The Council of Nicaea - 1
December 06, 2008 Length: 43:33
Dn. Michael begins his three part lesson on the Council of Nicaea and talks about the challenge of Arianism.
Dn. Michael Hyatt: Just to review. From last week, we talked about some definitions and then an overview of the seven ecumenical councils. It was a whirlwind tour, high level, 30,000-foot view of the councils. And what I just wanted to give you there was a view of the forest before we started looking at the individual trees, which we’ll start today. Last week, I also discussed the difference between a synod, a general council, and an ecumenical council. I talked about the purpose of creeds, talked about canons, and defined the word “heresy.” And then I went through each of the councils, just briefly, and gave you a little bit of their historical context.
I just thought of another story. I’ve had various encounters with heretics along the way, like you probably have, too. In 1975, I’d been a Christian for about a year, and that was at the height of the Jesus Movement. Some of you aren’t old enough to remember that, but some of us are. And I was living in Waco, Texas, at the time, and there was this movement that was kind of loosely called the “Children of God.” Remember that? And they kind of blew through town as wandering pilgrims, didn’t really have any work. They would show up in a location for a while, and then they would disperse and go somewhere else. Well, there were a lot of groups, as I learned later, calling themselves the “Children of God,” and this particular one was camping out by the lake, out by Lake Waco. So several of my friends who were very zealous to follow Christ—very eager, you know, to kind of go to the wall and be truly committed—heard about this group that had forsaken all and were living this life of the gospel, really out just preaching the gospel and following Christ. So, we were very intrigued.
So, one night, late, we went out to Lake Waco where they were camped, and there were probably 70 of them or so, and it was a pretty big crowd. And I don’t even know how they really got around. I never really did discover that, but we sat down by this big campfire. Some of them were wearing these long flowing robes. They probably would’ve been good candidates for Orthodoxy, but anyway at the time, they were just weird. (laughter)
So, we sat down at the campfire, and this one guy who was the leader—had a beard, had a robe, looked very biblical, you know, everything but the staff and the thunder. And he proceeded to talk, and he was doing a Bible study. And we had our Bibles, and we were trying to follow along—of course he was using the King James Version of the Bible—and he was teaching this thing that at first— I was a new Christian; I had only been a Christian for about year—and you know it sounded a little strange, but he was trying to talk about the doctrine of the Trinity, and he kept talking about how all these “apostate churches,” meaning everybody but them, had it wrong. And how really the Father was also the Son who was also the Holy Spirit. So that God [would] manifest himself as the Father, and then, like an actor in a play, would put on a different mask, and then manifest himself as the Son in time, and then when the Son disappeared, then he put on another mask and appeared as the Holy Spirit.
Well, at the time it sounded odd. Well, in a sense, it sort of made sense of the doctrine of the Trinity, which is difficult to understand, right? So this is kind of a rational explanation of the doctrine of the Trinity. But something about it was really unsettling to me. So, I remember going and asking my pastor about it, and he just rolled his eyes, freaked out, and basically said, “Well, that’s what known as Modalism.” It was an ancient heresy, first taught by Sabellius, and picked up by others, and you see it as a reoccurring theme. But, contrary to popular belief, these heresies, these ancient heresies, like I said last week in the “whack the mole” metaphor, they continue to show up in Church history. And they’re very alive and well today.
How many of you have had encounters with Mormons or a Jehovah’s Witness? Yeah. It wasn’t maybe but about a year ago, I had two Mormons show up at my door, and they introduced themselves as “I’m elder so-and-so, and I’m elder so-and-so,” of course they were 18 and had probably just started shaving. So, I just kind of chuckled to myself, and I’d had many encounters with Mormons through the years, so I just didn’t have the patience to engage them. I said, “You know, I’m really not interested. I’m an Orthodox Christian; I don’t believe what you believe. So, save us both some time and go on your way.” But I have engaged them in the past, and they definitely are non-Trinitarian, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, especially. I’ll talk about that a little bit later, but Jehovah’s Witnesses are one of the best examples today that Arianism is not dead. They believe a form of Arianism that we’re going to talk about at some length today. So, all that [is] a segue to the fourth century.
