the canons of the “sixth” council as Nicea 2 did, this canon may have been perceived by Rome to offer “wiggle room” over the Trullan canons.

In either event, there is no evidence of Anastasius’ selectivity in either council’s treatment of the Trullan canons. While Ivo likely had access to all the Trullan canons in a Latin translation (Ibid., a fact that betrays their perceived authority), Gratian had quoted Canon 13 as being in force despite it literally contradicting Roman practice. (Ibid., p. 53) Pope Innocent III (Nedungatt, “The Council in Trullo Revisited,” p. 672) and canonist Bernard Gai likewise included Trullo in their treatments of Canon Law. (Source) Roman councils likewise cited Trullan canons, including the Councils of Lateran I and II. (Ibid.) The Council of Trent, seemingly unaware that the Trullan canons were of dubious authority, cited two of them approvingly. (Price, The Canons of the Qunisext Council, p. 54)

However, around this point a sudden shift in the treatment of Trullo occurred when for the first time, in 1612, it was referred to as “the so-called sixth council” in an official Papal document. (emphasis added, Nedungatt, “The Council in Trullo Revisted,” p. 669) Even so, the canons were ascribed authority even into recent times such as during the Council of Vatican II. (Source) Pope John Paul II endorsed Canon I of Nicea II as the basis of eastern Catholic canon law, (Nedungatt, “The Council in Trullo Revisted,” p. 671-672) explicitly citing the “sacred canons” of Trullo.(Source)

From the preceding, it appears that the canons of Trullo were (1) affirmed in their entirety by Popes (Popes Gregory II and Adrian I, the latter without a doubt), (2) were accepted in their entirety by default when Rome had affirmed the canons of Nicea 2, and (3) were accepted by Western canonists. The third fact led to canonists such as Gratian to devise an explicit epistemology of “faith and morals” = infallibile versus “disciplinary” teachings = “mutable.” This novel way of thinking was neither economia nor the imaginings of Anastasius.

Anastasias, unaware of such a solution centuries before it was devised, tried to explain away the Trullan canons by asserting that they were not fully accepted in some sense. Gratian was apparently of the opinion that Anastasius had not provided the definitive answer to the question. He accepted Canon 1 of Nicea 2 (and the history surrounding it) and so employed an epistemology that allowed for the reconciling of Western canons (which were fairly numerous) as well as Trullo’s that all contradicted each other. (Ibid., p. 53) Gratian literally titled his work “The Concord of Discordant Canons.” (Ibid.)

One can surmise that this way of tackling historical theological contradictions is wholly a medieval Western novelty post-schism. Ever since Gratian (whether he specifically invented the idea is not the topic of this article), the whole Western approach to patristics and magisterial authority itself has fallen upon lines of “faith and morals” versus “disciplines.” While this approach is sensible and requires quite a bit less contorting and harmonizing, it is an exclusionary approach wholly alien to the pre-schism Church East and West. As of late, it appears that Rome recognizes the full acceptance of Trullo for eastern Roman Catholics. While this qualified approach to Trullo is closest to what was likely the original Papal approach, it speaks to the ongoing inability of the Western tradition to understand their own canonical heritage in lieu of applying the time-honored practice of economia. In other words, the Western explanation would not keep changing if they had a consistent way of understanding Trullo.

Arguments Against the Acceptance of Trullo’s Canons. Some reject that Rome accepted the Trullan canons. Yet, as one shall see, their arguments are not very weighty. Most of their assertions are on dubious grounds which usually require denying the authority of the actual recorded historical evidence in favor of text criticism.

