The Council in Trullo, or Quinisext Council

Daniel J. Castellano (2009)

Some years after the close of the Sixth Ecumenical Council in 681 AD, the Emperor Justinian II summoned a new synod, to be held in the same location, the great Trullan hall of his palace in Constantinople. This council was intended to be a continuation of the fifth and sixth ecumenical councils, which had not issued any disciplinary canons, unlike previous general councils. Accordingly, this council has been called the Quinisext Council, being a supplement to the fifth and sixth councils. It is also called the Council in Trullo, after the domed hall in which it was held. At the Seventh Ecumenical Council at Nicaea (787), the Greek bishops referred to canons from the Council in Trullo as belonging to the sixth general council, but this declaration was not ratified by the Latin Church. The Greeks have continually regarded the Trullan canons as acts of an ecumenical council, but the Latins have generally ignored or rejected the canons.

Although the Council in Trullo was never fully accepted by the Latin Church at any time, the Greeks intended its canons to serve as a rule for the entire Catholic Church. Thus, the decrees of this council are a valuable resource for understanding what the Greeks of the late seventh century considered to be apostolic faith and practice. In several places, the Trullan canons condemn Latin customs that differed from Greek practices believed to be of apostolic origin, yet the council did allow for diverse regional customs where these did not contradict the teaching of the Apostles. The canons also endorse many moral and religious doctrines and customs that some modern writers have erroneously regarded as Latin inventions from the High Middle Ages. The Council in Trullo is an important witness to the antiquity and universality of the Church's teaching on abortion, infant baptism, and the Eucharist. The canons also prove that the Greeks were not in profound disagreement with the Latins on many issues of ecclesiastical authority that would later attain prominence.

Canonical Status of the Council

Since the ecumenicity of the Quinisext Council has been a matter of dispute, we should review how ecumenical councils had been constituted prior to this synod. The Emperor convoked each ecumenical council, declaring its time, place, and purpose, and invited all the bishops of the Empire. After the partition of the Empire and the barbarian invasions, the Emperor only had jurisdiction over the East. In order for the bishops of the West to be represented, the Emperor would send an invitation to the Pope, who had patriarchal authority over all Latin bishops, and could act on their behalf. If a doctrine of the faith was in dispute, the Pope would prepare a definition of the faith, either on his own initiative or in consultation with the Latin bishops. Ecumenical councils took place in or near the imperial city of Constantinople, so it was generally feasible only for the bishops of that patriarchate to attend. The patriarchs of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem attended in person or by proxy. The Pope never attended in person, but sent his legates with specific instructions on doctrinal matters.

Once an ecumenical council was convened, the papal legates presided over the synod on behalf of the Pope. The issues at hand were discussed among the bishops, and the pope's definition of faith was read to the assembly. The council would then give its assent to the definition, and use it as a basis for constructing its dogmatic constitutions, which define the faith, determine which persons or writings have fallen into heresy, and prescribe ecclesiastical penalties. The bishops could also issue disciplinary canons. At the close of a general council, the constitutions and canons were submitted to the Emperor so he could promulgate them throughout the Empire, while storing the original documents in the imperial archive. In this way the Emperor acts as guardian of the faith. Since the Pope did not attend in person, and he only authorized his legates to proclaim his definition of the faith, any further acts of the council needed papal ratification. After the council closed, the constitutions and canons were sent to the Pope for his signature. Only with papal approval could the acts be binding in the West, thereby giving the council true ecumenical status. The Pope sometimes elected to exclude or qualify some of the constitutions or canons in his ratification. Any decree or canon excluded by the Pope would not have ecumenical authority, but would at most be binding in the ecclesial jurisdictions of the East.

Since the Council in Trullo did not involve dogmatic matters, but only disciplinary canons, it is understandable why the Greek bishops might not see the need for prior papal approval. Nonetheless, it was highly irregular for an ecumenical council not to be presided by papal legates. The Greeks were evidently aware of this, so Archbishop Basil of Gortyna (in Crete) added to his signature, "Holding the place of the Holy Church of Rome in every synod," just as he had done at the Sixth Ecumenical Council in 680, though there is no evidence he received a perpetual commission from the Pope. The idea that the Trullan council was a continuation of the sixth general synod does not reflect historical reality. As Hefele proved, this council was convened more than a decade later, in 691 or 692. The list of signatories further shows that the Quinisext Council was not constituted of the same bishops who had attended the Sixth Ecumenical Council. This was really a new council, especially since the ecumenical council had long ago been formally closed and ratified.

The Council in Trullo was not ecumenical in its origin, since it was convoked and presided independently of papal authority or any other real participation by the patriarchate of the West, with which the East was not in schism. The claim that this was a continuation of the Sixth Ecumenical Council is untenable, since the general council had been canonically closed and confirmed by the bishops, the Emperor, and the Pope. There is no precedent in Church history, before or since, of reopening such a council, and even if it were possible, this would have to be executed by the same authority that closed the council, and here the authority of the Pope was absent. Therefore, in its origin, the Council in Trullo was a regional synod of the East, notwithstanding its pretensions.

Nonetheless, there is precedent for a regional synod attaining ecumenical status by post facto ratification by the Pope. This was the case with the First Council of Constantinople (381), a synod of Greek bishops that was later ratified by Pope Damasus. Yet in this case the synod was indirectly convoked by the Pope, who urged that the bishops should meet in Rome. Since the Greeks were unable to make the long journey, some of them convened in Constantinople in a parallel synod. At the close of their council, they sent three bishops with a letter to the Pope, "to show that our intentions are peaceful and have unity as their goal."

Such peaceful intentions can hardly be ascribed to some of the Trullan canons, which are overtly hostile to Latin customs. Interestingly, the council's grievances with the West had nothing to do with the authority of the Pope, the filioque, or any of the other major complaints common to later Greek Orthodoxy. The Greeks objected to Latin customs such as priestly celibacy and fasting on Saturday. They did not presume to do away with all non-Greek customs, but only those believed to be in direct conflict with apostolic tradition. Indeed, only about a half dozen of the 102 canons are overtly hostile to Latin customs. In determining apostolic tradition, the Greeks perhaps relied too heavily on the so-called Apostolic Canons, which were mostly written in the fourth century or later. Since these canons were written in the East, they lent credence to the erroneous view that certain Greek liturgical customs were of apostolic origin. Even if these Eastern customs could be traced back to the Apostles, it would not follow that equally ancient customs could not have been established elsewhere in Christendom. The council is marked by an excessive zeal for canonical uniformity, and the modern reader must remember that the distinction between orthodoxy in faith and purely disciplinary matters was not always clearly perceived at this time.

Since we now fully recognize that disciplinary canons are not immutable or irrevocable, the question of the ecumenicity of this council loses some importance. An ecumenical council's grace of infallibility does not properly apply to disciplinary canons, except that they may not incidentally contain anything contrary to divine faith or natural law. Papal ratification of the canons after the fact might raise the canons to ecumenical status in a more ordinary sense, namely that they apply to every jurisdiction in the Church, not that the Council in Trullo is properly ecumenical. Even here the question is somewhat moot, since many of the Trullan canons have fallen into disuse in both the East and the West.

All the patriarchs except the Pope ratified the council. The patriarchs of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem did not attend the Council in Trullo, but they signed its decrees afterward. The permanent legates who served as papal ambassadors in Constantinople were also induced to sign the decrees, though they had no commission to represent the Pope in a general synod, nor did they attend the council. The place for the Pope's signature, just below that of the Emperor, remained conspicuously blank. Pope Sergius steadfastly refused to sign the acts of the council, claiming he would rather die than endorse its errors. The council was therefore in opposition to the head of the Church, and cannot be considered ecumenical, nor can we invoke the example of the First Council of Constantinople, since no such opposition existed between that council and the Pope. Still, the question remains as to which canons of this local council were ever approved by later popes.

Emperor Justinian later asked Pope John VII (705-07) to ratify the Trullan canons, beseeching the pontiff to convene a Roman synod that would nullify any objectionable canons and confirm the rest. The Pope declined to confirm or condemn any of the canons. His successor, Pope Constantine (708-15), met with the emperor and arrived at some sort of compromise, the terms of which have not been recorded. The fact that the Latins did not change their liturgical customs is sufficient evidence that the Pope did not agree to any of the blatantly objectionable canons, though we cannot be certain regarding what sort of endorsement he may have given to the rest.

The Greeks at the Seventh Ecumenical Council (787) explicitly recognized the Trullan canons as pertaining to the sixth general synod, but this declaration was never ratified by Rome. However, Pope Adrian I (772-795) says he approved the canons of all six councils that were lawfully promulgated, including the canon forbidding depictions of the Precursor (John the Baptist) with the Lamb (as Christ), which is the eighty-second Trullan canon. It seems that Pope Adrian believed that the canons of Trullo pertained to the Sixth Ecumenical Council, yet his approval of the canons was qualified: quae jure ac divinitus ab ipsis promulgatae sunt ("those alone which were lawfully and divinely promulgated"). While the Pope did not challenge the Greek claim that the Trullan canons belonged to the sixth general council, this acquiescence to a historical claim hardly suffices to elevate the council to ecumenical status. Indeed, a century later, Pope John VIII (872-882) referred to the Trullan canons as those which the Greeks "maintain" (perhibent) to be from the sixth general synod, so the question of the council's ecumenicity was by no means considered decided. The Greek claim was based on the belief that the same bishops of the Sixth Ecumenical Council issued the Trullan canons just five years later, but we have seen that this belief is historically inaccurate.

The last definitive papal stance on the Council in Trullo was expressed by the aforementioned John VIII, who accepted from that council "all those canons which did not contradict the true faith, good morals, and decrees of Rome." In particular, the Apostolic See now accepted all eighty-five of the so-called Apostolic Canons, whereas previously it had only accepted the first fifty. Apparently, even at this late date, the Romans had not generally accepted the Trullan canons, which could hardly be the case if Adrian I or any other pope had truly declared the council to be ecumenical.

Relatively few of the Trullan canons were explicitly identified as approved by the Pope. Only the eighty-five Apostolic Canons (mentioned in the second canon of Trullo) are known to have been approved by John VIII, while Adrian I approved at least the eighty-second canon of Trullo. For the remainder of the canons, we are left to apply John VIII's principle of consistency with "the true faith, good morals, and decrees of Rome."

