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Home > Fathers of the Church > Synod of Antioch in Encaeniis (A.D. 341)

Synod of Antioch in Encaeniis (A.D. 341)

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Historical Introduction

Of the Synod of Antioch which adopted the canons subsequently received into the code of the universal church we know the exact date. This is fixed by the fact that the synod was held at the time of the dedication of the great church in Antioch, known as the Golden, which had been begun by his father, Constantine the Great, and was finished in the days of Constantius. The synod has for this reason always been known as the Synod of Antioch in Encæniis, i.e., at the dedication (in Dedicatione), and was holden in the summer of the year 341. Ninety-seven bishops assembled together and a large number of them were hostile to St. Athanasius, being professed Eusebians, all of them were Orientals and most of them belonged to the patriarchate of Antioch. Not a single Western or Latin bishop was present and the pope, Julius, was in no way represented. This fact gave Socrates the historian the opportunity of making the statement (around which such polemics have raged), that an ecclesiastical canon commands that the churches should not make decrees against the opinion of the bishop of Rome.

But while this much is all clear, there is no council that presents a greater amount of difficulty to the historian as well as to the theologian. No one can deny that St. Hilary of Poictiers, who was a contemporary, styled it a Synod of Saints (Synodus Sanctorum) ; that two of its canons were read at Chalcedon as the canons of the Holy Fathers; and that Popes John II, Zacharias, and Leo IV all approved these canons, and attributed them to Holy Fathers. And yet this synod set forth creeds to rival that of Nice, and, it is said, that some of the canons were adopted to condemn Athanasius.

Various attempts have been made to escape from these difficulties.

It has been suggested that there really were two Synods at Antioch, the one orthodox, which adopted the canons, the other heretical.

Father Emanuel Schelstraten, S. J. improved on this theory. He supposed that the Eusebians stopped behind in Antioch after the orthodox bishops left and then passed the decrees against Athanasius, giving out that the synod was still in session. This has been adopted by Pagi, Remi Ceillier, Walch, and to a certain extent by Schröckh and others. But Tillemont demurs to this view, urging that according to Socrates the deposition of Athanasius came first and the adoption of the canons afterwards. But Tillemont would seem to have misunderstood Socrates on this point and this objection falls to the ground. But another objection remains, viz., that both Socrates and Sozomen say that the creeds were drawn up after the deposition of Athanasius, and yet (as Hefele remarks, Vol. II., p. 63), St. Hilary says that these creeds proceeded from a ‘Synod of Saints.'

Schelstraten's hypothesis not being satisfactory, the learned Ballerini, in their appendix to the Opera S. Leonis M., have set forth another theory with which Mansi agrees in his Notes on Alexander Natalis's Church History. These maintain that the canons did not come from the Council in Encæniis at all, but from another synod held before, in 332; but Hefele rejects this hypothesis altogether, on the following grounds. First and chiefest because it has no external evidence to support it; and secondly because the internal evidence is most unsatisfactory. But even if the 25 canons were adopted by a synod at Antioch in 332, the real difficulty would not be obviated, for Socrates says of that synod that there too the opposers of the Nicene faith were able to elect their candidate to fill the place of the banished bishop Eustathius!

Hefele seems to give the true solution of the whole difficulty when he says: Certainly Athanasius identified the Eusebians with the Arians and we regard them as at least Semi-arians; but at that time, after they had made the orthodox confession of faith, and repeatedly declared their disapproval of the heresies condemned at Nice, they were considered, by the greater number, as lawful bishops, and thoroughly orthodox and saintly men might without hesitation unite with them at a synod.

Pope Julius styles the very Eusebian synod that deposed Athanasius dear brethren while blaming their action, and invited them to a common synod to enquire into the charges made against the Saint. In view of all this we may well believe that both orthodox and Eusebians met together at the consecration of the Emperor's new church, and that the whole church afterwards awarded the canons then adopted a rank in accordance with their intrinsic worth, and without any regard to the motives or shades of theological opinion that swayed those who drafted and voted for them.

