Volume III - Church History

Seventh Century

The Council of Trullo or the Quinisext Council

In 692, just eleven years after the Sixth Ecumenical Council was held, another major council of Eastern bishops was held in the imperial palace called Trullo in Constantinople—hence the name, the Council of Trullo. This Council made no doctrinal proclamations; rather, it issued 102 canonical regulations on a wide variety of topics.

This council is probably more often called the Quinisext Council (meaning “fifth-sixth”), because its canonical legislation is understood as having completed the Fifth and Sixth Ecumenical Councils, neither of which had passed any canons. So its rulings are held by the Orthodox Church to be at the same level of authority as the canons passed by the first four Ecumenical Councils.

Some of these 102 canons were previously included in Justinian’s civil legislation. Others concerned early practices of the Church which had not previously been put into formal Church law.

Some of these canons reveal differences in practices between the Roman and the Eastern Churches. For example, Canon 13 states:

Since we know it to be handed down as a rule of the Roman Church that those who are deemed worthy to be advanced to the diaconate or presbyterate should promise no longer to cohabit with their wives, we, preserving the ancient rule and apostolic perfection and order, will that the lawful marriages of men who are in holy orders be from this time forward firm, by no means dissolving their union with their wives nor depriving them of their mutual intercourse at a convenient time . . . lest we should injuriously affect marriage constituted by God and blessed by His presence, as the Gospel says, “What God has joined together, let no man put asunder” (Mt 19.6); and as the Apostle says, “Marriage is honorable and the bed undefiled” (Heb 13.4); and again, “Are you bound to a wife? Seek not to be loosed” (1 Cor 7.27).

Canon 102 of the Quinisext Council,
on pastoral care as the cure of souls

It behooves those who have received from God the power to loose and bind, to consider the type and the degree of the sin, and the readiness of the sinner for repentance, and to apply medicine suitable for the disease, lest if he is undiscerning in each of these respects he should fail in healing the sick man. For the disease of sin is not simple, but complex, and can take many different forms, and it germinates many mischievous offshoots, from which much evil is diffused, and it proceeds further until it is stopped by the power of the physician. Wherefore the one who professes the science of spiritual medicine ought first of all to consider the disposition of the one who has sinned, and to see whether he tends towards health or, on the contrary, provokes himself to disease by his own behavior. . . .

For the whole account is between God and the one to whom the pastoral rule has been delivered, to lead back the wandering sheep and to cure that which is wounded by the serpent. The pastor must neither cast the sheep down into the depths of despair, nor loosen the bridle thus leading them to a dissolute way of life. Rather, by some way or other, either by means of sternness and astringency, or by greater softness and milder medicines, the pastor must resist the sickness and exert himself for the healing of the ulcer, examining the fruits of the man’s repentance and wisely managing him—for all men are called to higher illumination.

The Roman Church, however, continued to try to enforce celibacy upon all her priests, though she was not able to do so fully until about the 12th century.

Canon 6 of the Quinisext Council reaffirmed the rule that unmarried priests, deacons, and subdeacons may not marry after their ordination. The council also reinforced the law dating from Justinian’s time that only celibates, normally taken from among the monks, may serve in the office of the bishop (Canons 12 and 48). And this council set the ages for ordination to the offices of deacon, priest, and bishop (Canons 14 and 15).

In general, the council reaffirmed the traditional churchly discipline regarding the clergy, such as their strict exclusion from direct participation in the political, military, and economic affairs of this world. This can be seen in varying ways in Canons 9, 10, 24, 27, 34, and 50.

This council also called for the “penalty of murder” for those who “give drugs for procuring abortion and those who take them to kill the fetus” (Canon 91).