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Panayiotis Christou

Testimonia neglected by the Seventh Ecumenical Council

Annuarium Historiae Conciliorum / Internationale Zeitschrift für Konziliengeschichtsforschung


Ιn the sessions of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, the discussions were largely based οn patristic testimonies. This practice had been inaugurated at the Council of Ephesos (431), but now there was also extensive use of hagiographical evidence. Fifty-one quotations from the writings of thirty fathers are preserved in the main body of the proceedings of the Council, while there are also twenty-three quotations from hagiographical texts.(1) This is a rich collection of testimonies in support of the case put by the Iconophiles. In presenting this evidence, the leadeτs of the Council were endeavouring οn the one hand to justify dogmatically the use of icons in worship and prayer, and οn the other to prove its benefits, that is to show the important place allotted to icons in the divine economy by stressing both their antiquity and common acceptance. This aim would have been achieved with greater facility had they been able to have recourse to texts dating from the first centuries of Christianity. It was, however, difficult if not impossible to find any appropiate testimonies from that period, when the Church was maintaining a strict, anti-icon policy in its struggle against idolatry. Attention had therefore to be concentrated οn the period of the theological development of the Church, and particulary οn the great names of the fourth and fifth centuries.

At about the time of the Council, there were also in circulation florilegia of similar content, prepared by individual authors. Ι shall omit those which were compiled after the Council, such as those of Nicephoros of Constantinople, Theodore Studites and Cod. Paris. Gr. 1115, and shall confine myself instead to the two collections which predate the Council.

The first of these is the one which closes in sections each of the three sermons by John of Damascos Οn Images.(2) The second is contained in Cod. Vatop. 594 as part of the extension of the Doctrina Patrum. Diekamp ignored this extension, which is at present being investigated by Basil Phanourgakis in Thessalonike.(3)

Many of the extracts from these two collections are also found in the proceedings of Nicaea ΙΙ, but neither they nor any other formed the basis for the discussions in the sessions of the Council. Indeed, the use of anthologies was hardly an appropriate strategy for a Council intended to make decisions οn such an important problem in the Church, because it was so easy to cast doubt οn the authenticity of the passages in such collections. This was precisely the case during the iconoclastic age.

Instead of collections, therefore, books were presented at Nicaea ΙΙ, in a premeditated manner, it seems. Evidently, Bishop Constantine was one of the cο-ordinators of this effort. Α notice of the proceedings relates: "Constantine,

the holy bishop of Constantia in Cyprus said 'At the command οf Tarasios ,

the most holy and ecumenical patriarch, let the books and sayings of the blessed Fathers be placed in the middle and let them be read publicly in this holy Council' "(4) The library of the Patriarchate was very rich in codices containing the writings of the Fathers as well as those of heretical authors; by then every major metropolis possessed a good-sized library. The accuracy of the quotations presented to the members of the Council could be verified immediately by reference to the appropriate book in the library.(5)

Individual authors could, in some cases, safely use testimonies which might be considered invalid. Even writers distinguished for their diligence and accuracy could do so, such as John of Damascos and the compiler of the Vatopedi collection. But an ecumenical Council, like Nicaea ΙΙ, was required to work οn the basis of valid evidence, selected in accordance with the strictest criteria. The texts to be presented at the Council had to:

a) be of unimpeachable authorship and have been transmitted accurately. b) relate true, or at least plausible events. c) come from authors of exemplary behaviour and genuine Orthodoxy. We observe that the Fathers of the Council tacitly excluded some important testimonies which supported the Iconophile cause as they did not meet their criteria. Ι have selected six such cases.


1. Cf. Ρ. Van den Ven, "La patristique et l'hagiographie au concile de Nicιe de 787", Βyzαntion 25-27 (1955-1957), 325-362 (338).

2. Β.Κοtter, Die Schriften des Jοhannes νοn Damaskos III, Berlin, New York 1975, 143-200.

3. Τhis florilegium forms chapter 40 of the whole collection.

4. Hardouin IV, 159 Β. Cf. Ρ. Van Den Ven, ο. 334.

5. Cf. K. Μanaphes, Αι εν Κωνσταντινουπόλει βιβλιοθήκαι, Αθήναι 1972, pp. 91-104.

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