The Council of Nicea is understood by a lot of people as when Jesus became God in Christianity and when the Christian bible was decided on.  It is also seen as a tipping point in history because it happened when the Roman Empire officially began establishing Christianity as the religion of the state.  The importance here, is that knowing important parts of ancient Christian history helps with understanding more about the world's largest religion.  The focus of this discussion will be on history. 

Some of the ideas we are looking at are:

  • What happened at Nicea?
  • Were the books of the Bible decided at on Nicea?
  • What did Christians believe the right books of the bible were before Nicea?
  • Was it the standard belief that Jesus was God before Nicea?
  • Were people who considered Jesus as something different than God accepted as Christians before Nicea?


This is an overflow conversation that was happening on another thread, but is an interesting topic due to a lot of misinformation about this historical event, especially in light of Dan Brown's book.  Archeopteryx and I have different understandings about this council, so we are going to work together to see what we can find out about it here as a team.  This is an overflow conversation that was happening on another thread, but is an interesting topic, due to a lot of misinformation being out there about this historical event.  But anyone can jump in.

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First repost from other thread: Christianity had long accepted the divinity of Christ before Nicea.  It is in very early Christian writings.  There were only 3 bishops of the 300 so at Nicea who sided with Arius.  Nicea didn't settle the books of the Bible either.  That was done later and it was the synods of Hippo and Carthage.  But there is an ancient fragment that shows what people believed called the Muratorian Fragment/muratorian canon  There also are a lot of ancient writings.  Those other gospels are less legitimate than the four which are cited often in ancient writings from the 2nd and 3rd centuries.

What Nicea came up with was to settle the Arian controversy.  Arius was a leader in Alexandria.  It was a massive port city and the ideas he was spreading were picking up traction.  But his position was a philosophical improvement attempt, not a historical tradition.

There was squabbling and pettiness at some of the councils though.  Especially Chalcedon.

I'll actually put the post here so we don't overwhelm people with walls of text before a discussion gets going.  Archaeopteryx and I have our positions below this post, so anyone who reads this should scroll down and read that too.  

Okay, so here is one of the first sources I want to bring to the table because the work has already been done for me.   I knew a good search on the DaVinci Code would pull up some stuff.

This link shows the many early church fathers before Nicea affirming the deity of Jesus.

A real brief summary of the link shows just how overwhelming the understanding was in the Church about the divinity of Jesus..  It also shows how the council of Nicea was largely focused on making a definition that would clarify the Church position while avoiding coming across like any of the known heresies.

There were a lot of break-away sects but they were mostly from break away leaders, while there the history pretty solidly shows that there was a Katholic church that was the dominant and primary source of Christianity (using a K to avoid confusion with Rome's church).

There were other sects, but they didn't really match historical writings.  It seems the early sects of the first century found a way to join together in the first century and form a unified understanding by the second.

    And this is what I replied to John's original post, not the one here on this page - the additions made to John's post may make mine seem strange if it is seen as a direct response to this post of John's.

