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    September 20, 1897

    “How the Catholic Creed Was Made. The Council of Nice” The Bible Echo 12, 38, pp. 299, 300.


    THE number of bishops that composed the council was three hundred and eighteen, while the number of “the presbyters and deacons in their train, and the crowd of acolytes and other attendants, was altogether beyond computation” (Eusebius), all of whom travelled, and were entertained to and from the council and while there, at the public expense. “They came as fast as they could run,” says Stanley; 1Quotations in this article, except when otherwise indicated, are from Dean Stanley’s “Lectures on the Eastern Church.” “in almost a frenzy of excitement and enthusiasm; the actual crowd must have been enough to have metamorphosed the place.” And “shrill above all other voices, vehement above all other disputants, ‘brandishing their arguments like spears against those who sat under the same roof and ate off the same tables as themselves,’ were the combatants from Alexandria.”BEST September 20, 1897, page 299.1

    The emperor did not arrive at Nice for several days after the others had reached that place; but when he came, “he had no sooner taken up his quarters in the palace of Nicea, than he found showered in upon him a number of parchment rolls, or letters, containing complaints and petitions against each other from the larger part of the assembled bishops.... We are expressly told both Eusebius and Sozomen that one motive which had drawn many to the council was the hope of settling their own private concerns, and promoting their own private interests.... There, too, were the pent-up grudges and quarrels of years, which now for the first time had an opportunity of making themselves heard. Never before had these remote, often obscure, ministers of a persecuted sect come within the range of imperial power.... Still after all due allowance, it is impossible not to share in the emperor’s astonishment that this should have been the first act of the first Ecumenical Assembly of the Christian Church.” 2I take this occasion to remark that which has already become apparent, and which becomes more and more emphatic as the history proceeds, that the term “Christian,” in such connection as it is here used by Stanley, is totally misapplied. This was not an assembly of the Christian church; it was not the Christian church that united with the State. This was an assembly of the Catholic Church; it was the Catholic Church that formed the union with the State. The history of “the church” is not the history of Christianity. The history of Christianity has not been written except by the rack, by sword, and by flame; in tears, in sufferings, and in blood,—and in the books that shall be opened at the last day. Faithfulness to the authors quoted will require, in a few instances, the printing of this misapplication of the word “Christian.” But the reader will need merely to note the connection, to see that the word is sadly misused; and this note will be the assurance in every such case that, though it is so printed, it is not endorsed in any such connection.BEST September 20, 1897, page 299.2


    THE council met in a large hall in the palace of the emperor, which had been arranged for the purpose. In the centre of the room, on a kind of throne, was placed a copy of the gospels; at one end of the hall was placed a richly carved throne, which was to be occupied by Constantine. The day came for the formal opening of the assembly. The bishops were all assembled with their accompanying presbyters and deacons; but as it was an imperial council, it could not be opened but by the emperor himself; and they waited in silence for him to come.BEST September 20, 1897, page 299.3

    “He entered. His towering stature, his strong-built frame, his broad shoulders, his handsome features, were worthy of his grand position. There was a brightness in his look and mingled expression of fierceness and gentleness in his lion-like eye, which well became one who, as Augustus before him, had fancied, and perhaps still fancied, himself to be the favourite of the sun-god Apollo. The bishops were further struck by the dazzling, perhaps barbaric magnificence of his dress. Always careful of his appearance, he was so on this occasion in an eminent degree. His long hair, false or real, was crowned with the imperial diadem of pearls. His purple or scarlet robe blazed with precious stones and gold embroidery. He was shod, no doubt, in the scarlet shoes then confined to emperors, now perpetuated in the pope and cardinals.”BEST September 20, 1897, page 299.4

    He paraded thus up the whole length of the hall to where the seat of wrought gold had been set for him; then he turned, facing the assembly, and pretended to be so abashed by the presence of so much holiness, that he would not take his seat until the bishops had signaled to him to do so; then he sat down, and the others followed suit. Then Eusebius arose and delivered an oration in honour of the emperor, closing with a hymn of thanksgiving to God for Constantine’s final victory over Licinius. Constantine then delivered to the assembly an address exhorting them to remove all grounds of difference.BEST September 20, 1897, page 299.5

