Why Nicaea Still Matters

Today (August 25) is the anniversary of the last day of the Council of Nicaea held in AD 325. This Council often receives criticism since it was the first one called and presided over by a Roman Emperor. Constantine summoned the bishops of the churches of the Roman empire to Nicaea to hammer out their disagreements over the nature of Christ. During the previous century, a presbyter from Alexandria, Egypt named Arius had circulated the teaching that: “There was a time when the Son was not.” This was a declaration that the Son was inferior to the Father in His nature. In opposition to this novel teaching was a deacon of the church in Alexandria by the name of Athanasius. Athanasius would eventually become the bishop of Alexandria, but at the time of the Council of Nicaea in 325 he was still only a twenty-seven year old deacon. His courageous stand against Arianism would eventually win the day as the Council adopted a statement which said the following about the Son:

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible; and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten of his Father, of the substance of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father. (Read the entire statement here.)

Along with this positive statement on the nature of Christ, the Council also specifically repudiated Arian teaching in the following terms:

And whosoever shall say that there was a time when the Son of God was not, or that before he was begotten he was not, or that he was made of things that were not, or that he is of a different substance or essence [from the Father] or that he is a creature, or subject to change or conversion — all that so say, the Catholic and Apostolic Church anathematizes them.

Unfortunately, Arianism is not just a matter of historical curiosity. Arius still has his theological descendants today. Jehovah’s Witnesses are little more than modern-day Arians in their teaching concerning Jesus. Likewise, many church members of historically orthodox churches naturally slip into a similar view lack to the human inability to totally comprehend how Jesus can be both fully divine and fully human. As long as error exists, and it will until the God-man Himself returns, the positive statement of the Scriptures teaching about Christ must be not only passively affirmed, but confidently confessed. We can do far worse than in the words which the church has been confessing 1,700 years that Jesus is “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God.”

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