The Synodal Letter

The holy and most peaceful Synod which has been gathered together in Antioch from the provinces of Cœle-Syria, Phœnicia, Palestine, Arabia, Mesopotamia, Cilicia, and Isauria; to our like-minded and holy fellow Ministers in every Province, health in the Lord.

The grace and truth of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ has regarded the holy Church of the Antiochians, and, by joining it together with unity of mind and concord and the Spirit of Peace, has likewise bettered many other things; and in them all this betterment is wrought by the assistance of the holy and peace-giving Spirit. Wherefore, that which after much examination and investigation, was unanimously agreed upon by us bishops, who coming out of various Provinces have met together in Antioch, we have now brought to your knowledge; trusting in the grace of Christ and in the Holy Spirit of Peace, that you also will agree with us and stand by us as far as in you lies, striving with us in prayers, and being even more united with us, following the Holy Spirit, uniting in our definitions, and decreeing the same things as we; you, in the concord which proceeds of the Holy Spirit, sealing and confirming what has been determined.

Now the Canons of the Church which have been settled are hereto appended.

The Canons

Canon 1

Whosoever shall presume to set aside the decree of the holy and great Synod which was assembled at Nice in the presence of the pious Emperor Constantine, beloved of God, concerning the holy and salutary feast of Easter; if they shall obstinately persist in opposing what was [then] rightly ordained, let them be excommunicated and cast out of the Church; this is said concerning the laity. But if any one of those who preside in the Church, whether he be bishop, presbyter, or deacon, shall presume, after this decree, to exercise his own private judgment to the subversion of the people and to the disturbance of the churches, by observing Easter [at the same time] with the Jews, the holy Synod decrees that he shall thenceforth be an alien from the Church, as one who not only heaps sins upon himself, but who is also the cause of destruction and subversion to many; and it deposes not only such persons themselves from their ministry, but those also who after their deposition shall presume to communicate with them. And the deposed shall be deprived even of that external honour, of which the holy Canon and God's priesthood partake.

Canon 2

All who enter the church of God and hear the Holy Scriptures, but do not communicate with the people in prayers, or who turn away, by reason of some disorder, from the holy partaking of the Eucharist, are to be cast out of the Church, until, after they shall have made confession, and having brought forth the fruits of penance, and made earnest entreaty, they shall have obtained forgiveness; and it is unlawful to communicate with excommunicated persons, or to assemble in private houses and pray with those who do not pray in the Church; or to receive in one Church those who do not assemble with another Church. And, if any one of the bishops, presbyters, or deacons, or any one in the Canon shall be found communicating with excommunicated persons, let him also be excommunicated, as one who brings confusion on the order of the Church.

John Zonaras: In this canon the Fathers refer to such as go to church but will not tarry to the prayer nor receive holy Communion, held back by some perversity or license, that is to say without any just cause, but petulantly, and by reason of some disorder [ἀταξίαν]; these are forbidden to be expelled from the Church, that is to say cut off from the congregation of the faithful. But the Fathers call it a turning away from, not a hatred of the divine Communion, which holds them back from communion; a certain kind of flight from it, brought about perchance by reverence and lowliness of mind. Those who object to communicate by reason of hatred or disgust, such must be punished not with mere separation, but by an altogether absolute excommunication, and be cursed with anathema.

Canon 3

If any presbyter or deacon, or any one whatever belonging to the priesthood, shall forsake his own parish, and shall depart, and, having wholly changed his residence, shall set himself to remain for a long time in another parish, let him no longer officiate; especially if his own bishop shall summon and urge him to return to his own parish and he shall disobey. And if he persist in his disorder, let him be wholly deposed from his ministry, so that no further room be left for his restoration. And if another bishop shall receive a man deposed for this cause, let him be punished by the Common Synod as one who nullifies the ecclesiastical laws.

Compare with Canons of the Apostles xv. and xvi.

Canon 4

If any bishop who has been deposed by a synod, or any presbyter or deacon who has been deposed by his bishop shall presume to execute any part of the ministry, whether it be a bishop according to his former custom, or a presbyter, or a deacon, he shall no longer have any prospect of restoration in another Synod; nor any opportunity of making his defense; but they who communicate with him shall all be cast out of the Church, and particularly if they have presumed to communicate with the persons aforementioned, knowing the sentence pronounced against them.

