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1st Ecumenical Council

Commemoration of the 1st Ecumenical Council in Nicea


May 29

NOTE:  It is important to know that a few years before the First Ecumenical Council met, in 319, the Arians proclaimed that “There was a time when the son was not”.  They were suggesting that Jesus was not God when he was a child, but rather a creature.  This powerful statement split the church in two. 

In 325 AD, Constantine the Great was emperor of Rome.  He had recently legalized Christianity, so the religion was flourishing.  Because Christianity was no longer being persecuted, the Christians began to settle and live together.  Unfortunately there were still quarrels among the Christians, which upset Constantine.   

Constantine liked getting involved with the Church’s matters, and after creating the first of many laws, which gave liberty to Christians, he was called to resolve a quarrel between the Africans and the complaining Donatists.  One of the Donatists was a priest named Arius from Alexandria, Egypt.  He had been proclaiming for years that Jesus had not always been God (see note above).  He was a crafty and intelligent man who tried win over many followers and sway them from the Church’s beliefs.  Bishop Alexander (of Alexandria) excommunicated Arius to rid him from the Church.  Constantine tried to settle the quarrel between the two, but realized it would take a great deal of time and effort.   

Constantine called together a council of all the bishops in the land to settle the dispute as to whether or not Jesus was always God.  So in 325 AD, 319 bishops, many clergy, some laity, and even some heathen philosophers met in Nicea, Bithynia.  (1,800 bishops had been invited to attend but due to poor traveling conditions, only 319 showed)  In general, the bishops were simple men who had never had to argue about their beliefs before.  Their purpose was to present the beliefs that had been passed down and to put them together.  One simple bishop was approached by a philosopher who tried to argue against Christianity.  The bishop, who had no arguing experience, simply stated his creed (his beliefs) which eventually converted the man.  At one point during the council, Bishop Alexander of Alexandria was speaking about the Trinity.  Arius found something confusing about what he said and began arguing.  Arius’ argument was very logical until he stated, “If the Father begat the Son, then he who was begotten had a beginning in existence, and from this it follows there was a time when the Son was not."  Alexander saw the trouble that was to arise and the arguing that was to take place over this new heresy.  One of his deacons, Athanasius, immediately took charge in combating Arius over this issue to strike down the falsehoods.  Athanasius could not be a judge at the council, but he was allowed to speak in front of the clergy.  Alexander and Athanasius tried to get Arius to recognize his heresy by talking with him, begging with him, and even getting a petition of all the bishops against him to get him to change, though he refused.  Eventually Athanasius outwitted Arius and eventually the heretic was condemned.  Bishop Hosius came up with the idea to write down a creed of the beliefs they agreed on.  This is what they wrote:

"We believe in one God. The Father Almighty. Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only begotten, begotten of the Father before all ages. Light of Light; true God of true God; begotten not made; of one essence with the Father, by whom all things were made; who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became man. And He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered, and was buried. And the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father; and he shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead; whose Kingdom shall have no end."

The fathers of the council are always commemorated on the Sunday after the Ascension.