Councils of Carthage

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The Councils of Carthage were church synods held during the 3rd, 4th, and 5th centuries in the city of Carthage in Africa. The most important of these are described below.

Synod of 251[edit]

In May 251 a synod, assembled under the presidency of Cyprian to consider the treatment of the Lapsi, excommunicated Felicissimus and five other Novatian bishops (Rigorists), and declared that the lapsi should be dealt with, not with indiscriminate severity, but according to the degree of individual guilt. These decisions were confirmed by a synod of Rome in the autumn of the same year. Other Carthaginian synods concerning the lapsi were held in 252 and 254.[1]

Synod of 256[edit]

Two synods, in 255 and 256, held under Cyprian, pronounced against the validity of heretical baptism, thus taking direct issue with Stephen I, bishop of Rome, who promptly repudiated them. A third synod in September 256, possibly following the repudiation, unanimously reaffirmed the position of the other two. Stephen's claims to authority as bishop of bishops were sharply resented, and for some time the relations of the Roman and African sees were severely strained.[2]

  • A variety of unresolved issues related to restoration of the lapsed in faith and the actions of those who had been considered heretics remained to be dealt with at the first ecumenical council. The eighth canon of the council in particular addressed Novationists.[3]

Synod of 345[edit]

Around 345–348 under Gratus a synod of orthodox bishops, who had met to record their gratitude for the effective official repression of the Circumcelliones (Donatists), declared against the rebaptism of any one who had been baptized in the name of the Trinity, and adopted twelve canons of clerical discipline.[4]

Synod of 397[edit]

The Council of Carthage, called the third by Denzinger,[5] issued a canon of the Bible on 28 August 397. The primary source of information about the third Council of Carthage comes from the Codex Canonum Ecclesiæ Africanæ, which presents a compilation of ordinances enacted by various church councils in Carthage during the fourth and fifth centuries. In one section of this code the following paragraph concerning the canon of Scripture appears.[6]

— Enchiridium Biblicum 8-10

The "five books of Solomon", according to Augustine, were Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Wisdom of Solomon, and Ecclesiasticus.[7]

Conference of 411[edit]

St. Augustine arguing with Donatists.

The Conference of Carthage, held by the command of the Emperor Honorius in 411 with a view to terminating the Donatist schism, while not strictly a synod, was one of the most important assemblies in the history of the African sees, and of the whole Catholic Church. It was presided over by Marcellinus of Carthage who found in favour of the orthodox party, which led to the violent suppression of the Donatists.[8]

Council of 418[edit]

On 1 May 418 a minor synod (Augustine of Hippo called it A Council of Africa), which assembled under the presidency of Aurelius, bishop of Carthage, to take action concerning the errors of Caelestius, a disciple of Pelagius, denounced the Pelagian doctrines of human nature, original sin, grace, and perfectibility; and it fully approved the contrary views of Augustine.[9]

The synod issued eight canons[10]

  • Canon I: Adam was not created subject to death.
  • Canon II: Infants are to be baptized for the remission of sins.
  • Canon III: Grace not only gives remission of sins but aid that we sin no more.
  • Canon IV: Grace gives knowledge, inspiration and desire to perform required duty.
  • Canon V: Without grace of God we can do no good thing.
  • Canon VI: The statement “If we say that we have no sin we deceive ourselves” should not be said out of humility but because it is true.
  • Canon VII: In the Lord's Prayer, the Saints pray “Forgive us our trespasses” not only for others but also for themselves.
  • Canon VIII: The Saints pray “Forgive us our trespasses” not out of humility but because they have sinned.

Council of 419[edit]

When Apiarius of Sicca, a priest excommunicated by the African Church, went to Rome for reinstatement in 419, Pope Zosimus sent envoys to Africa in order to investigate. A council was called in Carthage to deny the papal jurisdiction. [11][12] When the envoys tried to defend the pope's authority by quoting the Canons of the Council of Nicaea, Saint Augustine and Saint Aurelius condemned Pope Zosimus for interfering with the African Church's jurisdiction “by falsifying the text of Canon 5” (in reality it was an authentic canon of the Council of Serdica).[13] The African church leadership told Rome that Nicaea indeed "gave no authority for appeals by priests against their episcopal superiors." [11] They further warned Pope Zosimus, and later Pope Celestine I, not to "introduce the empty pride of the world into the Church of Christ" [14][15] and to "keep their Roman noses out of African affairs". [16][17][18] The Council ruled that no bishop may call himself "Prince of Bishops" or "Supreme Bishop" or any other title which suggests Supremacy (Canon 39). It also ruled that if any of the African clergy dared to appeal to Rome, "the same was ipso facto cast out of the clergy". [16][19]

Synod of 484[edit]

The Vandal Synod of Carthage (484) was a largely unsuccessful church council meeting called by the Vandal King Huneric to persuade the orthodox bishops in his recently acquired North African territories to convert to Arian Christianity. The orthodox bishops refused and many, including Fulgentius of Ruspe and Tiberiumus, were exiled to Sardinia,[20][21] and some executed. The Notitia Provinciarum at Civitatum Africa says that nearly 500 went into exile. The bishops had requested that orthodox bishops from outside Huneric's dominions be allowed to attend but this was refused, the king saying "When you make me master of the whole world, then what you want shall be done". The synod appears to have been an exercise in royal browbeating more than a genuine debate, with bias toward Arian bishops.[22]

Council of 525[edit]

See also[edit]


 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Carthage, Synods of". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.

