Church Council, Hundred Chapters

views updated


The Hundred Chapters Church Council (known to Russians as the Stoglav ) was convened in Moscow in February 1551 by Tsar Ivan IV and Metropolitan Makary, and was attended by representatives of the boyar council, nine bishops, and numerous abbots, priors, and priests. The council's purpose was to regulate the church's relationship to the state, reform its internal life, strengthen the authority of the bishops, and eradicate non-Christian folk customs from among the populace. It would not introduce anything new but would purify the Russian church of irregularities.

No complete record of the council's resolutions has survived, but a partial account was preserved in a book (the Stoglav ) divided into one hundred chapters, from which the council takes its name. Ivan opened the proceedings with a speech in which he confessed his sins and called for national repentance, then asked the council to approve his new law code of 1550 and the statute charters designed to abolish corruption in provincial administration. After this the tsar presented a list of questions, apparently compiled with the help of Metropolitan Makary and the priest Sylvester, relating to deficiencies in church life and heresy among the people, and called on the council to recommend remedies.

By May 1551 the Hundred Chapters Council had completed its deliberations. Ivan's new law code and statute charters were confirmed, but the proposed secularization of church lands for military tenure and subordination of clerics to secular jurisdiction were categorically rejected. When the tsar confirmed the inviolability of church possessions, the bishops compromised by agreeing to limits on the increase of ecclesiastical property. Moreover, the financial privileges of monasteries were reduced, and no new tax-free monastic settlements were to be founded in towns without the tsar's approval, thereby increasing crown tax revenues. The council called for many irregularities in church life to be corrected. Among other things, drunkenness among the clergy was to be eradicated, parish priests were to be better educated, and priests and laity alike were to be protected against rapacious episcopal tax collectors. "Pagan" and foreign practices popular among the laity were prohibited, such as minstrels playing at weddings and the shaving of beards.

The council's decisions made it possible to standardize religious books, rituals, and icon painting and protected the church's possessions and judicial rights against state encroachment. The bishops increased their judicial authority over the monasteries, and likewise extended their supervision of the parish clergy by appointing a network of priest elders. Some of the council's resolutions were not implemented, however, and others proved to be unsuccessful. The series of decrees issued in 1551 throughout the Russian state calling for the purification of religious life had to be regularly reissued, which suggests that the corrections were not enforced and abuses were not extirpated. Despite council demands for upgraded clerical education, there is no evidence of improvement until the second half of the seventeenth century. Alcoholism continued to be a problem, and extortion by tax collectors was never fully eradicated. Attempts to purify the Christianity of the people appear to have failed, and many superstitious practices listed by the council survived until the early twentieth century. The attempt to reform the laity's behavior was impeded by the fact that parish priests were responsible for carrying it out but were not given the education, assistance, or means of enforcement that would have made this possible.

The Hundred Chapters Council affirmed the traditional Byzantine principle of "symphony" (i.e., cooperation) between church and state, yet the proceedings exemplify the ongoing power struggle between Russia's religious and secular authorities. As a historical document, the Stoglav casts a unique light on the cultural life of early modern Russia and on the character of Ivan IV. Alongside the Nomocanon (a collection of Byzantine ecclesiastical law), it became a fundamental manual of church law until the mid-seventeenth century, when Patriarch Nikon of Moscow reversed some of its decisions on minor religious rituals. Nikon's opponents maintained that the old rituals were correct and that the decisions of the Hundred Chapters council had canonical authority. The ensuing disagreement became one of the chief causes of the schism of the Russian Church.

See also: ivan iv; nikon, patriarch; old believers


Bushkovitch, Paul. (1992). Religion and Society in Russia: The Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Kollman, J. (1978). "The Moscow Stoglav Church Council of 1551." Ph.D. diss., University of Michigan.

Kollman, J. (1980). "The Stoglav Council and the Parish Priests." Russian History 7(1/2):6591.

Soloviev, Sergei M. (1996). History of Russia, Vol. 12: Russian Society Under Ivan the Terrible, ed. and trans.T. Allan Smith. Gulf Breeze, FL: Academic International Press.

Vernadsky, George. (1969). A History of Russia, Vol. 5, Pt. 2: The Tsardom of Muscovy, 15471682. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Vernadsky, George, ed. (1972). A Source Book for Russian History from Early Times to 1917. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Debra A. Coulter

About this article

Church Council, Hundred Chapters

Updated About content Print Article