EARLY CHRISTIAN HISTORY
Icon depicting Emperor Constantine with bishops of the first Council of Nicaea in AD 325
What happened at the Council of Nicaea in AD 325?
In the early fourth century AD, Christian bishops in the Roman Empire traveled to the ancient town of Nicaea at the direction of Emperor Constantine the Great for the first time as an ecumenical council.
Many of the bishops had walked in suffering for their faith during times of persecution, but now they rode in comfort to Nicaea with numerous priests and deacons--all traveling at the emperor's expense. Among the notable bishops was Eusebius of Caesarea, later to be called the 'father of church history.
Nicaea is now called Iznik, in modern-day Turkey, and is located in a fertile basin at the eastern edge of Lake Ascanius and surrounded by hills.
Some historians and others have claimed that Constantine's purpose was to control religion in his empire and determine the contents of the New Testament (the canon), but this is not the case at all. The emperor called the council in AD 325 to deal with two issues: the heresy of Arianism and the date of Easter.
Constantine called bishops together to unify the 4th-century church in the face of
growing theological disputes over the divinity of Christ.
Some 300 bishops gathered in the emperor's grand lakeside palace. In the center of the chamber, on a throne, lay the four gospels. Constantine was dressed in a purple gown and wore a silver diadem. He opened the Council of Nicaea by saying, "I rejoice to see you here, yet I should be more pleased to see unity and affection among you."
Christ co-existed eternally with God.
Constantine told the delegates assembled in the Senatus Palace in Nicaea to resolve their differences. Many bishops argued that God the Father created Christ the Son before the beginning of time, while others asserted that Christ had the same divine essence as God the Father.
If Christ is not God, how can he overcome the infinite gap between God and man?
The bishops finally voted and approved the first Nicene Creed in 325 AD. But disagreement over the meaning of Scripture on the deity of Christ continued for more than fifty years. Another council of bishops met in Constantinople in 381 AD and adopted an expanded form of the earlier creed.
The creed affirms the doctrine of the Trinity: that God is three "persons" (Father, Son, and Spirit) in one nature or essence. Each person is fully divine, yet each is distinct.
Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
All Thy works shall praise Thy name in earth and sky and sea;
Holy, holy, holy! merciful and mighty!
God in three persons, blessed Trinity.
The Nicene Creed is the most widely accepted and used brief statement of the Christian Faith. In Liturgical Churches, it is said every Sunday as part of the Liturgy. It is Common Ground to East Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, Calvinists, and other Christian denominations. Many Christians who do not have a tradition of using it in their services nevertheless are committed to the doctrines it teaches.
Empire of Nicaea after sack of Constantinople during Fourth Crusade in 1204
Why do we need the Nicene Creed?
You begin with the simple and inescapable fact that the Scriptures must be interpreted. The Bible is not a doctrinal treatise. It's not a catechism. It's not a set of well-defined teachings. It's basically a narrative, a story about what God has done in the coming of Christ.
The conviction of the early church was that the Bible was one book. So you had to try to find a way to bring what was read in Paul's letter, for instance, into relation to what was read in Mark.
There were honest differences of opinion as to who they were to be understood.
The basic problem was early Christianity began with the belief that God was one. On the basis of his teachings and miracles, the kind of person Jesus was, and because he rose from the dead, Christians said, "This man is not like any other man"--he is also divine or God.
But how do you say that God is one when you've got two identifiable realities--God the Father and God the Son--and claim they're God? It's not an easy problem to solve.
The church attracted well-educated people, and they began to think about what they confessed, what they believed, and to say, "Well, what does this mean?" or "How can this be, in light of what is said elsewhere in Scripture?"
And eventually, the problem emerged, namely, "How can we believe in one God and claim that Jesus, a human being, is also God?" That led to the controversy.
The Nicene Creed tries to use more precise language for the church's faith. It even introduces a word that is not in the Bible (homoousios) of one substance or being. The bishops felt that it helped explain how God could be one yet two-fold (the debate about the Holy Spirit followed two generations later).
With that term, the council fathers wished to say that in whatever way God is God, Christ also is God and comes into being eternally from the Father--and not made like human beings.
(Adapted from an interview with Robert Louis Wilken, the William Kenan Professor of Early Christian History at the University of Virginia, with Christian History & Biography, 2005)
The 1st century is focused on the formative years of the Christian faith. The earliest followers of Jesus are primarily Jews, which historians refer to as the Jewish community. The apostles left Jerusalem, following the Great Commission of Jesus to spread His teachings to "all nations".
The 4th century was dominated in its early stage by Constantine and the First Council of Nicaea. This was the beginning of the first seven Ecumenical Councils (325-787), and in its late stage by the Edict of Thessalonica of 380, making Nicene Christianity the state church of the Empire.
This website is a section of the Bible Archaeology Report and focused on a number of excellent articles concerning New Testament discoveries. Its purpose is to "highlight the historical reliability of the Bible."
This website is the largest collection of animated historical maps. Included are the Bible and History, Ancient Greece, Jerusalem, Rome, and Its Empire, History of Christianity to 15th Century, and more.
This website makes "high-quality theological material available freely throughout the world, thus providing Bible teachers and pastors with the resources they need to spread the Gospel in their countries."
"He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him, all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church.
"He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of the cross." (Colossians 1:15-23)
A Personal Relationship with Jesus Christ
A personal relationship with Christ begins at the moment of our salvation. Only when we are born spiritually into God's family do we become members of His spiritual kingdom. While we may not know exactly when this new life begins, we can understand the steps we need to begin this new relationship:
(Adapted from our Daily Bread)
Early Christian History
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