Council of Hieria

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The iconoclast Council of Hieria was a Christian council of 754 which viewed itself as ecumenical, but was later rejected by the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches. It was summoned by the Byzantine Emperor Constantine V in 754 in the palace of Hieria opposite Constantinople. The council supported the emperor's iconoclast position in the Byzantine iconoclasm controversy.

Opponents of the council described it as the Mock Synod of Constantinople or the Headless Council because no patriarchs or representatives of the five main patriarchs were present: Constantinople was vacant, Antioch, Jerusalem and Alexandria were controlled by Islamic rulers, while Rome was not asked to participate. Its rulings were anathematized at the Lateran Council of 769 before being overturned almost entirely by the Second Council of Nicaea in 787, which supported the veneration of icons.


Three hundred and thirty-three bishops attended the 754 council. It endorsed Constantine V's iconoclast position, with the bishops declaring, "the unlawful art of painting living creatures blasphemed the fundamental doctrine of our salvation--namely, the Incarnation of Christ, and contradicted the six holy synods. . . . If anyone shall endeavour to represent the forms of the Saints in lifeless pictures with material colours which are of no value (for this notion is vain and introduced by the devil), and does not rather represent their virtues as living images in himself, etc. . . . let him be anathema."' This council declared itself the 'Seventh Ecumenical Council'.'

Similar pronouncements on the issue of religious images had been made in Synod of Elvira (c. 305) which stated, "Pictures are not to be placed in churches, so that they do not become objects of worship and adoration.".

Legitimacy of the Council

After the later triumph of the Iconodules, this council became known as a robber council, i.e. as uncanonical.

Edward J. Martin writes,<ref name="martin1">Edward J. Martin, A History of the Iconoclastic Controversy , p.46</ref> "On the ecumenical character of the Council there are graver doubts. Its president was Theodosius, archbishop of Ephesus, son of the Emperor Apsimar. He was supported by Sisinnius, bishop of Perga, also known as Pastillas, and by Basil of Antioch in Pisidia, styled Tricaccabus. Not a single Patriarch was present. The see of Constantinople was vacant. Whether the Pope and the Patriarchs of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem were invited or not is unknown. They were not present either in person or by deputy. The Council of Nicaea [II] considered this was a serious flaw in the legitimacy of the Council. 'It had not the co-operation of the Roman Pope of the period nor of his clergy, either by representative or by encyclical letter, as the law of Councils requires.'<ref name="mansi1">citing J. D. Mansi, XIII, 207d</ref> The Life of Stephen borrows this objection from the Acts and embroiders it to suit the spirit of the age of Theodore. It had not the approval of the Pope of Rome, although the modern day Roman Catholic theologians assert that there is a canon that no ecclesiastical measures may be passed without the Pope.'<ref name="steph">citing Vit Steph, 1144c</ref> The absence of the other Patriarchs is then noticed."<ref name="mansi1"/> This is a Roman argument: the Eastern Churches do not see the approval of the Pope as obligatory for ecumenical councils, and the patriarchs of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem did not receive invitations to the subsequent second Council of Nicaea either.

Such information leads Catholic apologists to say that "robber councils" establish the importance of the Papacy.



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