The First General Council of Nicaea, 325
(Chapter 1 of THE CHURCH IN CRISIS: A History of the General Councils, 325-
1870, by Msgr. Philip Hughes.)
It is more than sixteen hundred years since the first of the General
Councils of the Church met. This is so long ago that the very names of the
places connected with its history have quite disappeared from common
knowledge and the atlases. They have about them an air of the fabulous;
Nicaea, Bithynia, Nicomedia, and the rest. The very unfamiliarity of the
sounds is a reminder that even for the purpose of the slight consideration
which is all that these pages allow, a considerable adjustment of the mind
is called for. We must, somehow, revive the memory of a world that has
wholly passed away, that had disappeared, indeed, well nigh a thousand
years already when Columbus and his ships first sighted the coasts of the
The business that brought the three hundred or so bishops to Nicaea in 325
from all over the Christian world was to find a remedy for the disturbances
that had seriously troubled the East for now nearly two years. The cause of
these disturbances was a new teaching about the basic mystery of the
Let our expert summarise the position, and say what it was that the new
leader, Arius by name, had lately been popularising, through sermons,
writings, and popular hymns and songs. "It was the doctrine of Arianism
that our Lord was a pure creature, made out of nothing, liable to fall, the
Son of God by adoption, not by nature, and called God in Scripture, not as
being really such, but only in name. At the same time [Arius] would not
have denied that the Son and the Holy Ghost were creatures transcendently
near to God, and immeasurably distant from the rest of creation.
"Now, by contrast, how does the teaching of the Fathers who preceded Arius,
stand relatively to such a representation of the Christian Creed? Is it
such, or how far is it such, as to bear Arius out in so representing it?
This is the first point to inquire about.
"First of all, the teaching of the Fathers was necessarily directed by the
form of Baptism, as given by our Lord Himself to His disciples after His
resurrection. To become one of His disciples was, according to His own
words, to be baptized 'into the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of
the Holy Ghost'; that is, into the profession, into the service, of a
Triad. Such was our Lord's injunction: and ever since, before Arianism and
after, down to this day, the initial lesson in religion taught to every
Christian, on his being made a Christian, is that he thereby belongs to a
certain Three, whatever more, or whether anything more, is revealed to us
in Christianity about that Three.
"The doctrine then of a Supreme Triad is the elementary truth of
Christianity; and accordingly, as might have been expected, its recognition
is a sort of key-note, on which centre the thoughts and language of all
theologians, from which they start, with which they end."
Examination of a chain of pre-Arian writers, from every part of
Christendom, reveals that "there was during the second and third centuries
a profession and teaching concerning the Holy Trinity, not vague and
cloudy, but of a certain determinate character," and that this teaching
"was contradictory and destructive of the Arian hypothesis." And from
all this literature the fact emerges that, from the beginning, "some
doctrine or other of a Trinity lies at the very root of the Christian
conception of the Supreme Being, and of his worship and service": and that
"it is impossible to view historical Christianity apart from the doctrine
of the Trinity."
It was round about the year 323 that the Arian crisis developed. The
struggle between the advocates of the new theory and the Church authorities
who stood by the tradition was to continue thence onward for a good fifty
years and more. And now, for the first time in the history of the Church,
the State intervened in what was, of itself, a dispute about belief. A
second point to note is that the State, on the whole, sided with the
innovators, and was hostile to the defenders of the traditional truth.
The history of those fifty-six years (325-41), that followed the Council of
Nicaea and closed with the next General Council (Constantinople I), is part
of the history of both these councils. And its complexity defies any
summary simplification. If we turn to Newman for a clue to the meaning of
it all, he will tell us that this long and stubborn struggle is nothing
else than a particular passage in the conflict that never ceases between
the Church and the secular power. "The same principle of government which
led the emperors to denounce Christianity while they were pagans, led them
to dictate to its bishops, when they had become Christians." Such an idea
as that "religion should be independent of state authority" was, in the
eyes of all these princes, contrary to the nature of things. And not only
was this conflict "inevitable," but, Newman continues, it might have been
foreseen as probable that the occasion of the conflict would be a
controversy within the Church about some fundamental doctrine. Newman's
last remarkable words may usefully warn us that in Church History things
are not always so simple as we expect.
