Ecumenical Councils




  1. At the end of this two-lesson cycle, students should be able to name each of the seven councils, its major players, and the major decisions reached.
  2. Students should understand the concilliar process for major theological decision-making in the Church and its purpose in safeguarding orthodoxy for all of us.


Possible Lesson Plan:

  1. Open with prayer each week. The weeks will not be separated here – the same teacher will continue for both weeks, breaking up the lesson as needed by time constraints.


First review the two councils already studied: the Council of Jerusalem in the first century and the Council of Nicea in 325 AD. Who presided over each? Who was present? What was decided? Do Christians always agree about everything? Even as early as the first century there was disagreement – but one Church.


  1. Now present the rest of the Councils:





Major Decisions



St. Athanasius

St. Nicholas

Emperor Constantine


Condemned the Arian heresy, which  

      taught that Christ was not truly God.

Proclaimed first part of Creed.

Established the date of Pascha.



Emperor Theodosios

St.Gregory Theologian

St. Gregory of Nyssa

Defined the teaching on the Holy Trinity,

      against the heresy of Macedonius,

      who said the Holy Spirit was inferior

      to the Father and the Son

Completed the Creed.

Declared the Bishop of Constantinople

      second only to the Bishop of Rome

      because Constantinople is New Rome



Emp. Theodosius II

St. Cyril of Alexandria


Defined the doctrine about the Theotokos

      against the heresy of Nestorius who

      said she was only “Christotokos”,

      splitting Jesus into two separate


Declared text of Creed finished and

      Forbade any future changes in it!




Emperor Marcian

Leo the Great of Rome

Condemned heresy of the Monophysites,

      led by a monk named Eutyches,

      who said Christ was only God and

      not Man, also.



Emperor Justinian

Stated again teaching about 2 natures of

      Christ and condemned both the  

      Monophysites and the Nestorian

      teachings of Bishops Theodore of

      Mopsuestia, Theodoret of Cyrus, and

      Ibas of Edessa.




Condemned the teachings of  “Monothe-

      litism, which said Jesus’s divine   

      nature made all the decisions and His

      human nature carried them out –

      another form of Monophysitism.



Empress Irene

“Icons are to be venerated; God alone is to  be served in faith.”




  1. The Ecumenical councils involved all the bishops of the Church, not just a chosen few. As early as the 1st century, Christians disagreed about various issues. But, they could remain one united Church, as Jesus Himself wanted by submitting the important decisions to all the bishops together. One man might be led astray; most of those branded heretics (What’s a heretic?) were men who made an honest mistake. But, the Holy Spirit has protected the true faith of the Church through the decisions made by all its bishops together. This is all part of holy Tradition; the teachings of the Church fathers and the Church herself, helping us interpret the Scriptures. No Scripture is of individual interpretation; we study the councils and the Church Fathers to help us to correctly understand all things.


  1. Historical background: Each of these councils did not occur in a vacuum.  What was happening in the world and in the Church at the time of each council? Be sure to have maps handy for discussion of the various cities and nations.

1st Council: Constantine the Great had just united the Empire, made Christianity legal, and moved the capital to Constantinople. But he found the Church involved in a huge dispute caused by the teachings of a priest named Arius. The Emperor himself called the Council and presided over it in order to reunite His new Church.

2nd Council: After the death of Constantine, his son Constantius tried to bring back Arianism,and, after Constantius, Emperor Julian (the Apostate) tried actually to bring back paganism! Two brothers followed, Valens in the East and Valentinian in the West. Valens was an Arian, Valentinian Orthodox. Finally, Emperor Theodosios declared Christianity to be the official religion of the Empire. He found the Church’s disputes dividing his empire. He called the 2nd Council in Constantinople to try to confirm the Nicene Creed in the face of the teachings of Macedonius, who was teaching that the Holy Spirit was inferior to the Father and the Son, a new heresy. He is known as Theodosios the Great.

3rd Council: In trying to stamp out Arian teachings, Bishop Apollinarius of Laodicea said Christ was really God and only needed a body to appear to men. This was called Apollinarianism. One step further – Bishop Nestorius of Constantinople said that, in that case, Mary wasn’t the mother of His divine (and more important) nature, she was only the mother of His body – Christotokos instead of Theotokos. Bishop Cyril of Alexandria vehemently opposed this interpretation. Emperor Theodosius II called the 3rd Council to settle this issue. The heresies of both Apollinarius and Nestorius were condemned.

