Catholic Encyclopedia: Nicaea, Second Council of
The Second Council of Nicaea
Seventh Ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church, held in 787. (For an account of the
controversies which occasioned this council and the circumstances in which it was
convoked, see ICONOCLASM, I, II.) An attempt to hold a council at Constantinople, to
deal with Iconoclasm, having been frustrated by the violence of the Iconoclastic
soldiery, the papal legates left that city. When, however, they had reached Sicily on
their way back to Rome, they were recalled by the Empress Irene. She replaced the
mutinous troops at Constantinople with troops commanded by officers in whom she
had every confidence. This accomplished, in May, 787, a new council was convoked at
Nicaea in Bithynia. The pope's letters to the empress and to the patriarch (see
ICONOCLASM, II) prove superabundantly that the Holy See approved the convocation
of the Council. The pope afterwards wrote to Charlemagne: "Et sic synodum istam,
secundum nostram ordinationem, fecerunt" (Thus they have held the synod in
accordance with our directions).
The empress-regent and her son did not assist in person at the sessions, but they were
represented there by two high officials: the patrician and former consul, Petronius, and
the imperial chamberlain and logothete John, with whom was associated as secretary
the former patriarch, Nicephorus. The acts represent as constantly at the head of the
ecclesiastical members the two Roman legates, the archpriest Peter and the abbot Peter;
after them come Tarasius, Patriarch of Constantinople, and then two Oriental monks
and priests, John and Thomas, representatives of the Patriarchs of Alexandria, Antioch,
and Jerusalem. The operations of the council show that Tarasius, properly speaking,
conducted the sessions. The monks John and Thomas professed to represent the
Oriental patriarchs, though these did not know that the council had been convoked.
However, there was no fraud on their part: they had been sent, not by the patriarchs,
but by the monks and priests of superior rank acting , in the stead
and place of the patriarchs who were prevented from acting for themselves. Necessity
was their excuse. Moreover, John and Thomas did not subscribe at the Council as vicars
of the patriarchs, but simply in the name of the Apostolic sees of the Orient. With the
exception of these monks and the Roman legates, all the members of the Council were
subjects of the Byzantine Empire. Their number, bishops as well as representatives of
bishops, varies in the ancient historians between 330 and 367; Nicephorus makes a
manifest mistake in speaking of only 150 members: the Acts of the Council which we
still possess show not fewer than 308 bishops or representatives of bishops. To these
may be added a certain number of monks, archimandrites, imperial secretaries, and
clerics of Constantinople who had not the right to vote.
The first session opened in the church of St. Sophia, 24 Sept., 787. Tarasius opened the
council with a short discourse: "Last year, in the beginning of the month of August, it
was desired to hold, under my presidency, a council in the Church of the Apostles at
Constantinople; but through the fault of several bishops whom it would be easy to
count, and whose names I prefer not to mention, since everybody knows them, that
council was made impossible. The sovereigns have deigned to convoke another at
Nicaea, and Christ will certainly reward them for it. It is this Lord and Saviour whom
the bishops must also invoke in order to pronounce subsequently an equitable
judgment in a just and impartial manner." The members then proceeded to the reading
of various official documents, after which three Iconoclastic bishops who had retracted
were permitted to take their seats. Seven others who had plotted to make the Council
miscarry in the preceding year presented themselves and declared themselves ready to
profess the Faith of the Fathers, but the assembly thereupon engaged in a long
discussion concerning the admission of heretics and postponed their case to another
session. On 26 September, the second session was held, during which the pope's letters
to the empress and the Patriarch Tarasius were read. Tarasius declared himself in full
agreement with the doctrine set forth in these letters. On 28, or 29, Sept., in the third
session, some bishops who had retracted their errors were allowed to take their seats,
after which various documents were read. The fourth session was held on 1 October.
In it the secretaries of the council read a long series of citations from the Bible and the
Fathers in favour of the veneration of images. Afterwards the dogmatic decree was
presented, and was signed by all the members present, by the archimandrites of the
monasteries, and by some monks; the papal legates added a declaration to the effect
that they were ready to receive all who had abandoned the Iconoclastic heresy. In the
fifth session on 4 October, passages form the Fathers were read which declared, or
seemed to declare, against the worship of images, but the reading was not continued to
the end, and the council decided in favour of the restoration and veneration of images.
On 6 October, in the sixth session, the doctrines of the of 753 were
refuted. The discussion was endless, but in the course of it several noteworthy things
were said. The next session, that of 13 October, was especially important; at it was read
the , or dogmatic decision, of the council [see IMAGES, VENERATION of (6)].
The last (eighth) was held in the Magnaura Palace, at Constantinople, in presence of
the empress and her son, on 23 October. It was spent in discourses, signing of names,
The council promulgated twenty-two canons relating to points of discipline, which
may be summarized as follows:
Canon i: The clergy must observe "the holy canons," which include the Apostolic, those
of the six previous Ecumenical Councils, those of the particular synods which have
been published at other synods, and those of the Fathers.
Canon ii: Candidate's for a bishop's orders must know the Psalter by heart and must
have read thoroughly, not cursorily, all the sacred Scriptures.
Canon iii condemns the appointment of bishops, priests, and deacons by secular
Canon iv: Bishops are not to demand money of their clergy: any bishop who through
covetousness deprives one of his clergy is himself deposed.
Canon v is directed against those who boast of having obtained church preferment
with money, and recalls the Thirtieth Apostolic Canon and the canons of Chalcedon
against those who buy preferment with money.
Canon vi: Provincial synods are to be held annually.
Canon vii: Relics are to be placed in all churches: no church is to be consecrated
Canon viii prescribes precautions to be taken against feigned converts from Judaism.
Canon ix: All writings against the venerable images are to be surrendered, to be shut
up with other heretical books.
Canon x: Against clerics who leave their own dioceses without permission, and
become private chaplains to great personages.
Canon xi: Every church and every monastery must have its own oeconomus.
Canon xii: Against bishops or abbots who convey church property to temporal lords.
Canon xiii: Episcopal residences, monasteries and other ecclesiastical buildings
converted to profane uses are to be restored their rightful ownership.
Canon xiv: Tonsured persons not ordained lectors must not read the Epistle or Gospel
in the ambo.
Canon xv: Against pluralities of benefices.
Canon xvi: The clergy must not wear sumptuous apparel.
Canon xvii: Monks are not to leave their monasteries and begin building other houses
of prayer without being provided with the means to finish the same.
Canon xviii: Women are not to dwell in bishops' houses or in monasteries of men.
Canon xix: Superiors of churches and monasteries are not to demand money of those
who enter the clerical or monastic state. But the dowry brought by a novice to a
religious house is to be retained by that house if the novice leaves it without any fault
on the part of the superior.
Canon xx prohibits double monasteries.
Canon xxi: A monk or nun may not leave one convent for another.
Canon xxii: Among the laity, persons of opposite sexes may eat together, provided
they give thanks and behave with decorum. But among religious persons, those of
opposite sexes may eat together only in the presence of several God-fearing men and
women, except on a journey when necessity compels.
Transcribed by Anthony A. Killeen
Taken from the New Advent Web Page (www.knight.org/advent).
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