Even the full history of a General (i.e., world-wide) Council called in
such circumstances, the first council of its kind--which had no precedents
to guide its procedure, or to instruct the generality about the special
value attaching to its decisions--even this would inevitably present
difficulties to minds sixteen hundred years later; minds bred in a
detailed, centuries-old tradition about the kind of thing General Councils
are, and furnished with definite ideas about their nature, procedure, and
But we are very far from possessing anything like a full history of this
first Council of Nicaea. Of any official record of the day-today
proceedings--the acta of the council--there is no trace. The earliest
historians, from whose accounts our knowledge must derive, were in large
measure partisan writers. And of the two writers who were present at the
council, the one who was a historian was an ally of the heretics and the
quasi-official panegyrist of the emperor Constantine who called the
council; and the other, though he has much indeed to say about the
council, does not anywhere profess to be writing a record of its acts.
Nowhere, of course, is our knowledge of the history of these first
centuries of the Church anything like so complete as is our knowledge of,
let us say, any part of it during the last eight or nine hundred years. In
the matter of Nicaea, as in other questions, scholars are still disputing--
and not on religious grounds--whether, for example, certain key documents
were really written by the personages whose names they bear. About the
details of the history of all these early councils, because of the
insufficiency of our information, there is inevitably much confusion, great
obscurity. Yet there are compensations for those who study it. "History
does not bring clearly upon the canvas the details which were familiar to
the ten thousand minds of whose combined movements and fortunes it treats.
Such is it from its very nature; nor can the defect ever fully be remedied.
This must be admitted . . . still no one can mistake its general teaching
in this matter, whether he accept it or stumble at it. Bold outlines, which
cannot be disregarded, rise out of the records of the past, when we look to
see what it will give up to us: they may be dim, they may be incomplete,
but they are definite; there is that which they are not, which they cannot
The state, or political society, in which the Arian troubles arose and
developed was that which we know as the Roman Empire. This state, for its
inhabitants, was one and the same thing as civilisation, and not
surprisingly. As the accession of Constantine to the sole rulership, in
324, found the empire, so it had endured for three hundred years and more.
History does not record any political achievement even remotely parallel to
this. For the empire took in, besides Italy, the whole of Europe west of
the Rhine and south of the Danube and also the southern half of the island
of Britain. In the east it included the whole of the modern state we call
Turkey, with Syria also, Palestine, and Egypt, and the lands on the
southern shore of the Mediterranean westward thence to the Atlantic.
Races as varied as the peoples who today inhabit these lands, with just as
little to unite them naturally, lived then for some four hundred years
under the rule of the emperors, with a minimum of internal disturbance and
in almost entire freedom from foreign war. The stresses and strains of the
internal life of the empire were, of course, a constant menace to this
marvellous unity. The supreme ruler, with whom lay the fullness of
legislative power, who was the final judge in all lawsuits, and the head of
the national religion, was the ruler because he was the commander in chief
of the army: his very title imperator, which we translate "emperor," means
just this. And for the imperator, it was one of the chief problems of
government to maintain his military prestige with the vast armies. No man
could long rule the Roman world who did not first hold the legions true to
himself by his own professional worth. All the great rulers who, in the
course of these four centuries, developed and adapted and reformed the
complex life of the state, its finances, its law, its administration, were
in the first place great soldiers, highly successful generals: Trajan, for
example, Hadrian, Septimius Severus, Decius, Diocletian.
And Constantine, the first emperor to abandon the pagan religion and to
profess himself a Christian, stood out to his own generation primarily as a
highly successful soldier, triumphant in a series of contests with rivals
for the supreme place. Such wars, fights between rival generals for the
imperial throne, were the chief curse of Roman political life, and
especially so in what we reckon as the third century, the century in the
last quarter of which Constantine himself was born. He would have been a
little boy of nine or ten when the great Diocletian became emperor in 284,
who, to put an end to these suicidal wars, immediately associated another
soldier with himself, as joint emperor, the one to rule the East, the other
the West. In 293 Diocletian took this devolution of power a step further
With each emperor there was now associated a kind of assistant emperor,
with the title of Caesar, the actual ruler of allotted territories and
destined to be, in time, his principal's successor. The soldier chosen in
293 as the first western Caesar was Constantine's father, Constantius,
commonly called Chlorus (the Pale) from his complexion. His territory was
the modern countries of Portugal, Spain, France, Belgium, and England.
