Paul Bilal Williams, a British convert to Islam, has reposted an article on the Council of Nicea by Unitarians, that is very skewed and inaccurate. (No longer there, since Paul Williams deleted that blog.)
The Unitarian source is inaccurate and skewed. These 2 statements make the article not credible.
1. “It was 325 A.D. at Nicea that the doctrine of the Trinity was rammed through by Athanasius . . . “
2. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica:
“Constantine himself presided, actively guiding the discussions and personally proposed the crucial formula expressing the relationship of Christ to God in the creed issued by the council, of one substance with the Father.”
Both of these statements are inaccurate.
I wonder why Paul Williams didn’t let my comments through, which documents more accurately the events of the Council of Nicea in 325 AD? (at that time, sometimes Williams would ban me for a few days, but now in 2016 and 2017, he has been a very good blogger and let’s most of my comments through for discussion and debate.)
R. P. C. Hanson, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God: The Arian Controversy: 318-381 AD
Athanasius was only a deacon at the council of Nicea in 325 AD. The main theologians and leaders were Ossius of Cordova (Spain), Alexander, bishop of Alexandria, Egypt (bishop over Athanasius), Eusebius of Caesarea, and Eusebius of Nicomedia, presbyters Victor and Vincentius as representatives of the bishop of Rome, Eustathius of Antioch, Marcellus of Ancyra, and Macarius of Jerusalem, and others. There was a lot of discussion between homoi-ousian (like substance) vs. homo-ousian (same substance). There were about 300 or 318 bishops there (historical sources vary as to the exact number) were debating the Biblical texts of John 1:1-5; 1:14; Philippians 2:5-8; John 14:9 (if you have seen Me, you have seen the Father). The Council of Nicea did not just suddenly happen as to the content of the doctrine and creed without recognizing the wealth of writings and evidence for understanding the Biblical texts and interpretations of earlier Christian writers – early church fathers and writers such as Origen (250 AD) and earlier (Ignatius (110 AD), Justin Martyr (150 AD), Ireneaus(180-200 AD), Tertullian (200 AD), Clement of Alexandria (215 AD). They all held to the Deity of Christ.
The issue at Nicaea was not exactly the formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity (three persons (hypostasis) in One substance (ousia); rather it was mostly about how to understand the relationship of the Son/Word to the Father; the Deity of Christ, and was the Son/ the Word with the Father from all eternity past. Although the Nicene creed does say “We believe in the Father, . . . and the Son, of the same substance of the Father, and we believe in the Holy Spirit . . . etc. – a Trinitarian organization of the creeds’ doctrines, it has not defined yet how to understand the 3 hypostasis (persons) with the One essence (ousia).
Here are some choice quotes from one of the top, if not the top historians of the Nicean Council and Arian controversy:
“Athanasius was certainly present as a deacon accompanying Alexander of Alexandria. He tells us himself that he was present. But it is equally certain that he can have taken no prominent or active part, in spite of later legends to this effect and the convictions of some scholars that he was the moving spirit in the Council. A deacon would never have been permitted by the bishops to play a prominent part on such an occasion, and though he came with Alexander he was then by no means Alexander’s natural and clearly designated successor. ” (page 157, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God, 318-381 AD, by R. P. C. Hanson, T & T Clark, 1985, Baker Academic, 2005.)
Athanasius himself “unmistakably witnesses that it was Ossius” (or also written Hosius) of Cordova, Spain who was the “presiding spirit at the council”. (Hanson, p. 154)
“The presence of Constantine was inevitable. He was not baptized: It is doubtful if he was even a Christian catechumen. [ yet] But he had summoned the Council, had paid all its expenses. He was a highly interested spectator.” (Hanson, p. 157, ibid)
So Constantine was not the one guiding and controlling the Council in matters of theology. He just kept the peace and wanted the bishops and theologians to work it out between themselves.
For several pages Hanson describes the Melitian controversy (about church discipline and allowing people who had apostatized during the persecution of Diocletian from 303-311 back into the church too quickly) and the different groups of these 300-318 bishops, who had more nuanced takes in between the issues of understanding Jesus as homoi-ousian (of like substance) or homo-ousian (of same substance) and other debates over words and phrases. There was also the Donatist controversy, similar to the Melitian controversy.
