What was the Council of Nicaea II
The Second Council of Nicaea met in 787 where the first Council of Nicaea had met in 325. It was the stern edicts of the iconoclastic council at Hiereia in 754 AD under Constantine V working with Patriarch Paul IV which had brought about the policy of iconoclasm that would now be reversed by what was called the Seventh Ecumenical Council (Nicaea II) in 787 AD under Irene as regent of her young son, Constantine VI with an unexpected ally, Pope Hadrian I. These two reached out to each other seemingly rejoining Eastern to Western Churches, though it was in fact the very last Synod that the two churches would attend to formulate a common dogma. Still, that they clarified in the 8th Century during a tumultuous dispute about icons known as the "iconoclastic" controversy the theology and the proper purposes of the icon and related religious images which remained effectively a religious vehicle of both the Eastern and Western Churches to our day remains an important achievement of this Council. An important question this essay will try to address, one repeatedly raised without a conclusive explanation in the considerable literature on the subject, is why the issue of icons which went back to the earliest days of Christianity and continued long after the iconic crisis of Nicaea II had in this instance such remarkably violent turn. Nicaea II is rich in documentation, but lacking evident motivation for its historical players with commentators tending to offer a variety of causes as their motivation, indeed expressing perplexity sometimes about the reason why the iconoclastic controversy flared up and offering a range of answers, committing themselves to none. .
There may be in the issue over icons and such holy images more than just a theological controversy among scholars as many commentators suppose. We shall return later to ground in political events much which was perplexing in the” iconoclastic controversy”, but note for now only what happened when Hadrian I received and responded favorable to a letter from Irene and sent two representatives of the Pope, both incidentally called Peter, gathered in preparation for the Synod in Constantinople where the gathering was originally scheduled for an event that was recorded in history as Nicaea II. The pleasantries in Constantinople it seems were interrupted by the violent entry of the palace guard which had overthrown many a Roman Emperor and now threatened the unsteady rule of the new one. That is why, eventually, the Council awaited the arrival of reliable troops and reassembled at Nicaea on September 24, 787 to meet with a delegation sent by the new Pope to heal the division between Western and Western Churches and to overturn the policy of iconoclasm1 . Not only had Leo spent his first year of rule narrowly averting a Turkish invasion, but had he a mind to turn his thought to theological issues, he would be forcefully brought back to a reality in which as Philip Huges points out, in Byzantium Six emperors had been dethroned within the space of twenty-one years. Four perished by the hand of the public executioner, one died in obscurity, after being deprived of sight, and the other was only allowed to end his days peacefully in a monastery, because Leo felt the imperial scepter firmly fixed in his own grasp. Every army assembled to encounter the Saracens had broken out into rebellion. The Bulgarians and Sclavonians wasted Europe up to the walls of Constantinople; the Saracens ravaged the whole of Asia Minor to the shores of the Bosporus2 But let’s look first at other theories as the basis of the disputes and debates that were identified by a scholar familiar with the complex material as “one of the greatest political crisis in Byzantium.” 3 What happened at the Synod was carefully documented, but Ladner too finds it inexplicable why it had raised such passions in its own time. It was, he noted later, a theological controversy of long duration...
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