Blurb on the Council of Nicea

There’s a reasonably good summary on the Council of Nicea at LiveScience. The writer shows small appreciation for the implications of Arianism’s divergence from orthodoxy, but in such a short piece, there’s hardly room for all that anyway. The bit about the Son being of the same substance doesn’t really do justice to the earlier part of the Nicene Creed’s second article: “…God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God; begotten, not made…”

It is worth noting that from a secular-historical point of view, Arians were Christians, and thus the Christian Church at the time was possibly more Arian than orthodox, if counted democratically. From a theological point of view, however, Christians are defined by doctrine, not by labels alone. This might be hard for some of our contemporaries to grasp, but it has been the Christian approach from the Beginning. Therefore, the Arians were not Christians, just as their present-day counterparts (Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, and the like) are not Christians.

3 thoughts on “Blurb on the Council of Nicea

  1. Sam,

    Slippery is one way to describe it, but that might also imply that “orthodoxy” didn’t exist before the council of Nicea. There have always been Christians who confess no more and no less than God’s Word, regardless of whether it makes sense to them. That’s really what the “ortho” prefix refers to in the term *orthodoxy:* the rule and norm of all doctrine.

    Yet ante-nicene orthodoxy would have looked different than it does now, especially because many doctrinal questions had not been worked through, or even asked, yet. This is evident in most of the church fathers.

    I suppose you’re right that the architects of the Nicene Creed generally didn’t consider their statement to be binding for all Christians everywhere — at least, as an expression of their own thought. However, since the creed was always meant to express exactly what God’s Word teaches, its success in doing so elevates it to the status of a doctrinal norm. Perhaps Christians who had never heard of it could be excused for not considering themselves bound by it, but disagreement with the Nicene Creed amounts to disagreement with God’s Word, the rule and norm.

    Thanks for the link. That was an interesting article.

  2. Hi there,

    “There have always been Christians who confess no more and no less than God’s Word, regardless of whether it makes sense to them.”

    That’s exactly what I find so interesting about Nicaea because it was the first real recognition that the deeper questions which face Christianity cannot be answered in purely biblical language, because the questions are about the meaning of biblical language itself.

    Take, for example, its use of technical, extra-biblical words such as homoousios (that Jesus was ‘of the same substance as the Father’). This recognition that, sometimes, extra-biblical words are required to convey the ‘sense of Scripture’, ensuring that the real meaning of God’s Word is preserved, was surely a breakthrough for Christological thought. In many ways it marked the beginning of an increasing subtlety and clarity with which late fourth-century theologians “shaped their basic rules or grammar for all language about the divine life and action.” (Lewis Ayres ‘Nicaea and its legacy’, 2006, p. 4 )

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