Lest we think that this crusty, dusty look at Church history is irrelevant, it’s very much alive and well. I think it’s even more important for Christians today to be clear on these things, because, at least in the ‘70s, we didn’t so much have a [current] view of truth, that it was relative. You know, we were really fighting for the truth. We believed that if x was true, then y couldn’t be true. But today, in our post-modern world, it’s possible for people to believe that no, x can be true and y can be true, and if it works for you, great. So, I think it’s even more important for us as Orthodox Christians to revisit the foundations of our faith, to really seek clarity on some of these things so that we’re not led astray and so that we can teach them to our children and our children’s children, so that we can preserve the Orthodox faith unto the ages.
So, let’s talk about the First Ecumenical Council. We’re not going to get through it all today. I can tell you. I was optimistic when I started studying, but there’s more to it than that. Maybe some of the councils’ll go quickly, but not the first one. There’s just too much involved. You remember from last week that the Edict of Milan ended the persecutions of Christians in 313 AD. So, Constantine became emperor, and one of the first things that he did was he ended the persecution of Christians. But there was this raging controversy in the Church between what we would view as Orthodox Christianity today and the Arians who also claim to be Orthodox. So, Constantine, in 325 AD—to be exact, the summer of 325—convened what’s now known as the First Ecumenical Council. His motive was not primarily theological but political. And this was just tearing up the empire. There were these warring factions, and it was creating discord, disharmony in the empire, and he didn’t like it. He wanted to get to the bottom of it. So he convened this council in the city of Nicaea, which is in Bithynia, which is the modern city of Iznik in Turkey. So, it seems kind of out-of-the way today, but it was centrally located. It was an easy place to get to for most of the bishops.
The bishops really convened on the recommendation of Hosius of Cordoba, which is in Spain, and he’s a leading figure. He was really presiding at this council and was the only that probably, kind of like Thomas Jefferson maybe with the Declaration of Independence, penned at least the first draft of the Creed, the Nicene Creed. Some controversy about that, but many historians believe he was the one that framed that.
But to the bishops, the heresy threatened people’s salvation. It wasn’t just about political conflict. There was something higher or more important than peace, and that was truth. And in one of the things that you’ll find in Church history is that they’re— and even today, people kind of pit these two values against one another. And people want to avoid conflict and want to preserve peace and oftentimes sacrifice truth for the sake of peace.
But the bishops were very clear in those days: that there can be no true and lasting peace that’s not built on truth. So, you can have sort of a feigned peace. You can have sort of a negotiated settlement, but it’s not very deep and it’s not very long-lasting if it’s not based on truth. The Fathers understood this, and they were willing to go to war. They were willing, spiritually speaking, to give their lives, and many of them did in subsequent years as the Arian controversy raged on. And by the way, don’t think that the first council put it to death. It didn’t. You know, in the true spirit of “whack the mole,” it kept coming back, and, in fact, it came back after the death of Constantine, but more about that later.
Bishops from all over the empire attended the first council, except for Britain. That was about the only region that wasn’t represented, and this was really the first general council of the Church since the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 which we looked at two weeks ago. But this one, like that one, was modeled on the principle of conciliarity, which is: let’s all the bishops get together, let’s allow for a debate, and let’s be conciliatory, or try to reach reconciliation, resolution on these matters before us.
I want to say a little bit about the attendees. Constantine sent out an invitation to about 1,800 bishops, which is about what we believe the number of bishops were at the time, about 1,800 bishops. There were about 1,000 in the East, 800 in the West, and only 318 were able to attend. As I said last week, this wasn’t as simple as buying a ticket on Southwest and, you know, flying into Nicaea and having your meeting and going home. This was a long journey for most of these bishops who came.
