According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, a question about the First Ecumenical Council: Nicaea I (325)

I have read that the Council of Jerusalem is labeled as a "General Council." Furthermore, it is my understanding that the terms "General Council" and "Ecumenical Council" are synonymous. If that is correct, then why is the Council of Jerusalem (50 A.D. or thereabouts) not considered to be the First Ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church?

1 Answer 1


Why is the Council of Jerusalem not considered as the First Ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church?

First of all, what is an Ecumenical Council?

Ecumenical Councils are those to which the bishops, and others entitled to vote, are convoked from the whole world (oikoumene) under the presidency of the pope or his legates, and the decrees of which, having received papal confirmation, bind all Christians. A council, Ecumenical in its convocation, may fail to secure the approbation of the whole Church or of the pope, and thus not rank in authority with Ecumenical councils. Such was the case with the Robber Synod of 449 (Latrocinium Ephesinum), the Synod of Pisa in 1409, and in part with the Councils of Constance and Basle.

Next let us look at what the Scriptures have to say about the Council of Jerusalem (48-50 AD):

15 And some coming down from Judea, taught the brethren: That except you be circumcised after the manner of Moses, you cannot be saved.

2 And when Paul and Barnabas had no small contest with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain others of the other side, should go up to the apostles and priests to Jerusalem about this question.

3 They therefore being brought on their way by the church, passed through Phenice, and Samaria, relating the conversion of the Gentiles; and they caused great joy to all the brethren.

4 And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received by the church, and by the apostles and ancients, declaring how great things God had done with them.

5 But there arose some of the sect of the Pharisees that believed, saying: They must be circumcised, and be commanded to observe the law of Moses.

6 And the apostles and ancients assembled to consider of this matter.

7 And when there had been much disputing, Peter, rising up, said to them: Men, brethren, you know, that in former days God made choice among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel, and believe.

8 And God, who knoweth the hearts, gave testimony, giving unto them the Holy Ghost, as well as to us;

9 And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.

10 Now therefore, why tempt you God to put a yoke upon the necks of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?

11 But by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, we believe to be saved, in like manner as they also.

12 And all the multitude held their peace; and they heard Barnabas and Paul telling what great signs and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them.

13 And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying: Men, brethren, hear me.

14 Simon hath related how God first visited to take of the Gentiles a people to his name.

15 And to this agree the words of the prophets, as it is written:

16 After these things I will return, and will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and the ruins thereof I will rebuild, and I will set it up:

17 That the residue of men may seek after the Lord, and all nations upon whom my name is invoked, saith the Lord, who doth these things.

18 To the Lord was his own work known from the beginning of the world.

19 For which cause I judge that they, who from among the Gentiles are converted to God, are not to be disquieted.

20 But that we write unto them, that they refrain themselves from the pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.

21 For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him in the synagogues, where he is read every sabbath.

22 Then it pleased the apostles and ancients, with the whole church, to choose men of their own company, and to send to Antioch, with Paul and Barnabas, namely, Judas, who was surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren.

23 Writing by their hands: The apostles and ancients, brethren, to the brethren of the Gentiles that are at Antioch, and in Syria and Cilicia, greeting.

24 Forasmuch as we have heard, that some going out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls; to whom we gave no commandment:

25 It hath seemed good to us, being assembled together, to choose out men, and to send them unto you, with our well beloved Barnabas and Paul:

26 Men that have given their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

27 We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who themselves also will, by word of mouth, tell you the same things.

28 For it hath seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us, to lay no further burden upon you than these necessary things:

29 That you abstain from things sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication; from which things keeping yourselves, you shall do well. Fare ye well.

