The Arian Controversy and the Council of Nicea: The Council of Nicea, Part 4 (The History of Christianity #118)


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 C. S. Lewis. He said: “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next.”

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “The Arian Controversy and the Council of Nicea: The Council of Nicea, Part 4” from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).

At first the assembly sought to do this through a series of passages of scripture. But it soon became evident that by limiting itself to biblical texts the council would find it very difficult to express its rejection of Arianism in unmistakable terms. It was then decided to agree on a creed that would express the faith of the church in such a way that Arianism was clearly excluded. The exact process they followed is not entirely clear. Eusebius of Caesarea, for reasons that scholars still debate, proposed the creed of his own church. Constantine suggested that the word homoousios – to which we shall return – be included in the creed. (Did Constantine know enough about the discussion to come up with this word, or was it suggested to him by his ecclesiastical advisor Hosius of Cordoba, as some suspect?) Eventually, the assembly agreed on a formula that was based on the creed of Caesarea, but with a number of additions that clearly rejected Arianism.

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 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 Schismatic Reaction: Donatism, Part 5 (The History of Christianity #110)


Our History of Christianity Scripture passage today is 1 Peter 2:5 which reads: “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from Clement of Alexandria. He said: “If you enroll as one of God’s people, then heaven is your country and God your lawgiver.”

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “The Schismatic Reaction: Donatism (Part 6)” from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).

Around the year 340, there appeared among the Donatists a group called the circumcellions – a name of debatable origin, which probably means that they had their headquarters in martyrs’ shrines. They were mostly Numidian and Mauritanian Donatist peasants who resorted to violence. Although sometimes they have been depicted as no more than bandits masquerading as people driven by religious motives, the truth is that they were religious to the point of fanaticism. They were convinced that there was no death more glorious than that of the martyrs, and that now that persecution in the old style had ended, those who died in battle against the perverters of the faith were also martyrs. In some cases, this quest for martyrdom rose to such a pitch that people committed mass suicide by jumping off cliffs. This may well be fanaticism; but it is not opportunistic hypocrisy.

The circumcellions became an important factor in the schism. Sometimes the Donatist leaders in the towns tried to disassociate themselves from this radical party. But at other times, when they needed activist troops, they appealed to the circumcellions. The time came when many villas and land holdings in secluded places had to be abandoned. The rich and those who represented the empire did not dare travel though the countryside without heavy escort. More than once, the circumcellions appeared at the very gates of fortified towns. Credit suffered, and trade almost came to a standstill.

The Schismatic Reaction: Donatism, Part 4 (The History of Christianity #109)


Our History of Christianity Scripture passage today is Daniel 2:20-22 which reads: “Daniel answered and said, Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever: for wisdom and might are his: And he changeth the times and the seasons: he removeth kings, and setteth up kings: he giveth wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding: He revealeth the deep and secret things: he knoweth what is in the darkness, and the light dwelleth with him.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from Cyril of Alexandria. He said: “We, who are children of earth and slaves and subject by the law of nature to him who created us, call him who is in heaven ‘Father.’ Most fittingly, he enables those who pray to understand this also. Since we call God ‘Father’ and have been counted worthy of such a distinguished honor, we must lead holy and thoroughly blameless lives. We must behave as is pleasing to our Father.”

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “The Schismatic Reaction: Donatism (Part 4)” from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).

It is a fact that the two parties, Donatists and Caecilians, soon separated along social and geographical lines. In Carthage and its immediate surroundings — Proconsular Africa — Caecilian and his followers were strong. But further west, in Numidia and Mauritania, the Donatists were very popular. Numidia and Mauritania were agricultural areas. A great deal of their produce was exported to Italy through Carthage. The net result was that as middle-men the Carthaginians, with less labor and risk, made more money from the crops than those who actually raised them. Furthermore, Numidia and Mauritania were much less Romanized than Carthage and the area around it. Many in the less Romanized areas retained their ancestral language and customs, and saw Rome and everything connected with it as a foreign and oppressive force. In Carthage, on the other hand, there was a strongly Latinized class of landowners, merchants, and military officers, and it was this class that reaped most of the benefits of trade and other contacts with Italy. For these people, good relations with Rome as well as with the rest of the empire were of paramount importance. But in Carthage itself, as well as in its outlying districts, there were numerous people among the lower classes whose feelings were similar to those of the Numidians and Mauritanians.

Next time, we will continue looking at The Schismatic Reaction: Donatism.

The Schismatic Reaction: Donatism, Part 3 (The History of Christianity #108)

Our History of Christianity Scripture passage today is Romans 15:4 which reads: “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from Justin Martyr. He said: “And when you hear that we look for a kingdom, you suppose, without making any inquiry, that we speak of a human kingdom. Instead, we speak of that which is with God, as can be shown from the confession of their faith made by those who are charged with being Christians, even though they know that death is the punishment awarded to those who so confess. For if we looked for a human kingdom, we would deny our Christ, so that we might not be killed. We would try to escape detection, so that we might obtain what we hope for. But since our thoughts are not fixed on the present, we are not concerned when men cut us off; since death is a debt which must at all events be paid.”

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “The Schismatic Reaction: Donatism (Part 3)” from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).

The Dentists on their part, insisted that Caecilian, whose consecration had been flawed by the participation of a traitor, was not really a bishop, and that for that reasons all those whom he had ordained were false ministers, whose sacraments had no validity. Furthermore, the other bishops whose consecration was not in no doubt had sinned by joining in communion with people such as Caecilian and his party. In consequence, their sacraments and ordinations were no longer valid.

Given the two positions, if a member of Caecilian’s party decided to join the Dentists, a new baptism was required, for the Dentists claimed that a baptism administered by their opponents was not valid. But, on the other hand, those who left the Donatist party were not rebaptized by Caecilian and his followers, who held that baptism was valid regardless of the worth of the person administering it.

Besides the matter of the validity of sacraments administered by an unworthy person, the debate had to do with two very different conceptions of the church. The Donatists held that the church, being the bride of Christ, had to be pure and holy, while their opponents pointed to the parable of the wheat and the tares, which suggests that it is best for the disciples not to try to adjudge who is worthy and who is not, but rather leave that judgment to the Lord. For one party, the holiness of the church consisted of the holiness of its members; for the other, it was grounded in the holiness of its Lord. For the Donatists, what gave authority to a priest or bishop was his personal holiness; for their opponents, such authority was derived from the office – which was a common principle of Roman law.

These were the main theological issues involved in the debate. But when one reads between the lines of the documents of the time, one becomes aware that there were other causes of conflict often obscured by the theological debates. Thus, it appears that among the Donatists there were some who had delivered the scriptures to the authorities, and even some who had made an entire inventory of all the objects that the church used to worship, in order to give that inventory to the authorities. Yet, these people were accepted among the Donatists. Furthermore, one of the first leaders of Donates was a certain Purpurius, who had murdered two nephews. Thus, it is difficult to believe that the real source of enmity of the Donatists toward the rest of the church was their concern for purity.

Next time, we will continue looking at The Schismatic Reaction: Donatism.