The Nicene Council, what was it really about?
Emperor Constantine's Nicene council is usually pointed to as the source for the doctrine of the Trinity, yet the Trinity was present in the church long before Constantine.Most Jehovah Witnesses and other anti- trinitarians have never had a true presentation of Church history. If they knew history they may not point to Constantine. They have created this misrepresentation to do battle against a lie. They portray Church history as proof that the doctrine of the Trinity is of a pagan source from the Emperor Constantine. The truth will astound you.
The term Trinitas was popularized by Tertullian almost 100 years before the Nicene council in his debate against Praxeas. However, he was not the first to use the term, a man Theophilus Bishop of Antioch in 160 was the first to use the term (that we have in writing), many years before in his epistle to Autolycus The 2nd,xv..We can assume it was used prior to Theophilus and was held as a common church belief with the many quotes that are left to us in history by the early church pastors. Athenagoras representing the whole Churches belief wrote, that, "they hold the Father to be God, and the Son God, and the Holy Spirit, and declare their union and their distinction in order."(A plea for the Christians.10.3) The term was used to simply describe the three that simultaneously exist as the one God. A man named Praxeas promoted what is called Monarchianism, which held a strict form of monotheistic progression. That the Father became the Son, and the Son became the Spirit. This is what is called modalism in it's simplest form, What is better termed Oneness today. Despite the accusation's of the Church inventing and promoting the Trinity. We find the Church in Rome and elsewhere falling prey to numerous heresies that they tried to keep out.
As we see from history the doctrine of the Trinity did not depend on any council as it was used by Tertullian and others long before a council was called on doctrinal teaching. The Catholic Church gets blamed for inventing the Trinity yet when we look through it's history it tells a different story. History shows that it was Trinitarians that first resisted a single church Government with a Pope as its head, they did not invent it. Zephyrinus (210 AD.) and Callistus (220 AD.) were the first bishops to claim Mt.16:18 to themselves, they were both modalistic in their view of God. Tertullian called him an usurper saying, "as if he was the Bishop of Bishop's." So it was Oneness believers who first wanted to be head of the whole Church, not Constantine. Adolf Harnack in his book the History of Dogma actually states that "Modalism was for almost a generation the official theory in Rome." (3:53). Which certainly proposes a problem for those who claim a Roman origin of the Trinity. This occurred before Constantine and Arius' heresy won after Constantine which Rome promoted for yet another 50 years.
The truth is that there was no Roman Catholic Church ruling Christianity before Constantine, because Christianity was an illegal religion and an underground practice. It was not until hundred's of year's later, 5th cent. to the 7th cent., that the first vestiges of this church government rose where there was a Roman bishop as the head of the Church, making it an official Roman Church functioning similar to today's.
Before we can understand the council of Nicea we need to at least understand Constantine and what took place. In 312 AD, Constantine claimed a vision from God, a shape similar to a cross in front of the sun. Many believe it was then that he declared his conversion to Christianity. Constantine saw a flaming cross in the sky, with the Greek words en toutoi nika- in this sign conquer. Early the next morning, (this is according to Eusebius whom Constantinegave this account to). Constantine dreamed that a voice commanded him to have his soldiers mark upon their shields the letter X with a line drawn through it and curled around the top ...
He heard a voice say that he would conquer in the sign that he had seen. Constantine painted the perverted crosses on the shields of his soldiers. The victory was directly linked to the sign he had seen.
It is assumed it was Jesus Christ whom he accepted. The fact that Constantine saw the cross and the sun together may explain why he worshiped the Roman sun god, while at the same time professing to be a Christian to bring a political religious unity to his empire. Constantine built a triumphal arch featuring the sun god, his coins featured the sun. Constantine made a statue of the sun god, with his own face on it, for his new city of Constantinople.
Under Constantine in 312 AD, Christianity was adopted by Rome. He repealed the persecution edicts of Diocletian. Constantine 'Christianised' the Roman Empire and made it the religion of the state. He also paganized Christianity in Rome. Constantine's plan to have unification and peace in his empire succeeded and “Christianized Rome” and a political church was made to rule. Satan began the process of corrupting the church from within. Christianity was slowly infiltrated with a pagan system and joining the church with the world political system. Baptism made one a Christian and they brought their pagan religion in to be synthesized with the church. Saints and Images entered the Church under Christian `names, the worship of relics. In Eastern Orthodoxy, icons had intrinsic power.
