Notes on the Nicene Council

Here are some notes I recently made about the Nicene Council, largely taken from Roger Olson, “The Story of Christian Theology”, pp 151-157. It can be read here.

The Nicene Council was convened and presided over by Constantine, famous for not even being a Christian at the time. He placed his throne higher than the seating of the rest of the bishops as he conducted the council. He referred to himself in this meeting as the “bishop of bishops”. The council lasted about 2 months. There were 318 bishops in attendance, and 28 of those were clearly Arian from the outset. It is probable that the vast majority of the bishops had little knowledge of the issues they were discussing. For most of them it was the first time they had ever had to seriously deal with it. Historian Justo Gonzalez noted:

the vast majority [of the bishops] does not seem to have understood the importance of the matter at hand, and their fear of Sabellianism made them reluctant to condemn subordinationsim in very strong terms. Besides, the emporer, whose interest was in the unity of the Empire rather than the unity of God, was inclined to find a formula that would be acceptable to the greatest number of bishops possible.

The number of bishops already committed to Athanasian Trinitarianism is unknown, but likely not much more than the Arians present. Interestingly, Arius himself was not allowed to come. He was not a Bishop. To bring the significance of that closer to home, it would be like a bunch of Catholic bishops in the 1520′s debating Lutheranism without inviting Luther to come and defend himself.

They of course ended up penning the Nicene Creed. They introduced new words in order to get just the right result, but even that didn’t work. One of the biggest supporters of the word “homoousios” was Marcellus of Ancyra, a Sabellian (Modalist). The Modalists present at the council were perfectly happy with the end result, because the creed didn’t condemn their views and even seemed to support them.

Constatine, the president of the council, required all bishops to sign their names to the creed. If they did not, they would be deposed and exiled. That hardly amounts to a fair debate. Most of the Arians signed it, not because they agreed with it, but because they would rather remain safely at home with their families and friends than be exiled. Two Arians didnt’ sign it, Eusebius and Theognis. This was a great blow to the Emperor because they were both considered very important and influential.

That didn’t end the debate. Evangelical historian Roger Olson said,

“The final and definitive condemnation of Arianism that truly ‘stuck’ was at the Council of Constantinople in 381 [56 years later]. During the intervening half century, various Arian and semi-Arian bishops and emporers helped subordinationism [Arianism] make a comeback, and at times the entire Christian church seemed on the verge of rejecting the Trinity completely and establishing as orthodox doctrine something akin to what modern-day Jehovah’s Witness believe.”

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7 comments on “Notes on the Nicene Council

  1. Dilyana says:

    I find it interesting that Constantine, who presided over the Nicene Council which condemned Arianism, and who is said to have burned Arian books, at the end of his life chose to be baptized by an Arian bishop.

  2. Jr says:

    Christians, mainly Evangelicals, bury their heads in the sand when it comes to their history. They accuse LDS of using sources that support LDS views, but Evangelicals are the ones who reject anything that does not support their position one hundred percent.
    And if an Evangelical scholar or leader goes against the status quo and tries to be balanced the Evangelical community demonizes that person. Evangelicals are always the pot calling the kettle black.

    • Since the definition of the Trinity is “with in the nature of the ONE GOD three separate and distinct persons consist, Father Son and Holy Spirit I would think Mormons would embrace it.

      COUNSEL GIVEN BY PRESIDENT CHARLES W. PENROSE

      Now, some of our brethren have taken up quite a discussion as to the fulness of the everlasting gospel. We are told that the Book of Mormon contains the fulness of the gospel, that those who like to get up a dispute, say that the Book of Mormon does not contain any reference to the work of salvation for the dead and that there are many other things pertaining to the gospel that are not developed in that book, and yet we are told that the book contains “the fulness of the everlasting gospel.” Well, what is the fulness of the gospel? You read carefully the revelation in regard to the three glories, Section 76, in the Doctrine and Covenants, and you find there defined what the gospel is. There God, the Eternal Father, and Jesus Christ, his Son, and the Holy Ghost, are held up as the three Persons in the Trinity—the one God, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, all three being one God. When people believe in that doctrine and obey the ordinances which are spoken of in the same list of principles, you get the fulness of the gospel for this reason: If you really believe so as to have faith in our Eternal Father and in his Son, Jesus Christ, the Redeemer, and will hear him, you will learn ail about what is needed to be done for the salvation of the living and redemption of the dead.

      (General Conference Report, April 1922, pp. 27-28.)

  3. James says:

    On a surface level, sure, Mormons can agree with the Nicene Creed. However, we recognize what was meant to be conveyed by the creed, and it simply is not the theology of the Latter-day Saints.

    • The Creed teaches Three Separate persons represent the ONE eternal GOD , Jesus prayed to God the Father a separate person.

      God- Godhead- Substance- Essence- Being [ all Synonyms ]

      first used by Theophilus (A.D. 168 A.D. – 183 A.D.), or from the Lat. trinitas, first used by Tertullian (A.D. 220 A.D.), to express this doctrine. The propositions involved in the doctrine are these: 1. That God is one, and that there is but one God (Deut 6:4; 1 Kings 8:60; Isa 44:6; Mark 12:29,32; John 10:30). 2. That the Father is a distinct divine Person (hypostasis, subsistentia, persona, suppositum intellectuale), distinct from the Son and the Holy Spirit. 3. That Jesus Christ was truly God, and yet was a Person distinct from the Father and the Holy Spirit. 4. That the Holy Spirit is also a distinct divine Person.
      (from Easton’s Bible Dictionary, PC Study Bible formatted electronic database Copyright © 2003, 2006 Biblesoft, Inc. All rights reserved.)

      2 Nephi 31:21, Alma 11:44 and Mormon 7:7 all embrace the Nicene Creed, so why wouldn’t the Latter Day Saints embrace what’s taught in the Book of Mormon.

  4. 2 Nephi 26:12 And as I spake concerning the convincing of the Jews, that Jesus is the very Christ, it must needs be that the Gentiles be convinced also that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God;

    3 Nephi 11:17 Hosanna! Blessed be the name of the Most High God! And they did fall down at the feet of Jesus, and did worship him.

    Mosiah 3:5 For behold, the time cometh, and is not far distant, that with power, the Lord Omnipotent who reigneth, who was, and is from all eternity to all eternity, shall come down from heaven among the children of men, and shall dwell in a tabernacle of clay, and shall go forth amongst men, working mighty miracles, such as healing the sick, raising the dead, causing the lame to walk, the blind to receive their sight, and the deaf to hear, and curing all manner of diseases.

    3 Nephi 19:
    18 And behold, they began to pray; and they did pray unto Jesus, calling him their Lord and their God.

    Mosiah 5:15 Therefore, I would that ye should be steadfast and immovable, always abounding in good works, that Christ, the Lord God Omnipotent, may seal you his, that you may be brought to heaven, that ye may have everlasting salvation and eternal life, through the wisdom, and power, and justice, and mercy of him who created all things, in heaven and in earth, who is God above all. Amen.

    Jesus is God above all, our Lord and God, God from Eternity and the eternal God according to the Book of Mormon

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