Council of Serdica
The Council of Serdica was one of the series of councils (or synods) called to adjust the doctrinal and other difficulties of the Arian controversy, held most probably in 343 AD in St. Sophia Church in Serdica or Sardica (now Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria). It was attended by 316 bishops. It was called by the Roman Emperors Constans and Constantius II at the request of Pope Julius I.
Hosius of Cordova and other bishops desired peace and a final judgment in the case of Athanasius of Alexandria and other bishops alternately condemned and vindicated by councils in the East and the West. They also desired to definitively settle the confusion arising from the many doctrinal formulas in circulation, and suggested that all such matters should be referred to a general council. In order to make the council thoroughly representative, Sardica in Dacia Inferior was chosen as the meeting place.
In 340 Athanasius of Alexandria was expelled from his diocese by the Arians. After spending three years in Rome, Athanasius went to Gaul to confer with Hosius. From there, they went to the Council of Sardica, which began in the summer, or, at latest, in the autumn of 343. Hosius, presided over the council.
Pope Julius I was represented by the priests Archidamus and Philoxenus, and the deacon Leo. Athanasius reported that bishops attended from Italy, Spain, Gaul, Africa, Britain, Egypt, Syria, Thrace and Pannonia. Ninety-six Western bishops presented themselves at Sardica; those from the East were less numerous.
Being in the minority, the Eastern bishops decided to act as a body, and, fearing defections, they all lodged in the same place. On the ground of being unwilling to recognize Athanasius, Marcellus of Ancyra and Asclepas, who had been excommunicated in Eastern synods, refused to sit in council with the Western bishops. Hosius of Cordova attempted to effect a compromise by inviting them to present privately to him their complaints against Athanasius, and by promising, in case Athanasius should be acquitted, to take him to Spain. These overtures failed. The Eastern bishops—although the council had been called expressly for the purpose of reopening the case in regard to those who had been excommunicated—defended their conduct on the plea that one council could not revise the decisions of another. Fearing domination of the council by Western bishops, many Eastern bishops left the council to hold another, the Council of Philippopolis, where they composed an encyclical and a new creed, which was dated from Sardica.
The Western bishops, thus abandoned, examined the cases of Athanasius, Marcellus, and Asclepas. No fresh investigation of charges against Athanasius was considered necessary, as these had already been rejected, and he and the other two bishops, who were permitted to present exculpatory documents, were declared innocent. In addition to this, censure was passed on the Eastern bishops for having abandoned the council, and several of them were deposed and excommunicated.
The question of a new creed containing some additions to that of Nicaea was discussed, but the bishops decided to add nothing to the accepted creed, and thus gave the Arians no pretext for saying that hitherto they had not been explicitly condemned. Though the form of a proposed creed was presented to the council, it was inserted in the encyclical addressed by the council to "all the bishops of the Catholic Church".
Before separating, the bishops enacted several important canons, especially concerning the transfer and trial of bishops and appeals. These canons, with the other documents of the council, were sent to Pope Julius with a letter signed by the majority of the attending bishops.
Sardica produced 21 Canons. In addition to the attempt to resolve the Arian issue, other major points were:
- "Let no bishop be allowed to remove from a small city to a different one: ...since no bishop could ever yet be found who endeavoured to be translated from a larger city to a smaller one. It is therefore evident that such persons are inflamed with excessive covetousness and are only serving ambition in order to have the repute of possessing greater authority."
- "...[I]f any such person should show himself so rash as perhaps to allege as an excuse and affirm that he has received letters from the people, ... I judge that these frauds must be condemned. ...In a town, some few, especially those who have not the true faith, can be easily bribed to demand this or that person as bishop.”
- "It is positively not permitted to ordain a bishop in a village or petty town, for which even one single presbyter is sufficient (for there is no necessity to ordain a bishop there)... and if a city should be found with a population so large as to be thought worthy of an episcopal see, let it receive one.
- "...certain bishops cease not to go to the Court, ...(not for the good of the Church nor, as is usual and right, to succour the poor or widows or orphans), but even seek to obtain worldly dignities and offices for certain persons. ...[W]e decree that no bishops go to the Court except those who may have been invited or summoned by letters of the God-fearing emperor. But since it often happens that those who are suffering from injustice or who are condemned for their offenses to deportation or banishment to an island, or, in short, have received some sentence or other, seek refuge with the mercy of the Church, such persons should be succored and pardon be begged for them without hesitation."
- "if perchance some rich man or professional advocate or ex-official be desired for bishop, he be not ordained until he have fulfilled the ministry of a reader and the office of deacon and presbyter, and so ascend, if he have shown himself worthy, through the several grades to the height of the episcopate. For by these promotions which in any case take a considerable length of time can be tested his faith, his discretion, his gravity and modesty. ...For it is not fitting, nor does order or discipline allow, that one be rashly or lightly ordained bishop, presbyter or deacon, who is a novice...But those [should be ordained] whose life has been tested and their merit approved by length of time."
"At this great gathering of prelates the case of Athanasius was taken up and once more his innocence reaffirmed. Two conciliar letters were prepared, one to the clergy and faithful of Alexandria, the other to the bishops of Egypt and Libya, in which the will of the Council was made known. The persecution against the orthodox party broke out with renewed vigor, and Constantius II was induced to prepare drastic measures against Athanasius and the priests who were devoted to him. Orders were given that if the Saint attempted to re-enter his Episcopal see, he should be put to death".
Both parties believed they had acted rightly: those of the East, because the Western bishops had insisted that Athanasius and Paul, whom they had deposed, should be accorded seats; and the Western bishops because of the retirement of those who had deposed them before the matter had been examined. The council failed entirely to accomplish its purpose. The pacification of the Church was not secured. As a result, the Council of Sardica failed to universally represent the church and is not one of the official Ecumenical Councils.
- Socrates Scholasticus, Church History, book 2, chapter 20.
- Healy, Patrick. "Council of Sardica." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 13. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 8 Dec. 2014
- Myers, Edward. "Hosius of Cordova." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 7. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 8 Dec. 2014
- "Council of Sardica", Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 14. (Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace), (Translated by Henry Percival), (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1900.)
- Catholic Encyclopedia, 1930, Cornelius Clifford, Athanasius.
- Hefele, French Translation, "Histoire des conciles", II, pt. II, 737-42
- Duchesne, "Hist. ancienne de l'Eglise", II, 215
- Carl Mirbt, Quellen zur Geschichte des Papsttums (Tübingen, 1901), p. 46 f.
- J. Friedrich, Die Unechtheit der Canones von Sardika (Vienna, 1902)
- F. X. Funk, "Die Echtheit der Canones von Sardica," Historisches Jahrbuch der Gorresgesellschaft, xxiii. (1902), pp. 497–5 16; ibid. xxvi. (1905), pp. 1–18, 255-274
- C. H. Turner, "The Genuineness of the Sardican Canons," The Journal of Theological Studies, iii. (London, 1902), PP. 37 0 -397. (C. M.)
- Encyclopædia Britannica 1911 – Council of Sardica
- Fordham University, Medieval Sourcebook – Sardica Canons
- Catholic Encyclopedia 1913 – Council of Sardica
- Sacred Texts, Early Church Fathers – Chapter XX Of the Council at Sardica
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