The Council of Nicaea and three others

· CHRISTIANITY
Authors

The best way to understand the doctrine of ‘Trinity’ is to study its historical evolution. It took four Ecumenical Councils from year 325 CE till 451 CE, spread over more than 100 years and 450 years after Jesus Christ was put on the cross, for the doctrine to arrive in what is its current form.

Contrast all this to the simplicity and beauty of the Muslim creed, “There is no God but Allah!”

If we include the discussion about nature of Jesus also, it took 650 years after Jesus Christ was put on the cross, for the doctrine of Trinity to arrive in what is its current form.

According to Encyclopedia Britannica as it describes the sixth Ecumenical Council that presided over the nature of Jesus:

“The Third Council of Constantinople was held in (680–681), the sixth ecumenical council of the Christian church, summoned by the emperor Constantine IV and meeting at Constantinople.

Some eastern Christians, forbidden to talk of the concept of one nature of Christ, thought to enforce the unity of the person of Christ by talking of one will (thelema) and one operation (energeia) from the two natures. Persons holding this view were called Monothelites. Sergius, patriarch of Constantinople, and Honorius I, pope of Rome, appear to have embraced the Monothelite doctrine. The council of 680–681 condemned the Monothelites, among them Honorius, and asserted two wills and two operations.” According to the verdict Jesus was to be understood some sort of a ‘hybrid,’ for the lack of a better word, a perfect man and a perfect God, born to a virgin human mother without a divine mother, a picture and concept that human rationality cannot fathom, except through forced belief or faith!

No wonder, it has always amazed Muslims, why the Trinitarian Christians do not opt for something better. We extend a cordial invitation to all the Christian brethren and sisters in the words of the Holy Quran, “Say, ‘O People of the Book! come to a word equal between us and you — that we worship none but Allah, and that we associate no partner with Him, and that some of us take not others for Lords besides Allah.’ But if they turn away, then say, ‘Bear witness that we have submitted to God.’ ” (Al Quran 3:65)


The Holy Quran states:
And that it (the Quran) may warn those who say, ‘ Allah has taken unto Himself a son.’ No knowledge have they thereof, nor had their fathers. Grievous is the word that comes from their mouths. They speak naught but a lie. (Al Quran 18:5-6)
The best way to understand the doctrine of ‘Trinity’ is to study its historical evolution.  It took 4 Ecumenical Councils from year 325 CE till 451 CE, for the doctrine to arrive in what is its current form.
According to Encyclopedia Britannica, as it describes the first Council:
“The first ecumenical council of the Christian church (325 CE), meeting in ancient Nicaea (now İznik, Tur.). It was called by the emperor Constantine I, an unbaptized catechumen, or neophyte, who presided over the opening session and took part in the discussions. He hoped a general council of the church would solve the problem created in the Eastern church by Arianism, a heresy first proposed by Arius of Alexandria that affirmed that Christ is not divine but a created being. Pope Sylvester I did not attend the council but was represented by legates.
The council condemned Arius and, with reluctance on the part of some, incorporated the nonscriptural word homoousios (‘of one substance’) into a creed (the Nicene Creed) to signify the absolute equality of the Son with the Father. The emperor then exiled Arius, an act that, while manifesting a solidarity of church and state, underscored the importance of secular patronage in ecclesiastical affairs.”[1]
But in all fairness Arius aught to have been declared a saint rather than a heretic! The term ‘Arianism’ is used to refer to other nontrinitarian theological systems of the 4th century. Arianism is the theological teaching of Arius (CE 250–336), a Church priest, who was first ruled a heretic at the First Council of Nicea of 325, later exonerated in 335 at the First Synod of Tyre, and then pronounced a heretic again after his death at the First Council of Constantinople of 381. The Emperor Constantine was baptized by an Arian Bishop. The Roman Emperors Constantius II (337-361) and Valens (364-378) were Arians or Semi-Arians.
File:Constantine burning Arian books.jpg
The Council of Nicaea, Constantine and the condemnation and burning of Arian books, illustration from a northern Italian compendium of canon law, ca. 825
The very basic concept of ‘Trinity,’ was not fully formulated until the second Ecumenical Council held in Constantinople in 381.  Prof. William R Cook writes, “The Council of Constantinople reaffirmed the Nicene formula and emphasized that the Holy Spirit was indeed God–an unequivocal affirmation of the Trinity.”[2]
According to Encyclopedia Britannica, as it describes the main issue for the second Council, which was the status of the Holy Spirit, “The second ecumenical council of the Christian church, summoned by the emperor Theodosius I and meeting in Constantinople. Doctrinally, it promulgated what became known to the church as the Nicene Creed; it also declared finally the Trinitarian doctrine of the equality of the Holy Spirit with the Father and the Son.”[3]

File:Nicaea icon.jpg

Icon depicting the Emperor Constantine and the Fathers of the First Council of Nicaea (325) holding the Nicene Creed in its 385 form.
The second Council had some long lasting effects.  The most dramatic issue was how it ultimately effected the East and West Great Schism of 1054.

