The Ecumenical Church Councils of the Early Church (325-787)

Although the early church convened local and regional church councils in an attempt to debate and formulate its theological positions, these gatherings carried no authority over the whole Christian world. However, beginning in 325, Roman emperors gathered early church leaders in seven ecumenical councils, held over 462 years, between 325 and 787.

Each of these Ecumenical Church Councils took place in the Greek-speaking East and was primarily focused on the theological issues related to the triune nature of God (the Trinity) and Jesus Christ (Christology). Most of the early church fathers lived in the East and so most early theological writings were in Greek. Even in Rome, Christians worshiped in Greek until around 380. The Roman Catholic Pope (bishop) did not attend any of the councils.

Here is a brief overview of the seven Ecumenical Church Councils.

In 325, the first Ecumenical Church Council, convened by emperor Constantine, was held in Nicea’s emperor’s palace. In 381, the second Ecumenical Church Council, convened by emperor Theodosius I, was held in Constantinople’s Church of Holy Peace (Hagia Sophia). In 431, the third Ecumenical Church Council, convened by emperor Theodosius II, was held in Ephesus’ Church of Mary. In 449, an unofficial church council, later called the “Gangster Council,” convened by emperor Theodosius II, was held in Ephesus’ Church of Mary. In 451, the fourth Ecumenical Church Council, convened by emperor Marion, was held in Chalcedon’s Church of Saint Euphemia. In 553, the fifth Ecumenical Church Council, convened by emperor Justinian, was held in Constantinople’s Church of Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia). In 680-681, the sixth Ecumenical Church Council, convened by emperor Constantine IV, was held in Constantinople’s Church of Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia). In 787, the seventh Ecumenical Church Council, convened by emperor Constantine VI and his mother, Irene, was held in Nicea’s Church of Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia).

Church Unity Concerning Ecumenical Councils

Today, Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant churches generally accept the doctrinal conclusions of these councils, which defined the true (orthodox) Christian faith.