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Arius, Nicea and the nature of Christ

The Council of Nicea (or, if you’re British, Nicæa) took place in 325 AD. It was ‘convened to condemn the doctrines of Arius—who taught that the Son of God was created and did not exist prior to his creation—and to consider the day on which Easter/Passover should be celebrated’. The latter is of little practical importance, but the former is vital to Christian belief.

This book sets out to dispel some of the myths circulating on the internet about Nicea (like the gnostic influence alleged by novelist Dan Brown in The Da Vinci Code) and to draw out lessons from the council’s conclusions. It is In The Beginning Was The Logos: The Council Of Nicea For Everyman by Paul F. Pavao (Yachad LLC, 2011. ISBN: 978-1-357-32179-7).

Later councils of church leaders would tighten up the doctrine of Christ, but the author reckons there is a case for the looser position established at Nicea. On the way, he highlights the importance of unity in the church, discredits Broadbent’s The Pilgrim Church, proves that there were no popes prior to Nicea, clarifies the nature of early church eldership, and gives a nod of approval to mild subordinationism.

He also has interesting comments on the Sabbath/Sunday question, Christians and military service, the place of the OT law in Christian living, ultimate judgment based on ‘works’, the nature of the atonement, the meaning of ‘apostolic succession’, and the value of the Septuagint. And all clearly well-researched. That should be enough to whet your appetite!

[I read the book in Kindle format, so the numbers are Location, not Page, numbers.]


The Council of Nicea was first and foremost an attempt by the Roman emperor Constantine the Great to keep his empire from splitting. (181)

Radical Protestants claim that the Council of Nicea marks the fall of the free church. There, the church married the world, birthed the papacy, inaugurated the split between clergy and laity, began to persecute the free churches, and caused the world in general and Christianity in particular to fall into the Dark Ages. (228)

[One] myth that we must refute here is the allegation that there were free churches, separate from the catholic and apostolic churches, which held beliefs closer to modern Protestant beliefs; especially salvation by faith alone, sacraments that are purely symbolic (primarily baptism and the Lord's Supper), and clergy with less authority… Broadbent’s information is not accurate. (489)

To those early Christians, Jesus was literally the Word of God. Before the beginning he had been inside of God, and then, prior to the creation, he was "emitted" from the Father's heart, or, as Psalm 110:3 puts it, he was begotten out of the Father's bosom. (745)

The Nicene Creed nowhere directly calls Jesus God. The council did focus on his divinity, but the terminology, calling Jesus "God," they did not think to bring up. He is the Word of God, made from the substance of God, and thus he is "God from God ... true God from true God." The council was satisfied, however, with stating that the one God is the Father Almighty. He has a Son—begotten from his own substance and not created from nothing—but the Father alone is called the one God in the Nicene Creed. (771)

Tradition was important in the fourth century. Novelty was the ultimate theological crime. As far as Pre-Nicene Christians were concerned, elders and bishops had just one theological function: to preserve the truth that they had received from the apostles ... unchanged. (1026)

The Roman Catholic Church did not mandate celibacy for church leaders until the 12th century. (1525)

…the myth that Constantine changed the Sabbath to Sunday. He did not. (1981)

It is almost impossible to overstate the emphasis that the New Testament and the early Christian writings put on the unity of the church. (2469)

Eastern bishops had a real and legitimate concern that modalism, the teaching that God is one person filling three roles—thus denying even the existence of the Son—would edge its way into the church through the doctrine of homoousios, a word that is nowhere found in Scripture. (2729)

The Apostles’ Creed, a slightly longer version of the Nicene Creed, is repeated in thousands, or perhaps millions, of Christian churches on a weekly basis, yet almost no one pays attention to the fact that it calls only the Father the one God. (2796)

I can't write a refutation of Dan Brown's claims because there's no evidence to refute. The idea that the Council of Nicea, or Constantine, threw out books of the Bible is just someone's imagination! (3459)

Christians across the Roman empire had rejected the keeping of the Law by the middle of the second century. Combined with the testimony of Ignatius and the anonymous Letter to Diognetus, we have powerful, seemingly conclusive, evidence that the early Christians had rejected the Law of Moses. (3639)

What [the emperor Constantine] could not be charged with is moving the seventh-day Sabbath to Sunday. This he could not do because the Christians were not keeping a seventh-day Sabbath. They were keeping a perpetual Sabbath. (3868)

Yes, Jesus' death also allowed our sins to be forgiven. Yes, it was an incredible and precious price paid for our salvation. But it was not a payment to buy God's mercy. God was always willing to forgive sin without sacrifice. It is impossible to read the Hebrew Scriptures without learning that our God is abundant to pardon and always has been. (3986)

The doctrine that Jesus' death was a payment to God to absolve our punishment was originated by St. Anselm in the eleventh century and completed by Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth. It stuck, but it really shouldn't have. Innovation is never a good thing when it comes to Christian doctrine. (3993)

While the earliest churches were independent and had no hierarchy to report to, they nonetheless felt an obligation to one another from the very beginning. The word "catholic" portrayed that obligation for there to be one church and one faith. (4199)

