Friday, May 20, 2016

Beginning of the Council of Nicea (May 20, 325)

The Council of Nicea (the first convened in that city) was an assembly of 318 Christian bishops gathered in that city of Bithynia (today Iznik, in Turkey) by Roman emperor Constantine I (306-337) in 325. This was the first ecumenical council, with the goal of attaining consensus through an assembly that represented all of Christendom. The attending bishops were only a fraction of the total number of bishops of the Church, approximately 1,800 (a thousand in the East and eight hundred in the West). Catholicos Aristakes, son of St. Gregory the Illuminator, was among the attending bishops as representative of the Armenian Church.

One of the purposes of the council was to resolve disagreements over the nature of the Son of God in his relationship to God the Father. In particular, whether the Son had been “begotten” by the Father from his own being, which meant having no beginning, or else created out of nothing, and therefore having a beginning. The first position was held by St. Alexander and Athanasius of Alexandria, while Arius, a member of the clergy of Alexandria, held the second position, which considered the Son of God a creature, instead of confessing him to be of one substance, power, and eternity with the Father.

The council was formally opened on May 20, 325, in the imperial palace at Nicea, with preliminary discussions of the Arian question. In these discussions, Arius was one of the dominant figures, with 22 bishops coming as supporters, led by Eusebius of Nicomedia. However, the reading of some of the more shocking passages from his writings made them almost unanimously seen as blasphemous.

The Nicene Creed was created in order to clarify the key tenets of the Christian faith, as a result of the extensive adoption of the doctrine of Arius, known as Arianism, far outside Alexandria. In the Creed, the divinity of Jesus Christ is proclaimed as “God from God, light from light, true God from true God.” He is said to be “begotten, not made,” asserting that he was the true Son of God, brought into being “of the substance of the Father,” and not a mere creature, brought into being out of nothing. Jesus Christ is also said to be “of one substance with the Father” (consubstantial). The Creed (Havadamk) of the Armenian Church, which is professed every Sunday during Holy Mass, is based on the Nicene Creed:

We believe in one God, the Father almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth, of things visible and invisible. 
And we believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of God the Father, only-begotten, that is of the substance of the Father. God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten and not made; himself of the same nature of the Father by whom all things came into being in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible. 
Who for us, mankind, and for our salvation came down from heaven, was incarnate, became man, was born perfectly of the holy Virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit. By whom he took body, soul and mind and everything that is in mind, truly and not in semblance. 
He suffered and was crucified and was buried, and on the third day he rose again; and ascended into heaven with the same body and sat at the right hand of the Father. He is to come with the same body and with the glory of the Father to judge the living and the dead, whose kingdom has no end. 
We also believe in the Holy Spirit, the uncreated and the perfect, who spoke through the Law and the Prophets and the Gospels; who descended on the river Jordan, preached through the apostles and dwelled in the saints. 
We also believe in only one, universal, and apostolic holy Church; in one baptism; in repentance and in the remission and forgiveness of sins; we believe in the resurrection of the dead, in the everlasting judgment of souls and bodies, in the kingdom of heaven and in life eternal.

The text of the Creed is entirely taken from the Bible. An anathema was added at the end, specifically addressed to the Arian heresy, which says:

The universal and apostolic holy Church anathematizes those who say that there was a time when the Son was not, or that there was a time when the Holy Spirit was not, or that they came into being out of nothing, or who say that the Son of God or the Holy Spirit is of different substance, or that they are changeable or alterable.

Besides the settlement of the Christological issue, the Council of Nicea also established the uniform observance of the date of Easter and the promulgation of early canon law. The Council was the first of the three ecumenical councils recognized by the Armenian Apostolic Church, the others being the councils of Constantinople (381) and Ephesus (431).