Commentary on the Canons of the First Ecumenical Council


Translated by Henry R. Percival and John Fulton.


Canon I
If any one in sickness has been subjected by physicians to a surgical operation, or if he has been castrated by barbarians, let him remain among the clergy; but, if any one in sound health has castrated himself, it behoves that such an one, if [already] enrolled among the clergy, should cease [from his ministry], and that from henceforth no such person should be promoted. But, as it is evident that this is said of those who wilfully do the thing and presume to castrate themselves, so if any have been made eunuchs by barbarians, or by their masters, and should otherwise be found worthy, such men the Canon admits to the clergy. 

Ancient Epitome Of Canon I: Eunuchs may be received into the number of the clergy, but those who castrate themselves shall not be received. 

Balsamon: The divine Apostolic Canons xxi., xxii., xxiii., and xxiv., have taught us sufficiently what ought to be done with those who castrate themselves, this canon provides as to what is to be done to these as well as to those who deliver themselves over to others to be emasculated by them, viz., that they are not to be admitted among the clergy nor advanced to the priesthood. 

Canon II
Forasmuch as, either from necessity, or through the urgency of individuals, many things have been done contrary to the Ecclesiastical canon, so that men just converted from heathenism to the faith, and who have been instructed but a little while, are straightway brought to the spiritual laver, and as soon as they have been baptized, are advanced to the episcopate or the presbyterate, it has seemed right to us that for the time to come no such thing shall be done. For to the catechumen himself there is need of time and of a longer trial after baptism. For the apostolical saying is clear, "Not a novice; lest, being lifted up with pride, he fall into condemnation and the snare of the devil." But if, as time goes on, any sensual sin should be found out about the person, and he should be convicted by two or three witnesses, let him cease from the clerical office. And whoso shall transgress these [enactments] will imperil his own clerical position, as a person who presumes to disobey the great Synod. 

Ancient Epitome of Canon II: Those who have come from the heathen shall not be immediately advanced to the presbyterate. For without a probation of some time a neophyte is of no advantage [kakos]. But if after ordination it be found out that he had sinned previously, let him then be expelled from the clergy. 

Canon III
The great Synod has stringently forbidden any bishop, presbyter, deacon, or any one of the clergy whatever, to have a subintroducta dwelling with him, except only a mother, or sister, or aunt, or such persons only as are beyond all suspicion. 

Ancient Epitome of Canon III: No one shall have a woman in his house except his mother, and sister, and persons altogether beyond suspicion.
[A subintroducta was a woman who lived in the same house as a celibate clergyman.] 

Canon IV
It is by all means proper that a bishop should be appointed by all the bishops in the province; but should this be difficult, either on account of urgent necessity or because of distance, three at least should meet together, and the suffrages of the absent [bishops] also being given and communicated in writing, then the ordination should take place. But in every province the ratification of what is done should be left to the Metropolitan. 

Ancient Epitome of Canon IV: A bishop is to be chosen by all the bishops of the province, or at least by three, the rest giving by letter their assent ; but this choice must be confirmed by the Metropolitan. 

Zonaras: The present Canon might seem to be opposed to the first canon of the Holy Apostles, for the latter enjoins that a bishop ordained by two or three bishops, but this by three, the absent also agreeing and testifying their assent by writing. But they are not contradictory; for the Apostolical canon by ordination [cheirotonia] means consecration and imposition of hands, but the present canon by constitution [katastasis] and ordination means the election, and enjoins that the election of a bishop do not take place unless three assemble, having the consent also of the absent by letter, or a declaration that they also will acquiesce in the election (or vote, psepho) made by the three who have assembled. But after the election it gives the ratification or completion of the matter -- the imposition of hands and consecration -- to the metropolitan of the province, so that the election is to be ratified by him. He does so when with two or three bishops, according to the apostolical canon, he consecrates with imposition of hands the one of the elected persons whom he himself selects.

[Balsamon also understands kathistasthai to mean election by vote.] 

Canon V
Concerning those, whether of the clergy or of the laity, who have been excommunicated in the several provinces, let the provision of the canon be observed by the bishops which provides that persons cast out by some be not readmitted by others. Nevertheless, inquiry should be made whether they have been excommunicated through captiousness, or contentiousness, or any such like ungracious disposition in the bishop. And, that this matter may have due investigation, it is decreed that in every province synods shall be held twice a year, in order that when all the bishops of the province are assembled together, such questions may by them be thoroughly examined, that so those who have confessedly offended against their bishop, may be seen by all to be for just cause excommunicated, until it shall seem fit to a general meeting of the bishops to pronounce a milder sentence upon them. And let these synods be held, the one pro tes tessarakostes, [see note following], that the pure Gift may be offered to God after all bitterness has been put away, and let the second be held about autumn. 

