The life of the early Church was dominated by the seven Ecumenical Councils. These Councils defined once and for all the Church’s teaching upon the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith: the Trinity and the Incarnation. Although these are mysteries the Church recognized that certain teachings were false and met in Council to address these heresies.
The Councils has a very real purpose: the salvation of man. “Man, according to the scriptures, is separated from God by sin, and cannot through his own efforts break down the wall of separation which his sinfulness has created. God has therefore taken the initiative: He became man, was crucified, and rose from the dead, thereby delivering humanity from the bondage of sin and death. This is the central message of the Christian faith, and it is this message of redemption that the Councils were concerned to safeguard. Heresies were dangerous and required condemnation, because they impaired the teaching of the New Testament, setting up a barrier between man and God, and so making it impossible for man to attain full salvation.” Bishop KALLISTOS Ware
The first church council in history settled the New Testament Church’s debate on what was necessary for a Gentile to enter the Church (see Acts 15). From that time on, all through history councils were held on every level of church life to make important decisions. Bishops met regularly with their priests, also called presbyters or elders, and people. It became the practice, and even the law, very early in church history that bishops in given regions should meet in councils held on a regular basis.
The Seven Ecumenical Councils
|Nicea 1||325||Formulated the First Part of the Creed, defining the divinity of the Son of God|
|Constantinople I||381||Formulated the Second Part of the Creed, defining the divinity of the Holy Spirit|
|Ephesus||431||Defined Christ as the Incarnate Word of God and Mary as Theotokos|
|Chalcedon||451||Defined Christ as Perfect God and Perfect Man in One Person|
|Constantinople II||553||Reconfirmed the Doctrines of the Trinity and of Christ|
|Constantinople III||680||Affirmed the True Humanity of Jesus by insisting upon the reality of His human will and action|
|Nicea II||787||Affirmed the propriety of icons as genuine expressions of the Christian Faith|