A. Strength of Christianity in North Africa and eastern Mediterranean area.
B. In 303 Emperor Diocletian begins the The Great Persecution
Diocletian seeks to unify the Roman empire and sees Christian church as a threat to that unity so he attempts to destroy it in a well organized, empire wide, persecution.
C. Rise of Constantine
312 - Defeats his main rival in the Western Roman empire after reportedly seeing a vision of the cross"In this sign, [you shall] conquer"
324 Defeats Licinius, the Eastern Roman emperor, and takes over whole empire.
D. Constantine and Christianity
1. Edict of Milan, 313, grants toleration of all religions.
Note: In 380 Christianity will be made the religion of the empire.
2. Constantine intends to use Christianity to bring unity to the empire but –
the Church is in conflict
a. The Donatist Controversy: What to do with Christians who betrayed the faith during persecution?
Donatus, in Carthage, teaches that “lapsed Christians” are not to be allowed back into the church. His bishop and bishop of Rome reject his teaching. There are riots in Carthage. Constantine is asked to intervene.
b.. Arian Controversy: What is the relationship between the Father and The Son? or How is Jesus Divine? This is not an issue restricted to theologians, it becomes a politically and socially disruptive matter.
“Of all the things that Christians say about God, the most distinctive is that God is three persons…No other major religion confesses or worships a three-in-one deity. [Actually, “Three is one”]. Muslims and Jews find the doctrine offensive. Unitarians and Jehovah’s Witnesses find it deplorable.” Bruce Shelley, Church History in Plain Language
E. Defining (not determining) the divinity of Christ has been long running controversy:
1. Monarchianism (Adoptionism): God chose Christ at his baptism and was adopted by God after his death.
2. Sabellianism (Modalism): One God reveals himself in three different ways.
3. Ebionites – Jesus was only a man, who meticulously kept the law was therefore
justified and became “Messiah.”
4. Docetism – Jesus only “seemed” to be a man, a divine phantom who only appeared to suffer and die.
II. CONVENING THE COUNCIL OF NICEA
A. Constantine calls for first council of the entire church to settle the matter.
1. Invites all 1800 churches to Nicaea to settle this issue.
2. Estimated 250 bishops plus assistants attend with all but six from the east.
3. Constantine attends (presides??)
Arius was the pastor of influential church in Alexandria who taught-
>“We acknowledge one God, who is alone ingenerate (self-existent), alone wise, alone good, alone sovereign, alone judge of all, etc.”
>“If the Father begat the son, he that was begotten had a beginning of existence, hence it is clear that there was when the Son was not.
>“There was a time when he was not.’
OVERALL - Arius concluded that however much the church should honor Christ, it should not consider him in terms reserved for God the Father.
C. Alexander the bishop of Alexandria, opposes him and his teaching.
III. AT THE COUNCIL
A. Arius and his teaching are rejected early on but the issue remains.
B. The Main Issue: What is the relationship between The Father and The Son? or In what way
is Jesus divine?
1. Debate results in the First Nicene Creed
We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father [the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God], Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; By whom all things were made [both in heaven and on earth];
Who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man; He suffered, and the third day he rose again, ascended into heaven; From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. And in the Holy Ghost.
2. Key element of the creed
Christ is of one substance with the Father
homoouios – homo (same) + ousia (substance)
as opposed to –
homoiouios – homoi (similar) + ousia(substance)
Christ is very God of very God; Jesus is God in the same sense the Father is God.
C. This Nicene Creed does not end the debate or controversy
1. Arius – continues to teach, exiled and returns, dies in 336
2. Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria emerges as the chief defender of the Nicene Creed
a. Arians stressed the logic of monotheism
b. Athanasius stressed the logic of salvation,.
3. 381, at the council of Constantinople the Nicene Creed is revised and largely victorious.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Only-begotten, Begotten of the Father before all ages, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, Begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father, by whom all things were made:
And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried;
And ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father;
And we believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.
We look for the Resurrection of the dead,
And the Life of the age to come. Amen.
4. Arianism will continue. Example: Alaric and the Visigoths
D. Examples of other issues settled at Nicaea (20 “canons” or laws were decided on)
1. The date of Easter
2. No woman is to live in the home of an unmarried priest
3. Special recognition of the Bishops of Alexandria, Rome, Jerusalem, Caesarea
4. Period of probation before converts can hold office
5. Self castration is prohibited.
6. Those who lapsed without violence, undergo a 12 year probation if repentant.
7. Those who endured violence, then lapsed, are excommunicated for 10 years but can be readmitted depending on penitence.
One Unintended But Lasting And Critically Important Consequence:
State and Church are now involved with each other.