What Happened at the First Council of Constantinople? | Church History

The time of the Cappadocian fathers was a difficult time for the Church. Sabellianism and Apollinarianism were on the rise while the danger of Arianism and Pneumatomachians (or Macedonians) persisted. Sabellianism claimed that there is only one hypostasis (or person) which was manifested in three different modes: the Father in the Old Testament, the Son in the New Testament and the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Please note the term hypostasis refers to an “underlying reality or substance” which may sometimes refer to a concrete subsistence or person. Some scholars suggest that this word, according to the Cappadocians refers to what is irreducible either to nature or to the person, i.e. what makes each person in the Trinity unique from the other – Cambridge Companion to Orthodox Christian Theology, p. 235). Apollinarius was initially committed to the Nicene cause and often supported Athanasius. In his commitment to the divinity and oneness of Christ after the incarnation, he fell into the extreme of believing that Christ had flesh without soul i.e. not a rationally animated being. This was considered by the Cappadocian fathers a compromise of Christ’s incarnation and the economy of salvation. Pneumatomachians is a name for those who considered the Spirit inferior to the Father and the Son and considered him among the angels.

Seeing that these controversies were dividing churches, especially in Antioch which had four bishops at one point, Emperor Theodosious deemed it fitting to convoke a second council of 150 bishops in Constantinople in 381. The Council dealt with the heresies together with pastoral and jurisdictional matters. This council is credited with having completed the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed that we know today by adding its remainder after the clause “We believe in the Holy Spirit” until the end. The formulation of the doctrine of the Spirit entailed His being called “Lord and Giver of Life” who is to be worshipped with the Father and the Son. The fathers at the council standardized the use of the terms “hypostasis” and “ousia” putting an end to the Trinitarian controversy. Ousia refers to the shared nature or essence of the Trinity and hypostasis refers to the particular. The method of readmitting heretics and schismatics into the Catholic Church were discussed and formalized. The Church of Constantinople was elevated as the second Rome which would deal with jurisdictional issues as a court of appeal for other churches.

The success of the Council of Constantinople theologically was not immediately recognized. Despite Timothy of Alexandria’s presence and precedence over the Council of Constantinople (along with others such as Meletius of Antioch, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Nectarius of Constantinople), the Council was not acknowledged by Alexandria as ecumenical before it was universally accepted. It was socontested as a council that it had to be followed up by two local synods in 382 and 383. The fact that it did not reach decisive resolutions for jurisdictional issues and its failure to rectify Antiochian schisms exacerbated this lack of admission. The Council only received its status as an ecumenical council in the year 451 at the Council of Chalcedon.