Constantine played a huge role in the decision of the Council of Nicaea.

PURPOSE

Nicene Creed
Emperor standing behind the church fathers

This article is one of a series that explains the historical development of the Trinity doctrine.  The main purpose of this series is to show the huge influence which the Roman emperors had on the acceptance of the Trinity doctrine, as opposed to Arianism.  In the fourth century, when Nicene Christology became the official religion of the Roman Empire, the church existed effectively as part of the state and the emperor was, in practice, the head of the church.  Over the course of the following century, Nicene Christology further developed into the Trinity doctrine.  The purpose of the current article is to show, in particular, the influence which the first Christian emperor (Constantine) exerted over the Council of Nicaea in the year 325.

SUMMARY

In the years 313 the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great legalized Christianity.  This was the beginning of the transition of Christianity to become the official religion of the Roman Empire in the year 380.

But soon a disagreement arose in the church with respect Christology—the study of the nature of Christ—between Arius, a minister in Alexandria of Egypt, and the head (bishop) of the church in that city.   Arius’ views spread, causing controversy within the wider church.

In the year 325, Emperor Constantine called an assembly of bishops; the First Council of Nicaea to formulate a single statement of belief with respect to the nature of Jesus Christ.  Nicaea condemned Arius’ doctrine and provided the definition of the relationship between the Father and the Son that is still accepted by most Christians today. 

WHY DID CONSTANTINE CALL THE COUNCIL?

Some think that Constantine was not really a Christian, but he probably was just like us; sinners.  However, his power as emperor aggravated his sins; similar to King David. 

There is a general agreement that Constantine did NOT really understand the arguments in the dispute.

This article proposes that Constantine did not call the Council of Nicaea because he was concerned about the church, but because he was concerned that the controversy may cause a division of the empire. The Roman Empire was very large and consisted of many different and diverse nations.  To maintain unity was a continual struggle, and religion had the potential to unite or divide.

CONSTANTINE CONTROLLED THE COUNCIL DECISION.

The main purpose of this article series is to show that the Roman Emperors controlled and determined the decisions of the church councils. 

In the fourth century, the prestige of the church spiraled upwards.  Constantine’s conversion encouraged many other Roman citizens to become Christians but the church became part of the state and the emperor became the real head of the church.

Constantine did control the Council of Nicaea.  He called the council, presided over it, actively guided the discussions, proposed the key word Homoousios, stepped in to enforce the formula that his advisor Hosius had agreed on with Alexander of Alexandria, exiled all bishops that were not willing to sign the creed and ordered all copies of Arius’ book to be burned, warning to execute those who refused to surrender the Arian’s writings.  “Overawed by the emperor, the bishops, with two exceptions only, signed the creed, many of them much against their inclination” (Britannica).  In this way Constantine played a huge role in the formulation and acceptance of the creed, and consequently, in the eventual development of the Trinity doctrine.

The majority bishops opposed the creed.  The great majority of the Eastern bishops were disciples of Origen. They were uncomfortable with the wording of the creed, particularly the concept put into the creed by Constantine himself; Homoousios.  There was suspicion of this word because of its earlier association with Gnosticism.  The decisions the Council of Nicaea were really the work of a minority, but the support of the emperor ensured that their view was formally adopted.

This supports the main thesis of this series of articles, namely that the decision, whether the church should adopt Nicene Christology or Arianism, was dictated by the emperors.

EVENTS LEADING UP TO NICAEA

FIRST 300 YEARS

An apologist is a person who offers an argument in defense of something controversial. The Church Fathers of the first two or three centuries are called apologists because the church was a persecuted minority, and these theologians had to defend their faith against the Roman authorities.  Many of the apologists died for their faith. 

These church fathers, during the first 300 years of the church’s existence, did not believe that the Son existed as a Person from all eternity.  Many of them viewed the existence the Logos (the Word – Christ, before He became a human being) as consisting of two stages, namely, that the Logos existed from all eternity as an ATTRIBUTE of God and then as a Person alongside God from a specific POINT IN TIME.  That point in time must have been before or at the time of creation, for God created the cosmos THROUGH Him.

Origen of Alexandria (c. 184 – c. 253) was a Christian scholar and theologian who was born and spent the first half of his career in Alexandria. He was a prolific writer.  He wrote roughly 2,000 treatises in multiple branches of theology. He was one of the most influential figures in early Christian theology and has been described as “the greatest genius the early church ever produced.”  As explained below, one of the three parties at Nicaea represented his view.

