On Councils and General Councils

Author: Msgr. Philip Hughes

THE CHURCH IN CRISIS: A History of the General Councils: 325-1870

Nihil Obstat: James A. Reynolds, Ph.D. Censor Deputatus

Imprimatur: + Francis Cardinal Spellman Archbishop of New York September 28, 1960

The nihil obstat and imprimatur are official declarations that a book or pamphlet is free of doctrinal or moral error. No implication is contained therein that those who have granted the nihil obstat and imprimatur agree with the contents, opinions, or statements expressed.


Salve, Umbria verde, e tu del puro fonte nume Clitumno! Sento in cuor l'antica patria e aleggiarmi su l'accesa fronte gl'itali iddii.

* * *

Tutto ora tace. Nel sereno gorgo la tenue miro saliente vena: rema, e d'un lieve pullular lo specchio segna de l'acque.

Ride sepolta a l'imo una foresta breve, e ramaggia immobile: il diaspro par che si mischi in flessuosi amori con l'amestista.

E di zaffiro i fior paiono, ed hanno de l'adamante rigido i riflessi, e splendon freddi e chiamano a i silenzi del verde fondo. Carducci.

Notre Dame du Lac April 26, 1960


Introduction: On Councils and General Councils

1. The First General Council of Nicaea, 325

2. The First General Council of Constantinople, 381

3. The General Council of Ephesus, 431

4. The General Council of Chalcedon, 451

5. The Second General Council of Constantinople, 553

6. The Third General Council of Constantinople, 680-81

7. The Second General Council of Nicaea, 787

8. The Fourth General Council of Constantinople, 869-70

9. The First General Council of the Lateran, 1123

10. The Second General Council of the Lateran, 1139

11. The Third General Council of the Lateran, 1179

12. The Fourth General Council of the Lateran, 1215

13. The First General Council of Lyons, 1245

14. The Second General Council of Lyons, 1274

15. The General Council of Vienne, 1311-12

16. The General Council of Constance, 1414-18

17. The General Council of Basel-Ferrara-Florence, 1431-45

18. The Fifth General Council of the Lateran, 1512-17

19. The General Council of Trent, 1545-63

20. The First General Council of the Vatican, 1869-70



Introduction: On Councils and General Councils

The history of the General Councils of the Church is a fascinating subject, and to those unfamiliar with the history of the Church a subject which bristles with difficulties of all kinds. This, I think, ought to be understood from the beginning. Some of the problems raised by this or that particular council will be considered in the chapter devoted to it. About difficulties general to the subject I would like to say something in this Introduction.

It is hardly possible to write the history of these twenty General Councils as though they were sections hewn from the one same log. They are not a unity in the sense in which successive sessions of Congress are a unity. Each of the twenty councils is an individual reality, each has its own special personality. This is partly due to the fact that each had its origin in a particular crisis of Church affairs, partly to the fact that they are strung out over fifteen hundred years of history, and that, for example, the human beings who constitute the council can be as remote from each other as the victims of the persecution of Diocletian in the fourth century from the victims of Bismarck in the nineteenth. It is not through any mechanical, material similarity of action, then, that the history of such an institution, and its significance, can be understood. Where the total action is spread over such vast spaces of time, and is discontinuous, whoever attempts to relate the whole of the action is faced with problems of a very special kind. And this speciality is, of course, bound up with the fact that the body which threw up this device called the General Council--the Church of Christ-- is itself unique in this, viz., its possession of a recorded, continuous activity of nearly two thousand years.

Some, perhaps superficial, consideration of this vast timetable, 325-1870, may be helpful at the outset, even to the reader who is not, by nature, chronologically minded. Reading the list of the General Councils we can see immediately two obvious groupings: the first eight were all held in eastern Europe or in Asia Minor; all the rest in western Europe, in Italy, France, and Germany. The eastern councils were Greek-speaking, the others Latin. General Councils are frequent in some ages, and in others the centuries go by without a single one. Thus, for the seventy years 381-451 there are three General Councils, then one every hundred years down to 869. For 254 years there is now not a single General Council; then, in 190 years there are seven (1123-1311). Another century goes by without a council, and in the next hundred years (1414-1512) three are summoned. The Council of Trent is called less than thirty years after the last of these three, and then 306 years go by before the twentieth council meets in 1869 ninety-two years ago nearly.

