Council

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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary [1]

sometimes denotes any kind of assembly; sometimes that of the sanhedrim; and, at other times, a convention of pastors met to regulate ecclesiastical affairs. It may be reasonably supposed that as Christianity spreads, circumstances would arise which would make consultation necessary among those who had embraced the Gospel, or at least among those who were employed in its propagation. A memorable instance of this kind occurred not long after the ascension of our Saviour. In consequence of a dispute which had arisen at Antioch concerning the necessity of circumcising Gentile converts, it was determined that "Paul and Barnabas, and certain others of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the Apostles and elders about this question."— "And the Apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter,"  Acts 15:6 . After a consultation, they decided the point in question; and they sent their decree, which they declared to be made under the direction of the Holy Ghost, to all the churches, and commanded that it should be the rule of their conduct. This is generally considered as the first council; but it differed from all others in this circumstance, that its members were under the especial guidance of the Spirit of God. The Gospel was soon after conveyed into many parts of Europe, Asia, and Africa; but it does not appear that there was any public meeting of Christians for the purpose of discussing any contested point, till the middle of the second century. From that time councils became frequent; but as they consisted only of those who belonged to particular districts or countries, they were called provincial or national councils. The first general council was that of Nice, convened by the emperor Constantine, A.D. 325; the second general council was held at Constantinople, in the year 381, by order of Theodosius the Great; the third, at Ephesus, by order of Theodosius, Junior, A.D. 431; and the fourth at Chalcedon, by order of the emperor Marcian, A.D. 451. These, as they were the first four general councils, so they were by far the most eminent. They were caused respectively by the Arian, Apollinarian, Nestorian, and Eutychian controversies, and their decrees are in high esteem both among Papists and orthodox Protestants; but the deliberations of most councils were disgraced by violence, disorder, and intrigue, and their decisions were usually made under the influence of some ruling party. Authors are not agreed about the number of general councils; Papists usually reckon eighteen, but Protestant writers will not allow that nearly so many had a right to that name. The last general council was that held at Trent, for the purpose of checking the progress of the reformation. It first met by the command of Pope Paul Iii, AD 1545; it was suspended during the latter part of the pontificate of his successor, Julius III, and the whole of the pontificates of Marcellus II, and Paul IV, that is, from 1552 to 1562, in which year it met again by the authority of Pope Plus IV, and it ended, while he was pope, in the year 1563. Provincial councils were very numerous: Baxter enumerates four hundred and eighty-one, and Dufresnoy many more.

2. Of the eighteen councils denominated "general" by the Papists, four have already been enumerated; and they with the next four constitute the eight eastern councils, which alone, according to the "Body of Civil Law," each of the Popes of Rome, on his elevation to the pontificate, solemnly professes to maintain. The fifth was convened at Constantinople, A.D. 556, by the emperor Justinian; the sixth, also at Constantinople, in 681, in which the emperor Constantine IV, himself presided; the seventh at Nice, in 787, by the empress Irene; and the eighth, at Constantinople, in 870, by the emperor Basilius. It is matter of historical record, and therefore cannot be denied, that the convening of all these councils appertained solely to the respective emperors; that they alone exercised authority on such occasions; that the bishop of Rome was never thought to possess any, although his power may be said to have been set up between the fifth and sixth general councils; nor did the bishop himself, pro tempore, think himself entitled to an authority of the kind. The other councils which the Romish church dignifies with the title of "general," are the ten western ones, which are here subjoined:—(9.) The first council of Lateran, held under Pope Calixtus, A.D. 1123; (10.) the second of Lateran, under Innocent II, in 1139; (11.) the third of Lateran, under Alexander III, in 1179, the decrees of which were intended to extirpate the Albigenses, as well as the Waldenses, who were variously called Leonists, or poor men of Lyons; (12.) the fourth of Lateran, under Innocent III, in 1215, which incited Christian Europe to engage in a crusade for the recovery of the Holy Land, and whose canons obtruded on the church the monstrous doctrines of transubstantiation and auricular confession, the latter being ranked among the duties prescribed by the law of Christ; (13.) the first of Lyons, under Innocent IV, in 1245; (14.) the second of Lyons, under Gregory X, in 1274; (15.) that of Vienne, under Clement V, in 1311; (16.) that of Florence, under Eugenius IV, in 1439; (17.) the fifth of Lateran, under the infamous Julius II; and (18.) the council of Trent, of which an account is given in the preceding paragraph, and which grounds its fame on its opposition to the progress of the reformation under Luther. Though, according to Bellarmine, these eighteen alone are recognised by the Romish church as oecumenical or universal councils, yet some of them did not deserve even the more restricted appellation of "general." For the council of Trent itself, in some of its sessions, could scarcely number more than forty or fifty ecclesiastics, and, of those, not one eminent for profound theological or classical knowledge. The lawyers who attended, says Father Paul, "knew little of religion, while the few divines were of less than ordinary sufficiency." Some of the other councils which are not acknowledged by the Papists to be "general" with respect to all their sessions, (as those of Basle and Constance,) are in part received by them, and in part rejected. Bellarmine and other celebrated writers of his church, are dubious about determining whether or not "the fifth of Lateran" was really a general council, and leave it as a thing discretionary with the faithful either to retain or reject it; if it be rejected, the only refuge which they have, is to receive in its place the council of Constance, held under John XXIII, in 1414, which is disclaimed by the Italian clergy but admitted by those of France, and which is rendered infamous in the annals of religion and humanity by its cruel and treacherous conduct toward those two early Protestant martyrs, John Huss and Jerome of Prague; "who went to the stake," says AEneas Sylvius, "as if it had been to a banquet, without uttering a complaint that could betray the least weakness of mind. When they began to burn, they sung a hymn, which even the crackling of the flames could not interrupt. Never did any philosopher suffer death with so much courage, as they endured the fire." But this acknowledgment of Constance as one of the eighteen is resisted vi et armis, by the crafty Cisalpine ecclesiastics, because one of the earliest acts of that council declared the representatives of the church in general council assembled to be superior to the sovereign pontiff, not only when schism prevailed, but at all other times whatsoever.

