This section is from "The American Cyclopaedia", by George Ripley And Charles A. Dana. Also available from Amazon: The New American Cyclopędia. 16 volumes complete..
Council (Lat. concilium, an assembly for deliberation). I. In the Christian church, an assembly of bishops, called together by the. proper authority for the purpose of determining questions concerning faith, morals, rites, and discipline. Councils are either provincial, national, or general, according as they are composed of the bishops of a province, a nation, or of all Christendom. When the clergy of a single diocese are convened by the bishop for the regulation of the spiritual concerns of his flock, the assemblage is called a diocesan synod. Provincial councils are called and presided over by the metropolitan, who is usually an archbishop. Their principal object is to regulate disciplinary matters in the various dioceses composing the province; their doctrinal decisions have no force unless confirmed by the supreme authority in the church. The general councils of Basel and Trent enjoin that provincial councils shall be held once in three years; but various difficulties in recent times have rendered the execution of these decrees impossible. Moreover, the peculiar relations between church and state in various countries of Christendom have had their influence on the mode of calling councils.
In France no metropolitan is allowed to call a provincial council unless by the express sanction of the civil power. National councils, in like manner, where a concordat exists, are called by the concurrent authority of the civil and ecclesiastical powers, and are presided over by the acknowledged primate or by a delegate of the Roman see. These councils were frequent in France under the Merovingian and Carlovin-gian kings. In 1811 Napoleon called a national council without sanction from the pope. More than 100 bishops assembled at his bidding, and were directed to consider the right claimed by him, as inherent to his sovereign power, of nominating bishops and cardinals. As they were unanimous in their opposition to such pretensions, the assembly was dissolved by the emperor. Among the latest national councils are those of Presburg in 1822, and of Wurz-burg in 1849. Two plenary or national councils have also been held in Baltimore, the second and most important of which opened Oct. 7, 1866, under the presidency of Archbishop Spalding, delegate apostolic. - General councils, called also oecumenical (Gr. the habitable earth), are summoned by the pope. They are composed of all the bishops of Christendom, and are designed to determine questions affecting the universal church. The first eight general councils (not including the apostolic council of Jerusalem) were convoked by the Christian emperors; but this was because the church did not then extend beyond the limits of the Roman empire, and because the first Christian emperors naturally assumed to protect and promote the interests of the church, which their predecessors had persecuted. After the division of the empire, the various Christian sovereigns exercised by custom, conjointly with the ecclesiastical authorities, the right of summoning the bishops of their realms to national councils. But properly the right of convocation resides in the governing power of the church itself. It is admitted on all hands that the bishops alone and their representatives sit in the councils as judges of all matters pertaining to faith and morals. Abbots and generals of religious orders are not so by inherent right. The lower orders of the clergy, as well as the theologians present, enjoy by favor a deliberative or consultative voice.
In exceptional cases we find simple priests and even deacons taking an active part in councils, and voting with the fathers; thus St. Athanasius, though only a deacon, had a leading part in the first council of Nice. But such persons were almost always delegated either by the pope or by some bishop. The pope indeed, in person or by legate, presides over the general council. Whenever the Greek emperors presided in early times, they did so not as judges of the faith, but as the political executive, whose right and duty it was to protect the assembly in its discussions. The decision is usually according to the majority of votes cast. In the council of Constance, however, the fathers voted by nations, England, Italy, France, and Germany casting each a separate vote. General councils do not create new dogmas. Their office is limited to deciding, defining, and declaring that any controverted truth is either of Scripture or of tradition. As a general council is the church assembled and deliberating upon matters pertaining to faith, morals, and the spiritual government of Christ's flock, such council is held to be under the guidance of the Holy Spirit; and its doctrinal decisions are therefore held not only final, but infallible.
This infallibility, however, is not claimed to extend to questions of mere discipline, history, politics as such, or pure science. The disciplinary decrees are usually termed canons (canones), and the doctrinal decisions dogmas (dogmata); in the council of Trent, on the contrary, the latter were styled canons, and the former distinguished as capita or decreta. - The Roman Catholic church recognizes 20 general councils: that of Jerusalem, held by the apostles about A. D. 50; the first of Nice, in 325 (which in histories generally heads the list); the first of Constantinople, in 381; the first of Ephesus, in 431; that of Chalcedon, in 451; the second of Constantinople, in 553; the third of Constantinople, in 680; the second of Nice, in 787; the fourth of Constantinople, in 869; the four Lateran councils, at Rome, in 1123, 1139, 1179, and 1215; the first and second of Lyons, in 1245 and 1274; that of Vienne, in France, in 1311; that of Constance, in 1414; that of Basel, in 1431 (till its dissolution by the pope); that of Trent, in 1545; and that of the Vatican, in Rome, in 1869, which is not yet terminated (1873), though temporarily suspended. The council of Pisa, in 1409, that of Florence, in 1439, and the fifth of Lateran, in 1512, are also regarded by some as oecumenical.
