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VATICANII-COUNCILS Oct-12-2005 (440 words) With graphic posted Oct. 7. xxxi

Ecumenical councils include all of world's bishops gathered with pope

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- When all of the bishops of the Catholic Church are called together by the pope to deliberate ways to safeguard and promote church teaching and discipline, the gathering is called an "ecumenical council."

The Second Vatican Council, held in four sessions from 1962 to 1965, was the 21st ecumenical council. The 20th council -- the First Vatican Council -- was held in 1869-70.

Besides the fact that world gatherings of the Synod of Bishops are held much more often than ecumenical councils are, the key differences between a council and a world synod are the levels of participation and authority involved.

All Catholic bishops, including auxiliaries, have a right to attend and vote at an ecumenical council. The bishops at a world synod are either elected to represent their bishops' conferences or are appointed members by the pope.

With the pope's approval, the decisions of an ecumenical council are binding on the church, making a council the church's highest teaching authority. The members of synods, on the other hand, offer suggestions confidentially to the pope.

The difference is clear in the descriptions offered by the 1983 Code of Canon Law:

-- "The college of bishops exercises power over the universal church in a solemn manner in an ecumenical council."

-- "The Synod of Bishops is that group of bishops who have been chosen from different regions of the world and who meet at stated times to foster a closer unity between the Roman pontiff and the bishops, to assist the Roman pontiff with their counsel in safeguarding and increasing faith and morals and in preserving and strengthening ecclesiastical discipline, and to consider questions concerning the church's activity in the world."

The gathering of the apostles described in the 15th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles is considered the precedent for ecumenical councils; the apostles met for debate and discussion at a time of growing tension over whether non-Jewish converts to Christianity were obliged to follow all the dietary and other norms of Judaism.

The earliest ecumenical councils -- including Nicaea, Constantinople, Ephesus and Chalcedon -- were called to deal with heresies that threatened to tear apart Christianity.

The first seven councils, which are recognized by the Orthodox churches as well as by Catholics, clarified the basic teachings of the Christian faith.

Many of the 14 councils that have taken place since the split between Christians of the East and West attempted to find ways to heal the divisions within Christianity, although they also further clarified Catholic teachings on faith and morals and ordered reforms of the church's liturgy and its organization.


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