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14 Feb 2005

How Arianism Almost Won

by Christopher A. Hall | Issue 85

AT THE COUNCIL of Nicaea, Arius and his ideas lost. But for decades after the council, it appeared that an Arian perspective on the person of Christ would carry the day and the conclusions of Nicaea would disappear in a theological and ecclesial dustbin. Why? The Roman emperors were an important influence. A series of emperors (beginning with Constantine) understood their role to include the right to intervene in the affairs of the church, particularly when division within the church threatened the unity of the Roman Empire itself. Thus, if...

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14 Feb 2005

Why a Creed?

by Robert Louis Wilken | Issue 85

CHRISTIAN HISTORY & BIOGRAPHY: Why should we care about the early councils today—or even recite a creed? Aren’t the gospel accounts in the New Testament enough for today’s church?

ROBERT LOUIS WILKEN: One begins with the simple and inescapable fact that the Scriptures need to be interpreted. The Bible is not a doctrinal treatise. It’s not a catechism. It’s not a set of well-defined teachings. It’s basically a narrative, a story about what God has done in the coming of Christ. So from the beginning, how to understand the various parts of the...

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14 Feb 2005

Who Came to the Council of Nicaea?

by D. H. Williams | Issue 85

Judging from what little we know about the identity of those who attended, the council was overwhelming Eastern. Only six or seven bishops are recorded as having come from Western churches, among them were Ossius (or Hosius) of Cordoba, Caecilianus of Carthage, and two representatives from the church of Rome. The small number of bishops from the West reflected the general ignorance among Western churches of those theological issues that had embroiled the East.

Of the bishops from the East, Asia Minor (presentamp;mdash;day Turkey), Syria,...

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14 Feb 2005

Which Creed is Which?

by the Editors | Issue 85

In one of the quirks of church history, the “Nicene Creed” used in church hymnals and liturgies is a different creed from the one accepted at Nicaea.

In 381, the council of Constantinople affirmed the Nicene Creed and condemned heresies that had since arisen against Nicaea. But from later records (preserved at the Council of Chalcedon, 70 years later) we know that another creed was also used, now known as the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed. This creed is more strictly Trinitarian than the Nicene, describing each member of the Trinity in...

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14 Feb 2005

Saints and Heretics

by Elesha Coffman and others | Issue 85

Constantine (c. 273-337) Imperial peacemaker

L ike the king in chess, Constantine occupied a prominent position at the Council of Nicaea, but he did not actually do very much. Generations of critics have accused him of manipulating the proceedings, jamming words into the creed, and generally trumping theology with politics, but in fact he mainly sat and listened.

An ambitious politician and effective propagandist, Constantine had come to power in the usual swirl of conflict and intrigue. He waged war on barbarians and other Roman factions....

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14 Feb 2005

The Council of Nicaea and its bitter aftermath

by Steven Gertz and Jennifer Trafton | Issue 85

TIRED OF JUST READING about the Arian controversy? Ready to dip into the original letters? Then pick up a copy of J. Stevenson’s A New Eusebius  (S.P.C.K., 1957; rev. ed. 1987), a fabulous collection of 319 documents from the early church. You’ll want to pay special attention to Alexander’s encyclical letter warning against the Arian heresy, Arius’s letters to Eusebius of Nicomedia and Alexander, Constantine’s initial letter to Alexander and Arius urging reconciliation, the Canons of Nicaea, Eusebius’s guarded letter to his church in Ceasarea...

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14 Feb 2005

Debating Jesus’ Divinity: Christian History Timeline

by the editors | Issue 85

"Now because it was agreed formerly that the Synod of Bishops should meet at Ancyra of Galatia, it hath seemed to us on many accounts that it would be well for a Synod to assemble at Nicaea, a city of Bithynia, both because the Bishops from Italy and the rest of the countries of Europe are coming, and because of the excellent temperature of the air, and in order that I may be present as a spectator and participator in those things which will be done. Wherefore I signify to you, my beloved brethren, that all of you promptly assemble at the...

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14 Feb 2005

The Final Act

by Lewis Ayres | Issue 85

FOR MANY modern Christians, the Council of Nicaea marks a basic decision of the church about its faith. After that crucial event, all who disagree with Nicaea’s insistence that the Son is one in being (homoousios ) with the Father could only be considered heretics.

But that is not how people saw it at the time. The idea that Nicaea was a fundamental turning point developed gradually over the decades that followed. Modern Christians should certainly accept the church’s decision for Nicaea and the Trinitarian faith, but they should know that...

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14 Feb 2005

A Marriage Made in Byzantium

by Bradley Nassif | Issue 85

T HE COUNCIL OF NICAEA is often misrepresented. Jehovah’s Witnesses and modern critics of the divinity of Christ allege that the council was merely a tool of imperial manipulation. They point to Nicaea, not the Bible, as the source of the doctrine of the Trinity, and interpret the Council as the triumph of heresy over orthodoxy, rather than the reverse. They argue that Emperor Constantine “forced” the Council to adopt the crucial word consubstantial (homoousios) to describe the equal divinity of the Father and the Son.

But did Constantine...

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15 Feb 2005

Athanasius: Pugnacious Defender of Orthodoxy

by Patrick Henry Rardon | Issue 85

A MODERN BIOGRAPHER of Athanasius of Alexandria speaks of “the predominantly polemical nature of most of his dogmatic works” and “the lack of serenity in his argumentation.” Understandably so! In all of Christian history, it is safe to say, few churchmen have been so entirely embroiled in doctrinal and ecclesiastical disputes as Athanasius. In one comparison with him, one ventures that even so controversial a figure as Martin Luther lived out a relatively quiet and uneventful life.

Born into a Christian Family in Alexandria in 295,...

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15 Feb 2005

The Road to Nicaea

by John Anthony Mcguckin | Issue 85

GRAFFITI EMBLAZONED ON WALLS, a vicious war of pamphlets, riots in the streets, lawsuits, catchy songs of ridicule ... It’s hard for modem Christians to imagine how such public turmoil could be created by an argument between theologians—or how God could work through the messiness of human conflict to bring the church to an understanding of truth.

To us, in retrospect, the Council of Nicaea is a veritable mountain in the landscape of the early church. For the protagonists themselves, it was more in the nature of an emergency meeting forced...

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31 Aug 1996

A Hammer Struck at Heresy

by Robert Payne | Issue 51

It was of great importance in Christian and even in world history, wrote historian W.H.C. Frend about the first Council of Nicea.

In Christian history, the doctrine of Christs divinitya doctrine essential and unique to Christianitywas formally affirmed for the first time. In world history, never before had the entire church gathered to determine policy and doctrinelet alone at the bidding of the Roman emperor.

The following article, written by the late writer and biographer Robert Payne (d. 1983), is excerpted and adapted from his The Holy...

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