Nicaea and the World
The pagan Ammianus Marcellinus said of the councils, “The highways were covered with galloping bishops.” 29
Emperor Theodosius worked hard for the next fifteen years to secure unity of the Faith. During that time he issued fifteen severe edicts against heretics, “especially against those who rejected the doctrine of the Trinity.” 30
“The heretics who made a distinction in the nature of the Son from that of the Father, were declared incapable of either making wills or receiving legacies.” 31 Neither could they hold public office or employment.
A fine of $20,000 was pronounced upon anyone who would receive, promote or ordain a heretic. Any religious meeting of heretics, whether public or private, day or night, in the city or country, were absolutely prohibited. There were also anathemas upon those who would not celebrate Easter on the day appointed by the church. 32
The edicts of Theodosius were far reaching. In his original edict he said that “all his subjects should be Catholic Christians.” 33 Many citizens were pagan who performed their own ceremonies without interfering with other Faiths.
Emperor Gratian, at the insistence of Bishop Ambrose, rejected the pagan title of Pontifex Maximus, which had been borne by all his predecessors. 34
Gratian was killed the following year at the command of Maximus who had been declared Emperor by the troops in Britain and acknowledged in Gaul. Maximus formed a peace treaty with Theodosius, and “the new Emperor Maximus stepped into the place both in Church and State, which had been occupied by Gratian.” 35
Soon after, a bishop by the name of Priscillian and his two presbyters, two deacons, a poet, and the widow of an orator, were condemned as heretics. They appealed to Emperor Maximus. The prosecutors on the case condemned them, and all seven were beheaded. The rest of the bishop’s followers were banished.The union of Church and State was bearing its fruit.
Constantinople had been under Arian leaders for three decades, allowing the few Catholics in the city to meet peacefully in home churches. Gregory of Nazianzen was called to rebuild the Faith in the See of Constantinople. Retiring and sensitive, he dreaded being drawn into a whirlpool of violence. Gregory stayed with a friend who had prepared his house for worship services and began giving sermons on the Trinity to the little group who met in the house. 6
His sermons were very long, but they made clear to his congregation that the Son was totally homoousios with the Father, and while other bishops were arguing over the nature of the Holy Spirit, Gregory had concluded that the Spirit was also homoousios with the Father and the Son.
A small portion of one of his sermons is below relating to the Spirit. “Now the subject of the Holy Spirit presents a special difficulty, not only because when these men have become weary in their disputations concerning the Son, they struggled with greater heat against the Spirit…
But we have so much confidence in the Deity of the Spirit whom we adore, that we will begin our teaching concerning His Godhead by fitting to Him the names which belong to the Trinity, even though some persons may think us too bold. The Father was the True Light which lightens every man coming into the world. The Son was the True Light which lightens every man coming into the world. The other Comforter was the True Light which lightens every man coming into the world. Was and Was and Was, but Was One Thing. Light thrice repeated; but One Light and One God…
What then? Is the Spirit God? Most certainly. Well then, is He Consubstantial? Yes, if He is God… This then, is my position with regard to these things, and I hope it may be always my position, and that of whosoever is dear to me; to worship God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, Three Persons, One Godhead, undivided in honour and glory and substance and kingdom…” 7
Gregory tirelessly lectured on the Nicene Faith, synthesizing Scripture and tradition. It was during this time that Gregory gave his famed ‘Five Theological Orations’ that contained a mature doctrine of the Trinity.
“It was the first time that a doctrine of God as three distinct but inseparable Persons with co-equality was presented without philosophical speculation. Gregory built on the early orthodox teaching of Didymus, Athanasius and Basil, stripping away many of the speculations, natural analogies, and fanciful exegesis.” 8
Gregory made a significant impact on the shape of Trinitarian theology among both Greek and Latin-speaking theologians. “He is remembered as the ‘Trinitarian Theologian’. Much of his theological work continues to influence modern theologians, especially in regard to the relationship among the three Persons of the Trinity.” 9
In fact, he contributed powerfully to the resurrection of the Catholic Faith. 10
Alexandria had always been regarded as second to Rome, but now that Constantinople was an Imperial city, its bishopric began to rival Alexandria.
Bishop Peter, who succeeded Athanasius in Alexandria, sent seven Alexandrians to the cathedral in Constantinople to ordain Maximus, a Nicene bishop. A tumult resulted and the Emperor condemned Maximus.
This action was regarded by the Arian leaders as an act of provocation.
