Second Council of Nicaea

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The Second Council of Nicaea is believed to have been the Seventh Ecumenical Council by Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and various other Western Christian groups. It met in AD 787 in Nicaea (site of the First Council of Nicaea; present-day İznik in Turkey) to restore the honoring of icons (or, holy images),[1] which had been suppressed by imperial edict inside the Byzantine Empire during the reign of Leo III (717 - 741). His son, Constantine V (741 - 775), had held a synod to make the suppression official.

The veneration of icons had been abolished by the energetic measures of Constantine V and the Council of Hieria which had described itself as the seventh ecumenical council. These iconoclastic tendencies were shared by his son, Leo IV. After the latter's early death, his widow, Irene of Athens, as regent for her son, began its restoration, moved thereto by personal inclination and political considerations.

When, in 784, the imperial secretary Patriarch Tarasius was appointed successor to the Patriarch Paul IV, he accepted on the condition that intercommunion with the other churches should be reestablished; that is, that the images should be restored. However, a council, claiming to be ecumenical, had abolished the veneration of icons, so psychologically another ecumenical council was necessary for its restoration. Pope Adrian I was invited to participate, and gladly accepted. However, the invitation intended for the oriental patriarchs could not even be delivered to them. The Roman legates were an archbishop and an abbot, both named Peter.

In 786, the council met in the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople. However, soldiers in collusion with the opposition entered the church, and broke up the assembly.[2] As a result, the government resorted to a stratagem. Under the pretext of a campaign, the iconoclastic bodyguard was sent away from the capital — disarmed and disbanded.

The council was again summoned to meet, this time in Nicaea, since Constantinople was still distrusted. The council assembled on September 24, 787. It numbered about 350 members; 308 bishops or their representatives signed. Tarasius presided,[3] and seven sittings were held in Nicaea.[4] Proof of the lawfulness of the veneration of icons was drawn from Exodus 25:19 sqq.; Numbers 7:89; Hebrews 9:5 sqq.; Ezekiel 41:18, and Genesis 31:34, but especially from a series of passages of the Church Fathers;[1] the authority of the latter was decisive.

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