3. A general council being composed of men, every one of whom is fallible, they must also be liable to error when collected together; and that they actually have erred is sufficiently evident from this fact, that different general councils have made decrees directly opposite to each other, particularly in the Arian and Eutychian controversies, which were upon subjects immediately "pertaining unto God." Indeed, neither the first general councils themselves, nor those who defended their decisions, ever pretended to infallibility; this was a claim of a much more recent date, suited to the dark ages in which it was asserted and maintained, but now considered equally groundless and absurd in the case of general councils as in that of popes. If God had been pleased to exempt them from a possibility of error, he would have announced that important privilege in his written word; but no such promise or assurance is mentioned in the New Testament. If infallibility belonged to the whole church collectively, or to any individual part of it, it must be so prominent and conspicuous that no mistake or doubt could exist upon the subject; and above all, it must have prevented those dissensions, contests, heresies, and schisms, which have abounded among Christians from the days of the Apostles to the present time; and of which that very church, which is the asserter and patron of this doctrine, has had its full share.

The Scriptures being the only source from which we can learn the terms of salvation, it follows that things ordained by general councils as necessary to salvation, have neither strength nor authority, as the church of England has well said, unless it may be declared that they be taken out of Holy Scripture. It is upon this ground we receive the decisions of the first four general councils, in which we find the truths revealed in the Scriptures, and therefore we believe them. We reverence the councils for the sake of the doctrines which they declared and maintained, but we do not believe the doctrines upon the authority of the councils.

Charles Buck Theological Dictionary [2]

An assembly of persons met together for the purpose of consultation: an assembly of deputies or commissioners sent from several churches, associated by certain bonds in a general body,  Acts 1:6;  Acts 15:21 : council, Oecumenical or General, is an assembly which represents the whole body of the Christian church. The Romanists reckon eighteen of them Bullinger six, Dr. Prideaux seven, and bishop Beveridge eight, which, he says, are all the general councils which have ever been held since the time of the first Christian emperor. They are as follow:

1. The council of Nice, held in the reign of Constantine the Great, on account of the heresy of Arius.

2. the council of Constantinople, called under the reign and by the command of Theodosius the Great, for much the same end that the former council was summoned.

3. The council of Ephesus, convened by Theodosius the Younger, and the suit of Nestorius.

4. The council at Chalcedon, held in the reign of Martianus, which approved of the Eutychian heresy.

5. the second council of Constantinople, assembled by the emperor Justinian, condemned the three chapters taken out of the book of Theodorus, of Mopsuestia, having first decided that it was lawful to anathematize the dead. Some authors tell us that they likewise condemned the several errors of Origen about the Trinity, the plurality of worlds, and pre-existence of souls.

6. The third council of Constantinople, held by the command of Constantius Pogonatus, the emperor, in which they received the definitions of the first five general councils, and particularly that against Origen and Theodorus, of Mopsuestia.

