Bible Student elder Tom Gilbert tells the real story behind the Council of Nicaea. This is the story behind the debate. Who were these men, Arius and Athanasius? What were their motives? What was the character of the time and historical events? This is the story about the people who drove this debate. Click here to listen to the story: The_Council_Of_Antic_Gilbert_2006_09_24_D_24k
In the early years of 4th century emperors Diocletian and Maximilian brought a period of unspeakable persecution of Christians. However, persecutions had only made Christianity grow in popularity and respect. The next emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and turned his attention to unity in the empire. He wanted to bring peace, but there was a big problem. Debate on nature of God was dividing the empire.
Alexandria Egypt was the center of learning and this controversy over the nature of God raged there most vehemently. The bishop of Alexandria was Alexander, the most influential Church leader. Alexander was turning more and more to equating Christ with God. Two priests there were Athanasius and Arias. Arias felt Jesus was subordinate and he spoke publically in opposition to this emerging view of God’s nature.
Athanasius used force and violence to back up his views. He was often accused of terrible crimes. But he managed to escape the authorities until he was able to turn the political tide back in his favor.
Arius has been described as having austere habits, considerable learning and a smooth winning manner of speaking. No sources indicate that Arius himself had personally either carried out or arranged for any of these terrible criminal acts that Athanasius gave no second thought to carrying out or inciting. The silence of Arius’ enemies seems to prove that his general moral character was irreproachable. None of Arius’ writings remain, because eventually they were all outlawed and burned. What we know about Arius is only what his opponents wrote about him, including what his doctrinal views were.
Although intended to be a universal counsel, most of the 250 Bishops attending the Counsel of Nicaea were from the eastern part of the empire. Deliberation began in 325 A.D. These bishops debated the nature of Jesus and his relationship to the heavenly father. The Holy Spirit was not even considered, since the doctrine of the Trinity had not been fully forged yet.
Constantine insisted on using the Greek word “homoesius” meaning “of the same essence or substance.” Many bishops objected because this word is not found in the scriptures, but in the end they caved in. Those who didn’t sign were under threat of exile to the far reaches of the kingdom. They appended at the end curses and consequences to anyone disagreeing. It seems that fear of the consequences caused nearly all to sign on.
Yet, if Jesus and God are composed of the same substance, how then could Jesus have been a man (1 Tim 2:5)?
In 1 John we read, “My dear friends, do not believe all who claim to have the spirit, but test them to find out if the spirit they have comes from God. For many false prophets have gone out everywhere. This is how you will be able to know whether it is God’s spirit. Anyone who acknowledges that Jesus Christ came as a human being has the spirit that comes from God; but anyone who denies this about Jesus, does not have the spirit of God. The spirit he has is from the enemy of Christ, antichrist. You heard that it would come and now it is here in the world already.”
2 John tells us that “Many deceivers have gone out over the world, people who do not acknowledge that Jesus Christ came as a human being. Such a person is a deceiver and an enemy of Christ.”
After the Counsel of Nicaea, due to the influence of broad public opinion, Constantine vacillated between the two points of view. He alternated between approval of these two enemies, Arius and Athanasius. He alternately approved one side and exiled the other side. Yet, Athanasius caused so much trouble in Alexandria and elsewhere in the empire that Constantine condemned and exiled him from Alexandria no less than five times.
Arius repeatedly wrote to the emperor with words that Constantine subsequently approved of being orthodox. In 330 AD, Athanasius was reported to be maintaining power in Alexandria by intimidating and terrorizing his opponents. Some of his opponents charged that he was engaged in financial extortion.
In the summer of 336 AD, eastern bishops met in Constantinople with the emperor in attendance. A creed written by Arius was read and discussed. All in attendance declared themselves satisfied with the creed and ordered Arius reinstated as a priest in the Church. However, before he could be officially reinstated in the local church of Holy Apostles he was found dead and believed to have been poisoned. At the time, this was a common method of murder. However without modern medical examination techniques in those days, this can not be proven.
The fortunes of the Arians and Athanasius followers vacillated back and forth, but eventually political maneuvering and brutality of the followers of Athanasius won out. In 370 A.D. Basil succeeded Eusebius as bishop of Caesarea, the most important city in Cappadocia. He soon became known as the most important supporter of the Nicene Creed, a successor to Athanasius. He resisted the Arian emperor, Valens (364-378 A.D). In another council, under Basil’s influence, the Holy Spirit was added, thus creating the Trinity.
Read more here: When Jesus became God – Historical Development of Trinity