Several canons from the Council in Trullo are included in Gratian's Decretum, but this canonical compilation never had the status of an official code of ecclesiastical law, and we cannot necessarily infer papal approval of a canon from its inclusion in this collection. Nonetheless, the Decretum was a highly influential source of canon law, so it is worth mentioning the canons it cites, as these would not have been considered contrary to the decrees of Rome. Gratian cites the following Trullan canons: the second, fourth, sixth, eleventh, thirteenth, seventeenth, twenty-third, twenty-fourth, twenty-eighth, thirty-sixth, and ninety-third. The thirteenth canon is indicated as being of local application, while many of the other canons are cited only partially or in an oblique paraphrase. Needless to say, nearly all of the Trullan canons were practically ignored in the West.

The Greeks, by contrast, have consistently regarded the Quinisext Council as ecumenical, though even they allowed most of its canons to fall into disuse. In particular, the canons opposed to Latin customs were never used to impose restrictions on Latin liturgy in the East, nor was communion with the Latin Church denied on account of failure to adopt the Trullan canons. Since the schism of 1054, the Orthodox have had little regard for the pronouncements of the Roman Church. However, in the seventh century the Church of the East did not pretend to be the entire Church, and the Greeks recognized the necessity of papal ratification to make a council's acts ecumenical. Thus, even by eastern ecclesiology, the Council in Trullo should not be regarded as ecumenical.

The Council's Objective

The Council in Trullo was an ambitious endeavor, attempting to compile all the canons from every council that ought to be applied to the entire Church. The first canon summarizes all the previous pronouncements by ecumenical councils regarding the orthodox faith. The second canon gives an exhaustive list of all the major councils whose canons ought to be recognized by the entire Church, and the remaining one hundred canons complete the body of canonical legislation that would normalize basic liturgical practice and discipline throughout the Church. This council may be seen as an early attempt at canonical codification. Although we may find some of the canons to have objectionable content, the goal of canonical uniformity is admirable. Unfortunately, the Greeks sought to define the terms of this uniformity without consultation with the West, and they did not always clearly distinguish between what is essential to Christian discipline and legitimate regional variations in custom. The result was a collection of canons that would needlessly impose Greek liturgical customs on the rest of the Church. This stance was naturally unacceptable to the West, and the project was doomed to failure.

The Greeks never successfully constructed a uniform code of canon law for the entire Orthodox Church, and the Roman Catholic Church did not formally codify canon law until 1917. It is unfortunate that a common code of canon law was not established before the schism of 1054, as that might have provided a basis for agreement on disciplinary and ecclesiastical matters, which have divided East and West more profoundly than any theological dispute. Indeed, the theological differences between Catholics and Orthodox are objectively small, but they are magnified by their ecclesiological aspects. The doctrinal issues of papal infallibility, purgatory, and the filioque are objectionable to the Orthodox primarily because of their implications regarding ecclesiastical authority. In the seventh century, regional differences in belief on these matters were not considered to be so profound as to be a cause for grievance, much less schism. The earliest point of conflict between East and West is in the matter of canonical discipline. The Council in Trullo was a preemptive attempt to resolve this conflict, which failed because it was unilaterally conceived by the Greeks. Perhaps if we could determine which Trullan canons were acceptable to the Latins, we would have a theoretical body of canon law that was acceptable to the entire Church of the first millennium. This body could conceivably form a basis of rapprochement between East and West on matters of canonical discipline.

The Canons

The canons are all rules of ecclesiastical law, not civil law. The bishops of the East were especially conscious of this distinction, as they did not dare to encroach upon the sovereign power of the Emperor. The most severe ecclesiastical penalty that could be imposed was deposition for a cleric and excommunication for a layman. Such penalty was eminently within the right of the Church to impose, since the Church may define her own criteria for membership. Those who violate the canons for clerical behavior may be expelled from the active clergy, and those who violate the rules for laity may be denied active membership in the Christian Church. Ecclesiastical canons could not prescribe the death penalty, nor imprisonment, fines, whipping or any other temporal punishment, all of which belonged to the civil power. The Emperor, by ratifying canons, guaranteed the enforcement of ecclesiastical canons. For example, he could force the removal of a bishop or priest who violated the canons. If there were civil laws punishing irreligious behavior, he may refer to the canonical understanding of the lawful clerical and lay states. Any additional penalties would have to be prescribed by the civil law, and would be imposed solely by the imperial authority.

Unless otherwise indicated, the canons of the Council in Trullo generally prescribe the usual penalties of deposition for a cleric and excommunication for a layman. The canons regarding moral behavior are never to be understood as supplanting civil law, but as prescribing ecclesiastical penalties for behavior that may also have civil penalties. The canons define the rule of Christian life, giving concrete realization to what might otherwise be abstract principles of action.

Canon I

The first canon recapitulates the heresies that have been condemned previously by the entire Church. Several points in particular are worthy of note, described below.

Nestorianism, the doctrine that places a sharp distinction between the Divine Word and Christ the man, is said to renew Jewish impiety, because it denies the Incarnation, failing to recognize divinity in the Christ who stood before men, just as the Jews failed to recognize His Divinity. In some of the canons that follow, as we shall see, the bishops in Trullo show a preoccupation with the Jews, mainly because of concern about certain Judaizing influences in the East that undermined Christian faith and practice. For this reason, the Jews were often treated with the same hostility as heretics, and it is the zeal against heresy that accounts for many of the supposedly "anti-Semitic" sermons of St. John Chrysostom and other Greek fathers. A common error of modern readers is to presume that the Jews of the first millennium had the same mild, peaceful stance toward Christianity as their modern counterparts.

The first canon regards the Fifth Ecumenical Council as having condemned Origen. As discussed in my commentary on that council, it actually merely confirmed the anathema of an earlier council of Greek bishops. The Greek canonist Alexis Aristenus (12th cent.) comments on this canon that Origen and his followers "stupidly said that the same bodies they had joined with them would not rise again; and that Paradise was not subject to the appreciation of the sense, and that it was not from God, and that Adam was not formed in flesh, and that there would be an end of punishment, and a restitution of the devils to their pristine state, and other innumerable insane blasphemies." This is an adequate summary of the Origenist heresies, though it is questionable which of these heresies were actually held by Origen himself.

The canon lists Pope Honorius indiscriminately with Monothelite heretics as "those who adulterated the true doctrine and taught the people that in the one Lord Jesus Christ there is but one will and one operation." In my commentary on the Sixth Ecumenical Council, it was shown that Honorius certainly did not teach there was one operation, and his teaching of one will was confined to the context of the lack of moral conflict in Christ such as exists in those who have the "vicious nature" from original sin.

The Greeks had no formal notion of doctrinal development. "For our decrees add nothing to the things previously defined, nor do they take anything away, nor have we any such power." The denial that the Church has any power to add anything to what has been defined is true only in the sense that the Church cannot add to the body of divine revelation, nor can she require of the faithful some doctrine that was not taught by the Apostles. However, as even the ecclesiastical history of the first millennium shows, the Church has from time to time added new formulas to define the faith more clearly, or to exclude novel errors from an orthodox understanding of received teaching. The Council in Trullo's profession that the faith shall remain unsullied until the end of the world may suggest a stasis where no new definitions of faith are ever made again. This interpretation is consistent with the understanding of the Greeks, who have not recognized any new definition of the faith since the Sixth Ecumenical Council. For a Catholic, however, the unsullied faith would consist in no new definition contradicting what was earlier defined or adding to the deposit of faith that was taught by the Apostles.

Apart from the historical and doctrinal clarifications made above, there is probably nothing in the first canon that would be objectionable from a Catholic perspective.

Canon II

The second canon names all the previous collections of canons that are to be received by the entire Church.

The council says of all the canons listed above:

And that no one be allowed to transgress or disregard the aforesaid canons, or to receive others beside them, supposititiously set forth by certain who have attempted to make a traffic of the truth. But should any one be convicted of innovating upon, or attempting to overturn, any of the afore-mentioned canons, he shall be subject to receive the penalty which that canon imposes, and to be cured by it of his transgression.

This is extraordinarily rigid. All of the above canons are to have universal authority, when it is doubtful that all of them were extant even at the time of the Trullan synod. Further, no other canons may be adopted, so the canons listed effectively constitute a code of ecclesiastical law for the entire Church. Even if we regard this aim as admirable, the task is much more difficult than this canon would make it seem. Even if we could positively identify all the canons listed, it would remain for us to harmonize them with each other, to determine which among them should have precedent, and to ascertain which of these are, by their nature, necessarily of local application.

Only part of this canon is included in Gratian's Decretum (I, XVI, c. vii). He repeats the exact same list of councils and decretals indicated above, but says only that these canons are confirmed. He does not include the rigid injunction we have quoted.

Canon III

The third canon prescribes laws for priests regarding marriage, "that they may be blameless ministrants, and worthy of the sacrifice of the great God, who is both Offering and High Priest, a sacrifice apprehended by the intelligence". The Greeks of this time clearly had a sacrificial understanding of the Eucharist, so it is an error to suppose that the Latins of the High Middle Ages invented the sacerdotal concept of the priesthood. The canon tries to blend Roman and Greek customs, which are characterized as follows: whereas they of the most holy Roman Church purpose to keep the rule of exact perfection, but those who are under the throne of this heaven-protected and royal city keep that of kindness and consideration, so blending both together as our fathers have done, and as the love of God requires, that neither gentleness fall into licence, nor severity into harshness;

The proposed synthesis or hybrid of these customs is as follows:

...we decree, that those who are involved in a second marriage, and have been slaves to sin up to the fifteenth of the past month of January, in the past fourth Indiction, the 6109th year, and have not resolved to repent of it, be subjected to canonical deposition:

No cleric is allowed to marry more than once in his life - he must be the "husband of one wife" in the strictest sense. Anyone who was in a second marriage beyond a certain date without repenting of it now is to be deposed. The year 6109, as Hefele observes, is almost certainly a manuscript error, which should read 6199, or AD 691, the year before the Council. Those who repent in view of the present decree are accorded an indulgence:

...but that they who are involved in this disorder of a second marriage, but before our decree have acknowledged what is fitting, and have cut off their sin, and have put far from them this strange and illegitimate connection, or they whose wives by second marriage are already dead, or who have turned to repentance of their own accord, having learned continence, and having quickly forgotten their former iniquities, whether they be presbyters or deacons, these we have determined should cease from all priestly ministrations or exercise, being under punishment for a certain time, but should retain the honour of their seat and station, being satisfied with their seat before the laity and begging with tears from the Lord that the transgression of their ignorance be pardoned them: for unfitting it were that he should bless another who has to tend his own wounds.

