Council of Nicea

325. This was called by Emperor Constantine* to deal with Arianism,* which was threatening the unity of the Christian Church. The bishops assembled at Nicea (modern Isnik, in Persia), a city of Bithynia close to Constantine's capital. According to tradition, the emperor formally opened the proceedings on 20 May. The council was hardly representative of the Western Church. Of some 300 bishops present, almost all were from the Eastern half of the empire. The Latin West seems to have been represented by four or five bishops, and two priests delegated by the bishop of Rome. One of the Western bishops, Hosius* of Cordova, presided over the council, probably because he was a confidant and respected friend of the emperor.

After an examination of the charges against Arius, the council sought a formula to express orthodoxy. A submission by Eusebius of Nicomedia* was rejected because of its blatant Arian teaching. Then Eusebius of Caesarea,* a moderate churchman, produced the baptismal creed of his church. This creed may have become the basis of the Nicene Creed,* but it is more likely that the creed of the council was a conflation from many sources, especially the baptismal creeds of the churches of Antioch and Jerusalem.

The main emphases of the Nicene Creed are: (1) the “sonship” of Christ is preferred to the Logos* concept; (2) the phrase is inserted that Christ is of the being (ousia) of the Father; (3) to the phrase “begotten” is added “not made,” to deny the Arian contention that the Logos was “made”; (4) the Son is “one substance” (homoousios) with the Father-a momentous anti-Arian phrase; (5) to the words “became flesh” was added “and was made man”; (6) anti-Arian anathemas were appended to the creed.

The Nicene faith was received and signed by the majority of the bishops although not a few signed with hesitations. Arius and his friends were then anathematized along with two bishops who refused to accept the creed. Then, with a dangerous precedent, Constantine banished those anathematized to Illyricum.

Other matters dealt with by the council included the Melitian Schism* and the date of Easter.* The canons of the council are concerned with the problems of clerical discipline, heresy, and schism.

A.E. Burn, The Council of Nicaea (1925); T.H. Bindley, The Oecumenical Documents of the Faith (rev. F.W. Green, 1950); G. Forell, Understanding the Nicene Creed (1965).