This canon derives its chief interest from the fact that it is usually considered to have been adopted at the instigation of the party opposed to St. Athanasius and that afterwards it was used against St. Chrysostom. But while such may have been the secret reason why some voted for it and others prized it, it must be remembered that its provision is identical with that of the Apostolic Canons, and that it was read at the Council of Chalcedon as Canon eighty-three. Remi Ceillier (Histoire Genéral des Autheurs, p. 659) tries to prove that this is not the canon which St. Chrysostom and his friends rejected, but Hefele thinks his position altogether untenable (Hist. of the Councils, Vol. II., p. 62, n. 1), and refers to Tillemont (Mémoires, p. 329, Sur les Arians, and Fuchs' Bib. der Kirchenversammlungen, P. II., p. 59. ). (Compare Apostolic Canon 28.)

Canon 5

If any presbyter or deacon, despising this own bishop, has separated himself from the Church, and gathered a private assembly, and set up an altar; and if, when summoned by his bishop, he shall refuse to be persuaded and will not obey, even though he summon him a first and a second time, let such an one be wholly deposed and have no further remedy, neither be capable of regaining his rank. And if he persist in troubling and disturbing the Church, let him be corrected, as a seditious person, by the civil power.

Canon 6

If any one has been excommunicated by his own bishop, let him not be received by others until he has either been restored by his own bishop, or until, when a synod is held, he shall have appeared and made his defense, and, having convinced the synod, shall have received a different sentence. And let this decree apply to the laity, and to presbyters and deacons, and all who are enrolled in the clergy-list.

Canon 7

No stranger shall be received without letters pacifical.

Canon 8

Let not country presbyters give letters canonical, or let them send such letters only to the neighbouring bishops. But the chorepiscopi of good report may give letters pacifical.

These letters canonical were called in the West letters formatæ, and no greater proof of the great influence they had in the early days of the Church in binding the faithful together can be found than the fact that Julian the Apostate made an attempt to introduce something similar among the pagans of his empire.

Commendatory letters (ἐπιστολαὶ συστατικαὶ) are spoken of by St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 3:1, and the reader will find some interesting remarks on this and cognate subjects in J. J. Blunt's, The Christian Church during the first three centuries (Chapter II).

By means of these letters even the lay people found hospitality and care in every part of the world, and it was thrown up against the Donatists as a mark of their being schismatics that their canonical letters were good only among themselves.

Pseudo-Isidore informs us that it was stated at the Council of Chalcedon by Atticus, bishop of Constantinople, that it was agreed at the Council of Nicaea that all such letters should be marked Π. Υ. Α. Π . (i.e. Father, Son, Holy Spirit), and it is asserted (Herzog, Real-Encyk., s.v. Literæ Formatæ) that this form is found in German documents of the sixth century.

As will be seen among the Canons of Chalcedon, the old name, Letters Commendatory, is continued, but in this canon and in the 41st of Laodicea the expression Canonical Letters is used. In the West, at least, these letters received the episcopal seal of the diocese to avoid all possibility of imposture. Dean Plumptre (whom I am following very closely in this note) believes the earliest evidence of this use of the diocesan seal is in Augustine (Epist. lix. al. ccxvij.) He also refers to Ducange, s.v. Formatæ.

As these letters admitted their bearers to communion they were sometimes called Communion letters (κοινωνικαὶ), and are so described by St. Cyril of Alexandria; and by the Council of Elvira (canon xxv.), and by St. Augustine (Epist. xliii. al. clxii).

The Letters Pacifical appear to have been of an eleemosynary character, so that the bearers of them obtained bodily help. Chalcedon in its eleventh canon ordains these Letters pacifical shall be given to the poor, whether they be clerics or laics. The same expression is used in the preceding canon of the synod.

A later form of ecclesiastical letter is that with which we are so familiar, the letter dimissory. This expression first occurs in Canon XVII. of the Council in Trullo. On this expression Suicer (Thesaurus, s.v. ἀπολυτικὴ) draws from the context the conclusion that letters dimissory were given only for permanent change of ecclesiastical residence, while, letters commendatory were given to those whose absence from their diocese was only temporary.

