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

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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.

Persecution In the Third Century, Part 8

The History of Christianity #63

Our History of Christianity Scripture verse today is 1 Corinthians 1:26-27 which reads: “For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from John Wesley. He said: “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “Persecution In the Third Century” (Part 8) from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).

Novatian was more rigorous than Cyprian. He clashed with the bishop of Rome, Cornelius, because in his opinion the lapsed were being readmitted too easily. Years earlier, there had been in the same city a similar conflict between Hippolytus, a noted theologian, and bishop Calixtus, because the latter was willing to forgive those guilty of fornication who repented, and Hippolytus insisted that this should not be done. At that time the result was a schism, so that there were two bishops in Rome. In the case of Novatian’s protests the result was the same. As in so many other cases, the issue was whether purity or forgiving love should be the characteristic note of the church. The schism of Hippolytus did not last long, but the Novatianist schism did continue for several generations.

The significance of these episodes is that they show how, due to its concern for its own purity, and to its understanding of sin as a debt owed to God, the Western church was repeatedly embroiled in debates regarding how that purity should be sustained while still having the church be a community of love. As a result, the restoration of the lapsed was one of the main concerns of the Western church from a very early date. The question of what should be done about those baptized Christians who sinned divided the Western church repeatedly. It was out of that concern that the entire penitential system developed. Much later, the Protestant Reformation was in large measure a protest against that system.

Next time, we will look at Christian Life.

Persecution in the Third Century, Part 7

St. Cyprian of Carthage
St. Cyprian of Carthage

The History of Christianity #62

Our History of Christianity Scripture verse today is Revelation 20:4 which reads: “And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from Jim Elliot. He said: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “Persecution In the Third Century” (Part 7) from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).

The Question of the Lapsed: Cyprian and Novatian (Part 2)
Some of these confessors thought that the lapsed should be readmitted directly, with no other requirement than their own declaration of repentance. Soon some of the presbyters, who had other reasons for disliking their bishop, joined the confessors, and the outcome was a schism that divided the church in Carthage and throughout the neighboring areas. Cyprian then called a synod – that is, a gathering of the bishops of the region – which decided that those who had purchased or otherwise obtained certificates without actually having sacrificed would be immediately readmitted to the communion of the church. Those who had sacrificed would only be readmitted on their deathbeds, or when a new persecution gave them the opportunity to prove the sincerity of their repentance. Those who had sacrificed and showed no repentance would never be readmitted. All these actions were to be taken by the bishops, and not by confessors. These decisions ended the controversy, although the schism continued for some time.

The main reason why Cyprian insisted on the need to regulate the readmission of the lapsed into the communion of the church was his own understanding of the church. The church is the body of Christ, and will share in the victory of its Head. Therefore, “outside the church there is no salvation,” and “no one can have God as Father who does not have the church as mother.” By this he did not mean that one had to be in total agreement with the hierarchy of the church – he himself had his own clashes with the hierarchy of Rome. But he did believe that the unity of the church was of supreme importance. Since the actions of the confessors threatened that unity, Cyprian felt that he had to reject those actions and to insist on the need for a synod to decide what was to be done with the lapsed.

Besides this, Cyprian was an admirer of Tertullian, whose writings he studied assiduously. Tertullian’s rigorism had an influence on Cyprian, and he revolted against the idea of restoring the lapsed too easily. The church was to be a community of saints, and the idolaters and apostates had no place in it.

Novatian was more rigorous than Cyprian. He clashed with the bishop of Rome, Cornelius, because in his opinion the lapsed were being readmitted too easily. Years earlier, there had been in the same city a similar conflict between Hippolytus, a noted theologian, and bishop Calixtus, because the latter was willing to forgive those guilty of fornication who repented, and Hippolytus insisted that this should not be done. At that time the result was a schism, so that there were two bishops in Rome. In the case of Novatian’s protests the result was the same. As in so many other cases, the issue was whether purity or forgiving love should be the characteristic note of the church. The schism of Hippolytus did not last long, but the Novatianist schism did continue for several generations.

