First Council of Nicaea
|First Council of Nicaea|
|Next council||First Council of Constantinople|
|Convoked by||Emperor Constantine I|
|Presided by||St. Alexander of Alexandria (and also Emperor Constantine)|
|Attendance||318 (traditional number) 250–318 (estimates) — only five from Western Church|
|Topics of discussion||Arianism, the nature of Christ, celebration of Passover (Easter), ordination of eunuchs, prohibition of kneeling on Sundays and from Easter to Pentecost, validity of baptism by heretics, lapsed Christians, sundry other matters.|
|Documents and statements||Original Nicene Creed, 20 canons, and an epistle|
|Chronological list of Ecumenical councils|
|Part of a series on|
|Late Antiquity (325–381)|
|Nicaea I · Constantinople I|
|Early Middle Ages (431–870)|
|Ephesus · Chalcedon · Constantinople II · Constantinople III · Nicaea II · Constantinople IV|
|Middle Ages (1122–1517)|
|Lateran I · Lateran II · Lateran III · Lateran IV · Lyon I · Lyon II · Vienne · Constance · Florence · Lateran V|
|Modern Era and Contemporary Era (1545–1870)|
|Trent · Vatican I|
The First Council of Nicaea (/naɪ'si:ə/; Greek: Νίκαια /'ni:kaɪja/ Turkish: Iznik) was a council of Christian bishops convened in Nicaea in Bithynia by the Roman Emperor Constantine I in AD 325. This first ecumenical council was the first effort to attain consensus in the church through an assembly representing all of Christendom.
Its main accomplishments were settlement of the Christological issue of the nature of the Son of God and his relationship to God the Father, the construction of the first part of the Creed of Nicaea, establishing uniform observance of the date of Easter, and promulgation of early canon law.
- 1 Overview
- 2 Character and purpose
- 3 Attendees
- 4 Agenda and procedure
- 5 Arian controversy
- 6 Nicene Creed
- 7 Separation of Easter computation from Jewish calendar
- 8 Meletian schism
- 9 Promulgation of canon law
- 10 Effects of the council
- 11 Role of Constantine
- 12 Misconceptions
- 13 Disputed matters
- 14 See also
- 15 Bibliography
- 16 References
- 17 External links
The First Council of Nicaea was the first ecumenical council of the Church. Most significantly, it resulted in the first, uniform Christian doctrine, called the Creed of Nicaea. With the creation of the creed, a precedent was established for subsequent local and regional councils of Bishops (Synods) to create statements of belief and canons of doctrinal orthodoxy—the intent being to define unity of beliefs for the whole of Christendom.
The council settled, to some degree, the debate within the Early Christian communities regarding the divinity of Christ. This idea of the divinity of Christ, along with the idea of Christ as a messenger from God (The Father), had long existed in various parts of the Roman empire. The divinity of Christ had also been widely endorsed by the Christian community in the otherwise pagan city of Rome. The council affirmed and defined what it believed to be the teachings of the Apostles regarding who Christ is: that Christ is the one true God in deity with the Father.
Derived from Greek oikoumenikos (Greek: οἰκουμένη), "ecumenical" means "worldwide" but generally is assumed to be limited to the Roman Empire in this context as in Augustus' claim to be ruler of the oikoumene/world; the earliest extant uses of the term for a council are Eusebius' Life of Constantine 3.6 around 338, which states "σύνοδον οἰκουμενικὴν συνεκρότει" (he convoked an Ecumenical Council); Athanasius' Ad Afros Epistola Synodica in 369; and the Letter in 382 to Pope Damasus I and the Latin bishops from the First Council of Constantinople.
One purpose of the council was to resolve disagreements arising from within the Church of Alexandria over the nature of the Son in his relationship to the Father: in particular, whether the Son had been 'begotten' by the Father from his own being, or rather, created out of nothing, a characteristic shared with other creatures. St. Alexander of Alexandria and Athanasius took the first position; the popular presbyter Arius, from whom the term Arianism comes, took the second. The council decided against the Arians overwhelmingly (of the estimated 250–318 attendees, all but two agreed to sign the creed and these two, along with Arius, were banished to Illyria).
Another result of the council was an agreement on when to celebrate Easter, the most important feast of the ecclesiastical calendar, decreed in an epistle to the Church of Alexandria in which is simply stated:
We also send you the good news of the settlement concerning the holy pasch, namely that in answer to your prayers this question also has been resolved. All the brethren in the East who have hitherto followed the Jewish practice will henceforth observe the custom of the Romans and of yourselves and of all of us who from ancient times have kept Easter together with you.
Historically significant as the first effort to attain consensus in the church through an assembly representing all of Christendom, the Council was the first occasion where the technical aspects of Christology were discussed. Through it a precedent was set for subsequent general councils to adopt creeds and canons. This council is generally considered the beginning of the period of the First seven Ecumenical Councils in the History of Christianity.
Character and purpose
The First Council of Nicaea was convened by Emperor Constantine the Great upon the recommendations of a synod led by Hosius of Córdoba in the Eastertide of 325. This synod had been charged with investigation of the trouble brought about by the Arian controversy in the Greek-speaking east. To most bishops, the teachings of Arius were heretical and dangerous to the salvation of souls. In the summer of 325, the bishops of all provinces were summoned to Nicaea, a place reasonably accessible to many delegates, particularly those of Asia Minor, Georgia, Armenia, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Greece, and Thrace.
This was the first general council in the history of the Church since the Apostolic Council of Jerusalem, the Apostolic council having established the conditions upon which Gentiles could join the Church. In the Council of Nicaea, "The Church had taken her first great step to define doctrine more precisely in response to a challenge from a heretical theology."