And by the way, Constantine permitted them to bring two priests, each bishop to bring two priests and three deacons, and there were a bunch of acolytes that also attended, plus laymen, “laypeople,” to be politically correct. So there were probably 2,000 people at this conference at least, this general council. But some of the more famous attendees included Eusebius of Caesarea. Does anyone remember what he was famous for? Church history, known as really the first Church historian. Probably the most famous attendee, besides Arius, was Athanasius of Alexandria. Athanasius was a deacon at the time and he was serving Patriarch Alexander of Alexandria who is also the voice of Orthodoxy in the council. He was the one who really argued for the classic Orthodox position. He was the head at what was later known as the Homoousions. I’ll talk about that in a little bit.
Eventually, Athanasius became a bishop himself, and then he himself was Patriarch of Alexandria, exiled innumerable times, wrote three really important books—one of which is available for sale in our bookstore, maybe more than that—but his book On the Incarnation, if you haven’t read it, is absolutely must-reading. It’s probably one of the top ten most important books I’ve ever read. I’ve given it to a lot of people. I tell you what: it’s great. It’s one of the reasons I love it. It’s published by St. Vladimir’s Press, but it’s got an introduction by C.S. Lewis.
And the introduction is fantastic, because what Lewis says—and this is kind of a sidebar to our study this morning—but what Lewis says, is he says that you ought to purpose as a Christian that you’ll read one old book for every new book that you read. And the reason that you should do that is because, as much as we hate to admit it, we share more in common with our contemporaries than we’d like to admit. Because we’re coming kind of out of the same general cultural context, we share a lot of similar things about our worldview, so even though we may argue on the particulars, we share a common view of the world because we’re in the same time, in the same world. And he says that the value of the old books is that it yanks you out of your context and gives you a chance to objectively evaluate your current context. And then he says books from the future would be as helpful, but they’re harder to get. So, read the old books. (laughter)
Athanasius also wrote a book called The Three Discourses Against the Arians. He ended up being probably the primary defender of the Faith during this period of time following the First Ecumenical Council. He also wrote the life of St. Anthony the Great who was the founder of monasticism. Also, by the way, little known fact, a little trivia, St. Athanasius was the first person to identify the first 27 books comprised in the New Testament canon, and he did that in a letter. So, just a little piece of trivia.
Other famous attendees: not only Eusebius and Athanasius, but also Nicholas of Myra. You attended Orthros? He’s commemorated in the intercession, following the reading of the Gospel at Orthros. He’s also the St. Nicholas, the gift-giver, from whom our traditions of St. Nicholas and Santa Claus and all these other things came originally. St. Spyridon of Trimythous, another great defender of the Faith, also commemorated at Orthros in the same intercession following the Gospel, whose incorrupt relics are still in Corfu, outside of Greece. And then Arius himself also attended. He was a priest at the time.
Constantine made a ceremonial entrance, but, interestingly, he seated the bishops ahead of himself. So, really kind of as an act of public humility, he seated the bishops ahead of himself. So, contrary to what you hear a lot of times, while the emperor was present, while the emperors—and the empress, in the case of the Seventh Ecumenical Council—convened the councils, they didn’t typically participate, and they certainly didn’t lord it over the Church. They served the function of convening, and they did a lot of things administratively to help, but it was definitely the bishops’ meeting.
And he did organize the council along the lines of the Roman Senate, which allowed for vigorous debate and then an attempt to bring resolution. And that model is still a very good model for any kind of Church government. There wasn’t this attempt to try to squelch the debate. They let it come. Arius got to speak, the proponents of Arianism, which there were 22 of; of the 318 bishops, 22 of them were Arians when the council started. Only two of them, by the end of the debate, which I believe was a little over a month later, refused to sign it. So 22 to two.
The council was convened with the following agenda. It opened on May 20, and the agenda was really five-fold. First of all, the Arian question. Secondly, the celebration of Pascha. You know, “When are we going to celebrate Easter?” Because there were all kinds of rubrics or kind of local canons that kept the church from celebrating Easter at the same time. Then the Meletian schism; the baptism of heretics; and then the status of lapsed Christians, those that had turned their back on the Faith during the persecution of Licinius.