After this discussion, Hanson notes, “This at least informs us that the Creed by produced by the Council was carefully and thoroughly debated, and not merely imposed by Constantine.” (ibid, 162)
So it was not imposed by either Athanasius nor guided by Constantine, nor was the phrase, “homo-ousias”, proposed by Constantine. He was not a theologian; he wanted unity in his empire. Constantine called the Council because of several controversies that had broken out over Arius teaching since 318 that “there was a time in the past, when the Son/the Word did not exist) and the Melitian controversy in another area in Egypt and the different conflicts all over – many having to do with accepting people back into the churches too quickly after caving during the persecution of Diocletian in 303-311 AD.
In fact, Constantine did not “impose” his view, but in actuality, Eusebius of Nicodemia and [Eusebius of Caesaria (had a middle view between the 2 sides] Constantine favored the Arian view, and that is why later, after being persuaded by Arians, he favored the followers of Arius and more controversy broke out for 60 years with the Arians taking over in political power and becoming the bishops and Athanasius being exiled 5 different times.
After Nicea, there is some truth to the charge that Athanasius responded in anger and employed questionable tactics after he was exiled and after the Arians took over after Nicea by political maneuvering. He was human and responded in anger, yes. Later evidence has come out, by archeological finds of the enemies and opponents of Athanasius, that he used “gangsterism” (hiring thugs, stirring up mobs) and arrogant and self-willfulness and refusing to show up at the Council of Tyre in 335 AD. (Hanson has a whole chapter on this – chapter 9 – The Behavior of Athanasius”, pages 239-273.
Even so, Athanasius sometimes bad behavior should not be seen as the main factor for the eventual victory of the doctrines of the Deity of Christ and the Trinity in 381 AD, which the Unitarian article seeks to assert. (and which is what you (Paul Williams) assert from the start.) Since there was lots of writings of others, and continued wrestling with the texts of Scripture and the writings of early church fathers and traditions, and the work of Gregory of Nyssa (335-395 AD), Gregory of Nazianzus (329-390 AD), and Basil of Caesarea (329-379 AD), and evidence from Cyril of Jerusalem (313 to 386 AD), and Hilary of Poitiers (300-368 AD) – they all contributed to the theological development from Nicea in 325 to Constantinople in 381 AD – the how to understand the texts of Scripture as pertaining to the doctrine of the Trinity. But they were wrestling with the Scriptures, which were written between 48 AD to 96 AD. So the doctrine was not suddenly thought up or forced by the Council of Nicea in 325, nor by the Council of Constantinople in 381 AD.
The Council of Nicea in 325 AD.
Muslims (and Unitarians, atheists, skeptics, and conspiracy theorists like Dan Brown of the DaVinci Code fame) need to watch this video and retire once and for all using the bad argumentation of the late Ahmad Deedat and Sheikh Awal. The Council of Nicea had nothing to do with the canon of Scripture and did not come up with the doctrine of the Trinity or the Deity of Christ. Also Constantine did not make Christianity the state religion; Constantine declared it legal and that they would not persecute the Christians anymore in 313 AD. It was a later Emporer, Theodosius 1, in 380 AD, who made Christianity the state religion. The film provides the excellent historical evidence for anyone to find and research and understand that the Deity of Christ was believed long before the Council of Nicea in 325 AD. Not only do we have clear New Testament verses on the Deity of Christ, which were written between 48 AD and 96 AD, but we have Ignatius of Antioch in 107-117 AD, Justin Martyr around 150 AD, Irenaeus and Tertullian in 180-220 AD and many others testifying to the Christian doctrine of the Deity of Christ. (Cyprian 250 AD, Clement of Alexandria – 215 AD, Origen, 250 AD, and others.) The only criticism I have of most portrayals of the Council of Nicea in 325 AD, both in the film, and most paintings, is that they are anachronistic paintings done in the 1600s – 1900s, and show the bishops with mitre hats. The bishop’s mitre hat did not start being used until the 11 Century!
“Worn by a bishop, the mitre is depicted for the first time in two miniatures of the beginning of the eleventh century. The first written mention of it is found in a Bull of Pope Leo IX in the year 1049. By 1150 the use had spread to bishops throughout the West; by the 14th century the tiara was decorated with three crowns.” (from the article linked to above)