Council of Arles of 314
The Council of Arles of 314 was the first representative meeting of Christian hierarchs held in the western part of the Roman Empire, called to consider an appeal by the heretical Donatists over their condemnation at a Council of Rome in 313.
The council was called in August 314 by emperor Constantine I to rule on an appeal made to him by the Donatists after their condemnation by a Council in Rome the previous year. The council at Rome, that followed an earlier council at Carthage, affirmed the Carthage council condemnation of Donatism which also elected Caecilian of Carthage as bishop of Carthage and excommunicated Donatus of Casae Nigrae, also known as Donatus Magnus. The Donatists appealed to Constantine on the basis that these councils were not representative.
The council was attended by 43 bishops or their representatives and was held at Arles in southern Gaul. In addition to the excommunication of Donatus, the council passed twenty-two canons that were concerned with a number of subjects. These included that Pascha should be held on the same day throughout the world, rather than being set by each local church. The canons also banned the non-residence of clergy and ruled against participation in races and gladiatorial fights which was to be punished by excommunication, against the re-baptism of heretics, and on other matters of discipline. The council also ruled clergy who could be proven to have delivered sacred books in persecution should be deposed, but their official acts were to be held valid. The council also ruled that at least three bishops was required at the consecration of a bishop.
These canons were among the most important documents of early ecclesiastical legislation. The Arles council was also the first instance of an appeal by a Christian party to the secular power. As the appeal turned unfavorably for the Donatists, who afterwards became enemies of the Roman authorities, a schism developed as the Donatism drew upon African regional sentiment until the Arab invasions of the seventh and eight centuries.
The Council of Arles was the first church council called by emperor Constantine and was the forerunner of his calling the First Ecumenical Council.