As I said, roughly 22 of the bishops initially supported Arius. The council met for a month and then they published the Nicene Creed, in the form we still say it, on June 19. And in the end, by the end of the council, only two bishops, both of them from Libya, supported Arius. And they were excommunicated and exiled. Any questions? That’s all the set-up to the Arian controversy. That’s what I’m going to talk about next, but any questions?
Q1: Yeah, I was just wondering what the attitude of the bishops were when they heard that Emperor Constantine convened the council? Were they suspicious at all or was that something that they thought or— Had [they] become convinced of Constantine’s conversion and his sincerity?
Dn. Michael: That’s a great question. I’m not sure I know the answer to it. I think most of these bishops, frankly, were— by this time, didn’t care. A lot of these bishops came in hobbling on one leg, tongues missing, eyes missing. They had been tortured, beat up, left for dead, you know, so, the business of the Church took precedence over whatever physical danger they might have been in, but I don’t really know the answer. It probably ranged from everything, from suspicion to belief. Constantine wasn’t baptized until the end of his life. So that might have caused some hesitation, too. I don’t know. Anything else? Any other questions?
Well, let’s go then to the actual heresy itself. This is one of the most notorious heresies of all time. And it was a Christological dispute that began in Alexandria between the followers of Arius and the followers of Alexander, who was the Patriarch. And there were three doctrinal positions, and here’s what they were:
Alexander taught that the Son was of the same substance as the Father and co-eternal with him. Does anybody see anything wrong with that view, before we can speak? No. That’s the Orthodox view. Alexander and his followers were known as the Homoousians: H-O-M-O-O-U-S-I-A-N-S. “Homo”: “the same” or “like.” “Ousios” or “ousia”: “substance” or “essence.” “Of the same essence.” So those are the Homoousians.
Then you have the Arians who believed that they were different: that the Father and the Son were of a different essence, and that though he may be, the Son may be the most perfect of creation, he was still a creation. And he wasn’t co-eternal with the Father. Arius taught, and this is a famous quote of Arius: “There was a time when the Son of God was not.” And he argued that if the Father was the Father, then what made him the Father was that he begat—or gave birth to—the Son. So, these were the Arians.
Then there was a third group called the Homoiousians. That’s spelled H-O-M-O-I-O-U-S-I-A-N-S. Homoiousians, and what that word meant was that the Father and the Son had a similar nature. So it’s a compromise. So they wanted to come in, try to make peace, hold hands, sing “Kumbaya,” and say, “Look, it’s not that it’s a different substance; it’s not that it’s the same substance. Can’t we all agree that it’s similar, but not quite the same?”
So much of the debate hinged on the difference between being “born,” “created,” and “begotten.” These were technical terms in the Greek language, and Arius believed that they were all the same thing. Alexander and his followers did not. They wanted to differentiate between these terms. And much of what happened in the First Ecumenical Council was an attempt to establish a common theological vocabulary, and we’ll find that this vocabulary occasionally, through the history of the councils, gets hijacked by various heretics: has to be reclaimed, redefined. You realize that, as late as the Fourth Ecumenical Council, they’re still debating this whole issue of homoousia. And they go even further to define the difference in these terms.
The Homoousians—remember: Alexander and his followers—believed that the Arian view destroyed the unity of the Godhead and made the Son unequal to the Father in direct contravention of the Scriptures. John 10:30: Jesus said, “I and my Father are one.” And so, the Homoousians took that to mean that the Father and the Son were consubstantial, shared the same substance, of the same essence.
The Arians, on the other hand, believe that since the Son was created by the Father, he must have emanated from the Father, and thus he was less than the Father. He was also not eternal, and they quoted [John 14:28]. See, here’s the deal: you can prove anything if you want to “proof text” it from Scripture. But [John 14:28] says… Not that many verses. This is where Jesus says, “I’m going to my Father for my Father is greater than I.”
