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Summary in 400 words or less:
The first ecumenical Council of Nicea was called by Emperor Constantine (the Great, or the First) around 20May or 19June to circa 25Aug 325. The primary issue was over the Arian heresy. We have the 20 canons issued by the council, the Nicene Creed, and a synodal letter excommunicating Arius. The creed was a modification of a baptismal creed used in Jerusalem, and was first presented by Eusebius but is modified by the council. This was the first dogmatic definition of the church to have more than local authority. The bishops heard much debate, and the greatest expositor and orator of orthodoxy who emerged was the young deacon in Alexandria, Athanasius. The council rejected Arius’ ontological subordination of the Son to the Father, and defined that the incarnate Logos as consubstantial (homoousios, of same substance) with the Father. If Christ were not fully divine (as Arianism declared), then man could not hope to share in divine life or salvation. Even so, the nonscriptural homoousios clause adopted by the council was to cause doctrinal divisions until the Council of Ephesus in 381 (largely because the word homoousios was rejected in a different context in dealing with the Monarchians). The creed from the First Council of Nicea (325) reads as:
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];
Who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man;
He suffered, and the third day he rose again, ascended into heaven;
From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
And in the Holy Ghost.
[But those who say: ‘There was a time when he was not;’ and ‘He was not before he was made;’ and ‘He was made out of nothing,’ or ‘He is of another substance’ or ‘essence,’ or ‘The Son of God is created,’ or ‘changeable,’ or ‘alterable’— they are condemned by the holy catholic and apostolic Church.]
As revised by First Council of Constantinople (381), the creed reads as:
We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds (æons), Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father;
by whom all things were made;
who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man;
he was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered, and was buried, and the third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father;
from thence he shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead. ;
whose kingdom shall have no end.
And in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father, who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified, who spake by the prophets.
In one holy catholic and apostolic Church; we acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.
The Canons of the Nicene Council deal with one who has been castrated and leadership, the appointment of bishops, how to deal with the excommunicated, early development of the “Pentarchy” (Alexandria, Rome, Antioch, and Jerusalem are named), the Novatians, the character of bishops/presbyters, repentance and restoration of the fallen and public discipline, Communion to the dying/sick, regarding use of treasures or of wealth in the church by its leaders, the practice of the Eucharist and ranks, Paulianism and rebaptism of heretics (as previously articulated at the Synod of Arles, 314AD), and prayer.
The Council also dealt with the calculation of Easter by aligning the celebration of Easter with the Sunday after the full moon following the Spring equinox.
Recent myths about the First Nicene Council include:
* That they decided the canon of Scripture or changed the books of the Bible
* That Constantine foisted some agenda throughout the Council
* That the Orthodox or proto-Orthodox made a power grab
* That Constantine ordered Sabbath (Saturday) worship to be Sunday worship
Scripture for YouVersion:
Three questions (1 fill-in-the-blank, 1 multiple choice, and one discussion question):
References for further reading:
The Canons of the Nicene Council
Hermias Sozomen or Sozomenus, Ecclesiastical History/History of the Church
Athanasius – Contra Arianos / Against the Arians
Athanasius – Defense against the Arians
Athanasius – [The Proceedings of the] Council of Nicea
Athanasius – History of the Arians
Collaborators: Chris Lee
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