7. The second Nicene council.

8. The fourth council of Constantinople, assembled when Louis II. was emperor of the West. Their regulations are contained in twenty-seven canons, the heads of which the reader may find in Dupin. Whatever may be said in favour of general councils, their utility has been doubted by some of the wisest men. Dr. Jortin says, "they have been too much extolled by Papists, and by some Protestants. They were a collection of men who were frail and fallible. Some of those councils were not assemblies of pious and learned divines, but cabals, the majority of which were quarrelsome, fanatical, domineering, dishonest prelates, who wanted to compel men to approve all their opinions, of which they themselves had no clear conceptions, and to anathematize and oppress those who would not implicitly submit to their determinations." Jortin's Works, vol. 7: charge 2; Broughton's Dict.; Mosheim's Eccl. Hist. Index. Councils, Provincial or Occasional, have been numerous. At Aix la Chapelle, A. D. 816, a council was held for regulating the canons of cathedral churches. The council of Savonnieries, in 859, was the first which gave the title of Most Christian King to the king of France; but it did not become the peculiar appellation of that sovereign till 1469. Of Troyes, in 887, to decide the disputes about the imperial dignity. The second council of Troyes, 1107, restrains the clergy from marrying. The council of Clermont, in 1095. The first crusade was determined in this council.

The bishops had yet the precedency of cardinals. In this assembly the name of Pope was for the first time given to the head of the church, exclusively of the bishops, who used to assume that title. Here, also, Hugh, archbishop of Lyons, obtained of the pope a confirmation of the primacy of his see over that of Sens. The council of Rheims, summoned by Eugenius III. in 1148, called an assembly of Cisastrian Gaul, in which advowses, or patrons of churches, are prohibited taking more than ancient fees, upon pain of deprivation and ecclesiastical burial. Bishops, deacons, sub-deacons, monks, and nuns, are restrained from marrying. In this council the doctrine of the Trinity was decided: but upon separation the pope called a congregation, in which the cardinals pretended they had no right to judge of doctrinal points; that this was the privilege peculiar to the pope. The council of Sutrium, in 1046, wherein three popes who had assumed the chair were deposed. The council of Clarendon in England, against Becket, held in 1164. the council of Lombez, in the country of Albigeois, in 1200, occasioned by some disturbances on account of the Albigensis; a crusade was formed on this account, and an army sent to extirpate them. Innocent III. spirited up this barbarous war. Dominic was the apostle, the count of Toulouse the victim, and Simon, count of Montfort, the conductor or chief. The council of Paris in 1210, in which Aristotle's metaphysics were condemned to the flames, lest the refinements of that philosopher should have a bad tendency on men's minds, by applying those subjects to religion. The council of Pisa, begun March the 2d, 1409, in which Benedict XIII. and Gregory XII. were deposed. Another council, sometimes called general, held at Pisa in 1505. Lewis XII. of France, assembled a national council at Tours (being highly disgusted with the pope, ) 1510, where was present the cardinal De Gurce, deputed by the emperor; and it was then agreed to convene a general council at Pisa. Murray's History of Religion.

Fausset's Bible Dictionary [3]

The SANHEDRIN, a term formed from the Greek Sunedrion . The Jews' supreme council in Christ's time. Moses' tribunal of seventy seems to have been temporary ( Numbers 11:16-17), for there are no traces of it in  Deuteronomy 17:8-10, nor under Joshua, judges, and the kings. As the permanent great council it probably took its rise after the return from Babylon, under the Graeco-Macedonian supremacy.  2 Maccabees 1:10;  2 Maccabees 4:44;  2 Maccabees 11:27, contain the earliest allusion to it. The number was probably derived from Moses' council. Its members were the chief priests or heads of the 24 courses, and those who had been high priests; also the elders and scribes learned in Jewish law ( Matthew 26:57;  Matthew 26:59;  Mark 15:1;  Luke 22:66;  Acts 5:21). Seventy-one is the number, according to Jewish tradition, to correspond to the 70 and Moses ( Numbers 11:16). Others say 72, since to the 70, Eldad and Medad are to be added ( Numbers 11:26).

The president was called Nasi' ; generally the high priest ( Matthew 26:62). The vice-president is called "father of the house of judgment" in the Talmud One scribe registered the votes for acquittal, another those for condemnation, according to the Babylonian Gemara. They sat in the form of a half circle; the vice-president or the oldest at the president's right hand, the rest sat before these two according to their dignity. The Gazzith or council hall was in the S.E. corner of a court near the temple. Sometimes they met in the high priest's palace ( Matthew 26:3). In Christ's time the sessions were moved from Gazzith to a hall further from the temple, but still on mount Moriah. Its final seat was at Tiberias. They tried cases of idolatry and false prophets. On this allegation Jesus, and subsequently Peter, John, Stephen, and Paul were brought before them ( John 11:47).

