This web-site follows the Reformation ideal of 'Sola Scriptura,' that is to say, the information found herein is either fully substantiated by accompanying Bible quotes, or else should be discounted. The question of importance therefore is not who wrote this Creed and why, but whether it conforms to scripture; and the answer to this, as has been shown, is 'to perfection.' To accuse the Creed of nonconformity with scripture amounts to accusing scripture of nonconformity with scripture, because most of its language is taken directly from scripture.
That bishops assembled and concurred with this Creed would mean more had bishops not assembled and concurred with plainly heretical creeds like the 'Blasphemy of Sirmium,' once the political winds had shifted and were blowing from the other direction. History cannot confirm the thesis that bishops are magically protected from heresy. Had Charles Manson proclaimed this Creed, it would still be true, because Biblical. Were it not Biblical, it would not be true, however many assembled bishops asserted the contrary.
For those whose interest is historical rather than doctrinal, the Council at Nicaea makes a puzzling study. The Council was convened by Constantine, then emperor of the Roman Empire, in a dazzling and complete breach of the wall of separation of church and state. The tradition thus inaugurated would prove as ruinous to the church as to the state. Constantine, having seen a vision in the sun of a cross with the words 'By this sign you will conquer,' began Biblically enough by proclaiming the Edict of Milan, an early and unfortunately soon abandoned experiment in religious tolerance. He began his pattern of excessive entanglement of the state with the Christian faith in bewilderment, as seen below, later used the police power of the state to enforce orthodoxy, and later still shifted to sympathy with Arianism.
The ultimate sanction at this period was banishment; later in the century Priscillian would inaugurate the long and tragic march of murdered heretics. Forgers later had a field day with Constantine, the first Christian emperor. Nevertheless, so far as it can be trusted, herewith some documentation of this complex figure's various views, beginning with bewilderment:
Later, and for a time, he 'got religion' on Nicene orthodoxy:
Given the rapidity with which Constantine veers from not having a clue in the world to holding very definite opinions, it seems likely the theological opinions he expresses are those of whoever was advising him, and that thus the story behind his shifts and turns is a story of palace politics rather than theology. On one point, however, the emperor's understanding was rock-solid: what criterion of the truth should the church adopt? If believers differed, then where was the truth to be found? His answer, to which any Bible-believer of the present day can say a heart-felt 'Amen,' is God's word:
“The excellent emperor next exhorted the Bishops to unanimity and concord; he recalled to their remembrance the cruelty of the late tyrants, and reminded them of the honorable peace which God had, in his reign and by his means, accorded them. He pointed out how dreadful it was, aye, very dreadful, that at the very time when their enemies were destroyed, and when no one dared to oppose them, they should fall upon one another, and make their amused adversaries laugh, especially as they were debating about holy things, concerning which they had the written teaching of the Holy Spirit. 'For the gospels' (continued he), 'the apostolical writings, and the oracles of the ancient prophets, clearly teach us what we ought to believe concerning the divine nature. Let, then, all contentious disputation be discarded; and let us seek in the divinely-inspired word the solution of the questions at issue.'” (Constantine, quoted in Theodoret, Ecclesiastical History, Book 1, Chapter 6).
And this advice this fortunate Council followed. The Council of Nicaea did not address the canon of scripture, nor did any council advertised as ecumenical until the sixteenth-century Council of Trent, which excluded Protestants and eastern Orthodox. It was not local councils nor individual bishops who established the canon: it was the consensus of the Holy Spirit speaking through believing churches in the early centuries. Nevertheless anti-Trinitarians assign Constantine a prominent role in forming the Bible:
“So here’s what happened. When Constantine decided he was going to cobble together an army, he did the uh… Council of Nicaea, right, Pat? … Council of Nicaea. And what they did is they brought all of the religious figures together, all the Christians, and then they said, “Ok, let’s put together the Apostles’ Creed, let’s, you know, you guys do it.” So they brought all their religious scripture together, and that’s when the Bible was first bound and everything else. And then they said, “Anybody that disagrees with this is a heretic and… off with their head!” (Celebrity Host Glenn Beck, Fox News, program May 27, 2010, transcribed at Schleitheim)
That no such thing ever happened dampens not at all the popularity of this story. Best-selling author Dan Brown portrays Emperor Constantine sorting through a stack of eighty gospels for inclusion in the finished product he was 'collating.' But the church used four, in that day as in Irenaeus' day:
The Bishop of Rome did not attend the Nicene Council. No doubt his advisors had forgotten to tell him that, as author Dan Brown tells it, this was to be the inauguration of the "new Vatican power base." (The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown, Chapter 55).
