First Council of Nicaea

First Council of Nicaea
First Council of Nicaea
Date 325 AD
Accepted by
Previous council None
Next council First Council of Constantinople
Convoked by Emperor Constantine I
Presided by St. Alexander of Alexandria (and also Emperor Constantine)[1]
Attendance 250–318 (only five from Western Church)
Topics of discussion Arianism, celebration of Passover (Easter), ordination of eunuchs, prohibition of kneeling on Sundays and from Easter to Pentecost, validity of baptism by heretics, lapsed Christians, sundry other matters.[2]
Documents and statements Original Nicene Creed,[3] 20 canons,[4] and an epistle[2]
Chronological list of Ecumenical councils
Constantine the Great summoned the bishops of the Christian Church to Nicea to address divisions in the Church (mosaic in Hagia Sophia, Constantinople (Istanbul), ca. 1000).

The First Council of Nicaea was a council of Christian bishops convened in Nicaea in Bithynia (present-day İznik in Turkey) by the Roman Emperor Constantine I in AD 325. This first ecumenical council was the first effort to attain consensus in the church through an assembly representing all of Christendom.[5][6]

Its main accomplishments were settlement of the Christological issue of the relationship of Jesus to God the Father;[3] the construction of the first part of the Nicene Creed; settling the calculation of the date of Easter;[2] and promulgation of early canon law.[4][7][8]



The First Council of Nicaea is the first ecumenical council of the catholic Church. Most significantly, it resulted in the first uniform Christian doctrine, called the Creed of Nicaea. With the creation of the creed, a precedent was established for subsequent general (ecumenical) councils of Bishops (Synods) to create statements of belief and canons of doctrinal orthodoxy— the intent being to define unity of beliefs for the whole of Christendom.

The council did not create the doctrine of the deity of Christ (as is sometimes claimed) but it did settle to some degree the debate within the Early Christian communities regarding the divinity of Christ. This idea of the divinity of Christ along with the idea of Christ as a messenger from the one God ("The Father") had long existed in various parts of the Roman empire. The divinity of Christ had also been widely endorsed by the Christian community in the otherwise pagan city of Rome.[9] The council affirmed and defined what it believed to be the teachings of the Apostles regarding who Christ is: that Christ is the one true God in deity with the Father.

Derived from Greek oikoumenikos, "ecumenical" means "worldwide" but generally is assumed to be limited to the Roman Empire in this context as in Augustus' claim to be ruler of the oikoumene/world; the earliest extant uses of the term for a council are Eusebius' Life of Constantine 3.6[10] around 338, which states "σύνοδον οἰκουμενικὴν συνεκρότει" (he convoked an Ecumenical Council); Athanasius' Ad Afros Epistola Synodica in 369;[11] and the Letter in 382 to Pope Damasus I and the Latin bishops from the First Council of Constantinople.[12]

One purpose of the council was to resolve disagreements arising from within the Church of Alexandria over the nature of Jesus in relationship to God the Father; in particular, whether Jesus was the literal son of God or was he a figurative son, like the other "Sons of God" in the Bible. St. Alexander of Alexandria and Athanasius claimed to take the first position; the popular presbyter Arius, from whom the term Arianism comes, is said to have taken the second. The council decided against the Arians overwhelmingly (of the estimated 250–318 attendees, all but two voted against Arius.[13])

Another result of the council was an agreement on when to celebrate Easter, the most important feast of the ecclesiastical calendar, decreed in an epistle to the Church of Alexandria in which is simply stated

We also send you the good news of the settlement concerning the holy pasch, namely that in answer to your prayers this question also has been resolved. All the brethren in the East who have hitherto followed the Jewish practice will henceforth observe the custom of the Romans and of yourselves and of all of us who from ancient times have kept Easter together with you.[14]

Historically significant as the first effort to attain consensus in the church through an assembly representing all of Christendom,[5] the Council was the first occasion where the technical aspects of Christology were discussed.[5] Through it a precedent was set for subsequent general councils to adopt creeds and canons. This council is generally considered the beginning of the period of the First seven Ecumenical Councils in the History of Christianity.

Character and purpose

The First Council of Nicea was convened by Constantine I upon the recommendations of a synod led by Hosius of Córdoba in the Eastertide of 325. This synod had been charged with investigation of the trouble brought about by the Arian controversy in the Greek-speaking east.[15] To most bishops, the teachings of Arius were heretical and dangerous to the salvation of souls. In the summer of 325, the bishops of all provinces were summoned to Nicea (now known as İznik, in modern-day Turkey), a place easily accessible to the majority of delegates, particularly those of Asia Minor, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Greece, and Thrace.