Origen rejected the two-stage theory and maintained the eternal generation of the Son, which means that the Son existed at all times.  However, to remain strictly monotheistic, he explained the Son and the Holy Spirit as SUBORDINATE to the Father, who alone was true god; God in the strict sense. 

CHRISTIANITY LEGALIZED

The Diocletianic Persecution of 303-313 was the most severe persecution of Christians up to that point in history.  The Roman Emperor Constantine the Great (reigned AD 306–337) legalized Christianity in 313 with the Edict of Milan.  He granted to Christians “the right of open and free observance of their worship.” This was a turning point for Christianity.  During Constantine’s reign, Christianity began to transition to become the official religion of the Roman Empire in the year 380 (see Constantine).

ARIUS

But soon a disagreement arose with respect Christology—the study of the nature of Christ—between Arius (c. 250–336), a minister (presbyter or priest) in Alexandria of Egypt, and the head (bishop) of the church in that city.   This was centuries before the rise of Islam, and Alexandria was one of the leading centers of Christian thinking. 

Around the year 318, his bishop removed Arius from office and in 321 a synod at Alexandria denounced Arius for teaching a heterodox view of Jesus Christ.  But Arius had influence in the schools of Alexandria as well in the wider eastern Empire.  He began to write letters and to teach in other ways.  His views spread, resulting in a controversy within the wider church, especially in the eastern Mediterranean, which is where Christianity originated, with Jerusalem, Antioch, and Alexandria as main centers.

Although the words Arian and Arianism are derived from Arius’ name, Arius was not the first Arian.  As discussed in the article on Arianism, the main difference between Arianism and the Trinity doctrine (Nicene Christology) is that, in the Trinity Doctrine, Jesus is EQUAL with the Father, while, in Arianism, Jesus is SUBORDINATE to the Father.  With this simple definition of Arianism, all main theologians of the first three centuries were Arians (See Christology of the church fathers).

COUNCIL OF NICAEA

Emperor Constantine called an assembly of bishops; the First Council of Nicaea (Wikipedia; Britannica – Council of Nicaea) in the year 325 to formulate a single statement of belief with respect to the nature of Jesus Christ.  More than 300 bishops (traditionally 318) attended from all over the Roman Empire.  Since the meeting took place only 12 years after the persecutions ended, many of the bishops had previously been exiled or tortured.

The Council of Nicaea condemned Arius’ doctrine and provided the definition of the relationship between the Father and the Son that is still accepted by most Christians today.  For a discussion of the contents of the creed, see Nicene Creed.

WHY CONSTANTINE CALLED THE COUNCIL

BIBLE.CA contends that anti-Trinitarians falsely claim that Constantine was a pagan sun-worshipper who had no faith in Christ and had no understanding of Christian doctrine. 

WAS CONSTANTINE A CHRISTIAN?

The following are some of the evidence which BIBLE.CA offers to prove that Constantine was a Christian:

The reasons for Constantine’s conversion to Christianity have been much debated. Some believe that it was designed to win the support of the Christians, or a wise act of statesmanship aimed at buttressing the decaying empire. NEITHER VIEW IS VERY LIKELY (Encyclopædia Britannica, 1971, Constantine, Vol. 6, p. 386).

In building the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in 325 on the site where Hadrian had built a temple to Venus, Constantine destroyed and REMOVED EVERY TRACE OF THIS PAGAN IDOLATRY.  He even removed the soil on the site and dumped it far away (Eusebius, The Life of the Blessed Emperor Constantine, book 3, ch 27).

Constantine showed marked favor to Christians, thereby causing a flood of conversions. At the same time, his attitude to his pagan subjects became more severe. He DESTROYED THREE FAMOUS TEMPLES in 331 (Britannica).

Throughout his life, Constantine ascribed his success to his conversion to Christianity and the support of the Christian God. (Encyclopedia Britannica, 1979, Constantine the Great, Vol. 5, p.71)

In the year after the Council of Nicaea, Constantine had both his wife and son murdered (Britannica) which puts a huge question mark behind Constantine’s Christianity.  BIBLE.CA does its utmost to justify those murders.

Conclusion: Constantine probably was just like us.  None of us are without sin and all Christians are supposed to grow to maturity over time.  The point in this article is not that Constantine was a pagan, but that he manipulated the Nicene Council to achieve a predetermined result.