Each of these councils has a history and a character all its own. The history of the next council--how matters will go once the bishops meet--can never be foretold from the history of the last. The powers and the authority of the new council are, it is recognised, the same as its predecessors possessed. The procedure may, and will, vary. One thing is never constant: the human reaction of the council's component parts.

The first General Council met in 325. The Church had then been an established fact for nearly three hundred years. How did councils begin--i.e., meetings of bishops to discuss matters of common interest? When and where did the first church councils take place? And what about the beginnings of the "prestige" of these councils? That is, of the idea that what bishops collectively agree is law has a binding force that is greater than any of their individual instructions to their own see.

To begin with the last point, it is a safe statement that from the moment when history first shows us the Church of Christ as an institution, the exclusive right of the Church to state with finality what should be believed as Christ's teaching is manifestly taken for granted. To bring out a theory of belief, or to propose a change in morals which conflicts with what the Church universally holds is, from the very beginning, to put oneself fatally in the wrong. The immediate, spontaneous reaction of the Church to condemn thinkers with new and original views of this kind is perhaps the most general, as it is the most striking, of all the phenomena of the Church's early history, so far back as the record goes.[1]

When it was that bishops first formed the habit of coming together in council, we do not know. It is such an obvious act, on the part of officials with like problems and responsibilities and authority, that to do this was second nature surely. What we do know is that as early as the second century (100-200 A.D.) it was the custom for the bishops who came together for a bishop's funeral to take charge of the election of his successor. Here is one likely source, it is suggested, from which came the council of bishops as a recurring feature of ordinary Christian life.

About the year 190 a furious controversy as to the date at which the feast of Easter should be kept, shook the whole Church, and the pope, St. Victor I, sent orders to the places most troubled that the bishops should meet and report to him their findings. And a series of councils were then held, in Palestine, in Asia Minor, and in Gaul. Sixty years later when, with the great career of St. Cyprian, the mists clear away from Roman Africa, we perceive that the bishops' council is already a long-established practice there. The bishops of Africa meet in council, indeed, twice every year. What they decreed on these occasions was law for the whole of Christian Africa. These councils were well attended; in 220 there were seventy-one bishops present, and at another council, ninety. At St. Cyprian's council of Carthage in 256, there were eighty-seven. There was a similar, systematic conciliar action in Egypt and in Syria and Palestine.

In the early years of the next century we have records of councils in Spain (Elvira, 300) and in France (Arles, 314) with the names of bishops present and a list of the laws they enacted. The Catholic Church may, indeed, be a Church made up of churches (i.e., dioceses) but never, so this history seems to show, of dioceses where each bishop acts without any reference to the rest.

When the emperor Constantine publicly became a follower of Christ (312) he was immediately faced with the grave African problem known to history as the Donatist Schism. Necessarily, and in a very brief space of time, he was familiarised with the function of the council of the bishops, as an instrument of church government. It was natural, inevitable indeed, that when a few years later the Arian crisis arose, all concerned, the emperor and the bishops, should think of a great council as the first move in the restoration of order. The novel feature in 325 was that not only the bishops of the locality affected were convoked, but the bishops of the whole Catholic world.[2] This was to be not a regional or provincial council, but a council for the church in general--a General Council.