These priests are not to be deposed, but are allowed to return to office after a time of penance and suspension from clerical duties. As the medieval commentators attest, this indulgence applied only to those living at the time of the decree. Beyond that time, the rule of deposition would apply to any cleric living in a second marriage.

But those who have been married to one wife, if she was a widow, and likewise those who after their ordination have unlawfully entered into one marriage that is, presbyters, and deacons, and subdeacons, being debarred for some short time from sacred ministration, and censured, shall be restored again to their proper rank, never advancing to any further rank, their unlawful marriage being openly dissolved.

Though it is also unlawful for a cleric to be married to a widow or to marry after ordination, these will also be pardoned if they repent now and dissolve their marriage, after a time of penance and suspension from office. After this amnesty, the Council will renew

... the Canon which declares, that he who has been joined in two marriages after his baptism, or has had a concubine, cannot be bishop, or presbyter, or deacon, or at all on the sacerdotal list; in like manner, that he who has taken a widow, or a divorced person, or a harlot, or a servant, or an actress, cannot be bishop, or presbyter, or deacon, or at all on the sacerdotal list.

The strict rule of purity requires that not only should the priest be the husband of one wife, but even that his wife should not have known another man. For this reason, certain social classes are listed. Servants were considered by the Greeks to be sexually licentious, as were actresses (some things never change).

Overall, this canon effectively favors Roman strictness, but only after a period of amnesty. In fact, Roman discipline regarding clerical marriage had fallen lax in the seventh century, only to be restored in the eleventh. There is nothing in this canon manifestly contrary to the decrees of Rome.

Canon IV

If any bishop, presbyter, deacon, sub-deacon, lector, cantor, or door-keeper has had intercourse with a woman dedicated to God, let him be deposed, as one who has corrupted a spouse of Christ, but if a layman let him be cut off.

A "spouse of Christ" in this canon refers to virgins or widows dedicated to religious service (e.g., a nun). This canon is included in Gratian's Decretum.

Canon V

The fifth canon forbids a priest to have women as servants in his household, unless they are free from suspicion (e.g., a mother or sister). The penalty is deposition. The same applies to "eunuchs", i.e., priests or lay monks who have taken vows of celibacy. If the eunuchs are clerics, they are deposed; if laymen, excommunicated. This canon is similar to the third canon of Nicaea, except here even non-priestly "eunuchs" (i.e., monks) are included. Nothing here is contrary to Roman practice.

Canon VI

Since it is declared in the apostolic canons that of those who are advanced to the clergy unmarried, only lectors and cantors are able to marry; we also, maintaining this, determine that henceforth it is in nowise lawful for any subdeacon, deacon or presbyter after his ordination to contract matrimony but if he shall have dared to do so, let him be deposed. And if any of those who enter the clergy, wishes to be joined to a wife in lawful marriage before he is ordained subdeacon, deacon, or presbyter, let it be done.

According to the Apostolic Canons, only lectors and cantors can marry after ordination. Therefore, subdeacons, deacons and presbyters are forbidden to marry after ordination, and the punishment is deposition. Note that this canon enumerates all the recognized classes of clergy, and excludes deaconesses. Also, the subdeacon is evidently distinguished from the minor orders of cantor and lector. Patristic testimony gives abundant evidence that the prohibition of marriage after ordination was universally recognized from the earliest days of the Church.

This canon declares that those who wish to enter the clergy already married should be permitted to do so. The inclusion of "presbyters" here does not necessarily imply a repudiation of the Roman practice of admitting only unmarried men to the priesthood. It may simply mean that in jurisdictions where married priests are permitted, marriages after ordination are forbidden and marriages before ordination present no obstacle.

Gratian's Decretum mentions only that subdeacons may be married before ordination. The entire remainder of the canon is omitted. However, the injunction against marriage after ordination is well established by Patristic testimony, and is accepted by the Catholic Church. The tolerance of married priests is acceptable to Rome, as long as this is not construed as delegitimizing the Latin practice of ordinarily accepting only unmarried candidates.

Canon VII

Deacons are forbidden to take places of honor above presbyters, except when the deacon is "acting as representative of his own patriarch or metropolitan in another city under another superior, for then he shall be honoured as filling his place." The penalty is demotion to lowest in rank in his church, following the precept in the Gospel of Luke that everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled. (14:11) This punishment is milder than that prescribed by the eighteenth canon of Nicaea, which also demanded expulsion from the diaconate.

Canon VIII

Since barbarian incursions made it often impracticable to hold provincial synods twice a year, this canon required only that such synods take place at least once a year, between Easter and October, at a location chosen by the metropolitan.

Canon IX

Clerics are not allowed to keep taverns, as is fitting, since they are not allowed to frequent them.

Canon X

"A bishop, or presbyter, or deacon who receives usury, or what is called hecatostæ, let him desist or be deposed." Usury is forbidden only to clergy, not laymen. This does not necessarily mean the Church considers it to be moral behavior for laymen, but the matter is reserved for civil law. Similarly, elsewhere in the canons harlotry is prohibited only to clergy, but this does not mean it is acceptable for laymen.

Canon XI

The Church does claim jurisdiction over laymen in religious matters:

Let no one in the priestly order nor any layman eat the unleavened bread of the Jews, nor have any familiar intercourse with them, nor summon them in illness, nor receive medicines from them, nor bathe with them; but if anyone shall take in hand to do so, if he is a cleric, let him be deposed, but if a layman let him be cut off.

The Greeks were especially concerned that many Christians had become "Judaized", following Jewish customs of the Old Law mixed with the practice of Christianity. This accounts for some of the infamous diatribes against the Jews by the Greek fathers. In order to protect Christians from this bad religious influence, whereby faith in Christ's redemption is nullified by recourse to the practices of the Old Covenant, the council forbade Christians to have any interaction with the Jews. They even went so far as to forbid any familiar exchange or business with them, which no previous synod had done. This was not motivated by racial animus as such, but in order to give no occasion for Judaizing religious influence. Ironically, the Jews, who had set themselves apart from the gentiles for reasons of religious purity, were now themselves shunned by the Christians for similar reasons. This canon is included in Gratian's Decretum.

Canon XII

Although the fifth apostolic canon forbids that bishops, presbyters or deacons should put away their lawful wives if married before ordination, the twelfth Trullan canon requires bishops to desist from intercourse and even cohabitation with their wives. The practice of episcopal continence was already well established in the East, as the Greek fathers say they have only heard of bishops "in Africa and Libya and other places" living with their wives, "thereby giving scandal and offense to the people." Apparently, even in these other parts of Christendom, there was an expectation that bishops should be celibate, and especially so in the West, where this was demanded even of priests.

The council justifies its apparent departure from the Apostolic Canons by invoking St. Paul's principle: "Do all to the glory of God, give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Greeks, nor to the Church of God, even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit but the profit of many, that they may be saved." The Greek canonist Ioannes Zonaras (12th cent.) comments on this canon that "the Apostles treated with greater softness and indulgence those who embraced the truth, which as yet was not scattered far and wide, nor did they exact from them perfection in all respects, but made great allowances for their weakness and for the inveterate force of the customs with which they were surrounded, both among the heathen and among the Jews." Now, however, that the Christian religion was well established in the world, effort could be made to enforce higher and holier standards. It can scarcely be denied that celibacy was an ideal held by Christ and the Apostles. The Church then does not err in raising her standards closer to these ideals.

Canon XIII

Since we know it to be handed down as a rule of the Roman Church that those who are deemed worthy to be advanced to the diaconate or presbyterate should promise no longer to cohabit with their wives, we, preserving the ancient rule and apostolic perfection and order, will that the lawful marriages of men who are in holy orders be from this time forward firm, by no means dissolving their union with their wives nor depriving them of their mutual intercourse at a convenient time.

This invocation of the apostolic rule is ironic, since the previous canon waived that rule in the case of bishops. Although the present canon would nullify the Roman practice of having married men dismiss their wives in order to be ordained, it does not forbid priestly celibacy as such, since the Latin Church could choose to ordain only unmarried men, as has been its actual practice for the last thousand years. In fact, Canon V of this same council explicitly mentions clerical eunuchs.

Wherefore, if anyone shall have been found worthy to be ordained subdeacon, or deacon, or presbyter, he is by no means to be prohibited from admittance to such a rank, even if he shall live with a lawful wife.

This rule, on its face, would seem to forbid the Roman practice of admitting only unmarried men to the priesthood. Gratian, nonetheless, counted this canon in his Decretum, noting that it should be understood as only having regional application. This was because the Greeks did not require a vow of chastity at ordination. Pace Gratian, it would be highly unusual if this canon were not intended for the entire Church, given the Council's explicit suppression of Roman customs elsewhere, as regards the Lenten fast.

But we know, as they who assembled at Carthage (with a care for the honest life of the clergy) said, that subdeacons, who handle the Holy Mysteries, and deacons, and presbyters should abstain from their consorts according to their own course [of ministration]. So that what has been handed down through the Apostles and preserved by ancient custom, we too likewise maintain, knowing that there is a time for all things and especially for fasting and prayer. For it is meet that they who assist at the divine altar should be absolutely continent when they are handling holy things, in order that they may be able to obtain from God what they ask in sincerity.

As Fleury observes (H. E., Livre XL., chap. 1.), the Council has misrepresented the decree at V Carthage (400), which said that "that subdeacons, deacons, priests, and bishops shall abstain from their wives, following the ancient statutes, and shall be as though they had them not." The Council in Trullo omits mention of bishops, and holds that the other clergy need abstain from their wives only at fixed times, shortly before performing altar service.

