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Councils and Synods.

1. Ecclesiastical assemblies convened for discussion and settlement of questions affecting the faith and discipline of the ch. Ecumenical conventions are called councils; assemblies representing smaller areas are called either councils or syns. Councils have been distinguished as follows: ecumenical (representing the entire Christian world; the RC Ch. applies this term to councils representing all areas of the RC Ch.), East or West (representing only one of these areas), patriarchal (representing a patriarchate), national (representing a nation; often called syn.), plenary (representing a nation or several provinces; presided over by papal legate), primatial (representing the territory of a primate), neighboring provinces (representing neighboring provinces, but not all the provinces subject to the primate), provincial (representing a province; under a metropolitan), diocesan (representing a diocese; under a bp.; usually called syn.), mixed (composed of civil and ecclesiastical dignitaries gathered to settle secular as well as ecclesiastical matters), councils at Constantinople (consisted of bps. from any part of the world who happened to be in the city at the time of the council), Synod of Bishops (Apostolic Synod; announced by Paul VI [see Popes, 35] in the motu proprio “Apostolica Sollicitudo” September 15, 1965; consists of representative bps. chosen to advise and assist the pope, by whom it is convoked, to whom it is directly and immediately subject, and who assigns its agenda and gives its members deliberative and advisory power). In Protestantism the word “synod” has various technical meanings.

2. Attempts to trace later councils directly to the 1st council of Christians (Acts 15) have proved futile. Early syns. apparently developed out of enlarged cong. meetings (in earliest times delegates were sent from one cong. to another; 1 Clement, 63; Ignatius, “To the Philadelphians,” 10, “To the Smyrnaeans,” 11, “To Polycarp,” 7) or were called, to meet a difficult and widespread problem. According to an account quoted by Eusebius (HE, V, xvi, 10), the “faithful” in Asia met often in many places throughout Asia to consider Montanism.* His own account (HE, V, xxiii, 2) speaks of “synods and assemblies of bishops” held near the end of the 2d c. in connection with the Easter* controversy, but they may not have been gatherings of bps. exclusively.

3. Provincial Synods. As the teaching of apostolic* succession became prominent, bps. acted as successors of the apostles rather than as representatives of the chs. In the 3d c. bps., presbyters, deacons, and laymen attended syns.; responsibility for decisions gravitated to the bps. Provincial syns. became fixed institutions in the 3d c., when annual meetings came to be held. The 325 Council of Nicaea* (canon 5) called for 2 meetings a yr. The metropolitan called and presided over the provincial syn.

4. Ecumenical Councils. Ecumenical councils did not develop out of provincial syns. but were created by Constantine* I. In connection with the Donatist* controversy he called a meeting of bps. at Rome 313 and a larger meeting of bps. at Arles* 314. In the case of these assemblies, as well as that of Nicaea, Constantine determined place and time, summoned the bps., paid expenses, and gave the decisions binding force (Eusebius, HE, X, v, 20). Thus real power in early ecumenical councils did not stem from bps. as apostolic successors, but from a secular ruler. Following are often regarded as ecumenical councils (Prots. usually do not consider those after Chalcedon ecumenical): Nicaea* I (325), Constantinople* I (381), Ephesus* (431), Chalcedon* (451), Constantinople* II (553), Constantinople* III (680–681), and Nicaea* II (787). The RC Ch. adds Constantinople* IV (869–870), Lateran* I (1123), II (1139), III (1179), IV (1215), Lyons* I (1245), II (1274), Vienne* (1311–12), Constance* (1414–18), Basel*-Ferrara-Florence* (1431–43), Lateran V (1512–17), Trent* (1545–63), Vatican I (1869–70), II (1962–65). (See also Vatican Councils)

5. National Councils. Often called syns. In the early Middle Ages the ch. of the Germanic nations functioned on a nat. basis. Provincial syns. met rarely. The nat. ruler held a prominent position in ch. affairs. Kings usually called or sanctioned the syns. and reserved the right to alter or set aside decisions. After the middle of the 7th c., kings or their delegates attended syns. and influential men of the state were mems. This development was esp. seen in the Frankish kingdom. In Sp., under Arian influence, provincial syns. were most frequent. In the nat. ch. framework, bishoprics changed from city-centered to territorial units with diocesan meetings.

6. Roman Catholic Synods. At an early date bps. at Rome, holding that they had primacy in the ch., tried to extend jurisdiction of their provincial syns. to the entire ch. Julius I invited E bps. to a syn. at Rome 341; Gallic bps. attended the syn. called by Damasus 369. Roman pontiffs held that decisions of their syns. were binding because the popes were Peter's successors. Prestige of papal syns. was lessened by recognition given to syns. held by the Carolingian emps. N of the Alps.

