We know neither how many bishops attended the Nicene council (perhaps 220-50), nor exactly who presided. Ossius of Cordova, a Western bishop who advised Constantine, might have been the president but only eight Western bishops participated. A few leaders east of Antioch attended, including some Armenians, Jacob of Nisibis and John of Persia.8 Ancyra had been the site proposed by bishops at an Antiochene synod during 324, but Nicaea was selected because it was closer to the West and nearby Nicomedia, then Constantine's political capital. He himself was active in the proceedings because he believed, as did many previous emperors, that a united religious pillar helped uphold the government. Early drafts of the Nicene Creed depended on baptismal creeds, perhaps most directly that ofJerusalem rather than Eusebius' Caesarean Creed. In any case the position of Alexander of Alexandria won the day. Constantine promulgated the twenty canons from the council that dealt especially with the life of the clergy and with the administration of baptism, ordination and eucharistic communion.9 As for Arius, the dominant group at the council rejected him and he was sent away. But in 328, Constantine brought him back from exile in Illyricum. Synods in Tyre and Jerusalem during 335 declared him an orthodox Christian and acknowledged him once again as part of the clergy. Constantine demanded that the bishop of Constantinople accept Arius, but Arius died suddenly in 336.
When Alexander died, Athanasius, a presbyter, became bishop of Alexandria. He had been active before Nicaea in the battle against Arius, but after Nicaea he was probably the most important supporter of its decisions. Tenacious in his views, but also capable of developing them further, he wrote not only against Arius, but also in favour of what he considered the orthodox faith. Although he was tried for killing a man, the evidence being a severed hand, his 'secret service' found the man and presented him to the court alive with both hands. Exiled five times by emperors (335,339-46,356-61,363,365 / 6), when he was sent out of Egypt he used those opportunities to promote his teaching, particularly among Christian leaders in the West. He appeared to be the rock from which Nicene orthodoxy was hewn. During his time as bishop, he fought pagans as well as Arians.10
The Meletian schism was another Egyptian difficulty dealt with at Nicaea. Its leader, Meletius, agitated for a stricter policy about accepting into the church those who gave church material to Roman troops or sacrificed to the gods
8 See chapter 4, below.
9 Decrees of the ecumenical councils, ed. and trans. Tanner i: i-4;J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian creeds, 211-30.
10 Theodoret, H. E. 1.30; K. Anatolios, Athanasius.
Was this article helpful?