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Council of Trullo

Ecumenical Council of Trullo – Constantinople 692 AD
by Timothy Kenney, PhD

Since the Sixth Great and Holy Ecumenical Council did not debate church discipline nor establish any disciplinary cannons, legislative issues from both the Fifth and the Sixth Councils had remained unresolved. The Quinisext Ecumenical Council was held in 692 and is regarded as supplementing the Fifth Ecumenical Council of 553 and the Sixth Ecumenical Council of 681. The work of the council dealt mainly with legislative issues, ratifying 102 canons and decisions of the two earlier Ecumenical Councils.

The Quinisext Council was convened in 692 by Justinian II in Constantinople. It is often referred to as the Council in Trullo, because the sessions were held in the same domed room where the Sixth Council was conducted. Both the Fifth and the Sixth Councils had adjourned without drawing up disciplinary canons. The 692 council was convened with the intention to complete the work of the earlier councils in this respect, and it was from this aspect that it took the name Quinisext (i.e., Fifth-Sixth Council).

Two hundred and eleven bishops attended the council, all from the Eastern Roman Empire. Basil of Gortyna in Illyria/Crete, however, belonged to the Church of Rome and claimed that he represented the Roman Church, though no evidence exists of his right to make this claim. In fact, Pope Sergius of Rome refused to sign the canons, citing them as “lacking authority”, when they were sent to him for signature. The Western Church never recognized the 102 disciplinary canons of this council, although later statements by some of the bishops of Rome, notably Popes Constantine and Hadrian I, seem to show an acceptance that could be summed up as expressed by Pope John VIII: that he accepted all those canons which did not contradict the true faith, good morals, and decrees of Rome. The Orthodox Churches consider this council as ecumenical and adds its canons to the decrees of the Fifth and Sixth Councils.

The canons decreed at Trullo professed faith in all the previous Ecumenical Councils and anathematized those who did not 'hold and embrace' the dogmas promulgated by these Councils. They prohibited ordination of man married more than once or married to previously married woman and supported the deposition of any clergy discovered to be guilty of same or marrying after ordination. Some canons did approve marriage before ordination to diaconate or priesthood and ordered that deacons or a priest who separated from his wife was to be deposed. Declared the patriarch of New Rome (Constantinople) should have equal privileges as the patriarch of Old Rome. The Council of Trullo established monastic regulations. It enacted a canon permitting only the Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified (a vespers service where communion is received from that which was previously consecrated) on days of Lent because these are days of fasting (Saturdays, Sundays, and the Feast of the Annunciation excluded). The Council also enacted canons regarding fasting (prohibition of fasting on Saturdays or Sundays, except Holy Saturday; prohibition of eggs and cheese). There was also a canon mandating excommunication for one week for laymen administering the Divine Mysteries when a bishop, priest, or deacon present. It condemned soothsaying, fortune-telling, casting of spells, superstition, etc. It prohibited marriage to heretics. It also made assisting in abortion or having abortion equivalent to murder. Procedures were also established for accepting heretics into the Church.

At the Seventh Ecumenical Council at Nicaea (787), the Greek bishops referred to canons from the Council in Trullo as belonging to the sixth general council, but this declaration was not ratified by the Latin Church. The Greeks have continually regarded the Trullan canons as acts of an ecumenical council, but the Latins have generally ignored or rejected the canons.

Although the Council in Trullo was never fully accepted by the Latin Church at any time, the Greeks intended its canons to serve as a rule for the entire Catholic Church. Thus, the decrees of this council are a valuable resource for understanding what the Greeks of the late seventh century considered to be apostolic faith and practice. In several places, the Trullan canons condemn Latin customs that differed from Greek practices believed to be of apostolic origin, yet the council did allow for diverse regional customs where these did not contradict the teaching of the Apostles. The canons also endorse many moral and religious doctrines and customs that some modern writers have erroneously regarded as Latin inventions from the High Middle Ages. The Council in Trullo is an important witness to the antiquity and universality of the Church's teaching on abortion, infant baptism, and the Eucharist. The canons also prove that the Greeks were not in profound disagreement with the Latins on many issues of ecclesiastical authority that would later attain prominence.

We now turn to the Seventh Great and Holy Ecumenical Council, The Second Council of Nicaea, 787 AD.

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