With the ascendancy of papal power under Leo IX, papal syns. increased in prestige and were considered ecumenical by the hierarchy (see 4). But they were essentially different from the early ecumenical councils which were controlled by secular power. The popes tried to bring the councils completely under their domination and held that papal authority confirmed the decisions of councils.

Reform councils and the Reformation caused the papacy to view councils with distrust. Only pressing need of a counterreformation led to the Council of Trent.* The papacy reest. the essence of councils along lines developed before the reform councils, with higher clergy as mems. and with control securely in papal hands. At Vatican I (December 8, 1869–October 20, 1870) the papacy obtained absolute primacy in the decree of infallibility. Vatican II (October 11, 1962–December 8, 1965) was called by John XXIII (see Popes, 34) for renewal of the ch., to return to the liturgical, Biblical, and Christian sources of faith. (See also Roman Catholic Confessions; Vatican Councils)

In Am. the RC Ch. has held provincial councils (1829, 1833, 1837, 1840, 1843, 1846, and 1849) and plenary (1852, 1866, and 1884) councils at Baltimore, Maryland The abp. of Baltimore presided at all these councils. The plenary councils were attended by prelates from the entire US; their decisions, sanctioned by the pope, were binding for Am. RCm See also Roman Catholic Church, The E 8.

7. Reform Councils. John* of Paris promoted the conciliar* movement. Marsilius* of Padua held that councils should be summoned by the emp., represent all Christendom, be of highest authority in ecclesiastical matters, and be composed of clergy and laity. W. of Ockham* also held that the gen. council and not the pope was the highest authority in ecclesiastical matters. A solution to the papal schism of 1378 was sought in the views of John, Marsilius, and W. of Ockham. Konrad* von Gelnhausen, Henry* of Langenstein, P. d'Ailly,* and J. de Gerson* led the movement for reform councils. The Council of Pisa* failed to end the schism. The Council of Constance* ended the schism and tried to est. universal councils as the highest authority in the ch. and to have such councils meet regularly. Though endorsed at Basel, this Constance plan failed because of the opposition of the papacy. (See also Basel, Council of)

8. Luther on Councils. M. Luther* subordinated councils to the Word of God, which is self-sufficient (WA 50, 614–615, 631). The truth of the Gospel cannot be est. by councils (WA-T 3, 149). The Holy Spirit is not bound by conciliar decisions (WA 15, 584; 39 I, 186). Since articles of faith, doctrine, and works existed before councils, the latter cannot est. or decree doctrine, but, as all men, must show that what they say is in harmony with God's Word (WA 21, 471; WA-T 4, 457–458); if their pronouncements show such harmony, they are accepted for the Word's sake (WA 8, 57–58; 10 lb. 337; 17 II, 29; 39 I, 187; 50, 551–552, 604, 618). As individual mem, so also councils erred. (WA 2, 405–406; WA-Br 1, 470–471; WA-Br 3, 374)

Luther pointed out that the Holy Spirit dwells in the hearts of believers, and if council mems. are selected from the people of God, there is a true council ruled by the Spirit (WA 50, 643–644). Luther favored a free (WA 54, 206–207) Christian (WA 54, 212–213) council (WA 47, 127; 50, 288 to 289; 52, 760; 54, 208). Such a true council is a gathering of pious people for the preservation among them of the pure Word (WA 51, 529). The duty of judging doctrine is a matter for all Christians (WA 45, 380), and hence councils of such Christians also judge doctrine and works and arrange externals (WA-T 3, 694–695). Thus Luther opposed the “pope-in-council” (“head and mems.”) idea of Romanists (WA 52, 760; 54, 206–209). Luther regarded Nicaea I, Constantinople I, Ephesus, and Chalcedon as ecumenical councils (WA 54, 221; WA-T 4, 269). He held that councils up to Gregory I (see Popes, 4) were still somewhat pure; from Gregory I to Charlemagne* the pope was a spiritual lord and introduced superstitions; thereafter the pope usurped the 2 swords. (WA-T 4, 255)

9. In Luth. and Ref. chs., the theol. basis for councils and syns. is found Acts 15. In syns., congs. converse with each other and express unity in doctrine, order, and life. The authority of councils and syns. derives from the activity of the Spirit.

10. In the early yrs. of the Reformation Luther emphasized the priesthood of believers and a ch. structure evolved from the cong. After the Peasants' Revolt and the activity of the enthusiasts, Luther counseled that the clergy take the lead and proceed with deliberate caution in giving direction to matters of ch. order. (WA-Br 4, 158)

11. The Homberg Synod (Hesse, 1526) proposed the est. of syns. of pastors and cong. delegates to examine candidates for the ministry, supervise visitations, and answer questions put by congs.

12. P. Melanchthon,* with his emphasis on the visible ch., regarded syns., or conventus docentium, as instruments for preserving unity in pure doctrine. Not only clergymen but also pious and learned laymen and secular rulers and their representatives should attend syns. Synods should consider not only Scripture but also the fathers.