DID CONSTANTINE UNDERSTAND THE DISPUTE?

BIBLE.CA concedes that Constantine had not grappled with the concepts of the Trinity discussion.  The following is further proof of this:

The Arian heresy, couched in difficult Greek … was remote from Constantine’s educational background. The Council of Nicaea had already been preceded by a letter to Arius of Alexandria, in which Constantine stated that THE POINT AT ISSUE WAS TRIVIAL … (Encyclopedia Britannica, 1979, Constantine the Great, Vol. 5, p.71)

NOT UNDERSTANDING the theological points at issue, Constantine first sent a letter to the two parties rebuking them for quarreling about minute distinctions (Britannica).

Constantine had basically NO UNDERSTANDING whatsoever of the questions that were being asked in Greek theology. …  (A Short History of Christian Doctrine, Bernard Lohse, 1966, p51-53)

TO PREVENT A SPLIT OF THE EMPIRE

Constantine called the council TO PREVENT A SPLIT IN HIS EMPIRE.  This may be explained as follows:

The Roman Empire was very large and consisted of many different and diverse nations.  To maintain unity was a continual struggle.  The emperors recognized the potential of religion to either unite or divide the empire.  Before Christianity was legalized, emperors persecuted Christianity and required the pagan ceremonies of showing respect for the gods and for the emperor AS A MEANS TO MAINTAIN UNITY. 

Christianity is different from other religions, for it is based on a large book (the Bible), written by many people over thousands of years.  This book determines Christian doctrine; not human authority; at least in Protestant thinking. However, this large book leaves much scope for different interpretations.  These differences always existed, for example, the Pharisees and Sadducees.  However, after Christianity was legalized, the emperors saw these rifts as threats to the unity in the empire.  Arthur Cushman McGiffert wrote:

“In the hope of securing for his throne the SUPPORT of the growing body of Christians he had shown them considerable favor and it was to his interest to have the church vigorous and united. The Arian controversy was threatening its unity … He therefore undertook to put an end to the trouble. … Constantine himself of course neither knew nor cared anything about the matter in dispute …” (A History of Christian Thought, 1954, Vol. 1, p. 258).

EMPERORS DICTATED CHURCH DOCTRINE.

In the fourth century, the prestige of the church spiraled upwards.  Constantine’s conversion encouraged many other Roman citizens to become Christians, including those who converted only with the hope of advancing their careers.  But this also commenced a period of state interference in church affairs (Britannica).  The church became part of the state, and the emperor became the real head of the church.

EMPEROR MANIPULATED THE NICENE COUNCIL

BIBLE.CA states that anti-Trinitarians falsely claim that Constantine “ran” the Nicene Council.  However, it is true that Constantine manipulated the council.  He called the Council of Nicaea, presided over it, proposed the key word Homoousios (Latin – consubstantial), forced the council to accept this term and exiled all bishops that were not willing to sign the creed.  Constantine, therefore, played a huge role in the formulation and acceptance of the creed, and consequently, in the eventual development of the Trinity doctrine:

The church was faced by a new form of governmental interference when Constantine the Great both CALLED and CHAIRED the Council of Nicaea (Britannica).

“In 325 a Council was CONVOKED by Constantine the emperor” (The Triune God, Edmund J. Fortman, p 66-70)

The Council of Nicaea OPENED with an address by the Emperor (BIBLE.CA).

“Constantine himself PRESIDED, actively GUIDING the discussions, and PERSONALLY PROPOSED . . . the crucial formula expressing the relation of Christ to God in the creed issued by the council . . . OVERAWED by the emperor, the bishops, with two exceptions only, signed the creed, many of them much against their inclination” (Britannica, 1971 edition, Vol. 6, “Constantine,” p. 386).

The decisive catchword of the Nicene confession, namely Homoousios, COMES FROM no less a person than the emperor himself. To the present day, no one has cleared up the problem of where the emperor got the term (A Short History of Christian Doctrine, Bernard Lohse, 1966, p51-53).

Dale Tuggy’s podcast 247 confirms that Constantine himself suggested the term homoousios.

