The Council of Nicea, Part 1 (The History of Christianity #115)


Daniel Whyte III
Daniel Whyte III

Our History of Christianity Scripture passage today is Ephesians 1:10 which reads: “That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from Clement of Alexandria. He said: “Therefore let us repent and pass from ignorance to knowledge, from foolishness to wisdom, from licentiousness to self-control, from injustice to righteousness, from godlessness to God.”

Last time, in the History of Christianity, we looked at “The Arian (a-re-an) Controversy and the Council of Nicea (ni-‘se-a) – The Outbreak of the Controversy” – Part 3.

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “The Arian (a-re-an) Controversy and the Council of Nicea (ni-‘se-a) – The Council of Nicea (ni-‘se-a)” – Part 1 from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1). And, I want to remind you to take advantage of our special offer. If you enjoy this podcast, please feel free to purchase a copy of the book that we are using, “The Story of Christianity, Vol. 1” by Dr. Justo L. González. The book is available on our website for just $30. You can make your purchase today at historyofchristianitypodcast.com.

It was the year 325 AD when the bishops gathered in Nicea for what would later be known as the First Ecumenical – that is, universal – Council. The exact number of bishops present is not known – the figure given in ancient chronicles (318) is doubted by some scholars, since it coincides with the numbers of those circumcised in Abraham’s time – but there were approximately three hundred, mostly from the Greek-speaking East, but also some from the West. In order to see that event in the perspective of those who were there, it is necessary to remember that several of those attending the great assembly had recently been imprisoned, tortured, or exiled, and that some bore on their bodies the physical marks of their faithfulness. And now, a few years after such trials, these very bishops were invited to gather at Nicea, and the emperor covered their expenses to do so. Many of those present knew of each other via hearsay or through correspondence. But now, for the first time in the history of Christianity, they had before their eyes physical evidence of the universality of the church. In his “Life of Constantine,” Eusebius of Caesarea, who was present, describes the scene:

There were gathered the most distinguished ministers of God, from the many churches in Europe, Libya [i.e., Africa] and Asia. A single house of prayer, as if enlarged by God, sheltered Syrians and Cilicians, Phoenicians and Arabs, delegates from Palestine and from Egypt, Thebans and Libyans, together with those from Mesopotamia. There was also a Persian bishop, and a Scythian was not lacking. Pontus, Galatia, Pamphylia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Phrygia sent their most outstanding bishops, jointly with those from the remotest areas of Thrace, Macedonia, Achaia, and Epirus. Even from Spain, there was a man of great fame [Hosius of Cordoba] who sat as a member of the great assembly. The bishop of the Imperial City [Rome] could not attend due to his advanced age; but he was represented by his presbyters. Constantine is the first ruler of all time to have gathered such a garland in the bond of peace, and to have presented it to his Savior as an offering of gratitude for the victories he had won over all his enemies.

In this euphoric atmosphere, the bishops discussed the many legislative matters that had to be resolved with the end of persecution. They approved standard procedures for the readmission of the lapsed and for the election and ordination of presbyters and bishops, and for establishing the order of precedence of the various episcopal sees. They also decreed that bishops, presbyters, and deacons could not move from one city to another – a rule soon to be ignored.

But the most difficult issue that the council had to face was the Arian controversy. On this score, there were several different groups whose positions and concerns had to be taken into account.

Next time, we will continue looking at The Council of Nicea.

—PRAYER—

Dear friend, simply knowing the facts about Christian history without knowing the One on Who this faith is based will do you no good. If you do not believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, may I encourage you to get to know Him today.

First, accept the fact that you are a sinner, and that you have broken God’s law. The Bible says in Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”

Second, accept the fact that there is a penalty for sin. The Bible states in Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death…”

Third, accept the fact that you are on the road to hell. Jesus Christ said in Matthew 10:28: “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” Also, the Bible states in Revelation 21:8: “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.”