Now, what I’m going to tell you now was not framed at the First Ecumenical Council, but it will help you as you think about the doctrine of the Trinity, and I brought it up a little bit last week. Over time, the Orthodox began to understand the difference between the doctrine of the Trinity and the three persons of the Trinity as they exist unto themselves: the ontological Trinity; and how they are manifested in time: the economic Trinity. So, they are co-equal, co-eternal, consubstantial. The Son is not subordinate to the Father. The Holy Spirit is not subordinate to the Son or the Father. Co-eternal, co-equal, consubstantial: we repeat this in the Liturgy time after time after time, especially the priest’s prayers that are being said at the Anaphora. But there are verses in the Gospels that talk about Jesus as incarnate, who submits to the will of the Father, and that’s the relationship in time, the economic Trinity. And this is really important as it fleshes itself out in all kinds of human relationships. Now, I want you to hang with me here for a minute.
The Trinity is the most fundamental reality in the universe. Nothing exists prior to the Trinity. You know, God creates all things out of nothing. And so, the fundamental reality of the universe is a relational reality among the three persons of the Holy Trinity. Again: consubstantial, co-eternal, co-equal. As they work it out in time, as the Father sends the Son into the world, and the Son submits to the Father, and then as the Father later sends the Holy Spirit into the world, this is part of the manifestation in the world. But think about marriage—and this is a relationship. In fact, St. Paul says in Ephesians 5 that it’s a “great mystery,” because it is an icon of the Trinity. It is an icon of God himself and the love of the Father for the Son and the love of the Son for the Father.
But in a marriage, is the man superior to the woman? No, they are co-equal. And this is taught many places in the epistles. St. Paul, for example, says that in Christ, there is neither male nor female, Greek nor Jew. They are equal. My wife’s name is Gail, and she’s sometimes more equal than I, but she’s definitely not subordinate to me. We are co-equal. We have to understand that there is this fundamental equality in marriage that refers to who we are, in relationship to one another. However, that doesn’t preclude the fact that there is an order as we administratively deal with the issues in our family and as we interface with the world. And that’s why St. Paul can say that the husband is head of the wife.
In all these passages in Ephesians 5, there’s a certain order. I’m the CEO of my company; it’s not because I’m smarter or better, and some of you that work with me know that for a fact. It’s because, administratively, I’ve been given that role. Think in the doctrine of Church government. Whoever presides at a council is not presiding because there’s an order of ontology that’s greater than the office of the bishop. There’s not. The office of the bishop is the highest office in the Church. But there is administrative functionality so that we do have archbishops and metropolitans and patriarchs. And in councils, we have somebody who presides.
Think of the doctrine of the patriarchy where it comes to blows with Rome in the idea of the preeminence of the Pope. What the Eastern Church said is that if he is the first among equals, he has an administrative role to preside at the gathering of a council. He is the first among equals, but he’s not more equal, he’s not greater than, he doesn’t have special privileges that the other patriarchs don’t have.
So, all this stuff flows from the doctrine of the Trinity. It’s very, very practical, and it’s important for us, I think, as we interface with the world and all this discussion about women’s liberation, about the role of men and women in marriage. I think as Orthodox Christians, we can rest squarely on the footing that we can say, at one and the same time, that men and women are equal, but there are distinct roles within the marriage. And it’s not either/or, and you can kind of fall into an Arian subordinationism where you say, “No, the woman needs to submit to the man,” and it’s because the man knows best or the implication that the man knows best or God’s created him as the crown of creation or all kinds of crazy stuff, or you could fall off the other side of the cliff and just basically argue that they’re equal and therefore there should be no distinction in roles. It’s one and the same. Both of those lead to confusion.
Comments on that? I got a little far afoot from the Arian thing, but I do want us to see how these apply. David?