This canon is acceptable to the Roman Church if it is understood to have only local application. As a universal rule, this would be objectionable insofar as it requires all ecclesiastical jurisdictions to admit married men to the priesthood. The Romans have long abandoned the practice of requiring men to put away their wives in order to receive holy orders, but deny ordination to those already married. This canon may be understood as a universal rule only in the sense of defining the maximum that can be tolerated regarding clerical marriage.

Canon XIV

Presbyters are not to be ordained before the age of thirty, following the example of Our Lord, who did not preach until that age, though He was eminently capable before then. Deacons are not to be ordained until age twenty-five, and deaconesses must be aged at least forty. Note that the episcopate is not mentioned as a distinct order, since it is but a more perfect form of the presbyterate. A deaconess is said to be ordained, but she is not a cleric, as was established in previous councils. The non-clerical status of the deaconess is indicated by her irregular age of ordination, which is much higher than that for any clerical order. Deaconesses were customarily widows, who assisted the Church in liturgy, as the Church provided for their needs. Although they did not belong to the hierarchy, widows had a place of honor above subdeacons, which is why the deaconess is here listed before subdeacons. (Canon XV)

In the Latin Church, the minimal ages of ordination have traditionally been for a bishop thirty, for a priest twenty-four, for a deacon twenty-two, and a subdeacon twenty-one. Thus the fourteenth canon has not been adopted by the Roman Church. The example of Christ has sufficed to impose a thirty-year age limit on the perfected priesthood of the episcopate, but not on ordinary presbyters, who have a more limited teaching authority, circumscribed by the rule of their bishop.

Canon XV

"A subdeacon is not to be ordained under twenty years of age."

Although this rule for subdeacons comes from a Western council (Second Council of Toledo, c. AD 535, first canon), the Latins have sometimes required an age limit of twenty-one, but never, as far as we know, less than twenty. Thus there is nothing objectionable in this canon from a Roman perspective.

Canon XVI

The synod of Neocaesarea said there should be only seven deacons in a city, even if it is very large, in accordance with the Book of Acts. Examining the words of the Apostles, the Council in Trullo found that the Apostles appointed seven deacons not to minister at the Mysteries but to serve tables for the needy. Thus the canon of Neocaesarea should be understood in this sense, as applying only to deacons who serve the needy. The number of deacons who serve at the altar is by no means limited.

Interestingly, the council cites St. John Chrysostom as saying:

But we must learn what sort of rank they had, and what ordination they received. Was it that of deacons? But this office did not yet exist in the churches. But was it the dispensation of a presbyter? But there was not as yet any bishop, but only Apostles, whence I think it is clear and manifest that neither of deacons nor of presbyters was there then the name.

The venerable saint does not seem to be arguing from any special historical knowledge of the first century Church, but from the text of Acts itself. He assumes that the office of deacon did not yet exist, and does not think it possible that these men could be the first deacons, perhaps because there was no bishop or priest for them to assist, but only Apostles. He does not seem to consider the possibility that the Apostles themselves served as bishops par excellence, and were eminently qualified to ordain deacons to assist them. It is true that these deacons did not serve any liturgical function, as there was as yet not any need for such service, but this is no reason to deny that they were truly ordained.

The Roman Church certainly would have no objection to allowing more than seven deacons per city, but has long held that the deacons mentioned in Acts were truly the first ordained deacons, and that the Apostles established the episcopate. Catholics might accept the rule of this canon, but not its argument.

Canon XVII

Clerics who disobediently leave their church are not to be received by another, under penalty of deposition. This canon is found in Gratian's Decretum.


Clerics may leave their church on account of a barbarian incursion, but they are bound to return once the occasion has ended, or else be excommunicated, along with the bishop who receives him.

The Greek canonist Theodore Balsamon (12th cent.) comments that a bishop who deserts his church may be excommunicated ("cut off") by his metropolitan, and a metropolitan by his patriarch. "But if an autocephalous archbishop or a Patriarch other than the Patriarch of Constantinople (for he has a faculty for doing so) should be convicted of a breach of this Canon, by whom would he be cut off? I suppose by the Supreme Pontiff." An "autocephalous archbishop" simply means an archbishop who has no patriarch. These archbishops, and the patriarchs other than that of Constantinople, can be excommunicated by the Pope, so they are not fully independent, though they may establish their own local canons and they are not appointed by any patriarch. The Constantinopolitan patriarch is exempted, because there is already a canonical means of appeal to the emperor for his deposition. Note that there is no rule for deposing the Supreme Pontiff, who is judged by no man, in the sense of ecclesiastical law.

Canon XIX

Those who preside over the churches (i.e., prelates) should teach the clergy and people every day and especially on the Lord's day, piety and religion from Holy Scripture, "not going beyond the limits now fixed, nor varying from the tradition of the God-bearing fathers." In matters of controversy, the interpretations of the doctors of the Church are to be followed, rather than composing new ideas, lest they fall into error.

Canon XX

It shall not be lawful for a bishop to teach publicly in any city which does not belong to him. If any shall have been observed doing this, let him cease from his episcopate, but let him discharge the office of a presbyter.

On its face, this canon would seem to create an exception to the twenty-ninth canon of Chalcedon, which held that those justly deposed from the episcopate should not be permitted the rank even of a priest. Some Greek canonists held that this Trullan canon did not prescribe a true deposition, but the bishop is only to be relieved of episcopal functions such as public teaching, so he can only act as if he were a presbyter.

Canon XXI

If a deposed cleric repents of the sin that caused him to lose his rank, he may keep his hair shorn like a cleric, though remaining deposed. Otherwise, he must allow his hair to grow, "as being those who have preferred the communion of the world to the celestial life."

The tonsure was an important visible sign of one's orientation toward the spiritual life at the expense of worldly glory. Those who are more attracted to the world should not be permitted to keep a false sign of clerical denial of worldliness, for that slanders those who wear the tonsure in earnest. By the same token, those who repent of their sin, even though they are not restored in rank, are recognized as sincerely pursuing the heavenly life.

Those who are deposed for violating the canons are not restored to rank because it would give scandal to the faithful. Those who repent of their offense are still recognized as clerics in some spiritual sense. The unrepentant, however, are apparently considered to have altogether left the clerical state.

Canon XXII

Those who are ordained for pay to any clerical rank are to be deposed, as is the ordainer.


No one may offer Holy Communion for pay. "For grace is not to be sold, nor do we give the sanctification of the Holy Spirit for money; but to those who are worthy of the gift it is to be communicated in all simplicity."

Apparently some priests demanded an obolus, following the Old Testament custom of the Temple. However, in the new dispensation, what Christ offers is a free gift. This canon is recorded by Gratian.

Canon XXIV

Priests and monks are forbidden to attend horse-races or the theatre (the latter being generally obscene at the time). Priests are forbidden even to attend the games at weddings they officiate, and must leave before these begin. Gratian records a similar canon. (I, XXIV, c. xix)

Canon XXV

Rural and provincial parishes shall be retained by the current bishops, provided they were administered without opposition for thirty years. If within the last thirty years there has been some controversy on jurisdiction, this should be referred to a provincial synod.

Canon XXVI

A priest who was in an illicit marriage out of ignorance may retain his status as a priest, but not exercise his priestly duties. This is similar to the modern Catholic penalty of suspension a divinis, which is distinct from laicization. The penalized priest must not have any social relations with his illicit wife.


Clergy must wear clerical garb, even while in town or on a journey. If not, they are to be "cut off for one week."

The necessity of clothing identifying one's social status was to prevent inappropriate social intercourse. A cleric not dressed as such might partake in activities forbidden to a cleric. Interestingly, this canon proposes a mild penalty of one week's excommunication, presumably accompanied by penance.


Since we understand that in several churches grapes are brought to the altar, according to a custom which has long prevailed, and the ministers joined this with the unbloody sacrifice of the oblation, and distributed both to the people at the same time, we decree that no priest shall do this for the future, but shall administer the oblation alone to the people for the quickening of their souls and for the remission of their sins. But with regard to the offering of grapes as first fruits, the priests may bless them apart [from the offering of the oblation] and distribute them to such as seek them as an act of thanksgiving to him who is the Giver of the fruits by which our bodies are increased and fed according to his divine decree.

This custom of bringing grapes (among other gifts) to the altar existed in both the East and West, before and after this synod. This canon does not forbid the blessing of such gifts, but requires that there be a clear separation between this act and the sacrifice of the Eucharist.

Gratian records a shortened paraphrase of this canon, retaining all the essential content. (III, II, c. vi)

Canon XXIX

The Council of Carthage required that clergy must fast before offering the Eucharistic sacrifice, but allowed an exception for the day of the Lord's Supper, Holy Thursday. The Council in Trullo acknowledges that "even the holy Fathers themselves made use of this dispensation." Nonetheless, it decrees that henceforth "the Apostolic and Patristic tradition shall be followed" (in apparent reference to the Apostolic Canons), and the Lenten fast should not be broken on Holy Thursday.

Only the African Church allowed dispensation of the fast on Holy Thursday. This was in deference to a custom of bathing on that day, a practice considered incompatible with fasting. Those who did not fast received the Eucharist during the day, while those who did fast could partake of the Eucharist after the evening meal. In Rome, the liturgy was held during the day, which was a day of fasting. The medieval Catholic Church would likely have no objection to this Trullan canon, but in the past century the Church has relaxed its ancient discipline, allowing even the consumption of meat on this day.

Canon XXX

Willing to do all things for the edification of the Church, we have determined to take care even of priests who are in barbarian churches. Wherefore if they think that they ought to exceed the Apostolic Canon concerning the not putting away of a wife on the pretext of piety and religion, and to do beyond that which is commanded, and therefore abstain by agreement with their wives from cohabitation, we decree they ought no longer to live with them in any way, so that hereby they may afford us a perfect demonstration of their promise. But we have conceded this to them on no other ground than their narrowness, and foreign and unsettled manners.

