EARLY CHRISTIAN HISTORY

 

 

 

The Nicene Creed

 

In the early fourth century AD, Christian bishops in the Roman Empire traveled to the ancient town of Nicaea at the direction of Emperior 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.  

 

Constantine called the clerics together to unify the 4th century church in the face of growing theological disputes, primarily over the nature and divinity of Jesus 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." 

 

The dispute began when a bishop of early Christianity preached Christ was created by God. This horrified many clerics, who argued that 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, then 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.

 

 

 

People who reject the doctrine of the Trinity argue today that it was neither taught by Jesus nor part of the early church, but rather was imposed by Constantine on the bishops who gathered at Nicaea.

 

But this was not the case. 

 

The doctrine is at the heart of Christ's Great Commission in the New Testament, which tells believers to ". . . go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.." The doctrine was a widely held belief before the council met. Among the leading church fathers who defended the doctrine were Polycarp, Justin, Martyr, Ignatius, Tertullian, and Origen. 

 

 

 

 

 

The Nicene Creed is the most widely accepted and used brief statements 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 many other Christian denominations. Many Christian denomanations that do not have a tradition of using it in their services nevertheless are committed to the doctrines it teaches.

 

 

TRADITIONAL WORDING

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible; And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, begotten of his Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made; who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; he suffered and was buried; and the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father; and he shall come again, with glory, to judge both the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Ghost the Lord, and Giver of Live, who proceedeth from the Father [and the Son]; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spake by the Prophets. And I believe one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church; I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. AMEN.

For more about the Creed's history and meaning  HERE

 

To us in the 21st century, the first Council of Nicaea is like a mountain in the landscape of the early church. For the protagonists themselves, though, it was more of an emergency meeting forced on the parties by Roman imperial power to stop an internal religious squabble. 

 

The bishops found themselves in a swamp of controversy that, at times, seemed to threaten the very life of the early Christian church.

 

To understand the council's significance, we need to enter the minds of the two sides of the dispute and ask why the question of Jesus' divinity caused so much bitterness and confusion. The answer: like other "simple" questions, this was in fact a highly complex and provocative theological issue.

 

Who came to the gathering of bishops? Of the roughly three hundred clerics, most were from Eastern churches, with only six or seven recorded as having come from Western. Among them were Ossius of Cordoba, Caecilianus of Carthage, and two representatives from the church of Rome. "The small number from the West reflected the general ignorance among churches of those theological issues that had embroiled the East," according to D.H. Williams, professor of patristics and historical theology. 

 

 

 

What We Learn from the Early Church

Dr. Tim Keller of the Gospel Coaliton HERE

 

What Do Earliest Christian Manuscripts Tell Us About Their Readers?

Dr. Larry Hurtado of the University of Edinburgh HERE

 

A Survey of Church History, Part 1 AD 100 to 600 (Video Series)

Dr. Robert Godfrey of Ligonier Ministries HERE

 

What Really Happened at Nicaea?

Christian Research Institute HERE

 

Submerged Church Honoring Council of Nicaea in 325 AD Discovered

Associates for Biblical Research HERE

 

Translations of Writings of Ante-Nicene Fathers To 325 AD

Reprint of Edinburgh Edition, 1913 HERE

 

Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume One, by Phillip Schaff

Christian Classics Ethereal Library  HERE

 

 

Read more articles about the early church

 

 

 

 

One of several books you will find here worth reading . . .

 

 

Nicaea and its Legacy, by Lewis AyresThis book offers a new account of the most important century in the development of Christian belief after Christ. He shows how the doctrine of the Trinity was developed, and in particular argues that a conception of God's mysteriousness and spiritual progress towards understanding is central to that doctrine. He also proposes that modern theologies of the Trinity fail to appreciate the depth and power of Nicene trinitarianism.

 

 

A Personal Relationship with 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: 

 

  • First, admit our lost condition. We come into this world separated from the life of God and absorbed with an interest in finding satisfaction on our own terms.

 

  • Second, acknowledge what God has done for us. Jesus's death was of infinite value. When He rose from the dead, He proved that He had died in our place to pay the price of all sin--past, present, and future.

 

  • Third, personally believe and receive God's gift. No one is saved by trying to be good but by trusting in the Good News of Christ.

 

       (Adapted from Our Daily Bread)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Warren Lamb

 

 

 

 

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