For example, text critics infer that Gregory II’s letter as recorded during Nicea II is heavily interpolated. They argue that the whole part about icons was added into a letter otherwise about a military defeat of the Arabs. (Price, Nicea 2, p. 251-252) This could be construed, in effect, as proof that Pope Gregory II never really accepted Canon 82 of Trullo. However, there are a couple obvious problems with this way of thinking. First, why such a letter and one on such a disparate topic would have been so radically repurposed is of course not sufficiently explained. Second, in any event, its origin is certainly Latin (as evidenced by it having quotations from the Vulgate; Ibid., p. 327) and scholars such as Lamberz attribute it to the Council of Rome 769 (Ibid., p. 251). Hence, even if the document is of questionable authenticity, its alleged alternate origins do nothing to actually detract from the evidence that Trullo was accepted in Rome. It would merely shift Papal acceptance from Gregory II (which the explicit recorded evidence actually dictates) to Stephen III.

Another textually critical argument is that Anastasius the Librarian was wrong to infer that Pope Adrian I really accepted “all the canons” of Trullo and that this created a misunderstanding that Ivo, Gratian, and other canonists fell prey to. This, as the argument goes, would mean that Rome never really accepted all the Trullan canons despite the West thinking they did by mistake. This is relevant because, as Price argues, “the decrees of ecumenical councils do not have universal and lasting validity until they have been approved by the pope–which, of course, the Quinisext Canons never were.” (The Canons of the Qunisext Council, p. 54)

But, is this really the case? First, Adrian’s acceptance of Canon 1 of Nicea 2 would mitigate against this. Second, Anastasius (in his obvious desperate pleading), Ivo of Chartes, and Gratian were not so ignorant of what they were reading in Latin that they would have been incapable of realizing that Taurisius was being quoted. If all of them understood that Adrian I had accepted all the Trullan canons even still, this demands the historian to make some attempt at understanding how all of these men made the same “mistake.”

Both Price and Mendham translate JE 2449 so that Pope Adrian is quoting Taurisius in stating “all the canons” of Trullo were accepted. Here is the passage in question from Mendham’s translation:

[“…]And indeed were it not that your [Taurisius] faith as expressed in aforementioned synodals [i.e. letters Taurisius sent after his ordination to the Patriarchate affirming iconodulia] bad been found sincere and orthodox according to the rule of the sacred Symbol and of the six holy Ecumenical Councils and furthermore sound as it respected holy images we should never have ventured to have given such synodals a listening. But in proportion as our heart was grieved at your former perverse division from us so was our soul filled with joy when we found how consonant with your confession with the orthodox faith:

[“]For we found in the above mentioned synodical epistle of your Holiness after the fulness of your faith in and confession of the sacred Symbol and the six holy Ecumenic Councils a paragraph concerning holy and venerable images worthy of the highest praise and reception. For you there say, [‘]I receive also all that was determined by the six holy Ecumenical Councils with all the Canons legitimately and by divine inspiration enacted therein among which is the following In certain sacred pictures the Lamb as pointed out by the finger of the forerunner John the Baptist is represented which was a type of grace and under the law prefigured the True Lamb Christ our God…[‘] (p. 72-73; cf Price, Nicea 2, p. 175-176)

Let’s concede that Adrian is in fact quoting Taurisius. The punctuation used by Mendham (and Price, who is similar in this regard) indicates this. Even if such punctuation is not original to the earliest manuscripts,* there is a good reason to infer it. The letter quoted in this section of JE 2449 is similar to the encyclical Taurisius sent to the eastern Patriarchs as read in Session 3 of Nicea 2. This is proved by the Papal legates hearing the letter read and replying, “Our most holy Pope, having received an epistle of the same kind…” (Mendham, p. 97; cf Price, Nicea 2, p. 215) This letter makes a similar statement to the one Gratian ascribes to Adrian I: “I receive this same sixth holy Council with all the doctrines legitimately and divinely declared therein and also the canons which have been issued thereby among which is found the following, ‘In certain sacred pictures…[quotes canon 82]'” (Mendham, p. 95; cf Price, Nicea 2, p. 213)

*I speculate, as I do not have access to the original manuscripts, that if such punctuation was missing, this may have potentially caused legitimate confusion. Anastasius, Ivo, and Gratian were not stupid people so something must account for their (likely) misapprehension. It appears that they could have inferred that “for we have found” was the beginning of Taurisius’ encyclical and that “for there you say” was the beginning of a quotation from Adrian. For the reason given above, even if the potential lack of punctuation allows for this, it is more likely that the rendering from Mendham and Price is accurate as to what the actual sense of JE 2449 is on this point.

