Carthage, Councils of
CARTHAGE, COUNCILS OF
Many councils were held in carthage (3d to 6th centuries). Under Agrippinus 70 bishops in 225 considered the validity of Baptism by heretics. Donatus called a council in 235. Of many councils called by cyprian, Bishop of Carthage (c. 249–258), those of 251, 252, 253, 255, and 256 dealt with the lapsi, Christians defecting in the fearful Decian persecution. Unwilling to absolve them through the Sacrament of Penance, the Church granted forgiveness if a confessor awaiting martyrdom interceded for them with the bishop. Cyprian decided to permit the lapsi sacramental absolution, a practice ultimately universal. In 252, 253, and 256 the councils also reexamined the validity of Baptism by heretics. Under Gratus (349) and Genethlius (390), disciplinary measures were enacted for clergy and bishops. A canon of Scripture (397) included a prohibition against all other reading in the churches (Enchiridion symbolorum, 186). Aurelius, Bishop of Carthage (391–429), held councils frequently and dealt with problems of Donatism and Pelagianism (see pelagius and pelagianism). In 411 a confrontation of Donatist and Catholic bishops (June 1, 3, 8) resulted in complete defeat for the Donatists— imperial legislation strengthening the orthodox position.
The most important councils in Carthage dealt with Pelagius, a Celtic monk denying the necessity of grace, whose tergiversations successfully deceived the Council of Diospolis (Palestine), where he was exonerated after his African condemnation. A meeting of 67 bishops in Carthage and 18 at Milevis in Numidia (416) sent letters (Augustine, Epist. 175; Patrologia Latina 33:758–762) to Innocent I begging him to secure a disavowal from Pelagius himself. Innocent I wrote in reply (Augustine, Epist. 181–183; Patrologia Latina 33:779–788), insisting on man's daily need of grace, but willing—even eager— to pardon a repentant Pelagius (Jan. 27,417). He wrote again to Carthage, where another council sat (417), emphasizing his own primacy (Corpus scriptorum ecclesiasticorum latinorum 44:715–723; Regestapontificum romanorum ab condita ecclesia ad annum post Christum natum 1198 321). Zosimus, his successor (417–418), wrote a similar letter (Regesta pontificum romanorum ab condita ecclesia ad annum post Christum natum 1198 342) the following year (Corpus scriptorum ecclesiasticorum latinorum 35:115–117). Meantime Pelagius and his disciple Celestius convinced the pope of their innocence, the former being reinstated and Celestius tentatively approved. Zosimus ordered Carthage to reexamine its position. Put on the defensive, Augustine spent the most painful year of his episcopate. Celestius, however, behaving disgracefully, came under the censure of Emperor Honorius and fled. Nine articles (Enchiridion symbolorum, 222–230) on grace and original sin were formulated by 214 African bishops in council (May 1,418). [Canon 3, condemning unbaptized infants to hell on the principle "Whoever is not on the right hand is doubtless on the left," does not appear in Mansi (4:326–334) or in Roman collections.] Zosimus finally condemned Celestius and excommunicated Pelagius. From May 25 to 30, 419, 217 bishops met; canons of previous councils were read before papal representatives; thus they received a quasi-ecumenical validity.
The Arian vandals invaded North Africa (429), persecuting the Church and setting up rival bishops. Thus 466 bishops met in Carthage (Feb. 1, 484) before Huneric, the Vandal king. The Catholic bishops were exiled. Justinian's African conquest (534) made possible a Carthaginian council in that year, dealing with policies regarding converted Arians, cleric and lay.
See Also: grace, controversies on; salutary acts; grace, articles on.
Bibliography: cyprian, Epistolae 44, 45, 48, 57, 59, 61, 64, 70, 71, 72. j. d. mansi, Sacrorum Conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio, 31 v. (Florence-Venice 1757-98) 1:840–851, 863–866, 868–872, 881–882, 897–900, 900–902, 923–926, 951–992; 3:143–158, 671–678: 7:1056–59, 1171–74. a. stuiber, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d new ed. Freiburg 1957–65) 6:1–2. p. fransen, ibid. 3–4. a. audollent, Dictionnaire d'histoire et de géographie ecclésiastiques, ed. a. baudrillart et al. (Paris 1912–) 1:747–750, 811–822, lists all councils of Carthage. g. bardy, Catholicisme 2:606–607. c. j. von hefele, Histoire des conciles d'après les documents originaux, tr. and continued by h. leclercq, 10 v. in 19 (Paris 1907–38) 1.1:165–176; 1.2:837–841, 1101, 1105–06, 1107–18; 2.1:76–78; 2.2:1136–39. l. duchesne, The Early History of the Christian Church, 3 v. (New York 1909–24) 1:282–313. h. leclercq, L'Afrique chrétienne, 2 v. (2d ed. Paris 1904).
[c. m. aherne]