Working on the Minutes of Late Antique Church Councils: A Methodological Framework



The minutes of church councils from late antiquity provide us with an unparalleled amount of first-hand information about late antique history and language. However, they present issues of different kinds that need addressing. In this paper I wish to suggest a methodological framework to work with conciliar minutes. First of all, one has to consider the question of the reliability of the minutes, which in turn raises the questions of their thoroughness and genuineness. In order to assess these, one has to establish how and under what circumstances the minutes were produced and transmitted; this is not always easy, for details about minute-taking surface only occasionally. Comparison of different versions of the minutes can also help understand if editing took place and to what extent it has affected the reliability of the minutes as historical evidence. In the minutes we obviously find factual information of a kind that can also be found in the works of ancient historians. Conciliar minutes, however, go beyond that, for they provide us with evidence of dialogue and debate, thereby allowing us to look at dynamics of communication. In order to disentangle such dynamics, I suggest using techniques from the linguistic fields of discourse and conversation analysis that focus on contextual parameters and social interactions. In the second part of the paper, I apply the methodological framework proposed to analyse the minutes of the third session of the Council of Chalcedon.


Late antique historyChurch historyChurch councilsConciliar minutesDiscourse analysis
  • Year: 2019
  • Volume: 13
  • Page/Article: 42-59
  • DOI: 10.18573/jlarc.112
  • Published on 26 Dec 2019
  • Peer Reviewed