Emperor Theodosius immediately went to Constantinople and summoned Demophilus, the Arian bishop of the city, commanding him to subscribe to the Nicene Creed. If he did not wish to do this, he could surrender the episcopal palace, the cathedral and the city’s 100 churches to the Catholics. 11
Leo's chief aim was to sustain the unity of the Church. He has been called ‘the master builder of the papacy’, and is considered by many to be the first pope in the modern sense of the term. He put the idea of ‘primacy of jurisdiction’ fully into practice, and took the title Pontifex Maximus, ‘chief priest’ or the ‘great bridge builder’. 42
At the insistence of Leo, Emperor Valentinian III, who was now Emperor of the West, was “persuaded…to recognize the primacy of the Bishop of Rome in an edict in AD445.” 43
Valentinian issued a “perpetual edict… commanding all bishops to pay an entire obedience and submission to the orders of the apostolic See.” 44
In AD451, a general council was summoned by Leo at Chalcedon in Bithynia, the largest council held up to that time, numbering 636 bishops.
At the 2nd session, the Imperial commissioner stated that the synod should declare what the true Faith was. Immediately objections arose, ‘This has already been decided by the Fathers at Nice and Constantinople and the 1st of Ephesus.’ 45
The original Nicene Creed was read, and the bishops proclaimed, ‘That is the orthodox Faith’. Next the Creed of Constantinople was read and unanimously endorsed. Two letters from Cyril were read, then Leo’s Tome, a long dogmatic article on the subject of the two natures of Christ. ‘It is the belief of the Fathers. We believe it’, called the bishops.
The 4th session confirmed the decree concerning the Faith, but at the 5th session, Bishop John of Germanicia said, ‘This formula is not good; it must be improved.’ The majority insisted on adopting the formula, however, the commissioners informed the Emperor, who sent a message to say that if it was not adopted, a synod must be held in the West. The majority then called out, ‘We abide by the formula.’
At the 6th session Emperor Marcian was present with his wife. “The Emperor made an appropriate address…”; the decree of Faith was read “and approved by the Emperor…” 46 The Emperor then made the declaration himself: ‘Does this Formula of the Faith express the view of all?’
Six hundred bishops all shout at once, ‘We all believe this.’
‘This is the Faith of the Fathers, the faith of the apostles, the faith of the orthodox.’ 46
Leo officially declared that the doctrinal decrees of the Council of Chalcedon were inspired.
In a letter to Bishop Julian of Cos, Leo wrote, “The decrees of Chalcedon are inspired by the Holy Spirit, and are to be received as the definition of the Faith for the welfare of the whole world.” 47
Then “with joyful acclamations to the Emperor and to the Empress… the proceedings were closed.” 48
The council produced the ‘Chalcedonian Definition’, which affirmed that Christ is “complete in Godhead and complete in humanness, truly God and truly human. He is of one substance [homoousios] with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his humanity.” 49 This “substantially completes the orthodox Christology of the ancient Church.” 50
The decision of Chalcedon was final, but almost immediately there was a major schism over the language of Leo’s Tome. 51 It was accepted by all the Orthodox Churches, except the Copts, the Ethiopians, Syrians, Nestorians, Armenians and Malankara Syrians (Indian Orthodox). These churches refused to accept any decisions made by councils or Papal claims. 52
So much for the ‘Unity of the Faith’….
During the fourth century the Roman Church continued to rise, but not without confusion and bloodshed, even of its own members. When priests, bishops and cardinals were sent to prison, it was rare they came out alive. If two monks entered the cell with a red velvet cushion, the prisoner knew he (or she) had only moments to live. 53
Although Rome’s power was rising, there were still those pesky barbarians. Not until they were destroyed could Rome begin its prophesied dominion and reach its full potential of power.
The death of Constantius “opened the way for the second and permanent victory of the Nicene orthodoxy.” 1
Julian, cousin of Constantius, was now Emperor. He was a pagan, but made a policy of religious neutrality, based on the Edict of Milan. This allowed all who were banished to return to their Sees. Immediately they began to promote the Nicene Creed.
However, Emperor Julian could “not stand Athanasius’ aggressive stance against ‘Arians’ and his international activities beyond the bishop’s Egyptian jurisdiction”, so he banished him again. 2
When Julian died two years later, Jovian, a professor of the Nicene Creed, became Emperor. He had a preference for Athanasius, and invited him to return from his seclusion to meet him in Antioch, Syria. After confirming his Faith with the Emperor, Bishop Athanasius again took up his episcopal seat in Alexandria.