Constantine had invited all 1800 bishops of the Christian church (about 1000 in the east and 800 in the west), but a smaller and unknown number attended. Eusebius of Caesarea counted 250, Athanasius of Alexandria counted 318, and Eustathius of Antioch estimated "about 270" (all three were present at the council). Later, Socrates Scholasticus recorded more than 300, and Evagrius, Hilary of Poitiers, Jerome Dionysius Exiguus, and Rufinus recorded 318.
- The Eastern Orthodox Church has a feast day "of the three hundred and eighteen God-bearing fathers who were in Nicaea" whereon at vespers is read (Genesis 14:14-20), the story of Abraham pursuing Lot with his 318 servants.
- The Coptic liturgy refers to "the three hundred and eighteen Holy Fathers at Nicaea".
- In Ethiopic Christian literature including both the Fetha Negest and the Kibre Negest, the First Council of Nicaea (Niqya) is traditionally referred to as "the three hundred and eighteen Orthodox Fathers".
Delegates came from every region of the Roman Empire except Britain. The participating bishops were given free travel to and from their episcopal sees to the council, as well as lodging. These bishops did not travel alone; each one had permission to bring with him two priests and three deacons, so the total number of attendees could have been above 1800. Eusebius speaks of an almost innumerable host of accompanying priests, deacons and acolytes.
The Eastern bishops formed the great majority. Of these, the first rank was held by the three patriarchs: Alexander of Alexandria, Eustathius of Antioch, and Macarius of Jerusalem. Many of the assembled fathers—for instance, Paphnutius of Thebes, Potamon of Heraclea and Paul of Neocaesarea—had stood forth as confessors of the faith and came to the council with the marks of persecution on their faces. This position is supported by patristic scholar Timothy Barnes in his book Constantine and Eusebius. Historically, the influence of these marred confessors has been seen as substantial, but recent scholarship has called this into question.
Other remarkable attendees were Eusebius of Nicomedia; Eusebius of Caesarea, the purported first church historian; circumstances suggest that Nicholas of Myra attended (his life was the seed of the Santa Claus legends); Aristakes of Armenia (son of Saint Gregory the Illuminator); Leontius of Caesarea; Jacob of Nisibis, a former hermit; Hypatius of Gangra; Protogenes of Sardica; Melitius of Sebastopolis; Achilleus of Larissa (considered the Athanasius of Thessaly) and Spyridion of Trimythous, who even while a bishop made his living as a shepherd. From foreign places came John, bishop of Persia and India, Theophilus, a Gothic bishop and Stratophilus, bishop of Pitiunt of Georgia.
The Latin-speaking provinces sent at least five representatives: Marcus of Calabria from Italia, Cecilian of Carthage from Africa, Hosius of Córdoba from Hispania, Nicasius of Die from Gaul, and Domnus of Stridon from the province of the Danube.
Athanasius of Alexandria, a young deacon and companion of Bishop Alexander of Alexandria, was among the assistants. Athanasius eventually spent most of his life battling against Arianism. Alexander of Constantinople, then a presbyter, was also present as representative of his aged bishop.
The supporters of Arius included Secundus of Ptolemais, Theonus of Marmarica, Zphyrius, and Dathes, all of whom hailed from the Libyan Pentapolis. Other supporters included Eusebius of Nicomedia, Paulinus of Tyrus, Actius of Lydda, Menophantus of Ephesus, and Theognus of Nicaea.
"Resplendent in purple and gold, Constantine made a ceremonial entrance at the opening of the council, probably in early June, but respectfully seated the bishops ahead of himself." As Eusebius described, Constantine "himself proceeded through the midst of the assembly, like some heavenly messenger of God, clothed in raiment which glittered as it were with rays of light, reflecting the glowing radiance of a purple robe, and adorned with the brilliant splendor of gold and precious stones". The emperor was present as an overseer and presider, but did not cast any official vote. Constantine organized the Council along the lines of the Roman Senate. Hosius of Cordoba may have presided over its deliberations; he was probably one of the Papal legates. Eusebius of Nicomedia probably gave the welcoming address.
Agenda and procedure
The agenda of the synod included:
- The Arian question regarding the relationship between God the Father and the Son (not only in his incarnate form as Jesus, but also in his nature before the creation of the world); i.e., are the Father and Son one in divine purpose only or also one in being?
- The date of celebration of the Paschal/Easter observation
- The Meletian schism
- The validity of baptism by heretics
- The status of the lapsed in the persecution under Licinius
The council was formally opened May 20, in the central structure of the imperial palace at Nicaea, with preliminary discussions of the Arian question. In these discussions, some dominant figures were Arius, with several adherents. "Some 22 of the bishops at the council, led by Eusebius of Nicomedia, came as supporters of Arius. But when some of the more shocking passages from his writings were read, they were almost universally seen as blasphemous." Bishops Theognis of Nicaea and Maris of Chalcedon were among the initial supporters of Arius.
Eusebius of Caesarea called to mind the baptismal creed of his own diocese at Caesarea at Palestine, as a form of reconciliation. The majority of the bishops agreed. For some time, scholars thought that the original Nicene Creed was based on this statement of Eusebius. Today, most scholars think that the Creed is derived from the baptismal creed of Jerusalem, as Hans Lietzmann proposed.
The orthodox bishops won approval of every one of their proposals regarding the Creed. After being in session for an entire month, the council promulgated on June 19 the original Nicene Creed. This profession of faith was adopted by all the bishops "but two from Libya who had been closely associated with Arius from the beginning". No historical record of their dissent actually exists; the signatures of these bishops are simply absent from the Creed.