In some of the more barbarous or recently converted parts of the West, priests would abstain from wives they had married before ordination, in order to keep Latin celibacy. Interestingly, the Council in Trullo, though disapproving of this practice, allows it on the condition that they should not live with their wives in any way. This apparently is to ensure that they make good on their vow. Canon XIII stipulated that putting away one's wife shall not be required of the ordained, while the present canon makes an allowance for those who voluntarily choose priestly continence. Fleury wryly remarks of the Greek fathers that "according to them it is an imperfection to aspire after perfect continence." The Greeks are limited by their idea that the Church's canonical discipline should stagnate, forever replicating some spurious primitive tradition supposedly represented in the Apostolic Canons.

This canon is objectionable only in its characterization of priestly celibacy, not in its legislative content, which is a concession toward this practice.

Canon XXXI

Clerics may not offer the holy mysteries in oratories that are in private houses, without the consent of the bishop.


In Armenia, wine unmixed with water is used for the Holy Sacrifice. They cite St. John Chrysostom in support of this practice:

And wherefore did he not drink water after he was risen again, but wine? To pluck up by the roots another wicked heresy. For since there are certain who use water in the Mysteries to shew that both when he delivered the mysteries he had given wine and that when he had risen and was setting before them a mere meal without mysteries, he used wine, ‘of the fruit,’ saith he, ‘of the vine.’ But a vine produces wine, not water

The council points out that the saintly Doctor said these words in response to the heresy of those who used water instead of wine. He and the other holy Fathers used wine mixed with water, reflecting the mingling of the blood and water that poured forth from the side of Christ. This practice is found in the Liturgy of St. James, and was taught by St. Basil of Caesarea, and affirmed by the Council of Carthage. Hence this Council forbids priests to omit mixing the wine with water in the Holy Sacrifice. The Catholic Church has long considered the mixing of water and wine to be essential to the sacrament.


The Armenians have the custom of allowing only descendants of priests to become priests. They also allow the untonsured to succeed "cantors and lectors of the Divine Law". The Council in Trullo requires that no regard be paid to the priestly descent of a candidate for the priesthood, and further, that no one may "read in the ambo" (i.e., be a lector, or perhaps even a cantor) without receiving the tonsure and benediction of his pastor.

The reason the clerical tonsure is required for lectors (and likely cantors) is that these men handle a holy object, namely the Word of God.


Clergy are forbidden to join secret societies or to conspire against other clergy. Secret societies were already forbidden by civil law, and by the Council of Chalcedon.

Canon XXXV

It shall be lawful for no Metropolitan on the death of a bishop of his province to appropriate or sell the private property of the deceased, or that of the widowed church: but these are to be in the custody of the clergy of the diocese over which he presided until the election of another bishop, unless in the said church there are no clergymen left. For then the Metropolitan shall protect the property without diminution, handing over everything to the bishop when he is appointed.


Renewing the enactments by the 150 Fathers assembled at the God-protected and imperial city, and those of the 630 who met at Chalcedon; we decree that the see of Constantinople shall have equal privileges with the see of Old Rome, and shall be highly regarded in ecclesiastical matters as that is, and shall be second after it. After Constantinople shall be ranked the See of Alexandria, then that of Antioch, and afterwards the See of Jerusalem.

The first clause refers to the third canon of the First Council of Constantinople and the twenty-eighth canon of the Council of Chalcedon, both of which were rejected by the Pope when ratifying these councils. The Greeks claimed that the Patriarch of Constantinople should have equal status with Rome in matters of ecclesiastical or canonical jurisdiction, though remaining second in terms of honor. This equality is claimed on the basis that Constantinople is the new imperial city, an error that is characteristic of the Greek tendency to mix the authority of church and state. In a similar vein, the Emperor had a quasi-priestly status as the "equal of the Apostles".

The Greeks recognized that Rome had historically enjoyed superior privileges over Constantinople, which is why they found it necessary to draw up a canon altering this state of affairs, with the consent of the other Eastern patriarchs. The Pope would eventually accept the Patriarchate of Constantinople's place as second in honor after Rome, but never conceded equality of authority. Indeed, this claim to equality was based on the constitution of the Empire, not of the Church. The shortsightedness of this statist ecclesiology would be proved centuries later, when the Empire was conquered by the Turks. The Greeks did not then follow their own logic and demote the Patriarch of Constantinople, but the Patriarchate was gradually fragmented as new nationalisms emerged. The Pope, meanwhile, has retained primacy over the Catholic Church through the rise and fall of empires and kingdoms, as the authority of the Apostolic See did not derive from such political contingencies in the first place.

This canon is found in Gratian's Decretal (I, XXII, c. vi), but in a modified form, acceptable to the Roman Church. It reads:

Renewing the decrees of the holy council of Constantinople, we entreat (petimus) that the see of Constantinople assumes similar privileges, that the elder (superior) Rome has, nevertheless is not to be as highly regarded in ecclesiastical matters, and shall be second after it, numbered prior to the See of Alexandria; thereafter that of Antioch, and after that of Jerusalem.

This mutilated decree has the Greeks requesting similar privileges, but they do not even ask for equality in ecclesiastical matters. If this were not enough, Gratian suggests the last part of the canon might mean that Constantinople shares the second place of honor with Alexandria.


A bishop who is not able to occupy his see on account of barbarian incursions may nonetheless exercise his authority from abroad, and his ordinations and other acts are valid.


This canon renews the seventeenth canon of Chalcedon, decreeing: "If any city be renewed by imperial authority, or shall have been renewed, let the order of things ecclesiastical follow the civil and public models." This refers to the emperor's ability to assign the privileges of other cities to a "renewed" or re-edified city, or to assign a city to another province. The Church should model its structure in parallel, to determine which metropolitans have authority over which bishops. Naturally, this canon could only have effect in territories under imperial authority.


Due to barbarian incursions, the bishop of Cyprus and many of his followers had to retreat to the province of Hellespont. The Council in Trullo decrees that the bishop of Cyzicus, who until now was in charge of the province of Hellespont, should now be subject to the metropolitan of Cyprus, whose chief city was New Justinianopolis, formerly called Constantia.

Interestingly, the canon says "that new Justinianopolis shall have the rights of Constantinople and whoever is constituted the pious and most religious bishop thereof shall take precedence of all the bishops of the province of the Hellespont". Hefele observes that "the rights of Constantinople" certainly does not mean equality of dignity with that patriarchy, but at most that the metropolitan of Cyprus should now have those rights over Hellespont formerly enjoyed by Constantinople. Alternatively, following the Amerbachian manuscript, we may read Konstantineon poleos ("city of Constantia") instead of Constantinople, which would mean that the rights of Constantia now pass to New Justinianopolis.

Canon XL

The Church may admit people to the monastic life as young as the age of ten, notwithstanding St. Basil's admonition not to accept female vows of virginity prior to the seventeenth year. Though the Apostle himself ordered that widows espoused to the Church must be at least sixty, the holy fathers later allowed deaconess to be ordained at forty, as "the Church by divine grace had gone forth more powerful and robust and was advancing still further, and they saw the firmness and stability of the faithful in observing the divine commandments."

The Greeks evidently do allow for some changes in discipline according to the strength of the Church. By this logic, they ought to have allowed for the rule of priestly celibacy in the West, but this would have forced them to admit that the West was in some ways stronger than the East.

Canon XLI

One who wishes to lead the monastic life in solitude (cloistered) must first live according to the communal monastic life for three years, before he is examined, and then must live one more year in a community. After then, if he still wishes it, he is to be shut away from others, and may not leave the monastery except under urgent necessity with the bishop's approval. Those who leave the cloister without such cause must be returned to their monastery where they shall fast and do corporal penance.

Canon XLII

Impostor monks who went by the name of "Eremites" ("of the desert," whence our term "hermit") would wear long hair and associate with worldly men and women, bringing odium upon the monastic orders. If these impostors do not agree to become true monks, joining a monastery and wearing a habit and short hair, they are to be expelled to the desert, that they may be true to their name.


It is lawful for any Christian to choose the monastic life, regardless of his previous sins. No custom may hinder anyone from fulfilling this intention.

Canon XLIV

A monk who commits fornication or takes a wife is to be punished as a fornicator.

Canon XLV

This canon forbids the custom where a woman about to join a monastic order is first dressed in fine clothes and jewelry before the altar, where she is stripped of these and her habit is blessed. This practice reflects an unseemly attachment to worldly goods, when the candidate by now should have freely renounced these. Similarly, those entering a nunnery should not shed profuse tears in regret for the life being renounced.

While there is a certain sagacity in the admonition that a postulant should not have regrets for the life she leaves behind, this custom is an understandable concession to human nature, and may be understood to accentuate the act of renunciation. Certain orders in the Latin Church, especially the Carmelites, permit this practice.

Canon XLVI

A nuns may not leave her convent except for serious necessity and with the approval of her mother superior. Even then, she must be accompanied by "some old women who are eminent in the monastery", and they may not stop outside. Monks may not leave the monastery without due necessity and the permission of their superiors.


"No woman may sleep in a monastery of men, nor any man in a monastery of women." A cleric or layman who does this shall be excommunicated.


The wife of him who is advanced to the Episcopal dignity, shall be separated from her husband by their mutual consent, and after his ordination and consecration to the episcopate she shall enter a monastery situated at a distance from the abode of the bishop, and there let her enjoy the bishop’s provision. And if she is deemed worthy she may be advanced to the dignity of a deaconess.

The Greeks do require wives to be put away when one is advanced to the episcopate. They remain married, but separated, in order not to give scandal.

Canon XLIX

Monasteries are always to remain monasteries, and are never to be converted to use by the secular clergy.

Canon L

Neither clerics nor laymen may play at dice, under penalty of deposition or excommunication respectively. This rule follows the Apostolic Canons. Games of chance are severely proscribed because of the pagan superstitions they occasion.

Canon LI

Those who actively participate (as opposed to being mere spectators) in theatrical dances and exhibition of hunts are excommunicated if laymen, or deposed if clerics. Again, the pagan significance of these practices made them unacceptable for a Christian.

Canon LII

On all days of the holy fast of Lent, except on the Sabbath, the Lord’s day and the holy day of the Annunciation, the Liturgy of the Presanctified is to be said.

The Liturgy of the Presanctified is an offering of Hosts that were already consecrated on another day. This is done on days when no Eucharistic Sacrifice may be offered. In the West, this custom is practiced only on Good Friday, when Hosts consecrated on Holy Thursday may be distributed for communion. In the East, all the weekdays of Lent save the Feast of the Annunciation used the Liturgy of the Presanctified. The liturgy omits the prayers of consecration, but the priest prays that he may be a worthy communicant.