So, does this prove that Adrian I did not really accept “all” the Trullan canons? No. The very sentence after Taurisius’ letter is read, Adrian literally writes: “By this proof of the orthodoxy of your faith your fraternal Holiness hath separated itself from and utterly rejected the officious meddling of wicked men and the garrulity of the heretics.” (Mendham, p. 74; cf Price, Nicea 2, p. 177) In other words, without qualification, Adrian approved of Taurisius’ letter. Due to Adrian elsewhere critiquing Taurisius in quite a caustic sense, it is clear to the reader that if there was some error in the statement made by Taurisius he would have clarified the matter. Adrian I was not shy in correcting Taurisius elsewhere, such as the latter’s elevation as a layman, something condemned by the Roman synod in 769.

It appears that Anastasius understood this. He never explicitly ascribed the words “I receive also…all the canons” to Adrian. Rather, he clarified the terms of Adrian’s aforementioned acceptance. This evidences he understood the passage, with Adrian I’s approving statement afterwards, as requiring some sort of clarification that would specify that the Pope had not really approved everything. Later writers more strictly concerned with the canonical tradition bequeathed to them, such as Ivo and Gratian, simply zeroed in of the statement of “I receive also…all the canons” as that of Adrian. I posit this was not because they were stupid and borderline illiterate. After all, Adrian I technically did write these words (in quoting Taurisius) and then immediately approved without qualification what was quoted.

In other words, it was well understood he did accept the canons. This explained to the canonists both why they had all of these canons at their disposal and why the same Pope accepted Canon 1 of Nicea 2. It was simply convenient to quote Adrian’s quote of Taurisius as the “one liner” which proved it. Otherwise, they would have had to say in not such a succinct manner: “Adrian accepted all the Trullan canons, because he quoted as follows from Taurisius (“X”), then accepted this as follows without qualifications (“Y”), and then signed onto Canon 1 of Nicea 2 which would have demanded the understanding that he accepted the Trullan canons because (“Z”) literally describes the contents of the aforementioned canons.”

There is one last argument against Roman acceptance one can easily dispense with. It goes as follows: due to the surviving manuscripts of Trullo lacking the Pope’s signature (there is literally a blank spot where his signature was supposed to be), this must mean the council was never accepted by any Pope. (Price, The Canons of the Qunisext Council, p. 178) Surely, the preceding proves that the original manuscripts of Trullo were embarrassingly never signed. However, this would be no different than the canons of other ecumenical councils. What document or even “signing ceremony” is recorded for Rome’s acceptance of the canons of Nicea I, Constantinople I, Ephesus, or Constantinople II? Literally, none. One day this or that council’s canons were not found in Western canon law and the next, they were.

The acceptance of these canons from Rome either implicitly (they just so happened to have these canons in their canon law, such as Constantinople I’s), or explicitly (i.e. some later Pope quotes a canon) suffice to demonstrate Roman acceptance. Why this burden of historical proof suddenly changes to the historian so that a manuscript with the Pope’s signature becomes necessary only for Trullo, especially given the aforementioned explicit proofs of Roman acceptance, is incomprehensible.

Must one accept that Rome initially did not accept the Trullan canons despite a dozen of their Patriarchate’s bishops accepting them? Of course. However, to argue that they never did despite all the explicit, extant evidence that this was not the case, is simply an untenable position.

