Sunday, November 10, 2013

Academic Paper: Council of Nicea

The Council of Nicea and the Nicene Creed
The situation leading up to the events of the Council of Nicea really came about as a shift in the politics of the church took place. Constantine experienced a dream that lead to a victory in battle and he then converted to Christianity, in 312 AD. In 313 Constantine issued the Edict of Milan which legalized Christianity in the eastern empire(it was already legal in the western empire). This changed a dynamic within the church. There had always been intense theological debates over various issues regarding interpretation of scripture, but those issues had always been resolved within the church. With Constantine taking power and having a vested interest in the politics of the church, the government now began to be involved in resolving theological disputes. The concern of the church under constant persecution in the past centuries had always been to survive, now with Christianity legalized across the entire empire, they could focus more attention on growth and theological issues.

There was a controversy developing between Arius a popular prsybeter, and Alexander, bishop of Alexandria. Arius believed that Jesus Christ was created by God and had issue with Jesus Christ being the same as God. Arius believed Jesus Christ to be a sort of creature created by God. Then the world was created through Jesus Christ. Obviously the labeling of Jesus Christ as a creature upset many in the developing church. Alexander held the view that the word was co-eternal with God. Arius was of the view that before anything else existed, the word was created by God. The controversy grew more and more intense between Arius and Alexander. Then Alexander as bishop of Alexandria condemned Arius's teachings and removed him from his position. Arius didn't accept this, and called on the people to support him and also contacted friends from seminary in Antioch who now held positions of prominence in the church. 

There were popular demonstrations, marches, and protests in the streets of Alexandria. Arius's powerful friends wrote letters indicating that Arius was correct and it was bishop Alexander who was teaching false doctrine. This controversy eventually threatened to divide the church in the eastern half of the empire.

Constantine had been busy defeating Licinius, but he then sent Bishop Hosius of Cordoba to try and deal with the dispute. Hosius was unable to reconcile the apposing groups debating the issue. Constantine then took a step he had been planning for sometime, by calling a grand universal council (the first ecumenical council). It would be a gathering of Bishops from across the entire empire, meeting in Nicea to discuss basic policies of the church and to resolve the dispute between Arius and Alexander. This council is now referred to as the Council of Nicea. 

There were approximately 300 bishops in attendance. Most of the bishops present were from the eastern half of the empire. There were also some bishops from the western half. In many ways it was the perfect time for a council of Godly men to get together and make tough decisions. According to White (2009), "When it began on June 19, 325, the fires of persecution had barely cooled. The Roman Empire had been unsuccessful in its attempt to wipe out the Christian faith. Fourteen years had elapsed since the final persecutions under the Emperor Galerius had ended. Many of the men who made up the Council of Nicea bore on their bodies the scars of persecution. They had been willing to suffer for the name of Christ." This is a strong defense for the council of Nicea that is often ignored by new agers and critics.

The council was divided into three groups. The first group was represented by Arius who was present at the command of Constantine. With him were some of his supporters, of note, two Egyptian bishops, and Eusebius of Nicomedia. This was the group that believed Jesus and God were not co-eternal, but that God created Jesus before creating the world. The second group believed the Arian view threatened the foundation of Christianity, led by Alexander of Alexandria and supported by Athanasius of Alexandria. The third group, probably only 3 or 4 people held a position somewhat similar to patripassianism. They believed God the Father personally experienced the passion. But for the most part, most of the bishops at the council were not members of any of these groups. 

Alexander of Alexandria won out, and the few Arians who refused to sign the creed of the council were declared heretics and thrown out.

The final creed agreed upon by the council was signed by all but two bishops of the over 300 members, an incredible achievement for such a council.  The Nicene Creed was developed as a concise summary of the Christian faith, particularly dealing with the trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The creed reads as follows:

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible; and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten of his Father, of the substance of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten (γεννηθέντα), not made, being of one substance (ὁμοούσιον, consubstantialem) with the Father. By whom all things were made, both which be in heaven and in earth. Who for us men and for our salvation came down [from heaven] and was incarnate and was made man. He suffered and the third day he rose again, and ascended into heaven. And he shall come again to judge both the quick and the dead. And [we believe] in the Holy Ghost. And whosoever shall say that there was a time when the Son of God was not (ἤν ποτε ὅτε οὐκ ἦν), or that before he was begotten he was not, or that he was made of things that were not, or that he is of a different substance or essence [from the Father] or that he is a creature, or subject to change or conversion51—all that so say, the Catholic and Apostolic Church anathematizes them.

Galvao-Sobrinho, Carlos R. "Chapter 26 Embodied Theologies: Christian Identity and Violence in Alexandria in the Early Arian Controversy." In Violence in late antiquity: perceptions and practices, 321-331. Aldershot, England: Ashgate, 2006.

Hardenbrook, V. Rev. Fr. Thaddaeus . "Emperor Constantine the Great (306–337)." JCPS 3, no. 1 (2008). (accessed November 10, 2013).

NIV Bible. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2000.

Perry, Matt. "Athanasius and his Influence at the Council of Nicaea." Quodlibet Journal 5, no. 2-3 (2003). (accessed November 10, 2013).

White, James R.. "What Really Happened at Nicea?." Christian Research Institute DN206 (2009). (accessed November 10, 2013).