This was the first general council in the history of the Church since the Apostolic Council of Jerusalem, the Apostolic council having established the conditions upon which Gentiles could join the Church.[16] In the Council of Nicea, "the Church had taken her first great step to define doctrine more precisely in response to a challenge from a heretical theology."[17]


Constantine had invited all 1800 bishops of the Christian church (about 1000 in the east and 800 in the west), but a smaller and unknown number attended. Eusebius of Caesarea counted 220,[18] Athanasius of Alexandria counted 318,[19] and Eustathius of Antioch counted 270[20] (all three were present at the council). Later, Socrates Scholasticus recorded more than 300,[21] and Evagrius,[22] Hilary of Poitiers,[23] Jerome[24] and Rufinus recorded 318. Delegates came from every region of the Roman Empire except Britain.

The participating bishops were given free travel to and from their episcopal sees to the council, as well as lodging. These bishops did not travel alone; each one had permission to bring with him two priests and three deacons; so the total number of attendees could have been above 1800. Eusebius speaks of an almost innumerable host of accompanying priests, deacons and acolytes.

A special prominence was also attached to this council because the persecution of Christians had just ended with the February 313 Edict of Milan by Emperors Constantine and Licinius.

The Eastern bishops formed the great majority. Of these, the first rank was held by the three patriarchs: Alexander of Alexandria, Eustathius of Antioch, and Macarius of Jerusalem. Many of the assembled fathers—for instance, Paphnutius of Thebes, Potamon of Heraclea and Paul of Neocaesarea—had stood forth as confessors of the faith and came to the council with the marks of persecution on their faces. Other remarkable attendees were Eusebius of Nicomedia; Eusebius of Caesarea, the first church historian; Nicholas of Myra; Aristakes of Armenia (son of Saint Gregory the Illuminator); Leontius of Caesarea; Jacob of Nisibis, a former hermit; Hypatius of Gangra; Protogenes of Sardica; Melitius of Sebastopolis; Achilleus of Larissa (considered the Athanasius of Thessaly)[25] and Spyridion of Trimythous, who even while a bishop made his living as a shepherd[26][27]. From foreign places came a Persian bishop John, a Gothic bishop Theophilus and Stratophilus, bishop of Pitiunt in Abkhazia (located in the western part of South Caucasus outside of the Roman Empire).

The Latin-speaking provinces sent at least five representatives: Marcus of Calabria from Italia, Cecilian of Carthage from Africa, Hosius of Córdoba from Hispania, Nicasius of Dijon from Gaul,[25] and Domnus of Stridon from the province of the Danube.

Athanasius of Alexandria, a young deacon and companion of Bishop Alexander of Alexandria, was among the assistants. Athanasius eventually spent most of his life battling against Arianism. Alexander of Constantinople, then a presbyter, was also present as representative of his aged bishop.[25]

The supporters of Arius included Secundus of Ptolemais, Theonus of Marmarica, Zphyrius, and Dathes, all of whom hailed from Libya and the Pentapolis[which?]. Other supporters included Eusebius of Nicomedia,[28] Eusebius of Caesarea, Paulinus of Tyrus, Actius of Lydda, Menophantus of Ephesus, and Theognus of Nicea.[25][29]

"Resplendent in purple and gold, Constantine made a ceremonial entrance at the opening of the council, probably in early June, but respectfully seated the bishops ahead of himself."[16] As Eusebius described, Constantine "himself proceeded through the midst of the assembly, like some heavenly messenger of God, clothed in raiment which glittered as it were with rays of light, reflecting the glowing radiance of a purple robe, and adorned with the brilliant splendor of gold and precious stones."[30] He was present as an observer, and did not vote. Constantine organized the Council along the lines of the Roman Senate. Hosius of Cordoba may have presided over its deliberations; he was probably one of the Papal legates.[16] Eusebius of Nicomedia probably gave the welcoming address.[16][31]

Agenda and procedure

Fresco depicting the First Council of Nicea

The agenda of the synod included:

  1. The Arian question regarding the relationship between God the Father and Jesus; i.e. are the Father and Son one in divine purpose only or also one in being
  2. The date of celebration of the Paschal/Easter observation
  3. The Meletian schism
  4. The validity of baptism by heretics
  5. The status of the lapsed in the persecution under Licinius

The council was formally opened May 20, in the central structure of the imperial palace at Nicea, with preliminary discussions of the Arian question. In these discussions, some dominant figures were Arius, with several adherents. "Some 22 of the bishops at the council, led by Eusebius of Nicomedia, came as supporters of Arius. But when some of the more shocking passages from his writings were read, they were almost universally seen as blasphemous."[16] Bishops Theognis of Nicea and Maris of Chalcedon were among the initial supporters of Arius.

Eusebius of Caesarea called to mind the baptismal creed of his own diocese at Caesarea at Palestine, as a form of reconciliation. The majority of the bishops agreed. For some time, scholars thought that the original Nicene Creed was based on this statement of Eusebius. Today, most scholars think that the Creed is derived from the baptismal creed of Jerusalem, as Hans Lietzmann proposed.

