The Council of Nicea: Part IV
The Nicene Creed
The Decisions of the Council of Nicea
The bishops at the Council of Nicea had some trouble following the emperor's advice concerning homoousios.
A rule of faith generally used wording directly contained in Scripture. No Scripture mentions homoousios. The Council of Nicea might believe it, and the apostles might have believed it, but it was not in the Scriptures!
Nonetheless, they acquiesced. Homoousios was added to the Nicene Creed.
We can't know the arguments that went back and forth, but we do have an explanation as to why Eusebius of Caesarea agreed to the addition of this non-Scriptural (not to say unscriptural) term. He explained himself in a letter back to Caesarea:
That he is consubstantial with the Father then simply implies, that the Son of God has no resemblance to created things, but is in every respect like the Father only who begat him; and that he is of no other substance or essence but of the Father.
To this doctrine, explained in this way, it appeared right to assent, especially since we knew that some eminent bishops and learned writers among the ancients have used the term "homoousios" in their theological discourses concerning the nature of the Father and the Son. (The Ecclesiastical History of Socrates Scholasticus I:8)
The final version of the Nicene Creed, according to a letter Eusebius sent back to Caesarea, read like this:
The Creed of Nicea As Finalized by the Council of Nicea
I give the same disclaimer as above. The wording is from The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, series 2, vol. II. Please excuse the century-old wording and punctuation. Again, paragraphs are mine.
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, the only-begotten of the Father, that is of the substance of the Father; God of God, Light of light, true God of true God; begotten not made, consubstantial with the Father; by whom all things were made both which are in heaven and on earth; who for the sake of us men, and on account of our salvation, descended, became incarnate, was made man, suffered and rose again on the third day; he ascended into the heavens, and will come to judge the living and the dead.
[We believe] also in the Holy Spirit.
But those who say "There was a time when he was not," or "He did not exist before he was begotten," or "He was made of nothing" or assert that "He is of other substance or essence than the Father," or that the Son of God is created, or mutable, or susceptible of change, the catholic and apostolic Church of God anathematizes.
~Ecclesiastical History of Socrates Scholastictus I:8 (emphasis mine)
Results of the Council of Nicea
Athanasius, only an elder at the time of the Council of Nicea, became the champion of the Niceans afterward. As emperors turned for him and against him, he was banished from the eastern part of the empire no less than five times over the next thirty years or so.
Over that time Nicene bishops and modalist bishops—of which there were always a few—united against the Arians. In the process the two doctrines melded into what is now the commonly accepted doctrine of the Trinity.
A careful reading of the Nicene Creed makes it clear than neither Protestant nor Catholic churches agree with the Council of Nicea anymore, no matter how much they quote the Nicene Creed. A form of it called the Apostles Creed is quoted in all Catholic churches and many Protestant churches weekly, but only the Athanasian creed, belonging to A.D. 361 or later, properly embodies our current beliefs.
It seems ironic to me that Athanasius, sainted by the Roman Catholics as a defender of the faith of Nicea, is likely the main reason that the original doctrine of the Trinity, as taught by all the Pre-Nicene Christian writers, is virtually unknown to Christians today.
All but 5 bishops assented to the creed. The five who did not sign are:
- Eusebius of Nicomedia
- Theognis of Nice
- Maris of Chalcedon
- Theonis of Marmarica
- Secundus of Ptolemais
Eusebius and Theognis, according to The Ecclesiastical History of Socrates Scholasticus were the only ones sent into exile with Arius. Apparently, they were the only two strongly supporting Arius. The others refused to sign, acccording to Socrates, because they objected to the term homoousios, which they did not feel was an appropriate description for the begetting of the Son of God.
Apparently the exile was a sharp deterrent. Eusebius of Nicomedia and Theognis soon sent a letter agreeing to the creed and were restored to their episcopates.
I wish I could tell you this was the happy ending. I wish I could tell you that the Council of Nicea solved the dispute, Constantine's empire was kept in unity, and the Church went on in holiness and submission to God.
But that would be a gross distortion of the facts.
Nothing was settled. New Arian parties rose up. Arius himself gained access to Constantine, who tried to force the church at Alexandria to accept him back. Arius conveniently died on the way to the church, and some historians believe he was poisoned.
Constantius, Constantine's son and successor, vacillated from side to side, but he was usually on the side of the Arians, and he was quite willing to use his imperial power to appoint—and remove—bishops.
The church settled into a life of nominalism and friendship with the governments of the world, which thoroughly corrupted the Church.
Violence, ambition, treachery, and political intrigue are all common in the histories written after the Council of Nicea. The support of the emperor turned out to be the most devastating thing that ever happened to the Church.
As far as I can tell, while the Renaissance and the Reformation delivered us from the tyranny of Church-led government, the Church in general has never recovered the standards that we see in the Book of Acts and in the writings of the Pre-Nicene churches.
Where to Go from Here
If you want to know more about the Council of Nicea, I wrote a book on the subject called Decoding Nicea. The first half of the book tells the story of Nicea, and the last half addresses some historical issues pertaining to the event.
You can go to the table of contents for the Council of Nicea pages, or return home.