Canon 9

It behooves the bishops in every province to acknowledge the bishop who presides in the metropolis, and who has to take thought for the whole province; because all men of business come together from every quarter to the metropolis. Wherefore it is decreed that he have precedence in rank, and that the other bishops do nothing extraordinary without him, (according to the ancient canon which prevailed from [the times of] our Fathers) or such things only as pertain to their own particular parishes and the districts subject to them. For each bishop has authority over his own parish, both to manage it with the piety which is incumbent on every one, and to make provision for the whole district which is dependent on his city; to ordain presbyters and deacons; and to settle everything with judgment. But let him undertake nothing further without the bishop of the metropolis; neither the latter without the consent of the others.

By the ancient canon of which mention is here made, there can scarcely be a doubt is intended the xxxiv. of the Canons of the Apostles, since in it are read the same provisions (and almost in the same words) as here are set forth somewhat more at length; nor is there any other canon in which these provisions are found earlier in date than this synod, wherefore from this is deduced a strong argument for the integrity of the Canons of the Apostles.

Compare Apostolic Canon XXXIV.

Canon 10

The Holy Synod decrees that persons in villages and districts, or those who are called chorepiscopi, even though they may have received ordination to the Episcopate, shall regard their own limits and manage the churches subject to them, and be content with the care and administration of these; but they may ordain readers, sub-deacons and exorcists, and shall be content with promoting these, but shall not presume to ordain either a presbyter or a deacon, without the consent of bishop of the city to which he and his district are subject. And if he shall dare to transgress [these] decrees, he shall be deposed from the rank which he enjoys. And a chorepiscopus is to be appointed by the bishop of the city to which he is subject.

Canon 11

If any bishop, or presbyter, or any one whatever of the canon shall presume to betake himself to the Emperor without the consent and letters of the bishop of the province, and particularly of the bishop of the metropolis, such a one shall be publicly deposed and cast out, not only from communion, but also from the rank which he happens to have; inasmuch as he dares to trouble the ears of our Emperor beloved of God, contrary to the law of the Church. But, if necessary business shall require any one to go to the Emperor, let him do it with the advice and consent of the metropolitan and other bishops in the province, and let him undertake his journey with letters from them.

This canon is one of those magnificent efforts which the early church made to check the already growing inclination to what we have in later times learned to call Erastianism. Not only did the State, as soon as it became Christian, interfere in spiritual matters at its own motion, but there were found bishops and others of the clergy who not being able to attain their ends otherwise, appealed to the civil power, usually to the Emperor himself, and thus the whole discipline of the Church was threatened, and the authority of spiritual synods set aside. How unsuccessful the Church often was in this struggle is only too evident from the remarks of the Greek commentator Balsamon on this very canon.

Canon 12

If any presbyter or deacon deposed by his own bishop, or any bishop deposed by a synod, shall dare to trouble the ears of the Emperor, when it is his duty to submit his case to a greater synod of bishops, and to refer to more bishops the things which he thinks right, and to abide by the examination and decision made by them; if, despising these, he shall trouble the Emperor, he shall be entitled to no pardon, neither shall he have an opportunity of defense, nor any hope of future restoration.

It is usually supposed that this canon, as well as the fourth, and the fourteenth and fifteenth, was directed against St. Athanasius, and it was used against St. Chrysostom by his enemies. Vide Socrates, Ecclesiastical History, Book II., Chapter viij., and Sozomen's Ecclesiastical History, Book III., chapter v.; also ibid. Book VII., chapter xx.

Canon 13

No bishop shall presume to pass from one province to another, and ordain persons to the dignity of the ministry in the Church, not even should he have others with him, unless he should go at the written invitation of the metropolitan and bishops into whose country he goes. But if he should, without invitation, proceed irregularly to the ordination of any, or to the regulation of ecclesiastical affairs which do not concern him, the things done by him are null, and he himself shall suffer the due punishment of his irregularity and his unreasonable undertaking, by being immediately deposed by the holy Synod.

