Icon depicting the First Council of Nicaea
Over at The Christian Humanist, a good, meaty conversation is developing about how we should define “heresy” and how we should assess the role of the ancient creeds today.
A week or so ago I worked through these questions on this blog in my series on early theological controversies (part I of that series is here).
Here’s a bit of the conversation on The Christian Humanist (but I recommend heading over to that blog to reading the rest of Nathan Gilmour’s post and the responses that ensued):
Michial’s working definition of heresy is that which stands against the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed, while my own definition was that which, if taught to a generations of Christians, would result in something other than the Christian church. Continue reading
Glory of the newborn Christ in the presence of God the Father and the Holy Spirit; ceiling painting made by Daniel Gran (1694-1757), Annakirche, Vienna
The Council of Nicea in 325 established as orthodoxy the belief that Jesus Christ was co-eternal with the Father–an equal partner in the Trinity of Father, Son and Spirit (though a full theology of the Holy Spirit had yet to be developed).
But another controversy was beginning to heat up–one that would cause the first great schism of the church. And this one involved many more heretical bunny trails than the controversy with the Arians–even counting all of the Eusebians, Homoians, and so forth who muddied the Trinitarian waters between Nicea and the First Council of Constantinople (381).
This is the story of the tangled web of controversy about the person of Christ: how it was woven, what its strands were, and how at last the controversy was resolved. If you’re like I was when I first learned this stuff, this will stretch your mind and make you ask some questions you’ve never asked before: Continue reading
This article is continued from “Debunking the Protestant ‘T’ word: An edifying tale, part I,“ “Debunking the Protestant ‘T’ Word part II: How to spot a heresy, “Debunking the Protestant ‘T’ Word part III: What was the beef at Nicea?“ and “Debunking the Protestant “T” word part IV: How sausage was made.”
So now in conclusion: Some of you may be inclined to say: “All I need is my Bible, and I know everything about God and Jesus and salvation that I need to know.” I hope you’ll see the moral of this story about the Council of Nicea. The doctrine of the Trinity—that is, the doctrine that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all uncreated, all co-eternal, all equal in divinity—is, in one sense, all over the Bible. But in another, very literal sense, the Trinity is never mentioned even once in the Bible. Nor is the exact nature and relationship of the “two natures of Christ”—his divine nature and his human nature. Those were clarified at later councils. Nor will you find in the Bible every detail of the right way to run a church—including church government, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and so much more. (That’s why there are so many denominations!) Nor, of course, does the Bible contain instructions about what job each of you should take, or who you should marry.
You can and should ask the Bible each of those kinds of questions. But it’s not a great idea to just ask the Bible. Continue reading
It's not pretty, folks!
This article is continued from “Debunking the Protestant ‘T’ word: An edifying tale, part I,“ “Debunking the Protestant ‘T’ Word part II: How to spot a heresy, and “Debunking the Protestant ‘T’ Word part III: What was the beef at Nicea?“
This was the sort of problem that was on the minds of bishops all over the empire when Constantine stepped in and invited them to his summer palace in Nicea for this major meeting. At least 200 bishops attended, mostly from the Eastern part of the empire, but some from Italy, North Africa, and other Western places. Counting all the bishops’ fellow presbyters and deacons, scholars believe there were close to a thousand people at that meeting. The sheer size of this assembly had no precedent in church history.
If you think about it, this must have been just an awe-inspiring gathering for those simple pastors. Most stunning was that just over a dozen years before the council, the largest persecution in the history of the early church had been raging. In fact, some of the bishops at Nicea had been tortured during that persecution. Some bore horrible scars; some were even missing eyes. And here they were, summoned by the emperor, with all their expenses paid, laden with the traditional gifts that followed an invitation to the imperial court. Some, legend has it, received the kiss of peace from Constantine himself. It must have been just a breathtaking moment for those who had remained faithful through the recent persecution and now saw God working in this amazing way. Continue reading
The Emperor Constantine and the Council of Nicaea, with Arius's books being burned, below. (Drawing on vellum. From MS CLXV, Biblioteca Capitolare, Vercelli, a compendium of canon law produced in northern Italy ca. 825.)
This article is continued from “Debunking the Protestant ‘T’ word: An edifying tale, part I“ and “Debunking the Protestant ‘T’ Word part II: How to spot a heresy.“
Now, before Nicea, there had been many councils. But they had been regional affairs, to deal with this or that issue—sometimes a heresy, sometimes a question of church order, and so forth. But the church had not yet seen something as widespread and threatening as the Arian heresy of the late 200s and early 300s. So let’s look now at how that started, and how it was resolved at the Council of Nicea.
To understand the significance of the Council of Nicaea, we need to enter into the minds of those involved and ask why so much bitterness and confusion had been caused by one apparently simple question: “In what way is Jesus divine?” Continue reading
Icon of the First Council of Nicea
Once in a while I get to talk to a group of Protestants about one of our shibboleths, the “T word”–that is, tradition. And I make the case that tradition is not the sort of extra- and anti-biblical “rules of man” thing that they think it is. It’s not “stuff added to the Scripture to which the consciences of good Christians have been bound by an evil hierarchical church.”
In fact, tradition has been for 2,000 years the stuff of the faith of quite possibly the majority of world Christians. And it was the stuff of the faith of almost every Christian not just before the Reformation, but right through the Reformation, including the thought and commitments of Luther, Calvin, and other great Reformers. Calvin’s Institutes are full of footnotes to the church fathers. Why do that if Scripture is your only authority and is perfectly clear on all matters? Continue reading
Though the following is a critical review, I want to be clear: I am deeply sympathetic with the aims and perspectives of Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. I just think we need to be historically responsible when we compare new and old movements.
Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, “A Vision So Old It Looks New” in Monasticism Old and New (Christian Reflection, Baylor University, 2010 issue)
This article was adapted from Wilson-Hartgrove’s book New Monasticism: What It Has to Say to Today’s Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2008).
In his introduction to this issue of Christian Reflection, Robert Kruschwitz summarizes this article : “In A Vision So Old It Looks New (p. 11), Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove explores how monasticism over the centuries has offered a powerful critique of mainstream culture. Tracing its origins from Antony and the fourth-century desert Christians, through the medieval monasteries inspired by Benedict of Nursia, to the intentional communities of radical Protestant Reformers, he shows, ‘In every era God has raised up new monastics to pledge their allegiance to God alone and remind the church of its true vocation’” (8).
Wilson-Hartgrove opens the article: “It is hard to be a Christian in America today. . . . The church in America is not living up to what it claims to be. Somehow we have lost our way.” (11) Especially he gives examples of behavior: spousal abuse, racism, hypocrisy in areas of sexuality. We ain’t that different from secular society, or sometimes worse, in many of those areas. Continue reading
Posted in Medieval Wisdom for Modern Protestants, Resources for Radical Living
Tagged African-American Christianity, Antony of Egypt, Benedict of Nursia, Benedictinism, church and state, communal life, Constantine, Constantinianization, Council of Nicea, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Martin Luther, Medieval, medievalism, Middle Ages, monasticism, new monasticism, prophetic life, radical Christianity, slavery