The Truth of the Nicean Council (325 AD) and Arian Controversy- 318-381 AD

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.

Paul needs to get up to speed and be more scholarly and read this book.

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.

See also this excellent article by James White on the Council of Nicea, “What Really Happened at Nicea?” 

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)

 

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About Ken Temple

I am a follower of Jesus Christ. I am a sinner who has been saved by the grace of God alone (Ephesians 2:8-9), through faith alone (Galatians 2:16; Romans 3:28; 4:1-16), in Christ alone (John 14:6). But a true faith does not stay alone, it should result in change, fruit, good works, and deeper levels of repentance and hatred of my own sins of selfishness and pride. I am not better than you! I still make mistakes and sin, but the Lord is working on me, conforming me to His character. (Romans 8:28-29; 2 Corinthians 3:16-18) When I do sin, I hate the sin as it is an affront to God, and seek His forgiveness in repentance. (Mark 1:15; 2 Corinthians 7:7-10; Colossians 3:5-16 ) Praise God for His love for sinners (Romans 5:8), shown by the voluntary coming of Christ and His freely laying down His life for us (John 10:18), becoming flesh/human (John 1:1-5; 1:14; Philippians 2:5-8), dying for sins of people from all nations, tribes, and cultures (Revelation 5:9), on the cross, in history, rising from the dead (Romans 10:9-10; Matthew 28, Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24; John 20-21; 1 Corinthians chapter 15). His resurrection from the dead proved that Jesus is the Messiah, the eternal Son of God, the word of God from eternity past; and that He was all the gospels say He was and that He is truth and the life and the way to salvation. (John 14:6)
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11 Responses to The Truth of the Nicean Council (325 AD) and Arian Controversy- 318-381 AD

  1. Allah swt says:

    Ken Temple : “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?”

    Allah swt answers: “Simple, it’s because Paul Williams is a sissy”

  2. Masoud Christian says:

    Anti-Christian writers’ conspiracy theories on this issue obviously lack consistency. Some claim that the doctrine of Christ’s deity was formulated by Constantine whereas some argue that it was only Athanasius who declared Christ “God” in 325 in spite of Constantine’s tendency to support Arius’ teachings. Further, some writers even contend that Christ’s deity was introduced into Christianity and the New Testament by no one else than Paul!

    A rational and objective person who reads what Arius wrote on this theological controversy may easily understand that Christians had long been worshipping Christ as God before Arius. Arius’ statements are based on the REJECTION of the traditional Christian doctrine of Christ’s deity. Rejecting a teaching proves the existence of that teaching. Arius OBJECTED TO the tenet that the Logos was co-eternal with the Father when he taught that “there was a time when the Son was not”. In short, Arius’ Christological teaching was an innovation rather than the doctrine of Christ’s deity.

  3. Little Lamb says:

    Another crucial evidences:

    1. Bodmer Papyri P66 one of the oldest Gospel manuscripts dated 100 years BEFORE Council of Nicea and contains Gospel of John with verses such as:
    -Before Abraham was , I am (John 8:58)
    -I and My Father are one(John 10:30)
    -I am the resurrection and the life(John 11:25)
    -I am the way and the truth and the life (John 14:6)
    -Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?
    (John 14:9)

    2. Non-christian scholar such as Bart Ehrman confirms Jesus was viewed as God by His first companions , meaning it was 300 years before Nicea.

    3. Moslems will still see Arians as heretic on the basis Arians called Jesus the Son of God, and Allah as The Father (two concepts totally rejected by Islam).

  4. Pingback: “Sola Scriptura”, the Canon, and Roman Catholicism | apologeticsandagape

  5. θ says:

    The early apostolic Christians have a great difficulty – or precisely a madness of confusions – to explain the “genre” of the Word (or Son), because they insist on calling him “theos” but without the imposition of will, and also there was a time when the Word was not yet. What kind of God is it without having the absolute will, and had the time of non-existence?
    (i) Justin Martyr calls the Word an “another God”.

    Justin Martyr , Dialogue with Trypho, Ch 56.
    ….that there is said to be, another God and Lord subject to the Maker of all things; who is also called an Angel.

    (ii) Ireneaus calls the Word a “produced” of the Father (and ignorant of the God’s higher knowledge).

    Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book I, Ch 8.5
    ….the Father, after a seminal manner, brought forth all things. By him the Word was produced, and in him the whole substance of the Aeons, to which the Word himself afterwards imparted form.

    Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book II, ch 28.8
    ….For if any one should inquire the reason why the Father, who has fellowship with the Son in all things, has been declared by the Lord alone to know the hour and the day, he will find at present no more suitable, or becoming, or safe reason than this (since, indeed, the Lord is the only true master), that we may learn through Him that the Father is above all things. For the Father, says He, is greater than I. The Father, therefore, has been declared by our Lord to excel with respect to knowledge; for this reason, that we, too, as long as we are connected with the scheme of things in this world, should leave perfect knowledge, and such questions, to God, and Should not by any chance, while we seek to investigate the sublime nature of the Father, fall into the danger of starting the question whether there is another God above God.

    (iii) Clement of Alexandria calls the Word a “nearest” in nature (not identical) to the Father.

    Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, Book VII, Ch 2.
    ….But the nature of the Son, which is nearest to Him who is alone the Almighty One, is the most perfect, and most holy, and most potent, and most princely, and most kingly, and most beneficent.

    (iv) Tertullian calls the Word a “generated” from the Father’s internal conversation, a time before He has a son.

    Tertullian, Against Praxeas, ch 5.
    ….He existed before the creation of the world, up to the generation of the Son. For before all things God was alone.
    ….His Word, which He made second to Himself by agitating it within Himself.

    Tertullian, Against Hermogenes, ch 3.
    ….but He has not always been Father and Judge, merely on the ground of His having always been God. For He could not have been the Father previous to the Son, nor a Judge previous to sin. There was, however, a time when neither sin existed with Him, nor the Son.

    (v) Hippolytus calls the Word a “born” that was produced from existing things by the Father.

    Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies, Book X, ch 29.
    ….Therefore this solitary and supreme Deity, by an exercise of reflection, brought forth the Logos first; not the word in the sense of being articulated by voice, but as a ratiocination of the universe, conceived and residing in the divine mind. Him alone He produced from existing things.

    Hippolytus, On Christ and Antichrist, ch 26.
    ….because he was born, the Word of God, before all ages; and of things on earth, because he became man in the midst of men.

    (vi) Origen calls the Word a “second God” after the Father.
    Origen, Contra Celsus, Book V, ch 39.
    ….although we may call Him a second God, let men know that by the term second God we mean nothing else than a virtue capable of including all other virtues.

    (vii) Eusebius calls the Word an “another secondary God” beside the Father.

    Eusebius, The Proof of the Gospel, Book 1, ch 5.
    …He clearly implies that this was not the Omnipotent God, but a secondary Being.
    …teaches the saint mysteriously of His Father’s rule, and speaks some things, as it were, of another God, which I will examine in their place.

    (viii) Novatian mentions the time when the Word was not yet “when He willed it, the Son, the Word, was born”.
    Novatian, On the Trinity, Ch 31.
    ….of whom, when He willed it, the Son, the Word, was born, who is not received in the sound of the stricken air, or in the tone of voice forced from the lungs, but is acknowledged in the substance of the power put forth by God, the mysteries of whose sacred and divine nativity neither an apostle has learned, nor prophet has discovered, nor angel has known, nor creature has apprehended.
    ….He, then, when the Father willed it, proceeded from the Father, and He who was in the Father came forth from the Father;

  6. θ says:

    What makes the Trinity a tritheism is the attribution of three different divinities (adjective) to three different persons (noun), even though three divinities (adjective) are on one nature (noun).

  7. θ says:

    Other important thing to prove that the Trinity is a tritheism is the self-defeating Trinitarian use of Psalm 2:7 that ironically differentiates Jehovah (who uses the word “I”) from a person whom He calls “Son”. If Jehovah were plural, Psalm 2:7 should have used “We” and Our, such as “Thou art *Our* Son, this day have *We* begotten thee.”

    • Ken Temple says:

      No, because in that context, it is the Father speaking to the Son-Messiah.

      • θ says:

        Where does the Bible ever use a verbatim phrase “Son of the Father” or where does the Father ever say in verbatim manner that He has begotten the Son?
        As far as I know, Jesus is just called “Son of God” and the “begotten Son of God”, never the “Son of the Father”.

      • Ken Temple says:

        But all through gospels, Father and Son are mentioned. John 17:1 – “Father, the hour has come, glorify Your Son, . . . ” Lots more like that. the voice from heaven, “You are My Beloved Son . . . ” Mark 1:11. You are demanding that the words and phrases have to be in the verbatim form you want them in. the contexts are obvious about the Father. see also Hebrews 1:5 b – “I will be a Father to Him, and He shall be a Son to Me.”

  8. θ says:

    “Ken Temple says: You are demanding that the words and phrases have to be in the verbatim form you want them in. the contexts are obvious about the Father. see also Hebrews 1:5 b – “I will be a Father to Him, and He shall be a Son to Me.” ”

    Now, let examine the Trinitarian confusion with a question: Whose Son is Jesus? Does he belong to the hypostasis of Father, or the hypostasis of Ghost’s, or the ousia of God of the Trinity?

    Mt 1:18
    She was found with child of the Holy Ghost.

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