The Conciliar Movement

Hamilton Hess

in The Early Development of Canon Law and the Council of Serdica

Published in print October 2002 | ISBN: 9780198269755
Published online April 2004 | e-ISBN: 9780191601163 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Early Christian Studies

 The Conciliar Movement

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Church councils and synods (terms used in the West and the East, respectively) began as gatherings of leaders and representatives from several church congregations for the resolution of issues of shared concern by discussion and collective decision‐making. From the evidence available to us, such gatherings first appeared during the latter part of the second century, but the practice may have begun earlier. By the third century, strong congregational leadership by bishops had become almost universally established; and, as fully evidenced by the letters of Cyprian of Carthage, councils and synods became occasions for the assembly of neighbouring bishops for deliberation together with the bishop, clergy, and people of the host congregation. The procedures employed at these gatherings were patterned on those of civil government, the most directly influential model having apparently been the Roman Senate. While the strength and effectiveness of episcopal leadership continued to increase, during the third century the clergy and laity of the local congregation where the council or synod was held retained a voice in the proceedings. Two other conciliar styles—dialogic discussion and judicial investigation—were also adopted from civil models to ecclesiastical use during the third and fourth centuries.

Keywords: bishops; clergy; council; decision‐making; dialogic discussion; judicial investigation; laity; Roman senate; synod

Chapter.  14420 words. 

Subjects: Early Christianity

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