These details of political reorganisation have a direct connection with our
story. The reader knows--who does not?--that one feature of the history of
this Roman state was its hostility to the Christian religion Scarcely a
generation went by without some serious persecution. And Diocletian ended
his reign with the most dreadful persecution of all (303). This was largely
due to the influence of his colleague, the Caesar, Galerius who, in 305,
was to succeed him as emperor in the East. And of all the territories, it
was Egypt that provided most of the victims in the eight years the terror
lasted--Egypt which was to be the principal scene of the Arian troubles
and, par excellence, of the Catholic resistance to them. In the West the
persecution was, by comparison, mild, and in the domains of Constantius
Chlorus there was no persecution at all. This emperor's personal religious
history, and his attitude towards the Christian religion, is full of
interest. His views were also the views of his son Constantine, and they
perhaps provide a clue to the strange and baffling story, not only of the
long successful Arian defiance of the decisions of the Council of Nicaea,
but of that first Christian emperor's seeming unawareness of the defiance.
Constantine's own character is, of course, an element of the first
importance in the history of the council he convoked; and so also is the
kind of thing which his "conversion" to Christianity was, some twelve years
before the Arian problem arose. At the time of the council he was nearing
his fiftieth year, and he had been emperor for almost twenty. History seems
to reveal him as intelligent indeed, but passionate and headstrong; a bold
campaigner and, as an administrator, "magnificent" in the Aristotelian
sense. That is to say, he loved great schemes, supported them always with
princely generosity, improvised readily, and delighted to dazzle by the
scale of his successes. It was a natural part of the character that he was
ambitious, confident of success, and--a less obvious trait--his ambition
was linked with a "mystical" belief that he was destined to succeed, and a
sure, if confused, notion that the heavenly powers were on his side. Be it
remembered here, once more, that this man was omnipotent in public affairs,
as no ruler has been even in the recent revolutions of our own time; for
the Roman emperor's omnipotence was universally accepted by his millions of
subjects as his right, as something belonging to the very nature of things.
It is less easy to say exactly what Constantine knew or believed about the
religion of Christ, twelve years after he had, as emperor, publicly made it
his own. Certainly it would be a gross error to consider the business of
his mystical dream on the eve of his victory at the Milvian Bridge (312),
that made him supreme master of the West, as parallel to what happened to
St. Paul on the road to Damascus. His own personal religion at the time was
that of his pagan father, the cult suddenly promoted to the supreme place
as the official religion about the time that Constantine was born, by the
then emperor, Aurelian (269-75). This was the cult of Sol Invictus (the
Unconquered Sun), the worship of the divine spirit by whom the whole
universe is ruled, the spirit whose symbol is the sun; a symbol in which
this spirit in some way specially manifests itself. Under Aurelian this
cult was organised with great splendour. The temple of the Sun which he
built at Rome must have been one of the wonders of the world. Aurelian's
coins bear the inscription The Sun is the Lord of the Roman Empire. The
whole cult is penetrated with the idea that there is a single spirit who is
supreme, with the idea of an overruling divine monarchy. Moreover, the cult
was in harmony with a philosophical religion steadily growing, in the high
places of the administration, throughout this same century, the cult of
Summus Deus--the God who is supreme.
Constantine's father remained faithful to this cult of Sol Invictus even
when his seniors, Diocletian and Maximian, reverted to the old cults of
Jupiter and Hercules. And once Constantine--no more than Caesar on his
father's death (306)--felt himself really master in the West, Hercules and
Jupiter disappeared from his coinage, and Sol Invictus was restored, while
the official panegyrics laud "that divine spirit which governs this whole
world." This in 311.