File:Council of Constantinople 381 BnF MS Gr510 fol355.jpg

The Second Ecumenical Council whose additions to the original Nicene Creed lay at the heart of one of the theological disputes associated with the East-West Schism. (Illustration, 879-882 AD, from manuscript, Homilies of Gregory of Nazianzus, Bibliothèque nationale de France)

Filioque, Latin for “and (from) the Son”, was added in Western Christianity to the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, commonly referred to as the Nicene Creed. This insertion emphasizes that Jesus, the Son, is of equal divinity with God, the Father, while the absence of it in Eastern Christianity concentrates on the Father.Et in Spiritum Sanctum, Dominum, et vivificantem: qui ex Patre Filioque procedit.
(And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, and giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.)The word was first added at the Third Council of Toledo (589) and spread throughout Western Christianity. It has been an ongoing source of conflict between the East and West, contributing to the East-West Schism of 1054 and proving an obstacle to attempts to reunify the two sides.[4][5]

File:Angelsatmamre-trinity-rublev-1410.jpg

Trinity icon by Andrei Rublev, c. 1400 (Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow)

THE THIRD COUNCIL

The third council the Council of Ephesus condemned the teachings of Nestorius, who refused to venerate Mary as the mother of God, which suggested that Christ was divisible into human and divine parts.  According to Encyclopedia Britannica:
“In 431 Pope Celestine I commissioned Cyril, patriarch of Alexandria, to conduct proceedings against Nestorius, his longtime adversary, whose doctrine of two Persons in Christ the Pope had previously condemned. When the Eastern bishops (more sympathetic to Nestorius) arrived and learned that the council summoned by Emperor Theodosius II had been started without them, they set up a rival synod under John of Antioch and excommunicated Memnon, bishop of Ephesus, along with Cyril. When Pope Celestine pronounced his excommunication of Nestorius and ratified his deposition as bishop of Constantinople, the Emperor abandoned his neutral position and sided with Cyril. Perhaps as a rebuke to the rebels, the council also made the Church of Cyprus independent of the see of Antioch. This council is known as the third ecumenical council of the church.”[6]
THE FOURTH COUNCIL: THE COUNCIL OF CHALCEDON
The last of these councils was the Council of Chalcedon, that established the nature(s) of Jesus Christ.  It is considered by the Roman Catholics, the Eastern Orthodox, the Old Catholics, and various other Western Christian groups to have been the Fourth Ecumenical Council . It was held from 8 October to 1 November 451 at Chalcedon.  Prof.  William R Cook writes in the booklet of this course, “The Council of Chalcedon met to deal with the question of the nature(s) of Christ.  The Council condemned the Monophysite position, declaring that Christ has two complete natures, human and divine.”[7]
According to Encyclopedia Britannica:
“The fourth ecumenical council of the Christian Church, held in Chalcedon (modern Kadiköy, Tur.) in 451. Convoked by the emperor Marcian, it was attended by about 520 bishops or their representatives and was the largest and best-documented of the early councils. It approved the creed of Nicaea (325), the creed of Constantinople (381; subsequently known as the Nicene Creed), two letters of Cyril against Nestorius, which insisted on the unity of divine and human persons in Christ, and the Tome of Pope Leo I confirming two distinct natures in Christ and rejecting the Monophysite doctrine that Christ had only one nature. The council then explained these doctrines in its own confession of faith.”[6]
Contrast all this to the simplicity of the Muslim creed, “There is no God but Allah!”
Introduction to Ahmadiyya Muslim Community:

The official website is:
I have separate articles on the fifth and the sixth Ecumenical Councils:
The top picture is: Holy Trinity, fresco by Luca Rossetti da Orta, 1738-9 (St. Gaudenzio Church at Ivrea).  Ref: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trinity

References

  1. “Council of Nicaea.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2010. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 02 Jan. 2010 ca.com/EBchecked/topic/413817/Council-of-Nicaea>.
  2. Prof. William R Cook. The Catholic Church: A History. The Teaching Company, 2009. Page 20.
  3. “Council of Constantinople.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2010. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 02 Jan. 2010 ca.com/EBchecked/topic/134014/Council-of-Constantinople>.
  4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Filioque
  5. http://knol.google.com/k/zia-shah/different-sects-of-christianity/1qhnnhcumbuyp/171#
  6. “councils of Ephesus.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2010. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 02 Jan. 2010 ca.com/EBchecked/topic/189564/councils-of-Ephesus>.
  7. Prof. William R Cook. The Catholic Church: A History. The Teaching Company, 2009. Page 20.
  8. “Council of Chalcedon.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2010. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 02 Jan. 2010 ca.com/EBchecked/topic/104580/Council-of-Chalcedon>.

1 Comment

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  1. Zia H. Shah

    “Islam is a religion that is essentially rationalistic in the widest sense of this term…and the dogma of unity of God has always been proclaimed therein with a grandeur a majesty, an invariable purity and with a note of sure conviction, which it is hard to find surpassed outside the pale of Islam….A creed so precise, so stripped of all theological complexities and consequently so accessible to the ordinary understanding might be expected to possess and does indeed possess a marvelous power of winning its way into the consciences of men.” [Edward Montet, ‘La Propagande Chretienne et ses Adversaries Musulmans,’ Paris 1890. (Also in T.W. Arnold in ‘The Preaching of Islam,’ London 1913)]

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