David: Mike, is this the— was Arianism the final outcome of what Paul fought in Galatians, Ephesians, and Colossians: the Gnosticism thing he was fighting in those books?
Dn. Michael: Great question, and actually the answer is “no.” There were several heresies that pre-existed the first council. You had Gnosticism; you had the legalists which Paul did fight; and St. John addresses in his epistles Gnosticism, Docetisism. You’ve got a lot of “-isms”—that, as Fr. Gordan said, ought to be “-wasms”—but you’ve got a lot of “-isms” leading up to this. But this is a slightly different one. But it is a form of Monarchianism—you know, a monarch—and there are a lot of different forms of that taught in the early Church by various heretics. This is probably the most sophisticated, most defined, and therefore dealt with by the first council. Philip?
Philip: You know, there’s a lot of debate about how much, what role Constantine did play. Besides having the bishops sit ahead of him at the table, is there any other evidence that he didn’t have more of a hand in deciding what happened?
Dn. Michael: Well, the history that I’ve read said he observed, but he did not participate nor did he vote. So, you know, his son, as we’ll see in a little bit, Constantius, reverted the empire back to Arianism, or essentially brought back all the Arians from exile and just let the thing go. And Athanasius is exiled shortly thereafter, and the Orthodox are on the run. So, it wasn’t long-lasting, and Constantine did some great things. No question about it. But there’s also, there’s some— in one history book that I read this morning, the one that I’m using as the text, said that when he was baptized, he was baptized by an Arian. There’s a lot of mixed stuff on him. Yes?
Q2: Many scholars and historians believe and agree that Constantine himself was an Arian, because, what you were talking about, with it coming from Monarchianism, that Arianism supports his position as emperor of the empire. So he was secretly hoping the Arians would win out the day, and that his son just follows through with that and just brings them all back. But Constantine does submit to the council’s decision, but really didn’t want the outcome that happened. He was pushing Arianism to happen, and his son just had the gall to go ahead and follow through with that.
Dn. Michael: And it was very short-lived. His son, Constantius, as I said, was Arian, brought the Arians back from exile, and then the next emperor, I think it was Julian, was a devotee of Roman paganism, and he didn’t care one way or the other. Just whatever; you know, bring it all in. So then it was chaos again, and really for about 50 years, until the Second Council of Nicaea. And so, they convene them all, hoping that this time they can really establish Arianism, but of course, the second council didn’t do that. They affirmed the creed and the canons of the First Ecumenical Council and went further even to define the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.
Let me just turn to one passage in Ephesians 5. And I love this passage; so much of it often not quoted with regard to marriage. Oftentimes when you hear this passage quoted, people want to jump down to verse 22 which says, “Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord.” Right? I personally love that verse. I’ve quoted it in my home. To which my wife laughs. (laughs) But what people often fail to see is verse 18, because this is really where it starts.
And do not be drunk with wine in which is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit.
Now, this is very going to be very important for what St. Paul is going to ask us to do. You can’t do the things that he’s going to ask us to do in the rest of Ephesians 5 and Ephesians 6 without being filled with the Spirit. So that’s really kind of the assumption and the precursor to everything else.
Speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
These are the manifestations of being filled with the Spirit. There’s all these things that he’s just said, including, maybe one of the most often not-quoted verses in the New Testament, verse 21, which says, “submitting to one another in the fear of God.” So, one of the fruits of the Spirit, one of the manifestations of being in the Spirit is this mutual submission. This is at the essence of the Orthodox notion of theosis: to cut off our wills, to submit gladly to others, and to not impose our will on others. Kind of un-American, but very Orthodox. And it’s absolutely essential in marriage.
If, in your marriage, as the man, you go through your marital life trying to impose your will on your family, you will quickly find that it’s impossible. I like how Dr. Phil says, “You can be happy or you can be right.” Or as my wife often quotes to me: “Happy wife, happy life.” (laughter) But there is this mutual submission; it’s where it starts, and then in that context, “Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord.” Given the context of being filled with the Spirit, mutual submission, then there is an administrative order for the sake of the family’s peace and unity and all those other things, but it has to be built on the truth of this indwelling of the Spirit and mutual submission.