30 They therefore being dismissed, went down to Antioch; and gathering together the multitude, delivered the epistle.

31 Which when they had read, they rejoiced for the consolation.

32 But Judas and Silas, being prophets also themselves, with many words comforted the brethren, and confirmed them.

33 And after they had spent some time there, they were let go with peace by the brethren, unto them that had sent them.

34 But it seemed good unto Silas to remain there; and Judas alone departed to Jerusalem.

35 And Paul and Barnabas continued at Antioch, teaching and preaching, with many others, the word of the Lord.

36 And after some days, Paul said to Barnabas: Let us return and visit our brethren in all the cities wherein we have preached the word of the Lord, to see how they do.

37 And Barnabas would have taken with them John also, that was surnamed Mark;

38 But Paul desired that he (as having departed from them out of Pamphylia, and not gone with them to the work) might not be received.

39 And there arose a dissension, so that they departed one from another; and Barnabas indeed taking Mark, sailed to Cyprus.

40 But Paul choosing Silas, departed, being delivered by the brethren to the grace of God.

41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches, commanding them to keep the precepts of the apostles and the ancients. -Acts 15

While not regarded as an ecumenical council, the council of Jerusalem set the tone and became the model of all future Church councils. The bishops and leaders of the Church are called together, issues debated and a decision process established. Moreover, at the first and all councils thereafter, the divine guidance of the Holy Spirit permeates the proceedings and thus all pronouncements and canons issued are without error.

All ecclesiastical councils are by their nature, a common effort of the Church, or part of the Church, for self-preservation and self-defence. They appear at her very origin, in the time of the Apostles at Jerusalem, and throughout her whole history whenever faith or morals or discipline are seriously threatened.

The Council of Jerusalem is not an Ecumenical Council because 1.) There was no convocation of bishops through the Church to participate in its’ proceedings and 2.) Its’ decisions were not binding on all the faithful; but rather only the Gentile converts. 3.) St. James took the major role in this Council as head of the local church and Bishop of Jerusalem. St. James decided to issue a letter communicating the council’s decision to the gentiles, specifically to those in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia who were seeking to become followers of Christ. 4.) Not all the Apostles were present. 5.) To be truly Ecumenical, the pope (in this case St. Peter) must confirm by the Council in question, whether he is present or not.

The council decided that Gentile converts to Christianity were not obligated to keep most of the rules prescribed to the Jews by the Mosaic Law, such as Jewish dietary laws and other specific rituals, including the rules concerning circumcision of males. The council did, however, retain the prohibitions on eating blood, meat containing blood, and meat of animals that were strangled, and on fornication and idolatry, sometimes referred to as the Apostolic Decree. The purpose and origin of these four prohibitions is debated. - Council of Jerusalem

  • I don't understand #5, 'the pope (in this case St. Peter) must be confirmed by the the pope whether present or not.' Commented Oct 2, 2023 at 11:46
  • Thank you for your answer. If I may, I would like to remark that regarding the Council of Jerusalem, St. Francis de Sales (The Catholic Controversy ch. "Qualities of a True Council") points out--- (please see subsequent comment)
    – DDS
    Commented Oct 2, 2023 at 14:26
  • St Francis de Sales: ``If we consider who presided, we shall find that it was S. Peter, who first gives sentence and is then followed by the rest, as S. Jerome says (ad Aug.) And indeed he had the chief pastoral charge: \textit{Feed my sheep,}---and he was the grand steward over the rest: To thee I will give the keys of the kingdom; further, he was the confirmer of the brethren, an office which properly belongs to the president or superintendent. From that time, therefore, the successor of S. Peter, the Bishop of Rome, has always presided at Councils by his legates.''
    – DDS
    Commented Oct 2, 2023 at 14:26
  • @PierreOriol All 5 points are to be included. And to be truly Ecumenical, the pope (in this case St. Peter) must confirm the Council in question, whether he is present or not. Not seeing Scripture indicating St. Peter confirmed the council, although I may believe he did. But it is not mentioned. Plus it is St. James who wrote the letters to the other churches, indicating this was more a local of regional council. The other Apostles were not convolved either.
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Oct 2, 2023 at 14:37

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