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§ 55. The Councils of Elvira, Arles, and Ancyra.
Among the ante-Nicene Synods some were occasioned by the Montanist controversy in Asia Minor, some by the Paschal controversies, some by the affairs of Origen, some by the Novatian schism and the treatment of the Lapsi in Carthage and Rome, some by the controversies on heretical baptism (255, 256), three were held against Paul of Samosata in Antioch (264–269).
In the beginning of the fourth century three Synods, held at Elvira, Arles, and Ancyra, deserve special mention, as they approach the character of general councils and prepared the way for the first oecumenical council. They decided no doctrinal question, but passed important canons on church polity and Christian morals. They were convened for the purpose of restoring order and discipline after the ravages of the Diocletian persecution. They deal chiefly with the large class of the Lapsed, and reflect the transition state from the ante-Nicene to the Nicene age. They are alike pervaded by the spirit of clericalism and a moderate asceticism.
1. The Synod of Elvira (Illiberis, or Eliberis, probably on the site of the modern Granada) was held in 306,256256 Hefele, Gams, and Dale decide in favor of this date against the superscription which puts it down to the period of the Council of Nicaea (324). The chief reason is that Hosius, bishop of Cordova, could not be, present in 324 when he was in the Orient, nor at any time after 307, when he joined the company of Constantine as one of his private councillors.56 and attended by nineteen bishops, and twenty-six presbyters, mostly from the Southern districts of Spain. Deacons and laymen were also present. The Diocletian persecution ceased in Spain after the abdication of Diocletian and Maximian Herculeus in 305; while it continued to rage for several years longer in the East under Galerius and Maximin. The Synod passed eighty-one Latin canons against various forms of heathen immorality then still abounding, and in favor of church discipline and austere morals. The Lapsed were forbidden the holy communion even in articulo mortis (can. 1). This is more severe than the action of the Nicene Synod. The thirty-sixth canon prohibits the admission of sacred pictures on the walls of the church buildings,257257 "Placuit picturas in ecclesia esse non debere, ne quod colitur et adoratur in parietibus depingatur.""There shall be no pictures in the church, lest what is worshipped [saints] and adored [God and Christ] should be depicted on the walls."57 and has often been quoted by Protestants as an argument against image worship as idolatrous; while Roman Catholic writers explain it either as a prohibition of representations of the deity only, or as a prudential measure against heathen desecration of holy things.258258 The last is the interpretation of the canon by DeRossi, in Roma sotteranea, Tom. I., p. 97, and Hefele, I. 170. But Dale (p. 292 sqq.) thinks that it was aimed against the idolatry of Christians.58 Otherwise the Synod is thoroughly catholic in spirit and tone. Another characteristic feature is the severity against the Jews who were numerous in Spain. Christians are forbidden to marry Jews.259259 The best accounts of the Synod of Elvira are given by Ferdinand de Mendoza, De confirmando Concilio IIIiberitano ad Clementem VIII., 1593 (reprinted in Mansi II. 57-397); Fr. Ant. Gonzalez, Collect. Can. Ecclesiae Hispaniae, Madrid, 1808, new ed. with Spanish version, 1849 (reprinted in Bruns, Bibl. Eccl. Tom. I. Pars II. 1 sqq.); Hefele, Conciliengesch. I. 148-192 (second ed., 1873; or 122 sqq., first ed.); Gams, Kirchengesch. von Spanien (1864), vol. II. 1-136; and Dale in his monograph on the Synod of Elvira, London, 1882.59
The leading genius of the Elvira Synod and the second in the list was Hosius, bishop of Corduba (Cordova), who also attended the Council of Nicaea as the chief representative of the West. He was native of Cordova, the birth-place of Lucan and Seneca, and more than sixty years in the episcopate. Athanasius calls him a man holy in fact as well as in name, and speaks of his wisdom in guiding synods. As a far-seeing statesman, he seems to have conceived the idea of reconciling the empire with the church and influenced the mind of Constantine in that direction. He is one of the most prominent links between the age of persecution and the age of imperial Christianity. He was a strong defender of the Nicene faith, but in his extreme old age he wavered and signed an Arian formula. Soon afterwards he died, a hundred years old (358).
2. The first Council of Arles in the South of France260260 Concilium Arelatense, from Arelate or Arelatum Sextanorum, one of the chief Roman cities in South-Eastern Gaul, where Constantine at one time resided, and afterwards the West Gothic King Eurich. It was perhaps the seat of the first bishopric of Gaul, or second only to that of Lyons and Vienne. Several councils were held in that city, the second in 353 during the Arian controversy.60 was held a.d. 314, in consequence of an appeal of the Donatists to Constantine the Great, against the decision of a Roman Council of 313, consisting of three Gallican and fifteen Italian bishops under the lead of Pope Melchiades. This is the first instance of an appeal of a Christian party to the secular power, and it turned out unfavorably to the Donatists who afterwards became enemies of the government. The Council of Arles was the first called by Constantine and the forerunner of the Council of Nicaea. Augustin calls it even universal, but it was only Western at best. It consisted of thirty-three bishops261261 Not 633, as McClintock & Strong’s "Cyclop" has it sub Arles.61 from Gaul, Sicily, Italy (exclusive of the Pope Sylvester, who, however, was represented by two presbyters and two deacons), North Africa, and Britain (three, from York, London, and probably from Caerleon on Usk), besides thirteen presbyters and twenty-three deacons. It excommunicated Donatus and passed twenty-two canons concerning Easter (which should be held on one and the same day), against the non-residence of clergy, against participation in races and gladiatorial fights (to be punished by excommunication), against the rebaptism of heretics, and on other matters of discipline. Clergymen who could be proven to have delivered sacred books or utensils in persecution (the traditores) should be deposed, but their official acts were to be held valid. The assistance of at least three bishops was required at ordination.262262 See Eus. H. E. x. 5; Mansi, II. 463-468; München, Das ersten Concil von Arles (in the "Bonner Zeitschrift für Philos. und kath. Theol.," No. 9, 26, 27), and Hefele I. 201-219 (2nd ed.).62
3. The Council of Ancyra, the capital of Galatia in Asia Minor, was held soon after the death of the persecutor Maximin (3l3), probably in the year 314, and represented Asia Minor and Syria. It numbered from twelve to eighteen bishops (the lists vary), several of whom eleven years afterwards attended the Council of Nicaea. Marcellus of Ancyra who acquired celebrity in the Arian controversies, presided, according to others Vitalis of Antioch. Its object was to heal the wounds of the Diocletian persecution, and it passed twenty-five canons relating chiefly to the treatment of those who had betrayed their faith or delivered the sacred books in those years of terror. Priests who had offered sacrifice to the gods, but afterwards repented, were prohibited from preaching and all sacerdotal functions, but allowed to retain their clerical dignity. Those who had sacrificed before baptism may be admitted to orders. Adultery is to be punished by seven years’ penance, murder by life-long penance.263263 Hefele, vol. I. 222 sqq., gives the canons in Greek and German with explanation. He calls it a Synodus plenaria, i.e., a general council for the churches of Asia Minor and Syria. See also Mansi II. 514 sqq. Two Arian Synods were held at Ancyra in 358 and 375.63
A similar Council was held soon afterwards at, Neo-Caesarea in Cappadocia (between 314–325), mostly by the same bishops who attended that of Ancyra, and passed fifteen disciplinary canons.264264 See Hefele I. 242-251.64
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