COUNCIL, or SYN'OD. is an assembly of ecclesiastical dignitaries held for the purpose of regulating the doctrine or discipline of the church. As early as the 2d c., church councils were convened in which only one or two provinces took part, the bishops and presbyters binding themselves to carry out the decisions arrived at in their own communi ties. These assemblies were commonly held in the chief town or metropolis of the province, and the bishops of such capitals—who, after the 3d c., bore the title of metro politan—were wont to preside over the meetings, and to consider questions of doctrine and discipline which had arisen within the territory. Over these metropolitan councils were established, at a later period, the provincial synods, exercising authority over several united provinces, and finally, the national councils. After the 4th c., when the Christian religion was established in the Roman empire, we read of ceeumenical, i.e., universal councils, so called because all the bishops of Christendom were invited or summoned by the emperor. In some early synods, we find bishops, presbyters, and others, taking part in the deliberations; but after the opening of the 4th c., only the bishops were convened. According to the doctrine of the Roman Catholic church, the pope alone, or, by way of exception, in some cases the college of cardinals had the power of convening oecumenical councils, which, in the Catholic view, represent the universal church under the guidance of the Holy Ghost. Questions were determined by the majority of votes, and the pope or his proxy presided and confirmed the resolutions carried in the synod. In matters of faith, the Holy Scriptures and the traditions of the church are the guide; while in lighter matters, human reason and expediency were con sulted. In the former, ceeumenical councils are held to be infallible, but in other mat ters of discipline, etc., the latest synod decides questions. The question of the pope's subordination to the decrees of the cecumenical councils was long and warmly debated, but the recent Vatican council may be said to have set the question at rest. Twenty (ecumenical councils are recognized in the Roman Catholic church-9 eastern and 11 western.
1. The synod of apostles in Jerusalem, wherein the relation of the Christian doc trine to the Mosaic law was determined. (Sec Acts, c. xv.) 2. The first C. of Nice, held 325 A.D., to assert the Catholic doctrine respecting the Son of God, in opposition to the opinions of Arius. 3. The first C. of Constantinople, convoked under the emperor Theodosius the great (381 A.D.), to determine the Catholic doctrine regarding the Holy Ghost. 4. The first C. of Ephesus, convened under Theodosius the younger (431 A.D.), to condemn the Nestorian heresy. 5. The C. of Chaleedon, under the emperor Mareian (451 A.D.), which asserted the doctrine of the union of the divine with the human nature in Christ, and condemned the heresies of Eutyches and the Monophysites. G. The sec ond C. of Constantinople, under Justinian (553 Am.), which condemned the doctrines of Origen, Arius, Macedonins, and others. 7. The third C. of Constantinople, convoked under the emperor Constantine V., Pogonatus (681 A.D.), for the condemnation of the Monothelite heresy. 8. The second C. of Nice, held in the reign of the empress Irene
and her son Constantine (787 Am.), to establish the worship of images. 9. The fourth C. of Constantinople, under Basilius and Adrian (869 A.D.), the principal business of which was the peace of the eastern and western churches, and the deposition of Pho tius, who had intruded himself into the see of Constantinople, and the restoration of Ignatius, who had been unjustly expelled. 10. The first Lateran C., held in Rome under the emperor Henry V., and convoked by the pope, Calixtus II. (1123 A.D.), to settle the dispute on investiture (q.v.). 11. The second Lateran C., under the emperor Conrad III. and pope Innocent II. (1139 A.D.), condemned the errors of Arnold of Brescia and others. 12. The third Lateran C., convened by pope Alexander III. (1179 A.D.), in the reign of Frederick I. of Germany, condemned the "errors and impieties" of the Waldenses and Albigenses. 13. The fourth Lateran C., held under Innocent III. (1215 A.D.), among other Matters, asserted and confirmed the dogma of transubstantia tion and necessity for the reformation of abuses and the extirpation of heresy. 14. The first (ecumenical synod of Lyon, held during the pontificate of Innocent IV. (1245 A.D.), had for its object the promotion of the crusades, the restoration of ecclesiastical disci pline, etc. 15. The second (ecumenical synod of Lyon was held during the pontificate of Gregory X. (1274 A.D.). Its principal object was the reunion of the Greek and Latin churches. 16. The synod of Vienne in Gaul, under Clemens V. (1311 A.D.), was convoked to suppress the Knights Templars, etc. 17. The C. of Constance was con voked at the request of the emperor Sigismund, 1414 A.D., and sat for four years. It asserted the authority of an (ecumenical C. over the pope, and condemned the doctrines of John Miss and Jerome of Prague. 18. The C. of Basel was convoked by pope Mar tin V., 1430 A.D. It sat for nearly ten years, and purposed to introduce a reformation in the discipline, and even in the constitution, of the Roman Catholic church. All acts passed in this C., after it had been formally dissolved by the pope, are regarded by the Roman Catholic church as null and void. 19. The celebrated C. of Trent, held 1545 1563 A.D. It was opened by Paul III., and brought to a close under the pontificate of Paul IV. The Vatican C., above mentioned, held in 1870, decreed the infallibility of the pope. For details of the more important councils, see NICE, BASEL, CONSTANCE, TRENT, etc.
Among the provincial or local synods convened after the division of the church into cast and west, we may mention that of Clermont (1096 A. D.), when the first crusade was proposed, and that of Pisa (1409 A.D.), when three popes were contending for the see of Rome. Among Protestants, no general C. has ever been convened; but several partic ular synods have decided various questions. Of these synods, one of the more remark able was that of Dort, in 1618, when Calvin's creed was asserted against the Armin ians.
The decrees of the Roman Catholic councils were edited by Mansi (31 vols., 1759 1798). See IIefele's Concitiengeschiclite (7 vols., 1855-1874).