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1911 Encyclopedia Britannica

Council of Sardica

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An ecclesiastical council convened in 343 by the emperors Constantius and Constans, to attempt a settlement of the Arian controversies, which were then at their height. Of the hundred and seventy bishops assembled, about ninety were Homousians - principally from the West - while on the other side were eighty Eusebians from the East. The anticipated agreement, however, was not attained; and the result of the council was simply to embitter the relations between the two great religious parties, and those between the Western and Eastern halves of the Empire. For as Athanasius and Marcellus of Ancyra appeared on the scene, and the Western bishops declined to exclude them, the Eusebian bishops of the East absolutely refused to discuss, and contented themselves with formulating a written protest addressed to numerous foreign prelates. That they instituted a rival congress of their own in Philippopolis is improbable. The bishops, however, who remained in Sardica (mod. Sofia in Bulgaria) formed themselves into a synod, and naturally declared in favour of Athanasius and Marcellus, while at the same time they anathematized the leaders of the Eusebian party. The proposal to draw up a new creed was rejected.

Especial importance attaches to this council through the fact that Canons 3-5 invest the Roman bishop with a prerogative which became of great historical importance, as the first legal recognition of his jurisdiction over other sees and the basis for the further development of his primacy. "In order to honour the memory of St Peter," it was enacted that any bishop, if deposed by his provincial synod, should be entitled to appeal to the bishop of Rome, who was then at liberty either to confirm the first decision or to order a new investigation. In the latter case, the tribunal was to consist of bishops from the neighbouring provinces, assisted - if he so chose - by legates of the Roman bishop. The clauses thus made the bishop of Rome president of a revisionary court; and afterwards Zosimus unsuccessfully attempted to employ these canons of Sardica, as decisions of the council of Nice, against the Africans. In the middle ages they were cited to justify the claim of the papacy to be the supreme court of appeal. Attacks on their authenticity have been conclusively repelled.

The canons are printed in C. Mirbt, Quellen zur Geschichte des Papsttums (Tubingen, 1901), p. 46 f.; Hefele, Conciliengeschichte, ed. 2, 1.533 sqq. See also, J. Friedrich, Die Unechtheit der Canones von Sardika (Vienna, 1902); on the other side 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.)

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Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Council of Sardica'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. 1910.

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