A New Edition of the Medieval Councils

By Brandmüller, Walter | The Catholic Historical Review, Summer 2015 | Go to article overview

A New Edition of the Medieval Councils


Brandmüller, Walter, The Catholic Historical Review


Conciliorum oecumenicorum generaliumque decreta: Editio critica. The General Councils of Latin Christendom: From Constantinople IV (869/870) to Lateran V (1512-1517). \Corpus Christianorum Conciliorum oecumenicorum generaliumque decreta. Edited by Istituto per le scienze religiose Bologna; Giuseppe Alberigo and Alberto Melloni, general editors. 3 vols. (Turnhout: Brepols, 2006-13)]. Vol. II. 2013. Pp. 1450. euro740,00. ISBN 978-2-503-52527-3.

Vol. II, tome 1: The General Councils of Latin Christendom from Constantinople IV to Pavia-Siena (869-1424). Edited by Antonio Garcia y Garcia, Peter Gemeinhardt, Georg Gresser, Thomas Izbicki, Atria Larson, Alberto Melloni, Jürgen Miethke, Kenneth Pennington, Burkhard Roberg, Riccardo Saccenti, and Philip Stump. 2013.

Vol. II, tome 2: From Basel to Lateran V (1431-1517). Edited by Frederick Lauritzen, Nelson H. Minnich, Joachim Stieber, Harald Suermann, and Jürgen Uhlich. 2013.

The first volume of the COGD, published in 2006, ended with the Second Council of Nicaea (787). This breaking point has a programmatic character, for the editors are of the opinion that Nicaea II had been the last ecumenical council. From that moment, as indicated in the title of volume II/l, there are only "The General Councils of Latin Christendom." This formulation covers the basic problem of the entire enterprise.

First of all, the editors do not provide a clear definition of what constitutes an "ecumenical" council. The unexpressed and undiscussed idea that underlies the volume is that an ecumenical council (assuming a constitution of the Church based on the concept of Pentarchy) requires the participation of all five patriarchates, where "old Rome," even while the first, is to be considered only one of the five. This implies that the Church was seen to be congruent with the understanding and boundaries of the Roman Empire, or vice versa. It thus seems to have totally escaped the editors that with this concept, they were "excommunicating" all of Oriental Christianity. Thus those who did not follow the Council of Chalcedon remain excluded, for they separated themselves not on the basis of Christological differences with the imperial Church but from a desire to be independent from the Empire. And thus from this conception of Pentarchy derives the first pseudo-wording (oecumenicorum generaliumque) in the title of the edition. If one does not wish to start from this point, then one should say so clearly and distinctly. Thus, one should not use the Catholic terms oecumenical and general council, but speak of them all more generally as church meetings.

But with this arrives already the second, equally thorny problem-i.e., the selection of the councils. Which of the numerous synods should be included in the volume? Was the choice based on comprehensible criteria? The editors owe an answer to this question. Nevertheless, the term general council should be clearly distinguished from the term ecumenical used in the first volume. The reviewer has treated this problem at length.1 Specifically, before this background, there is the problem of how to assess the two Photian synods of 869/70 and 879/80. In particular, these two synods should not be considered Latin (!) general councils, for in both cases they were affairs of the church of Constantinople. Another striking feature is that each of the two is called "Concilium Constantinopolitanum IV." Equally surprising is the inclusion in this collection of the Pisan Council of 1409. Surely it has been claimed at times that it acted as a general council. Indeed, it should not be overlooked that not only the whole obedience of Benedict XIII-including Spain, Portugal, a considerable portion of France, and Scotland-had not attended but also the followers of Gregory XII in Italy and Germany. So, how can one call "general" such a fragmentary assembly just when it was about to reunite the two broken parts of the Church? Consequently, neither the Photian synods nor the Pisan Council of 1409 found a place in the previous editions of the COD. …

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