Canon LIII

A godfather may not marry the widowed mother of his godchild. This marriage is unlawful and is to be punished as fornication.

Such marriages were forbidden by Justinian's code, "because nothing can so incite to parental affection, and therefore induce a just prohibition of marriage, than a bond of this sort by which, through God’s meditation, their souls are bound together."

Canon LIV

To clarify previous canons of St. Basil, which left some things unspoken out of modesty, this council decrees that the following types of marriage are unlawful. A man may not marry his father's daughter (i.e., his half-sister). A father and son may not marry a mother and daughter (i.e., a man may not marry his stepmother's daughter). A father and son may not marry two girls who are sisters, nor may a mother and daughter marry two girls who are brothers. (That is, you may not marry one who is an aunt or uncle by marriage, nor your child's brother- or sister-in-law.) Nor may two brothers marry two sisters. All of these must separate and do canonical penance for seven years.

Canon LV

Since we understand that in the city of the Romans, in the holy fast of Lent they fast on the Saturdays, contrary to the ecclesiastical observance which is traditional, it seemed good to the holy synod that also in the Church of the Romans the canon shall immovably stand fast which says: “If any cleric shall be found to fast on a Sunday or Saturday (except on one occasion only) he is to be deposed; and if he is a layman he shall be cut off.”

Citing the fifty-sixth Apostolic Canon, the Greeks held that the Roman practice of fasting on Saturdays of Lent was contrary to sound tradition. The Eastern exemption of Saturdays from fasting was probably based on deference to the sabbath, which is to be a day of joy, not fasting. Thus both the sabbath of the Old Law and the Lord's Day of the new dispensation are exempted from fasting. The fifty-sixth canon was almost certainly not apostolic in origin, so there is no solid basis for the Greek opprobrium toward the Latin practice. Naturally, this canon was not received in the West.

Here we have a clear example of the Greeks purporting to impose their customs on the Latins, believing theirs to be of genuine apostolic origin. Many of the so-called Apostolic Canons date from the fourth century and later, when East and West had already developed distinct customs, so they do not serve as sound evidence of the greater authenticity of the Greek tradition.

Canon LVI

We have likewise learned that in the regions of Armenia and in other places certain people eat eggs and cheese on the Sabbaths and Lord’s days of the holy lent. It seems good therefore that the whole Church of God which is in all the world should follow one rule and keep the fast perfectly, and as they abstain from everything which is killed, so also should they from eggs and cheese, which are the fruit and produce of those animals from which we abstain. But if any shall not observe this law, if they be clerics, let them be deposed; but if laymen, let them be cut off.

Here the Greeks impose their rule of abstaining from all animal products, not just flesh meat, on the whole Church. This time they do not even have the pretext of apostolic authority, but presume that the Greek rule is superior and that there needs to be a uniform rule over the entire Church. As Van Espen notes, the Greeks evidently did abstain on Saturdays and Sundays, although they did not fast on these days.

Canon LVII

"It is not right to offer honey and milk on the altar."

No penalty is prescribed, nor is any explanation given for this unequivocal prohibition. Given the preceding canons, we can assume that because the Greeks do not permit this, it ought to be forbidden in the entire church. The Africans allowed for exceptions to this rule.


Laymen are forbidden to give themselves communion if a bishop, presbyter or deacon is present. Those who do so are to be cut off for a week.

In former times, the Eucharist was taken home by laypeople to receive at home, either to avoid persecution or because they lived some distance away from the clergy, as was the case with lay monks who lived in the desert. When clergy are available, however, the laity are strictly enjoined not to self-communicate, lest they should think that they are of the same status as the clergy, who alone are authorized to offer the Holy Sacrifice, and from whom all distribution of Holy Communion originates. A mild penalty of a week's excommunication is prescribed, as was the case in Canon XXVII, which also involved pretending to have a different social status. Apparently, lay communication was considered bad external form, but was not intrinsically sacrilegious.

Canon LIX

Baptism is by no means to be administered in an oratory which is within a house; but they who are about to be held worthy of the spotless illumination are to go to a Catholic Church and there to enjoy this gift.

Since baptism is the means by which one enters the Catholic Church, it is fitting that this should take place only in a proper church, and not in a house used as an oratory.

Canon LX

Those who pretend to be possessed by the devil by exhibiting depraved manners should be subjected to the same hardships and penances as is customary for genuine demoniacs, since by their imitative behavior they show an affinity to the devil.

Canon LXI

Those who turn to soothsayers, enchanters and other diviners in search of secret knowledge shall be sentenced to six years canonical penance.

It is no excuse if they do these things in the name of Christ, as is common even today, for as St. John Chrysostom says: "Moreover I think that she is to be hated all the more who abuses the name of God for this purpose, because while professing to be a Christian, she shows by her actions that she is a heathen."

Canon LXII

No Christian may practice the Calends or the feasts of Pan and Bacchus. Nor shall there be public dances of women, nor those dances given in the names of the Greek gods. No man shall dress as a woman, nor a woman as a man. No one shall wear comic, satyric or tragic masks. No one may invoke the name of Bacchus at the wine press or at wine jars. The penalty is deposition for clerics, excommunication for laity.

All of these practices are condemned for their connection to pagan religion, hence the severity of the penalty. Naturally, no one can practice pagan religion and remain a member of the Church.


The reading of false histories of the martyrs is forbidden, especially as many of these dishonor the martyrs, thereby inducing unbelief in the masses.

Some of the more fantastic legends of the martyrs and other saints cast them in a morally repugnant light, for the sake of making an interesting story. Tales that emphasize great marvels at the expense of the saint's character serve only to undermine the faith in the long run.

Canon LXIV

Since a layman has no teaching authority, he should not dispute or teach publicly regarding "divine things", for not all are Apostles, nor all prophets. The penalty is forty days excommunication.

Canon LXV

It is forbidden to light fires on new moons for the purpose of leaping over them (as part of a pagan festivity also involving drinking and wrestling).

Canon LXVI

For the whole of Easter week (beginning with Easter Sunday), the laity are to be free from labor. They should be celebrating the feast every day with psalms and hymns, and attend the Divine Liturgy every day. "Therefore, on the aforesaid days there must not be any horse races or any public spectacle."


In accordance with Scripture, no Christian should eat the blood of an animal, under pain of deposition or excommunication.

This injunction, practiced by the primitive Church, forbade eating blood as a distinct food, in liquid or congealed form. Naturally, it was acceptable to eat blood in the proportion that naturally remained in flesh meat. However, as St. Augustine attests, this practice had long been abandoned in much of the Church, once Christianity had been well established among the gentiles. Since there were no more pagan animal sacrifices, the reason for this precept no longer remained. Thus it was gradually abandoned by the Latin Church and even much of the East, this canon notwithstanding.


It is unlawful for anyone to corrupt or cut up a book of the Old or New Testament or of our holy and approved preachers and teachers, or to give them up to the traders in books or to those who are called perfumers, or to hand it over for destruction to any other like persons: unless to be sure it has been rendered useless either by bookworms, or by water, or in some other way. He who henceforth shall be observed to do such a thing shall be cut off for one year.

Canon LXIX

A layman may not go up to the altar (i.e., enter the sanctuary). The sole exception is the Emperor, "when he wishes to offer his gifts to the Creator."

The emperor, due to his divinely appointed status, enjoyed certain religious duties, as was the case with certain monarchs in the West.

Canon LXX

Women are not permitted to speak during the Divine Liturgy, in accordance with the teaching of the Apostle Paul.

Speaking is prohibited insofar as it is understood to mean teaching or asking questions on religious matters. St. Paul is emphatic that women should not give religious instruction to men in the context of public liturgy. They may, however, receive instruction in private, and historically they have played a prominent role in the religious instruction of children.

Canon LXXI

Those who study civil law must not adopt gentile customs, nor go to the theater, nor "roll in the dust" (perhaps as in athletic games, such as wrestling), nor wear clothing contrary to custom.

This injunction is specifically aimed at law students. Apparently, either these customs were learned from the study of Roman law, or it was a school tradition to engage in these practices. We might compare this with the modern fraternity practice of emulating ancient Greek and Roman customs for the purposes of frivolity. Since these activities evinced a desire to return to the ways of pagan Greece and Rome, they were grounds for excommunication.


An orthodox person may not marry a heretic; such a marriage is null. However, if two unbelievers are lawfully married and one converts to the orthodox faith, then they may remain married, in accordance with the Apostle's teaching that the believing spouse sanctifies the unbeliever.

It is certainly sound practice to forbid the orthodox to marry (presumably baptized) heretics, but this canon goes further and says such a marriage is null. In the West, such a marriage has always been considered valid, though illicit. It is likely that such a distinction was not recognized in the East at the time, though the modern Orthodox do recognize the validity of such marriages. We may compare the severity of this law with the Greek denial that heretic baptisms are valid. Indeed, this law would be a logical consequence of that denial, since a marriage to a heretic would be no different from marrying the unbaptized, which is invalid unless a dispensation is granted.


The Cross is to be venerated (proskuneois) "in mind, in word, in feeling". A cross paved in the floor should be removed, lest the trophy of Christ's victory should suffer the indignity of being trampled upon.

Canon LXIV

Agapae or love-feasts are forbidden in the churches. There shall not be eating in the churches, nor laying out couches. This renews the twenty-eighth canon of Council of Laodicea. (AD 364)

The agape was a Christian liturgical function dating back to apostolic times, loosely modeled after Greco-Roman funereal feasts (also called agapae) and the Jewish Pasch, in commemoration of the Last Supper. The service, which lasted well into the night, consisted of a meal that was eaten while reclining on couches and discussing pious matters, followed by prayer and preaching, and ending with a hymn. The ritual of the Eucharist was sometimes performed at these services, but the agape is not to be confused with the Divine Liturgy, which existed even in places where agapae were unknown. By the fourth century, this distinction was more sharply defined, as the Council of Laodicea forbade agapae to be held in the churches, while permitting them elsewhere. By the time of the Council in Trullo, agapae were seldom practiced at all, due to the large size of most congregations, as well as the abuses of food and drink they occasioned, and the incorporation of much of its functions into the elaborate Divine Liturgy.