The universal belief that the Church of Christ, in its day-to-day business of teaching the doctrine of Christ, is divinely preserved from teaching erroneously, entailed the consequence that (to use a modern terminology) the General Council is considered infallible in its decisions about belief. If the official teachers as a body are infallible as they teach, scattered about the world in their hundreds of sees, they do not lose the promised, divine, preserving guidance once they have come together in a General Council. And once General Councils have taken place we begin to meet explicit statements of this truth. The councils themselves are explicitly conscious of it when, making their statement of the truth denied by the innovator, they bluntly say of those who will not accept their decision, Let him be anathema. St. Athanasius, who as a young cleric was present at Nicaea, can refer to its decree about Arianism as something final, the last all-decisive word: "The word of the Lord, put forth by the Oecumenical Council at Nicaea is an eternal word, enduring for ever."[3] Eighty years or so later than this the pope, St. Leo I, warning the bishops assembled at the General Council of Chalcedon to leave untouched the decisions of Nicaea about the rank of the great sees of the East, speaks of Nicaea as "having fixed these arrangements by decrees that are inviolable," and says, "These arrangements were made by the bishops at Nicaea under divine inspiration."[4] This was in the year 451. His successor, St. Gregory the Great, writing about 594 to the patriarch of Constantinople, has a reference to the special prestige of the first, doctrine-defining General Councils which equates their work with that of Holy Scripture: "I profess that as I receive and venerate the four books of the Gospels, so I do the four councils," which he proceeds to list: Nicaea in 325, Constantinople in 381, Ephesus 431, Chalcedon 451. These, he says, "are the four squared stone on which the structure of the holy faith arises."[5]

Nowhere in these early centuries, in fact, do we find any member of the Church questioning the truth as the General Councils have defined it. What they teach as the truth is taken to be as true as though it were a statement of Scripture itself. The question was never raised, seemingly, that the greater or smaller number of bishops who in response to the summons attended, in any way affected the peculiar authority of the General Council; nor the fact that all but all of these bishops were from the Greek-speaking East.

How these fundamental, primitive notions developed, how all that they seminally contained matured and expanded through the centuries, this is the very subject-matter of the chapters that follow. And here will be found, in its due place, some account of the controversies that later arose as to the relation (the constitutional relation, so to speak) of the General Council to its president the pope. What the role of the pope has been in the General Council is, necessarily, a main topic of all these chapters. But it may be useful to say a word about this here, and something also about the nature of the bishops' role.

The General Council is then a purely human arrangement whereby a divinely founded institution functions in a particular way for a particular purpose. That divinely founded thing is the teaching Church, i.e., the pope and the diocesan bishops of the Church of Christ. The teaching is an activity of the Church that is continuous, never ceasing. The General Council of the teaching Church, in all the sessions of the occasions on which it has met, in the nineteen hundred years and more of the Church's history, has sat for perhaps thirty years in all, at most. It is an exceptional phenomenon in the life of the Church, and usually it appears in connection with some great crisis of that life.

Ever since the popes were first articulate about the General Council, they have claimed the right to control its action and, to take their place in it (whether personally or by legates sent in their name) or by their subsequent acceptance of the council, to give or withhold an approbation of its decisions, which stamps them as the authentic teaching of the Church of Christ. Only through their summoning it, or through their consenting to take their place at it, does the assembly of bishops become a General Council. No member of the Church has ever proposed that a General Council shall be summoned and the pope be left out, nor that the pope should take any other position at the General Council but as its president. The history of the twenty General Councils shows that the bishops--a section of them--not infrequently fought at the council the policies of the popes who had summoned the council, and fought even bitterly. But in no council has it been moved that the bishop of X be promoted to the place of the Bishop of Rome, or that the Bishop of Rome's views be disregarded, and held of no more account than those of the bishop of any other major see. There are, indeed, gaps in our knowledge of the detail of all these events; the mist of antiquity, at times, no doubt obscures our view, but through the mist at its worst the general shape is ever discernible of a Roman Primacy universally recognised, and submitted to, albeit (at times) unwillingly--recognised and submitted to because, so the bishops believed, it was set up by God Himself.