The emperor at first gave the council a free hand but was prepared to step in if necessary to enforce the formula that his advisor Hosius had agreed on with Alexander of Alexandria. (God in Three Persons, Millard J. Erickson, p82-85)

CONSTANTINE EXILED BISHOPS WITH OTHER VIEWS

Of the roughly three hundred bishops in attendance at the Council of Nicaea, only two refused to sign the creed.  This is often mentioned as a great victory for Nicene Christology, but few mention that the emperor exiled all bishops who were not willing to sign the creed.  In other words, the bishops were forced to sign.  Religious liberty is a modern invention.  If they refused to sign, they lost their jobs and were exiled to a remote part of the empire:

“Two bishops who refused to sign the Creed, the Libyan bishops Secundus of Ptolemais and Theonas of Marmarike, were deposed by the Council and exiled by the Emperor” (pp. 162–163, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God: The Arian Controversy, 318–381. 2005).

The Wikipedia page on Theognis of Nicaea indicates that Zopyrus (Bishop of Barca), Eusebius of Nicomedia and Maris of Chalcedon were also exiled.

Constantine exiled Arius himself and the deacon Euzoios; and also all bishops who signed the creed but REFUSED TO JOIN IN CONDEMNATION of Arius, namely Eusebius of Nicomedia and Theognis of Nicaea.  (See Nicaea and Hanson 2005)

This was not the first time that the emperor took sides in religious matters and forced his will through the strong arm of the empire.  One of the first such controversies was with respect to a group in North Africa, later called Donatists.  Synods in 313 and 314 ruled that the Donatist faith was heresy.  When the Donatists refused to recant, the Roman Emperor Constantine launched the first campaign of persecution by Christians against Christians.

The question remains, how many bishops would have voted against the Nicene Creed if this vote was anonymous?  Would they have been willing to sign if the emperor did not intimidate them with the power of the state?

THE MAJORITY BISHOPS OPPOSED THE CREED

BIBLE.CA also states that anti-Trinitarians falsely claim that the majority opposed the Nicene Creed.  However, that website also states as follows:

When Frend says “The great majority of the Eastern bishops found themselves in a false position,” he tells us what that position is: “The great majority of the Eastern clergy were ultimately disciples of Origen. Future generations have tended to dub them “Semi-Arian.” In fact, they were simply concerned with maintaining the traditional Logos-theology of the Greek-speaking Church”

This requires some further elucidation:

TRADITIONAL LOGOS THEOLOGY

The “traditional Logos-theology” is what many in the church believed in the first 300 years, namely that the Son is the pre-existent “Word” (Logos) that created all things, and became the human being Jesus, the Christ.  In this theology, the Son is SUBORDINATE to the Father.  The large number of Origenists at the council must have been uneasy about the Nicene Creed, which made the Son equal to the Father.  It is interesting that the Nicene Creed does not use the term Logos for Christ but the Son.  This is perhaps an indication that the creed is a move away from the traditional Logos-theology.

SEMI-ARIANS

The “Semi Arians” were one of the factions of Arianism that existed during the fifty years after the Nicene Council when the Nicene Creed was rejected and Arianism dominated the Church.  The Semi-Arians accepted the equality and co-eternality of the persons of the Trinity, but rejected the Nicene term homoousios.  They preferred the term homoiousios (similar substance).

THE WORK OF A MINORITY

The following is further evidence that the majority of the council did not agree with the Creed, but only accepted it due to the pressure exerted by the emperor:

The decisions of the Council of Nicaea were really the work of a minority, and they were misunderstood and disliked by many who were not adherents of Arius. In particular, the terms aroused opposition, on the grounds that they were unscriptural, novel and tending to Sabellianism. (Documents of the Christian Church, Henry Bettenson, 2nd Ed 1963, p 41)

Even most of Arius’s allies abandoned him, and as Pelikan says, “saluted the emperor, signed the formula, and went right on teaching as they always had.” (God in Three Persons, Millard J. Erickson, p82-85)

Most of the bishops who were present at the council signed this creed. Among the signers were those who, judging by their theological presuppositions, could not do so, such as Eusebius of Caesarea. What seemed especially objectionable to many bishops was the concept put into the creed by Constantine himself, the homoousios. (A Short History of Christian Doctrine, Bernard Lohse, 1966, p51-53)

HOMOOUSIOS COMES FROM PAGAN SOURCES

The website BIBLE.CA states that anti-Trinitarians falsely claims that Constantine introduced the Trinity doctrine from pagan sources.  However:

Millard J. Erickson (God in Three Persons, p82-85) states (summarized): There was some suspicion of the word homoousios on the part of the orthodox because of its earlier association with Gnosticism and even Manicheism. Even its defenders experienced some embarrassment about this term because of its identification with the condemned ideas of Paul of Samosata.