Jovian reigned only eight months, after which Valentinian I was chosen as Emperor. After one month, he invited his brother Valens to rule the Eastern Empire, while he ruled the West. Both Emperors continued a policy of tolerance.
Emperor Valentinian of the West, although believing in the Nicene Creed, allowed all parties to continue unmolested.
Two years later, Valentinian died, and his son Gratian took the throne.
In AD370, Emperor Valens was baptised by an Arian bishop in Constantinople, clearly casting his influence in favour of the Arian Faith. This began the controversy all over again, and “every episcopal vacancy was the occasion of a popular tumult…” 3
The leaders of both parties believed that if they did not reign, they would suffer, so both sought the ascendancy.
In AD373, Athanasius died. He had been a bishop 46 years, the leading figure on the Nicene side of the controversy. His whole life had been zealous for what he believed. Having to face militant Arians made his life bitter, yet his treatment of those he disagreed with theologically was ruthless.
The leadership now fell into the hands of the Cappadocian Fathers – Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory of Nazianzen.
Emperor Valens commanded the Prefect of Egypt to install an Arian prelate as bishop of Alexandria and Bishop Lucius was chosen. Again there was a riot and bloodshed. Nicene Bishop Peter was installed instead. In AD378, Valens was killed in battle.
The next Emperor of the East was Theodosius the Great, a man whose importance for the Church of Rome cannot be underestimated. He intimately linked Church and State to the point in which the Church overruled the Emperors. 4
At the beginning of AD380, Theodosius was baptised by the Bishop of Thessalonica into the Nicene Faith. Immediately he issued an edict.
“It is our pleasure that the nations which are governed by our clemency and moderation, should steadfastly adhere to the religion which was taught by St. Peter to the Romans, which faithful tradition has been preserved, and which is now professed by the Pontiff of Damascus, and by Peter Bishop of Alexandria, a man of apostolic holiness.
According to the discipline of the apostles, and the doctrine of the gospel, let us believe the sole deity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost under an equal majesty, and a pious Trinity.
We authorize the followers of this doctrine to assume the title of Catholic Christians; and as we judge that all others are extravagant madmen, we brand them with the infamous name of ‘heretics’, and declare that their conventicles shall no longer usurp the respectable
appellation of churches. Besides the condemnation of divine justice, they must expect to suffer the severe penalties which our authority, guided by heavenly wisdom, shall think proper to inflict upon them.” 5
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After further discussion, the council came to its conclusion. The Holy Ghost was to be co-glorified and worshipped with the Father and the Son. It fell short of an explicit confession of the deity of the Holy Ghost, but the belief that God is one Being in three Persons was solidified. 18
The Macedonians refused to accept the decision as it contradicted their Semi-Arian belief. They left the council, and the remaining bishops continued to analyse the Nicene Creed.
Many researchers have stated that the Creed of Constantinople was not actually an expansion of the Nicene Creed, but another traditional creed changed to be more like the original one. This is publicly denied.
“The controversial character and the literary form of the Nicene Formula were obviously improved upon, and a fuller statement of apostolic faith was secured by it…. The Second Ecumenical Council (of Constantinople) ended the Arian controversy by approving, with only a few, non-essential changes to the Nicene Creed.” 19
Today the creed of Constantinople is called the Nicene Creed and treated as if it is the original creed of Nicaea. It is also called the Nicene-Constantinople Creed.
The creed is as follows: “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all times (ages), Light from Light, very God from very God, begotten, not created, of the same substance with the Father, by whom all things were made; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, was made man; who was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, suffered and was buried, and the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.
And we believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Life-giver, who proceedeth from the Father; who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified; who spake by the prophets; and in one Holy Catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins. We look for a resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.” 20
This creed carries the whole weight of the original Nicene Creed, to which a Scriptural command has been attached, “Remove not the ancient landmark which thy fathers have set.” Proverbs 22:28. 21
At first it required submission to the Articles of Faith, but as time progressed, the creed’s articles of Faith became the authority, and no one could remain within the communion of the church who denied them.
