Roman Catholicism

Aged Pope John XXIII continues to make the early designation of “caretaker pope” look very premature. In his announced intention of calling an “ecumenical council,” he continues to gamer tremendous publicity for Roman Catholicism, giving the Soviets a run for their headlines, Lunik and Mikoyan notwithstanding.

Since 1563 there has been only one such gathering, the Vatican Council of 1869–70, and it created in Christendom a universal stir which prompted publication of a multitude of books and pamphlets even before the council’s assemblage. And the forthcoming council may not convene until 1961, due to the vast preparations demanded. But when it does occur, presumably in Rome, it will be big and exceedingly colorful with more than 3,500 ecclesiastics expected to attend. Apparently their chief consideration will be means of bringing about unity between their own church and other Christian communities.

There was a day when popes avoided church councils like the plague, for they regarded them as rivals to their own authority. But the Vatican Council changed this by absolutizing the pope’s power and thus making councils practically superfluous.

Early ecumenical councils were very different. Current papal domination was unknown. Such dangerous heresies as Arianism and Pelagianism, among others, were condemned. Of the twenty councils considered ecumenical by the Roman Catholic church, the Eastern Orthodox church accepts the first seven, and Anglicans have recognized as ecumenical the first four—sometimes the first six. The Trinitarian definitions of the first four councils are common property of Roman, Orthodox and Protestant alike.

The two most important and definitive councils for modern Romanism ...

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