Ancient Epitome of Canon V: Such as have been excommunicated by certain bishops shall not be restored by others, unless the excommunication was the result of pusillanimity, or strife, or some other similar cause. And that this may be duly attended to, there shall be in each year two synods in every province -- the one before Lent, the other toward autumn.
[There is considerable disagreement as to whether pro tes tessarakostes, i.e. "before 40," means "before the 40 days of Lent begin" or "before the fortieth day after Easter," that is, Ascension. Abp. Peter l'Huillier of the Orthodox Church in America considers the Ascension interpretation to be almost certainly correct.] 

Canon VI
Let the ancient customs in Egypt, Libya and Pentapolis prevail, that the Bishop of Alexandria have jurisdiction in all these, since the like is customary for the Bishop of Rome also. Likewise in Antioch and the other provinces, let the Churches retain their privileges. And this is to be universally understood, that if any one be made bishop without the consent of the Metropolitan, the great Synod has declared that such a man ought not to be a bishop. If, however, two or three bishops shall from natural love of contradiction, oppose the common suffrage of the rest, it being reasonable and in accordance with the ecclesiastical law, then let the choice of the majority prevail. 

Ancient Epitome of Canon VI: The Bishop of Alexandria shall have jurisdiction over Egypt, Libya, and Pentapolis. As also the Roman bishop over those subject to Rome. So, too, the Bishop of Antioch and the rest over those who are under them. If any be a bishop contrary to the judgment of the Metropolitan, let him be no bishop. Provided it be in accordance with the canons by the suffrage of the majority, if three object, their objection shall be of no force.

Canon VII
Since custom and ancient tradition have prevailed that the Bishop of Ælia [i.e., Jerusalem] should be honoured, let him, saving its due dignity to the Metropolis have the next place of honour. 

Ancient Epitome of Canon VII: Let the Bishop of Ælia be honoured, the rights of the Metropolis being preserved intact.
Balsamon and Aristenus identify the Metropolis as Cæsarea, of which Jerusalem was only a suffragan see; however Zonaras identifies the Metropolis with Jerusalem itself. 

Canon VIII
Concerning those who call themselves Cathari [Novatianists], if they come over to the Catholic and Apostolic Church, the great and holy Synod decrees that they who are ordained shall continue as they are in the clergy. But it is before all things necessary that they should profess in writing that they will observe and follow the dogmas of the Catholic and Apostolic Church; in particular that they will communicate with persons who have been twice married, and with those who having lapsed in persecution have had a period [of penance] laid upon them, and a time [of restoration] fixed so that in all things they will follow the dogmas of the Catholic Church. Wheresoever, then, whether in villages or in cities, all of the ordained are found to be of these only, let them remain in the clergy, and in the same rank in which they are found. But if they come over where there is a bishop or presbyter of the Catholic Church, it is manifest that the Bishop of the Church must have the bishop's dignity; and he who was named bishop by those who are called Cathari shall have the rank of presbyter, unless it shall seem fit to the Bishop to admit him to partake in the honour of the title. Or, if this should not be satisfactory, then shall the bishop provide for him a place as Chorepiscopus, or presbyter, in order that he may be evidently seen to be of the clergy, and that there may not be two bishops in the city. 

Ancient Epitome of Canon VIII: If those called Cathari come over, let them first make profession that they are willing to communicate with the twice married, and to grant pardon to the lapsed. And on this condition he who happens to be in orders, shall continue in the same order, so that a bishop shall still be bishop. Whoever was a bishop among the Cathari let him, however, become a Chorepiscopus, or let him enjoy the honour of a presbyter or of a bishop. For in one church there shall not be two bishops. 

Aristenus: If any of them be bishops or chorepiscopi they shall remain in the same rank, unless perchance in the same city there be found a bishop of the Catholic Church, ordained before their coming. For in this case he that was properly bishop from the first shall have the preference, and he alone shall retain the Episcopal throne. For it is not right that in the same city there should be two bishops. But he who by the Cathari was called bishop, shall be honoured as a presbyter, or (if it so please the bishop), he shall be sharer of the title bishop; but he shall exercise no episcopal jurisdiction. 

[Zonaras, Balsamon, Beveridge and Van Espen are of opinion that cheirothetoumenous does not mean that they are to receive a new laying on of hands at their reception into the Church, but that it refers to their already condition of being ordained, the meaning being that as they have had Novatian ordination they must be reckoned among the clergy. Dionysius Exiguus takes a different view, as does also the Prisca version, according to which the clergy of the Novatians were to receive a laying on of hands, cheirothetoumenous, but that it was not to be a reordination. With this interpretation Hefele seems to agree, founding his opinion upon the fact that the article is wanting before cheirothetoumenous, and that autous is added. Gratian (Decretum, Corp. Juris Canon, Pars. II. Causa I. Quæst. 7, Can. viii) supposes that this eighth canon orders a re-ordination.] 