Conclusion. In short, the canons of Trullo were received in their entirety by the Church of Rome. This is proved by the Liber Pontificalis implying Pope Gregory II accepted them, a letter from Gregory II where he quotes Canon 82, archaeological evidence immediately after Trullo that Rome suddenly shifted their artistic practices to conform to the aforementioned canon, Adrian I approvingly quoting Taurisius’ acceptance of “all” Trullo’s canons, Adrian’s acceptance of Canon 1 of Nicea 2 which by necessity accepts all the canons of Trullo, Adrian’s quotation of Canon 82 in a letter to Charlemagne based on the authority of Trullo as the sixth ecumenical council, the Latin canonists (such as Ivo of Chartes and Gratian) accepting Trullo’s canons (the latter citing Adrian’s acceptance of “all” of them), and Roman councils citing these canons without qualification.

The scanty evidence against the acceptance of Trullo’s canons can hardly be taken seriously. The textually critical quibbling which demands that historians reject that Gregory II’s letter to Germanus is authentic ultimately is irrelevant as its origins are obviously Latin and identified with Rome itself by the chief of these text critics. The additional quibbling, that Adrian did not literally ascribe to himself the words he accepted “all” of Trullo’s canons, ignores the fact that he without qualification approved of what he quoted anyway. Later Latin writers were not so dull so as to not be able to correctly surmise this. The argument of the text critics here would be akin to saying that Jesus Christ did not really mean “man lives not by bread alone,” because He was quoting Moses and not Himself. Lastly, the only thing Trullo’s lack of signature in the Pope’s section proves is that the Pope at the time of the writing of the manuscript did not sign it. It does not prove that later Popes had not in fact accepted the canons for the aforementioned reasons.

In any event, the preceding ultimately proves to be “a tempest in a teapot.” This is because the Latin canonists had become accustomed to the vastly disparate nature of Latin canon law. As a result, they had become quite adept at reconciling, if not outright ignoring, canons based on varying criteria. Hence, the acceptance of all of Trullo’s canons would have not really proved to be all that much of an impediment to the West conducting its ecclesiastical business, with the possible exception of Trullo’s order for the Patriarchates (which Gratian reinterpreted anyway). The historical basis for their long term rejection (at least in part) is lacking.

Perhaps the only real issue of consequence would be the debates over jurisdiction leading into the Great Schism. Claims of Roman jurisdiction in the Balkans and southern Italy would have been considerably stymied by Canon 17 of Chalcedon and Canon 38 of Trullo, as both gave Constantinople the right to re-assign jurisdiction according to the “political and municipal example.” It is ironic that just when Anastasius started a debate about Trullo’s actual authority mere years before this occurrence (probably for this very geopolitical reason), the whole pretext for doing such was done away with when Pope John VIII gave up jurisdictional claims in southern Italy and the Balkans in exchange for a military alliance. Rome, ultimately conceding to the denial of their jurisdictional claims in Nicea 2 and Constantinople IV (879-880), appears to have abide by these canons. After this episode, the “friction” that Trullo created wholly disappeared from the Western consciousness for centuries. Not so coincidentally, Western canonists Ivo Chartes and Gratian, who accepted the Trullan canons, also accepted Constantinople IV (879-880).

Perhaps later polemical demands required a re-evaluation of both Trullo and Constantinople IV. The preceding qualification “perhaps” is necessary, as it appears the preceding Council of Constantinople in 869-870 likewise, without reservation, accepted the Trullan canons. In any event, by the mid to late nine century, the canons of Trullo had by every measure been accepted, because this was viewed as the most literal way of understanding the canon of Nicea 2 which had accepted the Trullan canons.

In light of this, the Trullan canons have unnecessarily been re-imagined into some sort of battlefield to pit Roman and Orthodox claims against each other. This has no bearing on the history of the canons themselves, their application, and ultimately their universal acceptance in East and West. Perhaps without the doctrine of economia, the Western tradition has become incapable of accepting their own canons. This has required the sort of historical revisionism on this question that has been witnessed. Hopefully, readers of this article will take a good, long look at the historical evidence and begin the work of reclaiming the West’s canonical heritage.