Seven Canons were also voted at the Council of Constantinople, of which Canon 3 stated that Constantinople would “hold the first rank after the bishop of Rome, because Constantinople is the New Rome.” 22
Unfortunately, the wording caused another dispute. The bishops in the East claimed the Canon said Constantinople was the “first rank” and not second to Rome, and that the New Rome had precedence over Old Rome. 23
Many years later the preamble to the 9th of Justinian’s code made the issue clear. “We therefore decree that the most holy Pope of the elder Rome is the first of all the priesthood, and that the most blessed Archbishop of Constantinople, the new Rome, shall hold the second rank after the holy Apostolic chair of the elder Rome.” 24
After the council, the bishops sent a letter to Theodosius saying, “In obedience to your letters, we met together at Constantinople, and having first restored union among ourselves, we then made short definitions confirming the faith of the Fathers of Nicaea, and condemning the heresies which have risen in opposition to it….” 25
Theodosius accepted the letter and commanded that “all the churches were at once to be surrendered to the bishops who believed in the oneness of the Godhead of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and were in communion with Nectarius of Constantinople; in Egypt with Timotheus of Alexandria; in the East with Pelagius of Laodicea and Diodorus of Tarsus; in proconsular Asia and the Asiatic diocese with Amphilochius of Iconium and Optimus of Antioch [in Pisidia]; in the diocese of Pontus with Helladius of Caesarea, Otreius of Melitene, and Gregory of Nyssa; lastly [in Moesia, Schythia] with Terentius,the bishop of Scythia [Tomi], and with Martyrius, bishop of Marcianople [now Preslaw in Bulgaria]. All who were not in communion with the above-named, should, as avowed heretics, be driven from the church.” 26
The following year (AD382), Emperor Gratian in the West, called a council in Italy. Three bishops in his realm had been accused of being Arians and although they denied it, the matter needed a council to resolve the accusation.
Ambrose, the presiding bishop sent a letter to the three Emperors -- Gratian, Valentinian II (in the West) and Theodosius (in the East) -- with an account of the proceedings, asking them to give the aid of the secular arm in the actual deposition of the condemned. They asked Theodosius to make it impossible for any one of these condemned bishops to disturb the peace. The three bishops complained of being mistreated and confounded with Arians, but the decision was final.
Theodosius called another council in Constantinople. He sent two invitations to Gregory of Nazianzen, but he refused, saying, “I never yet saw a council of bishops come to a good end. I salute them afar off, since I know how troublesome they are.” 27
While at Constantinople, the bishops at the council received a letter from Ambrose of Milan asking them to attend a general council in Rome. Three representatives were sent, with a letter affirming the strict adherence to the Nicene Creed of all at the council in Constantinople.
And so it continued, with one council following another.
After two councils in Constantinople in AD381 and AD382, there was another in AD383, then at Bordeaux in AD384, Treves in AD385, Rome in AD386, Antioch in AD388, Carthage in AD389, Rome again in AD390, Carthage in AD390, Capus in AD391, at Hippo in AD393, Nismes in AD394, and at Constanti-nople again in AD394. 28
In AD385, Bishop Siricius issued a formal decretal, a ruling with legal binding. He was the first to do so. He spoke of the Petrine primacy, warning clergy not to become separated from the apostolic rock upon which Christ built the universal church.
He declared that those who refused to heed his discipline should be expelled by the authority of the apostolic See.
The main innovation of the decretal was that it was “couched in the authoritative style of Imperial edicts, and like them, carrying the force of law.” 36
Emperor Theodosius died in AD395. He was succeeded by his two sons Arcadius and Honorius, by whom the Empire was permanently divided.
The 1st council of Ephesus in AD431 reaffirmed the original Nicene reed, declaring that “It is unlawful for any man to bring forward, or to write, or to compose a different Faith as a rival to that established by the Council of Nicaea.” 37 Many believe this means the creed cannot be changed; others the doctrine of the creed, the consubstantial Trinity.
A second council was held in Ephesus that same year. Bishops arrived over a period of several weeks. While waiting for the other bishops to arrive, they engaged in informal discussions that tended to “exasperate rather than heal their differences.” 38
Two factions were present.
Cyril Bishop of Alexandria and Nestorius patriarch of Constantinople. Nestorius believed there were two natures in Christ, and that Mary could be called the ‘Christ-bearer’ as she bore His humanity. Cyril believed Mary was the ‘God-bearer’, as she bore a divine-human Christ. “Amid much tumult and violence, Cyril was upheld and Nestorius pronounced a heretic.” 39 He was banished.
Flavian, the Patriarch of Constantinople had accused Euchytes, an abbot of Constantinople, “for a mere slip of the tongue”, according to Euchytes. The council discussed as to whether Flavian had acted correctly, and finally 135 bishops signed a Canon to remove him.
