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So far nothing could be more opposed to every requisite of a Catholic Council, or indeed of a fair tribunal. Instead of being æcumenical, it was in fact merely provincial; an Egyptian synod, having neither eastern nor western bishops present : instead of being presided over by either the emperor, or one of the independent patriarchs, -as those of Rome or Antioch,—the chair was filled by the accuser of the party to be tried. The accused himself was neither present in person or by attorney; he was absent voluntarily, indeed, but upon the sufficient grounds that the Council had refused to wait the arrival of the Asiatic bishops.
All, however, was not yet over. Precisely how many prelates were of Cyril's faction, it is not easy to learn. The Orientals count but fifty from Egypt, thirty from Palestine, and some others. The subscriptions make it credible, says Dupin, that 160 might have signed the sentence. How small a portion of the episcopate this was, is apparent from the fact, that only twenty years after, 630 bishops came together at the Council of Chalcedon.
Five days after this, John, patriarch of Antioch, with a body of Eastern bishops, arrived. The bold front assumed by Cyril, and the protest of Count Candidian against the whole proceeding, would naturally prevent Nestorius and his party from making any head. Nevertheless, as many as fifty bishops assembled, under the presidency of John, and in the presence of Count Candidian. The Count declared to them “that he had done all he could to hinder the bishops who were assembled with Cyril, from proceeding before the coming of the eastern bishops ;—but not having regard to his advice, they had done what they pleased ; after they had driven him out of the Council, and refused to hear the bishops whom Nestorius had sent to them.” 1
On this and other evidence, the eastern bishops, under John, proceeded, in their turn, to condemn and depose Cyril, and his coadjutor Memnon. Thus, in point of fact, two different sections of the great body of bishops who had been called together,—each acting apart from the other, severally condemned their opponents. If any one judicial fact can be self-evident, it is surely this, that neither of these two factions could have the least claim, by itself, to the title or functions of a General Council; and that the decrees of each section were alike invalid and utterly without force.
The Dean of Durham briefly sketches the whole transaction in these few sentences,
“ Cyril was appointed to preside, and consequently to judge the “cause of his adversary; and he carried into this office so little "shew of impartiality, that he refused even to wait for the arrival
· Dupin, vol. iv. p. 198.
“ of the bishop of Antioch and others, who were held friendly to “ Nestorius, and proceeded to pronounce sentence, while the
meeting was yet incomplete. To secure or prosecute his advan
tages, he had brought with him from Egypt a number of robust “ and daring fanatics, who acted as his soldiery.”
“ After publishing an unjust condemnation of the undefended patriarch, “ and causing, through its own dissensions, some sanguinary “ tumults throughout the city, the Council was at length dismissed “ by Theodosius in these words, “God is my witness, that I am “not the author of this confusion. His providence will discern “ and punish the guilty. Return to your provinces; and may
your private virtues repair the mischief and scandal of your “ meeting.”
But the close of the assembly was not the termination of the quarrel. Each party had deposed and anathematised the other, and the final decision rested with the emperor. Intrigues, seemingly endless, now commenced, and it was four years before the contest closed, by the final triumph of Cyril, and banishment of Nestorius. As to the means by which Cyril at last carried his point, Dr. Jortin observes,
“ Theodoret and Acacius say that things were carried against “ Nestorius by bribery; and the bishops who sided with Nestorius
complained that Cyril prevailed by flatteries and by presents. “Even Fleury owns that Cyril bestowed large gifts upon the “ courtiers, so that the church of Alexandria was impoverished by “ these expences; and Tillemont, though partial to him, condemns “this part of his conduct.” 2
Thus begun in personal animosity, carried on by the most open flagrant denial of justice, and completed by bribery ;-is there a single transaction in ecclesiastical history which bears clearer proofs on its very front, of an evil, rather than a divine inspiration, than the chief act of this, the first Council of Ephesus?
But here comes in Mr. Perceval's favourite notion, that “the “ claim of a council to the character and authority of an æcumeni“cal one, is not to be determined by the number of bishops, nor “ of the countries they represent; nor by the authority of the pre“sident; but solely by the ex post facto testimony borne to it by “ the Church throughout the world, in the reception of its decrees.'
So that the Ephesian Council, indefensible as it was, from begining to end, in its constitution, spirit, and decrees, is made good, by the subsequent “ general reception of the Church !" But what is this “ general reception”? Where does Mr. Perceval gain his
| Dr. Waddington's History of the Church, p. 183. Jortin's Remarks on Ecc. Hist. vol. iii. p. 120. 3 Perceral's Roman Schism, p. 22.
knowledge of what "the whole Church ” was doing, from A.D. 431 down to the Reformation ?
The answer explains and dispels the whole delusion. It is through the Romish church that Mr. Perceval receives this information. He supposes the council of Ephesus to have been “generally received," because the Papal historians tell him so.
And they endorse the Ephesian decrees, because whatever magnifies the Virgin, answers their purpose. And thus we understand the whole meaning of this vaunted “ general reception.”
The fact, however, is, that instead of being “received by the Church throughout the world,” the Ephesian council of A.D. 431 has never been received by the half of Christendom. The followers of Nestorius have, in all ages, held a great preponderance in the east. “Cosmas, in Montfaucon, represented the Nestorian churches, in “ the sixth century, as infinite or unnumbered. Vitricius records “the numerical superiority of the Nestorians and Jacobins over “ the Greeks and Romans. Canisius, from an old author, gives a “ similar statement. Polo, the Venetian, who remained seventeen “years in Tartary, and was employed by the Cham on many im
portant commissions, testifies the dissemination of Nestorianism “ through Tartary, China, and the empire of the Moguls. Paris “ relates the spread of the Nestorian heresy through India, the " kingdom of Prester John, and the nations lying nearer the east. “ Godeau mentions the extension of Nestorianism through the “ east and its penetration into the extremity of India, where it “ remains to the present day. Thomassin attests its diffusion “ through India, Persia, and Tartary, and its multiplication in “ the north and east, nearly to infinity.”