Eastern Orthodox Christians, who represent at least half of Christian tradition after Nicea, would agree that the western churches have greatly over-defined the Trinity. (4482)

It is no wonder that Arius aroused the ire of his contemporaries. Not only was he failing to distinguish between the uncreated and the created, between God and matter, but he also refused to be corrected. His divisive, unsubmissive attitude, so willing to split the church of God, was far worse than his misunderstanding of this somewhat technical issue. (4549)

What was the state of the Son of God prior to his generation? It doesn't matter what term you apply to that generation. You can call it creation, birth, or begetting. The point is, what was the state of the Son of God prior to that creation, birth, begetting, or generation? Arius' answer was that "he was not"; he didn't exist. The early Christian answer is that he was the Logos of God, inside of God. (4575)

It leaps out at us today, too, but we're not really allowed to believe that [Proverbs 8] is a prophecy of Christ—because Arius used it. We have overreacted to Arius. We have thrown out the baby with the bathwater. Even Alexander, the bishop of Alexandria who excommunicated Arius, applies Proverbs 8 to the Son of God. (4860)

The "developed" doctrine of the Trinity is confined to theological seminaries, requiring an exact knowledge of persons, natures, and the one essence of God expressed in terms like hypostasis and ousios. How much simpler—and more Scriptural!—to simply say that God was able to beget his Wisdom in the beginning, before the creation, and through that Son, his Wisdom and Word, he created all things? (4950)

Would we dare say in our churches that the Father is the one true God? Jesus said it. Would we dare teach that we have only one God and that that God is the Father? Paul taught it. (5113)

The Council of Nicea confirmed the faith of their forefathers; and, if their forefathers received that faith from the apostles; and, if their terminology is much closer to Scripture than ours…then shouldn't we be saying what they say? (5173)

Tertullian seems to think that the apostles, or at least the apostle Paul, only called Jesus God when the Father is not being discussed along with him. Is this true? If you're familiar with the Scriptures, you probably don't need me to tell you it's true. (5193)

In the beginning, God was alone in the sense that there was nothing outside of him. Inside of him, however, was the Logos—his reason, thought, or word. When he was ready to create all things, he birthed his Logos in some manner that we cannot comprehend. There is not a separation between the two, for the divine substance fills all things. Instead, the Logos became distinct from God, his Father, in the way that a stream issues from a spring or a beam of light from the Son. The substance is not divided. There is only one divine substance, and the Son of God shares that substance with the Father. (5231)

Some sort of subordinationism is unavoidable. The Father sent the Son, not vice versa. The Father loved the world and gave his Son for it, not vice versa. The Son always does the will of the Father, not vice versa. (5247)

Modern Christians, holding to a co-equal Trinity, generally believe that the Father was only greater than the Son while the Son was on earth. On the other hand, every pre-Nicene or Nicene writer who addresses John 14:28 believes that the Father is eternally greater than the Son because God is greater than his own Logos. Such a belief is called subordinationism. (5257)

John 1:18 is clearly distinguishing between God the Father and his Son, the Logos. People have seen the Logos, the one who reveals the Father, but no one has seen the Father ... not at any time. Obviously, this means that all the appearances of God in the ancient Israel were not theophanies, but Christophanies. The Israelites were seeing their Messiah, the Logos, before he was born among men. (5402)

When we ask if the churches at the time of Nicea were Roman Catholic, however, what is generally being asked is, did all the churches submit to the pope—the bishop of Rome—as the authority over all churches? The answer to that question is a clear and resounding no, both before and around the time of Nicea (A.D. 325). The evidence that there was no pope in the pre-Nicene and Nicene church is both abundant and one-sided. (5636)

Cyprian has a glaring piece of evidence attached to him. He said outright that no bishop could rule over or judge another, and he did so at a council whose proceedings are still extant. To quote Cyprian in support of papal primacy without mentioning the Seventh Council of Carthage is dishonest. (5884)

In A.D. 200, when only 100 years had passed since the last apostle died, and when succession could be shown to have produced the same truth in many independent churches, it was a powerful argument. When two millennium have passed, and when popes and patriarchs have had the power to disseminate error from one non-apostolic source into many churches, apostolic succession is no evidence at all that you possess apostolic truth. (5996)

It is of note that in the 300 years between the resurrection of Christ and the Council of Nicea, the church had found only a paragraph's worth of essential theology, summed up in the Nicene Creed. (6214)

In the Acts of the Apostles, no apostle ever told a lost person that Jesus died for their sins… Lost people don't need to know why Jesus died in order to be saved. They need to believe in Jesus, not the atonement. You can tell them about the atonement after they're saved. (6325)

You don't have to tell me what you believe. Live your life, and I will tell you what you believe. (6447)

What we know is that Paul and Peter's churches had multiple elders who are all bishops, while John's churches, the churches in Asia Minor, had monarchial bishops. Eventually, by the mid-second century, all churches had monarchial bishops. (6858)

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