    Thus the council was formally opened, and then the emperor signified to the judges of the assembly to go on with the proceedings. “From this moment the flood-gates of debate were opened wide; and from side to side recriminations and accusations were bandied to and fro, without regard to the imperial presence. He remained unmoved amid the clatter of angry voices, turning from one side of the hall to the other, giving his whole attention to the questions proposed, bringing together the violent partisans.”BEST September 20, 1897, page 300.1

    To end their personal spites, and turn their whole attention to the question which was to come properly before the assembly, he took from the folds of his mantle the whole bundle of their complaints and recriminations against one another. Then, after stating that he had not read one of them, he ordered a brazier to be brought in, and at once burned them in the presence of the whole assembly, declaring that the bishops sat as gods, and should neglect these common matters.BEST September 20, 1897, page 300.2

    And as the libels vanished into ashes, he urged them, “Never to let the faults of men in their consecrated offices be publicly known to the scandal and temptation of the multitude.” “Nay,” he added, doubtless spreading out the folds of his imperial mantle as he spoke, “even though I were with mine own eyes to see a bishop in the act of gross sin, I would throw my purple robe over him, that no one might suffer from the sight of such a crime.”BEST September 20, 1897, page 300.3


    THEN the great question that had caused the calling of the council was taken up. There were three parties in the council—those who sided with Alexander, those who sided with Arius, and those who were non-committal. The party of Alexander and Athanasius (Alexander’s chief advocate) soon discovered that they could depend upon the majority of the council.BEST September 20, 1897, page 300.4

    The draft of a creed was brought in, signed by eighteen bishops of the party of Arius; but it was not suffered to exist long enough for anybody ever to obtain a copy. Their opponents broke into a wild uproar, tore the document to pieces, and expelled Arius from the assembly.BEST September 20, 1897, page 300.5

    Next, Eusebius of Cesarea,—Constantine’s panegyrist—thought to bring the parties together by presenting a creed that had been largely in use before this dispute ever arose. He stated that this confession of faith was one which he had learned in his childhood, from the bishop of Cesarea, and one which he accepted at his baptism, and which he had taught through his whole career, both as a presbyter and as a bishop. As an additional argument, and one which he intended to be of great weight in the council, he declared that “it had been approved by the emperor, the beloved of heaven, who had already seen it.”BEST September 20, 1897, page 300.6

    As soon as this was read in the council, the party of Arius all signified their willingness to subscribe to it. But this did not suit the party of Alexander and Athanasius; it was rather the very thing that they did not want, for “they were determined to find some form of words which no Arian could receive.” They hunted about, therefore, for some point or some word, upon which they could reject it. It will be noticed that this creed says nothing about the substance of the Son of God, while that was the very question which had brought the council together. Eusebius, bishop of Nicomedia, was chief of the Arians who held seats in the council. At this point a letter was brought forth, which he had formerly written, in which he had stated that “to assert the Son to be uncreated, would be to say that He was ‘of one substance’—Homoousion—with the Father, and to say that ‘He was of one substance’ was a proposition evidently absurd.”BEST September 20, 1897, page 300.7

    “The letter produced a violent excitement. There was the very test of which they were in search; the letter was torn in pieces to mark their indignation, and the phrase which he had pledged himself to reject, became the phrase which they pledged themselves to adopt.”BEST September 20, 1897, page 300.8


    AS CONSTANTINE had approved the creed already read by Eusebius, the question of the party of Alexander now was whether he would approve it with the addition of this word; and the hopes of both parties now hung trembling upon the emperor. Hosius and his associates, having the last consultation with him, brought him over to their side. At the next meeting of the assembly, he again presented the creed of Eusebius, approved it, and called upon all to adopt it. Seeing, however, that the majority would not accept the creed of Eusebius as it was, Constantine decided to “gain the assent of the orthodox, that is, the most powerful, part of the assembly,” by inserting the disputed word.BEST September 20, 1897, page 300.9

    The party of Alexander and Athanasius, now assured of the authority of the emperor, required the addition of other phrases to the same purpose, so that when the creed was finally written out in full, it read as follows:—BEST September 20, 1897, page 300.10

    We believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of all things both visible and invisible.BEST September 20, 1897, page 300.11

    And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father, only begotten, that is to say, of the substance 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 things in heaven and things in earth; who for us man, and for our salvation, came down, and was made flesh, and was made men, suffered, and rose again on the third day went up into the heavens, and is to come again to judge the quick and dead.BEST September 20, 1897, page 300.12