Canon IX
If any presbyters have been advanced without examination, or if upon examination they have made confession of crime, and men acting in violation of the canon have laid hands upon them, notwithstanding their confession, such the canon does not admit; for the Catholic Church requires that [only] which is blameless. 

Ancient Epitome of Canon IX: Whoever are ordained without examination, shall be deposed if it be found out afterwards that they had been guilty. 

Balsamon: Some say that as baptism makes the baptized person a new man, so ordination takes away the sins committed before ordination, which opinion does not seem to agree with the canons. 

Canon X
If any who have lapsed have been ordained through the ignorance, or even with the previous knowledge of the ordainers, this shall not prejudice the canon of the Church for when they are discovered they shall be deposed. 

Ancient Epitome of Canon X: Whoso had lapsed are to be deposed whether those who ordained and promoted them did so conscious of their guilt or unknowing of it. 

Canon XI
Concerning those who have fallen without compulsion, without the spoiling of their property, without danger or the like, as happened during the tyranny of Licinius, the Synod declares that, though they have deserved no clemency, they shall be dealt with mercifully. As many as were communicants, if they heartily repent, shall pass three years among the hearers; for seven years they shall be prostrators; and for two years they shall communicate with the people in prayers, but without oblation. 

Ancient Epitome of Canon XI: As many as fell without necessity, even if therefore undeserving of indulgence, yet some indulgence shall be shown them and they shall be prostrators for twelve years.
Zonaras: The prostrators stood within the body of the church behind the ambo and went out with the catechumens. 

Canon XII
As many as were called by grace, and displayed the first zeal, having cast aside their military girdles, but afterwards returned, like dogs, to their own vomit, (so that some spent money and by means of gifts regained their military stations); let these, after they have passed the space of three years as hearers, be for ten years prostrators. But in all these cases it is necessary to examine well into their purpose and what their repentance appears to be like. For as many as give evidence of their conversions by deeds, and not pretence, with fear, and tears, and perseverance, and good works, when they have fulfilled their appointed time as hearers, may properly communicate in prayers; and after that the bishop may determine yet more favourably concerning them. But those who take [the matter] with indifference, and who think the form of [not] entering the Church is sufficient for their conversion, must fulfil the whole time. 

Ancient Epitome of Canon XII: Those who endured violence and were seen to have resisted, but who afterwards yielded to wickedness, and returned to the army, shall be excommunicated for ten years. But in every case the way in which they do their penance must be scrutinized. And if anyone who is doing penance shews himself zealous in its performance, the bishop shall treat him more lentently than had he been cold and indifferent.
[There is great difficulty about the last phrase and Gelasius of Cyzicus, the Prisca, Dionysius Exiguus, the pseudo-Isidore, Zonaras and most others have considered the "not" an interpolation.] 

Canon XIII
Concerning the departing, the ancient canonical law is still to be maintained, to wit, that, if any man be at the point of death, he must not be deprived of the last and most indispensable Viaticum. But, if any one should be restored to health again who has received the communion when his life was despaired of, let him remain among those who communicate in prayers only. But in general, and in the case of any dying person whatsoever asking to receive the Eucharist, let the Bishop, after examination made, give it him. 

Ancient Epitome of Canon XIII: The dying are to be communicated. But if any such get well, he must be placed in the number of those who share in the prayers, and with these only. 

Canon XIV
Concerning catechumens who have lapsed, the holy and great Synod has decreed that, after they have passed three years only as hearers, they shall pray with the catechumens. 

Ancient Epitome of Canon XIV: If any of the catechumens shall have fallen, for three years he shall be a hearer only, and then let him pray with the catechumens. 

Canon XV
On account of the great disturbance and discords that occur, it is decreed that the custom prevailing in certain places contrary to the Canon must wholly be done away; so that neither bishop, presbyter, nor deacon shall pass from city to city. And if any one, after this decree of the holy and great Synod, shall attempt any such thing, or continue in any such course, his proceedings shall be utterly void, and he shall be restored to the Church for which he was ordained bishop or presbyter. 

Ancient Epitome of Canon XV: Neither bishop, presbyter, nor deacon shall pass from city to city. But they shall be sent back, should they attempt to do so, to the Churches in which they were ordained. 

