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Excursus on the Council of Frankfort, a.d. 794.

It has been commonly represented that the Council of Frankfort, which was a large Synod of the West, with legates of the Pope present and composed of the bishops of Gaul, Germany, and Aquitaine, devoted its attention to a consideration of the question of the ven584eration due to images and of the claims of the Second Council of Nice to being an Ecumenical Synod.  I do not know upon what grounds such statements have rested, but certainly not upon anything revealed by any remains of the council we possess, for among these we find but one brief paragraph upon the subject, to wit, the Second Canon, which reads as follows (Labbe and Cossart, Concilia, Tom. vii, col. 1057):

“II.  The question was brought forward concerning the recent synod which the Greeks had held at Constantinople concerning the adoration of images, that all should be judged as worthy of anathema who did not pay to the images of the Saints service and adoration as to the Divine Trinity.  Our most holy fathers rejected with scorn and in every way such adoration and service, and unanimously condemned it.”

Now in the first place I call the reader’s attention to the fact that the Conciliabulum of 754 was held at Constantinople but that the Seventh Council was held at Nice.  It would seem as if the two had got mixed in the mind of the writer.553553    This has been explained by saying that the last meeting was in the palace at Constantinople.

In the second place neither of these synods, nor any other synod, decreed that the “service” (λατρεία) and “adoration” (προσκύνησις) due to the holy Trinity was under pain of anathema to be given to “the images of the Saints.”

On this second canon Hefele writes as follows:

(Hefele.  Concil., § 398).

The second of these canons deserves our full attention; in it, as we have seen, the Synod of Frankfort expresses its feeling against the Second Ecumenical Council of Nice, and against the veneration of images; Eginhard also gives us the information that it took this action, viz.:  “for it was decided by all [i.e. at Frankfort] that the synod, which a few years before was gathered together in Constantinople (sic) under Irene and her son Constantine, and is called by them not only the Seventh but also Ecumenical, should neither be held nor declared to be the Seventh nor ecumenical but wholly without authority.”

Hefele rejects the views of Baronius, Bellarmine, Surius, and Binius.  I have no intention of defending the position of any one of these writers but I translate Binius’s note, merely remarking that it is easier to reject his conclusion than to answer the arguments upon which it rests.

(Severinus Binius, Labbe and Cossart, Concilia, Tom. VII., col. 1070.)

Baronius was of opinion that the Second Council of Nice was condemned by this council; and before him Bellarmine had taught the same thing.  But two things make me dissent from their conclusion:

First.  That as the history and acts of this council inform us that the legates of Pope Hadrian (whom Ado in his chronology names Theophylact and Stephen) were present at this council, it was not possible that the whole council was ignorant by what authority the true Seventh Council was assembled at Nice, and what its decrees had been.  For as this Synod at Nice was assembled under the same Pontiff, the legates of that same Pontiff could not have been ignorant of its authority and teaching.  Therefore even if false rumours concerning the Seventh Synod had been scattered about, as Genebrardus affirms (on what foundation I know not), the Fathers of the Council of Frankfort could have been instructed by the papal legates, and been given information and taught what were the writings of that Seventh Council.  Moreover since the celebration of that Nicene Council was an event most celebrated and most widely published throughout the whole Church, it is not credible that among 585the bishops of all France and Germany, assembled in this place, no single one was found who had accurate information concerning the manner in which the Council of Nice was assembled, or of how it had received the approval of the Supreme Pontiff.  For as a matter of fact, that error of adoring images as gods is rather an error of the Gentiles than of any heretics or of any who profess the faith of Christ.  Therefore in no way is it credible that the fathers of the Council of Frankfort should have thought this, or rashly on account of certain rumours have believed this; especially since at that time in no Church was there the suspicion of any such error; and the bishops of the council were too pious and Catholic to allow the suspicion that out of base enmity to the Orientals they were led to attribute error to the fathers of the most sacred Council of Nice, or that they would have attached an heretical sense to their decision.

Another reason is this; that the fathers of this council often made profession of acting under the obedience of the Roman Pontiffs; and in the book Sacrosyllabus at the end, when they gave sentence against the heretics, they subjoin these words:  “The privilege of our lord and father the Supreme Pontiff, Hadrian I. Pope of the most blessed See, being in all respects maintained.”  And this same principle the same fathers often professed in this council, that they followed the tradition of their predecessors, and did not depart from their footsteps; and that Charlemagne, who was present, at this council, in his letter to the Spanish bishops, said that in the first place he had consulted the pontiff of the Apostolic See, what he thought concerning the matter treated of in that council:  and that a little further on he adds these words:  “I am united to the Apostolic see, and to the ancient Catholic traditions which have come down from the beginnings of the new-born Church, with my whole mind, and with complete alacrity of heart.”

Now the fathers of this council could not make such a profession if they had condemned the Sacrosant Synod of Nice, which had been confirmed by the Apostolic See.  For as I have shown above they could not have been misled by false information upon this point.  If therefore knowingly and through heretical pravity they did these things, so too they did them out of pertinacity and heresy; and so concerning the authority of the Apostolic See one way they had thought and another way spoken.  But in my judgment such things are not to be imputed to so great and to such an assembly of bishops, for it is not likely that the fathers of this council, in the presence of the legates of the Supreme Pontiff and of a Catholic Prince, would have condemned the Seventh Synod, confirmed as it was by the authority of the Pontiff and have referred the matter to Hadrian the Supreme Pontiff.

Moreover it would have surely come to pass that if the Nicene Council had been condemned by the authority of this synod, and so the error of the Iconoclasts had been approved through erroneous information, before our days some follower of that error would have tried to back up himself and his opinion by its authority:  but no one did this, and this is all the more noteworthy since, only shortly after the time of Charlemagne, Claudius of Turin sprang up in that very Gaul, and wished to introduce that error into the Western Church, and he could have confirmed his teaching in the highest manner if he could have shewn that that plenary council of the West had confirmed his error.  But as a matter of fact Claudius did not quote it in his favour; nor did Jonas of Orleans, who wrote against him at that time, and overthrew his foundations, make any mention in this respect of the Council of Frankfort in his response.

Lastly I add that the Roman Church never gave its approbation and received any provincial synod, so far as one part of its action was concerned while in another part it was persistently heretical.  But this provincial council so far as it defined concerning the servitude and filiation of Christ was received and approved by the Church, it is not then credible that in the same council the Nicene Synod would have been condemned.

586I need only add that every proposed theory is so full of difficulties as to seem to involve more absurdities and improbabilities than it explains.  The reader is referred especially to Vasquez (De adorat. imag., Lib. II., Dispt. VII., cap. vij.) and to Suarez (Tom. I, Disp. LIV., Sec. iij.), for learned and instructive discussions of the whole matter.


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