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Who, Exactly, Was Jesus?:  Arius and the Nicene Creed

    Trying to explain who Jesus is can be tricky.  Some confusion has been caused by the terminology used in the New Testament:  Jesus is the Son of God.  Some read this to indicate that Jesus is a separate entity from God.  Today some people in other religions believe that Christians worship three gods:  The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  But this not a new problem, or I should say, misunderstanding but an old one.  Yet it is not to be understated, for as a matter of fact, the first large-scale council of Christian leaders was convened to deal with this misunderstanding.  The council was called the Council of Nicaea and was held in the year 325.

   What began the misunderstanding?  A man named Arius (d. 336) came to the conclusion that Jesus was not the same as God in that he was created by God, due to the “Son” language.  Therefore, he was similar to God (the Father) but was not the same (being the Son).  Now, other people had reached similar conclusions as to the relationship between the Father and the Son, but for some reason Arius’ thought was the one which gathered the most attention.  A number of Christian leaders and bishops were convinced by Arius with the result that Christianity experienced one of its first schisms or divisions:  Pro-Arius (known as Arians) and against. 

    This division was so acute that it even bubbled up to the level of the emperor, who just happened to be Constantine, the first Christian Roman emperor.  He decided to call a gathering of all the Christian leaders and bishops to decide the matter.  He invited hundreds to come to Nicaea, which is located in present-day Turkey:  around 300 showed up. 

     The controversy swirled around which of two Greek words to use when defining Christ:  homoousios or homoiousios, the difference being the “i” in the middle of the second word.  The first word means “of the same substance” and the second word means “of like substance.”  Arius preferred the second word, because he believed that Christ was not the same as God, that he was of “like essence” but not the “same essence,” that Christ was created at some point in time—which meant that there was a time when he “was not,” before he was created—and that Christ could change or alter, being a created being.

    While some bishops leaned toward Arius’ thought at the beginning of the Council, by the time of the vote only two voted for Arius.  The Council produced a Creed which established the proper understanding which Christians should have, known as the Nicene Creed.  In addition, a statement at the end of the Creed rejects anyone who holds a different (meaning Arius’) view.

"We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible.

And in One Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father, the only-begotten; that is, of the essence (homoousios) of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made both in heaven and on earth; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man; he suffered, and the third day he rose again, ascended into heaven; from where he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

And in the Holy Spirit.

But those who say:  'There was a time when he was not,' and 'He was not before he was made;' and 'He was made out of nothing,' or 'He is of another substance' or 'essence,' or 'The Son of God is created,' or 'changeable,' or 'alterable'--they are condemned by the holy catholic and apostolic Church." 

©2008 Mark Nickens

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