Canon LXXV

We will that those whose office it is to sing in the churches do not use undisciplined vociferations, nor force nature to shouting, nor adopt any of those modes which are incongruous and unsuitable for the church...

This objection to "undisciplined vociferations" or "modes" is akin to Plato's criticism in the Republic of dramatic recitation and music in which performers emulate unvirtuous behavior. He denounces dirges as incompatible with a courageous spirit, as well as those musical modes associated with effeminate, slothful or intemperate behavior. In a similar vein, Christian singing is to be purged of any modes that stimulate emotions incompatible with pious serenity.

The council adduces a further reason for this restraint: "that they offer the psalmody to God". Since the singing is not to please an audience of men, but is an offering to God, it is inappropriate to use those vocal flourishes that attract applause, for God is best pleased by a humble and sincere heart.


Churches should not be used as an eating place, nor to sell food or other goods.

This is not in reference to the agapae, but to common meals. We might compare the modern custom of serving coffee and food in the church hall, but this is separate from the sanctuary. It is easy to see how a similar social need might have been met in the churches themselves, when a separate dining hall was lacking. Nonetheless, the council forbids this abuse under pain of excommunication, out of respect for the holy place. Further, this custom, when accompanied by the sale of food, entailed the worse crime of using the house of God as a house of merchandise, which stirred the wrath of the Savior.


No Christian man, whether a cleric or a layman, should bathe with a woman. Even the heathens severely condemn this.


It behoves those who are illuminated to learn the Creed by heart and to recite it to the bishop or presbyters on the Fifth Feria of the Week.

This renews the forty-sixth canon of Laodicea. "Illuminated" means those catechumens who are about to be baptized. The fifth day of the week probably refers to Holy Thursday, as baptisms took place on Holy Saturday.


As we confess the divine birth of the Virgin to be without any childbed (epiloxeia), since it came to pass without seed, and as we preach this to the entire flock, so we subject to correction those who through ignorance do anything which is inconsistent therewith. Wherefore since some on the day after the holy Nativity of Christ our God are seen cooking semidalin ("fine flour"), and distributing it to each other, on pretext of doing honour to the puerperia of the spotless Virgin Maternity, we decree that henceforth nothing of the kind be done by the faithful. For this is not honouring the Virgin (who above thought and speech bare in the flesh the incomprehensible Word) when we define and describe, from ordinary things and from such as occur with ourselves, her ineffable parturition. If therefore anyone henceforth be discovered doing any such thing, if he be a cleric let him be deposed, but if a layman let him be cut off.

"Behold the Virgin shall conceive and bear a son," (Isa. 7:14) is understood to mean that the Blessed Mother is a virgin even in giving birth. Hence she would not have suffered bloody emission in the act of given birth. The term epiloxeia refers to the pain of childbirth, hence it is translated by the Latin puerperia. The Church had long held that the virgin birth was not accompanied by labor pains or flux of blood. The council says this is because the conception was without seed. As the Nicene Creed attests, the conception was by the action of the Holy Spirit. Evidently, the Greeks understood that labor pains were a consequence of the sinful nature in the male seed, and saw natural generation as the means of transmission. This doctrine was not confined to the Augustinian theology of the West, as is commonly averred.

It was a common Greek custom to boil fine flour and distribute it to each other after a woman gave birth, to honor her labor pains. Many Greeks thought to honor the birth of Christ in similar manner, cooking the fine flour on the day after Christmas. This the bishops regarded as a grave error, for it seemed to imply that the Blessed Virgin suffered labor pains.

See also St. Epiphanius (Haer. 79), who in speaking against the Collyridiani says that certain women are wont to place a baked ring-cake on a square bed provided with linen bedclothes, and afterwards to eat it; and that they do this under the pretense of offering adoration to Mary the Theotoke, and say certain other things that are blasphemous.

Canon LXXX

A cleric or layman shall not go three consecutive Sundays without attending church, unless some necessary business requires him to leave his town. The usual penalties apply: deposition for a cleric; excommunication for a layman.


The council forbids the addition of the phrase "Who was crucified for us, have mercy on us," to the Trisagion hymn. The penalties of deposition and excommunication apply.

Though this phrase can be given an orthodox interpretation, it was abused by heretics to suggest a single theandric nature in Christ, since it says the one who is crucified (human) is the one who has mercy (divine). Peter Fullo added this phrase in 478 with the intent of implying that the true God died on the Cross. Those who insist on retaining this unnecessary phrase may justly be suspected of Monophysitism, hence the penalty of excommunication.


In some pictures of the venerable icons, a lamb is painted to which the Precursor [i.e., St. John the Baptist] points his finger, which is received as a type of grace, indicating beforehand through the Law, our true Lamb, Christ our God. Embracing therefore the ancient types and shadows as symbols of the truth, and patterns given to the Church, we prefer “grace and truth,” receiving it as the fulfilment of the Law. In order therefore that “that which is perfect” may be delineated to the eyes of all, at least in coloured expression, we decree that the figure in human form of the Lamb who taketh away the sin of the world, Christ our God, be henceforth exhibited in images, instead of the ancient lamb, so that all may understand by means of it the depths of the humiliation of the Word of God, and that we may recall to our memory his conversation in the flesh, his passion and salutary death, and his redemption which was wrought for the whole world.

Over a century before the iconoclast controversy, this council already speaks of "venerable icons" as "ancient types". This canon enjoins that Christ be depicted in human form, rather than as the symbolic lamb. As noted in the introduction, this canon was specifically approved by the Pope.


No one may give the Eucharist to the bodies of the dead; for it is written “Take and eat.” But the bodies of the dead can neither “take” nor “eat.”

This prohibition is contained in Canon IV of the Council of Hippo (393).


Following the canonical laws of the Fathers, we decree concerning infants, as often as they are found without trusty witnesses who say that they are undoubtedly baptized; and as often as they are themselves unable on account of their age to answer satisfactorily in respect to the initiatory mystery given to them; that they ought without any offence to be baptized, lest such a doubt might deprive them of the sanctification of such a purification.

If it cannot be proved that an infant has been baptized, let it be baptized. This canon confirms infant baptism and the sanctifying effect of the sacrament. It is the same as Canon VII of the Sixth Council of Carthage.


We have received from the Scriptures that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established. Therefore we decree that slaves who are manumitted by their masters in the presence of three witnesses shall enjoy that honour; for they being present at the time will add strength and stability to the liberty given, and they will bring it to pass that faith will be kept in those things which they now witness were done in their presence.

Since three witnesses suffice to establish a fact, a slave is declared free on the testimony of himself and two other witnesses, according to an ancient epitome of this canon.


Those who to the destruction of their own souls procure and bring up harlots, if they be clerics, they are to be cut off and deposed, if laymen to be cut off.


A woman who leaves her husband for another is an adulteress, according to St. Basil, following the prophet Jeremiah. If she leaves her husband without cause, she deserves punishment and the husband pardon. His pardon is that he shall remain in communion with the Church, though he does not take back his spouse. However, if a husband leaves his wife to take another, he is "guilty of adultery by the sentence of the Lord." This is punished by a gradated penance of seven years before returning to full communion.

In St. Basil's time, an adulteress was punished with fifteen years penance. Now it has apparently been relaxed to seven years. The canon is construed from the man's perspective, defining the circumstances in which he may leave his wife. If his wife is an adulteress, he has a right to remain separated from her permanently, and may nonetheless remain in communion with the Church, while she suffers canonical punishment. This "pardon" of the husband does not extend further to allow him to take another wife, for then he too would become an adulterer and become subject to canonical penalty.

Note that those who divorce and remarry are permitted to return to full communion with the Church, after doing a gradated penance of seven years. This suggests a solution to a problem of the Latin Church, which is currently handled by issuing annulments to marriages that were probably valid. However, it is doubtful if such a practice can be reconciled with the sacramental theology of the West.


Cattle or other beasts are not to be led into a church, except under the gravest necessity. For example, a traveller might need a resting place for his animal, lest it should die, and he, without means of transport, is in danger of death. This follows Christ's precept that "the Sabbath was made for man". Danger to the beast alone does not suffice for this exception.


The faithful spending the days of the Salutatory Passion in fasting, praying and compunction of heart, ought to fast until the midnight of the Great Sabbath: since the divine Evangelists, Matthew and Luke, have shewn us how late at night it was [that the resurrection took place], the one by using the words opse sabbaton, and the other by the words orthrou batheos.

The fast of Holy Week should continue until midnight at the end of Holy Saturday, since the Resurrection took place no sooner than then. The Gospel of Matthew says opse sabbaton, meaning "very late in the sabbath," while the Gospel of Luke says orthrou batheos, "the extreme of the early morning". The Sabbath technically ended at sunset on Saturday, but St. Matthew also adds that it was as the first day was dawning, which is consistent with the Gospels of Luke and Mark. The council rejects the position that the Resurrection took place on Saturday, and it would be difficult to sustain that the women visited the tomb at that time. By all accounts, they arrived at dawn, shortly after the Resurrection.

Canon XC

We have received from our divine Fathers the canon law that in honour of Christ’s resurrection, we are not to kneel on Sundays. ... after the priests have gone to the Altar for Vespers on Saturdays ... no one shall kneel in prayer until the evening of Sunday, at which time ... again with bended knees we offer our prayers to the Lord. For taking the night after the Sabbath, which was the forerunner of our Lord’s resurrection, we begin from it to sing in the spirit hymns to God, leading our feast out of darkness into light, and thus during an entire day and night, we celebrate the Resurrection.

Here the Council clarifies that the night after the Sabbath was the forerunner of the Resurrection, in agreement with what we have said on the previous canon. The Greeks observe the Lord's Day from Saturday evening to Sunday evening, in honor of the Resurrection. This custom was believed to be apostolic in origin.

The custom of not kneeling on the Lord's Day was practiced both in the East and in the West. Kneeling in Church on Sundays did not take place until centuries later, when pews were introduced in the West. In the seventh century, the liturgy was attended standing. The reason for standing rather than kneeling is that kneeling is a posture of supplication, while standing is the position for giving praise. On Sunday we praise God for achieving our salvation.