What Constantine gathered from his famous dream in September 312 was that
this supreme divinity was promising him salvation in this military crisis,
had despatched a messenger to assure him of it and to tell him how to act,
and that this messenger was Christ, the God whom the Christians worshipped,
and that the badge his soldiers must wear was the sign of Christ, the
cross. He did not, on the morrow of his victory, ask for baptism, nor even
to be enrolled as a catechumen. Constantine was never so much as even this.
And not until he lay dying, twenty-five years later, was he baptised.
It was, then, an all but uninstructed, if enthusiastic, convert who now,
with all the caution of an experienced politician, set his name to the
Edict of Milan ( 313 ), set up the Christian religion as a thing legally
permissible, endowed its chief shrines with regal munificence, showered
civic privileges, honours, and jurisdiction on its bishops, and even began
the delicate task of introducing Christian ideas into the fabric of the
law. It was an all but uninstructed convert who, also, in these next ten
years--and in the turbulent province of Africa--plunged boldly into the
heat of a religious war, the Donatist Schism, with the instinctive
confidence that his mere intervention would settle all problems. Between
the truce with the Donatists, 321, and the appearance of Arius in Egypt the
interval is short indeed. What had Constantine learned from the Donatist
experience? What had it taught him about the kind of thing the divine
society was in which he so truly believed? Very little, it would seem.
The great see of Alexandria in Egypt, of which Arius was a priest had for
many years before his appearance as a heretic been troubled by schism. One
of the suffragan bishops--Meletius by name--had accused his principal of
giving way during the persecution; and, declaring all the bishop of
Alexandria's acts invalid, had proceeded to consecrate bishops in one place
after another, in opposition to him. Nor did Meletius cease his activities
when this particular bishop of Alexandria died. In many places there were
soon two sets of Catholic clergy, the traditional line and the "Meletian";
the confusion was great and the contest bitter everywhere, the faithful
people as active as their pastors. "It was out of the Meletian schism that
Arianism was born and developed," one historian will tell us. Arius had
been a "Meletian" in his time, but the new bishop, Alexander, had received
him back and had promoted him to an important church. And here his learned
eloquence and ascetic life soon gave his novel teaching as wide publicity
as he could desire.
The bishop's first act, as the news spread, was to arrange a public
disputation. In this Arius was worsted. He next disobeyed the bishop's
natural injunction to be silent, and began to look for support outside
Egypt. Meanwhile the bishop called a council of the hundred bishops subject
to his see; ninety-eight voted to condemn Arius; and his two supporters,
along with a handful of other clerics were deposed. Arius fled to
Palestine, to an old friend generally regarded as the greatest scholar of
the day, Eusebius, the bishop of Caesarea. And from Caesarea the two began
a vast correspondence to engage the support of bishops expected to be
friendly to the cause, as far away as the imperial capital, Nicomedia.
Already there was a bond between Arius and many of those to whom he wrote.
They like himself were pupils of the same famous teacher of the last
generation, Lucian of Antioch, whose school--and not Alexandria--was the
real birthplace of this new theological development. And Arius could
address such prelates as "Dear Fellow-Lucianist." Of all those to whom he
now wrote, none was so important as a second Eusebius, the bishop of the
imperial city itself, and a possible power with the emperor through his
friendship with Constantine's sister, the empress Constantia, consort of
the eastern emperor, Licinius. The Lucianist bishop of Nicomedia rose to
the occasion, "as though upon him the whole fate of the Church depended,"
the bishop of Alexandria complained. For Eusebius, too, circularised the
episcopate generally and summoned a council of bishops, and they voted that
Arius should be reinstated, and wrote to beg this of the bishop of
Arius' bishop, meanwhile, had been active also. We know of seventy letters
which he wrote to bishops all over the Christian world; amongst others to
whom he wrote was the pope. And since all these episcopal letters were
copied and passed round, made up into collections and, as we should say,
published, the whole of the East was soon aflame, fighting and rioting in
one city after another. Few indeed of these enthusiasts could have
understood the discussions of the theologians, but all grasped that what
Arius was saying was that Christ was not God. And if this were so, what
about the saving death on the Cross? And what was sinful man to hope for
when he died? When the bishop of Alexandria stigmatised his rebellious
priest as Christomachos (fighter against Christ), he clinched the matter in
such a way that all, from the Christian emperor to the meanest dock hand in
the port, must be personally interested, and passionately.