The orthodox bishops won approval of every one of their proposals regarding the Creed. After being in session for an entire month, the council promulgated on June 19 the original Nicene Creed. This profession of faith was adopted by all the bishops "but two from Libya who had been closely associated with Arius from the beginning."[17] No historical record of their dissent actually exists; the signatures of these bishops are simply absent from the Creed.

Arian controversy

The synod of Nicea, Constantine and the condemnation and burning of Arian books, illustration from a northern Italian compendium of canon law, ca. 825

The Arian controversy was a Christological dispute that began in Alexandria between the followers of Arius (the Arians) and the followers of St. Alexander of Alexandria (now known as Homoousians). Alexander and his followers believed that the Son was of the same substance as the Father, co-eternal with him. The Arians believed that they were different and that the Son, though he may be the most perfect of creations, was only a creation of God the Father. A third group (now known as Homoiousians) later tried to make a compromise position, saying that the Father and the Son were of similar substance.[32]

For about two months, the two sides argued and debated,[33] with each appealing to Scripture to justify their respective positions. According to many accounts, debate became so heated that at one point, Arius was slapped in the face by Nicholas of Myra, who would later be canonized.[34]

Much of the debate hinged on the difference between being "born" or "created" and being "begotten". Arians saw these as essentially the same; followers of Alexander did not. The exact meaning of many of the words used in the debates at Nicea were still unclear to speakers of other languages. Greek words like "essence" (ousia), "substance" (hypostasis), "nature" (physis), "person" (prosopon) bore a variety of meanings drawn from pre-Christian philosophers, which could not but entail misunderstandings until they were cleared up. The word homoousia, in particular, was initially disliked by many bishops because of its associations with Gnostic heretics (who used it in their theology), and because it had been condemned at the 264–268 Synods of Antioch.

Position of Arius (Arianism)

Arius maintained that the Son of God was a Creature, made from nothing; and that he was God's First Production, before all ages. And he argued that everything else was created through the Son. Thus, said the Arians, only the Son was directly created and begotten of God; and therefore there was a time that He had no existence. Arius believed the Son Jesus was capable of His own free will of right and wrong, and that "were He in the truest sense a son, He must have come after the Father, therefore the time obviously was when He was not, and hence He was a finite being,"[35] and was under God the Father. The Arians appealed to Scripture, quoting verses such as John 14:28: "the Father is greater than I", and also Colossians 1:15: "Firstborn of all creation."

Position of St. Alexander (Homoousianism)

Homoousians countered the Arians' argument, saying that the Father's fatherhood, like all of his attributes, is eternal. Thus, the Father was always a father, and that the Son, therefore, always existed with him. Homoousians believed that to follow the Arian view destroyed the unity of the Godhead, and made the Son unequal to the Father, in contravention of the Scriptures ("I and the Father are one"; John 10:30). Further on it says "That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me"; John 17:21.

The Homoiousian compromise proposal

The Homoiousians proposed that God and the Son were alike, but not the same, in substance. This compromise position did not gain much support and eventually the idea was dropped.

Result of the debate

The Council declared that the Father and the Son are of the same substance and are co-eternal, basing the declaration in the claim that this was a formulation of traditional Christian belief handed down from the Apostles. Under Constantine's influence,[36] this belief was expressed by the bishops in what would be known thereafter as the Nicene Creed.

The Nicene Creed

Icon depicting the Emperor Constantine and the bishops of the First Council of Nicea (325) holding the Niceno–Constantinopolitan Creed of 381.

One of the projects undertaken by the Council was the creation of a Creed, a declaration and summary of the Christian faith. Several creeds were already in existence; many creeds were acceptable to the members of the council, including Arius. From earliest times, various creeds served as a means of identification for Christians, as a means of inclusion and recognition, especially at baptism. In Rome, for example, the Apostles' Creed was popular, especially for use in Lent and the Easter season. In the Council of Nicea, one specific creed was used to define the Church's faith clearly, to include those who professed it, and to exclude those who did not.

Some distinctive elements in the Nicene Creed, perhaps from the hand of Hosius of Cordova, were added. Some elements were added specifically to counter the Arian point of view.[37]

  1. Jesus Christ is described as "God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God," proclaiming his divinity.
  2. Jesus Christ is said to be "begotten, not made", asserting his co-eternalness with God, and confirming it by stating his role in the Creation. Basically, they were saying that Jesus was God, and God's son, not a creation of God.
  3. He is said to be "one in being with The Father," in direct opposition to Arianism. Eusebius of Caesarea ascribes the term homoousios, or consubstantial, i.e., "of the same substance" (of the Father), to Constantine who, on this particular point, may have chosen to exercise his authority.

