is "Christianity Day" in my screwy calendar.
It was on June 19, 325 CE that the Christians of that day
decided for once and for all
what they were going to believe.
[ Why we
observe it on July 2. ]
|I don't know
anyone else who celebrates
It's very possible that I'm the
only one on earth who observes this day. That bothers me because I
think it was a very important day in the history of Western Civilization.
This is the
of the birthplace of Christianity.
Try to imagine what the Mediterranean world was like
before June 19, 325 CE ! There was confusion
everywhere! Hundreds of congregations of Christians [ or,
pre-Christians ] had sprung up on every shore of the
Mediterranean Sea. They were in Southern Europe, in Western Asia,
and in Northern Africa. Some had roots in the Roman world of the
time, some in the Greek tradition, some in the Hebrew
tradition, and some in the Egyptian tradition. With roots in
so many different and alien worlds, it shouldn't surprise us that
the branches took so many different shapes.
It also shouldn't surprise us that, with so many approaches to the
nature and content of this emerging "faith," tensions and
violence developed. For most of this turbulent 300 year period there
wasn't just the strife between the congregations, there was the
persecution from the Romans. However, just twelve years before this
landmark council, [in February, 313 CE],
Constantine I, emperor of the western part of the Roman Empire and
Licinius, who controlled the Balkans, met in Milan and
agreed to treat the Christians benevolently. Try to imagine what it
was like to be out from under this violent treatment!
Unfortunately, peace with the Romans didn't mean peace among
In fact, the strife got worse. The disputes among
the congregations began to cause problems for the government of Rome.
"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 220,
Athanasius of Alexandria counted 318,
and Eustathius of Antioch counted 270.
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. ]"
I have no idea why so few came. After all, it was an all-expense
All my life I've jumped at every chance to get an expense
To anywhere! For anything!
["The council was formally opened May 20,
325 CE in the central structure of the
imperial palace at Nicaea, with preliminary discussions of the Arian
question. After being in session for an entire month, the
council promulgated on June 19 the original Nicene Creed. "
Volumes have been written about this council.
Many things were discussed. The biggest problem was how
to settle the dispute between the followers of Arius and the followers of
Athanasius. The quarrel is extremely difficult for us to understand
because it all centered around the Greek word
have come to
believe that "ousia" is
the most important word
in the history of Western Civilization!
I can't tell you what it means
because it doesn't mean
anything !! That is,
it doesn't mean anything
to us. It doesn't mean anything to us because
it's a word out of a completely different world view.
In the ancient
Greek world they had a completely different understanding of what was real
and what wasn't real. When we look at a table, we think we see a
table. Plato says: "No, what we think is a table is really only an
illusion." The Greeks believed that behind these illusions was the
real thing. This "reality"
behind the illusion they called the
"ousia." I hope you don't understand
this, because if you think you do you're in big trouble. The word
"ousia" only works
in the world view of ancient Greece. In our world view it doesn't
mean any more than "gjtyn."
In 325 CE the prevailing view of what did and what did not exist was a version
of this Greek "weltanschauung" [world view].
Athanasius, who had succeeded Alexander as Bishop of Alexandria, insisted
that Jesus was of the same
as God the Father.
"Homo" in Greek means "same." Therefore they were called "Homoousians.
" Arias insisted that Jesus was not the same
as God the Father, but that
he was a similar "ousia"
to God the Father. The Greek
word for "similar" is "Homoi."
Therefore they were called "Homoiousians. " Arius had added
only one "i" [iota]. Have you ever heard the phrase "adding one
iota?" What seems like a very simple change turned out to be the
theological issue of the fourth century.
For about two months, the two sides argued and debated, with each
appealing to Scripture to justify their respective positions. 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.
[ In other
words, Arius was struck in the face by "Saint Nicholas!" ]
The Council decided in favor of the "Homoousians. " 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.
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. Wow!!
As part of the final compromise, The Holy Spirit was officially defined
and the doctrine of The Trinity was established.
The Christian God had finally been
Nevertheless, the controversy continued in various parts of the empire.
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.
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.
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".
And you thought
theology was boring!!