During these first months of agitation Constantine had, however, other
matters to occupy him, and, to begin with, the agitation was none of his
business. At the moment when the great movement began, none of the lands
affected came under his jurisdiction. But in that same year, 323, war broke
out between himself and his eastern colleague, his brother-in-law,
Licinius. In July 324 Constantine, invader of Licinius territory, defeated
him heavily at Adrianople, and in September he gained a second victory at
Chrysopolis. Later Licinius was put to death. When the victor entered
his new capital in the ensuing weeks, there was in his household a Spanish
prelate who had dwelt with Constantine for some years now, Hosius, bishop
of Cordova. It was to him that Constantine, with the new Arian crisis
confronting him, now turned.
Arius, by now, had returned to Alexandria, fortified with the vote of the
council at Nicomedia and of a second (more peremptory) council at Caesarea,
to demand the decreed reinstatement. His arrival, and the campaign of
propaganda now launched, set the whole city ablaze. And Constantine
despatched Hosius to make a personal investigation of the affair. When he
returned to make his report, Alexander and Arius soon followed. The crisis
next moved to the third great city of the empire, Antioch. The bishop there
had recently died, and when the fifty-six bishops subject to Antioch came
in from Palestine, Arabia, Syria, and elsewhere to elect a successor
(January 325, probably), they took the opportunity to notice the Arian
development. All but unanimously (53-3) they condemned the new teaching,
and excommunicated--provisionally--the three dissidents. One of these was
the bishop of Caesarea.
And now, sometime in the early spring of 325, it was decided to summon a
council representative of all the bishops in the world. Who was it that
first put out this grandiose, if simple, plan? We do not know. Within a
matter of months--not indeed simultaneously, but with impressive nearness
in time--councils had been held at Alexandria, Antioch, Caesarea,
Nicomedia, in which a good half of the bishops of the East must have taken
part, i.e., a good proportion of the vastly more numerous half of the
entire episcopate. Whoever it was to whom the idea of a council of the
Christian universe first occurred, it was Constantine who decided it should
be held, and who chose the place and sent out the invitations to the
bishops, offering to all free passage in the imperial transportation
The council opened, in the imperial summer palace at Nicaea, May 20,
325, with something over three hundred bishops present, the vast bulk of
them from the Greek-speaking lands where the trouble was raging, Egypt,
Palestine, Syria, and Asia Minor. But there were bishops also from Persia
and the Caucasus, from the lands between the Danube and the Aegean, and
from Greece. There was one from Africa and one from Spain, one from Gaul
and one from Italy, and since the great age of the Bishop of Rome forbade
his making the journey he was represented by two of his priests.
Eusebius of Caesarea who has described the great moments of the council was
evidently moved, as we too may be, by his recollection of the scene when,
the bishops all assembled in the great hall of the palace, some of them
lame and blind from the tortures undergone in the persecutions, the
Christian master of the whole Roman world entered, robed in scarlet and
gold, and before taking his place at the throne, bade them be seated.
Constantine came with a minimum of pomp, and in his brief address he did no
more than welcome the bishops, exhort them to peaceful conference, and
admit that the spectacle of "sedition" within the Church caused him more
anxiety than any battle.
The little we know of the actual history of the council is soon told. The
theology of Arius was condemned unanimously--though he is said to have had
twenty-two supporters among the bishops. But if it was a simple matter for
the episcopate to testify to its belief that the Divine Word was truly God,
it was less easy to agree about the best way to phrase a declaration of
this faith, i.e., to construct a statement to which no subtlety could give
a heretical Arian meaning also. One section of the bishops was anxious that
no terms should be used which were not already used in Scripture. But the
Scriptures had not been written for the purpose of confuting
philosophically minded heretics. It was now necessary to say that the
accepted Scripture meant just "this" and not "that" as well. And if this
were to be accomplished, the technique must be adopted of coining a special
word for the purpose.
