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Sunday, 27 July 2014

The Council of Nicaea

In 319 tall, handsome Arius, a presbyter in Alexandria claimed that, in the doctrine of the Trinity, the Son is not co-equal or co-eternal with the Father. Instead, he stated, Christ is only the first and highest of all finite beings, created out of nothing by an act of God's free will. As Christ had a beginning he isn't eternal and because he isn't eternal he is inferior to God the Father.

The charismatic Arius has won some support for his controversial views but in 321 he was deposed and excommunicated by a synod of bishops at Alexandria.

The Council of Nicaea was called by the Emperor Constantine in 325 to deal with the first major doctrinal controversy of the Christian Church. Arius of Alexandria was still denying the divinity of Christ but Alexander, the Bishop of Alexandria, maintained the orthodox view that the Son is one substance with the Father. Both had their supporters. It opened on May 20, 325 in present-day Iznik, Turkey.

The Council of Nicea was the first general council of the church and 318 Bishops from mainly the eastern parts of the empire attended. Many of them were without various limbs or blinded eyes for they bore the scars of having lived through the various persecutions.

16th-century fresco depicting the Council of Nicaea

The chief protagonists were Arius and the tiny, dark skinned Athanasius, a young deacon also of Alexandria who supported Alexander’s views. Because of his lower rank Athanasius was not eligible to be part of the council and he had to wait outside and whisper what to say to a sympathetic bishop. If a difficult problem cropped up, his friend would step outside and Athanasius murmured the answer.

To loud doctrinal cheers Arius was banished and the council declared Christ by an overwhelming majority to be “of one essence of the Father, not made, being of one substance. The bishops championing Athanasius introduced their own creed, “We believe in one God the father-all sovereign, maker of Heaven and Earth…”

Another result of the council was a decision that Easter would be celebrated on the same Sunday throughout the Church. It was agreed that it would be celebrated on the first Sunday after the spring equinox.

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