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Nicene Creed: Council of Nicaea (325) (Part I)

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Feb. 08, 2012

While the Apostle’s Creed draws its authority from the teachings of the Apostles, the Nicene Creed is treasured because it draws its authority from the first two ecumenical Councils in 325 and 381 A.D.  The Church was still unified and this creed remains common to the Churches of the East and the West, thus a truly monumental statement. 

The first centuries of the Church were dominated by controversies surrounding the nature of the Trinity, in particularly the Person of Jesus Christ.  With muddled theologies floating around,  alongside misguided writings, preachers were saying an awful lot about Jesus Christ, just as in Jesus’ own day when many people had formed an opinion of Him.  And just like in Jesus’s time, these Ancient Church preachers and theologians were not getting it right about who Jesus really was. 

One of these misguided preachers was Arius who as a theologian developed a system that sought to emphasize the total transcendental nature of God.  However,  in his attempts he isolated God the Father as the only unique Person of the Godhead, and declared everything that exists besides the Father would naturally have to be created.  While this may seem to make sense on a rational level, its consequences to the Faith quickly show quite devastating.  If everything except for the Father is created, this means Jesus Christ would be, by his very nature, a creature.  While Arius was willing to say the creature of Christ was the most perfect creation, it remains inadequate.  Christ, in Arius’ view, was short of God, but higher than humans, and thus a demigod.   By cutting Christ off from the Godhead, the Catholic Faith is served with a profound blow; as one author puts it:

“The dangerous consequence of the Arian doctrine is found in the assertion that Christ, since he is not God, cannot truly know the Father.  Hence not even revelation can give a full knowledge of God.  This inadequate doctrine of God, therefore, leads necessarily to an entirely inadequate doctrine of revelation” (Lohse, 50).

Indeed,  St. Athanasius would articulate the assault as three-fold: first, by denying the eternal triune nature of God; second, by making prayer to Christ as nonsensical; third, it undermines the theory of salvation,  since Christ was not truly God, nor truly Man.

Arius’ ideas spread through the Church, as he was an influential thinker and teacher.  Dispute and disharmony erupted as a consequence of these falsehoods being told.  And this unrest was not merely isolated to the ivory-tower academics, nor to the elites in the Church, but because of the successful evangelization of the Western world and the acceptance of Christianity in the social, civil order, the controversy stood to affect the peace of empire.  In 325 A.D. the Emperor Constantine decided to act and invited the Church to convene a Council in the city of Nicaea to resolve the dispute.