    Yes John, I'm familiar with the Arian controversy, and don't disagree with that part of what you're saying, but according to many of my sources, there was great dispute among many of the various factions of early Christianity. Some said Yeshua was fully human, and that he was simply imbued with the "Holy Spirit," possibly at his baptism, and given superhuman powers; others said that he was in fact the son of god, and as such, was half-human and half-god; still others said that he was god himself, in the flesh, who popped down here and became human, a) to see what being human was all about, and b) to sacrifice himself to himself for sins committed by imperfect humans, which he could have prevented by creating perfect humans in the first place. Many, who believed Yeshua to actually BE god, were thought by many others to be blasphemous.
    Constantine, with his empire falling apart, hoped (vainly) that religion might help reunite it, and needed everyone to come together on definitions, and thus the Council was convened.
    One of my sources is Christianity Through the Centuries by Earle Cairns, while another is A History of God, by Karen Armstrong.
    Arius, according to Armstrong, did not deny the divinity of Yeshua, but argued that it was blasphemous to think he was divine by nature, and in fact, agreed with Origen in this regard. He advanced another theory, that the universe was created from nothing, whereas even the Priestly Source, who wrote Genesis 1, implied, and Origen and Clement concurred, that it was created from primordial chaos, and it is the Arian ideal that prevails today.
    Early Christian theologists agreed that Yeshua had bridged the gap between god and Man, but how he did it was disputed - Either Yeshua was divine, or he belonged to the created order. Athanasius maintained it was the former, Arius, the latter. In fact, he wrote to then Bishop Alexander that god was, "the only begotten, the only external, the only one without beginning, the only true, the only one who has immortality, the only wise, the only good, the only potentate" (Arius, "Epistle to Alexander"), and cited the prologue of St. John's Gospel, that the "Word," the "Logos," had been with god since the beginning, "Through him all things came to be, not one thing had its being, but through him." Arius insisted that the Logos had been promoted to divine status by god, and that, made Man, the Logos would obey him perfectly, but maintained that Yeshua's divinity was not natural to him, it was conferred by god, and had provided reams of scripture to support his contention.
    Athanasius took the other tack - god, "saw that all created nature, if left to its own principles, was in flux and subject to dissolution. To prevent this and to keep the universe from disintegrating back into nonbeing, he made all things by his very own eternal Logos and endowed the creation with its being" (Athanasius, "Against the Heathen"). He contended that if the Logos were a vulnerable creature, it would be unable to save Mankind from extinction, only he who had created the world, could save it, and that meant that the Logos made flesh must be of the same nature as the Creator.
    According to my sources, when the bishops met at Nicaea in 325, very few shared Athanasius' view, most held to a position somewhere between his and Arius', but Athanasius managed to impose his theology on the delegates, and with Constantine breathing down their necks, only Arius and two of his companions refused to sign the creed. Though they agreed for the first time ever, that the universe had been created ex nihilo, the Bishops also decided that the creator and the redeemer were one.

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,

light from light, true God from true God,

begotten not made,
of one substance (homousion) with the Father,
through whom all things were made,

those things that are in heaven and those things that are on earth,
who for us men and for our salvation came down and was made man,
 rose again on the third day,
ascended into the heavens

and will come

to judge the living and the dead.
And we believe in the Holy Spirit.

While I accept that you are far more knowledgeable than I, and have even saved a number of your posts to use as future sources of information, I have a number of sources that differ with your post, and feel I need to present their points of view as well.

(That last reference would be to the original post)

This is from the other thread as well - I just hope no one is getting confused because of all of the transfers.

It wasn't just on the whim of an emperor, such as Nero fiddling while Rome burned, it was at the insistence of an emperor desperate to find some uniting force to hold his empire together.

Basically, the same motivation prompted the decision to make Yahweh the god of the Israelites, after their emergence from Egypt (if indeed that happened), and the compilation and publication of the Old Testament after the Babylonian Conquest - unification through a shared belief system.

So I think this is going to be good, but I think it should be the one we tackle last.  If we save the urls in our email, then we can link the completed parts of the discussion and make my intro post a summary.

In the immortal words of "Vinnie Barbarino" of "Welcome Back Kotter," "I'm, SO confused --!"

Lol, by the time we are done, we will have a bunch of conclusions that we can summarize.  All I have to do is make the intro post a summary with a later edit.  The email notifications we get have urls we can link in those summaries so that people can see the sources we are using, but not be overwhelmed trying to sort through pages and pages. 

John - granted, I've only just read the first page of the PDF associated with the link you provided above, and further reading may indicate otherwise (unfortunately, I will be under time constraints for the rest of the day, but free tomorrow to resume this), but from what I've read so far, it seems to confirm what I said above about Emperor Constantine (emphasis, mine):