Of the third article only the words "and in the Holy Spirit" were left; the original Nicene Creed ended with these words. Then followed immediately the canons of the council. Thus, instead of a baptismal creed acceptable to both the homoousian and Arian parties, as proposed by Eusebius, the council promulgated one which was unambiguous in the aspects touching upon the points of contention between these two positions, and one which was incompatible with the beliefs of Arians.

The text of this profession of faith is preserved in a letter of Eusebius to his congregation, in Athanasius, and elsewhere. Although the most vocal of anti-Arians, the Homoousians (from the Koine Greek word translated as "of same substance" which was condemned at the Council of Antioch in 264–268), were in the minority, the Creed was accepted by the council as an expression of the bishops' common faith and the ancient faith of the whole Church.

Bishop Hosius of Cordova, one of the firm Homoousians, may well have helped bring the council to consensus. At the time of the council, he was the confidant of the emperor in all Church matters. Hosius stands at the head of the lists of bishops, and Athanasius ascribes to him the actual formulation of the creed. Great leaders such as Eustathius of Antioch, Alexander of Alexandria, Athanasius, and Marcellus of Ancyra all adhered to the Homoousian position.

In spite of his sympathy for Arius, Eusebius of Caesarea adhered to the decisions of the council, accepting the entire creed. The initial number of bishops supporting Arius was small. After a month of discussion, on June 19, there were only two left: Theonas of Marmarica in Libya, and Secundus of Ptolemais. Maris of Chalcedon, who initially supported Arianism, agreed to the whole creed. Similarly, Eusebius of Nicomedia and Theognis of Nice also agreed, except for the certain statements.

The Emperor carried out his earlier statement: everybody who refused to endorse the Creed would be exiled. Arius, Theonas, and Secundus refused to adhere to the creed, and were thus exiled to Illyria, in addition to being excommunicated. The works of Arius were ordered to be confiscated and consigned to the flames while all persons found possessing them were to be executed.[13] Nevertheless, the controversy continued in various parts of the empire.

The Creed was amended to a new version by the First Council of Constantinople in 381.

Separation of Easter computation from Jewish calendar

Table of dates of Easter 2001–2020
(In Gregorian dates)
Year Astronomical
full moon
(Sunday after full moon)
2001 April 8 April 15 April 15 April 15 April 8
2002 March 28 March 31 March 31 May 5 March 28
2003 April 16 April 20 April 20 April 27 April 17
2004 April 5 April 11 April 11 April 11 April 6
2005 March 25 March 27 March 27 May 1 April 24
2006 April 13 April 16 April 16 April 23 April 13
2007 April 2 April 8 April 8 April 8 April 3
2008 March 21 March 23 March 23 April 27 April 20
2009 April 9 April 12 April 12 April 19 April 9
2010 March 30 April 4 April 4 April 4 March 30
2011 April 18 April 24 April 24 April 24 April 19
2012 April 6 April 8 April 8 April 15 April 7
2013 March 27 March 31 March 31 May 5 March 26
2014 April 15 April 20 April 20 April 20 April 15
2015 April 4 April 5 April 5 April 12 April 4
2016 March 23 March 27 March 27 May 1 April 23
2017 April 11 April 16 April 16 April 16 April 11
2018 March 31 April 1 April 1 April 8 March 31
2019 March 21 March 24 April 21 April 28 April 20
2020 April 8 April 12 April 12 April 19 April 9

The feast of Easter is linked to the Jewish Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread, as Christians believe that the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus occurred at the time of those observances.

As early as Pope Sixtus I, some Christians had set Easter to a Sunday in the lunar month of Nisan. To determine which lunar month was to be designated as Nisan, Christians relied on the Jewish community. By the later 3rd century some Christians began to express dissatisfaction with what they took to be the disorderly state of the Jewish calendar. They argued that contemporary Jews were identifying the wrong lunar month as the month of Nisan, choosing a month whose 14th day fell before the spring equinox.[38] Christians, these thinkers argued, should abandon the custom of relying on Jewish informants and instead do their own computations to determine which month should be styled Nisan, setting Easter within this independently computed, Christian Nisan, which would always locate the festival after the equinox. They justified this break with tradition by arguing that it was in fact the contemporary Jewish calendar that had broken with tradition by ignoring the equinox, and that in former times the 14th of Nisan had never preceded the equinox.[39] Others felt that the customary practice of reliance on the Jewish calendar should continue, even if the Jewish computations were in error from a Christian point of view.[40]

The controversy between those who argued for independent computations and those who argued for continued reliance on the Jewish calendar was formally resolved by the Council, which endorsed the independent procedure that had been in use for some time at Rome and Alexandria. Easter was henceforward to be a Sunday in a lunar month chosen according to Christian criteria—in effect, a Christian Nisan—not in the month of Nisan as defined by Jews. Those who argued for continued reliance on the Jewish calendar (called "protopaschites" by later historians) were urged to come around to the majority position. That they did not all immediately do so is revealed by the existence of sermons,[41] canons,[42] and tracts[43] written against the protopaschite practice in the later 4th century.

