Nicaea II, Council of
NICAEA II, COUNCIL OF
The seventh ecumenical council of the Church, and the last to be recognized by the Eastern Church, August to October 787.
History. When Emperor Leo IV died prematurely on Sept. 8, 780, any hope of ever restoring the veneration of images—a practice forbidden in Byzantium for more than a century and a half—appeared impossible. The entire state machinery and the high offices of the Church were in the hands of men committed to iconoclasm; the army, which Emperor constantine v Copronymos, the most passionate iconoclast of all, had so often led to victory, remained jealously devoted to his memory. Yet when Empress irene assumed power in 780 in the name of her son, Constantine VI, who was still a minor, she was determined to restore the veneration of icons throughout the Empire. A plot, vigorously repressed, enabled her to get rid of ministers and other personages hostile to inconoduly. She then contacted Pope adrian i (sacra of Aug. 29, 784), informing him of the intention of the Byzantine government to convoke a general council and requesting him to send duly empowered representatives. Furthermore, to remove the main obstacle to such a council, Patriarch paul iv was replaced as patriarch by the Empress's own secretary, tarasius.
The order convoking the council was promulgated throughout the Eastern Empire at the beginning of 786. Rome had welcomed this step on the part of the Greeks and sent a delegation of two members of the Roman clergy: a secular cleric and a religious, namely, the archpriest Peter and the hegumen Peter of the Greek monastery of San Saba. There were no other representatives from the West. The Byzantine episcopate sent 350 of its members. On Aug. 1, 786, the Council opened in Constantinople itself, in the basilica of the Holy Apostles, in the presence of the sovereigns, but elements of the imperial guard broke into the church, forcing the Council's temporary dissolution. But Prime Minister Stavrakios transferred or disbanded all regiments that had mutinied, and the Empress transferred the Council to Nicaea in Bithynia, where it opened on Sept. 24, 787.
The sessions, eight in all, lasted three weeks, and all except the last were held at the church of Hagia Sophia in Nicaea. Patriarch Tarasius, not the papal legates, presided, but the legates signed all documents first and were always listed first.
The Council had to decide immediately about the iconoclastic bishops, of whom many were present. Could the Council recognize their right to be seated? It took the first three sessions to dispose of this burning question, for the monks—numerous and active—opposed with determination the Council's decision to recognize the iconoclasts once they had abjured their heresy before the assembly. The next two sessions (October 1 and 4) established the legitimacy of the veneration of icons through an examination of scriptural and patristic tradition. The sixth session (October 5 and 6) dealt with Rome's demand that the great synod held at Hiereia in 754 be condemned. The seventh session (October 13) climaxed debate by fixing the terms of the dogmatic decree (ὅρος) that proclaimed belief in the efficacy of the intercession of saints, in the legitimacy of the veneration of icons or statues, i.e., veneration or relative cult as opposed to the cult of latria (see worship) which is the highest adoration, and due God alone. Twenty-two disciplinary canons were appended to this dogmatic definition. The Empress—not without ulterior political motives—wished to associate the people of the capital city with the decisions of the Council and therefore decided to close the Council by a sort of apotheosis, having all the fathers come to Constantinople for an eighth session in the Magnaura palace itself. On October 23 all gathered before the sovereign, who addressed the assembly herself and then had the decree of faith proclaimed; she then signed it, even before her son, Constantine VI, and the Roman legates. The Acta of the Council became the law of the state; their strict enforcement was to assure the Byzantine Church, despite some harassment by the old heresy, a respite of some 30 years. The Council thus marked the end of the first period of iconoclasm.
Acts of the Council. Though the East was virtually restored to peace by the Council, the appearance of the Acta in the West caused considerable uproar. It is not very probable that the actual text of the proceedings had been submitted to Pope Adrian I for approval, even though Patriarch Tarasius had reported to him on what had transpired at the Council. The Acta themselves reached the Holy See in a translation containing grave errors on essential points, even going so far as to represent the fathers of Nicaea as saying the opposite of what they had actually defined. charlemagne, kept in ignorance of what had occurred in the East and still smarting from the wound to his self-esteem caused by the rupture of the engagement of his daughter Rotrude with the young Emperor Constantine VI, submitted to the theologians of his court, including alcuin, the translation of the Acta that the Pope had sent him. The astonishment of his experts was so great that the monarch—who was more interested in condemning the Byzantine emperor, whose rank and title within Christendom he coveted—commissioned a refutation in a work called the Capitulate de imaginibus, or the libri carolini. Charlemagne then convened a great council at Frankfurt of 350 bishops who, in the presence of papal legates, condemned the Council of Nicaea. A special embassy brought to Rome an extract of the Libri Carolini, as well as a letter in which Charlemagne adjured the Pope to deny approval of the Council of Nicaea. In 794 the Pope replied in a memorandum that refuted in detail the complaints of the Frankish court, though with moderation. But the Holy See still did not give immediate approval to the Acta in question, for Constantinople refused to give Rome satisfaction in other matters, e.g., restitution to Rome of those Italian and Illyrian territories and patrimonies transferred to the Patriarchate of constantinople by Emperor Leo III in 733. Even in the East the Council was not recognized until 843; its ecumenical status was not actually confirmed until the Council of constantinople iv in 869 to 870. Moreover, the Patriarch photius was able to complain in the synod of 879 to 880 that Rome had still not recognized its authority. However, Nicaea II was recognized almost immediately by the legates at the session of Jan. 26, 880, and soon after by Pope john viii in person, as a result of his reconciliation with Photius. The insertion of the Council of Nicaea II, after 880, into the formula of the papal profession of faith was the Western Church's seal of recognition of its ecumenical status.
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