Sunday, December 8, 2013

Papacy and the Council of Sardica

Disclaimer: The following is 100% NOT my own work. It is a reproduction of an article made by John Collorafi, on his now defunct website Ancient Papacy. The canons of Sardica can be found here.  
 The Council of Sardica
The Council of Sardica was part of the orthodox reaction to the Arian heresy, which denied that the Son of God was truly divine. Although Arianism was condemned at the Council of Nicea, the Arian intriguers persecuted orthodox bishops in the east, notably Saint Athanasius of Alexandria.

In 343, orthodox western bishops met the eastern bishops at Sardica, a city which was basically at the border between western and eastern Roman jurisdictions. Under the presidency of Hosius, bishop of Cordoba, the council restored orthodox bishops such as Athanasius and Paul of Constantinople.

The council of Sardica also laid down the following three canons or rules about church discipline, regarding the right of bishops to appeal to Rome:

Canon 3. Bishop Hosius said: “...if sentence has been pronounced against a bishop in some case, and he thinks that he has good reason for the case to be considered, let us, if it be agreeable to you, honor the memory of the holy apostle Peter: let letters be written to Julius, the bishop of Rome, by those who examined the case; if he judges that the case should be reconsidered, let it be reconsidered and let him appoint judges. If however he concludes that the case is not such that it ought to be reviewed, whatever he decrees will stand confirmed. Is this agreeable to everybody?” The council answered: “Yes.”

Canon 4. Bishop Gaudentius said: “Let this provision, if it be agreeable to you, be added to this very holy decision which you have made: when a bishop has been deposed by judgment of the bishops in neighboring areas, and has proclaimed that his case must be dealt with in the city of Rome, after the appeal of [the bishop] who apparently has been deposed, in no event may another bishop be ordained to replace him in his see unless the case has been determined by the judgment of the bishop of Rome.”

Canon 5. Bishop Hosius said: “But it has been agreed that if a bishop has been accused, and the bishops of that region have met, passed judgment and deposed him from his rank, and he takes refuge with the most blessed bishop of the Roman Church, and asked that the case be heard: if [the bishop of Rome] has agreed that he be heard, and considers it just that the case be reopened, let him deign to write to the bishops in the neighboring province, and the one next to it, that they examine the whole matter diligently, and define in reliance upon the truth. If, however, [the bishop] who asks that his case be heard again by his own petition has moved the bishop of Rome to send a priest with a special mission, it shall be in the bishop’s power to say what he wishes or as seems fit to him. If he determines to send [legates] to pass judgment together with the bishops, as having the authority of the one who sent them, it will be within his discretion. If however he considers the bishops sufficient to make the final decision on the case, he shall do what in his most wise counsel he judges best.” [Mansi 3: 23-5]

The canons of Sardica were included in leading Latin and Greek collections of canon law. For example, Greek canons of Sardica were included in a collection compiled by Patriarch John III Scholasticus [565-577] of Constantinople, called Synagoga L Titulorum.

The canons of Sardica also appear in an ancient Latin collection known as the Prisca, [PL 56: 775-7], the authentic Spanish collection of canons [PL 84: 115 sq.] and the collection of Dionysius Exiguus, a monk from Scythia, which was a province in the lower Danube. [PL 67: 949 sq]

The council also wrote a letter to Pope Julius [337-352] of Rome, which says:

... For this will seem best and most exceedingly fitting if the priests of the Lord, from each of the different provinces, refer to the head, that is, the see of Peter the apostle... [Mansi 3: 40]

The authenticity of these striking words has been called into question, but the words do appear in the Historical Fragments of Hilary, bishop of Poitiers [PL 10: 639].

The acts of the Council of Sardica were signed by bishops of numerous western and eastern regions or provinces, such as Africa, Egypt, Phrygia, Isauria, Ancyra, Gaza, Thrace, Larissa, Thessalonica, Nicopolis, Dardania, Macedonia, Achaia, Thessalia, Cyprus, Palestine, Arabia, Asia, Dacia, Pannonia, etc. [Athanasius, Apol. 37-50. PG 25: 311 sq. Cf. Mansi 3: 38-9]

Dacia corresponds roughly to Romania, while Pannonia corresponds more or less to Hungary. Dardania and Macedonia are in the Balkans. Thessaly and Achaia were provinces of Greece.

Canons of the council of Sardica, including the canons about appeals to Rome, were even included in the Armenian book of canons published at Yerevan, Armenia in 1971, during the Soviet era. [Kanonagirk Hayoc’, Yerevan 1971, 1: 254-257]

Thus the council of Sardica had the widest acceptance in east and west.

Copyright 2003, John Collorafi

Original translations by John Collorafi
My (Berhane Selassie) video on this article:


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