Historical Account of the Council of Nicaea
Historical Account of the Council of Nicaea
History is a difficult subject. To accurately record the movements of nations is well-nigh impossible. One can only take hold of a few highlights and hope to have rightly represented them. It is even more difficult with the barbarians.
“Wave after wave of Germanic barbarian tribes swept through the Roman Empire. Groups such as the Visigoths, Vandals, Angles, Saxons, Franks, Ostrogoths, and Lombards took turns ravaging the Empire, eventually carving out areas in which to settle down.” 1
All the barbarians began as pagans, but at some point most of them accepted the Arian form of Christianity.
Apart from the Goths, we do not know when they converted. One researcher said, “The process remains entirely invisible to us historically.
Other than Ulfilas, we know the names of virtually none of the bishops or missionaries who spread the gospel among them. Yet when these tribes show up in the Roman historical records, they are Christians.” 2
In my account of the nations I have tried to make some sense of their history, and hope it has been achieved. In one chapter I tried over and over to place them in an order relating to the historic timing, but it became impossible. There is so much overlapping, so please read for the general picture.
Accurate history depends on which writer you read. Has the historian done his research? Is he only giving highlights? Was he following notes of historians who had already paraphrased history? Was he a historian at all?
When traditions are given by a number of different writers and they vary greatly, which one is credible? Is the tradition based on fact?
Or is it just a story from long ago that has passed down through time?
My own son wrote an original work on the internet in relation to his hobby and later found someone else had paraphrased it. He was horrified. ‘Mum, it wasn’t even true’, he told me.
The history of the Church Councils is also another area of difficulty. Creeds were changed, but to try and follow when and when is again almost impossible. There are so many councils and arguments, it becomes a nightmare. My choice of certain councils is simply to bring out a point. If all the details are not correct I apologise. Again, please read information given as an overall picture.
Dates will differ. It is a bit like dating the fossil by the strata, and dating the strata by the fossils found in the strata. I have tried to choose the more accepted dates so they will fit other dates.
The important thing is not the day to day occurrence, but the general period. It is not which year something took place, but that it did within a reasonable time period as related to other events.
And so it goes.
In this book I have tried to be reasonably accurate, but no doubt there will be discrepancies. You may have read a different historian. It is more than likely.
Does the writer have a bias about his subject? Has he written objectively about something of which he does not agree? When writing about a person of history, has he already made up his mind and is writing with that bias?
Is he kind in his assessment, or is it character assassination?
It is difficult not to partake of unspoken thoughts of a writer when reading the history of a person. For instance – Was Arius a nice man? Most people have a prejudice against him that speaks volumes in the account they give of his life.
The best short article I read on Arius was by a Roman Catholic editor of a Catholic magazine. He was gentle and kind in his words. Obviously he did not agree with Arianism, but he did not accuse Arius and make him look bad in the eyes of the reader.
A friend in Alabama sent me a copy of one chapter of a book called ‘Arius the Libyan’ by Nathan Chapman Kouns. As soon as I had read it, I ordered the book. It was originally written in 1914, but mine did not have a date. It is not an easy book to read as it is very detailed in its word construction.
Last night I paraphrased some of it for my chapter on Arius. It really gave an interesting lift to the man’s personal life. When I came to the end of my chapter, suddenly the words, ‘It is fiction’ came into my mind. It was a very strong impression, so I began to research certain parts of the story.
Yes, there is a Codex Alexandrius ‘A’, and there was a girl called Thecla (or Thekla). Surely someone would have picked up these details and made a mountain of them.
The more I thought about it, the more I realised I could not include it in my chapter on Arius. If I did, my book would become a ‘DaVinci code’, and you would not know the true from the false. You might even have a hard time accepting those things that are actually historic and genuine.
But….. I want you to see it, so have decided to include it here. The font is different so you can recognise which part is paraphrased from the book. (Nathan Kouns spells the girl Theckla)
At twenty years of age, Arius left his home by the sea. He would attend the school at Antioch in Syria to take a four-year study course for the priesthood. He was happy to go, except for one thing – he must leave dear Theckla.
An Egyptian girl from Alexandria Egypt, Theckla was converted in the home of Arius. Before he left, they pledged a life together in marriage.
Two years after Arius had gone to Antioch, Theckla decided to move back to Alexandria. She had a purpose – she would sell the family properties inherited upon the death of her mother and build a church for Arius.
And, more importantly, she would copy the Scriptures as a gift for her beloved.
Old Am-nem-hat had moved with Theckla as her guardian. He had been a high priest of Ombus, but had left behind the gods of Egypt and was now a dedicated Christian.
