April 21, 2020

The Council of Nicaea and Arianism


In A.D. 325, the Council of Nicaea was convened mainly to settle the dispute over Arianism along with the Passover controversy. This dispute caused so much blood to be shed, which was a dark chapter in history.

Arius’ insistence

Arius held a prominent position as a presbyter in the Church of Alexandria in Egypt. He evoked public criticism by insisting on a peculiar doctrine as follows:

  1. Christ is the incarnate Logos (λóγoς in Greek, meaning “Word” or “Truth”).
  2. Christ is capable of change and suffering.
  3. Therefore, the Logos is mutable and not equal to God.

According to Arius’ insistence, Jesus is not God but only a creature, so he is not eternal; and just as the Son is the first creation of God the Father, the Holy Spirit is the first creation of the Son.

Arius was a skilled propagandist, who used his power of persuasion to effectively present his teachings in songs and pithy sayings that people could easily understand and memorize. His teachings spread widely and were sung even by common people like fishermen.

Then Alexander, the bishop of Alexandria, convened a council that condemned and exiled Arius. Expelled from Alexandria, Arius traveled to Palestine, canvassing support from other Eastern bishops.

As a number of Christian leaders and bishops were convinced by Arius, the problems really began. The traditional belief in the divinity of Christ, which had been handed down from the apostolic age, began to be challenged by Arius. Arius’ views spread among the people and the Alexandrian clergy, and Arianism became a world-wide problem.

The Council of Nicaea

In A.D. 325, the Roman Emperor Constantine, who called himself the “patron of the church,” summoned all the Christian bishops to Nicaea to settle the disputes about the Passover and Arianism. All the expenses incurred during the council were paid by the Imperial Household.

At that time, there was a great defender of the faith against Arius. His name was Athanasius, who was a Greek from Alexandria. Athanasius was bitterly opposed to the doctrine of Arius, insisting that Christ is equal to God.

There were twenty Arian sympathizers among over 300 bishops who were present at the Council of Nicaea. The Emperor Constantine commanded them to create a “creed” doctrine that all of Christianity would follow and obey—a doctrine that would be called the “Nicene Creed,” which declared that God and Jesus Christ are of the same substance. Constantine ordered all the bishops to sign the creed, and he intervened to threaten with exile anyone who would not sign it, convicting him of heresy. At the Council of Nicaea, Arianism was condemned, and Arius was exiled to Illyricum, along with two bishops from Lybia—Theonas and Secundus—who refused to sign the creed.

Return of the Arians

After two years, Arius declared that he had repented. Then he and the bishops who had been excommunicated with him came back to the church. After their return from exile, they secretly expanded their influence, teaching their doctrine, and they started to retaliate on their opponents.

They prosecuted their opponents for immorality or for libel against Helena, who was the mother of the Emperor Constantine. Afterwards, they also attacked Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, and sent him into exile.

The emperor who supported Arianism

Arius died in A.D. 336, and in the following year Constantine died. The followers of Arius publicized his doctrine and gradually extended their influence. At that time, the Roman Empire was ruled by Constantine’s three sons: Constantine II (west), Constans (middle), and Constantius (east). Since Constantine II supported the Nicene doctrine, he recalled Athanasius from his exile. Constans also supported the Nicenes and Athanasius, but Constantius was different; he supported the Arians because he was the ruler of the eastern part of the Empire, which was strongly influenced by Arianism.

Shortly afterwards, Constantine II died, which left Constans the sole ruler of the western empire. Ten years later, Constans was murdered, and the entire Roman empire was united under Constantius who had ruled the east. As aforesaid, Constantius was a supporter of the Arians. So, the whole Empire came under the rule of the Arian emperor, who forced all the bishops to accept the Arian creed which held that the Son bore no resemblance to the Father. Liberius, the bishop of Rome, also accepted this new creed before he was exiled.