Canon XVI
Neither presbyters, nor deacons, nor any others enrolled among the clergy, who, not having the fear of God before their eyes, nor regarding the ecclesiastical Canon, shall recklessly remove from their own church, ought by any means to be received by another church; but every constraint should be applied to restore them to their own parishes; and, if they will not go, they must be excommunicated. And if anyone shall dare surreptitiously to carry off and in his own Church ordain a man belonging to another, without the consent of his own proper bishop from whom although he was enrolled in the clergy list he has seceded, let the ordination be void. 

Ancient Epitome of Canon XVI: Such presbyters or deacons as desert their own Church are not to be admitted into another, but are to be sent back to their own diocese. But if any bishop should ordain one who belongs to another Church without the consent of his own bishop, the ordination shall be cancelled. 

Balsamon: It seemed right that the clergy should have no power to move from city to city and to change their canonical residence without letters dimissory from the bishop who ordained them. But such clerics as are called by the bishops who ordained them and cannot be persuaded to return, are to be separated from communion, that is to say, not to be allowed to concelebrate synierourgein with them, for this is the meaning of "excommunicated" in this place, and not that they should not enter the church nor receive the sacraments. This decree agrees with canon xv. of the Apostolical canons, which provides that such shall not celebrate the liturgy. Canon xvj. of the same Apostolical canons further provides that if a bishop receive a cleric coming to him from another diocese without his bishop's letters dimissory, and shall ordain him, such a bishop shall be separated. From all this it is evident that the Chartophylax of the Great Church for the time does rightly in refusing to allow priests ordained in other dioceses to offer the sacrifice unless they bring with them letters commendatory and dimissory from those who ordained them.
[Zonaras had also in his Scholion given the same explanation of the canon.] 

Canon XVII
Forasmuch as many enrolled among the Clergy, following covetousness and lust of gain, have forgotten the divine Scripture, which says, "He hath not given his money upon usury," and in lending money ask the hundredth of the sum [as monthly interest], the holy and great Synod thinks it just that if after this decree any one be found to receive usury, whether he accomplish it by secret transaction or otherwise, as by demanding the whole and one half, or by using any other contrivance whatever for filthy lucre's sake, he shall be deposed from the clergy and his name stricken from the list. 

Ancient Epitome of Canon XVII: If anyone shall receive usury or 150 per cent. he shall be cast forth and deposed, according to this decree of the Church. 

Canon XVIII
It has come to the knowledge of the holy and great Synod that, in some districts and cities, the deacons administer the Eucharist to the presbyters, whereas neither canon nor custom permits that they who have no right to offer should give the Body of Christ to them that do offer. And this also has been made known, that certain deacons now touch the Eucharist even before the bishops. Let all such practices be utterly done away, and let the deacons remain within their own bounds, knowing that they are the ministers of the bishop and the inferiors of the presbyters. Let them receive the Eucharist according to their order, after the presbyters, and let either the bishop or the presbyter administer to them. Furthermore, let not the deacons sit among the presbyters, for that is contrary to canon and order. And if, after this decree, any one shall refuse to obey, let him be deposed from the diaconate.
Ancient Epitome of Canon XVIII: Deacons must abide within their own bounds. They shall not administer the Eucharist to presbyters, nor touch it before them, nor sit among the presbyters. For all this is contrary to canon, and to decent order. 

[Van Espen writes that Isidore's Latin version of the canons translates "touched" as "received", in agreement with Balsamon and Zonaras.] 

Canon XIX
Concerning the Paulianists who have flown for refuge to the Catholic Church, it has been decreed that they must by all means be rebaptized; and if any of them who in past time have been numbered among their clergy should be found blameless and without reproach, let them be rebaptized and ordained by the Bishop of the Catholic Church; but if the examination should discover them to be unfit, they ought to be deposed. Likewise in the case of their deaconesses, and generally in the case of those who have been enrolled among their clergy, let the same form be observed. And we mean by deaconesses such as have assumed the habit, but who, since they have no imposition of hands, are to be numbered only among the laity. 

Ancient Epitome of Canon XIX: Paulianists must be rebaptised, and if such as are clergymen seem to be blameless let then, be ordained. If they do not seem to be blameless, let them be deposed. Deaconesses who have been led astray, since they are not sharers of ordination, are to be reckoned among the laity. 

Canon XX
Forasmuch as there are certain persons who kneel on the Lord's Day and in the days of Pentecost, therefore, to the intent that all things may be uniformly observed everywhere (in every parish), it seems good to the holy Synod that prayer be made to God standing. 

Ancient Epitome of Canon XX: On Lord's days and at Pentecost all must pray standing and not kneeling.


Source: http://www.orthodoxa.org/GB/orthodoxy/canonlaw/canons1erconcileGB.htm

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