The Council of Nicaea A.D. 325

council of nicaeaDuring the early years of Christianity, there were many belief systems that existed. The majority belief across the known world was not what it is today; nor, what it was when Constantine came into power.  Many sincere people were handed down their beliefs from their ancestors orally; some even had writings from early church leaders.  Under persecution at various times during the first two centuries, many of these old manuscripts were confiscated and burned by certain heathen kings in an effort to eradicate Christianity. But, though many of their writings were destroyed, the beliefs were carried forward by those who survived the persecution.

Before Constantine came into power, the schisms in the church were already becoming evident between various Christian leaders. Upon taking office as Emperor, Constantine gave Christians and their leaders not only freedom to practice their beliefs, but endowed the clergy with authority, perks and privileges and, the ability to amass wealth. When the fight began between bishops and presbyters who disagreed on doctrine, it became necessary to enlist the aid of Constantine. What they did not realize is that Constantine had the ability to force submission to whatever decision he made. Under penalty of confiscation of property, loss of position as clergy, loss of their church and, banishment, these leaders really had no choice but to concede to whatever decision he made. Many went along with the decision because they had no choice. They were not willing to give up their power, prestige and money along with the perks and privileges afforded them as clergy.

The schisms were beginning to widen amongst believers.  Not all churches held to the same beliefs regarding who Jesus was. This difference of beliefs about Jesus sparked debates and contentions that became heated and embarrassing. Those that espoused the name of Christian were acting in the most hateful manner toward their brethren in Christ, using words as swords to wound and humiliate one another. The result of Constantine’s inquiry regarding the dispute was that he realized that the wound was too deep to be healed. “In every city,” writes one historian, “bishop was opposed to bishop, and the people contended with one another, like a swarm of gnats fighting in the air.” “Those,” writes another “were indeed melancholy times, well deserving of our tears. It was not then, as it had been in former ages, when the Church was attacked by strangers and enemies; now those who were natives of the same country, who dwelt under one roof, and sat down at one table, fought together with their tongues as if with spears.” The ridicule of the heathen was excited, the disputes of the Christians were rehearsed on the stage, and so much contempt was awakened for their Christian Emperor, that his statues were treated with indignity. (Backhouse)” It was at this point that Constantine realized that he had to act on the situation before it became a thorn in his side, as it did with the Donatists, and called for an assembly in Nicaea in July of 325 A.D.

“Many ecclesiastics seem to have resorted to the council in the hope of obtaining redress for private or party grievances, and on the day before, many petitions had been presented to the
Emperor with this object. These he now took, and caused them to be burnt before him, telling the memorialists that all their mutual accusations would be produced again at the last day, and be judged by the great Judge of all.

But neither this act nor his admonitory speech produced much effect on the excited spirits by whom he was surrounded. “As soon,” writes Eusebius, “as their tongues were loosed, some
began to accuse those who sat nearest to them, and others to defend themselves, and lay the blame on their adversaries.” “It was,” as the historian Socrates styles it, “a battle in the night, in which neither party appeared distinctly to understand the grounds on which they calumniated one another.” “Many questions were propounded on either side, and the disputes grew hot and turbulent; but the Emperor patiently attended to all their disagreements, praising some, pacifying others, reasoning impartially and arguing courteously, and delivering his own opinion in the Greek language, in which he was not unskilful. (Backhouse)”

“The Arian controversy brought to a focus the desire which had begun to manifest itself ever since the priestly element gained the ascendancy, namely, that of possessing a declaration of faith which should be binding on the universal Church. It had not then, it has scarcely even now, been discovered that this object, however desirable it may seem, is unattainable, and that the paths by which men attempt to reach it, must inevitably lead into lack of charity, intolerance and persecution. [What a profound statement here! In other words, any time man tries to put his doctrines and beliefs in writing for the populous to follow, it will inevitably lead to a lack of love, intolerance toward those who believe differently and, the persecution of the same.]  Various succinct forms of belief seem to have existed in some of the Churches from an early period. The most ancient which has come down to us is to be found in Irenaeus, A.D. 182-188. The writings of Tertullian also contain two or three forms, one of which nearly resembles the Apostles Creed in its more ancient shape, as it was used in the fourth century (Backhouse).”