Now this is bad news, but here’s the good news. Jesus Christ said in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Just believe in your heart that Jesus Christ died for your sins, was buried, and rose from the dead by the power of God for you so that you can live eternally with Him. Pray and ask Him to come into your heart today, and He will.

Romans 10:9-13 says, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Until next time, remember that history is truly His story.


Daniel Whyte III has spoken in meetings across the United States and in over twenty-five foreign countries. He is the author of over forty books including the Essence Magazine, Dallas Morning News, and Amazon.com national bestseller, Letters to Young Black Men. He is also the president of Gospel Light Society International, a worldwide evangelistic ministry that reaches thousands with the Gospel each week, as well as president of Torch Ministries International, a Christian literature ministry.

He is heard by thousands each week on his radio broadcasts/podcasts, which include: The Prayer Motivator Devotional, The Prayer Motivator Minute, as well as Gospel Light Minute X, the Gospel Light Minute, the Sunday Evening Evangelistic Message, the Prophet Daniel’s Report, the Second Coming Watch Update and the Soul-Winning Motivator, among others.

He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Theology from Bethany Divinity College, a Bachelor’s degree in Religion from Texas Wesleyan University, a Master’s degree in Religion, a Master of Divinity degree, and a Master of Theology degree from Liberty University’s Rawlings School of Divinity (formerly Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary). He is currently a candidate for the Doctor of Ministry degree.

He has been married to the former Meriqua Althea Dixon, of Christiana, Jamaica since 1987. God has blessed their union with seven children.

The Arian Controversy and the Council of Nicea: The Outbreak of the Controversy, Part 3 (The History of Christianity #114)

Our History of Christianity Scripture passage today is Romans 10:9-10 which reads: “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from D. L. Moody. He said: “Salvation is worth working for. It is worth a man’s going round the world on his hands and knees, climbing its mountains, crossing its valleys, swimming its rivers, going through all manner of hardship in order to attain it. But we do not get it in that way. It is to him who believes.”

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “The Arian Controversy and the Council of Nicea: The Outbreak of the Controversy, Part 3” from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).

Although these were the issues debated in the course of the controversy, quite possibly at the heart of the matter was also the question of how it is that Christ saves. For Alexander, and particularly for those who subsequently defended his views – especially Athanasius – Christ has achieved our salvation because in him God has entered human history and opened the way for our return to him. Apparently Arius and his followers felt that Christ’s role as Savior was imperiled by such a view, for Jesus had opened the way for salvation by his obedience to God, and such obedience would be meaningless if he himself was divine, and not a creature.

The Arian Controversy and the Council of Nicea: The Outbreak of the Controversy, Part 2 (The History of Christianity Broadcast #113)


Our History of Christianity Scripture passage today is John 1:14 which reads: “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from Ephrem of Edessa. He said: “God’s Word is an inexhaustible spring of life.”

Last time, in the History of Christianity, we looked at “The Arian Controversy and the Council of Nicea – The Outbreak of the Controversy.

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “The Arian Controversy and the Council of Nicea – The Outbreak of the Controversy – Part 2 from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).  Continue reading

The Arian Controversy and the Council of Nicea, Part 4 (The History of Christianity #112)


Daniel Whyte III
Daniel Whyte III

Our History of Christianity Scripture passage today is John 1:1 which
reads: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and
the Word was God.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from St. Jerome. He said:
“I beg of you, my dear brother, to live among these books
[Scriptures], to meditate upon them, to know nothing else, to seek
nothing else.”

Last time, in the History of Christianity, we looked at “The Arian
(a-re-an) Controversy and the Council of Nicea (ni-‘se-a)”.

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “The Arian
(a-re-an) Controversy and the Council of Nicea (ni-‘se-a) – The
Outbreak of the Controversy” from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book,
The Story of Christianity (Volume 1). And, I want to remind you to
take advantage of our special offer. If you enjoy this podcast, please
feel free to purchase a copy of the book that we are using, “The Story
of Christianity, Vol. 1” by Dr. Justo L. González. The book is
available on our website for just $30. You can make your purchase
today at historyofchristianitypodcast.com.