The conference of 192 prelates held at Rome in 1854, during which the pope proclaimed the dogma of the immaculate conception, was not a council. The Greek church receives as authoritative the decisions of only the first seven general councils, besides that of Jerusalem. The Protestant churches generally admit the full authority of none of them, and esteem as oecumenical only the six which directly followed the last named. The synodical assemblies of the Protestant churches, as the councils of La Eo-chelle and Dort near the period of the reformation, the general synods of the Evangelical church of Germany, and the convocations of the English church at the present time, cannot in their nature be oecumenical. - The most complete collections of the acts of councils are those of Binius (Cologne, 1606 and 1618; Paris, 1636); the same edited by Labbe and Cossart (17 vols., Paris, 1671; supplement by Baluze, 1 vol., 1683); Collectio Maxima Conciliorum, by Hardouin (12 vols., Paris, 1715); Coleti (23 vols., Venice, 1728 et seq.); Mansi (31 vols., Florence, 1759-98); and Disch, Concilien-lexikon, embracing all the councils from the first at Jerusalem (2 vols., Augsburg, 1843-'45). The best collection of the old French councils is that of Sirmond (3 vols., Paris, 1629), with supplements by La Lande (Paris, 1666); of the later French councils, that of Odespun (Paris, 1649); of German councils, that of Schannat, Hartzheim, Scholl, and Neis-sen (11 vols., Cologne, 1759-90); of German national, provincial, and diocesan councils, from the 4th century to the council of Trent, that of Binterim (7 vols., Mentz, 1835-'43); and of Spanish councils, that of Aguirre (Madrid, 1781 et seq.). (The history of particular councils is given in special articles under the names of the cities in which they were held.) II. In political history, the term council is variously applied to either permanent or extraordinary deliberative assemblies.
The political affairs of the cantons of Switzerland are intrusted to councils. Certain courts of justice in France were formerly termed councils. - The Council of Ten was the secret tribunal of the republic of Venice, instituted in 1310, after the conspiracy of Tiepolo, and composed originally of 10 councillors in black, to whom were soon added 6 others in red, and the doge. This council was appointed to guard the security of the state, and to anticipate and punish its secret enemies, and was armed with unlimited power over the life and property of the citizens. All its processes were secret. At first established temporarily, it was prolonged from year to year, was declared perpetual in 1335, and maintained its power till the fall of the republic in 1797. - The Council of the Ancients (conseil des anciens), in France, was an assembly instituted by the constitution of the year III. (adopted on the first day of the year IV., Sept. 23, 1795), which shared the power with the executive directory, and composed, with the council of five hundred, the legislative body. It had 250 members, either married or widowers, aged at least 40 years, domiciled at least 15 years in France, and one third of whom were to be renewed annually.
It sat in the Tuileries, in the former hall of the convention, and had the power to change the residence of the legislative body. It confirmed or rejected, but could not amend, the measures proposed by the council of five hundred. It was overthrown by the revolution of the 18th Brumaire. - The Council of Five Hundred (conseil des cinq-cents), instituted at the same time as the council of the ancients, was composed of 500 members, aged at least 25 (and from the year VII. 30) years, domiciled 10 years in France, and one third renewed annually. It sat in the salle du manege, in the rue de Rivoli, and proposed laws which were read three times, at intervals of ten days. On the 18th Fructidor, year V., 42 of its members were expelled; but it recovered its power with the revival of the Jacobins, and was violently dissolved by Napoleon on the 19th Brumaire, year VIII. (1799). - The Council of State existed under various names in France from the reign of Philip the Fair. It was composed chiefly of the principal officers of the crown, was dependent upon the will of the king, and followed him in his journeys to advise him on public affairs.
The number of councillors of state varied from 15 in 1413 to 30 in 1673. It was limited at the revolution to the king and his ministers, was dissolved in 1792, and was instituted anew in the year VIII., when it was divided into the committees of litigation, the interior, finances, and war. In these committees were elaborated the important laws of the consulate and the empire. This council was modified under the restoration, and under Napoleon III. regained its early importance. (See Regnault's Histoire du conseil d'etat depuis son origine jusgu'a nos jours, 1851.) - In Spain, the Council of Castile under the old monarchy had the supreme administration of internal affairs; and after the discovery of America, and during the existence of Spain's immense colonial empire, colonial affairs were governed by the Council of the Indies. - In England, the Privy Council was formerly the adviser of the king in all weighty matters of state, a function now discharged by the cabinet. By acts 2, 3, and '4 William IV., a judicial committee of the privy council was constituted with high powers.
All appeals from the prize and admiralty courts, and from courts in the plantations abroad, and any other appeals which by former law or usage had been made to the high court of admiralty in Eng-' land, and to the lords commissioners in prize cases, are directed to be made to the king in council. These appeals are then referred to the judicial committee of the privy council, which reports on them to his majesty. This committee consists of the chief justice of the king's bench, the master of the rolls, the vice chancellor of England, and several other persons, ex officio; and any two privy councillors may be added by the king. - In Prussia, by a law established March 20,1807, the Council of State (Staatsrath) consisted of the princes of the royal family who had attained their majority, and of the highest officers of the state who enjoyed the special confidence of the king. Its decisions had no validity without the royal sanction. By the constitution proclaimed Jan. 31, 1850, and several times afterward modified by royal decree (last on May 17, 1867), the king is assisted in the administration of justice by a council of ministers appointed by royal decree.
It now consists of eight ministers: of foreign affairs, of finance, of war, of the interior, of justice, of public instruction and ecclesiastical affairs, of agriculture, and of commerce and public works. In the German empire, by the constitution of April 16, 1871, there is a federal council (Bundesrath) representing the individual states, and appointed by the respective governments. It consists of 58 members, of whom 17 are appointed by Prussia, 6 by Bavaria, 4 each by Saxony and Wur-temberg, 3 each by Baden and Hesse, 2 each by Mecklenburg-Schwerin and Brunswick, and the remaining 17 by as many of the smaller states. - In some of the United States there are bodies termed councils, which are elected to advise the governor in the executive part of his office, and have power to reject or confirm his nominations to office.