The First Canon of the Fourth Ecumenical Council, Chalcedon, reads as follows: "We have judged it right that the canons of the Holy Fathers made in every synod even until now, should remain in force." And the Council in Trullo, in its second canon, has enumerated these synods in the following words. "We set our seal to all the rest of the canons which have been established by our holy and blessed fathers, that is to say by the 318 God-inspired fathers who met at Nice, and by those who met at Ancyra, and by those who met at Neocaeesarea, as well as by those who met at Gangra: in addition to these the canons adopted by those who met at Antioch in Syria, and by those who met at Laodicea in Phry-gia; moreover by the 150 fathers who assembled in this divinely kept and imperial city, and by the 200 who were gathered in the metropolis of Ephesus, and by the 630 holy and blessed fathers who met at Chalcedon," etc., etc.
There can be no doubt that this collection of canons was made at a very early date, and from the fact that the canons of the First Council of Constantinople do not appear, as they naturally would, immediately after those of Nice, we may not improbably conclude that the collection was formed before that council assembled. For it will be noticed that Nice, although not the earliest in date, takes the precedence as being of ecumenical rank. And this is expressly stated in the caption to the canons of Ancyra according to the reading in the Paris Edition of Balsamon. "The canons of the holy Fathers who assembled at Ancyra; which are indeed older than those made at Nice, but placed after them, on account of the authority au0qenti/an of the Ecumenical Synod."
On the arrangement of this code much has been written and Archbishop Ussher has made some interesting suggestions, but all appear to be attended with more or less difficulties. The reader will find in Bp: Beveridge, in the Prolegomena to his Synodicon a very full treatment of the point,(1) the gist of the matter is admirably given in the following brief note which I take from Hammond. In speaking of this early codex of the Church he says: (Hammond, Definitions of Faith and Canons of Discipline, pp. 134 and 135.)
That this collection was made and received by the Church previous to the Council of Chalcedon is evident from the manner in which several of the Canons are quoted in that Council. Thus in the 4th Action, in the matter of Carosus and Dorotheus, who had acknowledged Dioscorus as Bishop, though he had been deposed from his bishopric, "the holy Synod said, let the holy Canons of the Fathers be read, and inserted in the records; and Actius the Archdeacon taking the book read the 83d Canon, If any Bishops, etc. And again the 84th Canon, concerning those who separate themselves, If any Presbyter," etc. These Canons are the 4th and 5th of Antioch. Again, in the 11th Action, in the matter of Bassianus and Stephanus who disputed about the Bishopric of Ephesus, both requested the Canons to be read, "And the Judges said, Let the Canons be read. And Leontius Bishop of Magnesia read the 95th Canon, If any Bishop, etc., and again out of the same book the 96th Canon, If any Bishop," etc. These Canons are the 16th and 17th of Antioch. Now if we add together the different Canons in the Code of the Universal Church in the order in which they follow in the enumeration of them by the Council of Trullo and in other documents, we find that the 4th and 5th of Antioch, are the 83d and 84th of the whole Code, and the 16th and 17th of Antioch, the 95th and 96th. Nice 20, Ancyra 25, NeoCaesarea 14, Gangra 20; all which make 79. Next come those of Antioch, the 4th and 5th of which therefore will be respectively the 83d and 84th, and the 16th and 17th the 95th and 96th.
The fact of the existence of such a code does not prove by any means that it was the only collection extant at the time nor that it was universally known. In fact we have good reason, as we shall see in connexion with the Council of Sardica, to believe that in many codices, probably especially in the West, the canons of that council followed immediately after those of Nice, and that without any break or note whatever. But we know that the number of canons attributed to Nice must have been twenty or else the numbering of the codex read from at Chalcedon would be quite inexplicable. It would naturally suggest itself to the mind that possibly the divergence in the canonical codes was the result of the local feelings of East and West with regard to the decrees of Sardica. But this supposition, plausible as it appears, must be rejected, since at the Quinisext Council, where it is not disputed there was a strong anti-Western bias, the canons of Sardica are expressly enumerated among those which the fathers receive as of Ecumenical authority. It will be noticed that the code set forth by the Council in Trullo differs from the code used at Chalcedon by having the so-called "Canons of the Apostles" prefixed to it, and by having a large number of other canons, including those of Sardica, appended, of which more will be said when treating of that Council.
The order which I have followed my justly be considered as that of the earliest accepted codex canonum, at least of the East.