To the General Councils of the Church there have been summoned, in the last 850 years, as well as the bishops, other ecclesiastics of importance, the General Superiors of religious orders, for example, and abbots of particular monasteries. But these are present by concession. The essential elements of the General Council are, in addition to the pope, the bishops ruling their sees. And the bishops are present as the accredited witnesses of what is believed throughout the Church. This is the traditional, standard conception of their role on these occasions. And for typical modern statements, contained in well-known textbooks used throughout the Church today in hundreds of theological classrooms, this from Christian Pesch, S.J.,[6] may be quoted: "The bishops do not come together in order to think up something new out of their own minds, but in order to be witnesses of the teaching received from Christ and handed out by the Church"; and this too from Fr. Dominic Prummer, O.P.: The bishops gathered in a General Council are not mere counsellors of the pope, but real legislators; which is why each bishop signs the acta of the council as follows: 'I, James, bishop of X, defining have subscribed my name.'"[7]

As to the role of the General Council vis-a-vis any controversy about the Christian Faith, in connection with which it may have been summoned, this has never been more luminously stated, in a single sentence, than by John Henry Newman, with reference, indeed, to the first council of the great series, but, as history alone would show, a statement true of them all. ". . . it must be borne in mind that the great Council at Nicaea was summoned, not to decide for the first time what was to be held concerning our Lord's divine nature, but, as far as inquiry came into its work, to determine the fact whether Arius did or did not contradict the Church's teaching, and, if he did, by what sufficient tessera[8] he and his party could be excluded from the communion of the faithful."[9] And Newman's own great hero, St. Athanasius, writing only thirty-four years after Nicaea, has a similar thought when he draws attention to the different way the Council of Nicaea spoke when it was making laws about ecclesiastical discipline and when it was facing the problem of Arius. "The fathers at Nicaea speaking of the Easter feast say 'We have decided as follows.' But about the faith they do not say 'We have decided,' but 'This is what the Catholic Church believes.' And immediately they proclaim how they believe, in order to declare, not some novelty, but that their belief is apostolic, and that what they write down is not something they have discovered, but those very things which the Apostles taught."[10]

This little book of mine--"little," surely, for it surveys twenty General Councils and fifteen hundred years of history--has no claim on the reader's notice beyond its purpose to say how each of these councils came to be, and what each achieved. Many questions about General Councils as such, and about particular General Councils, are inevitably not even alluded to. I have no ambition to write a survey course in which everything is mentioned and nothing taught. Nevertheless there are some serious matters that cannot be omitted, and yet can only be dealt with summarily--the new theories which became heresies, for example, and the orthodox statements of the truth which the theories perverted. In summary accounts of such things the impression is easily conveyed that these disputes are a mere war of words. Actually, what any study of the voluminous writings on both sides reveals is that the conflicting minds are of the first order, that the points at issue are the fundamentals of revealed truth, and (a very important circumstance that often has escaped the historian's notice) that the contestants are passionately in earnest, not as rivals in scholarship or philosophy, but as pastoral-minded bishops, anxious about the salvation of men's souls. A master mind, reviewing a situation we shall shortly be studying, affords an illustration of this.

"Cyril, it may be, was overharsh in the words he used, words used without enough reflexion. Deep within him his passionate attachment to the truth that Christ is a single being was intertwined with the innermost strands of the mysticism of the East. For the disciple of Theodore of Mopsuestia, as for the disciple of Pelagius, the question of the relations between man and God is, above all, a question of merit and no-merit. In the great book of deserts each man's account is kept in two columns, debit and credit. As a man's merits pile up, as he lessens his faults, so does his situation improve. At the end God balances the account, and places us according to the excess of credit over debit. Moralism pure and simple, this way of looking at things, and not religion at all. Where, in such a system, does the Incarnation come in? or the cross of Christ? Here, Jesus Christ is our model, nothing more. Here we never meet our true saviour, our redeemer, He who by His divine presence purifies everything, lifts all to a higher plane, consecrates all, makes divine beings of us so far as the limits of our nature allow this communication of divinity.

"Very, very different is the spirit that gives life to the theology of St. Cyril. Here, Jesus Christ is truly God-within-us. The Christian makes a direct contact with Him, by a union of natures, a mysterious union indeed, under the sacramental veil of the Eucharist. Through this body and this blood he comes to make the contact with God, for these have, in Jesus Christ, a union (equally a union of natures ) with divinity. . . . To the poor peasant working in the fields of the Delta, to the dock labourer at the port of Pharos, Cyril gives the message that, in this world, he can touch God. And that through this contact, whence springs a mystical kinship, he can receive an assurance about the life hereafter; not only the guarantee that he is immortal, but that he will be immortal joined with God."[11] Such can be the practical importance of "abstract theological thought."