4th Council: Now the school of Alexandria, in a reaction to the Nestorians, decided that the divine nature of Christ was His only nature. The major proponent of this idea was a monk named Eutyches.This heresy was called Monophysitism (“mono” meaning “one” and “phys” meaning “nature”). The Bishop of Rome, Leo the Great, asked the Emperor Marcian to call yet another council. But, even after the council at Chalcedon condemned Monophysitism, Jerusalem, Antioch, and Alexandria continued to support the one nature of Christ. To this day, the Armenian, Coptic (Egyptian), and several smaller Churches remain Monophysite.

5th Council: A series of weak emperors followed and Rome fell to the barbarians. Finally, in 527 AD Justinian took the throne. He is known as Justinian the Great and succeeded in conquering back large areas of the Western Empire and uniting the Church. He called the 5th Council in hopes of ending once and for all the Monophysite and Nestorian controversies. But, as noted above, a few churches, the largest of which was Alexandria in Egypt, refused to give up their cherished beliefs.

6th Council: After Justinian came a series of weak Emperors, leading to a dangerous situation with the Persians on the East. They saw a potential target in the weakened empire with small army, bankrupt treasury, and poor government. They captured Antioch and Jerusalem; even the cross found by Helen was taken back to Persia. Then they took Alexandria and Egypt. They were at the doors of Constantinople itself. Emperor Heraclius took the throne; he was popular and a strong ruler and general. He defeated the Persians near the old city of Ninevah (Remember Ninevah, capital of Assyria, from the story of Jonah?) and all lands were given back. The cross made a triumphal reentry into Jerusalem in 630 AD. The 6th Council was held to decide on the fate of a heresy called “Monothelitism”, an offshoot of Monophysitism, which was condemned and disappeared.

7th Council: This council gets its own lesson later; just learn the bare details for listing purposes for now.


  1. For a craft and learning game, make a Question and Answer Scope: Take a cardboard gift box about 9x12x2 inches. In the lid cut 2 3-inch windows about 4 inches apart. Print “Question” over the left and “Answer” over the right. Put the lid on the box and poke 2 holes with a pencil through each side, lined up carefully so you can put dowels through. On a piece of 4-5-inch adding machine tape, carefully trace pairs of squares exactly matching the spacing on the windows. Print pairs of Questions/Answers in the boxes. Tape one end of the paper to each dowel and roll the whole thing up onto the right dowel. Advance the paper by turning the left dowel to see first question and then answer. Sample questions/answers?

Where was the First Ecumenical Council held?                           Nicea

Who called the First Ecumenical Council?                                   Constantine

Whose teachings were condemned at the 1st Council?                 Arius

Which Council set the date of Pascha?                                        First

Who tried to lead the Empire back to paganism?                         Julian the Apostate

Who made Christianity the official religion of the Empire?         Theodosios the Great

Who said the Holy Spirit was inferior to the Father and Son?     Macedonius

Who called the Second Ecumenical Council?                              Theodosios the Great

Where was the Second Council held?                                          Constantinople

What was the New Rome?                                                           Constantinople

Which Council proclaimed the Patriarch of Constantinople        Second

      second only to Rome in importance?

Who called Mary “Christotokos”?                                                Nestorius

Which Bishop opposed Nestorius at the 3rd Council?                  Cyril of Alexandria

Where was the Third Ecumenical Council held?                          Ephesus

Who did the 3rd Council proclaim that Mary is?                           Theotokos

Which heresy taught that Jesus was only divine?                         Monophysitism

Which city was the center of the Monophysite heresy?               Alexandria, Egypt

Where was the 4th Council held?                                                  Chalcedon

What heresy was condemned by the 4th Council?                        Monophysitism

Who called the 5th Ecumenical Council?                                      Justinian the Great

Where was the 5th Council held?                                                  Constantinople

Which two heresies were condemned by the 5th Council?         Nestorian/Monophysite

Name two national churches that are Monophysite?                    Egypt, Armenia

Who stole the Holy Cross from Jerusalem?                                  Persians

What Emperor defeated the Persians?                                          Heraclius

What heresy states that Jesus’s divine nature makes all the         Monothelitism

     decisions and his human nature just carries them out?

Where was the 6th Ecumenical Council held?                               Constantinople

What heresy was condemned by the 6th Council?                        Monothelitism

Who called the 7th Ecumenical Council?                                      Empress Irene

Where was the 7th Council held?                                                  Nicea

What veneration was upheld by the 7th Council?                         Icons






  1. Close with prayer: Lord, give me the wisdom to understand Your true nature thru the guidance of the Ecumenical Councils.