The Arian controversy arose in Alexandria when the newly-reinstated priest Arius began to spread doctrinal views that were contrary to those of his bishop, St. Alexander of Alexandria. The disputed issues centered on the natures and relationship of God (the Father) and the Son of God (Jesus). The disagreements sprang from different ideas about the God-head and what it meant for Jesus to be his son. Alexander maintained that the Son was divine in just the same sense that the Father is, co-eternal with the Father, else he could not be a true Son. Arius emphasized the supremacy and oneness of God, meaning that the Father's divinity must be greater than the Son's, that the Son had a beginning, that he shared neither the eternity nor the true divinity of the Father, but was rather the very first and the most perfect of God's creatures.
The Arian discussions and debates at the council extended from about May 20, 325, through about June 19. According to many accounts, debate became so heated that at one point, Arius was struck in the face by Nicholas of Myra, who would later be canonized.
Much of the debate hinged on the difference between being "born" or "created" and being "begotten". Arians saw these as essentially the same; followers of Alexander did not. The exact meaning of many of the words used in the debates at Nicaea were still unclear to speakers of other languages. Greek words like "essence" (ousia), "substance" (hypostasis), "nature" (physis), "person" (prosopon) bore a variety of meanings drawn from pre-Christian philosophers, which could not but entail misunderstandings until they were cleared up. The word homoousia, in particular, was initially disliked by many bishops because of its associations with Gnostic heretics (who used it in their theology), and because their heresies had been condemned at the 264–268 Synods of Antioch.
Position of Arius (Arianism)
According to surviving accounts, the nontrinitarian Arius maintained that the Son of God was a Creature made from nothing, begotten directly of the Eternal God, and that he was God's First Production, before all ages. And he argued that everything else was created through the Son. Thus, said the Arians, only the Son was directly created and begotten of God; and therefore there was a time that He had no existence. Arius believed that the Son of God was capable of His own free will of right and wrong, and that "were He in the truest sense a son, He must have come after the Father, therefore the time obviously was when He was not, and hence He was a finite being", and was under God the Father. Therefore Arius insisted that the Father's divinity was greater than the Son's. The Arians appealed to Scripture, quoting verses such as John 14:28: "the Father is greater than I", and also Colossians 1:15: "Firstborn of all creation".
Position of the council
Alexander and the Nicene fathers countered the Arians' argument, saying that the Father's fatherhood, like all of his attributes, is eternal. Thus, the Father was always a Father, and that the Son, therefore, always existed with him, co-equally and con-substantially. The Nicene fathers believed that to follow the Arian view destroyed the unity of the Godhead, and made the Son unequal to the Father. They insisted that such a view was in contravention of such Scriptures as "I and the Father are one" and "the Word was God", as such verses were interpreted. (John 10:30 John 1:1) With Athanasius, they declared that the Son had no beginning, but had an "eternal derivation" from the Father, and therefore was co-eternal with him, and equal to God in all aspects.
Result of the debate
The Council declared that the Son was true God, co-eternal with the Father and begotten from His same substance, arguing that such a doctrine best codified the Scriptural presentation of the Son as well as traditional Christian belief about him handed down from the Apostles. Under Constantine's influence, this belief was expressed by the bishops in the Nicene Statement, which would form the basis of what has since been known as the Nicene Creed.
One of the projects undertaken by the Council was the creation of a Creed, a declaration and summary of the Christian faith. Several creeds were already in existence; many creeds were acceptable to the members of the council, including Arius. From earliest times, various creeds served as a means of identification for Christians, as a means of inclusion and recognition, especially at baptism.
In Rome, for example, the Apostles' Creed was popular, especially for use in Lent and the Easter season. In the Council of Nicaea, one specific creed was used to define the Church's faith clearly, to include those who professed it, and to exclude those who did not.
- Jesus Christ is described as "God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God", proclaiming his divinity.
- Jesus Christ is said to be "begotten, not made", asserting that he was not a mere creature, brought into being out of nothing, but the true Son of God, brought into being 'from the substance of the Father'.
- He is said to be "of one being with The Father". Eusebius of Caesarea ascribes the term homoousios, or consubstantial, i.e., "of the same substance" (of the Father), to Constantine who, on this particular point, may have chosen to exercise his authority. The significance of this clause, however, is extremely ambiguous, and the issues it raised would be seriously controverted in future.
At the end of the creed came a list of anathemas, designed to repudiate explicitly the Arians' stated claims.
- The view that 'there was once that when he was not' was rejected to maintain the co-eternity of the Son with the Father.
- The view that he was 'mutable or subject to change' was rejected to maintain that the Son just like the Father was beyond any form of weakness or corruptibility, and most importantly that he could not fall away from absolute moral perfection.
Thus, instead of a baptismal creed acceptable to both the Arians and their opponents the council promulgated one which was clearly opposed to Arianism and incompatible with the distinctive core of their beliefs. The text of this profession of faith is preserved in a letter of Eusebius to his congregation, in Athanasius, and elsewhere. Although the most vocal of anti-Arians, the Homoousians (from the Koine Greek word translated as "of same substance" which was condemned at the Council of Antioch in 264–268), were in the minority, the Creed was accepted by the council as an expression of the bishops' common faith and the ancient faith of the whole Church.
Bishop Hosius of Cordova, one of the firm Homoousians, may well have helped bring the council to consensus. At the time of the council, he was the confidant of the emperor in all Church matters. Hosius stands at the head of the lists of bishops, and Athanasius ascribes to him the actual formulation of the creed. Great leaders such as Eustathius of Antioch, Alexander of Alexandria, Athanasius, and Marcellus of Ancyra all adhered to the Homoousian position.