And, with reference to the stormy history of the first eight councils, events of a thousand to sixteen hundred years ago, we may remind ourselves that the actors here are Greeks, Egyptians, Syrians; their natural temperament and sense of nationality was not a whit less ardent than it can show itself to be in their descendants of this mid-twentieth century.

And now, to bring these introductory remarks to an end, it will perhaps be helpful to draw attention to one feature particularly of the history of the first seven councils. This is not so much the serious differences of opinion as to the interpretation of the basic mysteries of the Christian religion, which is their main concern, but rather the way these differences, at times, seem to turn so largely on different ways of understanding the terms used to express or explain the doctrine. Since all this is likely to be unfamiliar to the general reader, to him I would say some words of the great authority I have already made use of, a writer who all his life was ever conscious that the course of true historical study is strewn with difficulties.

"First of all," says Newman, "and in as few words as possible, and ex abundanti cautela: Every Catholic holds that the Christian dogmas were in the Church from the time of the Apostles; that they were ever in their substance what they are now; that they existed before the formulas were publicly adopted, in which, as time went on, they were defined and recorded, and that such formulas, when sanctioned by the due ecclesiastical acts, are binding on the faith of Catholics, and have a dogmatic authority....

"Even before we take into account the effect which would naturally be produced on the first Christians by the novelty and mysteriousness of doctrines which depend for their reception simply upon Revelation, we have reason to anticipate that there would be difficulties and mistakes in expressing them, when they first came to be set forth by unauthoritative writers. Even in secular sciences, inaccuracy of thought and language is but gradually corrected; that is, in proportion as their subject-matter is thoroughly scrutinized and mastered by the co-operation of many independent intellects, successively engaged upon it. Thus, for instance, the word Person requires the rejection of various popular senses, and a careful definition, before it can serve for philosophical uses. We sometimes use it for an individual as contrasted with a class or multitude, as when we speak of having 'personal objections' to another; sometimes for the body, in contrast to the soul, as when we speak of 'beauty of person.' We sometimes use it in the abstract, as when we speak of another as 'insignificant in person.' How divergent in meaning are the derivatives, personable, personalities, personify, personation, personage, parsonage! This variety arises partly from our own carelessness, partly from the necessary developments of language, partly from the defects of our vernacular tongue.

"Language then requires to be refashioned even for sciences which are based on the senses and the reason; but much more will this be the case, when we are concerned with subject-matters, of which, in our present state, we cannot possibly form any complete or consistent conception, such as the Catholic doctrines of the Trinity and Incarnation. Since they are from the nature of the case above our intellectual reach, and were unknown till the preaching of Christianity, they required on their first promulgation new words, or words used in new senses, for their due enunciation; and, since these were not definitely supplied by Scripture or by tradition, nor for centuries by ecclesiastical authority, variety in the use, and confusion in the apprehension of them, were unavoidable in the interval.... Not only had the words to be adjusted and explained which were peculiar to different schools or traditional in different places, but there was the formidable necessity of creating a common measure between two, or rather three languages--Latin, Greek, and Syriac."[12]


1. For a succinct, popular account of which cf. my own History of the Church, vol. I, chaps. III, IV, passim. For an authoritative, documented account cf. Pierre Batiffol, L'Eglise Naissante (the whole book). This has been translated into English as Primitive Christianity.

2. The Greek word for "the whole world" is oikoumene, whence our modem adjective "oecumenical," which is used with reference to councils of the Church as an equivalent for "general."

3. Letter to the Africans, in Rouet de Journel S.J., Enchiridion Patristicum, no. 792. The full titles of all books quoted will be found in Appendix II.

4. Ibid., no. 2185.

5. Ibid., no. 2291.

6. Praelectiones Dogmaticae (5th ed., 1915) vol. 1, p. 313. The footnotes in this book do not give the authorities for the statements in the text, but only the source of the quotations.