Day by day the young girl wrote the sacred words on vellum pages, completing it a few months before Arius was ordained. Theckla put the precious Bible in a box and gave it to Bishop Peter who would attend the ordination ceremony in Antioch.
Everything was ready for the joyous occasion. Arius and Theckla would meet and be married.
Over the past two years, a young male relative had tried to gain Theckla’s attention. The young girl insisted Am-nem-hat always be present, a restriction that irritated the admirer. One day he entered the house when its occupants were absent and found a Christian book on the chair of the old man, with Am-net-hat’s name on it.
Quickly the young man hid the book in his cloak and immediately took it to the priest at the temple of Serepis.
Together they arrange for Am-nem-hat to be arrested.
It is not long before soldiers surround the villa and drag the aged gentleman outside. They ransack the house and pull the furniture into the yard . Piling it up, they place Am-nem-hat on top and throw in a firebrand.
Horrified Theckla runs to the pyre and begins praying for him. When asked if she is a Christian, her prayers become the more fervent, ‘Oh Jesus, Son of God have mercy upon him! Comfort, sustain and strengthen him and receive him into glory.’
One of the soldiers grabs her by the arms. ‘You’re a Christian too’, and he flings her into the fire. Theckla stands to her feet, puts her arms around Am-nem-hat’s neck and kisses him. Putting her head on his chest, and with a radiant smile, they both breathe their last. 3
Continuing the story.
When Arius arrives at Alexandria, he is full of expectation. He will meet his beloved, but first he must see the bishop. Sadly Bishop Peter tells Arius of Am-nem-hat’s martyrdom. Suddenly he is fearful for his fiancee. With heart pounding he asks, ‘And Theckla, Bishop?’
Tenderly the bishop tells him of Theckla’s martyrdom. Putting his head in his hands, Arius feels the agony of grief sweep through his body.
He asks for the key to the new church. Unlocking the door, Arius walks inside and locks it behind him. It is now twilight and the moon shines through the windows. Not a sound comes from his lips. He walks with slow heavy steps, back and forth in the sacred precincts. All night he paces the floor.
When the long night vigil has ended and the first glimmer of dawn’s sun bathes the morning landscape, Arius walks to the window. He stands for a moment looking at the rising sun.
Then, raising his right hand reverently, and looking into the heavens, he says with conviction, ‘Yea, thou doest all things well and blessed be Thy name.’
Quietly he leaves the church and meets the bishop to hear the details of the martyrdom.
The bishop offers him time to grieve, but Arius refuses.
‘I thank thee, but I will preach to my people in the church this morning. I know Theckla would have it so.’
Arius had been tried in the furnace of affliction, but from there he went to his post of duty full of faith and love for God. 4
Certainly the author has based his book on the basic details of truth. Arius did go to study for the priesthood in Antioch when he was about twenty. Nathan Kouns has filled out the details to make it a good story. He did some excellent research, as you will see at the end of his story.
At the beginning of my chapter on Arius I have used some of the material from ‘Arius the Libyan’ as it is simply sanctified imagination regarding his early life.
However, when it comes to Emperor Constantine, it is different altogether. The author of the above book places him in a very bad light, and no doubt for good reason.
Most historians say Constantine was not a true Christian, but do not reveal many of his inconsistencies.
Other writers speak of him as a heathen pretending to be a Christian, but again, do not give much evidence. Some writers on the other hand, gather a mass of evidence to prove him to be totally evil.
Often their slant is based on what they think his motives and thoughts were regarding what he did.
Nathan Kouns wrote the following about Constantine. “To those who take a more rational view of his magnificent but criminal career, and who, looking behind the mask of reverence for paganism which he cast aside at precisely the politic moment, in order to assume a false pretence of reverence for Christianity, discern the cool, deliberate atheist, who was ready to profess any creed and foster any superstition that might best serve to smooth the road to absolute power, and make mankind his slaves: to them the astute politician the successful warrior, the consummate ruler of men, assumes such colossal proportions that, compared with him, Alexander, Caesar, and Napoleon, seem to sink into the lower grade of butchers and stabbers, only half-taught in the science of government, of which Constantine alone was master.
For it is no more certain that he despised and pitied paganism while he was solemnly offering sacrifices to Jupiter, and winning the admiration and love of the Roman world for his Imperial piety, than it is certain that he pitied and despised the Church of Christ, even while he was manipulating the Faith into a sure and reliable support of the Empire; in both courses he only played with the world giving men any religious toy which the greater part might prefer to have, in exchange for the liberty of which he robbed them so plausibly and successfully that they scarcely perceived his theft, and enthusiastically caressed the royal thief.” 5
You can feel the writer’s contempt for the man. It may be valid, however, I am unable to see it this way. In my account, I have tried to be impartial, but probably have not succeeded. I am sure some readers will think I am too generous. So be it.