Kegan Chandler discusses the theories of the origin of the word Homoousios and concludes Constantine obtained it from Egyptian Hermetic sources.

It is, therefore, very likely that Constantine obtained this term from his previous pagan sources.

THE EMPEROR SUPPORTED THE MINORITY

Millard J. Erickson (God in Three Persons, p82-85) explains the pressure applied by the emperor as follows (summarized):

Among those present, three “parties” were discernible:

– Arius and the Lucianists, led by Eusebius of Nicomedia;
– The Origenists, led by Eusebius of Caesarea, already highly reputed; and
Alexander of Alexandria, with his following.

The Lucianists … put forth a rather blunt statement of their beliefs. To their considerable surprise, this was summarily rejected. It was then their hope that the Origenists’ position, which was something of a midpoint between the Arian and the Alexandrian parties, would prevail.

Indeed, the Origenists put forth a creed, which was unanimously pronounced to be orthodox by those present.

Those of the party of Alexander, however, were not fully satisfied. They were FAVORED BY THE EMPEROR and followed the strategy of accepting the Creed of Caesarea while demanding a more precise definition of some of its key terms. THE EMPEROR FAVORED the inclusion of the word homoousios.  The Alexandrian party then presented a carefully worked out statement, which they said was a revised form of the Creed of the Origenists, with certain steps taken to close loopholes that could be interpreted in Arian fashion.

The Origenists had considerable reservation about some elements of the creed, fearing that phrases such as “out of the Father’s substance” and “of the same substance as the Father” could be interpreted in a material sense, could be understood as Sabellian, and were not of biblical origin.

The emperor exerted considerable influence. Consequently, the statement was approved by all except three members of the council.

This supports the main thesis of this series of articles, namely that the decision, whether the church should adopt Nicene Christology or Arianism, was dictated by the emperors. Further articles will show how the emperors determined the further development of the Trinity doctrine.  Later emperors did not participate in the formulation of creeds, as Constantine did, but they decided which formulation will be accepted; often against the majority view in the church.

EMPEROR DESTROYED ARIUS’ WRITINGS

After the Nicene Council, the Emperor ordered all copies of the Thalia, the book in which Arius had expressed his teachings, to be burned, and commanded the death penalty for those who refused to surrender the Arian’s writings:

If any writing composed by Arius should be found, it should be handed over to the flames, so that not only will the wickedness of his teaching be obliterated, but nothing will be left even to remind anyone of him. And I hereby make a public order, that if someone should be discovered to have hidden a writing composed by Arius, and not to have immediately brought it forward and destroyed it by fire, his penalty shall be death. … “Emperor Constantine’s Edict against the Arians”. fourthcentury.com. 23 January 2010.

Constantine burning Arian books, illustration from a compendium of canon law, c. 825.

 

 

 

 

Does the Nicene Creed declare the Son to be fully EQUAL to the Father?

SUMMARY

Analysts often claim that the Nicene Creed declares the Son to be equal with the Father.  However, the creed starts by saying,

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty,
Maker of all things visible and invisible
,”

This identifies the Son as subordinate to the Father in four ways:

      1. If the Father is the “one God” in which we believe, that excludes the Son.
      2. If the Father is Almighty, then the Son is not Almighty, for two Almighty beings is impossible.
      3. The Father/Son terminology also identifies the Son as subordinate to the Father.
      4. The Father is the “Maker of all things.” The creed later adds that all things were made BY the Son, but it remains the Father that made all things.  The Son is the Father’s hands through whom the Father made all things.

The creed makes a fundamental distinction between the Son and the created cosmos by saying that the Son is “begotten, not made;” even the “only Begotten.”   This also implies that the Son is SUBORDINATE to the Father, for He generated (begat) the Son. 

VERY GOD

The creed describes the “one Lord Jesus Christ” as “very God of very God,” but this is an inappropriate translation.  It should read “very god of very god,” for the word in the creed, that is translated “god,” is the common word for the immortal Greek gods.  In contrast, the word “God” is a modern invention, with a very different meaning.

