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Expert Answer Forum

by Catherine Frakas 27 Mar 2002

The Canon of Scripture and Nicaea II QUESTION from Helen Gilmour February 11, 2000 This is a question I was challenged on, and could not answer satisfactorily. I've seen articles about the adoption of the Books in our Canon - ie the Canon that Trent re-affirmed - that the Canon was approved at the 2nd Council of Nicaea. The Acts of the Council don't refer to the Canon - at least not specifically. Can you tell me if the Canon was approved there, and what form approval took?
Thank you for your time.
Yours in Christ Helen Gilmour
ANSWER by Mrs. Suzanne Fortin, B.A. on February 14, 2000 Dear Miss Gilmour
I was at first a little perplexed by your question, as the Second Council of Nicea makes no explicit mention of the canon. I wondered why you might be asking such a question. After a little digging, I came up with this webpage:
In this page, renown apologist Art Sippo argues that the Council of Fathers of Nicea II affirmed the canon by accepting as authoritative all the local councils. Since the Council was deeply engrossed in the iconoclasm controversy, i.e. the banning of images, it wanted to get to the heart of the matter because everyone could foresee that it was going to be a long council. So the Fathers made a profession of faith by accepting all these councils.
I do not know what doctrinal weight such a declaration holds. Normally, infallibility applies to explicitly stated doctrines. Since the canon was not explicitly stated, it was not dogmatically defined. Many great minds since Nicea II, notably Thomas Aquinas, cast doubt on the deuterocanonicals; it is unthinkable that such a great mind as Aquinas would have overlooked the Church's teachings if it had been binding. Also, it is practically a truism in apologetic circles that it was the Council of Trent which defined the canon.
Did Nicea II establish the canon? There's no doubt that the acceptance of local council decrees does have great weight; and it shows that the Fathers did agree to the canon. But what degree of authority did this acceptance have? I leave that up to someone better versed in dogmatic theology.
For the benefit of the readers, I leave this short account of the events surrounding the Council of Nicea. I thank you for your question,
God Bless, Suzanne.
APPENDIX: The Second Council of Nicea
In 726, Byzantine Emperor Leo III, called the Isaurian, waged a campaign to rid his domains of sacred images, except for the Cross. He seems to have derived his antipathy from the Bible's condemnation of idolatry. Opposition to images had existed within the Church for some time, but in this case, the Emperor was atttempting to make it institutional. His campaign set off a long-standing controversy, which, even after the Second Council of Nicea in 787, was not entirely resolved, as some emperors persisted in their iconoclastic beliefs.
In 780, the Emperor Leo IV died, and his wife, the Empress Irene, took advantage of her son's minority to ascend to power as his regent. She herself favoured the veneration of images and arranged to hold an ecumenical Council to resolve the issue. The first attempt at a council in 786 was aborted when, on the first day, a troop of soldiers burst into the Hagia Sophia, the seat of that Council, and threatened to kill the Patriarch Tarasius. The iconoclastic bishops started screaming victory for our side!. The pandemonium forced the council to adjourn, and it was reconvened the next year at Nicea. In the meantime, troops unfavourable to the orthodox faith were conveniently transfered to the furthest ends of the empire to keep them out of the way.
When the council reconvened, the Patriarch Tarasius begged those present to keep their comments brief, but in vain. The debate was drawn out, as each side cited numerous quotations from Scriptures and the Fathers. They finally agreed to allow the veneration of images, but this decision was neither popular with the elite in the Eastern Church (though the laity approved) nor among the Frankish Church. Charlemagne received a poor translation of the council canons and commissioned Theodulf, bishop of Orleans to pen a refutation of the veneration of images. Charlemagne allowed for their presence as ornamentation, but not for veneration. Subsequent emperors of the Byzantine Empire also opposed the council; from 813-842, there were three iconoclast emperors: Leo V (813-820) Michael II (820-829) and Theophilus (829-842). In 842, Empress Theodora became regent and though she was hesistant about reversing her dead husband's policies, she appointed Methodius as Patriarch and in 843 he condemned iconoclasm and proclaimed the first Sunday of Lent to be the Feast of Orthodoxy, to celebrate the victory of the faith. This feast is still observed today.
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