There have been seven (or 21) times when all church leaders gathered to reach a consensus on important issues. These events are called “Ecumenical Councils.”
Most Christians say there were seven Ecumenical Councils.
That is because after the Second Council of Nicaea in 787, christendom was divided. After that point, there was never a gathering of ALL Christian leaders.
However, Catholics say there have been 21 Ecumenical Councils.
For the sake of completeness, we will list all 21.
33 to 590 AD
First Council of Nicaea (325 AD)
Attended by more than 300 bishops. Condemned the Arian heresy. Declared that God the Father and God the Son were of the same substance.
First Council of Constantinople (381 AD)
Attended by 150 bishops. Completed the Nicene Creed.
Council of Ephesus (431 AD)
Attended by 200 bishops. Condemned Nestorius, bishop of Constantinople, for teaching heresy. Defined Theotokos (Bearer of God) as the title of Mary, mother of the Son of God made Man.
Council of Chalcedon (451 AD)
Attended by about 600 bishops. Declared that Christ is one divine Person with two distinct natures, divine and human.
Second Council of Constantinople (553 AD)
Attended by 165 bishops. Condemned the Nestonian heresy.
590 to 1417 AD
Third Council of Constantinople (680-681 AD)
In Turkey. Attended by 160 bishops. Restated the teaching of the Council of Chalcedon (451), and condemned some false teachings.
Second Council of Nicaea (787 AD)
In Turkey. Declared that images could be set up and could be given honor or veneration, but not worship. Worship belongs to God alone. Iconoclasm (image-breaking) was condemned.
Fourth Council of Constantinople (869-870 AD)
In Turkey. Attended by more than 100 bishops. Excommunicated Photius, Patriarch of Constantinople, which caused further tension between East and West.
First Council of the Lateran (1123 AD)
In Rome. Ended the custom of investiture. The State could invest bishops and abbots with symbols of temporal authority, but had no right to invest them with spiritual authority.
Second Council of the Lateran (1139 AD)
In Rome. Condemned the anti-pope, Anacletus II.
Third Council of the Lateran (1179 AD)
In Rome. Decreed that the votes of two-thirds of the Cardinals were required for the election of a pope.
Fourth Council of the Lateran (1215 AD)
In Rome. It declared the necessity of yearly Confession and Holy Communion, and the doctrine of Transubstantiation.
First Council of Lyon (1245 AD)
In France. Discussed the Schism with the Byzantines, and the immorality of the clergy. Deposed Emperor Frederick II because of sacrilege, suspicion of heresy, perjury and disturbing the peace.
Second Council of Lyon (1274 AD)
In France. Attended by 500 bishops, and such dignitaries as Bonaventure and Albertus Magnus. Thomas Aquinas died on his way to the Council. The Council established union between Eastern and Western Churches.
Council of Vienne (1311-1312 AD)
In France. Suppressed the order of Knights Templar, and dealt with matters related to the clergy.
Council of Constance (1414-1418 AD)
In Germany. Ended the Great Schism, when three men were each claiming to be the pope, and it was causing division in the Church. Condemned John Wycliffe and Jan Hus.
1417 to 1648 AD
Council of Basel (1438-1445)
Held in Ferrara and in Florence. It declared the authority of the Pope to be superior to that of a General Council. This killed off the Conciliar Movement.
Fifth Council of the Lateran (1512-1514)
Held in Rome. Declared that the teachings of the Council of Pisa were invalid since it did not have the Pope’s approval. Expressed concern for abuses in the Church, and pointed out the need for reform.
Council of Trent (1545-1563)
Held in Italy. It clarified Catholic teaching, refuted the Protestant Reformers (Luther, Calvin, Zwingli), and set Catholic reform in motion. It was more about theology and church practices. It was less about church politics than the two councils that came before it.
1648 to 1962 AD
First Council of the Vatican (1869-1870)
Held in Italy. About 700 prelates attended. Reaffirmed traditional Catholic teachings. Declared the infallibility of the pope.
1962 AD to present
Second Council of the Vatican
Held in Italy in 1962-1965. Attended by 2,540 prelates.
One of the most important Councils. Its purpose was to renew and update the Catholic church, and to promote unity among Christians.
Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations on this page are from the World English Bible and the World Messianic Edition. These translations have no copyright restrictions. They are in the Public Domain.