The first ecumenical councils
Bible 111 Intro to Christian
November 17, 2018
As far as controversial topics go, Christianity with the specific subject of the Holy Trinity, is the most controversial. Many argue that the Holy Spirit, Jesus, and God are all different people and most even forget the Holy Spirit is even a factor. For example, if you’re a follower of Arius you might believe that God is above the son and spirit, or if you’re a follower of Macedonianism you might believe that the God and Son are equal, and the Holy Spirit is below them. The subject of the Holy Trinity was a monster of controversies and where all the councils sprouted from, all good and bad, and they brought forth new insight to Christianity that we still believe in today.
Introduce the first confrontation in the year A.D. 325. The Arian Heresy was where the belief is the three hypostases of the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost are one substance with each other. More than one force opposed this theology. A man by the name of Arius had a theological belief where he thought that God was above the son and spirit. According to Tony Lane, Arius did not believe in the hierarchy of divine beings. His holding ground for Arianism was concreted in Libya, possibly because Dionysius of Alexandria did many strong and successful campaigns of suppression Sabellianism in the Pentapolis that the churches there has taken the lesson only too well to heart. Because of this he gained a strong following behind his theology, drawing on the attention of Athanasius. Athanasius was known for focusing on the Holy Spirit and was one of the main voices for showing that Arius had theological standing. The other main voices were known as the Cappadocian fathers who primarily opposed the Arian heresy and helped established the Trinity doctrine. The debates that struck back and forth between the two called on for the first of the Councils, the Council of Nicaea. As the first ecumenical council, it condemned Arianism and called it a heresy. In conclusion of the council, twenty canons were signed into play to establish that the three hypostases of the father, the son, and the Holy Ghost are one of the same substance.
The second squabble occurred in A.D. 381. As the years went on, many of the twenty canons that were signed fell out of favor. They were no longer followed or held to high standards so in order to keep the standards, Theodosius l held the council of Constantinople to confirm the Nicaea faith. The Cappadocian Fathers, one of the biggest voices from the original Nicaea Council continued to voice their beliefs in the three hypostases and shut down Arianism once more. Not only did they condemn Arianism, they also condemned Macedoniamism and Apollinarianism. Macedonianism was the belief that God and the Son were equal, but the Holy Spirit was not while Apollinarianism was the belief that Jesus did not have a human mind but rather a human body and a divine mind. All three were easily shut down and finished addressing what was unsaid about the Holy Spirit in the early Nicaea Council years before. There were seven new cannons that were signed into the council, four were disciplinary cannons against Arian heresy, limiting the power of bishops, and the condemnation of Maximus and his followers. It was stated that out of the Nicaea Creed, the Holy Spirit proceeded through the father through the son. Unbeknownst to the council however, another question arose from this. How is Jesus both God and man?
The third disputation was over the divinity of Jesus Christ in A.D. 431 in the Council of Ephesus. A strong source that was a reason for calling this council was the Pagans who denied the divinity of Christ outright. He was presented as a non-human entity, maybe even magical to some. They also believed him to be just a good moral teacher and a historical occurrence, but none believed that he was of God, just purely human. Another source was the Christians unsurprisingly who believed that Christ was God but admitted that his presence on earth as a human being was a mystery. The man who called the council together and was also a source of the disputation due to his teachings, was Nestorius. He had been condemned in a council at Rome a year earlier and has personally asked the current emperor at the time Theodosius ll to form the council. So, with the emperors’ request to the many bishops, the council of Ephesus was created. However, despite Nestorius being one of the main reasons for the council, he never answered his summons to the meeting. A man by the name of Cyril of Alexandria started the council without Nestorius and proposed twelve anthems that were later accepted by the Council of Ephesus. Because of Cyril, Nestorius’s teachings were looked over and found to be blasphemy against Jesus Christ. Therefor, in the end, Nestorius was decreed to strip of his episcopal dignity and be removed from the college of priests. In conclusion of the council, they ended up affirming Mary as the “mother of God,” and ended up causing a divide between the Easter church, some of which are still around today like the Assyrian Church of the East and Chaldean Catholicism.
In comes the last of the ecumenical councils, the Council of Chalcedon in A.D. 451. “It specified that monks of the country and the town are under jurisdiction of the bishop”. The idea of his spiritual jurisdiction was without question, but the actual question was about if the bishop had the right to also interfere in the administration of monastic properties and in the general internal economy of monasteries in his diocese. Its other purpose was over Jesus Christ’s divine nature and was set to go against those who affirmed he only had one divine nature and those who believed that he had a mixture of the two natures, both human and God. The Council produced the Chalcedonian Definition which shows that Christ is perfect in both human and divine form. That his two natures are both different yet the same in one body. Dealing with the other issue of bishops, the council made the title of patriarch while trying to keep both the Church of Rome and the Church of Constantinople happy. The Pope ended up rejecting this part of the creed but accepted everything else. This eventually leads to the Great Schism between the Eastern Church and the Western Church in A.D. 1054.
In full conclusion of Application and Analysis, the Nicaea Creed affects my contemporary Pentecostal church. As a Pentecostal church, we believe in the holy trinity. All is one and one is all. They are all one being in different bodies. While the modern Pentecostals and the followers of the Nicaea Creed, like the Eastern Orthodoxy, have things in common, they are also vastly different with styles of how they worship, the culture of the religion, and many other things. For example, Pentecostals see the Eastern Orthodoxy as the same as the Roman Catholic Church, all caught up in icons and have a different form of worship that may or may not work. As for the modern Eastern Orthodoxy, the conclude Pentecostals with Evangelicals and non-Christian religions as we lack the priesthood they carry. Of course, even though these two denominations are vastly different, they all come to one conclusion, that Jesus is our Lord and savior. Everyone has the right idea about Christianity, but the wrong conclusion which is what makes the past councils so beautiful. They came together in the end and discussed their transgressions to come up with solutions and that, I think, is what God truly wants for his people.
Lane, Tony, A Concise History of Christian Thought, Baker Academic, 2006: pg 28.
Chadwick, Henry. “Faith and Order at the Council of Nicaea: A Note on the Background of the Sixth Canon.” The Harvard Theological Review 53, no. 3 (1960): 171-95. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1508399.
Tanner, Norman P. “First Council of Nicaea ? 325 AD.” Papal Encyclicals. Last modified December 12, 2017. http://www.papalencyclicals.net/Councils/ecum01.htm.
Lane, Tony, A Concise History of Christian Thought, Baker Academic, 2006: pg 39 Tanner, Norman P. “First Council of Nicaea ? 325 AD.” Papal Encyclicals. Last modified December 12, 2017. http://www.papalencyclicals.net/Councils/ecum01.htm
Belloc, Hilaire. “Gibbon and the First Council of Ephesus.” Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review 13, no. 51 (1924): 381-94. http://www.jstor.org/stable/30093633.
Bittermann, Helen Robbins. “The Council of Chalcedon and Episcopal Jurisdiction.” Speculum 13, no. 2 (1938): 198-203. doi:10.2307/2848402
Bittermann, Helen Robbins. “The Council of Chalcedon and Episcopal Jurisdiction.” Speculum 13, no. 2 (1938): 198-203. doi:10.2307/2848402.
Tanner, Norman P. “The Council of Chalcedon ? 451 A.D.” Papal Encyclicals. Last modified October 12, 2018. http://www.papalencyclicals.net/councils/ecum04.htm.
Rybarczyk, Edmund J. “Pentecostalism and Eastern Orthodoxy.” Home – East-West Church ; Ministry Report. Accessed November 17, 2018. http://www.eastwestreport.org/articles/ew12102.html.