Their authority extended even to Jews in foreign cities ( Acts 9:2). The Gemara states that power of life and death was taken from them just forty years before the destruction of Jerusalem, coinciding with  John 18:31-32. The confirmation and execution of a capital sentence rested with the Roman procurator, from whence they took Jesus before Pontius Pilate on a different charge from that of blasphemy, for which the Sanhedrin condemned Him, namely, that of treason against Caesar, the only one which Pilate would have entertained. The stoning of Stephen ( Acts 7:56, etc.) was an illegal assumption of power, an outbreak of fanatical violence, as also the execution of the apostle James in the procurator's absence (Josephus, Ant. 20:9, section 1).

There were two lesser courts or "councils" ( Matthew 10:17) in Jerusalem; one in each town of Palestine, 23 members in each in a town of 120, three when the population was below 120 (Talmud). They were connected with the several synagogues and possessed the right of scourging ( 2 Corinthians 11:24); but Josephus represents the local courts, as constituted by Moses, to have consisted of seven, with two Levitical assessors apiece.  Matthew 5:21-22, "the judgment," perhaps alludes to such courts. There was also a privy "council" to assist the Roman procurator when he chose to consult them ( Acts 25:12).

King James Dictionary [4]

COUNCIL, n. L., to call, Gr. See Hold. This word is often confounded with counsel, with which it has no connection. Council is a collection or assembly.

1. An assembly of men summoned or convened for consultation, deliberation and advice.

The chief priest and all the council sought false witness.  Matthew 20 .

The kings of England were formerly assisted by a grand council or peers.

The word is applicable to any body of men, appointed or convened for consultation and advice, in important affairs as, a council of divines or clergymen, with their lay delegates a council of war, consisting of the principal officers, to advise the commander in chief or admiral a council of physicians, to consult and advise in difficult cases of disease.

2. A body of men specially designated to advise a chief magistrate in the administration of the government, as in Great Britain. 3. In some of the American states, a branch of the legislature, corresponding with the senate in other states, and called legislative council. 4. An assembly of prelates and doctors, convened for regulating matters of doctrine an discipline in the church. 5. Act of deliberation consultation of a council.

Common-Council of a city. In London, a court consisting of the lord mayor and aldermen in one house, and of representatives of the several wards, called common-council-men, in the other. But more generally the common-council is considered as the body of representatives of the citizens, as distinct from the mayor and aldermen. Thus in Connecticut, the cities are incorporated by the name of the The Mayor, Aldermen, Common-Council and Freemen, of the city of Hartford, New-Haven, &c.

Ecumenical Council, in church history, a general council or assembly of prelates and doctors, representing the whole church as the council of Nice, of Ephesus, and of Chalcedon.

Privy Council, a select council for advising a king in the administration of the government.

Aulic Council. See Aulic.

Easton's Bible Dictionary [5]

 Acts 25:12

The Jewish councils were the Sanhedrim, or supreme council of the nation, which had subordinate to it smaller tribunals (the "judgment," perhaps, in  Matthew 5:21,22 ) in the cities of Palestine ( Matthew 10:17;  Mark 13:9 ). In the time of Christ the functions of the Sanhedrim were limited ( John 16:2;  2 co.  11:24 ). In  Psalm 68:27 the word "council" means simply a company of persons. (RSV marg., "company.")

In ecclesiastical history the word is used to denote an assembly of pastors or bishops for the discussion and regulation of church affairs. The first of these councils was that of the apostles and elders at Jerusalem, of which we have a detailed account in   Acts 15 .

Smith's Bible Dictionary [6]

Council.

1. The great council of the Sanhedrin, which sat at Jerusalem. See Sanhedrin .

2. The lesser courts,  Matthew 10:17;  Mark 13:9, of which there were two at Jerusalem and one in each town of Palestine. The constitution of these courts is a doubtful point. The existence of local courts, however constituted, is clearly implied in the passages quoted from the New Testament; and perhaps the "judgment,"  Matthew 5:21, applies to them.

3. A kind of jury or privy council,  Acts 25:12, consisting of a certain number of assessors, who assisted Roman governors in the administration of justice and in other public matters.