These two rules, independence of the Jewish calendar and worldwide uniformity, were the only rules for Easter explicitly laid down by the Council. No details for the computation were specified; these were worked out in practice, a process that took centuries and generated a number of controversies. (See also Computus and Reform of the date of Easter.) In particular, the Council did not decree that Easter must fall on Sunday. This was already the practice almost everywhere.[44] Nor did the Council decree that Easter must never coincide with Nisan 15 (the first Day of Unleavened Bread, now commonly called "Passover") in the Hebrew calendar. By endorsing the move to independent computations, the Council had separated the Easter computation from all dependence, positive or negative, on the Jewish calendar. The "Zonaras proviso", the claim that Easter must always follow Nisan 15 in the Hebrew calendar, was not formulated until after some centuries. By that time, the accumulation of errors in the Julian solar and lunar calendars had made it the de-facto state of affairs that Julian Easter always followed Hebrew Nisan 15.[45]

"At the council we also considered the issue of our holiest day, Easter, and it was determined by common consent that everyone, everywhere should celebrate it on one and the same day. For what can be more appropriate, or what more solemn, than that this feast from which we have received the hope of immortality, should be kept by all without variation, using the same order and a clear arrangement? And in the first place, it seemed very unworthy for us to keep this most sacred feast following the custom of the Jews, a people who have soiled their hands in a most terrible outrage, and have thus polluted their souls, and are now deservedly blind. Since we have cast aside their way of calculating the date of the festival, we can ensure that future generations can celebrate this observance at the more accurate time which we have kept from the first day of the passion until the present time...."

Emperor Constantine, following the Council of Nicaea[46]

Meletian schism

The suppression of the Meletian schism, an early breakaway sect, was another important matter that came before the Council of Nicea. Meletius, it was decided, should remain in his own city of Lycopolis in Egypt, but without exercising authority or the power to ordain new clergy; he was forbidden to go into the environs of the town or to enter another diocese for the purpose of ordaining its subjects. Melitius retained his episcopal title, but the ecclesiastics ordained by him were to receive again the Laying on of hands, the ordinations performed by Meletius being therefore regarded as invalid. Clergy ordained by Meletius were ordered to yield precedence to those ordained by Alexander, and they were not to do anything without the consent of Bishop Alexander.[47]

In the event of the death of a non-Meletian bishop or ecclesiastic, the vacant see might be given to a Meletian, provided he was worthy and the popular election were ratified by Alexander. As to Meletius himself, episcopal rights and prerogatives were taken from him. These mild measures, however, were in vain; the Meletians joined the Arians and caused more dissension than ever, being among the worst enemies of Athanasius. The Meletians ultimately died out around the middle of the fifth century.

Promulgation of canon law

The council promulgated twenty new church laws, called canons, (though the exact number is subject to debate[48]), that is, unchanging rules of discipline. The twenty as listed in the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers are as follows:[49]

1. prohibition of self-castration
2. establishment of a minimum term for catechumen (persons studying for baptism)
3. prohibition of the presence in the house of a cleric of a younger woman who might bring him under suspicion (the so called virgines subintroductae)
4. ordination of a bishop in the presence of at least three provincial bishops and confirmation by the Metropolitan bishop
5. provision for two provincial synods to be held annually
6. exceptional authority acknowledged for the patriarchs of Alexandria, Antioch, and Rome (the Pope), for their respective regions
7. recognition of the honorary rights of the see of Jerusalem
8. provision for agreement with the Novatianists, an early sect
9–14. provision for mild procedure against the lapsed during the persecution under Licinius
15–16. prohibition of the removal of priests
17. prohibition of usury among the clergy
18. precedence of bishops and presbyters before deacons in receiving the Eucharist (Holy Communion)
19. declaration of the invalidity of baptism by Paulian heretics
20. prohibition of kneeling on Sundays and during the Pentecost (the fifty days after Easter). Standing was the normative posture for prayer at this time, as it still is among the Eastern Christians.[50]

On July 25, 325, in conclusion, the fathers of the council celebrated the Emperor's twentieth anniversary. In his farewell address, Constantine informed the audience how averse he was to dogmatic controversy; he wanted the Church to live in harmony and peace. In a circular letter, he announced the accomplished unity of practice by the whole Church in the date of the celebration of Christian Passover (Easter).

Effects of the Council

The long-term effects of the Council of Nicea were significant. For the first time, representatives of many of the bishops of the Church convened to agree on a doctrinal statement. Also for the first time, the Emperor played a role, by calling together the bishops under his authority, and using the power of the state to give the Council's orders effect.

