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On this comparison of the two synods, there can be no doubt that the advantage rests with the second. It was better constituted, originally : it saw no rival council (as in 431) sitting in the same city at the same time, and reversing all its decisions: confirmation by the emperor, and general reception throughout the east, attended its decrees; and only the death of the emperor, and the rise of an opposite influence at court, led to the speedy reversal of all its decisions.
Two pleas, however, are set up, in defence of the altogether arbitrary and irrational course, of receiving the first, and rejecting the second, of these councils.
1. It is said, that the proceedings of the second council were disgraced by "violence," and hence they ought to be rejected.
A large proportion of the complainings of the defeated party, touching the violence used towards them, is evidently hyperbolical and exaggerated. Several modern writers have repeated, one after the other, that “on Flavianus remonstrating, Dioscorus fell foul of him, and so kicked and bruised him, that he died of the injuries which he then received."1 But had this been the case, we should surely have found the fact alleged in the documents of the subsequent council, which judged and deposed Dioscorus. Yet the supplication of Eusebius against Dioscorus, read at the Council of Chalcedon, only charges that patriarch with "treading under foot (not Flavian, but) right and reason, and maintaining an absurd opinion.”? And the decree of that council, condemning Dioscorus, lays it to his charge that he had “unjustly deposed Flavianus and Eusebius,” but says not a word of personal violence, causing death,—a
,-a fact which could never have been omitted had it taken place. Dupin, with some obscurity, but more fairness, states the matter thus :
“ Dioscorus, and those of his faction, being provoked by this " appeal, set upon Flavian with a design to banish him, and did it “ with so much violence, that he died a little time after. 'Tis pro“bable that having received several blows on his feet when he was “apprehended, and afterward being hardly used in his journey,
by those who carried him into banishment, he died a little after “ he came there, of the ill-usage and blows he had received. Thus “ Liberatus and Evagrius relate his death, and this shews that it
was not without reason that Dioscorus was accused of having “ been the cause of Flavius's death, because, though he did not “himself smite him, yet it was by his order that he was so badly “ used.”3 It is obvious enough, that bishops could not them| Perceval's Roman Schism, 8vo. p. 13.
Evagrius, book iv. c. iv.
3 Dupin, vol. iv. p. 228. JUNE, 1842.
selves be the officers employed to carry any man into banishment; that duty must have belonged to the civil power ; nor could Flavian have been sent into exile at all, but by the imperial authority, confirming the degrees of the synod. As to Dioscorus, he may indeed have been justly chargeable with the death of Flavian, in the same manner as Laud was with the deaths of many, by the infliction of cruel punishments ;- but that is a totally different thing from “ kicking and bruising" in a synod.
2. It is, however, also said, that “ threats were used to force the bishops to subscribe.” This is very probable, but this was not peculiar to the Council of Ephesus of A.D. 449. It would be hard to find any one of these “venerable assemblies," acting in the name of the
oly Ghost, in which there was even a semblance of freedom. In the first great council, Nice, there was present the emperor, the absolute ruler of the world, whose lightest word consigned any man to banishment or to death. Dupin's own expression is, “the emperor made them all agree ;” and we know that the dissentients were instantly sent by him into banishment. So, of the second council, that of Constantinople, A.D. 381, Dupin says, “ The emperor, who saw them divided, desired of every one his confession of faith ; and when they had presented them unto him, he tore all those in which there was not profession made of believing the Consubstantial Trinity, and made an edict against all heresies."
As to the two councils of Ephesus, it is quite plain that Cyril, as the powerful leader of a faction, dictated the proceedings in the first, and Dioscorus, in a similar capacity, prescribed the decrees of the second. That of Constantinople, A.D. 553, called the fifth general, is chiefly famous for the coercion of the bishop of Rome himself by the Emperor, who ordered him into exile until he assented to the decrees. Throughout the whole history of synods we perceive, as a general rule, that a coercing power was always present, ready to punish with exile and confiscation all who dissented from the decrees of the predominant party. To nullify, therefore, the decisions of any one particular council, merely because assent was procured, in some cases, by menace, would be fatal to the whole.
We come then, lastly, to the final panacea, which is to set all right,-namely, general consent. Driven from every other resting-place, compelled to admit the utter untenability of every other position, the advocates of the infallibility of Councils fall back, at last, upon this, which we shall soon find to be merely the climax and topstone of all their absurdities. Let us now, calmly
and dispassionately, scrutinize the theory as thus placed before us.
Mr. Palmer, having enumerated the first six councils called Ecumenical, adds,
“ The doctrine of these genuine cecumenical synods, having been approved and acted upon by the whole body of the Catholic
Church, and thus ratified by a general consent, which has con“tinued ever since," "is irrefragably true, unalterable, irreform“able ; nor could any particular church forsake or change this “ doctrine without ceasing to be christian!”
This is all very pleasant and orthodox to a lover of "Antiquity;" but Mr. Perceval is quite conscious of a vulnerable point. He knows full well that the Ephesian council of 449 was quite as valid as that of 431. He knows also that the synod of Ariminum, in 359, with its 400 bishops, has far higher claims to the title of “ general” than the Constantinopolitan, of 150 bishops, or the Ephesian, of 160. He knows also that it is admitted by Labbe and Cossart in their list of General Councils. Hence he is driven to the singular position of affirming, as we have already seen, that “the claim of a synod to the estimation (or rank) of a General “ Council, depends entirely upon the general or universal reception “ of its decrees by the Catholic Church ; and that no council is “ to be accounted general or universal, whose decrees are not “ generally or universally received by the Catholic Church.” 1
This hypothesis is a splendid specimen of that kind of reasoning which is often adopted by those who are resolved to bend facts to their system, rather than make their system accord with established facts. Let us look, for a moment, at the effect of it.