The Emperor Julian, a follower of Paganism

Some time later, the Roman troops that had been stationed near Paris disobeyed the command of the Emperor Constantius and mutinied against him, and they proclaimed their leader Julian emperor. However, Constantius died before the two could face each other in battle. So Julian became the Roman Emperor. He was a nephew of Constantine, but he did not believe in Christianity. Instead, he was devoted to the Eleusinian Mysteries and tried to restore the old pagan religion. He also sacrificed to the pagan gods under his authority as Pontifax Maximus (the supreme high priest in the ancient Roman religion—a mediator between the gods and the people; since long ago, the Roman emperors had served as the high priests of the sun god; and Constantine and his sons also used their position of authority as Pontifax Maximus to interfere in ecclesiastical affairs).

Julian adopted a policy of treating all religions equally. Then the pagan religion was revived and the number of its followers started to increase. He called back all the bishops exiled by Constans to their chairs in order to foster division among them; his ultimate aim was to overthrow Christianity. Recognizing this, however, the bishops of all regions except Africa joined together against Julian and paganism.

The disruption of the Roman Empire and the fall of the Arian nations

When Julian died, he was succeeded by Jovian, a Christian. His successors were also all Christians, and they were generous to both the Nicene Creed and Arianism. In the mid-5th century, however, the Roman Empire began to rapidly decline as the Goths came down from the north; they made inroads into the Roman Empire, and they divided its territory and occupied it. At that time, many Christian leaders were taken captives, and they evangelized the Goths. Some Christians even volunteered to go among the Goths to evangelize them. The followers of Arianism spread Arian Christianity among the Heruli, the Vandals, and the Ostrogoths. However, these three Gothic tribes were destroyed one after another by the Papacy.

The effects of the Nicene Creed and Arianism

Afterwards, the Nicene Creed was accepted as legitimate. This Nicene “Trinitarianism” was adopted as a basic formula of belief by the Roman Catholic Church that led the Dark Ages, and also by many Protestant churches that appeared after the Reformation. However, there are still some denominations like the Jehovah’s Witnesses that deny the divinity of Christ, insisting that God the Father and God the Son are not of the same essence. They can be called “modern-day Arians.”

The limitations of the Nicene Creed

Although the Council of Nicaea rejected Arianism and adopted the Nicene Creed proclaiming that the Son is one in being with the Father, this creed did not approach the core of the “Trinity.” The Nicene Creed presented the concept that “God the Father is God the Son” by describing Jesus Christ as the only Son of the Father” or as “being of one substance with the Father,” but this concept is very vague. That is why many Christians and even the theologians today, who claim to believe in the Trinity, cannot easily accept the fact that “Jesus Christ is God,” even though they acknowledge that “Jesus is the Son of God.”

So, some churches preach weird doctrines such as: “God the Son is considered equal to God the Father because the Son does the same things that the Father does.”

This lack of Biblical knowledge has created many false doctrines similar to Arian teachings, which emphasize the humanity of Christ. This in turn has resulted in causing people to denounce the deity of Christ by interpreting the Bible in their own ways.

Moreover, there are no explicit statements about the Holy Spirit in the Nicene Creed. So since the Council of Nicaea, the Christian churches have merely taught the term “Trinity” itself as a theological doctrine in name only. So, they do not even realize the essentials of the Bible and fail to reach the Biblical understanding of the fact that “God the Father is God the Holy Spirit,” and that “God the Son is God the Holy Spirit.

The Trinity, the Biblical truth

The Trinity is not a mere theory which can either be affirmed or denied as a theological doctrine, but it is the Biblical truth that has been emphasized since the early Church. The truth is what God has personally taught us (Mic 4:1-2)—not the sort of thing that can be brought forth by the dispute of theologians through a religious council.

Satan never wants us to have knowledge of God. Since he knows that God’s people will be destroyed if they have no knowledge of God (Hos 4:1-6), he has spread the spirit of the antichrist all over the world. Those who are deluded by him deny the Trinity, or even if they acknowledge the Trinity with their lips, they deny it in their hearts. They have such double-minded faith.

How can we judge things until the Spirit of truth comes (1 Co 4:5)? Since He has come and brought to light what is hidden in darkness, we have now come to the knowledge of God and have passed from destruction to life.

“They will all be taught by God (Jn 6:45).” According to this promise of God, we have come to understand the words of truth. Giving thanks to God who is with us always—to the very end of the age—as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, we should devote our whole strength to leading all people in the world to the way of salvation by conveying correct knowledge of God to them.