7. Definiens subscripsi. The passage I have translated is in Prummer, Manuale Theologiae Moralis, 5th ed., 1928, I, 119.

8. Testing token.

9. "Apostolical Tradition," an article in the British Critic, July 1836, reprinted (1871, and many times since) in Essays, Critical and Historical, vol. I, 125.

10. Epistola de Synodis, par. 5, in Rouet de Journel, S.J., Enchiridion Patristicum, no. 785.

11 Monseigneur Louis Duchesne, Les Eglises separees, 38-40. I came across this passage in Bardy, Les Luttes Christologiques apres le Concile de Chalcedoine, i.e., Fliche and Martin, vol. 5, 273, n. 1.

12. J.H. Newman, On St. Cyril's Formula (1858), reprinted in Tracts, Theological and Ecclesiastical (1874), pp. 287-90.

Appendix I


There are two indispensable tools for the serious student of the history of the General Councils, one of them a source book and the other a history. The first, referred to always as Mansi, is a collection of all the known documentation of councils of every kind, made by John Dominic Mansi, archbishop of Lucca, and published in 31 folio volumes in the eighteenth century, 1759-98, Sacrorum Concilium Nova et Amplissima Collectio. A new, revised edition was prepared and published 1899-1927. This includes the nineteenth-century councils and runs to 60 volumes. The second indispensable work is the History of the Councils by Carl Joseph Hefele, who later, as has been related, played a part in the Vatican Council. This work goes as far as the Lateran Council of 1517. It was, many years later, translated into French and brought up to date, in the matter of research, by the Farnborough Benedictine Henri Leclercq, in eight[1] volumes (1907-21). This is the work cited as Hefele-Leclercq.

The reader will see that to make use of these "indispensables" our serious student needs at least a reading knowledge of Latin and French. And there is the same need of foreign languages for all of us whose curiosity about this history takes us any appreciable distance beyond such a book as mine. The exiguity of Catholic scholarly work, in the English language, in the field of Church History is notorious and, considering the fact that English-speaking Catholics must number a good 60 or 70 million, is very little to our credit. For far too long now we have left it all to the "heretics." Indeed, I can think of only one figure who can be ranked with the great French and German scholars, from Dollinger to Duchesne and Batiffol, and that is Newman. This, in explanation of the character of the books I am now going to suggest "for further reading."

As to the general history of the Church there are now available in translation, published by Herder (St. Louis) several volumes of Mourret's Histoire de l'Eglise--very thoroughly done, and scholarly indeed, but a little out of date after nearly sixty years. A more succinct account, not yet (I trust) to be labelled, "somewhat out of date," is my own History of the Church, in three volumes, which goes down to the end of the Fifth Lateran Council, 1517. Volume I tells the story of the councils as far as the sixth (680). In Volume II are the last two eastern councils (787 and 869) and the medieval councils from First Lateran to First Lyons inclusively. In Volume III, Lyons II to Lateran V are dealt with. I mention these two, somewhat detailed, general works[2] because it is not possible to understand the councils without some knowledge of the general history, and because unless history is read in considerable detail it not only raises more questions than it answers, and risks all the time being a distortion or a caricature of the truth, but is horribly dull and dreary work. Who is there who ever got any satisfaction, for example, out of these terrible survey courses of the history of our civilisation, one massive (splendidly produced) volume that begins with the Egyptians (and earlier) and tells us all about it, down to the conventions of 1960? What a dreadful prostitution of a great branch of learning! What a fraud on the young people! There are no short cuts in history; from the nature of the matter there cannot be.