The roots of the Arian (a-re-an) controversy are to be found in
theological development that took place long before the time of
Constantine. Indeed, the controversy was a direct result of the manner
in which Christians came to think of the nature of God, thanks to the
work of Justin, Clement of Alexandria, Origen (awr-i-jen), and others.
When the first Christians set out to preach their message throughout
the empire, they were taken for ignorant atheists, for they had no
visible gods. In response, some learned Christians appealed to the
authority of those whom antiquity considered eminently wise: the
classical philosophers. The best pagan philosophers had taught that
above the entire cosmos there was a supreme being, and some had even
declared that the pagan gods were human creations. Appealing to such
respected authorities, Christians argued that they believed in the
supreme being of the philosophers, and that this was what they meant
when when they spoke of God. Such an argument was very convincing, and
there is no doubt that it contributed to the acceptance of
Christianity among the intelligentsia (in-tel-i-jent-see-uh).

But this was also a dangerous argument. It was possible that
Christians, in their eagerness to show the kinship between their faith
and classical philosophy, would come to the conviction that the best
way to speak of God was not in the manner of the prophets and other
biblical writers, but rather in the manner of Plato (pley-toh),
Plotinus (ploh-tahy-nuh-s), and the rest. Since those philosophers
conceived of perfection as immutable, impassible, and fixed, many
Christians came to the conclusion that such was the God of scripture.

Two means were found to bring together what the Bible says about God
and the classical notion of the supreme being as impassible and fixed:
allegorical interpretation of scriptural passages, and the doctrine of
the Logos. Allegorical interpretation was fairly simple to apply.
Wherever scripture says something “unworthy” of God – that is,
something that is not worthy of the perfection of the supreme being of
the philosophers – such words are not to be taken literally. Thus, for
instance, if the Bible says that God walked in the garden, or that God
spoke, one is to remember that an immutable being does not really walk
or speak. Intellectually, this satisfied many minds. But emotionally
it left much to be desired, for the life of the church was based on
the faith that it was possible to have a direct relationship with a
personal God, and the supreme being of the philosophers was in no way
personal.

There was another way to resolve the conflict between the
philosophical idea of a supreme being and the witness of scripture.
This was the doctrine of the Logos, as developed by Justin, Clement,
Origen (awr-i-jen), and others. According to this view, although it is
true that the supreme being – the “Father” – is immutable, impassible,
and so on, there is also a Logos, Word, or Reason of God, and this is
personal, capable of direct relationships with the world and with
humans. Thus, according to Justin, when the Bible says that God spoke
to Moses, what it means is that the Logos of God spoke to him.

Due to the influence of Origen (awr-i-jen) and his disciples, these
views had become widespread in the Eastern wing of the church – that
is, that portion of the church that spoke Greek rather than Latin. The
generally accepted view was that, between the immutable One and the
mutable world, there was the Word, or Logos, of God. It was within
this context that the Arian (a-re-an) controversy took place.

Next time, we will continue looking at The Outbreak of the Controversy.

—PRAYER—

Dear friend, simply knowing the facts about Christian history without
knowing the One on Who this faith is based will do you no good. If you
do not believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, may I
encourage you to get to know Him today.

First, accept the fact that you are a sinner, and that you have broken
God’s law. The Bible says in Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and
come short of the glory of God.”

Second, accept the fact that there is a penalty for sin. The Bible
states in Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death…”

Third, accept the fact that you are on the road to hell. Jesus Christ
said in Matthew 10:28: “And fear not them which kill the body, but are
not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to
destroy both soul and body in hell.” Also, the Bible states in
Revelation 21:8: “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the
abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers and sorcerers, and
idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which
burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.”