People's Dictionary of the Bible [7]

Council. There are three legal bodies called "councils" in the English N. T.:1. The Sanhedrin, the supreme court of the Jews, the fountain of their government, which sat at Jerusalem. By this body Jesus was tried.  Matthew 26:59. 2. The lesser courts.  Matthew 10:17;  Mark 13:9. One was in each town, but two in the capital. Josephus states that each court consisted of seven judges, with two Levites as assessors. The "judgment,"  Matthew 5:21, probably applies to them. 3. The "council" spoken of in  Acts 25:12 was a kind of jury "composed of councillors appointed to assist and advise the Roman governors."

American Tract Society Bible Dictionary [8]

Is occasionally taken for any kind of assembly; sometimes for that of the Sanhedrin; at others, for a convention of pastors met to regulate ecclesiastical affairs. Thus the assembly of the apostles, etc., at Jerusalem,  Acts 15:1-41 , to determine whether the yoke of the law should be imposed on gentile converts, is commonly reputed to be the first council of the Christian church. See Sanhedrin .

Webster's Dictionary [9]

(1): (n.) Act of deliberating; deliberation; consultation.

(2): (n.) A body of man elected or appointed to constitute an advisory or a legislative assembly; as, a governor's council; a city council.

(3): (n.) An assembly of men summoned or convened for consultation, deliberation, or advice; as, a council of physicians for consultation in a critical case.

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [10]

COUNCIL . See Sanhedrin. For the Council of   Acts 15:1-41 ,   Galatians 2:1-21 , see Paul, Galatians [Ep. to], § 3 .

Bridgeway Bible Dictionary [11]

See Sanhedrin .

Morrish Bible Dictionary [12]

See SANHEDRIM.

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [13]

is the rendering given by our translators chiefly to two Greek words.

1.' Συμβούλιον ( A Meeting Of Counselors ) signifies a consultation of persons for executing any enterprise ( Matthew 12:14), a sense elsewhere covered by the usual translation "counsel;" also a council, or assembly of persons duly convened. In  Acts 25:12, it is spoken of counselors, i.e. persons who sat in public trials with the governor of a province; called also Conciliarii (Suetonius, Tib . 33) or Assessores (Lamprid. Vit. Alex. Sev . 46), in the regular proconsular " Conventus ." This last was a stated meeting of the Roman citizens of a province in the chief town, for the purpose of trying causes, from among whom the proconsul selected a number to try the cases in dispute, himself presiding over their action. From the instance in question, something analogous appears to have obtained under the procuratorship of Judaea (see Smith's Dict. Of Class. Ant. s.v. Conventus). (See Asiarch); (See Procurator).

2. Συνέδριον ( A Sitting Together ) signifies a formal assembly or senate, and in the N.T. is spoken only of Jewish "councils," by which word it is invariably rendered in the common version. These were: (1.) The SANHEDRIM (See Sanhedrim) (q.v.), or supreme council of the nation.

(2.) In the plural, the smaller tribunals in the cities of Palestine subordinate to the Sanhedrim ( Matthew 10:17;  Mark 13:9). (See Trial). The distinction between these two grades of courts seems clearly alluded to in  Matthew 5:22. (See Judgment). According to the Rabbins, these lower courts consisted of twenty-three judges, and the two in Jerusalem were held in the rooms over the Shushan and the Beautiful gates; but Josephus expressly says that the number of judges was seven ( Ant. 4, 8, 14, 38; War, 2:20, 5); and there are notices in the Talmud of arbitration courts of three judges (Jahn's Archeol. § 245). Perhaps the former two of these were but different forms of the same court in different places. (See Judicial Court). They appear to have been originally instituted by Moses ( Deuteronomy 16:18;  2 Chronicles 19:5), and to have had jurisdiction even over capital offenses; although, under the civil supremacy of the Romans, their powers were doubtless much restricted. (See Punishments). In the times of Christ and his apostaties the functions of this court were probably confined chiefly to the penalty of excommunication, (See Anathema), ( John 16:2), although there are not wanting intimations of their inflicting corporal chastisement ( 2 Corinthians 11:24). (See Tribunal).

3. In the Old Testament "council" occurs in  Psalms 68:27, as the rendering of רַגְמָה , Rigmah (literally a heap), a throng or company of persons. (See Counsel).

4. In the Apocrypha, "council," in its ordinary sense, is the rendering of Βουλή (1  Esther 2:17;  1 Maccabees 14:22), Σύμβουλοι (1 Esther 8:55), and Βουλεύομαι (2 Maccabees 9:58). (See Counsellor).

References