As to the special works on particular councils, they are not so numerous as might be expected. I should like to begin with Newman's Arians of the Fourth Century, for the first two councils--a book greatly admired by the nineteenth century for its classic purity of style, and which (after 130 years) has not ceased to be very useful indeed. The fifteenth centenary of Chalcedon (1951) produced Das Konzil von Chalkedon, Geschichte und Gegenwart, edited by A. Grillmaier, S.J., and H. Bacht, S.J., in three volumes. The next council for which I can suggest a special ad hoc work is the "Photius" council of 869-70, for which see Fr. Francis Dvornik's book in the list that follows. No one has written a specialist general work on any of the next six councils. But for the Council of Vienne (1311-12) we possess Das Konzil von Vienne by E. Muller, O.F.M. (1934). About the so-called Conciliar Theory which underlay the activities whence came the troubles of the next two General Councils, we have two very remarkable books, Foundations of Conciliar Theory by Brian Tierney (1955) and Studies in the Conciliar Epoch, by E. F. Jacob (1943) . Although no one has yet attempted to sum up, for their own sake, the history of the councils of Constance and Basel, mention must be made of two great pieces of scholarship, re--the proceedings on both these occasions, viz., Acta Concilii Constantiensis, 4 vols. (1896-1928), due primarily to Fr. H. Finke, and Concilium Basiliense, 8 vols. (1896-1936), the work of J. Haller and others. From the Papal Oriental Institute in Rome there has now come a similar work on the Council of Florence, Concilium Florentinum, 6 vols. (1940-55); one of the scholars engaged on it, Fr. Joseph Gill, S.J., is the author of the work noted in the list that follows.

As to Trent, the greatest council of all, the history of its history has indeed been one of conflict. The first account, the basis of the antipapal view that has coloured almost every account since given, published (in Italian) in London in 1619 was the work of a Servite friar, Fra Paolo Sarpi, who certainly had access to many of the closely guarded documents and the diplomatic correspondence. He was a Venetian, and a kind of literary bravo in the service of the Serenissima during its conflict with Pope Paul V (1605-21) who had laid Venice under an interdict. This partisan and highly damaging work went unanswered for forty years, when Cardinal Pallavicini S.J., specially commissioned by the pope, and with access to all the papers, produced his Istoria del Concilio di Trento, in three volumes. Ranke's critical comparison of these two works is one of the classic feats of his well-known History of the Popes. But in our own time the real history of the council has at last appeared, Monsignor Hubert Jedin, modestly announcing himself with a finished history of the History of the Council of Trent, Das Konzil von Trient. Ein Uberblick uber die Erforschung seiner Geschichte (1948). There have now been published also the first two volumes of his History of the Council of Trent, the first of which has also appeared in an excellent English translation by Dom Ernest Graf (1957). Msgr. Jedin comes to his task after a hard apprenticeship in the service of the great German enterprise which, for sixty years and more, has been classifying and critically editing the documents of the council. Of this work, Concilium Tridentinum, twelve volumes have so far been published. Meanwhile, for the reader who needs today to know this history, there remains the much neglected account of the Council of Trent to be found in Pastor's History of the Popes, the details of which I transcribe: vol. 10, 106-69, 221-29; vol. 12, 124-408; vol. 13, 76-128; vol. 15, 216-65.

The Vatican Council was scarcely more fortunate than Trent in the way the forces hostile to it in the intellectual world were allowed a good fifty years start in their commentaries. Given the notorious fact of the bitter feeling, it is somewhat surprising that twenty years went by before, in vol. VII of the Jesuit work on councils, Collectio Lacensis, the essential documentation began to appear (1892). This was, again, a German enterprise, and it was a German Jesuit also, Granderath, who in 1903-6 published the first history, Geschichte des Vatikanischen Konzils, 3 volumes. For this work the author was given all the papers he desired to see. In 1923-27 the whole of the papers were published as volumes 49-53 of the new edition of Mansi. Then, in 1930, appeared Butler's book, noted below, which Canon Aubert generously calls "the best account," to be himself rewarded (so to say) for his own account, noted below, by a like word from Msgr. Jedin. As an introduction to the socio-religious history of the years 1789-1870, I cannot too highly recommend two books by E. E. Y. Hales, The Catholic Church in the Modern World; A survey from the French Revolution to the present (1958) and Pio Nono; Creator of the Modern Papacy (1954); Revolution and Papacy; The Papacy and the Revolutionary Movement in Europe, 1769-1846 (1960).


1. Since several of these volumes are in more than one "part" the bulk is really considerable.

2. Needless to say, for those who read French the great Fliche and Martin series offers a means of study far beyond anything so far attempted. See the list in Appendix 11.