In the short-term, however, the council did not completely solve the problems it was convened to discuss and a period of conflict and upheaval continued for some time. Constantine himself was succeeded by two Arian Emperors in the Eastern Empire: his son, Constantius II and Valens. Valens could not resolve the outstanding ecclesiastical issues, and unsuccessfully confronted St. Basil over the Nicene Creed.[51] Pagan powers within the Empire sought to maintain and at times re-establish paganism into the seat of the Emperor (see Arbogast and Julian the Apostate). Arians and Meletians soon regained nearly all of the rights they had lost, and consequently, Arianism continued to spread and to cause division in the Church during the remainder of the fourth century. Almost immediately, Eusebius of Nicomedia, an Arianst bishop and cousin to Constantine I, used his influence at court to sway Constantine's favor from the orthodox Nicene bishops to the Arians. Eustathius of Antioch was deposed and exiled in 330. Athanasius, who had succeeded Alexander as Bishop of Alexandria, was deposed by the First Synod of Tyre in 335 and Marcellus of Ancyra followed him in 336. Arius himself returned to Constantinople to be readmitted into the Church, but died shortly before he could be received. Constantine died the next year, after finally receiving baptism from Arian Bishop Eusebius of Nicomedia, and "with his passing the first round in the battle after the Council of Nicea was ended."[52]


The Biblical Canon

A number of erroneous views have been stated regarding the council's role in establishing the Biblical Canon. In fact, there is no record of any discussion of the Biblical Canon at the council at all.[53][54] The development of the Biblical Canon took centuries, and was nearly complete (with exceptions known as the Antilegomena) by the time the Muratorian fragment was written, perhaps as early as 150 years before the council, but more likely in the 4th century, specifically at the Council of Carthage in 397. In 331 Constantine commissioned fifty Bibles for the Church of Constantinople, but little else is known, though it has been speculated that this may have provided motivation for canon lists. In Jerome's Prologue to Judith[55][56][57] he claims that the Book of Judith was "found by the Nicene Council to have been counted among the number of the Sacred Scriptures".

The Trinity

The council of Nicea dealt primarily with the issue of the deity of Christ. Over a century earlier the use of the term "Trinity" ("trinitas" in Latin) could be found in the writings of Origen (185-254) and Tertullian (160-220),[58] and a general notion of a "divine three", in some sense, was expressed in the second and third-century writings of Polycarp, Ignatius, and Justin Martyr.[59] But the doctrine in a more full-fledged form was not formulated until the Council of Constantinople in 360 AD.[60]

The Role of Constantine

While Constantine wanted a unified church after the council for political reasons, he did not force the Homoousian view of Christ's nature on the council, nor commission a Bible at the council that omitted books he did not approve of, although he did later commission Bibles. In fact, Constantine had little theological understanding of the issues at stake, and did not particularly care which view of Christ's nature prevailed so long as it resulted in a unified church.[61] This can be seen in his initial acceptance of the Homoousian view of Christ's nature, only to abandon the belief several years later for political reasons; under the influence of Eusebius of Nicomedia and others.[61]

The Role of the Bishop of Rome

Roman Catholics assert that idea of Christ's deity was ultimately confirmed by the Bishop of Rome, and that it was this confirmation that gave the council its influence and authority. In support of this they cite the position of early fathers and their expression of the need for all churches to agree with Rome (see Ireneaus, Adversus Haereses III:3:2).

However, Protestants and Eastern Orthodox do not believe the Council viewed the Bishop of Rome as the jurisdictional head of Christendom or someone having authority over other bishops attending the Council. In support of this they cite Canon 6, where the Roman Bishop could be seen as simply one of several influential leaders, but not one who had jurisdiction over other bishops in other regions.

"Let the ancient customs in Egypt, Libya, and Pentapolis prevail: that the Bishop of Alexandria have jurisdiction in all these, since the like is customary for the Bishop of Rome also. Likewise in Antioch and the other provinces, let the Churches retain their privileges..."[62]

According to Protestant theologian Philip Schaff, "The Nicene fathers passed this canon not as introducing anything new, but merely as confirming an existing relation on the basis of church tradition; and that, with special reference to Alexandria, on account of the troubles existing there. Rome was named only for illustration; and Antioch and all the other eparchies or provinces were secured their admitted rights. The bishoprics of Alexandria, Rome, and Antioch were placed substantially on equal footing"[63]

There is however, an alternate Roman Catholic interpretation of the above 6th canon proposed by Fr. James F. Loughlin in contradistinction to the above interpretation; an interpretation which is in line with the above reference from Ireneaus. It involves 5 different arguments "drawn respectively from the grammatical structure of the sentence, from the logical sequence of ideas, from Catholic analogy, from comparison with the process of formation of the Byzantine Patriarchate, and from the authority of the ancients"[64] in favor of an alternative understanding of the canon. The understanding of the canon according to Fr. Loughlin can be summarized as follows: "Let the Bishop of Alexandria continue to govern these provinces, because this is also the Roman Pontiff's custom; that is, because the Roman Pontiff, prior to any synodical enactment, has repeatedly recognized the Alexandrian Bishop's authority over this tract of country".[64] According to this interpretation, the canon shows the role the Bishop of Rome had when he, by his authority, confirmed the jurisdiction of the other patriarchs- an interpretation which is in line with the Roman Catholic understanding of the Pope.