Historians disagree whether or not Constantine actually became a Christian. His character certainly did not reflect the teachings of Jesus Christ. Constantine was vain, violent and superstitious. Constantine waited until he was dying before asking to be baptized. Christianity became politically correct. Many people joined the Church for other reasons than forgiveness of sins and a changed life.
Constantine did not care about the theological issues as much as he did keeping the peace and his power play. The succeeding popes eventually claimed the emperor's titles to themselves, Pontifex Maximus and Vicar of Christ. Over the course of time the true Christians separated themselves from the corrupted church, began to call the popes Antichrist and were martyred.
Many claim that the Trinity doctrine was invented by the Catholic Church at the council of Nicaea in Bithynia, (Turkey) in the 4th century. History has a different story! Its been said if one tells a lie long enough, and hard enough, people will begin to believe it. That is exactly what Jehovah's Witnesses and other cults have done. They have revised history.
It was around the year 318 that attention was focused on a man named 'Arius who began teaching in opposition to bishop Alexander located in Alexandria Egypt. Alexander was teaching that Jesus, the Son of God, had existed eternally, along with the Father. Arius introduced a new teaching challenging this, he insisted that "there was a time when the Son was not." Christ must be numbered among the created beings - highly exalted, to be sure, but a creation. This controversy became very sharp that it was dividing the Church. Bishop Alexander called a synod and not long afterward Arius was pronounced teaching heresy deposed.
Arius wrote to his friend Eusebius Bishop of Nicodemia, " how grievously the bishop attacks and persecutes us , and comes full tilt against us, so that he drives us from the city as atheists, because we do not concur with him when he publicly preaches, God always, the Son always; at the same time the Father, at the same time the Son; the Son co-exists with God, unbegotten; he is ever begotten, he is not born by begetting; neither by thought nor by any moment in time does God precede the Son; God always, Son Always, the Son exists from God himself ."And before he was begotten or created or appointed or established, he did not exist; for he was not unbegotten. We are persecuted because we say the Son had a beginning, but God is without beginning" (letter to Eusibius 321 AD Theodoret. Bishop of Cyrus 423-458 H.E.I.v)
Arius reasoned that since Jesus was begotten, he must have had a beginning, associating the word (begotten) generation, to be = with creation. He neglected the term is only begotten and the many scriptures that teach Christ was preexistent before creation.
So its clear that Arius called Christ a created being not the eternal God in human flesh. This teaching also went against two groups that had clashed over 50 years before, that differed on how Christ was God, though both agreed his was deity. (The Oneness group and the Trintarians)
Arius' friend Eusibius knew Constantine and his family personally, and appealed for him to help Arius. Constantine wanted peace in his empire as the religion of Christianity was now allowed to be practiced. The Nicene council was convened on the request of Constantine in May and ended in late June in 325 AD. When Constantine became the Emperor, Fourteen years had had gone by since Emperor Galerius brought an end to the persecutions. Many of the men who suffered for the name of Christ survived the persecution, and were now representatives at the Council of Nicaea. Constantine did not preside over the Council of Nicaea because of his age, (and because he had no theological knowledge), but was represented by two presbyters. Almost all the Council consisted of bishop's (estimations of 300 or more) were from the eastern churches, where this heresy was thriving. There were less than a dozen bishops representing the rest of the Empire.
What was debated was whether Christ was a created being which Arius was promoting, or that he was the same substance (Greek homoousia as God being God) as Alexander proposed. The main concern was the link of Christs deity to salvation. Since God is the one who condemned (in Gen.3) He could only be the one to save. This was no small matter, not only was the deity of the Son at stake but his work in salvation. This explains that those who misunderstand the deity of Christ and his relationship to the father will also misunderstand how salvation is obtained.
Philip Schaff comments on the Arian movement stating, "Arianism was a religious political war against the spirit of the Christian revelation by the spirit of the world, which, after, having persecuted the church three hundred years from without, sought under the Christian name to reduce her by degrading Christ to the category of the temporal and the created, and Christianity to the level of natural religion" (Schaff and Wace, Nicene and post Nicene fathers, vol.4 p.385, Against the Arians ii 70).
