The First Council of Nicea

The First Council of Nicea (325), the First Ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church, met to consider the case of the Alexandrian theologian Arius (c250-336) who said that Jesus was not "consubstantial with the Father" and that in his case "god" was simply a courtesy title. St. Alexander, Patriarch of Alexandria, had called a Council of some 100 bishops (320 or 321) anathematising Arius but it failed to silence him and there is a possibility that there was a Council of Bithynia which supported him. Discord continued until the Emperor Constantine had defeated his rival Licinius (322-3) and become sole Emperor. He wrote to Alexander and Arius condemning heated controversies on matters he thought of little importance but ultimately was forced to call a full Council of some 300 bishops, mostly from the Eastern (or Byzantine) part of the Empire but there were some bishops from Persia and there were a handful of Western bishops. There is no record that Constantine consulted Pope St. Sylvester I but he almost certainly did because his own theological adviser Hosius of Cordova was the Papal Legate who was assisted in presiding at the Council by the Pope's ecclesiastical representatives Victor and Vincentius. The Council dealt with many matters, including the on-going controversy over the dating of Easter but the following is its Symbol or main declaration drawn up after Arius had been listened to seriously and attentively, and affirmed by all but two Bishops who were exiled together with Arius:

We believe in one God the Father almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible; and in One Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten of the Father, that is, of the substance of the Father, God of God, light of light, true God of true God, begotten not made, of the same substance with the Father, through whom all things were made both in heaven and on earth; who for us men and our salvation descended, was incarnate, and was made man, suffered and rose again the third day, ascended into heaven and cometh to judge the living and the dead. And in the Holy Ghost. Those who say: "There was a time when He was not, and He was not before He was begotten; and that He was made out of nothing; or who maintain that He is of another hypostasis or another substance (that the Father), or what the Son of God is created, or mutable, or subject to change, (them) the Catholic Church anathematises.

This was by no means the end of the matter. The theology of Arius, in focusing on the humanity of Christ, provoked an equally radical opposition which insisted that Christ was not human at all. The controversy would rumble on for more than a Century until the Council of Chalcedon (451)

KC viii.07

Related Study Sheets…