HOMOOUSIOS

The creed adds that the Son was begotten “of the essence of the Father” and is “of one substance with the Father.”  This implies that the Son is equal with the Father in terms of substance or nature or being (ontological equality), but He subordinate to the Father in all other respects.  The Father is the only One who exists without cause and who is the Cause of all things that exist.

NO TRINITY DOCTRINE

The Nicene Creed does not contain the Trinity doctrine, for it does not describe the Holy Spirit as God and there is no mention of the One-ness of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  The issue before the council was not the unity of the Godhead, but the nature of the Son, relative to the Father.

The most famous and the most controversial word in the Nicene Creed is homoousios. It means “of the same substance:” 

In the time before the creed was formulated, this term meant likeness of substance.

Later Catholic theologians interpreted it as ‘identically the same substance.’ In other words, that the Father and Son not only have similar substance; exactly the same substance of the Father is also the substance of the Son.  This implies His numerical identity with the Father. 

But this article proposes that the council did not agree on the meaning of Homoousios.  The emperor himself proposed the term Homoousios and applied pressure on the council to accept this term.  For this reason, different bishops probably chose to interpret the term in different ways.

TEXT OF THE NICENE CREED

The Nicene Creed, according to Wikipedia, reads as follows:

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, begotten of the Father
the only-begotten; that is, of the essence 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 in heaven and on earth];

And in the Holy Ghost.

But those who say:
‘There was a time when he was not;’ and ‘He was not before he was made;’ and
‘He was made out of nothing,’ or ‘He is of another substance’ or ‘essence,’ or
‘The Son of God is created,’ or ‘changeable,’ or ‘alterable’—
they are condemned by the holy catholic and apostolic Church.

IS THE SON SUBORDINATE?

Analysts often claim that this creed declares the Son to be equal with the Father.  In this section, that statement is evaluated and qualified.

The Nicene Creed starts by saying,

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty,
Maker of all things visible and invisible
,”

but later adds

And in one Lord Jesus Christ …
very God of very God

Does this mean that the Son is EQUAL with the Father?

DIFFERENCE BETWEEN God and god

But first, it is important to note, for the discussion of these phrases, that the original language of the creed did not distinguish between upper and lower case letters.  Consequently, the word “God” could actually also be translated as “god.”  There is a huge difference between these two words:

God – “God” is a modern word.  We use it today as the proper name for the “unbegotten,” as the ancients used to say; that is, the One who exists without cause.  The creed (and the New Testament) does not contain any one word that is exactly equivalent to the modern word “God.” 

god – The word which the creed uses is the common title for a Greek god (theos) and simply means a supernatural, immortal being, like the “gods” of the Greek pantheon.  It should be translated as “god,” unless the context indicates or implies that the Unbegotten is intended.

For a further discussion of the words “God” and “god,” see the articles Ignatius of Antioch or Arianism or THEOS.  With this information, the wording of the creed is discussed below:

THE ALMIGHTY FATHER

The creed identifies the Father as “Almighty.” This means that ONLY the Father is “Almighty,” for two “Almighty” beings is impossible.  This also means that the Son is not “Almighty.

The creed also says that “we believe in one god, the father.” (For the reasons above, to more accurately reflect the meaning of the text, capital letters have been converted into small caps.)  That statement means that we do not believe in many gods, but in only one god, and that is the One to whom Jesus referred as “Father.”  It excludes the Son as the “one god” in which we believe.  They are both gods, but only the Father is “Almighty.”  

The Father is the “Maker of all things visible and invisible.”  The New Testament often states that God created all things THROUGH the Son (John 1:3; Col. 1:16; Hebr. 1:2; “by” in 1 Cor. 8:6 – NASB).  The creed similarly says that all things were made BY the Son, but it remains the Father that made all things.  The Son is the Father’s hands through whom the Father made all things.

THE ONLY-BEGOTTEN SON

The Lord Jesus Christ is called “the Son of God” while the Almighty is His “Father.”  On their own, the terms “Son” and “Father,” imply that the Lord Jesus Christ is SUBORDINATE to the Father.

To say that the Son is “very god of very god” (or “true god of true god” in other translations) merely says that both the Father and the Son truly are supernatural, immortal beings.  It is a MUCH LOWER CLAIM that being the Almighty.  It does not even mean that they are the only gods.  Jesus even referred to humans, “to whom the word of God came,” as “gods” (same word – John 10:34-35).  To translate this as “true God of true God” misrepresents the meaning of the creed, for only the Almighty qualifies to be “God” in modern nomenclature.

