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Second Council of Nicea

787. This seventh ecumenical* council was convoked to deal with the question of iconoclasm. In 730 Emperor Leo III* issued a decree forbidding the veneration of images or pictorial representations of Christ and the saints. Despite Jewish and early Christian beliefs, the practice of veneration of images had grown up gradually in both East and West, and by the eighth century it was well established throughout the empire; therefore Leo's decree met with fierce opposition. Both the patriarch of Constantinople and Pope Gregory III opposed the emperor, and Gregory held a synod in Rome in 731, where he excommunicated all who destroyed images. Leo's successor, Constantine V, nevertheless continued the iconoclastic policies and instituted a violent persecution of those who venerated images (see Iconoclastic Controversy). Only when Constantine's widow Irene became regent for her minor son was there a change in imperial policy. In 786 she convoked a council in Constantinople to deal with the question, but it was broken up by iconoclastic soldiers. In the following year she reconvened the council at Nicea.

The council met in eight sessions over a month and was attended by over 300 prelates, mostly from the West, and included two legates sent by the pope. The position of the iconoclasts was condemned, and a statement was produced which declared that pictorial representations were lawful. They might receive “veneration” which honored the persons represented by the image, but not “adoration” which was due to God alone. In addition the council promulgated twenty-two disciplinary decrees. The decrees of the council on images were, however, not quickly accepted. Charlemagne rejected them at the Synod of Frankfurt (794), and in the West the council was not officially acknowledged as an ecumenical council until the late ninth century. In the East a number of emperors continued the iconoclastic policies until 843, when a local synod finally confirmed the decrees at Nicea.