Canon XCI

Those who give drugs for procuring abortion, and those who receive poisons to kill the fœtus, are subjected to the penalty of murder.

All ancient canons regarding abortion concur in regarding it as murder, and here the Council in Trullo proposes it as a canon for the entire Church. It was taken for granted that abortion was to be punished as homicide. (See Canon XXI of Ancyra). The second canon of St. Basil says:

She who purposely destroys the fœtus, shall suffer the punishment of murder. And we pay no attention to the subtile distinction as to whether the fœtus was formed or unformed. And by this not only is justice satisfied for the child that should have been born, but also for her who prepared for herself the snares, since the women very often die who make such experiments.

The belief that the early embryo was unformed had no bearing on the Church's conviction that all abortion was to be punished as homicide, even for "unformed" embryos. The one who is killed is "the child that should have been born". Both the abortionist and the woman are to be punished for homicide. Justice is thus satisfied even for the woman herself, who subject herself to the risk of death. Suicide, by this reasoning, is the crime of murder by oneself against oneself.

Canon XCII

The holy synod decrees that those who in the name of marriage carry off women and those who in any way assist the ravishers, if they be clerics, they shall lose their rank, but if they be laymen they shall be anathematized.


If the wife of a man who has gone away and does not appear, cohabit with another before she is assured of the death of the first, she is an adulteress. The wives of soldiers who have married husbands who do not appear are in the same case; as are also they who on account of the wanderings of their husbands do not wait for their return. But the circumstance here has some excuse, in that the suspicion of his death becomes very great. But she who in ignorance has married a man who at the time was deserted by his wife, and then is dismissed because his first wife returns to him, has indeed committed fornication, but through ignorance; therefore she is not prevented from marrying, but it is better if she remain as she is. If a soldier shall return after a long time, and find his wife on account of his long absence has been united to another man, if he so wishes, he may receive his own wife [back again], pardon being extended in consideration of their ignorance both to her and to the man who took her home in second marriage.

Before a woman may marry again, she must be reasonably assured of the death of her husband, or she is guilty of adultery. Those who, with good reason, mistakenly thought their husband had died in war or on some other journey, may be pardoned for their ignorance, and the original husband may take back his own wife if he wishes. If a woman marries a man who was deserted by his wife, and then is dismissed when the first wife returns, she is permitted to marry, though the Church encourages her to remain as she is, as it is best for a woman's morals not to know more than one man. When the missing spouse returns, the marriage that had existed in the spouse's absence is considered null, so that there was de facto fornication, but only through ignorance.

It is not entirely clear what should happen if the original spouses opt not to be reunited (in both cases, this decision is left to the husband). Would the marriage of the deserted spouse simply be permitted to continue? Would the long missing spouse be able to remarry without condition? Without clarification of these matters, it is difficult to say if this canon would be acceptable to the Latin Church. Various scenarios are considered in Gratian's Decretum. (II, XXXIV, Q. I-II)

Canon XCIV

"The canon subjects to penalties those who take heathen oaths, and we decree to them excommunication." A "heathen oath" is swearing by the name of one of the pagan gods, which is an idolatrous denial of monotheism.

Canon XCV

The following classes of heretics may be readmitted to the Church without rebaptism as long as they present their certificates and anathematize every heresy: Arians, Macedonians, Novatians, Cathari, Aristeri, Testareskaidecatitae, or Tetraditae, and Apollinarians. These shall be anointed with holy chrism on foreheads, eyes, nostrils, mouth, and ears, saying "The seal of the gift of the Holy Ghost." Thus they are re-confirmed.

"But concerning the Paulianists it has been determined by the Catholic Church that they shall by all means be rebaptized." Heretics subject to rebaptism include the Paulianists, the Eunomeans (who baptize with one immersion), the Montanists or Phrygians, the Sabellians (who consider the Son the same as the Father). These heretics all either held a false belief regarding baptism or fundamentally denied Trinitarian doctrine, so they could not intend what the Church intends by baptizing in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Consequently their baptisms were of highly doubtful validity at best.

And on the first day we make them Christians, on the second Catechumens, then on the third day we exorcise them, at the same time also breathing thrice upon their faces and ears; and thus we initiate them, and we make them spend time in church and hear the Scriptures; and then we baptize them.

Thus far the canon has merely recapitulated what the Church had already decided in earlier canons. To fill in the gaps regarding other heretic groups, it now adds:

And the Manichaeans, and Valentinians and Marcionites and all of similar heresies must give certificates and anathematize each his own heresy, and also Nestorius, Eutyches, Dioscorus, Severus, and the other chiefs of such heresies, and those who think with them, and all the aforesaid heresies; and so they become partakers of the holy Communion.

Apparently re-baptism was not required for these types of heretics. Hefele, with good reason, considered this version of the text to be "undoubtedly false", because the baptism of "Gnostics" (a term that included Valentinians) was long considered utterly invalid by the Church. Indeed, Valentinians and Manichaeans were not really even Christians, so we must agree with Hefele that there is no way they could have been recognized as validly baptized.

A more authentic text of this canon is likely that possessed by Balsamon, which reads:

In the same way [as the preceding] are the Manichæans, Valentinians, Marcionites, and similar heretics to be treated [i.e., to be baptized anew]; but the Nestorians must [merely] present certificates, and anathematize their heresy, Nestorius, Eutyches, etc.

This version (with glosses by Hefele) makes much more sense, as now only the Nestorians, who fully accept the doctrines of the Holy Trinity and baptism, are exempt from re-baptism.

All heretics, whether validly baptized or not, were required to be anointed with oil, or re-confirmed. Confirmation was considered to be the complement of baptism, and guaranteed that the Holy Ghost was upon the anointed. As Hefele observes, it was a common opinion among the early fathers that heretics did not receive the Holy Ghost even with valid baptism.

Canon XCVI

This canon forbids artistic adornment of the hair, as was common among men in the East, even among clergy. These vanities are proscribed because they can excite less stable souls to an unnamed vice.


Whoever has commerce with his wife in a temple and presumes to remain there shall be expelled, even from the dwellings of the catechumens.

At that time, it was common for temples to have adjoining dwellings ("catechumena") for catechumens. These dwellings were considered part of the holy place, so they could not be defiled. The catechumens lived there for the purpose of learning Christianity, so it was highly inappropriate, to say the least, to use these quarters for conjugal acts.


He who brings to the intercourse of marriage a woman who is betrothed to another man who is still alive, is to lie under the charge of adultery.

To take a woman who is so much as betrothed to another is to be guilty of adultery. This does not mean that betrothal constitutes marriage, but the offense is as serious because you are taking a woman who was committed to be the wife of another. Strictly speaking, the man is not an adulterer, but the Greek text does not admit of this distinction. Although betrothal is not marriage, the man is still guilty of adultery according to this canon.

This canon could be accepted by the Latin Church if appropriate clarification is made that the offense is not, strictly speaking, adultery.

Canon XCIX

Some Armenians imitate Jewish custom by giving boiled joints of meat to the priests. Christians are not to follow this custom. The priests are to take whatever portions of meat the offerer chooses to give them, and such offering is to be made outside the church, so there is to be no confusion with the true Sacrifice.

Canon C

..there shall in no way be made pictures, whether they are in paintings or in what way so ever, which attract the eye and corrupt the mind, and incite it to the enkindling of base pleasures.

Canon CI

Those who receive communion should arrange their hands as a cross and receive Communion directly in the hands, not in some vessel of gold or other materials.

Some Christians, out of a mistaken piety, brought gold vessels from which to receive Holy Communion, thinking their hands unfit to touch Christ. The council disdains this practice as "preferring inanimate and inferior matter to the image of God." Balsamon further notes that this practice had become a means by which the rich pretended to be more worthy than the poor.

St. Cyril of Jerusalem says of receiving: "When thou goest to receive communion go not with thy wrists extended, nor with thy fingers separated, but placing thy left hand as a throne for thy right, which is to receive so great a King, and in the hollow of the palm receive the body of Christ, saying, Amen."

The Latin custom of receiving directly on the tongue is not hereby proscribed, since the intent of the canon is only to forbid inanimate vessels. The Latin practice has the advantages of giving less chance of dropping the Host, as well as permitting a posture of greater humility on the part of the communicant, who receives the Gift from another rather than administering it himself. Still, the ancient practice of receiving in hand is by no means impious, nor should it be presumed that the hand is less worthy than the tongue on account of its sin, for we sin frequently with both organs. Those who receive with the hand should make sure they are cleansed; in ancient times, a basin was designated for this purpose.

The modern Catholic practice of receiving in the hand differs from the rule of St. Cyril, requiring instead that the left hand should be on top of the right. The communicant then takes the Host in the fingers of his right hand. The ancient Greek custom would have the communicant consume the Host directly from the palm of his right hand, to avoid dropping any part of the Host, especially since leavened bread was used.

Canon CII

It behoves those who have received from God the power to loose and bind, to consider the quality of the sin and the readiness of the sinner for conversion, and to apply medicine suitable for the disease, lest if he is injudicious in each of these respects he should fail in regard to the healing of the sick man.

A confessor should consider the character of a man's sin and his dispositions. Sometimes penances help and sometimes it is better to show mercy. ("[L]et him mete out mercy according as he is worthy of it.") A confessor should "neither cast them down into the precipices of despair, nor loosen the bridle towards dissolution or contempt of life". The canon compares this role to the treatment of a medical ailment. Confessors are physicians of the soul; there is no place for a secular "psychiatrist" in the Christian life.

For we ought to know two things, to wit, the things which belong to strictness and those which belong to custom, and to follow the traditional form in the case of those who are not fitted for the highest things, as holy Basil teaches us.

Custom is proposed as something that is more lenient than what strict Christian perfection would demand. Here the council fathers show a sensitivity to striking a balance between rigor and mercy, the theme with which the canons opened. It is only fitting then, that on this same theme the text of the canons closes.

References Cited

C.J. Hefele, A History of the Councils of the Church.

Labbe and Cossart, Concilia, Tom. VI., col. 1135 et seqq.

Henry Percival, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2nd Series, Vol. 14.

© 2009 Daniel J. Castellano. All rights reserved.