Lateran Council

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Lateran Council is a term used to designate local ecclesiastical synods in the Western Church that were convened in the Lateran Palace in Rome. Of those councils after the Great Schism, the Roman Catholic Church considers five as ecumenical which are not accepted as such by the Orthodox Church. Among those councils held in the Lateran Palace before the schism, the Lateran Council of 649 was the most significant.

Lateran Council of 649

The Lateran Council of 649 was a local council of the Church of Rome organized by Maximus the Confessor and called by Pope Theodore I of Rome that was the first attempt by a pope of Rome to convene an ecumenical council independent of the Roman emperor. Pope Theodore died before the council met and was replaced by Pope Martin I. Although Martin and Maximus the Confessor were abducted after the council by Constans II and tried in Constantinople for their role in the council (Martin being replaced as pope before his death in exile), their position was ultimately endorsed by the Sixth Ecumenical Council in 680.

The synod had its roots in correspondence between Pope Theodore I and Maximus dating to 646, before the latter's arrival in Rome. The momentum for the Council was almost extinguished when Patriarch Pyrrhus I of Constantinople in late 646/early 647 denounced Monothelitism before the clergy and laity in Roma. However, Pyrrhus changed his mind after leaving Rome and arriving in Ravenna. His successor, Paul II of Constantinople, was of the same mind.

Emperor Constans II issued the Typos in 648 which prohibited any discussion of the issue of "one will and one energy, or two energies and two wills" in Christ. The Typos was viewed as an unacceptable threat to the legacy of Chalcedon, and thus hardened the determination of Theodore and Maximus to convene a council. Maximus and other monks from his order did all of planning, preparation, and scripting of the Council, while there is little evidence that Pope Theodore did much to prepare for it.

On May 14, 649, Theodore died while preparations were on-going for the Council. His death left Maximus without his patron and collaborator of the last three years with the Papacy vacant at one of the most crucial times in the church's history. The Roman clergy were faced with the difficult dilemma of finding a successor with the intellectual reputation to convene the Council, and who would not be denied the iussio of the emperor required for his consecration.

On July 5, 649, with the influence of Maximus, a deacon from Todi, in central Italy, was consecrated Pope Martin I, the first (and only) pope consecrated without imperial approval during the period of the Byzantine Papacy. Although he was the former apocrisiarius to Constantinople and well respected in the East, Martin's election was an indisputable "battle cry against Constantinople". Martin's stature and proficiency in Greek was attested to by Theodore's offer to appoint Martin as his personal representative to an earlier proposed synod in Constantinople.

News of the impending council reached Constantinople as Martin prepared for it during the summer and fall of 649, but the empire was too occupied with crises in the East to divert its attention. Far from being spontaneous or extemporaneous, the Council had been meticulously prepared and rehearsed over the previous three years. Despite Martin's nominal role in presiding over the Council, none of its participants were ignorant of the decisive influence of Maximus in bringing it about. According to Ekonomou, the Council was "in form as well as substance, a manifestly Byzantine affair".

The Council was attended by 105 bishops, all but one from the western portion of the Eastern Roman Empire. Stephen of Dor, a Palestinian, was the only bishop whose See was not in Italy, Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica, or Africa. Transalpine Europe, Spain, Greece, and Crete—despite lying within the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of Rome—were not represented. One-fourth of the bishops were (as indicated by their names) likely of Eastern ethnicity or origin and thus probably Greek-speaking.

The Council was convened on October 5, 649 by the cleric Theophylaktos, the principal notary of the Apostolic See and chief of the papal chancery and library, with the invocation of the regnal year of the "august and most pious lord Constantine". Pope Martin I then read a pre-prepared speech criticizing Monothelitism (a view held by the then Patriarchs of Constantinople and Alexandria), and denouncing the Ecthesis and Typos. The last session of the council took place on October 31. The council's acts and decrees were disseminated along with a papal encyclical.

The Council's formal pronouncements amounted to 20 canons. Canons X and XI are the ones that specifically took up the subject of Christ's two wills and two energies, and were based mainly on Maximus's earlier disputation against Pyrrhus while in Carthage.

Within four years of the closing of the Council, in June 653, Martin and Maximus were arrested and brought to Constantinople for trial, for violating the Typos's prohibition on discussing the subject.

During his trial in June 654 Maximus was asked by sakellarios Troilus where he had condemned the Typos, to which he replied at the synod of Rome in the Basilica of St. John Lateran. Receiving an exclamation in reply that the Roman pontiff had been deposed, Maximus responded that the validity of the argument of the Council did not depend on the legitimacy of the pontiff that convened it.

Pope Martin I was exiled, eventually to Tauric Chersonese in May 655. The successor to Martin I, Pope Eugene I, elected in August 654 while Martin was still living and his name retained its anathema, was not mentioned by any of his successors for 75 years. Pope Eugene I, however, normalized papal relations with Constantinople, and although he avoided pressing the issues of the Christological controversy, he refused a letter from the Patriarch of Constantinople that was vague about the number of wills or operations.


  • Ekonomou, Andrew J. 2007. Byzantine Rome and the Greek Popes: Eastern influences on Rome and the papacy from Gregory the Great to Zacharias, A.D. 590-752. Lexington Books.[1]