The creed also says that the Son is “begotten, not made.”  The word “of,” in the phrase, “very god of very god,” is related to this concept.  This also implies that the Son is SUBORDINATE to the Father, for He generated (begat) the Son. 

The creed adds that the Son is the “only Begotten.”  In other words, no other being was “begotten” by the Father.  This implies a fundamental difference between the Son and “all things.”  All things were “made,” according to the Nicene Creed, but only the Son was “begotten.”

The creed adds that the Son was begotten “of the essence of the Father” and is “being of one substance with the Father.”  This is probably derived from the concept that He is begotten, for the Bible does not discuss the substance of the Father or of the Son. 

MADE OUT OF NOTHING

The creed condemns all who say that “He was made out of nothing.”  Since He was begotten, one could perhaps argue that He was made of the substance of the Father.  However, such arguments are dangerous because the Bible says nothing about this and this is not something which humans are able to understand.

Nevertheless, the implication of the Nicene Council is that all other things were made out of nothing.  However, Einstein taught us that things cannot be made out of noting (E=mc2, where E stands for Energy, m for mass and c for the speed of light).  The Father, therefore, did not use other materials to make “all things.”  Rather, all things are brought forth from His own being. He provided from His own being the energy which He converted into the material from which He made all things.  The claim that the Son is the only-begotten, is humanly incomprehensible but sets the Son apart from all other things.

CONCLUSION

On the one hand, the creed identifies the Son as subordinate to the Father:

      1. We believe is only “one god; the Father.”
      2. Only the Father is “Almighty.”
      3. The Lord Jesus is called “Son;” in contrast to the Father.
      4. The Son has been “begotten“ by (generated by) the Father.
      5. The Father made all things through the Son.

On the other hand, the Son is “of one substance with the Father,” which implies that the Son is equal with the Father in terms of substance or nature or being (ontological equality), but He subordinate to the Father in all other respects.  Also bear in mind that this concept, that the Son is of the same substance as the Father, is an interpretation, of the word “begotten,” and is not directly stated as such in the Bible.

We can compare the Father and the Son to a human father and son, who are of the same substance, and say that the human son is subordinate to the human father, but this comparison breaks down, for the Father did not only generate the Son: The Father is also the only One who exists without cause and who is the Cause of all things that exist.

NO TRINITY IN THE NICENE CREED

The Nicene Creed does not contain the Trinity doctrine.  This statement is justified as follows: 

Firstly, in the Trinity doctrine, the Holy Spirit is a separate Person, equal with the Father and the Son, but the Nicene Creed merely and very briefly mentions the Holy Spirit together with the Son and the Father, to indicate a belief in the Triad (three Persons) of Father and Son and Holy Spirit.  It says nothing about the Holy Ghost being “true God” or being of the same substance.

Secondly, in the Trinity doctrine, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one Being, but there is no mention of the One-ness of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the Nicene Creed. 

The Athanasian Creed, formulated more than a century later, expresses the trinity concept explicitly, including with the phrase, “the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity:”

Note: Most often today, we use the word “Trinity” as a SINGULAR REFERRING TERM (meaning that it refers to a single being), for, in the Trinity doctrine, God is One Being, consisting of three Persons.  The word “Trinity” in the Athanasian Creed and in Tertullian and in many other church fathers, in contrast, is actually a PLURAL REFERRING TERM, meaning that it refers to a group of three distinct Beings.  It is, rather, the word “Unity,” in the Athanasian Creed that emphasizes their One-ness.  The word “Trinity” in the Athanasian Creed should, therefore, be rendered with a lower case “t.”

Thirdly, as Millard J. Erickson stated, the issue before the council, it is virtually universally agreed, was not the unity of the Godhead but rather the coeternity of the Son with the Father, and his full divinity, as contrasted with the creaturehood that the Arians attributed to him (God in Three Persons, p82-85).

DOES HOMOOUSIOS MEAN ONE BEING?

This section is adapted from Millard J. Erickson (God in Three Persons, p82-85).

