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Council of Aquileia (381 A.D.)


In the history of Christianity and later of the Roman Catholic Church, the Roman city of Aquileia at the head of the Adriatic was the seat of an ancient episcopal see, the seat of the Patriarch of Aquileia. That city held a number of church synods (councils of bishops), referred to as the Councils of Aquileia, which were part of the struggle between Arian and orthodox ideas in Christianity. The Councils of Aquleia were held in 381, 553, 579, 698, 1184, 1409 and 1598 A.D.

The Council of Aquileia of 381 A.D. was held in September. This council requested the Emperors Theodosius and Gratian to convene at Alexandria a general council of all bishops in order to put an end to the Meletian schism at Antioch that had been ongoing since 362 A.D. The council was summoned by the Western Roman Emperor Gratian, to explicitly "solve the contradictions of discordant teaching", but in fact was organized by Aurelius Ambrosius (better known in English as Ambrose or St. Ambrose), the bishop of Milan, presided over by Valarian, the Bishop of Aquileia and attended by thirty-two bishops of the West from Italy, Africa, Gaul and Illyria, among them St. Philastrius of Brescia and St. Justus of Lyons, deposing from their offices two bishops of the Eastern province of Dacia, Palladius of Ratiaria and Secundianus of Singidunum who were partisans of Arianism, the teaching first attributed to Arius (c. 250-336 A.D.), a Christian presbyter in Alexandria, Egypt, that was based on the belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, created by God the Father, distinct from the Father and therefore subordinate to the father. Opposed to the Arian teaching was the mainstream doctrine of the Trinity which was not founded in scripture but had been formally affirmed at the first of seven ecumenical councils, the First Council of Nicaea of 325 A.D. that was convened by Emperor Constantine and which had banished the two Arians defenders to Illyria, along with Arius, deeming their beliefs to be a heresy.

Palladius had applied to the Eastern Roman Emperor for an opportunity to clear himself before a general council of the charges concerning the nature of Christ and was unwilling to submit to a council of the Western bishops only, for Ambrose had previously assured the Emperor of the West that such a matter as the soundness or heresy of just two bishops might be settled by a council simply consisting of the bishops of the Diocese of Italy alone. Politics and Christology were inextricably entangled in the 4th century: "You have contrived, as appears by the sacred document (Gratian's amended convocation) which you have brought forward, that this should not be a full and General Council: in the absence of our Colleagues we cannot answer", was Palladius' stand.

Ambrose was a staunch opponent of Arianism, and has been accused of fostering persecutions of Arians, Jews, and pagans. Ambrose proposed that Arius' letter from Nicomedia to Alexander, bishop of Alexandria, should be read in detail, and Palladius be called upon to defend or condemn each heretical proposition that disputed Catholic orthodoxy. Arius had said that the Father alone is eternal; the Catholics insisted that the Son was co-eternal. Palladius quoted Scripture, which Ambrose skirted. Ambrose rested upon the verbal formulas recently agreed upon by authority of the Church, while Palladius refused to admit the legitimacy of the proceedings. The other bishops unanimously pronounced anathema on all counts, and the matter was settled. The surviving partial transcript of the proceedings reveal the character of Ambrose and the manner and technique of his argument. Of Palladius it is said by Vigilius, a late 5th century bishop of Thapsus in Africa, that after Ambrose's death (397 A.D.) he wrote a reply to Ambrose's writings against Arianism, which Vigilius in turn wrote to counter.

Further reading:

  • Proceedings of the council, among the letters of Ambrose
  • "Councils of Aquileia". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913.
  • Scolies Ariennes sur le Concile d'Aquilee, introduction, text, and notes Roger Gryson, Sources chretiennes 267 (Paris: Cerf, 1980).
  • Neil B. McLynn, Ambrose of Milan: Church and Court in a Christian Capital (Berkeley: U California Press, 1994).

A council held in 381, presided over by St. Valerian of Aquileia, and attended by thirty-two bishops, among them St. Philastrius of Brescia and St. Justus of Lyons, deposed from their offices certain stubborn partisans of Arius. This council also requested the Emperors Theodosius and Gratian to convene at Alexandria a council of all Catholic bishops in order to put an end to the Meletian Schism at Antioch, since 362 the source of the greatest scandal in the Christian Orient. The council of 553 inaugurated the schism that for nearly a century separated many churches of Northern Italy from the Holy See; in it the Bishops of Venetia, Istria, and Liguria refused to accept the decrees of the Fifth General Council (553) on the plea that by the condemnation of the Three Chapters it had undone the work of the Council of Chalcedon (451). The Council of 1184 was held against incendiaries and those guilty of sacrilege. In 1409 a council was held by Gregory XII against the pretensions of the rival popes, Benedict XIII (Peter de Luna) and Alexander V (Peter of Candia). He declared them schismatical, but promised to renounce the papacy if they would do the same. In 1596 Francesco Barbaro, Patriarch of Aquileia, held a council at which he renewed in nineteen decrees the legislation of the Council of Trent.

MANSI, Coll. Conc., III, 599; IX, 659; XII, 115-118; and passim; CHEVALlER, Topo-bibliog. (Paris, 1894-99), 189.

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Created: Wednesday, February 24, 2016; Last updated: Wednesday February 24, 2016
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