The Council did address the date of Easter, though not with the intent of establishing pagan goddess-worship. Their goal was rather uniformity. Jesus Christ rose from the dead on the first day of the week. But the day of passover travels through the week. The consensus was that Easter must fall on Sunday. Nor is the date of passover a 'given.' According to the Bible, it is the fourteenth day of the first month: "On the fourteenth day of the first month at twilight is the Lord’s Passover." (Leviticus 23:5). But which is the first month? The first to commence in the new year. And when does a new year begin? As the pagan Julius Caesar realized, the solar year is 365-1/4 days long,-- that is (approximately) how long it takes this luminary to complete its circuit from solstice to solstice, or equinox to equinox. But this number is evenly divisible neither by lunar months nor by seven-day weeks. Thus a lunar calendar, like the Babylonian calendar then in use by the Jews, requires intercalation of an 'extra' month from time to time, or else festivals will wander through the seasons. This outcome is unwelcome: what sense is there in celebrating harvest at seed-time? But some years are longer than others under this system, an inconsistency of which the solar time-piece is guiltless. The bishops, seeking to avoid celebrating Easter twice during the same solar year, tied the date to the vernal equinox, as, the Talmud testifies, the Jews themselves also did.
Was Constantine a sincere Christian? No human observer can see his heart. That he was only baptized on the point of death is not necessarily proof to the contrary. Postponing baptism to the death-bed was a not uncommon strategy of the day, an unlooked-for consequence of the then-popular teaching of baptismal regeneration. The Apostolic Constitutions warn against it: “But he that says, When I am dying I will be baptized, lest I should sin and defile my baptism, is ignorant of God, and forgetful of his own nature. For 'do not thou delay to turn unto the Lord, for thou knowest not what the next day will bring forth.'” (Apostolic Constitutions, Book 6, Section 3, XV). If Constantine had been a fraud, putting on a public face of Christian belief for political gain, then what would have been his motive in deferring baptism? Baptism doesn't hurt, and it doesn't cost money. The people who did have a motive for deferring baptism were baptismal regenerationists playing 'chicken' with God. Some arguments against Constantine's sincerity focus on his failure to persecute pagans — as if there is something wrong with religious toleration! Constantine's religious practice, unfortunately, went beyond toleration to paganism to participation:
"His own father had been a devotee of the Unconquered Sun. While not denying the existence of other gods, the worship of the Unconquered Sun was addressed to the Supreme Being, whose symbol was the sun. During most of his political career, Constantine seems to have thought that the Unconquered Sun and the Christian God were compatible — perhaps two views of the same Supreme Deity — and that the other gods, although subordinate, were nevertheless real and relatively powerful. On occasion, he would consult the oracle of Apollo, accept the title of High Priest that had traditionally been the prerogative of emperors, and partake of all sorts of pagan ceremonies without thinking that he was thus betraying or abandoning the God who had given him victory and power. . .The official religion of the empire was paganism. As head of that empire Constantine took the title of Supreme Pontiff or High Priest, and performed the functions pertaining to that title. . .After his death, the three sons who succeeded him did not oppose the Senate's move to have him declared a god. Thus, the ironic anomaly occurred, that Constantine, who had done so much to the detriment of paganism, became one of the pagan gods —and to compound the irony, the Eastern church considers him a saint, thus resulting in a saint who is also a pagan god!" (Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, pp. 139-141).
Certainly it is difficult to sort this out! Whether he was a friendly a outsider or a sincere, if belated, convert, what is certain is that Christians no longer had to be afraid when they saw a cop. Christianity was at long last a legal religion, and Christians could live without fear. Along with this joyous news, however, came troubling precedents that would ultimately harm the church. A man unbaptized and thus not admitted to communion, uninstructed in Christian doctrine, yet holding in his hands the power to govern the world, is a troubling and perplexing gift. Perhaps it should have been returned with wrappings untouched. However that may be, the verdict of the Nicene Council, not his, is nothing to regret; it is the re-establishment of Biblical orthodoxy over against innovative error. God can draw a straight line with a crooked stick.
