Yesterday, Today



Jesus Christ and the Holy Trinity in the

Teaching of the

Seven Ecumenical Councils


Peter Toon


Preservation Press

P.O. Box 612

Swedesboro, NJ 08085


Scanned/Word Processed 1999


Yesterday, Today and Forever

Copyright © 1996 by Peter Toon

Published by Preservation Press

P.O. Box 612

Swedesboro, New Jersey 08085

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher, except as provided by USA copyright law.

First printing, 1996

ISBN 1-886412-05-7; papercover

ISBN 886412-06-5; hardcover

Library of Congress Catalogue Card Number: 95-072532

Printed in the United States of America

All Scriptural quotations are taken from or based upon the Revised Standard Version. Quotations of texts from the Seven Ecumenical Councils are taken from H. R. Percival, The Seven Ecumenical Councils and R. B. Sellers, The Council of Chalcedon, as cited in the bibliography.



The Right Revd Keith L. Ackerman SSC, Bishop of Quincy

in the Episcopal Church of the USA,

who gratefully accepts the doctrinal decrees

of the Seven Ecumenical Councils as orthodox dogma


who has shown great kindness to the author’s family.


The icon on the front cover belongs to Deborah Anastasia (Resurrection) Toon, and is a copy of a very famous fresco in the church called Karye Djami in Constantinople, dated the beginning of the 14th century.




Prologue 9


I.  Nicea I (325) and Constantinople I (381)     17

II.  Ephesus (431) and Chalcedon (451)     29

III.  Constantinople II (553), Constantinople III (681) and Nicea II (787)     39


IV.  From the Father through the Son and in the Holy Spirit     55

V.  Arianism Rejected     71

VI. Orthodoxy Proclaimed — The Homoousios     85


VII. The Son of God Incarnate     101

VIII. Apollinarianism, Nestorianism and Monophysitism Rejected     115

IX. Orthodoxy Affirmed — One Person in Two Natures     131


X. No Graven Images    155

XI. Iconoclasm Rejected     167

XII. Orthopraxis Explained — Veneration of Icons     177

Epilogue     189

Appendix I — I Believe/We Believe 197

Appendix II — New Formula: Novel Doctrine 205

Appendix III — The Council of Trent on Images 213

Select Bibliography 217

Index 221


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Christianity is one of the three major religions of the world which confess belief in and commitment to one God and one God alone (Monotheism); further, it is the one and only religion which is wholly based on Trinitarian Monotheism.  Christians are those who have been baptized into "the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit," and who receive in worship "the Blessing of God Almighty the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit."

Christianity engages all aspects of the life of the baptized person, who is called to love God with all his heart and soul and mind and strength, and to love his neighbor as he loves himself.  Christian worship is offered to the Father through Jesus Christ, the Son, and in the Holy Spirit, not only by the minds, but from the hearts and with the bodies of baptized believers.

The sacred Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, preserved by the Christian Church, are addressed not merely to the minds of hearers and readers, but to people as living, thinking, feeling and acting beings; the reading of the Bible, as well as the teaching and preaching from its pages, informs the mind, warms the heart and moves the will.  There can be no true religion unless the affections of the heart are involved – e.g., desire, love, joy, fear (reverence) and peace.  Yet the affections have to be guided by the mind (thus the expression "the mind in the heart") towards the right ends – i.e., enjoying and glorifying God forever.  Further, the human will also has to be ener-

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gized by the affections and guided by the informed mind so that the Christian obeys the Lord’s commandments in word and deed.

We need to be clear on one important matter.  The major statements and pronouncements of the doctrinal decrees of the Seven Ecumenical Councils are not addressed, as are the Gospels, in common-sense language and narrative form to the whole person to move him at all levels of his being towards God and his kingdom.  No.  They are addressed primarily to the mind in order to be understood, considered and received as truth.  They declare what is right Christian teaching concerning (a) the relation of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit to God (i.e., to the One who is called "Yahweh" [LORD] in the Old Testament and "the Father" in the New Testament), (b) the full identity of Jesus Christ, One Person made known in two natures, who is "the same yesterday, today and forever" (Heb.13:8), and (c) the nature and use of icons.

In addressing the mind and providing clarity concerning what is true and what is false, the declarations from these Councils presume that right thinking is intimately related to right worship, right speech, right action and right behavior.  This said, their primary function is to declare what is true and right and thus also to make clear what is false and wrong.  For only those who rightly believe can rightly pray and rightly obey.  Devout feelings and moral decisions will flow from right doctrine lodged in the mind and heart.

I have heard people, who know a little about early Church history and who are very conscious of wanting to be modern and relevant Christians, make comments such as the following concerning the Councils.  (i) Because of their intellectual nature, the pronouncements of Councils seem to be intended only for those whose religion is primarily of the head and who understand Greek philosophical terms.  (ii) Because they have apparently no concern for the feelings (which have such an important place in contemporary forms of the Christian reli-

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gion), the doctrinal decrees appear to have no immediate relevance for those whose religion is primarily "of the heart."  (iii) Because they insist not only on proclaiming what is true but also on anathematizing those who teach heresy, the Councils lack charity and are out of touch with modern ecumenism and ecclesiastical dialogue.  And (iv) because the Councils belong to a period when Church and State were closely integrated and when there were no individual rights and no genuine freedom of speech, they belong to a totally different world and culture and thus have little or no relevance today.

