The Council of Nicaea (325) – where, the Nicene Creed was created

The Council of Nicaea, fresco, Vatican, pic. Wikipedia

The Council of Nicaea, fresco, Vatican, pic. Wikipedia

In May of 325 A.D., in the summer palace in Nicaea (present day İznik in Turkey) the pontifex maximus dressed in imperial robes and gold, meaning Emperor Constantine the Great, inaugurated the first general council, welcoming more than 250 bishops who came from different parts of the empire. Despite financial and transport aid which he had offered them, many representatives of the West did not reach the city. The bishop of Rome, Silvester I, sent two legates, the council was however attended by the entrepreneurial Bishop Hosius of Corduba, the trusted advisor of the emperor, who was tasked with maintaining religious peace, among the gathered representatives of the Church.

The Council of Nicaea, fresco, Vatican, pic. Wikipedia
Burning of Aryan texts at the Council of Nicaea, fresco by Carlo Mannoni, Baptistery of San Giovanni in Laterano
Icon showing Constantine the Great and bishops at the Council of Nicaea, pic. Wikipedia
The Council of Nicaea, Liber cronicarum (Nuremberg Chronicle), illustration from 1493, pic. Wikipedia

In May of 325 A.D., in the summer palace in Nicaea (present day İznik in Turkey) the pontifex maximus dressed in imperial robes and gold, meaning Emperor Constantine the Great, inaugurated the first general council, welcoming more than 250 bishops who came from different parts of the empire. Despite financial and transport aid which he had offered them, many representatives of the West did not reach the city. The bishop of Rome, Silvester I, sent two legates, the council was however attended by the entrepreneurial Bishop Hosius of Corduba, the trusted advisor of the emperor, who was tasked with maintaining religious peace, among the gathered representatives of the Church.

 

     

What peace was it exactly? The principal reason for the gathering of the reverend bishops was an important current issue, which occupied the minds of Christians of the African and Asian Churches. This was the controversy surrounding the relations between the Father and the Son and it was mostly for this very reason that the council was called. The argument began in Alexandria between the local bishop, Alexander and his presbyter Arius. The latter was convinced of the absolute unity and transcendence of God, claiming that Christ is not consubstantial with the Father, but as born from God is one rung lower on the ladder of beings. This caused Alexander to protest, as he believed that the Father and the Son are equal. The consequences of this theological dispute were riots, revolts and misunderstandings resulting in the creation of a strong faction of the faithful sympathizing with Arius (the so-called Arians), who were supported by some representatives of the Church. This awakening Arianism, threatened the vision of the emperor himself, who saw in Christianity a religion which would unite the state and its inhabitants providing clear and precise answers to questions regarding spirituality. He desired to have this matter dealt with rapidly and was insensitive to the theological discussions of the gathered bishops. He decided to support the option which was against Arius. Not without hesitation, although with a clear majority, the bishops accepted at the end of their talks the term „consubstantial”, in this way creating the doctrinal foundation for that which we are used to calling Christian orthodoxy. Interestingly enough, at that time it was the bishops themselves who went outside the framework of the Bible itself as well as Judaistic tradition, taking on terminology and wording from Greek philosophy. In this place and time a sort of a new formula of the Christian doctrine was agreed upon and it is still respected today.

 

Arius and two other bishops were exiled from their communes, while the writings of the first one were ostensibly burned. As it would seem, the argument was neutralized, the heretics exiled, while the unity of the Church guaranteed. The result of the council was the announcement of a dogma on the divinity of Christ and his equality with the Father as well as the editing of the Nicene credo, meaning the profession of faith known to all Catholics, which was worded 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, begotten of the Father the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made both in heaven and on earth.


Unfortunately, the problem of Arianism, or more appropriately the sensitive issue of consubstantiality would for subsequent decades divide Churches and their hierarchs. In this argument the bishops of Rome would continue to support this “consubstantiality, while the Orthodox Church – would criticize the Nicaean agreements all the way until the year 381 (Council of Constantinople). Then with slight modifications, the agreements of the Council of Nicaea would be approved.

Among other issues, which were discussed in Nicaea, was the unification of the date of the Resurrection of Christ, which allowed to mark the date of the celebration of Easter in all of the Church. Organizational and disciplinary problems were also dealt with. The motion concerning a mandatory celibacy for high-ranking clergy (bishops, presbyters and deacons) was rejected.

The Council of Nicaea was one of the events planned by the emperor as part of the celebration of the twenty-year anniversary of his rule. Christians were to play a very important role in it, demonstrating their unity. For the Church it was a momentous act of the forming of the scientific basis of its doctrine, borrowed from Greek philosophy. For the opponents of the agreements of Nicaea, this was a defeat meaning, according to them, the questioning of the very foundation of the Christian faith, which had been in place until then.