Tuesday, September 23, 2008

An Inconvenient Conciliar Truth - Part 19

An Inconvenient Conciliar Truth - Part 19

Some folks seem to find relying on councils a comfort. For these folks, there are some inconvenient facts that they must face. This post is the nineteenth in the multi-part series.

Seventh Ecumenical Council (783) - Destroyed Patristic Writings Opposed to Icons

In mocking words, the council commanded that all writings opposed to icons be turned over to the Patriarch of Constantinople, whose job it was to prevent these writings from being read. This command was to be enforced by deposing clergy from office and excommunicating laymen and monks:

All boyish whimwhams and mad bacchanalia, the false writings that have been brought forth against the venerable icons, must be turned in to the Bishopric of Constantinople to be put away together with the rest of heretical books. If, on the other hand, anyone should be found hiding these, if he be a Bishop, a Presbyter, or a Deacon, let him be deposed from office; but if he be a layman or a monk, let him be excommunicated.

You will notice that, in theory, there was a sort of "heretical library" to be possessed by the Patriarch of Constantinople. In effect, however, the removal of iconoclastic books from circulation had the effect of destroying those books, especially since one would not expect the Patriarch to keep each copy of every book.

As almost a footnote, it is interesting to see that this prominent role was held by the Patriarch of Constantinople, not the Patriarch of Rome. There is, of course, a practical reason beyond the fact that the Bishop of Rome was not considered the head of the church in that day: the heart of the resistance to icons would be expected to come from the Eastern church, where just 30 years previously a similarly sized council had condemned icons as contrary to Scripture and Tradition.

Ultimately, though, this council's decree creates an easy historical explanation for the dearth of writings from the Early Church Fathers against images of Christ: they were rounded up and ultimately destroyed by those who followed the so-called Seventh Ecumenical Council. But for this council, any silence in the Early Church Fathers on this topic would have been harder to explain.



Anonymous said...

Hi TF. Are Eastern Orthodox historians aware of this? What is their opinion regading this event?

This historical fact simply shows that Scripture is still and should always be our final authority, not tradition. Thanks.

Turretinfan said...

Hi Albert,

I am sure they must be aware of this - the seven ecumenical councils are the core conciliar part of any Eastern Orthodox church's tradition.


Anonymous said...

Uhm, ... heretical writings aren't Patristical. And yes, heretical writings are burnt. (St. Cyprian -for instance- burnt his sorcery-books after converting to Christianity).

Turretinfan said...


You wrote: "Uhm, ... heretical writings aren't Patristical."

It's not really fair to call the iconoclastic fathers "heretics" before the 7th EC defined the dogma.

You wrote: "And yes, heretical writings are burnt."

That's a bad idea if one wants to rely on the historical record to prove one's position.

You wrote: "(St. Cyprian -for instance- burnt his sorcery-books after converting to Christianity)."

Sorcery and heresy are two very different things - though I suppose the two could be united in a particular person (as could blasphemy and heresy or adultery and heresy or murder and heresy).


Anonymous said...

Councils don't define dogmas. I'm sorry, but since You're not Roman Catholic, I'm not gonna let You get away with this. The Council of Nicea did not "define" Christ's Godhead, it simply defended it.

Turretinfan said...


Your comments about councils not defining dogmas is mostly directed to the papists, not to me. I hold an orthodox Christology not because of the testimony of 300-some-odd bishops at Nicea, but because Scripture declares the doctrine.

But unlike the Christology of Nicea, the Iconophilia of Nicea 2 is not a defense of Scriptural doctrine, but the definition of an innovated practice unknown to the apostles and contrary to Scripture.

So - I can partly sympathize with your comment: if Nicea 2 simply stated orthodoxy (rather than defining new dogma and overturning the precedent set at the iconoclastic council one generation previously), then it would be ok to judge those before Nicea 2 as "heretical" (just as we would consider Arians before Nicea to be heretical).


orthodox said...

Can you explain to me why, if you are opposed to icons, that this blog has an icon of Turretin?

Turretinfan said...

I'm opposed to making alleged icons of Christ. Turretin is not Christ.

I don't have a problem with people making alleged representations of the creation in general, as long as the purpose of such representations is not worship. Turretin is not to be worshiped, and as much as I admire his work I don't worship him.


Byzas said...

Hi Turretinfan,
Just browsing some old articles. Did you realise the 7th Ecumenical Council took place in 787 not 783? A simple factual mistake at the start does not bode well.

To be honest the reason why no iconoclastic works survive is that Iconoclasm did not survive as a movement to preserve them. You can hardly expect Orthodox Christians to do that job!

We have an excellent idea of what the iconoclasts were saying by the references in the refutations of their Orthodox opponents. One thing I notice is that Patristic 'dossiers' compiled by the Iconoclasts was rather slim. The 7th Ecumenical Council went through the list and so did Nikephorus of Constantinope. It showed that many of the iconoclast quotes were misrepresent.

Finally, the Council of Hieria in 754 was not attended by any Patriarch of the five major sees. Even the see of Constantinople was vacant at the time. There were no representatives from Rome, Alexandria, Antioch or Jerusalem. Not exactly ecumenical then, was it?