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The Ecumenical Council of Nicaea, AD 325

The fourth-century Council of Nicaea condemned the false notion of the Arians, who taught that Jesus was not God incarnate but a lesser created being. The Council affirmed the divinity of Jesus Christ, “being of one substance with the Father” (homoousios). Our devotion about this comes from The Great Jesus Debates: Four Early Church Battles about the Person and Work of Jesus.

Devotional Reading

Many aspects of the Council of Nicaea are disputed because no records appear to have been kept. However, scholars have gleaned an understanding of the events from a number of sources. Thus we know that in the summer of AD 325, the 218 Fathers of Nicaea assembled for the council (though the exact number of bishops is unknown). Almost all these bishops were from the East, but the pope (the head of the Western church and stationed in Rome) sent representatives. Constantine was present at the council, though he was not a bishop or even a baptized Christian. His advisor, Hosius, chaired the meetings.

Early in the proceedings, the Arians presented a statement of their beliefs, which was quickly condemned by the vast majority of those present at the council. The assembly then attempted to reach an agreement on what the Church affirmed and what it condemned. This was not easy. Although almost all the bishops had creeds developed for their own areas, these statements of belief were almost useless for the present debate because they dealt with issues from the past and said little or nothing that pertained to the present controversy with the Arians. Old formulas did not cover new challenges. Further, when the body attempted to find terms or biblical citations that would eliminate Arianism, the Arians repeatedly managed to interpret the passages in ways that appeared supportive to their positions.

According to the reports of the church historian Eusebius, Constantine stepped into the fray and made the momentous suggestion that the word homoousios be inserted into the statement of belief being developed by the council. It is not exactly clear why the emperor made this suggestion or from whom he had received it. One thing was readily apparent: It was the one word that the Arians could not abide. The council adopted the suggestion.

The final decree of Nicaea, including added condemnations, tries to eliminate in every way possible any suggestion of Arianism from the Christian faith. . . . Almost all those present at the Council of Nicaea signed the final document. Arius and some of his most loyal followers refused and were condemned by the council. Constantine sent them into exile. The handwriting was on the wall for the future.

Devotional reading is from The Great Jesus Debates: Four Early Church Battles about the Person and Work of Jesus, pages 87–88 © 2005 Douglas W. Johnson. Published by Concordia Publishing House.

Psalm 2:7–12

I will tell of the decree:
The LORD said to me, “You are my Son;
    today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
    and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron
    and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”

Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
    be warned, O rulers of the earth.
Serve the LORD with fear,
    and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son,
    lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
    for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

Written by

Anna Johnson

Deaconess Anna Johnson is a marketing manager at Concordia Publishing House. After graduating from the deaconess program at Concordia University Chicago, she continued her studies at the University of Colorado—Denver in education and human development. She has worked as a church youth director and served a variety of other nonprofit organizations, such as the Lutheran Mission Society of Maryland. Anna loves playing video games and drinking a hot cup of tea almost as much as she loves her cat and her husband.

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