Primary sources



  1. ^ - Council of Nicaea
  2. ^ a b c The Seven Ecumenical Councils:112-114
  3. ^ a b The Seven Ecumenical Councils:39
  4. ^ a b The Seven Ecumenical Councils:44-94
  5. ^ a b c Richard Kieckhefer (1989). "Papacy". Dictionary of the Middle Ages. ISBN 0-684-18275-0.
  6. ^ The very first church council is recorded in the book of Acts chapter 15 regarding circumcision.
  7. ^ Wikisource-logo.svg "First Council of Nicea" in the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia.
  8. ^ "Council of Nicea in the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica". Retrieved march 14, 2010. 
  9. ^ Newman, A. H.. A Manual of Church History, D.D.LL.D., Vol. I. p. 330. "Describing the proceedings of the Nicene Council: "Eusebius of Caesarea then proposed an ancient Palestinian creed, which acknowledged the divine nature of Christ in general biblical terms. The emperor had already expressed a favorable opinion of this creed. The Arians were willing to subscribe to it, but this latter fact made the Athanasian party suspicious. They wanted a creed that no Arian could subscribe, and insisted on inserting the term identical in substance." (Emphasis added)." 
  10. ^ Winkelmann, F, ed (1975) (in Greek). Vita Constantini. Berlin, DE: Akademie-Verlag. 
  11. ^ Ninety Bishops of Egypt and Libya, including Athanasius. Schaff, Philip; Knight, Kevin. eds. Ad Afros Epistola Synodica. Archibald Robertson (transl.). Buffalo, NY yourMOM911. 
  12. ^ The Seven Ecumenical Councils:292-294
  13. ^ a b "§ 120. The Council of Nicea, 325". Schaff's History of the Christian Church, Volume III, Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity,. "Only two Egyptian bishops, Theonas and Secundus, persistently refused to sign, and were banished with Arius to Illyria. The books of Arius were burned and his followers branded as enemies of Christianity." 
  14. ^ The Seven Ecumenical Councils:114
  15. ^ Carroll, 10
  16. ^ a b c d e Carroll, 11
  17. ^ a b Carroll, 12
  18. ^ Eusebius of Caesaria. "Life of Constantine (Book III)". pp. Chapter 9. Retrieved 2006-05-08. 
  19. ^ Ad Afros Epistola Synodica 2
  20. ^ Theodoret H.E. 1.7
  21. ^ H.E. 1.8
  22. ^ H.E. 3.31
  23. ^ Contra Constantium
  24. ^ Chronicon
  25. ^ a b c d Atiya, Aziz S.. The Coptic Encyclopedia. New York:Macmillan Publishing Company, 1991. ISBN 0-02-897025-X.
  26. ^ [1] "Tremithus — From the Catholic Encyclopedia", Retrieved 2011-11-14
  27. ^ [2] "The Life of St Spyridon — St Spyridon - Australia", Retrieved 2011-11-14
  28. ^ Philostorgius, in Photius, Epitome of the Ecclesiastical History of Philostorgius, book 1, chapter 9.
  29. ^ Philostorgius, in Photius, Epitome of the Ecclesiastical History of Philostorgius, book 1, chapter 9.
  30. ^ Eusebius, The Life of the Blessed Emperor Constantine, Book 3, Chapter 10.
  31. ^ Original lists of attendees can be found in Patrum Nicaenorum nomina Latine, Graece, Coptice, Syriace, Arabice, Armeniace, ed. Henricus Gelzer, Henricus Hilgenfeld, Otto Cuntz. 2nd edition. (Stuttgart: Teubner, 1995)
  32. ^  "Arianism". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913. : "And a new party had arisen, the strict and pious Homoiousians, not friends of Athanasius, nor willing to subscribe to the Nicene terms, yet slowly drawing nearer to the true creed and finally accepting it. In the councils which now follow these good men play their part."
  33. ^ "Babylon the Great Has Fallen!" - God's Kingdom Rules! - Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., 1963, pg 477
  34. ^ Bishop Nicholas Loses His Cool at the Council of Nicea. From the St. Nicholas center. See also St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, from the website of the Orthodox Church in America. Retrieved on 2010-02-02.
  35. ^ M'Clintock and Strong's Cyclopedia, Volume 7, page 45a
  36. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica, 1971, Volume 6, page 386
  37. ^ Loyn, H. R. (1989). The Middle Ages: A Concise Encyclopædia. London: Thames and Hudson, Ltd.. p. 240. ISBN 0-500-27645-5. 
  38. ^ "Those who place [the first lunar month of the year] in [the twelfth zodiacal sign before the spring equinox] and fix the Paschal fourteenth day accordingly, make a great and indeed an extraordinary mistake", Anatolius of Laodicea, quoted in Eusebius, Church History 7.32.