The significance of these episodes is that they show how, due to its concern for its own purity, and to its understanding of sin as a debt owed to God, the Western church was repeatedly embroiled in debates regarding how that purity should be sustained while still having the church be a community of love. As a result, the restoration of the lapsed was one of the main concerns of the Western church from a very early date. The question of what should be done about those baptized Christians who sinned divided the Western church repeatedly. It was out of that concern that the entire penitential system developed. Much later, the Protestant Reformation was in large measure a protest against that system.

Next time, we will look at Christian Life.

Persecution In the Third Century, Part 6

St. Cyprian of Carthage
St. Cyprian of Carthage

The History of Christianity #61

Our History of Christianity Scripture verse today is 1 Peter 4:19 which reads: “Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from William Tyndale. He said: “For if God be on our side, what matter maketh it who be against us, be they bishops, cardinals, popes, or whatsoever names they will?”

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “Persecution In the Third Century” (Part 6) from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).

The Question of the Lapsed: Cyprian and Novatian (Part 1)

In spite of its brief duration, the persecution under Decius was a harsh trial for the church. This was due, not only to the persecution itself, but also to the problems that had to be faced after it. In short, the great question before the church was what to do about the “lapsed” – those who, in one way or another, had weakened during the persecution. There were several complicating factors. One was that not all had fallen in the same manner nor to the same degree. The case of those who ran to offer sacrifice as soon as they were told of the imperial decree was hardly the same as that of those who purchased fraudulent certificates, or those others who had weakened for a moment, but had then reaffirmed their faith and asked to rejoin the church while the persecution was still in progress.

Given the great prestige of the confessors, some thought that they were the ones with authority to determine who among the lapsed ought to be restored to the communion of the church, and how. Some confessors, particularly in North Africa, claimed that authority, and began restoring some of the lapsed. This met with the opposition of many bishops who claimed that only the hierarchy had the authority to restore the lapsed, and that only it could do so in a uniform and just manner. Still others were convinced that both the confessors and the bishops were showing too much leniency, and that the lapsed ought to be treated with greater rigor. In the debate surrounding this question, two people played crucial rules: Cyprian and Novatian.

Cyprian had become a Christian when he was about forty years old, and shortly thereafter had been elected bishop of Carthage. His favorite theologian was Tertullian, whom he called “the master.” Like Tertullian, he was trained in rhetoric, and he could easily overwhelm his opponents with his arguments. His writings are among the best Christian literature of the time.

Cyprian, who had become a bishop shortly before the persecution, thought that his duty was to flee to a secure place with other leaders of the church, and continue guiding the flock through an extensive correspondence. As was to be expected, many interpreted this decision as an act of cowardice. The church of Rome, for instance, had lost its bishop in the persecution, and the clergy of that city wrote to Cyprian questioning his decision. He insisted that he had fled for the good of his flock, and not out of cowardice. As a matter of fact, his valor and conviction were amply proven a few years later, when he gave his life as a martyr. But meanwhile his own authority was questioned, and there were many who claimed that the confessors of Carthage, who had suffered for their faith, had more authority than he did, particularly when it came to the question of the restoration of the lapsed.

Next time, we will continue looking at The Question of the Lapsed: Cyprian and Novatian.

Persecution In the Third Century, Part 5

The History of Christianity #60

Our History of Christianity Scripture verse today is Romans 8:35-37 which reads: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from John Foxe. He said: “When the Christians, upon these occasions, received martyrdom, they were ornamented, and crowned with garlands of flowers; for which they, in heaven, received eternal crowns of glory.”

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “Persecution In the Third Century” (Part 5) from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).

Persecution Under Under Decius (Part 2)

Although Decius’ edict has been lost, it is clear that what he ordered was not that Christians as such ought to be persecuted, but rather that the worship of the gods was now mandatory throughout the empire. Following the imperial decree, everyone had to offer sacrifice to the gods and to burn incense before a statue of Decius. Those who compiled would be given a certificate or libellum attesting to that fact. Those who did not have such a certificate would then be considered outlaws who had disobeyed the imperial command.