So much, then, for the Ephesian council of a.d. 431. “General consent,” or “reception," it never had. There is no probability that its decrees were received by even the greater part; but could so much as that be established, it would be far from satisfactory. Even Mr. Newman himself admits, that “Religious changes, to be beneficial, should be the act of the whole body; they are worth little if they are the mere act of a majority.”!
Of the ignorance of the bishops of that day, Clarkson has produced many examples, taken from the acts of the councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon, where subscriptions are found in this form :-“I (such an one) have subscribed by the hand of because I cannot write." And,“ Such a bishop having said that he could not write, I, whose name is underwritten, have subscribed for him.” 3 | Edgar's l'ariations of Romanism, pp. 34, 35.
Truct, No. 90, p. 1. 3 Jortin's Remarks on Ecc. Hist. vol. 1. p. 116.
But let us now pass over a few years, and we shall come to another Council of Ephesus, held A.D. 449, of which Mr. Perceval himself thus speaks :
“ As far as regards the members of which the synod was composed, there being the four Eastern patriarchs present in person, and the Western represented by his legates, it has greater claim to be considered general than many of those which have been generally received."
Truly, when compared with its predecessor of A.D. 431, it has indeed the advantage. It consisted of one hundred and thirty bishops, including among them the four patriarchs of the east, and the legates of the Roman see. The patriarch of Alexandria presided, by order of the Emperor. Accusations were brought against Flavian, bishop of Constantinople, of tyrannical conduct, in framing fresh terms of communion, in addition to the creeds of the Church; and in condemning and excommunicating various persons for refusing those terms. On these accusations Flavian was condemned, deposed, and banished; the Emperor concurring in the council's decisions.
But in the very next year this Emperor (Theodosius the younger) died, and another, Marcian, succeeded him, from whom Leo of Rome and the enemies of the Alexandrian patriarch expected much. Hence they proceeded to demand another council; which was granted, and that council met at Chalcedon in A.D. 451, and, under a new influence, condemned Dioscorus, patriarch of Alexandria, who had been the leader of the council of A.D. 449, and rescinded all the acts of that assembly.
We have here, then, one general council broadly and distinctly denying the authority and the inspiration of another. The maintainers of the decisions of councils have seen the difficulty which this presented. It has been contended that “a judgment in a controversy of faith having been made by a great council of bishops, such a judgment " is absolutely binding on all individual Christians, from the time of its full manifestation.” It is maintained that “the universal church is divinely authorized to judge in religious controversies, and to expel from her communion those who teach what is opposed to her faith.” But it is admitted that “ Christ cannot have authorized two contradictory judgments or actions." 3 What, then, is to be said of these decisions and counter-decisions of the councils of A.D. 449 and 451 ?
A short and compendious way was speedily found, of settling this question. Theodosius, who supported and confirmed the acts of the council of 449, was dead, and Marcian and Leo, the existing emperor and pope, agreed to sustain the decrees of that of 451. What remained, therefore, but boldly to declare the synod of 449 to have been no council at all,—but “an assembly of robbers,” Conventus Latronem, Latrocinium Ephesinum, &c. This was forthwith done, the difficulty was at once removed, and, as the power of the papacy grew, and ecclesiastical writers were more and more enslaved by it, the fiction became current and universal; and thus a general council, which in all its main characteristics is admitted by Mr. Perceval to have “greater claim to be considered so than many of those which have been generally received,” is in effect, put out of existence, and made as though it had never been !
| Perceval's Roman Schism, p. 13. 2 Palmer's Treatise on the Church, vol. ii, p. 110.
3 Ibid. p. 110.
In order fully to appreciate the violence thus done to historic truth and fact, let us place these two councils of Ephesus in parallel columns, in the following comparison :
COUNCIL OF EPHESUS, A.D. 431. COUNCIL OF EPHESUS, A.D. 449. Called by the Emperor Theodosius Called by the same emperor.
the younger. Attended by about 160 bishops. Attended by 130 bishops. Presided over by Cyril, patriarch of Presided over by Dioscorus, patriarch Alexandria.
of Alexandria. Proceeded to business in the absence Attended by the patriarchs of Anti
of the bishops of Rome, Constan- och, Constantinople, and Jerusalem, tinople, and Antioch.
and by legates of the see of Rome. Deposed the patriarch of Constanti- Deposed the patriarch of Constanti
nople, Nestorius, who was banish- nople, Flavian, who was banished, ed, and died in exile.
and died very shortly after. Five days after, about fifty eastern No rival council until two years after.
bishops assembled, under the patriarch of Antioch, and deposed
Cyril in their turn. The emperor did not fully confirm The emperor at once confirmed the
A.D. 435. Complaints of “ violence" were made Complaints of “ violence” were made
the decisions of the synod until decrees of the synod.
against Cyril and the council, by against Dioscorus by Flavian, that Count Candidian, who declared he had forced the bishops to subthat they had driven him out of scribe, by threats. the assembly; and by the patriarch of Antioch, who complained of
personal assaults. Cyril having gained the emperor's The eastern churches generally re
attendants by bribes, the decrees ceived the decrees. The Roman were, after long delay, confirmed, pontiff dissented. In two years the and received at Rome and Con- emperor died, and his successor stantinople.
cultivated the friendship of Rome, and called another council, which
reversed the decisions of A.D. 449. But the defeated party dissented, and Yet Gregory the Great, more than 150
soon formed, in the east, a decided years after, reckoned this second majority among the churches. synod of Ephesus a general council.