Now this is bad news, but here’s the good news. Jesus Christ said in
John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten
Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have
everlasting life.” Just believe in your heart that Jesus Christ died
for your sins, was buried, and rose from the dead by the power of God
for you so that you can live eternally with Him. Pray and ask Him to
come into your heart today, and He will.

Romans 10:9-13 says, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the
Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him
from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth
unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto
salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall
not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the
Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him.
For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Until next time, remember that history is truly His story.


Daniel Whyte III has spoken in meetings across the United States and in over twenty-five foreign countries. He is the author of over forty books including the Essence Magazine, Dallas Morning News, and Amazon.com national bestseller, Letters to Young Black Men. He is also the president of Gospel Light Society International, a worldwide evangelistic ministry that reaches thousands with the Gospel each week, as well as president of Torch Ministries International, a Christian literature ministry.

He is heard by thousands each week on his radio broadcasts/podcasts, which include: The Prayer Motivator Devotional, The Prayer Motivator Minute, as well as Gospel Light Minute X, the Gospel Light Minute, the Sunday Evening Evangelistic Message, the Prophet Daniel’s Report, the Second Coming Watch Update and the Soul-Winning Motivator, among others.

He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Theology from Bethany Divinity College, a Bachelor’s degree in Religion from Texas Wesleyan University, a Master’s degree in Religion, a Master of Divinity degree, and a Master of Theology degree from Liberty University’s Rawlings School of Divinity (formerly Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary). He is currently a candidate for the Doctor of Ministry degree.

He has been married to the former Meriqua Althea Dixon, of Christiana, Jamaica since 1987. God has blessed their union with seven children.

The Arian Controversy and the Council of Nicea, Part 3 (The History of Christianity #113)

Our History of Christianity Scripture passage today is John 1:14 which reads: “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from Ephrem of Edessa. He said: “God’s Word is an inexhaustible spring of life.”

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “The Arian Controversy and the Council of Nicea – The Outbreak of the Controversy” – Part 2 from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1). And, I want to remind you to take advantage of our special offer. If you enjoy this podcast, please feel free to purchase a copy of the book that we are using, “The Story of Christianity, Vol. 1” by Dr. Justo L. González. The book is available on our website for just $30. You can make your purchase today at historyofchristianitypodcast.com.

The controversy itself began in Alexandria, when Licinius was still ruling in the East, and Constantine in the West. The bishop of Alexandria, Alexander, clashed over several issues with Arius, who was one of the most prestigious and popular presbyters of the city. Although the points debated were many, the main issue at stake was whether the Logos, the Word of God, was coeternal with God. The phrase that eventually became the Arian motto, “there was when He was not,” aptly focuses on the point at issue. Alexander held that the Word existed eternally with the Father; Arius argued that the Word was not coeternal with the Father. Although this may seem a very fine point, what was ultimately at stake was the divinity of the Word. Arius claimed that, strictly speaking, the Word was not God, but the first of all creatures. It is important to understand at this point that Arius did not deny that the Word existed before the incarnation. On the preexistence of the Word, all were in agreement. What Arius said was that, before anything else was made, the Word had been created by God. Alexander argued that the Word was divine, and therefore could not be created, but rather was coeternal with the Father. In other words, if asked to draw a line between God and creation, Arius would draw that line to include the Word in creation, while Alexander would draw it in a manner that would place all of God’s creation on one side and the eternal Word on the other.

Each of the two parties had, besides a list of favorite proof-texts from the Bible, logical reasons that seemed to make the opponents’ position untenable. Arius, on the one hand, argued that what Alexander proposed was a denial of Christian monotheism – for, according to the bishop of Alexandria, there were two who were divine, and thus there were two gods. Alexander retorted that Arius’ position denied the divinity of the Word, and therefore also the divinity of Jesus. From its very beginning, the church had worshiped Jesus Christ, and Arius’ proposal would now force it either to cease such worship, or to declare that it was worshiping a creature. Alexander concluded that, since both alternatives were unacceptable, Arius was proven wrong.