The creed which was first presented to the council originated in one of the Eastern Churches, and was not exactly identical with any of the above-mentioned. It was brought forward by Eusebius of Caesarea, as “that which had been held from the first by the bishops of his church.” It was mostly couched in scripture language. Christ’s divinity was distinctly stated, but in such terms that, although according to their full import they stood in contradiction to the Arian tenets, they might be so construed as to be accepted by the dissentients. According to one authority the document was received with universal disapprobation, and immediately torn to pieces. [Give them proof of your position and they dig their heels in and dismiss facts for their own opinion of what something means.] According to others, the party of Bishop Alexander was satisfied with the articles, but declared that as the creed was capable of a double interpretation, it was necessary to add such other words or propositions, as should effectually exclude the “blasphemous doctrine of Arius.” [Based on the document given, who is to say what is blasphemous since it supports both views? It will come down to a matter of who has the most supporters of their opinion of what it means.] To this view, the Emperor, under the influence of Hosius and his associates, lent the weight of his authority; and the anti-Arian party, in defining the Divine nature of the Son of God, introduced the famous epithet, Homoousion (that is of the same being, substance or essence with the Father), a term which they are said to have chosen as being especially obnoxious to their opponents. Not satisfied with this, they added other antithetic clauses having in view the same object, namely, to put Arius and his adherents completely out of the orthodox pale; and they wound up with pronouncing the anathema of the Church on every one who should hold the heretical opinions. (Backhouse).  [Now, church leaders had the authority to punish those who believed differently however they wished and had the government backing them! Wow! This doesn’t sound like Christianity, this sounds like a fight for power and control over others. I do not see love, gentleness, meekness, kindness nor grace in this meeting or its outcome.]

“Thus ended the famous Council of Nicaea. Loving pens represent it as a venerable assembly, full of wisdom and heavenly grace, successfully disposing of the grave and difficult questions which agitated the Church. This is its picture as it should have been, rather than as it was. The rulers of the Church, who claimed to be the successors of the Apostles, had here an opportunity of showing to the world how men anointed with the Holy Spirit are able to handle and resolve the Lord’s business. . . But instead of the dignity, patience and charity, which ought to have been the very life-breath of such an assembly, strife and envy too often prevailed. . . Could any stronger proof of the declension of the Church in the fourth century be afforded, than the conduct of the bishops on this occasion? Could any spectacle be more humiliating than that this, the first Ecumenical Council, should be so agitated by interest and passion, so forgetful of the very primer of the Gospel, as to be indebted for lessons of forbearance, courtesy and charity to the half-heathen sovereign who presided over it (Backhouse)?”

What transpired out of this assembly of church leaders and laymen was a change to the Nicene Creed that gave the Emperor the ability to banish and persecute anyone that did not believe the doctrine of the Church now adopted. It also gave church leaders the ability to do the same! What power these bishops and presbyters now had!

What many do not realize is that those who fought the hardest and had the most influence over others, were the ones whose beliefs were selected as true. This council set the stage for future councils and, more changes in doctrine in order to stamp out all differing opinions on faith and practice. Basically, the doctrines and dogmas of the church system were being developed in such a way as to prevent other beliefs under penalty of death, confiscation of property, torture, banishment and/or excommunication.

The dispute that caused the schisms and animosity was over whether or not Jesus and God were one and the same (Arianism). Many of today’s clergy are the same as these early clerics. They force their doctrines down the throats of congregants under penalty of shaming, shunning and  public humiliation. Instead of allowing open questioning of doctrine, they suppress and silence such. Some church leaders even take to the internet and spew words that cut as swords to wound their opponents. They use word acrobatics and twist meaning in order to beat their opponents over the head, wounding them. They have left off love, gentleness, kindness and grace toward their opponents who believe differently; not realizing that God is bigger than someone’s belief, whether right or wrong. God doesn’t need religious police to force people into believing right. God is BIG enough to bring whatever he desires to pass in someone’s heart and life.

“The Church was supposed to have come out of the sea of storms into a smooth haven of repose and liberty. But this was only in name. The objects and the actors were changed, but the attempt to coerce men’s consciences still survived. Constantine was persuaded to promulgate a penal law against several communities of the dissenters, a measure by so much the more infamous than the edicts of Diocletian, as it was enacted professedly in the cause of Christ. The former coercive acts against the Donatists might possibly find an excuse in the appeal which had been made by that party to the arbitrament of the Emperor, or in the danger with which the public peace was threatened. The new measure could shelter itself under no such pleas; it was the first of its kind, and opened the way to a long succession of intolerant laws, enacted by self-styled Christian rulers, which has not even yet come to an end. (Backhouse)”

“What might have happened if the Nicene Creed had not been adopted no one can say. But let us not ignore the incalculable mischief of enforced uniformity, nor overlook the fact that the conclusion arrived at by the council was very far from settling the question at issue. “The manner in which the controversy was left,” observes Neander, “could only contain the seed of new disputes. Here was no cordial union, springing freely by a natural course of development out of inward conviction, but a forced and artificial conjunction of men, still widely separated by their different modes of thinking, in relation to a creed which had been imposed on them, and which was variously expounded according to the doctrinal proclivities of the various parties (Backhouse).”

Source: Early Church History to the Death of Constantine, Edward Backhouse, 1906

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