Canon 14

If a bishop shall be tried on any accusations, and it should then happen that the bishops of the province disagree concerning him, some pronouncing the accused innocent, and others guilty; for the settlement of all disputes, the holy Synod decrees that the metropolitan call on some others belonging to the neighbouring province, who shall add their judgment and resolve the dispute, and thus, with those of the province, confirm what is determined.

Canon 15

If any bishop, lying under any accusation, shall be judged by all the bishops in the province, and all shall unanimously deliver the same verdict concerning him, he shall not be again judged by others, but the unanimous sentence of the bishops of the province shall stand firm.

Canon 16

If any bishop without a see shall throw himself upon a vacant church and seize its throne, without a full synod, he shall be cast out, even if all the people over whom he has usurped jurisdiction should choose him. And that shall be [accounted] a full synod, in which the metropolitan is present.

This, together with the following canon, was recited by Bishop Leontius in the Council of Chalcedon, from the book of the canons, in which this is called the 95th and the following the 96th, according to the order observed in that book of the canons.

Canon 17

If any one having received the ordination of a bishop, and having been appointed to preside over a people, shall not accept his ministry, and will not be persuaded to proceed to the Church entrusted to him, he shall be excommunicated until he, being constrained, accept it, or until a full synod of the bishops of the province shall have determined concerning him.

Canon 18

If any bishop ordained to a parish shall not proceed to the parish to which he has been ordained, not through any fault of his own, but either because of the rejection of the people, or for any other reason not arising from himself, let him enjoy his rank and ministry; only he shall not disturb the affairs of the Church which he joins; and he shall abide by whatever the full synod of the province shall determine, after judging the case.

Canon 19

A bishop shall not be ordained without a synod and the presence of the metropolitan of the province. And when he is present, it is by all means better that all his brethren in the ministry of the Province should assemble together with him; and these the metropolitan ought to invite by letter. And it were better that all should meet; but if this be difficult, it is indispensable that a majority should either be present or take part by letter in the election, and that thus the appointment should be made in the presence, or with the consent, of the majority; but if it should be done contrary to these decrees, the ordination shall be of no force. And if the appointment shall be made according to the prescribed canon, and any should object through natural love of contradiction, the decision of the majority shall prevail.

The method of choosing a bishop is laid down in the canons of Nice, number iv., but the present canon adds the provision that an election which takes place in violation of the provisions of this decree is null and invalid: and that when those who are electing are divided in opinion as to whom to choose, the votes of the majority shall prevail. But when you hear this canon saying that there should be no election without the presence of the Metropolitan, you must not say that he ought to be present at an election (for this was prohibited, as is found written in other canons) but rather say that his presence here is a permission or persuasion, without which no election could take place.

Canon 20

With a view to the good of the Church and the settlement of disputes, it is decreed to be well that synods of the bishops, (of which the metropolitan shall give notice to the provincials), should be held in every province twice a year, one after the third week of the feast of Easter, so that the synod may be ended in the fourth week of the Pentecost; and the second on the ides of October which is the tenth [or fifteenth] day of the month Hyperberetæus; so that presbyters and deacons, and all who think themselves unjustly dealt with, may resort to these synods and obtain the judgment of the synod. But it shall be unlawful for any to hold synods by themselves without those who are entrusted with the Metropolitan Sees.

The time fixed by the Council of Nicaea before Lent for the meeting of the synod was not received in the East, and the bishops kept on in the old custom of celebrating the council in the fourth week after Easter, for the time before Lent often presented the greatest difficulties for those in the far separated cities to come to the provincial metropolis.

Canon 21

A bishop may not be translated from one parish to another, either intruding himself of his own suggestion, or under compulsion by the people, or by constraint of the bishops; but he shall remain in the Church to which he was allotted by God from the beginning, and shall not be translated from it, according to the decree formerly passed on the subject.

Canon 22

Let not a bishop go to a strange city, which is not subject to himself, nor into a district which does not belong to him, either to ordain any one, or to appoint presbyters or deacons to places within the jurisdiction of another bishop, unless with the consent of the proper bishop of the place. And if any one shall presume to do any such thing, the ordination shall be void, and he himself shall be punished by the synod.