In spite of his sympathy for Arius, Eusebius of Caesarea adhered to the decisions of the council, accepting the entire creed. The initial number of bishops supporting Arius was small. After a month of discussion, on June 19, there were only two left: Theonas of Marmarica in Libya, and Secundus of Ptolemais. Maris of Chalcedon, who initially supported Arianism, agreed to the whole creed. Similarly, Eusebius of Nicomedia and Theognis of Nice also agreed, except for the certain statements.
The Emperor carried out his earlier statement: everybody who refused to endorse the Creed would be exiled. Arius, Theonas, and Secundus refused to adhere to the creed, and were thus exiled to Illyria, in addition to being excommunicated. The works of Arius were ordered to be confiscated and consigned to the flames while all persons found possessing them were to be executed. Nevertheless, the controversy continued in various parts of the empire.
The Creed was amended to a new version by the First Council of Constantinople in 381.
Separation of Easter computation from Jewish calendar
As early as Pope Sixtus I, some Christians had set Easter to a Sunday in the lunar month of Nisan. To determine which lunar month was to be designated as Nisan, Christians relied on the Jewish community. By the later 3rd century some Christians began to express dissatisfaction with what they took to be the disorderly state of the Jewish calendar. They argued that contemporary Jews were identifying the wrong lunar month as the month of Nisan, choosing a month whose 14th day fell before the spring equinox.
Christians, these thinkers argued, should abandon the custom of relying on Jewish informants and instead do their own computations to determine which month should be styled Nisan, setting Easter within this independently computed, Christian Nisan, which would always locate the festival after the equinox. They justified this break with tradition by arguing that it was in fact the contemporary Jewish calendar that had broken with tradition by ignoring the equinox, and that in former times the 14th of Nisan had never preceded the equinox. Others felt that the customary practice of reliance on the Jewish calendar should continue, even if the Jewish computations were in error from a Christian point of view.
The controversy between those who argued for independent computations and those who argued for continued reliance on the Jewish calendar was formally resolved by the Council, which endorsed the independent procedure that had been in use for some time at Rome and Alexandria. Easter was henceforward to be a Sunday in a lunar month chosen according to Christian criteria—in effect, a Christian Nisan—not in the month of Nisan as defined by Jews. Those who argued for continued reliance on the Jewish calendar (called "protopaschites" by later historians) were urged to come around to the majority position. That they did not all immediately do so is revealed by the existence of sermons, canons, and tracts written against the protopaschite practice in the later 4th century.
These two rules, independence of the Jewish calendar and worldwide uniformity, were the only rules for Easter explicitly laid down by the Council. No details for the computation were specified; these were worked out in practice, a process that took centuries and generated a number of controversies. (See also Computus and Reform of the date of Easter.) In particular, the Council did not decree that Easter must fall on Sunday. This was already the practice almost everywhere.
Nor did the Council decree that Easter must never coincide with Nisan 14 (the first Day of Unleavened Bread, now commonly called "Passover") in the Hebrew calendar. By endorsing the move to independent computations, the Council had separated the Easter computation from all dependence, positive or negative, on the Jewish calendar. The "Zonaras proviso", the claim that Easter must always follow Nisan 14 in the Hebrew calendar, was not formulated until after some centuries. By that time, the accumulation of errors in the Julian solar and lunar calendars had made it the de facto state of affairs that Julian Easter always followed Hebrew Nisan 14.
At the council we also considered the issue of our holiest day, Easter, and it was determined by common consent that everyone, everywhere should celebrate it on one and the same day. For what can be more appropriate, or what more solemn, than that this feast from which we have received the hope of immortality, should be kept by all without variation, using the same order and a clear arrangement? And in the first place, it seemed very unworthy for us to keep this most sacred feast following the custom of the Jews, a people who have soiled their hands in a most terrible outrage, and have thus polluted their souls, and are now deservedly blind. Since we have cast aside their way of calculating the date of the festival, we can ensure that future generations can celebrate this observance at the more accurate time which we have kept from the first day of the passion until the present time....
— Emperor Constantine, following the Council of Nicaea
The suppression of the Meletian schism, an early breakaway sect, was another important matter that came before the Council of Nicaea. Meletius, it was decided, should remain in his own city of Lycopolis in Egypt, but without exercising authority or the power to ordain new clergy; he was forbidden to go into the environs of the town or to enter another diocese for the purpose of ordaining its subjects. Melitius retained his episcopal title, but the ecclesiastics ordained by him were to receive again the Laying on of hands, the ordinations performed by Meletius being therefore regarded as invalid. Clergy ordained by Meletius were ordered to yield precedence to those ordained by Alexander, and they were not to do anything without the consent of Bishop Alexander.
In the event of the death of a non-Meletian bishop or ecclesiastic, the vacant see might be given to a Meletian, provided he was worthy and the popular election were ratified by Alexander. As to Meletius himself, episcopal rights and prerogatives were taken from him. These mild measures, however, were in vain; the Meletians joined the Arians and caused more dissension than ever, being among the worst enemies of Athanasius. The Meletians ultimately died out around the middle of the fifth century.
