Visiting Iznik (Nicea, Nicaea), Turkey – Part 4

The Seventh Ecumenical Council

The first ecumenical council in the fourth century did not achieve unity among Christians. Oxford theologian Allister McGrath comments about doctrines concerning Jesus in Studies in Doctrine (23).

“Theology is often regarded as idle and pointless speculation about irrelevancies – a harmless, if somewhat pointless, pastime of frustrated academics and bishops with time on their hands. If any area of Christian thought has been characterized by apparently pointless speculation of this sort, it is Christology. Gregory of Nyssa [Nyssa was the ancient name of Nevşehir in Cappadocia.], writing in the fourth century, complained that it was impossible to go out shopping in downtown Constantinople without having to put up with speculation of this sort:”

“Constantinople [modern Istanbul] is full of mechanics and slaves, every one of them profound theologians, who preach in the shops and streets. If you want someone to change a piece of silver, he tells you about how the Son differs from the Father; if you ask the price of a loaf of bread, you are told that the Son is inferior to the Father, if you ask whether the bath is ready, you are told that the Son was created from nothing.”

After five other councils, Nicea would again be host to the seventh and last ecumenical council in A.D. 787. This one would deal with the iconoclastic controversy. Fatih Cimok set forth the question,

“Was it right to make painted or sculpted representations of Jesus and the saints, and direct homage to such images?” (Biblical Anatolia: From Genesis to the Councils, 201)

The conflict remained a matter of doctrinal argument until Leo III enforced iconoclasm (removal of the icons – eikons – or images from the churches) in A.D. 726. Irene, the mother of the infant Constantine VI, wanted to restore the icons. Moving cautiously,

She decided to summon a second council in Nicaea. It was held in the church of St. Sophia, whose restored ruins still survive. Among other things the council declared that icons deserved reverence (Greek proskynesis) but not adoration (Greek latreia) which was due to God alone and condemned the iconoclasts. (Cimok, Biblical Anatolia, 202)

Our photo below show the present state of the building, but it has undergone many changes over the centuries. It is presumed to have been used as a place of Christian worship during the Byzantine period. After damages caused by earthquakes in the 11th century many changes were made in the building. After Orhangazi’s conquest of Iznik in A.D. 1331, the building was converted to a mosque. Notice the top of the minaret to the right of the Turkish flag. The latest remodeling was in 2007. The building now serves as a museum. (Info based on signs at the site.)

Haghia Sophia (Orhan) Mosque in Iznik. It is thought that the 7th Ecumenical Council met in the building at this site. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Hagia Sophia (Orhan) Mosque in Iznik. It is thought that the 7th Ecumenical Council met in the building at this site. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Here is the modern entrance to the building. The names indicate the various historical periods. Ayasofya (= Hagia Sophia or Saint Sofia, the church); Orhan recalls the conquest by Orhan Gazi in 1331 when the building was converted into a mosque (= Camii).

The entrance to the restored Haghia Sofia - Orhan - Mosque. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The entrance to the restored Hagia Sofia – Orhan – Mosque. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The next photo shows the interior of the building. In an enlargement of the apse one can see some faint drawings (icons).

Interior of the Haghia Sophia (Orhan) Mosque in Itnik. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Interior of the Hagia Sophia Church (Orhan) Mosque in Iznik. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The information at the site claims that this was seating for (some of?) the bishops attending the 7th Ecumenical Council. Definitely not a plush assignment.

Seats for the bishops attending the 7th Ecumenical Council. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Seats for the bishops attending the 7th Ecumenical Council. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

After the second Nicean Council icons in the form of mosaics, paintings, or statuary became common in both the Eastern and Western Church. The example below shows the Deesis (enthronement, Christ Pantocrator) from the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople (Istanbul). The complete 12th century mosaic shows Jesus flanked by Mary and John the Baptism.

The Deesis from Hagia Sophia in Istanbul shows Jesus enthroned with Mary and John the Baptist on either side. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Deesis from Hagia Sophia in Istanbul shows Jesus enthroned with Mary and John the Baptist on either side. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Our next article will show you some of the wall and the gates of Iznik/Nicea.

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