NICÆA (325)


 Council of Nicaea,

St. Katharine's Monastery, Sinai

adapted from The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church

THE first Oecumenical Council, summoned by the Emperor Constantine within a few months of his conquest of the E. provinces, primarily to deal with the Arian Controversy. The acta of the synod (if such ever existed) have been lost, the only authentic documents surviving from the Council being the Creed, the Synodal Letter, and the collection of twenty canons.

THE Council, which had been orig. convened to Ancyra, assembled at Nicaea (now Iznik) in Bithynia in the early summer of 325 (traditionally 20 May). Shortly before there seems to have been a council at Antioch, held under the presidency of Hosius of Córdoba, which condemned Arianism and its upholders (incl. Eusebius of Caesarea). Constantine’s main interest was to secure unity rather than any predetermined theological verdict. After the Emperor’s opening speech, the presidency prob. passed to Hosius, though there is also some authority for the view that Eustathius, Bp. of Antioch, presided. An Arian creed submitted by Eusebius of Nicomedia was at once rejected. Eusebius of Caesarea then sought to vindicate himself by presenting the Baptismal Creed of his own Palestinian community, and this, supplemented by the word ‘Homoousios’, was received by the Council as orthodox. But the Creed formally promulgated by the Council was not this Creed but another, prob. a revision of the Baptismal Creed of Jerusalem . This Creed, with four anti-Arian anathemas attached, was subscribed by all the Bishops present except two (Theonas of Marmarica and Secundus of Ptolemais); and these last were deposed and banished. In the Arian struggle at the Council it would seem that Athanasius, who was present as the deacon of his Bishop, Alexander of Alexandria, was the leading champion of orthodoxy. The Council also reached decisions on the Melitian Schism in Egypt and the Paschal Controversy, It closed on 25 July. Some modern scholars (E. Schwartz and others) have argued that this closure was only an adjournment, and that a second and concluding session of the Council met in 327.

THE number of bishops who attended the Council is not known, since the signature lists are defective. The traditional number, which goes back to a late writing of Athanasius (Ep. ad Afros, 2), is 318, probably a symbolical figure, based on the number of Abraham’s servants (Gen. 14:14). Between 220 and 250 is more likely. The Council, however, became generally known as ‘the synod of the 318 Fathers’. Apparently the only representatives from the W. apart from Hosius were two priests representing the Pope of Rome, and the Bps. of Carthage, Milan, Dijon, and two others.

IT is difficult to integrate what we learn from the 20 genuine surviving canons with our other information about the Council. Can. 6 laid down the precedence due to metropolitan sees, and was later constantly invoked in support of the claims of Rome, cans. 10–14 are a short penitential code, dealing with the treatment of the lapsed in the recent . persecutions; can. 13 ordered that no one who sought it Was to be refused the viaticum; can. 19 dealt with the followers Paul of Samosata; can. 20 laid down that prayer should be said standing during the Paschal season. Before long these canons were universally accepted both in and W.; and several independent versions survive from the 4th and 5th cents. They were normally given pride of place in the canonical collections and, prob. through this cause, the canons of other Councils (notably Sardica) were apt to be cited as Nicene because they followed on without a break.

The genuine docs., together with a large collection of spuria, are pr. in all the principal Conciliar collections. Hardouin, 1 (1714), cols. 309–528; Mansi, 2 (1759), cols. 635–1082; Hefele and Leclercq, 1 (pt, 1; 1907), pp. 335–632. Text of Creed and canons also, with Eng. tr. and introd., in Tanner, Decrees (1990), pp. 1–19; crit. text of Lat. versions in EOMIA, esp. 1. 2 (1904). W. Bright, Notes on the Canons of the First Four General Councils (2nd edn., 1892), pp. 1–89. P. Batiffol, ‘Les Sources de l’histoire du concile de Nicée’, ÉO 24 (1925), pp. 385–402; 26 (1927), pp. 5–17. F. Haase, Die koptischen Quellen zum Konzil von Nicäa: Übersetzt und untersucht (Studien zur Geschichte und Kultur des Altertums, 10, Heft 4; 1920). G. Bardy in Fliche and Martin, 3 (1936), pp. 69–95., with good bibl. I. Ortiz de Urbina, SJ, Nicée et Constantinople (Histoire des Conciles Œuméniques, 1; 1963), esp. pp. 15–136. C. Luibhéid, The Council of Nicaea (Galway, 1982). M. Aubineau, ‘Les 318 Serviteurs d’Abraham (Gen., XIV, 14) et le Nombre des Pères au Concile de Nicée (325)’, RHE 61 (1966), pp. 5–43; cf. H. Chadwick, ‘Les 318 Pères de Nicée’, ibid., pp. 808–11. R. Lorenz, ‘Das Problem der Nachsynode von Nicäa (327)’, ZKG 90 (1979), pp. 22–40; C. Luibhéid. ‘The Alleged Second Session of the Council of Nicaea’, JEH 34 (1983), pp. 165–74. CPG 4 (1980), pp. 5–10 (nos. 8511–27). G. Fritz in DTC 11 (pt. 1; 1931), cols, 399–417, s.v. ‘Nicée, (1e Concile de)’; H. C. Brennecke in TRE 24 (1995), pp. 429–41, s.v. ‘Nicäa I’, with bibl.; I. Ortiz de Urbina. SJ, in NCE (2nd edn.), 10 (2003), pp. 346–8, s.v.

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