What should not be overlooked is that, despite all of Constantine's personal inadequacies or indeed even crimes like murder, he tendered the surrender of the kingdoms of this world to God's kingdom, thus putting to rest an ancient hostility:
"The heart and thrust of the two great books that reflect that period, Isaiah 40-55 and Daniel— both, significantly, books on which the early Christians drew a great deal— is the clash of the kingdoms. In both cases the theme is the same: the kingdoms of the world versus the kingdom of the true God. Israel's God confronts the pagan idols and the petty princelings who worship them. They are at present lording it over God's people; but when God acts, as he will, he will show them in no uncertain terms that he is God and that they and their puny little human-made idols (and cities) are not. He will vindicate his people. . ." (How God Became King, N. T. Wright, p.130).
Right then and there Babylon surrendered, this world mumbled 'No mas,' and God triumphed over the world. The Zealots, who took practical measures, failed utterly and disastrously, whereas Jesus, who adopted the seemingly impractical tactic of non-violent resistance, triumphed entirely. Unfortunately, the church did not graciously accept Babylon's surrender and go on being the church; the church became Babylon. But that's another story.
Roman emperors wielded great power and were no respecters of the people's rights. Is it really possible, as author Dan Brown alleges, that Constantine decided, upon a whim, to upgrade "Jesus' status almost four centuries after Jesus' death"? (Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code, Chapter 55), changing Him from a mere mortal man into "a deity"?:
No, and not just because Constantine was dead "almost four centuries after Jesus' death." It seems our master historian does not realize 'the fourth century' is the century that runs from 300 A.D. to 399 A.D. For nearly three centuries after the Lord's resurrection and ascension, Roman emperors had been exercising their power to its maximum trying to the achieve an innovation in Christian theology, namely: if Christians would only acknowledge Caesar as Lord, and burn incense before his statuette, they would be free to live in peace. The Christians would not, because the Lord said, "There shall be no foreign god among you; nor shall you worship any foreign god." (Psalm 81:9). Only the living God can lawfully be worshipped, not a man who deifies himself as did Caesar. There was never any compromise on this issue. Persecution was not constant but could start up at any time; at any moment the brothers and sisters might be rounded up and fed to the lions. Christians were willing to live without peace and security for nearly three centuries rather than acclaim as god a man who was a mere mortal man. Caesar did not by any means claim to be the only God; he claimed only to be "a deity." Yet Christians would not fear Caesar because they had been told,
"And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." (Matthew 10:28).
Yet, author Brown alleges, when Constantine came along, brandishing a much lighter stick (banishment rather than death), the 318 bishops assembled at Nicaea happily "upgraded" Jesus from what they had previously thought Him to be: a mere mortal man,— to "a deity." They never awarded Caesar this 'upgrade,' though some of these bishops bore scars on their bodies from his insistent efforts to achieve it. How could the threat of banishment achieve what torture had not?
The bishops were happy to continue worshipping Jesus as Christians had ever done, because the living God must be worshipped. As for Arius, he was only too happy to call Jesus "a deity." That's the problem. If you have "a deity" and another Deity, that's two deities, which is one more than it is lawful to count.
There can be no revision to this God-census. It is surprising how many people think the Bible left the final sum of all gods open to negotiation. The idea is popular amongst contemporary Roman Catholics that the Council of Nicaea blazed a new trail in resolving the total god-count down to one, thereby ruling out any "lesser deity:"
"The Arians, for example, were not unintelligent. They argued from the Scriptures that Christ was the first of God’s creation, a lesser deity, and the highest of all created things...Scripture alone was not sufficient to resolve the theological disputes." (Called to Communion Web-Site)).
In fact scripture does not leave this matter open:
"Thus saith the LORD the King of Israel, and his redeemer the LORD of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God." (Isaiah 44:16)
This argument is presented as if it were in favor of the Roman Catholic Church: because scripture is, allegedly, ambiguous, bishops were appointed as infallible interpreters. But the argument neatly wraps itself up and discards itself. The bishops, and others, who participated in these disputes, said two things: 1.) God is triune, and 2.) we know this because the Bible so testifies. Contemporary Roman Catholics say that 1.) is true, but 2.) is false. So the bishops, according to them, were mistaken in their interpretation of scripture...the very point at which they are alleged to be infallible!