Okay, that’s just a sidebar. I’m going to keep going here because we’re going to run out of time. I talked about what the Homoousians taught and what the Arians taught, but when they said that the Arians taught—and just to give us a little context here again—that he was not eternal, they quoted John 14:28, the Homoousians countered that the Father’s fatherhood, like all of his attributes, is eternal. There was not a time where the Father was not the Father, and the very name of the Father implies Sonship. Thus the Father was always the Father, and the Son, therefore, always existed with him. That’s how the Homoousians argued, and thus the council declared that the Son was consubstantial with the Father and co-eternal with him.
Which brings us to the Nicene Creed. Because it’s one thing to have this argument, but if you can’t make it simple enough that mere mortals can understand it Sunday-by-Sunday, what do you really have? So they did the hard work of trying to codify this in a document that has lasted. Well, you know, we brag, the U.S. Constitution has lasted for a couple hundred years. Big deal. I mean, it is a big deal. But the Nicene Creed has been around since 325 AD. And we say it, as Orthodox, in its original form.
But they were working with some of the earlier baptismal creeds, and one of them that they were working with was the Apostles’ Creed, and I just want to quote the first part of the Apostles’ Creed, and you’ll see why this didn’t really help when it came to the current controversy. Because it says,
I believe in God, the Father the Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.
And then it goes on to talk about Christ. But all it says about the Trinity is: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.” Well, Arius could say that, and he did say that. And all the Arians could say that. All the Homoiousians could say that, because it didn’t address the issue that was in play here: which was whether the Father and the Son shared the same essence. So, what the Nicene Creed did was make what was explicit what was implicit in Scripture and implicit in all the various baptismal creeds, including the Apostles’ Creed. And it says this—and I hope you’ll pay attention when you say it in the service today, because it was really written in the historical context that I gave you, designed to preserve the truth that I talked about.
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things, visible and invisible.
Now get this:
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten, begotten of the Father, before all worlds, light of light,
And here’s the key thing:
very God of very God, begotten not made,
So there’s a differentiation between those two terms. He’s eternally begotten of the Father, but he was not made.
of one essence with the Father, by whom all things were made.
It was through the agency of the Son by whom all things were made, but he himself was not made, but eternally begotten.
Now you may be wondering. What’s the difference between “begotten” and “made” and how does all— Look, this is one of those things that’s more important to affirm and get it right than understand all the nuances, and the reason for that is: this is a great mystery. The Trinity is a great mystery. To say that God is “one in essence and three in person,” every heresy is basically an attempt to try to rationalize that and make it logically consistent. And the Fathers with great wisdom, based on the revelation of God and Holy Scripture, articulated the mystery in a way that preserved it and kept it from being brought down to human form and understood in a way that mere mortals could understand it.
As I said, Arianism didn’t die with the council. After the death of Constantine in 337—so not very long after the council ended, 12 years?—Constantine’s son, Constantius II, became emperor of the Eastern Empire, and he encouraged the Arians and set out to reverse the work of the first council. He un-exiled the bishops who had adhered to Arianism, and he exiled the bishops who had adhered to the Nicene Creed. He even pushed his views West, and when they came to Rome, Pope Liberius was exiled. And during his reign, the Arians were supported, the semi-Arians were tolerated, and the Nicene Christians were persecuted. And it got so bad, that at one point, we have this phrase: “Athanasius contro mundum.” It seemed like there was one guy left that was arguing for the Orthodox Faith, and that was Athanasius.
And this battle raged for most of the rest of this century until the second council. As I said, Arianism is still alive and well in the form of Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses and other cults that exist to this day. We’re going to get next week into the dating of Easter and what do you do with Christians who’ve been baptized by heretics and those who have lapsed under the persecution and some of those more administrative issues. God bless you.
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