The history of the Nicene Creed comes from the Church’s early ecumenical councils. We have just celebrated (October 11, 2002) the 40th anniversary of the beginning of the Second Vatican Council. Just what is an ecumenical Council?
An ecumenical council is the gathering of all the bishops of the world as opposed to regional or local gatherings. According to current church law, only the pope calls this type of council, and he alone sets its agenda. Acts of the council are binding when approved by the pope and the body of bishops and officially proclaimed by papal authority.
Roman Catholics consider there to have been 21 such councils. However, the only councils accepted as truly ecumenical by both the church of the East and the West are the first seven. The first four councils (Nicaea, Constantinople I, Ephesus, and Chalcedon) are recognized as normative for all churches that confess the Nicene and Apostles’ creeds, and the decrees of those four councils form the basis for ecumenical dialogues.
Councils have usually been called to confront heresies or to foster needed reform in the church. Vatican II was the only council in the church’s history that did not issue any condemnations of heresies or errors. It was the only council that addressed some of its documents to those outside the church (“persons of good will”), and it was the only council that directly spoke to the issue of ecumenism, reconciliation, and dialogue not only among Christians but among all the world’s religious traditions.
c) Sr. Janet Schaffler, OP, 2010