“The despotism of the Alexandrian patriarch (Cyril) had oppressed the freedom of debate: the same spiritual and carnal weapons were again drawn from the arsenals of Egypt… and the more formidable monks, whose minds were inaccessible to reason or mercy, besieged the doors of the cathedral… a furious multitude of monks and soldiers, with staves, and swords, and chains, burst into the church; the trembling bishops hid themselves behind the altar, or under the benches, and as they were not inspired with the zeal of martyrdom, they successively subscribed a blank paper, which was afterwards filled with the condemnation of the Byzantine pontiff.” 40
History records that the Bishop of Alexandria kicked and trampled Flavian under his feet. Before the patriarch could reach his place of banishment, he died from the wounds received at the council. This 2nd synod of Ephesus has been justly branded the ‘Robber Council’.
In AD440 Leo I became the Bishop of Rome. He was a full-blooded Roman, and became known as Pope Leo ‘the Great’.
The historian Milman wrote of Leo, “All that survived of Rome, of her unbounded ambition, her inflexible perseverance, her dignity in defeat, her haughtiness of language, her belief in her own eternity, and in her indefeasible title to universal dominion, her respect for traditionary and written law, and of unchangeable custom, might seem concentrated in him alone.” 41
Demophilus refused both. An edict was issued by Theodosius expelling all Arians from their houses of worship. Demophilus presented it to his people, and all over the city Arian men and women cried in grief and despair. Demophilus was exiled.
Bishop Gregory, accompanied by the Emperor and surrounded by armed troops, was conducted to the cathedral where he was installed in the office of Bishop of Constantinople.
In AD381, Theodosius issued an edict expelling all bishops and other ecclesiastics who refused to subscribe to the Creed of Nicaea. The edict was executed with a military officer in charge.
Theodosius had established Catholicism throughout the Empire, now he must have a general council to endorse his action. A council was called that same year to meet in Constantinople composed of 186 bishops, 150 Catholics and 36 Macedonians.
An accusation against Meletius needed to be discussed that he was “a transgressor of the Canons, an intruder, a schismatic and even a heretic.” 12
The sympathy Meletius had “for the Arian heresy was open, and his disciple Ætius preached pure Arianism which did not hinder his being ordained deacon. This was too much for the patience of the orthodox under the leadership of Falvius and Diodorus. Ætius had to be removed…” Meletius made promises to each party, so that both the Nicenes and the Arians thought him to be on their side. 13
The council opened with Meletius as the presiding officer, but before the subject could be dealt with, Meletius died. Gregory was very disappointed, and was startled when he was chosen to preside at the council.
The main issue was whether the Holy Ghost was homoousios with the Father and the Son.
The Council of Nicaea had not dealt with the Holy Ghost and the Nicene Creed only made a mere mention of His name. Thus, the Person and work of the Holy Ghost was left ambiguous. This resulted in 60 years of controversy regarding the Spirit’s identity, His relationship with the Father and the Son, and ultimately the full formation of the doctrine of the Trinity.
According to the writings of Athanasius, many theories existed about the Holy Spirit. Some believed Him to be created. Others that He was divine, but of a lower rank than the Father and the Son. Still others thought the Spirit belonged “to a ‘third-thing’ that is neither God nor a creature, but a composite or a mixture.” 14
Athanasius had stated that the Spirit was homoousios with God, but he fell short of confessing that the Spirit was God Himself.
In fact, his belief was not a full Trinitarian confession of the deity of the Holy Spirit. Basil went further than Athanasius in distinguishing between the Spirit indwelling ‘in’ the believer and His communion ‘with’ the Father and the Son. 15
This lack of theological clarity persisted until Gregory Nazianzen openly and unabashedly called the Holy Spirit God.
“The Church had no formal dogmatic construction of the Trinity except in local liturgies. Since the Holy Spirit is named with the Father and the Son in baptism and in worship, momentum would take the Church to consider the deity of the Holy Spirit in order to complete a full confessional Trinitarian theology. Towards the end of the 4th century, the time was ripe for orthodox theologians, such as Gregory Nazianzen and his Cappadocian comrades, to finally come up with a biblical-theological formulation of Pneumatology towards a completion of an orthodox doctrine of God.” 16
The discussion at the Council of Constantinople went on and on. No one would state categorically that the Holy Ghost was homoousios. Gregory became exasperated. It seemed no one was willing to give the Holy Ghost full deity.
Finally he made a decision to resign from the council. He walked out saying “no good ever came of synods”, and refused to have anything to do with councils in the future. 17