Appendix II


AMANN, E., see under F. and M., vols. 6, 7.

AUBERT, R., see under F. and M., vol. 21.

BARDY, G., Les Luttes Christologiques apres le Concile de Chalcedoine, see under F. and M., vol. 4.

BARRY, COLMAN, O.S.B., Readings in Church History, 1960.

BATIFFOL, PIERRE, L'Eglise Naissante, 1908. ------, La Paix Constantinienne et le Catholicisme, 312-59, 3rd edition, 1914. ------, Le Siege Apostolique, 359-451.

BREHIER, L., La Querelle des Images, see under F. and M., vol. 5.

BUTLER, CUTHBERT, O.S.B., The Vatican Council, 2 vols., 1930.

CHAPMAN, JOHN, O.S.B., The Condemnation of Pope Honorius, London, 1907.

COHN, NORMAN, The Quest of the Millennium, 1957.

DENZINGER, Enchiridion [A Handbook of Creeds, Definitions and Declarations of the Popes about Faith and Morals--Latin and Greek texts].

DUCHESNE, LOUIS, L'Eglise au VIme Siecle, 1925.

DVORNIK, FRANCIS, The Photian Schism: History and Legend, 1948.

F. AND M., Histoire de l'Eglise edited by A. Fliche and Msgr. V. Martin. ------, Vol. 4 395-590 by various authors. ------, Vol. 5 590-757 by various authors. ------, Vol. 6 757-888 L'Epoque Carolingienne by E. Amann. ------, Vol. 7 888-1057 L'Eglise au pouvoir des Laiques by E. Amann. ------, Vol. 8 1057-1123 La Reforme Gregorienne et la Reconquete Chretien by A. Fliche ------, Vol. 9, pt. 1 1123-53 by various authors. ------, Vol. 9, pt. 2 1153-98 by various authors. ------, Vol. 10 1198-1274 La Chretiente Romaine by A. Fliche. ------, Vol. 21 1846-78 Le Pontificat de Pie IX by R. Aubert.

FLICHE, A., see last entry, vols. 8 and 10.

FINLAY, G., The Byzantine Empire, 717-1057, Everyman's Library edition.

GILL, JOSEPH, S.J., The Council of Florence, 1959.

JAFFE-WATTENBACH, Regesta pontificum Romanorum, 1888. [A catalogue of all the existing papal letters down to 1198.]

JALLAND, T. G., The Church and the Papacy, 1944.

JEDIN, HUBERT, A History of the Council of Trent, vol. I, London, 1957. This is the best survey yet made of the general history of the Church in the 150 years before the council actually met.

KIRCH, C., S.J., Enchiridion Fontium Historiae Ecclesiasticae Antiquae. [Handbook of sources for the history of the early Church: 600 pages of texts, Latin and Greek, from various writers, and councils, from A.D. 80 to 750.]

NEWMAN, JOHN HENRY, CARDINAL, Apostolical Tradition, in Essays, Critical and Historical, vol. I. ------, "Causes of the Rise and Successes of Arianism," in Tracts, Theological and Ecclesiastical. ------, "The Heresy of Apollinaris," in Tracts, etc. ------, "St. Cyril's Formula," ibid. ------, "The Trials of Theodoret," in Historical Sketches, vol. II.

PASTOR, L. VON, History of the Popes, vols. 6, 8.

ROUET DE JOURNEL, M. J., S.J., Enchiridion Patristicum. [Handbook of extracts from the Fathers of the Church and other ecclesiastical writers, A.D. 90 to 600, Latin and Greek texts, 760 pages.]

SCHROEDER, H. J., O.P., Disciplinary Decrees of the General Councils, Text, Translation and Commentary, 1937. [Ends with the Lateran Council of 1517.]

TIXERONT, J., Histoire des Dogmes, 6me edition, 1922, 3 vols. English translation, History of Dogmas, 2nd edition, 1926, 3 vols.

WATERWORTH, J., The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent. [The whole of the Tridentine laws translated into English.]