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Christianity / Ecumenical council /
First Council of Nicaea

Artistic representation of the First Council of Nicaea.
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Artistic representation of the First Council of Nicaea.

In Christianity, 1st ecumenical council held in the town of Nicaea (modern Iznik, Turkey) in 325. It was the first of its kind, and is noted for being among the most important in defining Christianity.
A second council was held in Nicaea in 787 which validated the veneration of images and sent out an order to restore images in churches throughout the Roman Empire. The first council is often referred to as only "The Council of Nicaea"; this never involves the second council.
The main issue with the 325 council was the controversy over Jesus' nature, and the relation between God and Jesus. The background was the strength of the orientation defined by Arius at the time, claiming that Jesus was a created being not a divine being, and possibly even that Jesus was of a different substance from God (see Arianism).
Prior to the council, it was only 12 years since Christianity had become state religion of the Roman Empire, no creed had been universally accepted by all bishops.
The council was convened by Emperor Constantine 1, and 318 of 1800 bishops in the Roman Empire attended. Of these only 5 were from the western parts of the Roman Empire. Arius was also present. The council lasted from May 20 until July 25, altogether 57 days.
The council agreed upon a creed known as the Nicene Creed, which largely is the core of contemporary Christianity. It begins stating that:

"We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father"

The understanding of this is emphasized through the continuation of the creed, but in short it defines an undivided unity between Jesus, the Son and God, the Father, both for substance, divinity and eternity of time.
Several other matters were also dealt with at the council, and 20 new church laws were passed. Among these we find the following regulations:

  1. Fixing the celebration of Easter on the Sunday after the Jewish Pesach, or Passover
  2. Granting the Bishop of Alexandria the authority in the East, while leaving the authority in the West with the Pope in Rome
  3. Prohibition of self-castration
  4. Regulations of how bishops should be ordained
  5. Condemnation of lending money at interest by clerics
  6. Prohibition for bishops, priests and deacons to move from one church to another

The council would have as a consequence that a few central figures of the preceding controversy were declared heretics, and expelled from the church; Arius, Theonas of Marmarica and Secundus of Ptolemais, all of Libya. A few other figures, Eusebius of Nicomedia, Theognis of Nicaea and Maris of Chalcedon, who had been supportive of Arius, felt compelled to sign the Nicene creed in respect of the emperor, but the emperor came to suspect their sincerity and had them also expelled from the church.
Still these effects would be fairly short-lived, and many of the expelled were permitted to return to the church. Even Arius was invited back, 9 years later, but only after a compromise creed had been presented.
The impact of the council would not take lasting effect until 56 years later, in 381. The intervening period was one where Arianism at times regained its position, and briefly even became the only accepted creed in the Roman Empire. Arianism would survive for a few centuries more, mainly as the creed of the Vandals of North Africa.
The next council would be in Constantinople, 56 years later.

By Tore Kjeilen