All the records I had previously read on the life of Constantine had been written without this type of ‘character assassination’ as I saw it.
When I read the above words, I was shocked. However, what shocked me even more was to read the same quotation in the ‘Two Republics’ by A.T. Jones. 6
In his massive book, Jones begins with the history of pagan Rome. When he comes to the Council of Nicaea, he gives a good report, hardly saying anything about Arius as a person. But when he writes of Constantine, it is a different matter. It is obvious he sees him in the same way as the author of ‘Arius the Libyan’.
‘Two Republics’ has a huge amount of evidence, quoting many old historians, such as Neander, Stanley, Milman, Schaff, Gibbon and others, all very credible authors. But when he quoted Nathan C. Kouns, I did not know what to think. Nothing is said about the book being fiction; it is just further evidence in his case against Constantine as a Christian.
To tell you the truth, I preferred other authors than A.T. Jones at that moment. My writing of history was more lenient towards the Emperor.
How much was for the Empire and how much for his faith we cannot tell. We can only read what he did and make a decision. It is impossible to base it on his motives or thoughts.
Constantine did appear to sway between those who supported the Nicene position and the Arians. He made 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 by fire, his penalty shall be death. As soon as he is discovered in this offense, he shall be submitted for capital punishment.” 7
This does not seem to have been carried out under Constantine’s rule, and some years later, he was willing to release Arius and the other Arians from banishment, allowing them to continue their ministry.
There is another instance I have chosen to not place in my chapter on Constantine, yet it has been included in ‘Two Republics’ without question. Not many historians speak of it and those who do, say it is of dubious tradition. False stories abound, making it difficult.
I will quote from ‘Two Republics’. “And yet the record is not complete. When he was attacked by his last illness he suspected poison, and before he died he gave to the bishop of Nicomedia his will to be handed to his eldest son when he should arrive at Constantinople.
The bishop having read it and found its terrible import, put it in the dead emperor’s hand, and left it there until Constantius took it. The purport of the instruction was that he believed he had been poisoned by his brothers and their children, and instructed his sons to avenge his death.
‘That bequest was obeyed by the massacre of six of the surviving princes of the imperial family. Two alone escaped’.” 8
Was it true? We do not know.
I will say this in defence of both Nathan Kouns and Alonzo Jones: they believed Constantine, being an Emperor of Rome, typified the ‘man of sin’ according to Daniel 7.
Kouns spoke of him as the actual fulfilment, while Jones believed him to be a type of the papal fulfilment. So it is understandable they saw Constantine as totally evil. Of course, Kouns could not portray the ‘man of sin’ as the Papacy, because in the century of which he was writing, the church had not reached that position.
The emphasis of ‘Two Republics’ is the Sabbath and how the Sunday law, instituted by Constantine, will be legislated by the anti-typical ‘man of sin’. Jones sees Emperor Constantine as the foundation for the persecution to take place by the Roman Church.
He also believes the decision of the Council of Nicaea was a Catholic decision against the Arians. This was my under-standing too, but I only partially agree now. I believe it is far broader, and this is why I wrote the book you have in your hand.
The dominant group at the Council of Nicaea, consisting of Bishop Alexander, Athanasius and others, became the Catholic faction, but at the time of the council, they were simply called the ‘orthodox’ (meaning having true doctrine) party.
In hindsight, we can say they represented the Catholic Church, but not at the council. After all, there were only eight bishops from the West, which is where the Papacy arose.
The majority of bishops came from the East, including Bishop Alexander and Athanasius.
Certainly it was the Papacy that joined itself to the State, as is stated in ‘Two Republics’, although the Eastern Church worked closely with the State as well.
There is one chapter in my book where I have relied heavily on Jones, as he gives a detailed account of the events. Portions of his three chapters are paraphrased into my one chapter. Some of his references I was unsuccessful in finding, so others have been included. They give less detail, but the same information.
When speaking to a Protestant minister about his under-standing of the Trinity I happened to mention that Nicaea was a Catholic council.
He corrected me, ‘It was an ecumenical council.’
I said nothing, but thought he did not understand the issues.
Two events took place that prepared the way for this book. One was my conversation with the Adventist brother in Alabama and the book ‘Arius the Libyan’.
The second occurred after passing a secondhand bookshop on my way to the dentist. ‘Mmmm, on my way back I will call in there’, and I did. The result was the purchase of an $8 book called ‘Lectures on the History of the Eastern Church’, printed before 1881.
It did not take much reading to realise its value. It also proved the pastor correct – Nicaea was ecumenical.
