What Is an Ecumenical Council?
WE ARE HOPING with all our hearts that this council, held as it is in an age of unprecedented transition, both secular and religious -- the end of the "modern" period, the beginning of a new age of the world, whatever it may be called -- is going to prove itself worthy in the judgement of history and in the sight of its Lord. The condition for its doing so is honest reflection on the part of the Church, and not least honest theological reflection on the nature of the ecumenical council itself.1
But we have to ask straight away whether there is such a thing as theological reflection on the nature of the Ecumenical Council, i.e., a theology of the Council. Has theology anything definitive to say about ecumenical councils?
Certainly canon law has something definitive to say about them; canons 222 to 229 of the Codex Iuris Canonici treat De Concillo Oecumenico. And certainly Church history has definitive things to say about them; Hefele's history of the councils runs to nine volumes, and Mansi Amplissima Collectio, the standard source-book of conciliar history, to thirty-one or sixty volumes according to the edition. But has theology anything definitive to say? By theology is meant here not that unscriptural theology which discourses at large, non-definitively, on all possible and impossible subjects, and naturally on ecumenical councils as well, but that Christian theology