Promulgation of canon law
The council promulgated twenty new church laws, called canons, (though the exact number is subject to debate), that is, unchanging rules of discipline. The twenty as listed in the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers are as follows:
- 1. prohibition of self-castration
- 2. establishment of a minimum term for catechumen (persons studying for baptism)
- 3. prohibition of the presence in the house of a cleric of a younger woman who might bring him under suspicion (the so called virgines subintroductae)
- 4. ordination of a bishop in the presence of at least three provincial bishops and confirmation by the Metropolitan bishop
- 5. provision for two provincial synods to be held annually
- 6. exceptional authority acknowledged for the patriarchs of Alexandria (pope), Antioch, and Rome (the Pope), for their respective regions
- 7. recognition of the honorary rights of the see of Jerusalem
- 8. provision for agreement with the Novatianists, an early sect
- 9–14. provision for mild procedure against the lapsed during the persecution under Licinius
- 15–16. prohibition of the removal of priests
- 17. prohibition of usury among the clergy
- 18. precedence of bishops and presbyters before deacons in receiving the Eucharist (Holy Communion)
- 19. declaration of the invalidity of baptism by Paulian heretics
- 20. prohibition of kneeling on Sundays and during the Pentecost (the fifty days commencing on Easter). Standing was the normative posture for prayer at this time, as it still is among the Eastern Christians. Kneeling was considered most appropriate to penitential prayer, as distinct from the festive nature of Eastertide and its remembrance every Sunday. The canon itself was designed only to ensure uniformity of practise at the designated times.
On July 25, 325, in conclusion, the fathers of the council celebrated the Emperor's twentieth anniversary. In his farewell address, Constantine informed the audience how averse he was to dogmatic controversy; he wanted the Church to live in harmony and peace. In a circular letter, he announced the accomplished unity of practice by the whole Church in the date of the celebration of Christian Passover (Easter).
Effects of the council
The long-term effects of the Council of Nicaea were significant. For the first time, representatives of many of the bishops of the Church convened to agree on a doctrinal statement. Also for the first time, the Emperor played a role, by calling together the bishops under his authority, and using the power of the state to give the council's orders effect.
In the short-term, however, the council did not completely solve the problems it was convened to discuss and a period of conflict and upheaval continued for some time. Constantine himself was succeeded by two Arian Emperors in the Eastern Empire: his son, Constantius II and Valens. Valens could not resolve the outstanding ecclesiastical issues, and unsuccessfully confronted St. Basil over the Nicene Creed.
Pagan powers within the Empire sought to maintain and at times re-establish paganism into the seat of the Emperor (see Arbogast and Julian the Apostate). Arians and Meletians soon regained nearly all of the rights they had lost, and consequently, Arianism continued to spread and to cause division in the Church during the remainder of the fourth century. Almost immediately, Eusebius of Nicomedia, an Arian bishop and cousin to Constantine I, used his influence at court to sway Constantine's favor from the orthodox Nicene bishops to the Arians.
Eustathius of Antioch was deposed and exiled in 330. Athanasius, who had succeeded Alexander as Bishop of Alexandria, was deposed by the First Synod of Tyre in 335 and Marcellus of Ancyra followed him in 336. Arius himself returned to Constantinople to be readmitted into the Church, but died shortly before he could be received. Constantine died the next year, after finally receiving baptism from Arian Bishop Eusebius of Nicomedia, and "with his passing the first round in the battle after the Council of Nicaea was ended".
Role of Constantine
Christianity was illegal in the empire until the emperors Constantine and Licinius agreed in 313 to what became known as the Edict of Milan. However, Christianity did not become the official state religion of Rome until 380. In the mean time, paganism remained legal and present in public affairs. In 321 (four years before Nicaea), Constantine declared Sunday to be an Empire-wide day of rest in honor of the sun. At the time of the council, imperial coinage and other imperial motifs still depicted pagan cult symbology in combination with the Emperor's image.
Constantine's role regarding Nicaea was that of supreme civil leader and authority in the empire. As Emperor, the responsibility for maintaining civil order was his, and he sought that the Church be of one mind and at peace. When first informed of the unrest in Alexandria due to the Arian disputes, he was "greatly troubled" and, "rebuked" both Arius and Bishop Alexander for originating the disturbance and allowing it to become public. Aware also of "the diversity of opinion" regarding the celebration of Easter and hoping to settle both issues, he sent the "honored" Bishop Hosius of Cordova (Hispania) to form a local church council and "reconcile those who were divided". When that embassy failed, he turned to summoning a synod at Nicaea, inviting "the most eminent men of the churches in every country".
Constantine assisted in assembling the council by arranging that travel expenses to and from the bishops' episcopal sees, as well as lodging at Nicaea, be covered out of public funds. He also provided and furnished a "great hall ... in the palace" as a place for discussion so that the attendees "should be treated with becoming dignity". In addressing the opening of the council, he "exhorted the Bishops to unanimity and concord" and called on them to follow the Holy Scriptures with: "Let, then, all contentious disputation be discarded; and let us seek in the divinely-inspired word the solution of the questions at issue." Thereupon, the debate about Arius and church doctrine began. "The emperor gave patient attention to the speeches of both parties" and "deferred" to the decision of the bishops. The bishops first pronounced Arius' teachings to be anathema, formulating the creed as a statement of correct doctrine. When Arius and two followers refused to agree, the bishops pronounced clerical judgement by excommunicating them from the Church. Respecting the clerical decision, and seeing the threat of continued unrest, Constantine also pronounced civil judgement, banishing them into exile.
A number of erroneous views have been stated regarding the council's role in establishing the biblical canon. In fact, there is no record of any discussion of the biblical canon at the council at all. The development of the biblical canon took centuries, and was nearly complete (with exceptions known as the Antilegomena, written texts whose authenticity or value is disputed) by the time the Muratorian fragment was written.
In 331 Constantine commissioned fifty Bibles for the Church of Constantinople, but little else is known (in fact, it is not even certain whether his request was for fifty copies of the entire Old and New Testaments, only the New Testament, or merely the Gospels), and it is doubtful that this request provided motivation for canon lists as is sometimes speculated. In Jerome's Prologue to Judith he claims that the Book of Judith was "found by the Nicene Council to have been counted among the number of the Sacred Scriptures".
