When the Emperor Constantine (the First, or “the Great”) recognized the Christian Church in 312 AD, he really had little idea what he was getting in to. His mother was a Christian, of course, and no doubt he had himself come into contact with a good many Christians during his time in the Roman military, but he had no idea at all what a quarrelsome bunch the Christians were and were to be. It’s not that different, today, when you think about it. Most of us know a little something about our own Church, but very little about others. How many Baptists, for example, can tell you anything accurate about the 39 Articles of Religion? How many Presbyterians can tell you the theological basis for Baptist congregational independence? How many Protestants of any stripe have read the “Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church”? Yet, these are all basic documents of the faith! Well, Constantine found much the same thing going on. But, he thought he knew how to deal with it.
One of the first things he did was start calling Councils of the Church. That is, he called all the Bishops in an area together and had them work together to put together a plan for getting along with the government of the Empire. We don’t know for sure when the very first Constantinian Council was called, but then you must remember that the Church had been holding regional Councils ever since 49 AD, as documented in the Book of Acts. We know he called a Council at Arles, in what is now France, in 314. We also know that he called the first-ever “Ecumenical” Council in what is now Turkey in 325. “Ecumenical” means “the whole Church”. Out of this came the basic document of the whole Church as we know it: the Nicene Creed.
Another Ecumenical Council was called in 381, in Constantinople. Then, Constantinople was in Greece. Today, it’s the western part of Turkey. A third was called in 431, in Ephesus. Ephesus was located in what’s now eastern Turkey. All were called to resolve differences in what various Bishops believed the Church was all about. Ephesus also was the last of the “real” Ecumenical Councils. There was a fourth Council in 449 (in Ephesus), but it was set aside and another called in 451, in Chalcedon, to deal with differences in theologians’ views concerning the nature of Christ. Chalcedon decided that Christ has two natures: True God and True Man. As a result, a large number of Churches in the eastern end of the Roman Empire left the Catholic Church and became what today we call “Oriental Orthodox”. That’s not the same as “Eastern Orthodox”. We’ll talk about that, later. The important thing to remember is that, after 451, there were at least five separate Churches within the “one”, or undivided, Church. The Church of the East, or Persian, in the far east, never a part of the Empire and never part of the recognized Catholic Church; The Eastern, or Greek Orthodox, made up of Churches that were part of the eastern, or “Byzantine” Roman Empire, and who were in complete communion with the Roman Church; the Oriental Orthodox, or Nestorian, also in the near east, and part of the Empire and part of the Church until Chalcedon; the Roman, in the west, and the Gallican/Celtic, in the far west. Wait a minute! What’s that “Gallican/Celtic” all about? That’s the first time we’ve seen those words! What gives?