13. During his life, Luther and the faculty at Wittenberg decided important issues. Synods therefore were primarily meetings of pastors to discuss teaching and discipline. The actual govt. of the ch. was in the hands of secular rulers and structured through consistories.

14. During the controversies following Luther's death, syns. were structured in various ways (e.g., they often consisted of rulers and their representatives and theologians) to solve theol, problems. Melanchthon opposed solving such questions by majority vote.

15. During the period of Luth. orthodoxy the Scriptural concept of syn. was discussed without definitive formal result.

16. In the 19th c. Luth. syns. began to develop in Ger. and Switzerland. F. D. E. Schleiermacher* proposed a syn. structure evolved from congs. The 1835 Church Order for the Rhineland and Westphalia took on directive importance. Syns. became of increasing importance after WW I. Participation of pastors and laymen in syns. during the Kirchenkampf increased the prestige of syns.

17. Fr. Prots., influenced by J. Calvin,* early developed a syn. structure consisting of a local consistory, semiannual provincial syn., and gen. syn. Regional syns. (colloques) were added 1572. This structure influenced Ref. Ch. polity in Scot., Neth., Ger., Eng., and Am.

18. By the middle of the 20th c. most Ger. territories and the EKD VELKD, and EKU had regional and nat. syns. Such syns. consist of pastors, laymen, and representatives of theol, faculties and of organizations for ch. work. In practically all syns. laymen form the majority (also in the Finnish Ch. Assembly). They are usually legislative, supervisory, and/or advisory.

19. In Am. Lutheranism syn. convs. were important from the 18th c. on. While some (e.g., the Pennsylvania Ministerium and the New York Ministerium) consisted of pastors, laymen gen. had a prominent role. Functions of such convs, varied. C. F. W. Walther* regarded syns. as advisory to congs. C. Porterfield Krauth* held that congs. act in syn. through their representatives. Though syn. convs, still perform some administrative functions, they are gen. regarded as legislative, supervisory, and advisory. EL

See also Ancyra; Antioch, Synods of; Church; Elvira, Synod of; Keys, Office of the; Neocaesarea, Council of; Priesthood; Quinisext Synod.

W. Bright, Notes on the Canons of the First Four General Councils (Oxford, 1882); The Twentieth Century Encyclopedia of Catholicism, ed. H. Daniel-Rops, LXXXII: F. Dvornik, The Ecumenical Councils (New York, 1961); C. J. von Hefele, Conciliengeschichte, 7 vols., vols. 8–9 by J. Hergenröther (Freiburg, 1855–90), tr. and ed. W. R. Clark et al., A History of the Councils of the Church [2d ed. of vol. 1 entitled A History of the Christian Councils] (Edinburgh, 1883–96); E. F. Jacob, Essays in the Conciliar Epoch, 3d ed. (Notre Dame, Indiana, 1963); H. Jedin, Ecumenical Councils of the Catholic Church, tr. E. Graf (New York, 1960); E. H. Landon, A Manual of Councils of the Holy Catholic Church, 2 vols. (Edinburgh, 1909); H. Liermann, “Amt und Kirchenverfassung,” Gedenkschrift für D. Werner Elert, ed. F. H. Hübner, W. Maurer, and E. Kinder (Berlin, 1955), pp. 359–372; M. Luther, “Von den Konziliis und Kitchen” (WA 50, 509 to 563; Eng. tr. “On the Councils and the Churches,” Works of Martin Luther, V [Philadelphia, 1931], 131–300), “Convocatio concilii liberi Christiani, Ausschreibung eines heiligen freien christlichen Concilii” (WA 38, 284–289), “Von den Concilien” (Walch ed., St. Louis, 1887, XXII [Tischreden], 1349–70), and “Disputatio de potestate concilii, Vom vermögen unnd gewalt eins gemeynen Concilij” (WA 39 1, 184–197); Ap XII 167; Tractatus; P. Melanchthon, Corpus Reformatorum, ed. C. G. Bretschneider, III (Halle, 1836), 468–472; C. Raab, The Twenty Ecumenical Councils of the Catholic Church (Westminster, Maryland, 1959); Theologische Existenz heute, new series, ed. K. G. Steck and G. Eichholz, No. 37: H. Storck, Das allgemeine Priestertum bei Luther (Munich, 1953); R. Stupperich, “Kirche und Synode bei Melanchthon,” Gedenkschrift für D. Werner Elert, ed. F. Hübner, W. Maurer, and E. Kinder (Berlin, 1955), pp. 199 to 210; Councils & Synods, with Other Documents Relating to the English Church, ed. F. M. Powicke and C. R. Cheney, II, in 2 parts (Oxford, 1964).

Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
©Concordia Publishing House, 2000, All rights Reserved. Reproduced with Permission

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The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod

Original Editions ©Copyright 1954, 1975, 2000
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Content Reproduced with Permission

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