THE ECUMENICAL COUNCILS
First Ecumenical Council
First Council of Nicea, A.D. 325
This council was called by the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great. It was in
response to the heresy of Arianism, which said Jesus was not divine, but merely
The Nicean Council declared that Jesus was both human and divine and it
denounced Arianism as heresy. The Council also defined the first part of what
would later be called the Nicene Creed. 318 bishops attended this Council.
Second Ecumenical Council
First Council of Constantinople, A.D. 381
This council was called by Roman Emperor Theodosius I. It was in response to the
heresy of Macedonianism, which said the Holy Spirit was merely one of God’s
powers and not a person like God the Father and God the Son.
The Council defined the doctrine of the Holy Trinity: that God is three persons —
God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. This doctrine along with
other articles was added to the Nicene Creed. 150 bishops attended this
Third Ecumenical Council
Council of Ephesus, A.D. 431
This council was called by Byzantine Emperor (Eastern Empire) Theodosius II,
grandson of Theodosius I. It was in response to the heresy of Nestorianism, which
said Jesus was merely a man in whom the Word of God dwelt (as in a temple).
Nestorianism also taught that Mary, Jesus’ mother, was merely the mother of
Christ, not Mother of God.
The Council declared that Jesus Christ is completely God and completely man
(although without sin) and that Mary is rightly called the Mother of God.
Furthermore, the Council declared that the Nicene Creed, defined during the first
two Councils, was complete and never to be changed. 200 bishops attended.
The Nicene Creed
Composed during the First and Second Ecumenical Councils, the Nicene Creed has
become the statement of faith of all Catholic and many Protestant churches. It
takes its name from Nicea, the city where the First Ecumenical Council was held and
where its composition was begun.
Although its recitation by different churches varies slightly due to different
translations of the original Latin, the articles of faith are the same for all that recite
it — with one exception.
The Creed as defined at the first two Councils declared that the Holy Spirit
“proceeds from the Father.” It did not state that the Holy Spirit also proceeds from
In the 9th century, however, churches in France and Spain began to add the words
“and from the Son” to the article of faith about the procession of the Holy Spirit. In
1014, the Roman Catholic pope, Benedict VIII, added the phrase “and the Son” to
the Creed as it was recited in the Western Church. Today, Roman Catholics and
some other churches in the West include this in their recitation of the Creed. In
Latin the phrase “from the Son” is filioque (pronounced fee-lee-O-kay), which is
how the phrase is referred to by Church historians.
The Eastern Orthodox do not include the filioque in their recitation of the Creed.
They insist the Gospels contradict it and therefore consider it a heresy. The phrase
is also not recited by many Old Catholic Churches, particularly those in the Union of
The Nicene Creed
We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and
of all that is seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the
Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not
made, One in being with the Father. Through Him all things were made. For us and
for our salvation He came down from heaven. By the power of the Holy Spirit He
was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man. For our sake He was crucified under
Pontius Pilate; He suffered, died, and was buried.
On the third day He rose again in fulfillment of the Scriptures; He ascended into
heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to
judge the living and the dead, and His kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, Who proceeds from the
Father [and the Son]. With the Father and the Son He is worshipped and glorified.
He has spoken through the prophets.
We believe in One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. We acknowledge one
baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and
the life of the world to come. Amen.
Fourth Ecumenical Council
Council of Chalcedon, A.D. 451
This council was called by Byzantine Emperor (Eastern Empire) Marcian. It was in
response to the Monophysitism, which said Jesus’ human nature was transformed
by his divine nature, making him divine and not human.
The Council declared, as it did in previous councils, that Jesus was both fully human
(though without sin) and divine. 630 bishops attended.
Fifth Ecumenical Council
Second Council of Constantinople, A.D. 553
This council was called by Byzantine Emperor (Eastern Empire) Justinian the Great.
It was called due to the persistence of the Nestorian and Monophysite heresies.
The Council confirmed, again, the dual nature of Jesus Christ as both God and
man. 165 bishops attended.
Sixth Ecumenical Council
Third Council of Constantinople, A.D. 680-681
This council was called by Byzantine Emperor (Eastern Empire) Constantine the IV.
Like the previous Council, it was called to deal with the persistence of the heresies
about the human and divine nature of Jesus Christ. The Council declared that
Jesus was fully man and fully divine and that the two natures exist with “no
confusion, no change, no separation, no division.” 170 bishops attended.
Seventh Ecumenical Council
Second Council of Nicea, A.D. 787
Called by the Byzantine Empress (Eastern Empire) Irene, this Council considered
the question of icons: art which depicted Jesus, Mary, and the saints. This
included crucifixes. Many Christians, particularly in the East, venerated icons.
Others considered this idolatry and sought to destroy icons. These opponents are
the source of today’s word “iconoclasts” (Greek for “image destroyer”).
The Council declared that religious icons are not idols, but only representations.
Therefore icons could be used to venerate Our Lord, Mary, and the saints, and had
to be respected. However, icons were not to be worshipped for themselves. 367
These are the statements of faith defined by the united Church. Along with the
Gospels and the Apostles’ Council of Jerusalem, they form the essential, shared
faith of all Old Catholics.
If you would like to learn more about the Ecumenical Councils of the early Church
and the teachings of the Church Fathers, visit Fordham University’s online collection
(www.fordham.edu/halsall/sbook2) of Church documents and religious writings.
Their material covers the time of the Apostles through the Reformation.
Special thanks to Bishop James Judd of the Heartland Old Catholic Church in St.
Paul, Minnesota which was used as a basis for this page.