The council of Nicaea dealt primarily with the issue of the deity of Christ. Over a century earlier the use of the term "Trinity" (Τριάς in Greek; trinitas in Latin) could be found in the writings of Origen (185-254) and Tertullian (160-220), and a general notion of a "divine three", in some sense, was expressed in the second century writings of Polycarp, Ignatius, and Justin Martyr. In Nicaea, questions regarding the Holy Spirit were left largely unaddressed until after the relationship between the Father and the Son was settled around the year 362. So the doctrine in a more full-fledged form was not formulated until the Council of Constantinople in 360 AD.
Constantine did not commission any Bibles at the council itself. He did commission fifty Bibles in 331 for use in the churches of Constantinople, itself still a new city. No historical evidence points to involvement on his part in selecting or omitting books for inclusion in commissioned Bibles.
Despite Constantine's sympathetic interest in the Church, he did not actually undergo the rite of baptism himself until some 11 or 12 years after the council.
Role of the Bishop of Rome
Roman Catholics assert that the idea of Christ's deity was ultimately confirmed by the Bishop of Rome, and that it was this confirmation that gave the council its influence and authority. In support of this, they cite the position of early fathers and their expression of the need for all churches to agree with Rome (see Ireneaus, Adversus Haereses III:3:2).
However, Protestants, Eastern Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox do not believe the Council viewed the Bishop of Rome as the jurisdictional head of Christendom, or someone having authority over other bishops attending the Council. In support of this, they cite Canon 6, where the Roman Bishop could be seen as simply one of several influential leaders, but not one who had jurisdiction over other bishops in other regions.
Let the ancient customs in Egypt, Libya, and Pentapolis prevail: that the Bishop of Alexandria have jurisdiction in all these, since the like is customary for the Bishop of Rome also. Likewise in Antioch and the other provinces, let the Churches retain their privileges...
According to Protestant theologian Philip Schaff, "The Nicene fathers passed this canon not as introducing anything new, but merely as confirming an existing relation on the basis of church tradition; and that, with special reference to Alexandria, on account of the troubles existing there. Rome was named only for illustration; and Antioch and all the other eparchies or provinces were secured their admitted rights. The bishoprics of Alexandria, Rome, and Antioch were placed substantially on equal footing."
There is however, an alternate Roman Catholic interpretation of the above 6th canon proposed by Fr. James F. Loughlin. It involves five different arguments "drawn respectively from the grammatical structure of the sentence, from the logical sequence of ideas, from Catholic analogy, from comparison with the process of formation of the Byzantine Patriarchate, and from the authority of the ancients" in favor of an alternative understanding of the canon. The understanding of the canon according to Fr. Loughlin can be summarized as follows:
Let the Bishop of Alexandria continue to govern these provinces, because this is also the Roman Pontiff's custom; that is, because the Roman Pontiff, prior to any synodical enactment, has repeatedly recognized the Alexandrian Bishop's authority over this tract of country.
According to this interpretation, the canon shows the role the Bishop of Rome had when he, by his authority, confirmed the jurisdiction of the other patriarchs—an interpretation which is in line with the Roman Catholic understanding of the Pope.
- Ancient church councils (pre-ecumenical) - church councils before the First Council of Nicaea
- First seven Ecumenical Councils
- Schaff, Philip; Wace, Henry, eds. (1890). The Seven Ecumenical Councils. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Second Series. 14, The Seven Ecumenical Councils. Grand Rapids, Michigan, U.S.A.: Eerdmans Pub Co. ISBN 0-8028-8129-7.
- Schaff, Philip; Wace, Henry, eds. (1890) Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series (in 14 volumes). Online edition by Christian Classics Ethereal Library
- I: works of Eusebius Pamphilius (ca 263–339), also known as Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea; participant at the First Council of Nicaea
- Eusebius, The Life of the Blessed Emperor Constantine, Bk 3, Ch 6 Chapters 6-21 treat the First Council of Nicaea
- II: histories of Socrates and Sozomen Bishop Socrates of Constantinople (ca 380-450) and historian Salaminius Sozomen (ca 400-450)
- Socrates of Constantinople, Ecclesiastical History, Bk 1, Ch 8 "Of the Synod which was held at Nicaea in Bithynia, and the Creed there put forth"
- Sozomen, Ecclesiastical History, Bk 1, Ch 16 "Constantine, having heard of the Strife of the Bishops ... is greatly troubled and sends Hosius ..."
- Sozomen, Ecclesiastical History, Bk 1, Ch 17 "Of the Council convened at Nicaea on Account of Arius"
- Sozomen, Ecclesiastical History, Bk 1, Ch 20 "After having given Audience to both Parties, the Emperor condemned the Followers of Arius and banished them"
- III: historical writings of several post-Nicene fathers including Theodoret(ca 393-ca 460), Bishop of Cyrus (or Cyrrhus, now in Syria)
- Theodoret, Ecclesiastical History, Bk 1, Ch 6 "General Council of Nicaea"
- Theodoret, Ecclesiastical History, Bk 1, Ch 7 containing a segment of a letter written by Bishop Eustathius of Antioch, participant at the First Council of Nicaea
- Emperor Constantine, Constantinus Augustus to the Churches his letter concerning the First Council of Nicaea to the bishops who did not attend; quoted in Theodoret's History, Bk 1, Ch 9
- IV: works of Athanasius (ca 297-373) Deacon and participant at the First Council of Nicaea; later, Bishop of Alexandria (Egypt)
- Eusebius (quoted by Athanasius), Letter of Eusebius of Caesarea to the people of his Diocese an account of the First Council of Nicaea
- Athanasius, De Decretis or Defence of the Nicene Definition
- Athanasius, Synodal Letter to the Bishops of Africa (Ad Afros Epistola Synodica)
- XIV: The Seven Ecumenical Councils
- The First Ecumenical Council, The Nicene Creed
- The First Ecumenical Council, The Canons of the 318 Holy Fathers... with editorial notes
- The First Ecumenical Council, The Synodal Letter with the Decree On the Keeping of Easter to the Church of Alexandria
- I: works of Eusebius Pamphilius (ca 263–339), also known as Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea; participant at the First Council of Nicaea
- Philostorgius, Epitome of the Church History.