The fact is, the debate affected the whole church -- Catholic and Orthodox – East and West.
As A.T. Jones wrote, “Each of these parties claimed to be the orthodox and only Catholic Church.” 9
The term ‘catholic’ did not mean the Roman Catholic Church, but universal church. The word ‘catholic’ in this quote should have been lower case to give a true picture of universal.
In the end, the Latin Church in the West claimed the word ‘catholic’ (meaning universal), and the Eastern Church claimed the word ‘orthodox’ (meaning approved and accepted). At times the Roman Catholic Church calls itself the only Catholic and orthodox Church, as it wants both meanings. The Eastern Church is the Orthodox Church; the Western Church is the Roman Catholic Church.
It amazes me how much history differs when you keep reading. For instance, ‘Two Republics’ says the sons of Constantine differed in their religious persuasions and that Constantius was an Arian. ‘Truth Triumphant’ says Constantine II was the Arian. ‘Christianity and the Roman Empire’ by Ralph M Novak says all three sons were Arians. It becomes quite confusing, but thankfully there are enough books and sites that give a consistent picture for my choice.
There is one more tradition relating to Nicaea I want to mention. It is totally false and far-fetched, but shows to what extent some writers of traditions will go. Two bishops died at the council, but after all the bishops had signed the creed, they wanted the two dead bishops to sign it as well. They left a copy of the creed near the burial site overnight, and in the morning the two signatures appeared on the creed, purporting to be by the dead bishops. I needed to tell you this so you would not think my math calculations were out in the chapter on the council!
Dear Reader, this is a book of history. It will not be for everyone; however, if you choose to read further, I pray you will be blessed. How it will make a difference to what you already believe, I do not know.
Before I conclude this chapter I would like to show you why I was initially impressed that the story of Arius, by Nathan Kouns, was genuine. It was a very pleasant surprise at the time, as you may agree.
Speaking of Theckla’s love gift for Arius, I had concluded my chapter with the words,
Arius treasured his Bible from Theckla, always keeping it close by him. It was a priceless work of art, written by 18-year-old Theckla out of pure love for her Saviour and her beloved Arius.
Nathan Kouns wrote, “And this great manuscript, which was the offering of Theckla’s love unto him, hath survived the lapse of ages, bearing yet upon its priceless pages the indorsement of Arius.
It is known throughout Christendom as the ‘CODEX ALEXANDRINUS’ – ‘A’…”
He concludes with the words, “Some of the manuscripts prepared by Theckla have been lost.”
It is interesting that when you go on Google and ask the question –
Who wrote the Codex Alexandrinus? The answer comes up, ‘Thecla’.
Wikipedia states, “Codex Alexandrinus is the oldest manuscript to use capital letters to indicate new sections…It may be that the manuscript was written in a monastery dedicated to Thecla.” 11
A site that has digitised the manuscript writes, “Codex Alexandrinus, Bible in four volumes… A note in Arabic stating that the manuscript was written by Thecla the Martyr, early 17th century....” 12
According to Theckla in the story, she wrote her Bible on vellum as it was the most durable. The Codex Alexandrinus is written with iron gall ink on extremely thin, but perfect, parchment.
Thecla (Thekla in Greek) is believed to have been a saint of the early Christian Church in AD30, a follower of Paul. There are many traditions of her life. One tradition says she heard Paul speak on the importance of virginity and decided never to violate it. She remained single.
The Catholic Church says of Thecla, “Ironically, Thecla’s own mother and father were responsible for her death sentence. They were not at all pleased that their daughter had converted to Christianity after meeting St. Paul in Iconium during the 1st century A.D.
She had made a pledge of virginity and refused to marry the rich and handsome nobleman whom Thecla’s parents had chosen for her to marry. They disowned Thecla and reported her as a Christian. She was sentenced to death by burning.” 13
In Koun’s story, Theckla’s father died at sea and her mother died at the home of Arius.
Historically, it is said of Thecla. “In the Eastern Church, the wide circulation of the Acts of Paul and Thecla is evidence of her veneration. She was called ‘apostle and proto-martyr among women’ and ‘equal to the apostles.’ She was widely cited as an ascetic role model for women during the fourth and fifth centuries, Thecla was lauded in literature as an exemplary virgin and martyr by ascetic writers and theologians.” 14
Thus it appears that the love story of Arius and Theckla by Nathan Kouns is purely fiction. Of course, I could be proven wrong!
As the writer/compiler of this book, I want you to see beyond such stories, as interesting as they are, and realise that the battle over the Son of God is the biggest controversy ever to take place in the universe.
May God’s Spirit bless as you read ‘Nicaea and the World’.