The statement as the council finally passed it--the creed of the council of
Nicaea--states: "We believe . . . in one Lord Jesus Christ, the son of God,
born of the Father, the sole-begotten; that is to say, of the substance of
the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God; born,
not made, consubstantial with the Father [in the Greek original, homo-
ousion toi patri],
through whom all things were made, which are in heaven and on earth . .
."[11a] The word homo-ousion is the special non-Scriptural word which the
council adopted to characterise the true, traditional belief, a word it was
impossible to square with any kind of Arian theory, a test word that would
always make it clear that any Arian theory was incompatible with the
Christian tradition, and which would serve the practical purpose of
preventing any further infiltration of these enemies of Christ within the
Church, and defeat any endeavour to change the belief from within.
Who it was that proposed to the council this precise word, we do not know.
An Arian historian says it was the bishop of Alexandria and Hosius of
Cordova. St. Athanasius, who was present at the council, says it was
Hosius. What seems clearer is that the bishops, solidly determined that the
heresy should be rooted out, were yet by no means happy about the means
chosen. The word homoousion was known to them already. Since long before
the time of Arius and Lucian it had a bad history in the East, as will be
explained. But Constantine definitely declared himself in favour of the
uniquely useful instrument, and the council accepted it, each bishop rising
in his place and giving his vote. Two bishops only refused their assent.
With Arius, and a few priest supporters, they were promptly sent into exile
by the emperor's command.
The bishops then passed to other problems. In the first place the twenty-
year-old Meletian schism. Its leaders had appealed to Constantine, and the
emperor left it to the council to judge. The bishops supported their
brother of Alexandria, but offered the schismatics very easy terms,
restoring Meletius himself to his see of Lycopolis. But he was not, ever
again, to confer Holy Orders, and all those whom he had unlawfully ordained
were to be reordained before again officiating. Moreover they were to be
subject henceforward to the true, i.e., Catholic, bishop of the place.
Those whom Meletius had made bishops might be elected to sees in the
future, as vacancies arose--always with the consent of the bishop of
Alexandria, the traditional head of this extensive episcopate.
A second practical problem, that had teased the eastern churches for
generations, was now finally solved, viz., how the date of the Easter feast
should be calculated. "All our good brothers of the East who until now
have been used to keep Easter at the Jewish Passover, will henceforward
keep it at the same time as the Romans and you," so the bishops of Egypt
announced in a letter to their people.
Finally the bishops promulgated twenty laws--canons--for general
observance. Like the solution proposed for the Meletians they are notable
for a new mildness of tone, a quality more Roman than Oriental, it may be
said. They are, in great part, a repetition of measures enacted eleven
years earlier in the Latin council held at Arles, in Gaul. Five canons
deal with those who fell away in the recent persecution. If any such have
since been admitted to ordination they are to be deposed. Those who
apostatised freely--that is, without the compulsion of fear--are to do
twelve years' penance before being admitted to Holy Communion. If, before
the penance is completed, they fall sick and are in danger of death they
may receive Holy Viaticum. Should they then recover they are to take place
with the highest class of the penitents--those who are allowed to hear
mass, though not to receive Holy Communion. Catechumens who fell away--
i.e., Christians not yet baptised--are to do three years' penance and then
resume their place as catechumens. Finally, the Christians who, having once
left the army, had re-enlisted in the army of the persecutor, the lately
destroyed emperor Licinius, are to do thirteen years' penance, or less if
the bishop is satisfied of the reality of their repentance, but always
three years' penance at least.
There are two canons about the readmission of heretical schismatics. First
of all there are the remnants of the schism begun in Rome by the antipope
Novatian, some seventy-five years before the council. Novatian was one of
that fairly numerous class for whom the rulers of the Church deal far too
mildly with repentant sinners. He ended by denying that the Church had the
power to absolve those who fell away in times of persecution; and his
followers, self-styled "the Pure," extended this disability to all sins of
idolatry, sex sins, and murder. They also regarded second marriage as a sex
sin. At this time there were many Novatians in Asia Minor, and the council
offered generous terms to those who wished to be reconciled, recognising
the orders of their clergy, and the dignity of their bishops, but exacting
written declarations that they will regard as fellow Catholics those who
have contracted a second marriage and those doing penance for apostasy.