Here is a General Council (Ephesus, 449) assembled, like that of Nice, by the Emperor's command. It is attended by the four Eastern patriarchs in person, by the Western as represented by his legates, and by a large body of bishops. It proceeds much as its predecessor of 431 had done; but with less palpable injustice. Violence and coercion, indeed, are complained of by the defeated party, but similar complaints were heard of most councils, and few of these assemblies, from Nice downwards, had been free from the weight of the imperial power, deposing and banishing the weaker party. There appears to have been something like unanimity in the council, except that the Romish legates objected to its decisions. Observe, too, that in the fifth General Council (Constant. A.D. 553,) the Roman bishop was exiled until he gave his assent, and yet no one contends that this coercion, or the dissent which preceded it, invalidated the decrees of that assembly.
Treatise on the Church, vol. ii. p. 188.
3 Perceval's Roman Schism, p. 17.
No fatal objection, then, appears to exist against the claim of the Council of 449 to the title of “General.” What, then, was the duty of Catholic Christians, in the year 450 ?, Clearly, upon Tractarian principles, to accept its decrees. Both Mr. Palmer and Mr. Perceval assert this to be a solemn and binding obligation. If, then, the Catholic Church did its duty at that instant, the Ephesian Council of A.D. 449 became a General one, according to Mr. Perceval's rule, by its general reception.
No! says Mr. Perceval, though, intrinsically considered, this council had “ greater claim to be considered general than many of those which have been generally received,”-still, received it was not, and by this circumstance we discover, that it was not a General Council. So, of the synod of Constantinople of 692, “ the assembly, as far as its constitution went, had more claim to the character of a General Council than many to which both the title and authority has been ascribed. It consisted of upwards of two hundred bishops, among whom were the representatives of the bishop of Rome, the other great patriarchs being all present in person ; and the decrees were signed by all, not omitting the Emperor,” &c. Yet this synod loses the rank of a General Council, inasmuch as its decrees were not received at Rome, and “the claim of a synod to the estimation of a General Council depends entirely upon the general reception of its decrees.” 1
We have thus the strange idea presented to us, of a legislative body, the validity of whose laws depends entirely upon whether the people for whom it legislates like those laws or not. If they do not choose to accept them, the said laws immediately become of no force or obligation whatever.
Was the like of this ever seen before, since legislation was first invented ?
But further, we have a divinely-authorized Judge of Controversies,” the very essence of which consists in being “ the channel of the communication of the mind of the Holy Ghost ;" ? and the whole reliance of which is upon Christ's promise,
Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world," and of which we are nevertheless told, in strange contradiction, in the very next breath, that we can only tell whether the Holy Ghost influenced its decisions or not, on a particular occasion,—and whether Christ's promise was fulfilled, by observing whether or not its decrees were generally received.
The absurdity of such a test is manifest in the cases to which we have especially alluded. The reception of the decrees of Ephesus 449, depended solely upon the life of the emperor. So long as Theodosius lived, they were received ;—but when he died, and
? Perceval's Roman Schism, p. 17.
. Ibid. p. xiii.
Marcian succeeded, another influence prevailed, and another council was called, to reverse those decisions. The same might even be said of Nice. Its decisions were “received” because Constantine so commanded, and they were received so long as he lived. But when Constantius exercised the imperial authority, “all,” says Gregory Nazianzen, "except a very few, whom obscurity protected, or whose resolution, through divine strength, was proof against temptation and danger, temporized, yielded to the emperor, and betrayed the faith.” “ In the fourth century,” says Dr. Jortin, “were held thirteen councils against Arius, fifteen for him, and seventeen for the semi-Arians,-in all, forty-five." I
And if the “reception" of the decrees of a council thus depended, in most cases, on the bent of the ruling power; in others the very fact of those decrees being “received” or not, remained long in doubt. Even the second in order of time,—the Constantinopolitan council of 381,--hangs quite in uncertainty, as to when its decrees were received. Mr. Palmer says, “ It is not clear that “the synod of Constantinople was immediately acknowledged "everywhere as equal in authority to that of Nice. The Egyptian “ churches seem not to have accounted it as such; and the Nicene “ creed alone is approved by the synod of Ephesus in 431.”? And Mr. Edgar says, “The canons of the second General Council, “ according to Alexander and Thomassin, were not received by the “ Latins till the Lateran council in 1215,-a period of 834 years “after their promulgation." 3
“ General reception,” then, appears to be an attribute depending often upon extrinsic and merely political circumstances, the will of an emperor, or the influence of an eunuch at court. It is often confidently claimed without any grounds, -as in the case of the first Council of Ephesus, said to have been generally received, whereas the dissenting body were actually the majority in the east. And lastly, it occurs, in some cases, no one can tell when, or how ;-as the second Council is said now to have been generally received,—whereas, fifty years after its session, few or none had heard anything about it!
But let us approach still closer to the question, and examine the necessary operation of this strange principle of legislation.
We are told by Mr. Palmer, that "such a judgment (of a general council) is absolutely binding on all individual Christians, from the moment of its full manifestation.". Imagine, then, a Christian of the early ages, watching anxiously the proceedings of
Remarks on Ecc. Hist. vol. ii. p. 205. · Treatise on the Church, vol. ii. p. 178.
3 Variations of Romanism, p. 97. + Treatise on the Church, vol. ii. p. 110.