UNDERSTANDING YOUR CATHOLIC FAITH:

ECUMENICAL COUNCILS

 

By Vic Scaravilli

 


Jesus was the ultimate authority when He was on earth. He would teach, answer questions, and explain the New Covenant to His disciples. In order to continue His source of authority after the Resurrection, Jesus established a way for His truths to be protected.

Special authority was given to all apostles by Jesus to teach and protect the truth while Peter received the unique role of being the head of this group. Once Jesus resurrected to heaven, the apostles were in charge of the newly established Church. They exercised authority by commissioning another apostle to replace Judas in order to continue the office of bishop. As the Church began to grow, more men were ordained by the apostles by the laying of hands and were given Christ’s authority. Timothy, Titus, and James are some of the bishops ordained in the new Church.

It was the bishop’s responsibility to preserve the truth in his local area. However, when a major dispute arose affecting the entire Church throughout the world, the issue would be resolved by the Magisterium, or teaching authority, of the Church. This group consists of all of the bishops in union with the head bishop, the Pope. The Bible gives us details of how this body resolved the first major dispute of the growing church in Acts 15. Whenever the entire group of bishops meets to define the deposit of faith Jesus taught, it is called an ecumenical council.

Ecumenical Councils are guaranteed to define and preserve the true teachings of Christ because Jesus promised He would send the Holy Spirit to guide His church in all truth (Jn. 16:12-13). The doctrinal definitions from these councils are believed to be infallibly true.

There are several requirements of an ecumenical council: 1) it is a meeting of all the bishops of the entire church, not of the ministers of one particular place; 2) it issues decisions that have binding force for all Christians; 3) the contents deals with defining and clarifying the deposit of truth Jesus gave His apostles; 4) the decisions are recorded in a written document and is proclaimed to the entire Church; 5) the Pope summons and presides over the council and then must confirm all of the decisions.

When there were major disputes in the growing church, ecumenical councils met to resolve the heresies. In the course of history, these councils met in order to address the issues of the times that were causing misunderstanding in the Church. There have been only 21 ecumenical councils. The first was in 325 AD and the last ended in 1965.

The Council of Nicaea was the first council that met to resolve major heresies that were being spread in the early Church. One of the major developments was the formulation of the Nicene Creed which is recited during mass that defined God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Most Christians today acknowledge the decisions of this council as true.

Another important meeting was the Council of Trent that met in 1545. This council addressed the issues of the Protestant Reformation and further defined and clarified the beliefs the Catholic Church held from the time of Christ. The last ecumenical council was Vatican II.

We are fortunate to have an authoritative source to protect what Christ taught his disciples. Many of our understandings of Christ’s teachings are a result of clarifications made by the ecumenical councils over the past 2,000 years.



The Writings of Vic Scaravilli