COUNCIL (Lat. concilum), an assembly met for deliberation, or to give advice. The term as used in an ecclesiastical sense specially applies to certain assemblies of the Roman Catholic Church. These may be classed as ecumenical, provincial or patriarchial councils and synods; but the last is not usually included among councils. An ecumenical or general council is one in which the bishops and others entitled to vote are convoked from the whole world to deliberate on the state of the Church or to meet an emergency, as the rise of a new heresy. The decrees of such a council, having received papal confirmation, are binding. A counci' might be ecumenical in its convocation, yet if its decrees did not receive the papal con firmation they would not be binding, and the council would not be considered of ecumenical authority. Or a council might not be ecumen ical in its convocation, but its decrees being accepted and receiving the papal confirmation, it is then classed as ecumenical. The First Council of Constantinople was originally a coun cil of the East, but ultimately its decrees on faith were accepted in the West and received the confirmation of the Pope. Patriarchial councils represent a whole patriarchate; national coun cils, a nation; and primatial councils, provinces subject to a primate. (See PATRIARCHS). Pro vincial councils are of a province and are known usually by the name of the metropolitan see. (See METROPOLITAN). Diocesan councils, usually termed synods, are composed of the clergy of the diocese and are presided over by the bishop or vicar-general or a representative of the bishop.
Ecumenical councils are convoked by the Pope, and are under his presidency or that of his legate. In the early ages of Christianity councils were sometimes convoked by emperors, but only by permission or by request of the Pope. The dangers and difficulties of traveling in those times made it necessary to have the protection of the civil powers, and hence the real part which the emperor took in convok ing the council was to promise it immunity from those who might wish to influence or retard its deliberations. The patriarch, metro politan or bishop convokes the council within his jurisdiction. The membership of councils not ecumenical consists of the local clergy, as in a diocese, or the suffragan bishops of a prov ince or patriarchate. Certain rules regulating
representation are observed. In the early ages (and even as late as 1598), laymen were some times invited to attend provincial councils, They were permitted to present complaints and give advice, but it is very doubtful if they ever took any part in the voting. In two instances at least women attended. (See HILDA, SAINT). Ecumenical councils are composed of patriarchs, archbishops and bishops and such other ecclesiastics as may be invited for specified reasons, as theologians, one at least for each archbishop or bishop. (The Council of Trent gave procurators — priests and deacons — of absent bishops a right to vote. The Vatican council did not even admit to the council hall such procurators). In matters of faith the Holy Scriptures and the traditions of the Church are the guide, while in lighter matters human reason and expediency are consulted. In the former, ecumenical councils are held to be infallible, but in other matters of discipline, etc., the latest council decides questions. Car dinals, even if not bishops or abbots, generals of regular orders, mitred abbots of whole or ders, may be members with right to vote. The rule has always prevailed that no royal repre sentative may be present at any council except a general one in which "'faith, reformation and peace* are in question.
The presidency of a council does not confer an ex officio right to vote or to take part in the deliberations, such right depending upon the hierarchical rank of the one presiding.
Usually bishops take their places according to the rank of their sees. At the Vatican coun cil they were arranged according to their hierarchical rank,— first the Pope, then the cardi nals, patriarchs, primates, archbishops, bishops, abbots and generals of orders. The voting is generally by single vote, but at Constance the vote was by nations. At Basel the members were divided into four deputations which met separately. Decrees passed by three deputa tions were accepted by all. At Trent much of the matter to be debated was first considered by commissions. (See COUNTER-REFORMATION). The proceedings of the Vatican council, not yet finished, were conducted in a somewhat similar manner.