The imperial decree found Christians unprepared for the new challenge. The generations that had lived under constant threat of persecution were now past, and the new generations were not ready for martyrdom. Some ran to obey the imperial command. Some bought false certificates declaring that they had sacrificed before the gods, when in fact they had not. Others stood firm for a while, but when brought before the imperial authorities offered the required sacrifice to the gods. And there was a significant number who resolved to stand firm and refuse to obey the edict.

Since Decius’ goal was to promote the worship of the gods, rather than to kill Christians, those who actually died as martyrs were relatively few. What the authorities did was to arrest Christians and then, through a combination of promises, threats, and torture, to try to force them to abandon their faith. It was under this policy that Origen was imprisoned and tortured. And Origen’s case found hundreds of counterparts throughout the empire. This was no longer a sporadic or local persecution, but one that was systematic and universal. As proof of the widespread application of the imperial decree, certificates of having sacrificed have survived from some rather remote parts of the empire.

One of the results of this persecution was that a new title of honor appeared within the church, that of the “confessor.” Until that time, practically all who were taken before the authorities and remained firm had become martyrs. Those who offered sacrifice to the gods and to the emperor were apostates. Due to the policies established by Decius, there were now those who remained firm in their faith, even in the midst of cruel torture, but who never received the crown of martyrdom. Those who had confessed the faith in such circumstances were then called “confessors,” and were highly respected by other Christians.

Decius’ persecution was brief. In 251 AD Gallus suceeded him, and his policies were set aside. Six years later Valerian, a former companion of Decius, began a new persecution. But he was captured by the Persians, who took him prisoner, and the church enjoyed another forty years of relative peace.

Next time, we will look at The Question of the Lapsed: Cyprian and Novatian.

Persecution In the Third Century, Part 4

The History of Christianity #59

Emperor Decius
Emperor Decius

Our History of Christianity Scripture verse today is 1 Peter 4:1 which reads: “Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from Tertullian. He said: “If the Tiber rises too high, or the Nile too low, the remedy is always feeding Christians to the lions.”

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “Persecution In the Third Century” (Part 4) from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).

Persecution Under Under Decius (Part 1)

In 249 AD, Decius took the imperial purple. Although Christian historians have depicted him as a cruel person, the truth is that Decius was simply a Roman of the old style, whose main goal was to restore Rome to her ancient glory. There were several factors contributing to the eclipse of that glory. The barbarians beyond the borders were increasingly restless, and their incursions into the empire were growing more and more daring. There was a serious economic crisis. And the ancient traditions associated with the classical times of Roman civilization were generally forgotten.

To a traditional Roman such as Decius, it seemed obvious that one of the reasons for all this was that the people had abandoned the ancient gods. When all adored the gods, things went better, and the glory and power of Rome were on the increase. By neglecting the gods, Rome had provoked their displeasure, and had been itself neglected by them. Therefore, if Rome’s ancient glory was to be restored, it was necessary to restore also its ancient religion. If all the subjects of the empire would worship the gods, perhaps the gods would once again favor the empire.

This was the basis of Decius’ religious policy. It was no longer a matter of rumors about Christian immorality, nor of punishing the obstinacy of those who refused to worship the emperor. It was rather an entire religious campaign for the restoration of ancestral religion – a religion that was being particularly undermined by Christianity. What was at stake, as Decius saw it, was the survival of Rome itself. Those who refused to worship the gods were practically guilty of high treason.

Given these circumstances, Decius’ persecution was very different from earlier ones. The emperor’s purpose was not to create martyrs, but apostates. Almost fifty years earlier, Tertullian had declared that the blood of the martyrs was a seed, for the more it was spilled the greater the number of Christians. The exemplary deaths of Christians in those early years had moved many who had witnessed them, and therefore persecution seemed to encourage the spread of Christianity. If, instead of suffering martyrdom, Christians were forced to recant, this would deprive Christianity of the heroic witness of the martyrs, and would be a victory for Decius’ goal of restoring paganism.

Next time, we will continue looking at Persecution Under Decius.