The most famous and the most controversial word in the Nicene Creed is homoousios (consubstantial in Latin). It means “of the same substance” or “of one being.”  The Nicene Creed uses this term to say that the Son is “of one substance” or “of one being” with the Father, namely that He was begotten “from the substance of the Father.”  This is often understood to mean that the Son is fully equal to the Father.  But what did it actually mean to the council? Three possibilities are considered:

SAME TYPE OF SUBSTANCE

If this was the meaning, then the creed says that the Son is utterly unlike creatures in substance, but it does not mean that they share the same substance (numerically the same substance), as required by the Trinity doctrine.  This view is supported by the following:

Firstly, before Nicaea, homoousios meant likeness of substance. This is how Origen and his followers used the term. In that sense, it could signify the kind of substance or stuff common to several individuals of a class.  We could say, for example, that all humans consist of the same substance.

Secondly, if it was used to mean numerical identity of substance, the Eusebians would have identified it as Sabellianism and would have resisted it vigorously. (Sabellianism is the belief that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are THREE DIFFERENT MODES or aspects of God.)

Thirdly, the great issue at Nicaea was the SON’S FULL DIVINITY and not the unity of the Godhead.  The word Homoousios, therefore, would have been understood to signify the Son’s full divinity; His total likeness in substance to the Father and total unlikeness to creatures in substance.

Lastly, later on—after the numerical identity of substance became a standard part of Christology—some orthodox theologians still used the word homoousios in the sense of the same type of substance.

NUMERICALLY (EXACTLY) THE SAME SUBSTANCE

For later Catholic theologians, Homoousios meant ‘identically the same substance’:

The Cappadocian Fathers “made extensive use of the formula “one substance (ousia) in three persons (hypostaseis)” (McGrath, Alister (1998), Historical Theology). 

In other words, the Father and Son not only have a similar substance; exactly the same substance of the Father is also the substance of the Son.  This implies His numerical identity with the Father.  (That they are the same being.)  Arguments that are used for this view include the following:

(a) It would seem to be unnatural” for monotheists to admit two divine ousiai (substances).

(b) Origen used the word to mean SIMILAR SUBSTANCE, but for Origen, the Son was INFERIOR to the Father, (The Triune God, Edmund J. Fortman, p 66-70).  Since the intent of the council was to affirm the Son’s equality with the Father, would they use the word Homoousios with the meaning which Origen attached to it?

(c) If Hosius of Cordova influenced the adoption of the term, would he have failed to indicate to the Nicene Fathers that for him and the West it signified ‘identity of substance’?

In recent years there is a growing tendency to reject the numerical identity view. 

NO AGREEMENT

As discussed in another article, the emperor himself proposed the term Homoousios and exerted pressure on the council to accept the term.  Since there were three different factions at the meeting with three different views, and because of the pressure applied by the emperor, different bishops probably chose to interpret the term in different ways, depending on their theological tendencies (e.g. Marcellan neo-monarchianism or Eusebian subordinationism).  In other words, THE COUNCIL DID NOT AGREE ON THE MEANING OF HOMOOUSIOS.

CONDEMNATIONS

The creed describes certain people that “are condemned by the holy catholic and apostolic Church.”  However, to condemn people with different views is inconsistent with the Christian principles of love and humility.  This is made worse by the fact that the nature of Christ is a humanly incomprehensible subject, and not explicitly taught in the Bible.

Furthermore, people are saved by their faith (trust) in God; not by believing the right doctrines.  The creed makes itself a criterion for the true faith.  All that the Bible requires from believers is stated in John’s summary of his gospel:

These have been written so that you may believe
that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God
;
and that believing you may have life in His name

(John 20:31).

It always amazes me how important Christology became in the fourth century.  Why did the church, in the fourth century, elevate the nature of Christ to be the most important doctrine?  I would like to venture that, during the first 300 years, the enemy of the faith attacked the church from outside, through persecution.  After the church has been legalized in 313, the enemy entered the church.  It was now inside the church and saw in this topic fertile ground for causing division in the church.  He still today uses this topic very effectively for that purpose.

CATHOLIC CHURCH

The condemnations in the creed refer to “the holy catholic and apostolic Church.”  The word “catholic,” here, simply means ‘universal’.  During the 11th century, the East-West schism permanently divided Church. That schism resulted from a dispute on whether Constantinople or Rome held jurisdiction over the church in Sicily, followed by mutual ex-communications in 1054.  Since that event, the Western (Latin) branch of Christianity has since become known as the Catholic Church, while the Eastern (Greek) branch is called the Orthodox Church.  In this way, “Catholic Church” became the name of one particular denomination.  When used as such, the “c” in both ‘catholic’ and “church’ are capitalized; Catholic Church.