- Ayres, Lewis, Nicaea and Its Legacy, 2004, ISBN 0-19-875505-8
- Carroll, Warren H., The Building of Christendom, 1987, ISBN 0-931888-24-7
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- Kelly, J.N.D., The Nicene Crisis in Early Christian Doctrines, 1978, ISBN 0-06-064334-X
- Kelly, J.N.D., The Creed of Nicaea in Early Christian Creeds, 1982, ISBN 0-582-49219-X
- MacMullen, Ramsay. Voting About God in Early Church Councils, Yale University Press, 2006, ISBN 0-300-11596-2
- Newman, John Henry., The Ecumenical Council of Nicæa in the Reign of Constantine from Arians of the Fourth century, 1871
- Rubenstein, Richard E., When Jesus Became God: The Epic Fight Over Christ's Divinity in the Last Days of Rome, 2003, ISBN 0-15-100368-8
- Rusch, William G. "The Trinitarian Controversy", Sources of Christian Thought Series, ISBN 0-8006-1410-0
- Tanner S.J., Norman P., "The Councils of the Church: A Short History", 2001, ISBN 0-8245-1904-3
- Williams, Rowan. Arius: Heresy and Tradition, Darton, Longman & Todd Ltd, 1987, ISBN 0-232-51692-8
- Britannica.com - Council of Nicaea
- The Seven Ecumenical Councils:112-114
- The Seven Ecumenical Councils:39
- The Seven Ecumenical Councils:44-94
- Richard Kieckhefer (1989). "Papacy". Dictionary of the Middle Ages. ISBN 0-684-18275-0.
- The very first church council is recorded in the book of Acts chapter 15 regarding circumcision.
- Schaff, Philip; Wace, Henry, eds. (1890) The Seven Ecumenical Councils, On the Keeping of Easter
- "First Council of Nicaea" in the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia.
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- Newman, A. H. A Manual of Church History, D.D.LL.D., Vol. I. p. 330. "Describing the proceedings of the Nicene Council: "Eusebius of Caesarea then proposed an ancient Palestinian creed, which acknowledged the divine nature of Christ in general biblical terms. The emperor had already expressed a favorable opinion of this creed. The Arians were willing to subscribe to it, but this latter fact made the Athanasian party suspicious. They wanted a creed that no Arian could subscribe, and insisted on inserting the term identical in substance (Greek: ὁμοούσιος, from the Greek: ὁμός, homós, "same" and οὐσία, ousía, "essence, being")." (Emphasis added)."
- Winkelmann, F, ed. (1975). Vita Constantini (in Greek). Berlin, DE: Akademie-Verlag.
- Ninety Bishops of Egypt and Libya, including Athanasius (1892). "Ad Afros Epistola Synodica". In Schaff, Philip; Knight, Kevin. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 4. Archibald Robertson (transl.) (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co)
- The Seven Ecumenical Councils:292-294
- J.N.D Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, Chapter 9.
- "§ 120. The Council of Nicaea, 325". Schaff's History of the Christian Church, Volume III, Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity,. "Only two Egyptian bishops, Theonas and Secundus, persistently refused to sign, and were banished with Arius to Illyria. The books of Arius were burned and his followers branded as enemies of Christianity."
- The Seven Ecumenical Councils:114
- Carroll, 10
- Ware, Timothy, The Orthodox Church, Penguin Books, 1991, ch. 2 "The Church of the Seven Councils", p. 28, "Heresies were dangerous and required condemnation, because they impaired the teaching of the New Testament, setting up a barrier between man and God, and so making it impossible for man to attain full salvation."
- Carroll, 11
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- Ad Afros Epistola Synodica 2
- Theodoret, Ecclesiastical History, Bk 1, Ch 7
- H.E. 1.8
- H.E. 3.31
- Contra Constantium
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- Philostorgius, in Photius, Epitome of the Ecclesiastical History of Philostorgius, book 1, chapter 9.
- Philostorgius, in Photius, Epitome of the Ecclesiastical History of Philostorgius, book 1, chapter 9.
- Eusebius, The Life of the Blessed Emperor Constantine, Book 3, Chapter 10.
- Original lists of attendees can be found in Patrum Nicaenorum nomina Latine, Graece, Coptice, Syriace, Arabice, Armeniace, ed. Henricus Gelzer, Henricus Hilgenfeld, Otto Cuntz. 2nd edition. (Stuttgart: Teubner, 1995)
- Leo Donald Davis, S.J., "The First Seven Ecumenical Councils (325-787)", ch. 2, "The Council of Nicaea I, 325", esp. pp 52-54, ISBN 0-8146-5616-1
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- In this corner, St. Nicholas!. Catholic Exchange. Published: 5 December 2012.