Of course, there is some truth in what these people have to say, but it is certainly not the whole truth.  They are missing much by dismissing the Councils too easily and quickly.  It is reasonably clear to me that, in order to appreciate what the Councils achieved and what their legacy to the modern Church genuinely is, Christians today, even if well motivated, have to make a big effort to seek to understand the reasons why Councils were called, the way they addressed the doctrinal questions and problems of their times, and what their members thought they were giving to and providing for the Church of their day and of the future.  Further, we need to have an appreciation of what has been called the development of doctrine – the relation between the way doctrine is presented and taught in the New Testament and the way it is presented and taught by the Councils.

This book is intended as a positive contribution to the fuller appreciation of what is the legacy of the Councils for the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church today.  It is written as simply as possible, bearing in mind that the solid subject matter does not lend itself to over-simplification!

In particular, the book is addressed to a growing number – not a vast but a worthy company – of people in America, who have entered on what I often call the "liturgical trail," a search for wholeness in worship and spirituality in the major, deeply historical traditions of Christendom.  The "Canterbury trail" into

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classical Anglicanism is not as popular as it used to be in the 1960s and 1970s, primarily because the modern American Episcopal Church does not often support or express that classical Anglican Way today; more popular now for those on the journey are the "Antioch [or the Constantinople] trail," the "Roman trail" and a general "symbiotic [syncretistic?] trail" (which embraces East and West).

In this absorbing search for sound liturgy and right appreciation of the sacramental, symbolic and aesthetic dimensions of worship and spirituality, travelers are led sooner or later to discover the patristic period when the Ecumenical Councils convened and the Fathers wrote.  In part, this is because they recognize that they need to know how the first major pastors and teachers of the Church sought to read, use and interpret Scripture.  In fact, all roads of the liturgical trail appear to lead in one direction – back to the Fathers of the first five to eight centuries, to their Councils, to their Creeds, to their Episcopate, to their Canon Law and to their Liturgies.

Those who search for authentic origins in the patristic period represent, I suspect, a good proportion of those who buy the modem reprint of the nineteenth century edition of the translations of selected writings of the "Pre-Nicene, Nicene and Post Nicene" Fathers.  Here such worthies as Irenaeus, Tertuilian, Origen, Athanasius, Basil, Augustine, Cyril, Leo and John of Damascus may be encountered; and included in this multi-volume edition is one volume dedicated to providing a translation of documents from the Seven Ecumenical Councils and other synods.  It was also printed on its own as a separate volume – H.R. Percival, The Seven Ecumenical Councils of the Undivided Church (New York and London, 1900).  We shall have cause to refer often to this volume, which though dated in its historical information is still most useful for its translation of the texts.

I have also written this book for those who are members of the older Churches (which are committed to the dogmatic state-

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ments of the Seven Councils as their received doctrinal heritage and teaching) and who have not yet wholly explored, recognized or benefited from that precious heritage.  An illustration may help make the point.  Often we have within our personal libraries valuable books we have never read and which we ought to read.  Likewise, it is often the case that there is in the Tradition of the Church a legacy of which we are hardly aware and ought to become aware.  I hope this modest book will serve to make people in the historic Churches aware of that legacy in terms of the dogmatic pronouncements of the Seven Councils.

And now a few words about the actual contents of the book.  The main emphasis is upon exposition of dogma and doctrine and the difference between orthodoxy and heresy.  To the modern ear and mind the distinction between these may seem at times merely verbal or minimal – even far-fetched.  If so, all the more reason why I urge my reader to work hard at appreciating why the differences were regarded as crucial in the early Church!  Therefore, I provide the important primary texts from the Seven Councils in English translation from the Greek or the Latin.  And, while I certainly provide a general, simple, historical introduction to each Council and narrate the more important events and circumstances surrounding it, the emphasis is not upon the historical context as such.  For greater detail, I refer my reader to the various histories of the Early Church and the Councils.  My purpose is to provide what I hope is a reliable and readable introduction to an appreciation and understanding of the doctrinal debates and decrees.

In two of the three Appendices, I deal with two modern questions.  Is the Creed of the Eucharist to be in the "I believe" or "We believe" form?  And, is the formula, "God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit", correct?

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A useful and readable history of the early Church is The Rise of Christianity (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984) by W. H. C. Frend.  The only recent book on the Councils for the general reader is by Leo Donald Davis, S.J., The First Seven Ecumenical Councils (325_787): Their History and Theology (Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier, Inc., 1987).  In this book are valuable bibliographies for the further study of each Council, but the doctrinal decrees and canons are generally summarized rather than printed in full.  The most accessible translation of the documents of the Councils is that of Henry R. Percival, The Seven Ecumenical Councils of the Undivided Church, vol. 14 of the Nicene and Post_Nicene Fathers, Second Series (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers Inc., 1994), originally published in 1900.

For those who desire to have the Greek and Latin texts, along with modern (and sometimes politically correct!) translations of them done by a team of Jesuits, there is the most useful Norman F. Tanner, S.J., ed., Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, vol. 1 (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 1991).  The Latin and Greek texts in this volume are taken from G. Alberigo, ed., Conciliorum Oecumenicorum Decreta (Bologna: 1973).

Also of great help for the first four Councils is T. H. Bindley, ed., The Oecumenical Documents of the Faith, 4th.ed. (London: Methuen and Co., 1950).  [This was the text I used when doing my B.D. degree in London University.]

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