Ariuschallenge was met by bishop Alexander, and his young deacon, Athanasius. Although Athanasius was not able to cast a decision, he was very active in presenting their side and rose up to be the man of the hour. Both contingents argued in the council from the Scriptures, expounding with language and logic. Athanasius case was made by standing on the Scriptures, and have the arguments refute itself. For the truth to be determined Athanasius tried to have all the issues discussed openly with the Arians (those who supported Arius' view). When the Arians realized they could not win the debate by an open discussion they turned their focus to politics, making it an issue of unity and harmony in the Church, instead of an issue of truth. It was Athanasius who contested this position, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the same substance or nature of God. It was Arius and his close ally Eusebius, bishop of Nicodemia, who held to Christ being literally begotten as the Son, a created being.
Constantine at first settled the issue banishing Arius, which ended up only being for a short time. Around 333 Constantine again opened contact with him. Arius revised his beliefs, and the synod of Jerusalem readmitted him recalling him from his exile, sending him back to Alexandria where this all began.
Constantine was later won to the side of Arius by his friend Eusibius, a co- believer in Arius' view of Christ being a creature.Receiving Eusebius of Nicodemia, on his death bed Constantine was then baptized an Arian (337 A.D.). Constantine then rejected the Trinitarian view, and by his order, disposed of Athanasius and his followers. A year after Constantine's death Eusebius of Nicodemia became the bishop of Constantinople and the Arians quickly came into control of the most important areas of the church. So the Trinity was not promoted by the Church (in Rome), but was actually rejected by the very man everyone points to as the source. He was supporting Arius' view , and rejected the Trinitarian view. So the Trinity as well as Christ being God, which was once a settled issue was no longer promoted by the Church. Instead it was rejected, replace b y what we would call today a Jehovah Witnesses doctrine. Constantine was not a Christian but was baptized to be like a Jehovah's Witness believes today. So the Trinity which was a settled issue (temporarily) was not promoted by the Church but was actually rejected, replaced by what we call today the Jehovahs Witnesses doctrine. For the next 50 years Arianism became a major movement in the Church. So what the Jehovahs Witnesses proclaim as accurate history is in fact the very opposite of what actually happened. Constantine is their friend - not an enemy.
What happened to Arius? He was on his way to visit Constantinople, (where his friend Eusibius ruled) when he suddenly died. Both sides had their opinions of what occurred. The Arians said he was poisoned, the Orthodox group considered it an act of divine judgment against his heresy.
Constantine's Son, Constantius upheld his fathers policy of banishing Athanasius from Alexandria. Athanasius who was Arius chief opponent, paid dearly for his stand after the council. Five times he was driven into exile by the Arians, who solidified their teaching in the church even after the council ruled that Christ was "true God from true God, begotten not made." This belief spread, and the synods at Antioch in 341 and Aries in 353 abandoned Niacea's ruling. In 353 Constantius became the ruler over the whole empire being a pro Arian sympathizer, and in 356 Athanasius was attacked during his church service by Arians who brought with them 5,000 Roman troops. He barely escaped with his life, and spent the next 6 years in exile with monks in the surrounding area. Not only was he exiled, but also Liberius a bishop in Rome, Hosius of Cordova, and one other as well.
In 360 in Constantinople all the earlier creeds were disavowed and the term substance (ousia) was outlawed. The Son was declared to be like the Father who begot, not as the same substance. The tide would soon to turn, with Constantius death in 361.
Soon afterwards the Arian group began to splinter into smaller factions, and was losing influence. Since their main religious influence came from Constantius, who had died. Athanasius was then finally able to return, but after a few months he was again banished by Arians. The Arian force this time was assisted by the state. This continued on and off until 366, when the Arian Emperor Valens, who banished him two years earlier, felt it expedient to bring him back. This time Athanasius remained there until his death in 373 A.D. Throughout these years he wrote numerous books countering the Arian heresy and the "Pneumatomachians" (those who fought against the Spirit; they accepted the deity of Christ but said the Spirit was a impersonal force. Both of these teachings are accepted by Jehovah's Witnesses today). Athanasius spent the rest of his life devoted to defending the decision of the council. It was during his trial years that a cliché was born "Athanasius against the world." And so it was, and we are indebted today to a 4th century Luther that stood up to define the nature of Christ and God against a flood of falsehood. And this is the real history that the cults will not tell you.