To a second class of schismatics the same generosity was shown. These were
the sect that descended from the notorious bishop of Antioch, Paul of
Samosata, deposed in 268 by a council of bishops, for various crimes and
for his heretical teaching that there is no distinction between the three
persons of the Holy Trinity. But these "Paulinians," so to call them, are
to be rebaptised. Those who had functioned as clergy may be reordained if
the Catholic bishop to whom they are now subject thinks fit.
On various aspects of clerical life there are as many as ten canons. No one
is to be ordained who has had himself castrated, nor anyone only recently
converted to the faith. "Yesterday a catechumen, today a bishop," says St.
Jerome; "in the evening at the circus and next morning at the altar; just
lately a patron of comedians, now busy consecrating virgins." It is the
canon itself which speaks of ordination, and episcopal consecration,
following immediately on baptism. Bishops are not to ordain another
bishop's subject without his consent. No clerics--bishops, priests, or
deacons--are to move from one diocese to another. Clerics are forbidden to
take interest for money loans, and for this offence they must be deposed.
Finally there are two canons regarding three famous sees: Alexandria,
Antioch, Jerusalem. The council confirms the ancient custom that gives the
bishop of Alexandria jurisdiction over the bishops of the civil provinces
of Egypt, Libya, and Pentapolis. And likewise the ancient privileges of the
see of Antioch and of [the chief sees] of the other provinces. Jerusalem is
a city apart, the Holy City par excellence, and although its bishop remains
as much as ever the subject of the metropolitan bishop at Caesarea, he is
allowed what canon 7 calls a precedence of honour, without a hint to say in
what this consists.
All this variety of business was rapidly despatched, for the council held
its final session barely four weeks after it opened, June 19, 325.
As the date all but coincided with the celebrations that marked the
twentieth year of Constantine's reign, the emperor entertained the prelates
at a banquet in full imperial style, and as they passed before the guards,
presenting arms in salute, they asked themselves, says Eusebius, if the
Kingdom of Heaven on earth had not finally come to pass.
Save for the letter of the bishops of Egypt, mentioned already, and two
letters of the emperor, the one general, announcing the new rule about
Easter, the other telling the people of Egypt that the bishops had
confirmed the traditional belief and that Arius was the tool of the devil,
we know nought of what might be called "the promulgation" of the council's
decisions. But the breakup of the great gathering was by no means followed
by the silence that accompanies peace perfectly attained. The real troubles
had not yet begun.
1. Newman, Causes of the Rise and Successes of Arianism (February 1872) in
Tracts, Theological and Ecclesiastical, pp. 103-4.
2. Ibid., 116. For Newman's "examination," 103-11.
3. Ibid., 112.
4. Ibid., 96, 97 for the passages quoted.
5. Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea (?265-338).
6. St. Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria ( 328-73); born ?295.
7. Newman, The Development of Christian Doctrine, 1st ed., 1845, pp. 7, 5;
with one sentence ("Still no one," etc.) from ibid., rev. ed., p. 7.
8 A standard Latin dictionary will give as a first basic equivalent,
"commander in chief."
9. J. Lebreton, S.J., Histoire de Eglise, edited by A. Fliche and Msgr. V.
Martin (henceforward referred to as F. and M.), vol. 2, p. 343.
10. The modern Scutari, on the Asiatic shore of the Bosporus.
11. A city 60 to 70 miles from Constantinople, on the Asiatic shore of the
Bosporus, at the head of Lake Iznik. It was about 25 miles south from the
then capital, Nicomedia.
11a. Denzinger, Enchiridion, no. 54, prints the Greek text; Barry, Readings
in Church History, p. 85, gives a translation.
12. The word has here a special meaning as the name of the (civil) diocese
of which Antioch was the chief city, Oriens: the modern Lebanon, Israel,
Jordan, Syria, the coast of Turkey thence north and west for a good 200
miles with a vast territory in the interior that went beyond the Euphrates.
13. Schroeder, Disciplinary Decrees of the General Councils (1937), prints
the text and a translation. This note serves for all the councils down to
the Fifth Lateran of 1512-17. Barry, no 16, gives a translation.