Council of Sardica

Council of Sardica

The Council of Sardica was one of the series of councils (or synods) called to adjust the doctrinal and other difficulties of the Arian controversy, held most probably in 343 AD. The Roman Emperors Constans and Constantius II called for the council.[1]



Hosius of Cordova and other bishops from the Western Roman Empire desired peace and a final judgment in the case of Athanasius of Alexandria and other bishops alternately condemned and vindicated by councils in the East and the West. They also desired to definitively settle the confusion arising from the many doctrinal formulas in circulation, and suggested that all such matters should be referred to a general council. In order to make the council thoroughly representative, Sardica in Dacia Inferior, (now Sofia in Bulgaria), was chosen as the meeting place. Athanasius, driven from Alexandria by the Prefect Philadrius in 339 AD, was summoned by the Emperor Constans from Rome, where he had taken the latter place he met Hosius, who was commissioned by the pope and the emperor to preside over the council, and whom he accompanied to Sardica.


Pope Julius I was represented by the priests Archidamus and Philoxenus, and the deacon Leo. Athanasius reported that bishops attended from Italy, Spain, Gaul, Africa, Britain, Egypt, Syria, Thrace and Pannonia. Ninety-six Western bishops presented themselves at Sardica, those from the East were less numerous.[citation needed]

Being in the minority, the Eastern bishops decided to act as a body, and, fearing defections, they all lodged in the same place. On the ground of being unwilling to recognize Athanasius, Marcellus of Ancyra and Asclepas, who had been excommunicated in Eastern synods, refused to sit in council with the Western bishops. Hosius of Cordova attempted to effect a compromise by inviting them to present privately to him their complaints against Athanasius, and by promising, in case Athanasius should be acquitted, to take him to Spain. These overtures failed. The Eastern bishops—although the council had been called expressly for the purpose of reopening the case in regard to those who had been excommunicated—defended their conduct on the plea that one council could not revise the decisions of another. Fearing domination of the council by Western bishops, many Eastern bishops left the council to hold another council in Philippopolis where they composed an encyclical and a new creed, which was dated from Sardica.

The Western bishops, thus abandoned, examined the cases of Athanasius, Marcellus, and Asclepas. No fresh investigation of charges against Athanasius was considered necessary, as these had already been rejected, and he and the other two bishops, who were permitted to present exculpatory documents, were declared innocent. In addition to this, censure was passed on the Eastern bishops for having abandoned the council, and several of them were deposed and excommunicated.

The question of a new creed containing some additions to that of Nicea was discussed, but although the forum had been drawn up, the bishops decided to add nothing to the accepted creed, and thus gave the Arians no pretext for saying that hitherto they had not been explicitly condemned. Though the form of the proposed creed was presented to the council, it was inserted in the encyclical addressed by the council to "all the bishops of the Catholic Church".


Before separating, the bishops enacted several important canons, especially concerning the transfer and trial of bishops and appeals. These canons, with the other documents of the council, were sent to Pope Julius with a letter signed by the majority of the attending bishops.[2]

Sardica produced 21 Canons. In addition to the attempt to resolve the Arian issue, other major points were:

  1. Bishops should not attempt to recruit from diocese other than their own
  2. Bishops should be permanent residents of their own diocese
  3. Bishops should spend most of their time in their own diocese (not at the court in Rome)
  4. Bishops should not be transferred to another diocese

"At this great gathering of prelates the case of Athanasius was taken up and once more his innocence reaffirmed. Two conciliar letters were prepared, one to the clergy and faithful of Alexandria, the other to the bishops of Egypt and Libya, in which the will of the Council was made known. The persecution against the orthodox party broke out with renewed vigor, and Constantius II was induced to prepare drastic measures against Athanasius and the priests who were devoted to him. Orders were given that if the Saint attempted to re-enter his Episcopal see, he should be put to death".[3]


The council failed entirely to accomplish its purpose. The pacification of the Church was not secured. As a result, the Council of Sardica failed to universally represent the church and is not one of the official Ecumenical Councils.

See also


  1. ^ Socrates Scholasticus, Church History, book 2, chapter 20.
  2. ^ Catholic Encyclopedia, 1930, Patrick J. Healy, Sardica
  3. ^ Catholic Encyclopedia, 1930, Cornelius Clifford, Athanasius.

Further reading

  • Hefele, French Translation, "Histoire des conciles", II, pt. II, 737-42
  • Duchesne, "Hist. ancienne de l'Eglise", II, 215
  • Carl Mirbt, Quellen zur Geschichte des Papsttums (Tübingen, 1901), p. 46 f.
  • J. Friedrich, Die Unechtheit der Canones von Sardika (Vienna, 1902)
  • F. X. Funk, "Die Echtheit der Canones von Sardica," Historisches Jahrbuch der Gorresgesellschaft, xxiii. (1902), pp. 497–5 16; ibid. xxvi. (1905), pp. 1–18, 255-274
  • C. H. Turner, "The Genuineness of the Sardican Canons," The Journal of Theological Studies, iii. (London, 1902), PP. 37 0 -397. (C. M.)

External links

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