COUNCIL OF THE CHURCH, an assembly of prelates who meet, being duly convoked by the legitimate authority, for the purpose of defining questions of doc trine, or making regulations or canons in matters of discipline. There are various sorts of councils : 1. General or (Ecumenic councils, which are considered as a representative and legislative assembly of the whole church, and to which all bishops are summoned. In the early ages of the Christian Church the general councils were convoked by the Roman Emperor ; they have been since convoked by the Popes, at least for the Western or Roman Church. The authority of general councils is considered as binding on the whole church only in matters of faith when the canon esta blishes a dogma which it enjoins all the faithful to believe under pain of anathema and heresy. In matters of faith the Roman Church considers a general coun cil to be infallible : some say, however, only after its canons have been confirmed by the Pope. All bishops have a right to attend and vote in a general council ; the abbots and generals of monastic orders have also been admitted to vote in most councils by consent of the council. Priests and monks have also attended the councils as theologians and advisers, with a con sultative and deliberative vote. In the
r Western Church the Pope, or his legate for him, presides in the council. For a council to be legitimate it is required that all the bishops should be called, whether they attend or not, except those who are declared by the church to be schismatical or heretical, and all deliberations should be free and unconstrained.
2. National councils, consisting of the bishops of a whole kingdom or state, which can be convoked by the sovereign power of such state; but the authority of such council is limited to the kingdom or state for which it is convened.
3. Provincial councils are convoked by the respective metropolitans, with the con sent of the sovereign power, or the king, as in England. A bishop may also con voke a diocesan council, with the consent of his superior. (Benedict X1 V. de Sy nod° diocesana.) The Church of Rome reckons several councils, though not cecu menic, previous to that of Nice, the ear liest of which seems to be that held at Jerusalem, about A.D. 50, and which was attended by the apostles Peter, John, James, and Barnabas, and which is men tioned in the fifteenth chapter of thz Acts of the Apostles.'