The Arian Controversy and the Council of Nicea, Part 2 (The History of Christianity #112)

Our History of Christianity Scripture passage today is John 1:1 which reads: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from St. Jerome. He said: “I beg of you, my dear brother, to live among these books [Scriptures], to meditate upon them, to know nothing else, to seek nothing else.”

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “The Arian Controversy and the Council of Nicea” from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).

The roots of the Arian controversy are to be found in theological development that took place long before the time of Constantine. Indeed, the controversy was a direct result of the manner in which Christians came to think of the nature of God, thanks to the work of Justin, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and others. When the first Christians set out to preach their message throughout the empire, they were taken for ignorant atheists, for they had no visible gods. In response, some learned Christians appealed to the authority of those whom antiquity considered eminently wise: the classical philosophers. The best pagan philosophers had taught that above the entire cosmos there was a supreme being, and some had even declared that the pagan gods were human creations. Appealing to such respected authorities, Christians argued that they believed in the supreme being of the philosophers, and that this was what they meant when they spoke of God. Such an argument was very convincing, and there is no doubt that it contributed to the acceptance of Christianity among the intelligentsia.

But this was also a dangerous argument. It was possible that Christians, in their eagerness to show the kinship between their faith and classical philosophy, would come to the conviction that the best way to speak of God was not in the manner of the prophets and other biblical writers, but rather in the manner of Plato, Plotinus, and the rest. Since those philosophers conceived of perfection as immutable, impassible, and fixed, many Christians came to the conclusion that such was the God of scripture.

The Arian Controversy and the Council of Nicea (The History of Christianity #111)


Our History of Christianity Scripture passage today is 1 John 5:7-8 which reads: “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from the Creed of Nicea (ni-‘se-a). It says: “And [we believe] in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten from the Father as the only-begotten, that is, from the substance of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father.”

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “The Arian Controversy and the Council of Nicea” from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).

From its very beginnings, Christianity had been involved in theological controversies. In Paul’s time, the burning issue was the relationship between Jewish and Gentile converts. Then came the crucial debate over Gnostic speculation. In the third century, when Cyprian was bishop of Carthage, the main point at issue was the restoration of the lapsed. All of these controversies were significant, and often bitter. But in those early centuries the only way to win such a debate was through solid argument and holiness of life. The civil authorities paid scant attention to theological controversies within the church, and therefore the parties in conflict were not usually tempted to appeal to those authorities in order to cut short the debate, or to win a point that had been lost in a theological argument.

After the conversion of Constantine, things changed. Now it was possible to invoke the authority of the state to settle a theological question. The empire had a vested interest in the unity of the church, which Constantine hoped would become the “cement of the empire.” Thus, the state soon began to use its power to force theological agreement upon Christians. Many of the dissident views that were thus crushed may indeed have threatened the very core of the Christian message. Had it not been for imperial intervention, the issues probably would have been settled, as in earlier times, through long debate, and a consensus would eventually have been reached. But there were many rulers who did not wish to see such prolonged and indecisive controversies in the church, and who therefore simply decided, on imperial authority, who was right and who should be silenced. As a result, many of those involved in controversy, rather than seeking to convince their opponents or the rest of the church, sought to convince the emperors. Eventually, theological debate was eclipsed by political intrigue.

The beginning of this process may be seen already in the Arian controversy, which began as a local conflict between a bishop and a priest, grew to the point that Constantine felt obliged to intervene, and resulted in political maneuvering by which each party sought to destroy the other. At first sight, it is not a very edifying story. But upon closer scrutiny what is surprising is not that theological debate became entangled in political intrigues, but rather that in the midst of such unfavorable circumstances the church still found the strength and the wisdom to reject those views that threatened the core of the Christian message.

Next time, we will begin looking at The Outbreak of the Controversy.