Thursday, March 3, 2011

Antioch - Canon 1

The Synod of Antioch convened in 341 and was attended only by those from the eastern church most of whom were opposing Athanasius and formed canons that rivaled Nicaea.  As a result, the canons are a challenge: how does one correctly understand and accept the rulings of those holding to a measure of heterodoxy?  Two of the canons were read at Chalcedon and acknowledged as "canons of the holy fathers."  In the same manner, Hillary of Poitiers wrote on the councils and termed this a "synod of saints" (synodus sanctorum).  One might only conclude that the overriding concern in both cases was to reïterate church unity firmly espoused at Nicaea.1

Whosoever shall presume to set aside the decree of the holy and great Synod which was assembled at Nicaea 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 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 honor, of which the holy Canon and God’s priesthood partake.

The thesis of the canon was to address those who "obstinately persist in opposing what was rightfully ordained" whether congregant or spiritual leader.  In this case the issue was the date of Easter.  At Nicaea, the observance had been moved from Jewish Passover to the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox.  This allowed all the churches using the Julian calendar to celebrate on the same day.  Those cities using other calendars (e.g., Antioch used the Jewish calendar) did their best to coïncide.2  Acting or teaching contrary to a canon was tantamount to rebellion against Christ and the authority placed within his body, the church.  The synod felt there was no choice but to cast out the sinners with a view to their ultimate restoration (1 Cor 5:4-5).  Church authorities especially were under a greater condemnation for leading not just themselves but others astray (1 Tim 3:6; James 3:1).

1 For more historical background, see entries in the Catholic Encyclopedia—Church of Antioch and Eusebius of Nicomedia—as well as NPNF2, 14:105.
2 The overriding concern was to avoid Passover because of the great sin perpetrated against Christ on that day.  When the Gregorian calendar was accepted, the alignment of Passover and Easter could no longer be avoided, thus nullifying the occasion but not the underlying attitude being addressed.

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