Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Voting About God in Early Church Councils

Voting About God in Early Church Councils

Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 192
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Voting About God in Early Church Councils
    Book Description:

    In this study, Ramsay MacMullen steps aside from the well-worn path that previous scholars have trod to explore exactly how early Christian doctrines became official. Drawing on extensive verbatim stenographic records, he analyzes the ecumenical councils from A.D. 325 to 553, in which participants gave authority to doctrinal choices by majority vote.The author investigates the sometimes astonishing bloodshed and violence that marked the background to church council proceedings, and from there goes on to describe the planning and staging of councils, the emperors' role, the routines of debate, the participants' understanding of the issues, and their views on God's intervention in their activities. He concludes with a look at the significance of the councils and their doctrinal decisions within the history of Christendom.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13529-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. Preface
    (pp. vii-xii)
  5. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-11)

    Before getting very far into a subject so familiar as the formation of Christian creeds, it may help to think of it for a moment in a detached way. If the distance between it and ourselves can be brought out—if we can try to see the scene and its actors afresh and in all their strangeness—we may bring a more curious eye to our observation, we may reallylook, taking nothing for granted.]]

    Suppose for a moment that a visitor from Mars asked about the setting for this essay—and no one more detached can be imagined—might he...

  6. 2 The democratic element
    (pp. 12-23)

    Political power in the Roman world,kratosdefined as a claim on compliance by or upon those in public office, was no simple thing. Most obviously it was exerted from the top down by the few. These were imperial bureau chiefs, governors and garrison commanders, ex officio, or great persons without office, through their influence, wealth, and friends. But from the bottom up the many wielded power, too—thedemos. To this extent the empire was democratic.

    At first sight the idea appears paradoxical. The emperor’s was an absolute monarchy. No one said otherwise. He commanded his generals and governors,...

  7. 3 The cognitive element
    (pp. 24-40)

    Why should Christians when they met together debate and inquire about the nature of their God? Were they acting under God’s instructions? Did God care what they thought?

    Perhaps only a visitor from Mars would puzzle over such questions. They find no answer in the sources because evidently they were never asked.

    In early times the church’s leaders did indeed speak up for unity of command and doctrine. Paul did so more than once, and Ignatius, too. Later, emperors and bishops on their behalf repeated the plea on behalf of the empire’s safety.¹ Yet peace was continually disturbed by views...

  8. 4 The “supernaturalist” element
    (pp. 41-55)

    At Nicaea in AD 325 some 200 bishops assembled. The total is not certain: perhaps a little below that figure, probably a little above it. Not all who attended signed, as was not unusual at the end of councils nor surprising at this one, given its special difficulties. The exact number doesn’t matter.¹ It was soon inflated, to 270, to 300, and so to 318 within a generation. In the Greek system of numeration by letters of the alphabet, it was noticed that a tau, iota, and eta standing for 318 began with a cross ‘T’, went on to “Jesus”...

  9. 5 The violent element
    (pp. 56-66)

    Our sources for the two and a quarter centuries following Nicaea allow a very rough count of the victims of credal differences: not less than twenty-five thousand deaths. A great many, but still only a small minority, were clergy; the rest, participants in crowds. The total cannot be less if the sources are to be read in the usual way, discounting round numbers a bit and treating adjectives rather conservatively. Some of the evidence gives us only “many” or mere plurals, “deaths” and “slaughters” without specifics.¹

    All those who died met their end irregularly as targets of fury, not of...

  10. 6 Preliminaries
    (pp. 67-77)

    The councils of particular interest to this study were all more or less under the emperors’ thumb. The fact was due to the nature of doctrinal disputes. They involved bishops who claimed some following. It was one thing to decide who was right by majority vote, and for the purposes of some one church or one diocese; quite another thing, to speak out more widely and to enforce the decision. To what, then, other than a superpower could there be appeal? In the third century one of the five most storied churches, Antioch, looked for help to one emperor (Aurelian),...

  11. 7 Councils in action
    (pp. 78-112)

    In picturing the past, a natural starting point is the physical setting. Nine out of ten councils—the diocesan or provincial ones, whether annual or semiannual—would meet in the convener’s church. For those others authorized by the emperor, there would be no difficulty in finding the right space for a few score of participants, even for several hundreds. They too might use a church or sometimes an imperial palace. Constantine offered his at Nicaea; Justinian his, the Hormisdas in the capital or the Rufinianum near Chalcedon. There were palaces everywhere. Their giant halls and lavish use of marble can...

  12. Summary
    (pp. 113-118)

    Two subjects have occupied me in this essay: a certain sort of church council and a certain sort of participant.

    The latter, my “ordinary bishop”, of course never existed. He is a notional figure, like Sloan Wilson’s “Man in the Gray Flannel Suit”, once so useful in explaining the life and habits of American businessmen. Such constructs are quite everyday in political, sociological, or marketing discussions—and in the historical. Historians in generalizing will speak of “the Napoleonic soldier”, let us say, or “the pioneer” or “the rural voter”.

    It’s no use objecting that a chosen type in some points...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 119-154)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 155-166)
  15. Index
    (pp. 167-170)