Old Town Wittenberg, Germany with a view of All Saints’ Church, commonly referred to as Schlosskirche (Castle Church).
“It was evident that the quarrel had gone beyond the possibility of human control.” —The Catholic Encyclopedia, under the heading of the First Ecumenical Council (link)
Letter #66, 2023 Friday, March 3: Nicaea
Just a brief note to draw your attention to an important date: 2025 — the anniversary of the First Ecumenical Council in the history of the Church.
The year 2025 will be 1,700 years since the First Ecumenical Council held in Nicaea, near Constantinople (today Istanbul) in 325 A.D., to deal with the question of the Arian heresy.
There are a number of initiatives now being planned to commemorate that first great Council. The article published below, from the Lutheran World Federation, explains that the Lutherans and the Orthodox are meeting to a common celebration on the 1,700th anniversary in 2025.
What is not clear is whether such a meeting with simply be a commemoration and celebration of something that occurred long ago, or… a Council in its own right, to address doctrinal issues facing Christians today, and to discern what the orthodox Christian teaching is on these issues, as occurred at the First Council of Nicaea with regard to the teachings of the priest Arius.
Here is a brief summary from the Catholic Encyclopedia (link):
First Ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church, held in 325 on the occasion of the heresy of Arius (Arianism). As early as 320 or 321 St. Alexander, Bishop of Alexandria, convoked a council at Alexandria at which more than one hundred bishops from Egypt and Libya anathematized Arius. The latter continued to officiate in his church and to recruit followers. Being finally driven out, he went to Palestine and from there to Nicomedia. During this time St. Alexander published his “Epistola encyclica”, to which Arius replied; but henceforth it was evident that the quarrel had gone beyond the possibility of human control. Sozomen even speaks of a Council of Bithynia which addressed an encyclical to all the bishops asking them to receive the Arians into the communion of the Church. This discord, and the war which soon broke out between Constantine and Licinius, added to the disorder and partly explains the progress of the religious conflict during the years 322-3. Finally Constantine, having conquered Licinius and become sole emperor, concerned himself with the re-establishment of religious peace as well as of civil order. He addressed letters to St. Alexander and to Arius deprecating these heated controversies regarding questions of no practical importance, and advising the adversaries to agree without delay. It was evident that the emperor did not then grasp the significance of the Arian controversy. Hosius of Cordova, his counsellor in religious matters, bore the imperial letter to Alexandria, but failed in his conciliatory mission. Seeing this, the emperor, perhaps advised by Hosius, judged no remedy more apt to restore peace in the Church than the convocation of an ecumenical council.
It is not known for certain when the Council of Nicaea occurred, so it is not known when the appropriate time would be for the anniversary celebration, but the start of the Council seems to have been May 20, 325, and the closing day to have been August 25, 2025. The formulation of the first Creed of Nicaea is commonly dated to June 19, 325.
Here, again, the Catholic Encyclopedia (link):
The year 325 is accepted without hesitation as that of the First Council of Nicaea. There is less agreement among our early authorities as to the month and day of the opening. In order to reconcile the indications furnished by Socrates and by the Acts of the Council of Chalcedon, this date may, perhaps, be taken as 20 May, and that of the drawing up of the symbol as 19 June. It may be assumed without too great hardihood that the synod, having been convoked for 20 May, in the absence of the emperor held meetings of a less solemn character until 14 June, when after the emperor’s arrival, the sessions properly so called began, the symbol being formulated on 19 June, after which various matters – the paschal controversy, etc. – were dealt with, and the sessions came to an end 25 August. The Council was opened by Constantine with the greatest solemnity. The emperor waited until all the bishops had taken their seats before making his entry. He was clad in gold and covered with precious stones in the fashion of an Oriental sovereign. A chair of gold had been made ready for him, and when he had taken his place the bishops seated themselves. After he had been addressed in a hurried allocution, the emperor made an address in Latin, expressing his will that religious peace should be re-established. He had opened the session as honorary president, and he had assisted at the subsequent sessions, but the direction of the theological discussions was abandoned, as was fitting, to the ecclesiastical leaders of the council. The actual president seems to have been Hosius of Cordova, assisted by the pope’s legates, Victor and Vincentius.
Then there is this, with regard to the Creed promulgated at Nicaea (link):
“One of the projects undertaken by the Council was the creation of a creed, a declaration and summary of the Christian faith.
“Several creeds were already in existence; many creeds were acceptable to the members of the Council, including Arius.
“From earliest times, various creeds served as a means of identification for Christians, as a means of inclusion and recognition, especially at baptism.
“In Rome, for example, the Apostles’ Creed was popular, especially for use in Lent and the Easter season.
“In the Council of Nicaea, one specific creed was used to define the Church’s faith clearly, to include those who professed it, and to exclude those who did not.
“The original Nicene Creed read as follows:
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,
begotten from the Father, only-begotten,
that is, from the substance of the Father,
God from God, light from light,
true God from true God, begotten not made,
of one substance with the Father,
through Whom all things came into being,
things in heaven and things on earth,
Who because of us men and because of our salvation came down,
and became incarnate and became man, and suffered,
and rose again on the third day, and ascended to the heavens,
and will come to judge the living and dead,
And in the Holy Spirit.
But as for those who say, There was when He was not,
and, Before being born He was not,
and that He came into existence out of nothing,
or who assert that the Son of God is of a different hypostasis or substance,
or created, or is subject to alteration or change
– these the Catholic and apostolic Church anathematizes.
Some distinctive elements in the Nicene Creed, perhaps from the hand of Hosius of Cordova, were added, some specifically to counter the Arian point of view.
- Jesus Christ is described as “Light from Light, true God from true God,” proclaiming his divinity.
- Jesus Christ is said to be “begotten, not made,” asserting that he was not a mere creature, brought into being out of nothing, but the true Son of God, brought into being “from the substance of the Father.”
- He is said to be “of one substance with the Father,” proclaiming that although Jesus Christ is “true God” and God the Father is also “true God,” they are “of one substance.” The Greek term homoousios, consubstantial (i.e. of the same substance) is ascribed by Eusebius of Caesarea to Constantine who, on this particular point, may have chosen to exercise his authority. The significance of this clause, however, is ambiguous as to the extent in which Jesus Christ and God the Father are “of one substance,” and the issues it raised would be seriously controverted in the future.
At the end of the creed came a list of anathemas, designed to repudiate explicitly the Arians’ stated claims.
- The view that “there was once when he was not” was rejected to maintain the coeternity of the Son with the Father.
- The view that he was “mutable or subject to change” was rejected to maintain that the Son just like the Father was beyond any form of weakness or corruptibility, and most importantly that he could not fall away from absolute moral perfection.
[End, brief overview of the First Ecumenical Council of 325 A.D. in Nicaea.]
So an appropriate date for a celebration by all Christians who hold to the Creed of Nicaea might be June 19, 2025. —RM
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