“More than eighty gospels were considered for the New Testament, and yet only a relative few were chosen for inclusion—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John among them…The Bible, as we know it today, was collated by the pagan Roman emperor Constantine the Great” (p. 231).
“In 325 A.D., he [Constantine] decided to unify Rome under a single religion. Christianity…Constantine was a very good businessman. He could see that Christianity was on the rise, and he simply backed the winning horse” (p. 232).
until that moment in history [A.D. 325], Jesus was viewed by his followers as a mortal prophet…a great and powerful man, but a man nonetheless. A mortal…Jesus‟ establishment as „the Son of God‟ was officially proposed and voted on by the Council of Nicea…A relatively close vote at that…Nevertheless, establishing Christ‟s divinity was critical to the further unification of the Roman empire and to the new Vatican power base. By officially endorsing Jesus as the Son of God, Constantine turned Jesus into a deity who existed beyond the scope of the human world, an entity whose power was unchallengeable. This not only precluded further pagan challenges to Christianity, but not the followers of Christ were able to redeem themselves only via the established sacred channel—the Roman Catholic Church” (p. 233).
“Because Constantine upgraded Jesus‟ status almost four centuries after Jesus‟ death, thousands of documents already existed chronicling His life as a mortal man. To rewrite the history books, Constantine knew he would need a bold stroke. From this sprang the most profound moment in Christian history…Constantine commissioned and financed a new Bible, which omitted those gospels that spoke of Christ‟s human traits and embellished those gospels that made him godlike. The earlier gospels were outlawed, gathered up, and burned…Fortunately for historians…some of the gospels that Constantine attempted to eradicate managed to survive. The Dead Sea Scrolls were found in the 1950s hidden in a cave near Qumran in the Judean desert. And, of course, the Coptic Scrolls in 1945 at Nag Hammadi” (p. 234).

Yeah, it is pretty thorough.  It introduces a good summary of the positions it will address.   Personally I think Teabing's assertions are nonsense.  After reading more of the quotes from the 2nd century fathers, you will find out why.  It is also why I take issue with Ehrman and his presentation of pre-nicene Christianity as divided all up into sects.  Perhaps in the 1st century that was the case, but not by the second.  

But no, it is introducing the positions and then it is going to sledgehammer them.  It also goes into Bauer and the Teubingen school.  

John - I got this from your article by Nelson, can you confirm its accuracy?

Aftermath of the Council of Nicea. Arius and his followers were excommunicated and sent into exile. Within a couple of years, however, Constantine became favorable to Arianism. He recalled Eusebius of Nicomedia from exile and eventually appointed him as an advisor. In 327, Constantine made arrangements to reinstate Arius in the church. Arius, however, died before this could take place. On his deathbed in 337, Constantine was baptized by Eusebius of Nicomedia. After Constantine‟s death, Roman Emperors largely sided with Arianism. Nonetheless, the Nicene creed was confirmed by the Council of Constantinople (381) and the Council of Chalcedon (451).

I can't fully, other than that I seem to remember the sucessor to Constantine being an Arian Christian. Note seem. (I haven't checked, because part of this whole thing is discovering stuff together.)   I seem to remember a few Arian emperors before Theodosius.  But I know that Chalcedon was under Theodosius who was not Arian.  It directly states that in the canons of Chalcedon which makes Constantinople have the same level of ecclesiastical authority as Rome that it is the reign of Theodosius.  I also can't remember how many emperors came between that.

So we really need to tread carefully, because the author is citing a council under a Nicene emperor as support for this argument. 

This piece, "The Deification of Jesus According to the Davinci Code," attempts to convince that the assertions made above by Teabing were a result of revisionsm, using as an example, how easy it would be to assert that at the Council of Jamnia (A.D. 90), the Jews convened to fabricate a story of Abraham (if he ever existed) and the deity in which he maintained belief, and their covenant - in other words, Nelson is demonstrating that fabricating a story about the Abe/god covenant (which he is NOT saying happened) would have involved fabricating stories confirming that it did, while rewriting or destroying stories entirely, that maintained that it didn't. Nelson is giving this example - as I understand it - to indicate how easy it would be for Teabing to manufacture a story that Constantine did this, by showing how easy it would be to maintain that the Jews did this at Jamnia. But although it didn't happen at Jamnia, and it happened much closer to 700 BCE than to 90 AD, the truth is, that the Priestly Source did almost EXACTLY that, fabricating some parts of Genesis and rewriting others, to nudge the doctrine over to their point of view! I really can't see that Nelson has made a very solid point here.

You know what? I've already said I'm under a time constraint, maybe it would be better if, rather than going at this piecemeal, I get the things done that need doing, come back and read the entire treatise (while making notes), and come back with an all-inclusive response.

I can see right now, this is not going to be a short discussion --#-o d'oh!


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