  1. ^ Hefele, 2nd ed., i. pp. 111 sqq. (English translation, i. Section 5, pp. 93 sqq.); Mansi, i. pp. 863 sqq., 905 sqq.; Hardouin, i. pp. 133 sqq., 147 sqq.; Cyprian, Epp. 52, 54, 55, 68.
  2. ^ Hefele, 2nd ed., i. Section 6, pp. 117–119 (English translation, i. pp. 99 sqq.); Mansi, i. pp. 921 sqq., 951 sqq.; Hardouin, i. pp. 153 sqq.; Cyprian, Epp. 69–75.
  3. ^ "NPNF2-14. The Seven Ecumenical Councils".
  4. ^ Hefele, 2nd. ed., i. pp. 632-633 (English translation, ii. pp. 184-186); T Mansi's "Collection of Councils", part III, pp.143 sqq.; Hardouin, i. pp. 683 sqq. Summaries of the canons can be read in Right Rev. C J Hefele's "A history of the Christian councils: from the original documents, Volume 2" at pp.184–186. For the canons regarding clerical discipline see and following ER: 64, 65, 125-131.
  5. ^ Denzinger 186 in the new numbering, 92 Archived 2010-04-18 at the Wayback Machine in the old
  6. ^ The Latin text and English translation are from B. F. Westcott, A General Survey of the History of the Canon of the New Testament (5th ed. Edinburgh, 1881), pp. 440, 541–2.
  7. ^
  8. ^ Hefele, 2nd ed., ii. pp. 103-104 (English translation, ii. pp. 445-446); Mansi, iv. pp. 7-283 ; Hardouin, i. pp. 1043-f 190.
  9. ^ Cartaginense, Synodum. "The Canons Of The CCXVII Blessed Fathers Who Assembled At Carthage (The Codes of the Canons of the African Church)" (PDF). Documenta Catholica Omnia.
  10. ^ "The Canons of the Council of Carthage (417 or 418) on sin and grace". Early Church Texts. Early Church Texts. Retrieved June 29, 2018.
  11. ^ a b Wills, Gary, Saint Augustine: A Life
  12. ^ Stillingfleet, Edward (1665), A Rational Account of the Grounds of Protestant Religion, vol.2, pp190-191
  13. ^ Hartmann, Wilfried; Pennington, Kenneth (2012-02-27). The History of Byzantine and Eastern Canon Law to 1500. CUA Press. ISBN 9780813216799.
  14. ^ Mansi, Giovanni Domenico, Sacrorum Conciliorum Nova et Amplissima Collectio, Vol. 4, pp515-516, "Executores etiam clericos vestros quibusque potentibus nolite mittere, nolite concedere, ne fumosum typhum sæculi in ecclesiam Christi, quæ lucem simplicitatis et humilitatis diem". See also Schaff, Philip (ed.), Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Second Series, Volume XIV, p510, "Moreover whoever desires you to delegate any of your clergy to execute your orders, do not comply, lest it seem that we are introducing the pride of secular dominion into the Church of Christ which exhibiteth to all that desire to see God the light of simplicity and the day of humility."
  15. ^ The Epistle of the Carthage Council to Celestine, elaboration with Latin texts available in Stillingfleet, Edward (1665), A Rational Account of the Grounds of Protestant Religion, vol.2, p193
  16. ^ a b Schwerin, Philip, How the Bishop of Rome Assumed the Title of “Vicar of Christ”, pp4-5
  17. ^ Migne, Jacquies-Paul, Patrologia Latina, Vol. 50, pp.422-425
  18. ^ Hefele, 2nd ed., ii. pp. 120 sqq., 137 sqq. (English translation, ii. pp. 462 sqq., 480 sqq.); Mansi, iii. pp. 835 sqq., iv. pp. 401 sqq., 477 sqq.; Hardodin, i. pp. 943 sqq., 1241 sqq. (L F. C.)
  19. ^ Mansi, Giovanni Domenico, Sacrorum Conciliorum Nova et Amplissima Collectio, 4, 431, see clauses on "De Clericis audiendis et de Appellationibus" & "De Excommunicatis clericis"
  20. ^ Stefano Antionio Marcelli Africa Christiana in tres Partes Tributa Vol 1 p.253.
  21. ^ JD Foge, The Cambridge History of Africa, (Cambridge University Press, 1979) p 481 Vol II.
  22. ^ A HISTORY OF THE CHRISTIAN COUNCILS BOOK XII. Archived 2015-09-23 at the Wayback Machine

External links[edit]