    And in the Holy Ghost.BEST September 20, 1897, page 300.13

    But those that say, “There was when He was not,” and “Before He was begotten, He was not,” and that “He came into existence from what was not,” or who profess that the Son of God is of a different “person” or “substance,” or that He is created, or changeable, or variable, are anathematized by the Catholic Church.BEST September 20, 1897, page 300.14

    Thus came the original Nicene Creed. Constantine’s influence carried with it many in the council, but seventeen bishops refused to subscribe to the creed. The emperor then commanded all to sign it under penalty of banishment. This brought to terms all of them but five, and further imperial persuasion and explanation and threats reduced the number to two. These absolutely refused from first to last to sign the creed, and they were banished. As for Arius, he seems to have departed from Nice soon after he was expelled from the council. Sentence of banishment was pronounced against him with the others. But as he was the chief expositor of the condemned doctrines, Constantine published against him an edict commanding the destruction of all his books on pain of death. The decree banishing Arius was shortly so modified as simply to prohibit his returning to Alexandria.BEST September 20, 1897, page 300.15

    When the council finally closed its labours, Constantine gave, in honour of the bishops, the grand banquet before mentioned, in which it was pretended that the kingdom of God was come, and at which he loaded them with presents. He then exhorted them to unity and forbearance, and dismissed them to return to their respective places.BEST September 20, 1897, page 300.16

    It was intended that the decision of this council, in the creed adopted, should put an end forever to all religious differences. “It is certain that the Creed of Nicea was meant to be an end of theological controversy.” Constantine published it as the inspiration of God.BEST September 20, 1897, page 300.17

    “From this period,” says Milman, “we may date the introduction of rigorous articles of belief, which required the submissive assent of the mind to every word and letter of an established creed, and which raised the slightest heresy of opinion into a more fatal offence against God, and a more odious crime in the estimation of man, than the worst moral delinquency or the most flagrant deviation from the spirit of Christianity.”BEST September 20, 1897, page 300.18


    IN the unanimity of opinion attained by the council, however, the idea of inspiration from any source other than Constantine, is a myth, and even that was a vanishing quantity; because a considerable number of those who subscribed to the creed did so against their honest convictions, and with the settled determination to secure a revision or a reversal just as soon as it could possibly be brought about; and to bring it about they would devote every waking moment of their lives.BEST September 20, 1897, page 300.19

    Yet more than this, this theory proceeds upon the assumption that religious truth and doctrine are subject to the decision of the majority, than which nothing could possibly be further from the truth. Even though the decision of the Council of Nicea had been absolutely, and from honest conviction spontaneously, unanimous, it never could rest with the slightest degree of obligation or authority upon any soul who had not arrived at the same conclusion from honest conviction derived from the free exercise of his own power of thought. There is no organisation nor tribunal on earth that has any right to decide for anybody what is the truth upon any religious question. “The head of every man is Christ.” 1 Corinthians 11:3. “One is your Master, even Christ.” Matthew 23:8. “Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth .... So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.” Romans 14:4, 12.BEST September 20, 1897, page 300.20

    In the quest for truth every man is free to search, to believe, and to decide, for himself alone. And his assent to any form of belief or doctrine, to be true, must spring from his own personal conviction that such is the truth. “The truth itself,” Neander well says, “forced on man otherwise than by its own inward power, becomes falsehood.” And he who suffers anything to be so forced upon him, utters a lie against himself and against God.BEST September 20, 1897, page 300.21

    The realm of thought is the realm of God. Whosoever would attempt to restrict or coerce the free exercise of the thought of another, usurps the dominion of God, and exercises that of the devil. This is what Constantine did at the Council of Nice. This is what the majority of the Council of Nice itself did. In carrying out the purpose for which it was met, this is the only thing that it could do, no matter which side of the controversy should prove victorious. What Constantine and the Council of Nice did, was to open the way and set the wicked precedent for that despotism over thought which continued for more than fourteen hundred dreary years, and which was carried to such horrible lengths when the pope succeeded to the place of Constantine as head over both Church and State.BEST September 20, 1897, page 300.22

    To say that the Holy Spirit had any part whatever in the council, either in discussing or deciding the question, or in any other way, is but to argue that the Holy Spirit of God is but the subject and tool of the unholy passions of ambitious and wicked men.BEST September 20, 1897, page 300.23

    A. T. JONES.

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