Councils of the Church


jose_90501 asked this question on 8/7/2000:

What exactly was Vatican II? What changes did it prescribe. I am a new convert to Catholicism. I understand Catholicism from a scriptural standpoint by these church councils I am no familiar with. What where Vatican I and II suppose to do. What was it not suppose to do?


mscperu gave this response on 8/7/2000:


The joy of the risen Lord be in your heart.

To understand the purpose of the Ecumenical (= general) Councils we should look at the Council of the Apostles. Precisely the Council of Jerusalem is a good illustration in order to understand that God teaches through Scripture but He uses other instruments too.

Acts 15:1 And some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved." 2 And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue.

I’m sure the men coming down from Judea were well intentioned. They thought the true faith included the Mosaic Law. Now there had happened something new. Up to now those converting to Christ were Jews and the continued to observe the Mosaic Law. But now there were new communities whose members had been almost all pagans. Paul and Barnabas had taught those Hellenistic converts that only the faith in Jesus Christ was needed for salvation. Read the whole letter to the Galatians if you want the discussion in detail.

This is what happens in all times inside and outside the Church. Different teachings and many a time both opposite parties think that they are doing the will of God. New situations present themselves and the church needs to find an answer. In this case of the Acts they had to ask the Apostles. Why? Because the Apostles were the authority between Christ and the whole church.

The Apostles and elders come together. There is now sudden inspiration or a vision. They talk and there is an arduous debate. They look at the Scripture and at the signs and wonders that God had done through Barnabas and Paul. Coming to the decision the Apostles and the elders say something portentous: "It seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us…" They are conscious that God speak through them. Then they send a delegation that brings the decision to the communities that had been bothered. Read the whole chapter 15. All the communities were to follow these indications. The Apostles and the Holy Ghost had spoken.

The Apostles had to die. But before their demise they had ordained bishops as their successors. When there were problems the bishops as successors of the Apostles got together and did the same as the Apostles in Jerusalem: ask the Scripture, pray for inspiration, contemplate tradition,  debate and decide with authority.

There surfaced new teachings. Arius, for instance, taught that the Father had created the Son. In the year 318 the bishops reunited in the First Ecumenical Council at Nicea and made a creed that said regarding the Son "God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God". The faith to accept in the whole Church.

This is the finality of the Councils to give answers to new situations. Many times it is necessary to change habits and procedures in order to respond to these new situations.

We have 21 Ecumenical Councils. Basically they defend and define the true faith in the adequate words for those of their time. They confront too the sin and negligence and disorder and decree changes so that the church might do the will of God and be the beacon of faith in this world.

Each Council is a fresh look at the faith of the Apostles and each Council wants to answer the doctrinal and moral challenges of their time. They didn’t and don’t change the faith. Never. They give answers to the questions of their contemporaries. And they can say the same as the Apostles: "It seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us…" They speak with the authority of God.