Mark Edwards

'Throughout the provinces of the Greek world', writes Tertullian, 'councils are gathered out of every church' (On fasting 3.6). The Latin ab universis ecclesiis must refer only to churches within the same district,1 for in the 1,950 years that have now elapsed since the 'Apostolic Council' in Jerusalem, there has not been one occasion on which the leaders of all the churches have assembled in the same locality. In Tertullian's day such a gathering might have been conceivable, but could hardly have been convened without the mandate, or sustained without the resources, of an emperor. The synods of which we hear are generally local ones - the commonest, and consequently the least often reported, being no doubt a small conclave between a bishop and his presbyters to rule on a single matter within the diocese. The bishop might then communicate the judgment to other bishops, as Serapion did when he confiscated the Gospel of Peter in Antioch (Eusebius, Church history 6.12); and where a decision touched the interests of other congregations, the defence of it might be addressed not to the major sees alone but to the clergy of a whole province. Even then, the purpose of such a document as Victor's letter announcing his suppression of the Asiatic date for Easter in Rome was to enjoin compliance, not to arouse debate (ibid. 5.24.9). Victor had already obtained the signature of the bishops outside Asia to a protocol approving the imposition of a uniform date for Easter in the capital; their colloquy might almost be called ecumenical, but no minutes have survived.2 More numerous, but less diverse in origin, were the Africans who mustered almost annually to endorse the resolutions of their metropolitan bishop, Cyprian of Carthage. The proceedings of these councils

1 See H. Hess, The early development of canon law, 10. General works on the history of the ecumenical councils include: C. Hefele, Histoire des conciles; H. R. Percival, The seven ecumenical councils of the undivided church; E. Schwartz (ed.), ACO 1; H. J. Sieben, Die Konzilsidee in der alten Kirche.

2 Eusebius, Church history 5.22-24.1, records that Polycrates attended the council, but not that he signed the agreement.

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