  39. ^ "On the fourteenth day of [the month], being accurately observed after the equinox, the ancients celebrated the Passover, according to the divine command. Whereas the men of the present day now celebrate it before the equinox, and that altogether through negligence and error", Peter, Bishop of Alexandria, quoted in the Chronicon Paschale
  40. ^ A version of the Apostolic Constitutions used by the sect of the Audiani advised: "Do not do your own computations, but instead observe Passover when your brethren from the circumcision do. If they err [in the computation], it is no matter to you...." Epiphanius, Panarion 3.1.10 (Heresy #70, 10,1), PG 42,355-360. Frank Williams, ed., The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis Books II and III, Leiden, E.J. Brill, 1994, p. 412. Also quoted in Margaret Dunlop Gibson, The Didascalia Apostolorum in Syriac, London, 1903, p. vii.
  41. ^ St. John Chrysostom, "Against those who keep the first Passover", in Saint John Chrysostom: Discourses against Judaizing Christians, translated by Paul W. Harkins, Washington, D.C., 1979, p. 47ff.
  42. ^ Apostolic Canon 7: If any bishop, presbyter, or deacon shall celebrate the holy day of Easter before the vernal equinox with the Jews, let him be deposed. A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series, Volume 14: The Seven Ecumenical Councils, Eerdmans, 1956, p. 594
  43. ^ Epiphanius of Salamis, "Against the Audians", Panairion 3.1 (Heresy #70), PG 42, 339. Frank Williams, ed., The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis Books II and III, Leiden, 1994, p. 402.
  44. ^ The Quartodeciman practice recorded by Eusebius in the late 2nd century, if it still existed at the time of the Council, is not known to have been followed outside the Roman Province of Asia. The Pepuzites, or "solar quartodecimans", held Easter on the Sunday falling in the week of April 6th, Sozomen, Church History, 7.18.
  45. ^ Peter L'Huillier, The Church of the Ancient Councils, St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, Crestwood, 1996, p. 25.
  46. ^ "Emperor Constantine to All Churches Concerning the Date of Easter". 2010-01-23. Retrieved 2011-08-20. 
  47. ^ Wikisource-logo.svg "Meletius" in the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia.
  48. ^ "Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series II, Vol. XIV, Excursus on the Number of the Nicene Canons". Early Church Fathers. Retrieved 2006-05-08. 
  49. ^ "Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series II, Vol. XIV, The Canons of the 318 Holy Fathers Assembled in the City of Nice (sic), in Bithynia.". Early Church Fathers. Retrieved 2006-05-08. 
  50. ^ In time, Western Christianity adopted the term Pentecost to refer to the last Sunday of Eastertide, the fiftieth day. For the exact text of the prohibition of kneeling, in Greek and in English translation, see canon 20 of the acts of the council.
  51. ^ "Heroes of the Fourth Century". 
  52. ^ Leo Donald Davis, S.J., "The First Seven Ecumenical Councils (325-787)", 77, ISBN 0-8146-5616-1
  53. ^ Ehrman, Bart. Fact and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code, pp. 15-16, 23, 93
  54. ^ Nicea Myths: Common Fables About The Council of Nicea and Constantine. Retrieved on 2010-08-20.
  55. ^ [3]
  56. ^ CCEL.ORG: Schaff's Nicene and Post=Nicene Fathers: Jerome: Prologue to Tobit and Judith
  57. ^  "Book of Judith". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913. : Canonicity: "..."the Synod of Nicaea is said to have accounted it as Sacred Scripture" (Praef. in Lib.). It is true that no such declaration is to be found in the Canons of Nicaea, and it is uncertain whether St. Jerome is referring to the use made of the book in the discussions of the council, or whether he was misled by some spurious canons attributed to that council"
  58. ^ "Early Trinitarian Quotes | Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry". 2010-07-14. Retrieved 2010-08-20. 
  59. ^ "The Nicene Creed". Retrieved 2010-08-20. 
  60. ^ Zenos' translated edition of Socrates Scholasticus, Church History, book 2, chapter 41.
  61. ^ a b "What Really Happened at Nicea?". Retrieved 2010-08-20. 
  62. ^ Prof. John P. Adams, Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures (2010-01-24). "The Ecumenical Council, Nicea A.D. 325". Retrieved 2010-08-20. 
  63. ^ Schaff, Philip. History of the Christian Church, vol. 3, pp. 275-276
  64. ^ a b Fr. James F. Loughlin. American Catholic Quarterly Review (volume 5, 1880), pages 220-239 -- copyright (c) 1997, Classica Media, Inc

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