- M'Clintock and Strong's Cyclopedia, Volume 7, page 45a
- Encyclopædia Britannica, 1971, Volume 6, page 386
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- "Those who place [the first lunar month of the year] in [the twelfth zodiacal sign before the spring equinox] and fix the Paschal fourteenth day accordingly, make a great and indeed an extraordinary mistake", Anatolius of Laodicea, quoted in Eusebius, Church History 7.32.
- "On the fourteenth day of [the month], being accurately observed after the equinox, the ancients celebrated the Passover, according to the divine command. Whereas the men of the present day now celebrate it before the equinox, and that altogether through negligence and error", Peter, Bishop of Alexandria, quoted in the Chronicon Paschale
- A version of the Apostolic Constitutions used by the sect of the Audiani advised: "Do not do your own computations, but instead observe Passover when your brethren from the circumcision do. If they err [in the computation], it is no matter to you...." Epiphanius, Panarion 3.1.10 (Heresy #70, 10,1), PG 42,355-360. Frank Williams, ed., The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis Books II and III, Leiden, E.J. Brill, 1994, p. 412. Also quoted in Margaret Dunlop Gibson, The Didascalia Apostolorum in Syriac, London, 1903, p. vii.
- St. John Chrysostom, "Against those who keep the first Passover", in Saint John Chrysostom: Discourses against Judaizing Christians, translated by Paul W. Harkins, Washington, D.C., 1979, p. 47ff.
- Apostolic Canon 7: If any bishop, presbyter, or deacon shall celebrate the holy day of Easter before the vernal equinox with the Jews, let him be deposed. A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series, Volume 14: The Seven Ecumenical Councils, Eerdmans, 1956, p. 594
- Epiphanius of Salamis, "Against the Audians", Panairion 3.1 (Heresy #70), PG 42, 339. Frank Williams, ed., The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis Books II and III, Leiden, 1994, p. 402.
- The Quartodeciman practice recorded by Eusebius in the late 2nd century, if it still existed at the time of the Council, is not known to have been followed outside the Roman Province of Asia. The Pepuzites, or "solar quartodecimans", held Easter on the Sunday falling in the week of April 6th, Sozomen, Church History, 7.18.
- Peter L'Huillier, The Church of the Ancient Councils, St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, Crestwood, 1996, p. 25.
- "Emperor Constantine to All Churches Concerning the Date of Easter". fourthcentury.com. 2010-01-23. Retrieved 2011-08-20.
- "Meletius" in the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia.
- "Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series II, Vol. XIV, Excursus on the Number of the Nicene Canons". Early Church Fathers. Retrieved 2006-05-08.
- "Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series II, Vol. XIV, The Canons of the 318 Holy Fathers Assembled in the City of Nice (sic), in Bithynia.". Early Church Fathers. Retrieved 2006-05-08.
- In time, Western Christianity adopted the term Pentecost to refer to the last Sunday of Eastertide, the fiftieth day. For the exact text of the prohibition of kneeling, in Greek and in English translation, see canon 20 of the acts of the council.
- "Heroes of the Fourth Century".
- Leo Donald Davis, S.J., "The First Seven Ecumenical Councils (325-787)", 77, ISBN 0-8146-5616-1
- Sozomen, Ecclesiastical History, Bk 1, Ch 16
- Fr. Valentine Long OFM, Upon This Rock (1996), "Arius and the Council of Nicaea": "This doctrinal threat to the peace of his empire, which was growing rampant, alarmed Constantine."
- Sozomen, Ecclesiastical History, Bk 1, Ch 17
- Theodoret, Ecclesiastical History, Bk 1, Ch 6
- Sozomen, Ecclesiastical History, Bk 1, Ch 20
- Fr. Valentine Long OFM, Upon This Rock (1996), "Arius and the Council of Nicaea": "Emperor Constantine thanked them for having reached their decision, promised for the sake of unity in the empire to respect that decision, and forthwith made good his promise by ordering Arius into exile."
- Ehrman, Bart. Fact and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code, pp. 15-16, 23, 93
- McDonald & Sanders' The Canon Debate, Appendix D-2, note 19: "Revelation was added later in 419 at the subsequent synod of Carthage." "Two books of Esdras" is ambiguous, it could be 1 Esdras and Ezra-Nehemiah as in the Septuagint or Ezra and Nehemiah as in the Vulgate.
- CCEL.ORG: Schaff's Nicene and Post=Nicene Fathers: Jerome: Prologue to Tobit and Judith
- "Book of Judith". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913.: Canonicity: "..."the Synod of Nicaea is said to have accounted it as Sacred Scripture" (Praef. in Lib.). It is true that no such declaration is to be found in the Canons of Nicaea, and it is uncertain whether St. Jerome is referring to the use made of the book in the discussions of the council, or whether he was misled by some spurious canons attributed to that council"
- Fairbairn, Donald (2009), Life in the Trinity, Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, pp. 46–47, ISBN 978-0-8308-3873-8
- Zenos' translated edition of Socrates Scholasticus, Church History, book 2, chapter 41.
- Prof. John P. Adams, Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures (2010-01-24). "The Ecumenical Council, Nicaea A.D. 325". Csun.edu. Retrieved 2010-08-20.[dead link]
- Schaff, Philip. History of the Christian Church, vol. 3, pp. 275-276
- Fr. James F. Loughlin. American Catholic Quarterly Review (volume 5, 1880), pages 220-239 -- copyright (c) 1997, Classica Media, Inc
- Updated English Translations of the Creed, Rulings (Canons), and Letters Connected to the Council.
- "First Council of Nicaea" in the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia.
- Council of Nicaea in the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica.
- The Road to Nicaea A descriptive overview of the events of the Council, by John Anthony McGuckin.
- The Council of Nicaea and the Bible This article deals with the legend that the canon of the bible was discussed at the council.