Canon 23

It shall not be lawful for a bishop, even at the close of life, to appoint another as successor to himself; and if any such thing should be done, the appointment shall be void. But the ecclesiastical law must be observed, that a bishop must not be appointed otherwise than by a synod and with the judgment of the bishops, who have the authority to promote the man who is worthy, after the falling asleep of him who has ceased from his labours.

Nothing could be more important than the provision of this canon. It is evidently intended to prevent nepotism in every form, and to leave the appointment to the vacant see absolutely to the free choice of the Metropolitan and his synod. The history of the Church, and its present practice, is a curious commentary upon the ancient legislation, and the appointment of coadjutor bishops cum jure successionis, so common in later days, seems to be a somewhat ingenious way of escaping the force of the canon. Van Espen, however, reminds his readers of the most interesting case of St. Augustine of Hippo (which he himself narrates in his Epistle CCXIII.) of how he was chosen by his predecessor as bishop of Hippo, both he and the then bishop being ignorant of the fact that it was prohibited by the canons. And how when in his old age the people wished him to have one chosen bishop to help him till his death and to succeed him afterwards, he declined saying: What was worthy of blame in my own case, shall not be a blot likewise upon my son. He did not hesitate to say who he thought most worthy to succeed him, but he added, he shall be a presbyter, as he is, and when God so wills he shall be a bishop. Van Espen adds; All this should be read carefully that thence may be learned how St. Augustine set an example to bishops and pastors of taking all the pains possible that after their deaths true pastors, and not thieves and wolves, should enter into their flocks, who in a short time would destroy all they had accomplished by so much labour in so long a time. (Cf. Eusebius. H. E., Lib. VI., cap. xj. and cap. xxxij.)

Canon 24

It is right that what belongs to the Church be preserved with all care to the Church, with a good conscience and faith in God, the inspector and judge of all. And these things ought to be administered under the judgment and authority of the bishop, who is entrusted with the whole people and with the souls of the congregation. But it should be manifest what is church property, with the knowledge of the presbyters and deacons about him; so that these may know assuredly what things belong to the Church, and that nothing be concealed from them, in order that, when the bishop may happen to depart this life, the property belonging to the Church being well known, may not be embezzled nor lost, and in order that the private property of the bishop may not be disturbed on a pretence that it is part of the ecclesiastical goods. For it is just and well-pleasing to God and man that the private property of the bishop be bequeathed to whomsoever he will, but that for the Church be kept whatever belongs to the Church; so that neither the Church may suffer loss, nor the bishop be injured under pretext of the Church's interest, nor those who belong to him fall into lawsuits, and himself, after his death, be brought under reproach.

Canon 25

Let the bishop have power over the funds of the Church, so as to dispense them with all piety and in the fear of God to all who need. And if there be occasion, let him take what he requires for his own necessary uses and those of his brethren sojourning with him, so that they may in no way lack, according to the divine Apostle, who says, Having food and raiment, let us therewith be content. And if he shall not be content with these, but shall apply the funds to his own private uses, and not manage the revenues of the Church, or the rent of the farms, with the consent of the presbyters and deacons, but shall give the authority to his own domestics and kinsmen, or brothers, or sons, so that the accounts of the Church are secretly injured, he himself shall submit to an investigation by the synod of the province. But if, on the other hand, the bishop or his presbyters shall be defamed as appropriating to themselves what belongs to the Church, (whether from lands or any other ecclesiastical resources), so that the poor are oppressed, and accusation and infamy are brought upon the account and on those who so administer it, let them also be subject to correction, the holy synod determining what is right.

At the end of this canon in Labbe's version of Dionysius we find these words added. And thirty bishops signed who were gathered together at this Synod. Isidore Mercator has a still fuller text, viz.: I, Eusebius, being present subscribe to all things constituted by this holy Synod. Theodore, Nicetas, Macedonius, Anatolius, Tarcodimantus, Æthereus, Narcissus, Eustachius, Hesychius, Mauricius, Paulus, and the rest, thirty bishops agreed and signed. Van Espen after noting that this addition is not found in the Greek, nor in Martin Bracarensis, adds there is little probability that this clause is of the same antiquity as the canons.

About this page

Source. Translated by Henry Percival. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 14. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1900.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <>.

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