Thursday, May 09, 2013
NICENE CHRISTIANITY THE COUNCEILE OF NICEA, CONSTIANTINOPLE, AND CHALCEDON
This may be a bit dry of a read, but I haven't posted for a while.
March 28, 2013
THE COUNCEILE OF NICEA, CONSTIANTINOPLE,
13SP RELS 111
Intro to Christian Hist/Thght (09)
Part One: The controversy over the deity of Jesus
The Bride of Christ appears to have been always in some sort of controversy since her conception. One view is of a purer source liken to someone who was hiking near a lake and began to thirst. As the person passed the lake, the river, then passing the small streams up the mountain, they finally come to the source spring of pure water. One view is, believers must return to the apostolic source and stay true to their intended words of teaching. These men are those who either walked with Jesus under his teaching or later received direct revelation and wrote their revelations about and from Jesus for others to learn. In a sense, believers must stay true to the purest spring we can find; otherwise, the possibility of contamination could cause sickness in the Body of Christ.
Even in the time of the Apostles, there were those who twisted the words of the Apostles to mislead others. While some who twisted the words of Jesus and the Apostles were sincere, others may have had other motives. To understand this in a present way, the lyrics of Neon Horse in their song, “When Daddy Gets Home” speak of this issue even today.
“But who you gonna believe
When Daddy comes home
We believe what we wanna believe
‘Till the games are over”
Still even today, the Nicene Creed (NC) stirs controversy, as it is not the complete expression of Christianity but an attempt to address issues of the day. As indicated on the Ecclesio.com website, the discussion of the events in the Councils of Nicaea, Constantinople, and Chalcedon gives debate regarding the weight of the “strange creeds” and how even newer creeds along with older creeds must be kept in context (Naude, Piet, 2003). With this as a reminder, while looking at the NC and other councils attempting to understand why and how the reasons the councils came about via two opposing views on the deity of Christ Jesus.
The two opposing views
There were two main opposing views about Jesus and his divinity. Some followed Arius who taught that Jesus was a creature or a created being (Bingham, 2002, 46). Further, the idea Arius put forth led to the conclusion Jesus was not eternal, or as Arius stated, “the son had a beginning, but God is without beginning” (Ibid). Arius may have been trying to be true to the scriptures as he pulled his idea that Jesus was “Wisdom” (1 Cor. 1:24, 30) from Prov.8:22, which states, “The LORD brought me forth as the first of his works, before his deeds of old” (NIV). Arius took the idea from a verse Jesus was God’s first “work”, so was therefore “created”. It may also be noted Arius did not just pull this from the Scripture, but also built on ideas of Origen who set forth the idea the Father is “true God” (Lane, 2006, 29). It must be also noted, that Origenists were not Arians as Origenist held a distinction between the “threeness of the Godhead” though Origenists were not clear concerning the deity of Jesus” (Lane, 2006, 30).
The main person to oppose Arianism was Athanasius. While the NC was specific in how it addressed the eternalness of Jesus by using words such a homoousio (meaning of one substance), which showed that there was no distinction between The Father and Jesus. Athanasius also believed this was not a strong enough approach to attack the heresy of Arianism (Lane, 2006, 31). Athanasius pressed harder against Arianism as he believed the acceptance of Arianism could be the end of Christianity. Athanasius stated in the Athanasian Creed:
“And the Catholic Faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons ; nor dividing the substance. For there is one person of the Father, another of the Son: and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and the Holy Ghost, is all one: the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal.” (Kerr, 1990, 76-77).
The core belief of Athanasius was of the deity of Christ; for he believed only if Christ is divine could He save us (Lane, 2006, 32). According to Lane (2006, 33), Athanasius held strong arguments against Arianism as well as against the Jewish and pagan charges against the incarnation and crucifixion of God’s Son as ”unfitting and degrading” (Ibid). Anathasius argument was simple but brilliant as according to Lane, he held “only the one through whom the world was created could restore it (2006, 33). While Athathanuis used Greek philosophy, he mainly turned to Scripture to back his arguments against Arianism. Here Athananius argued the point that Christian “worship” of Jesus Christ, which started in the time of the new testament and in his own time would be considered idolatry if Jesus were “merely a creature” (Lane, 2006, 33-34).
Part Two: The Outcome
The outcome of these Creeds held true to the pure stream of the Apostle’s teaching. The Creeds gave a sense of unity and definition concerning the Person of Jesus Christ as well as the idea of a Uniting Trinity. However, as these Creeds gave clearer understanding, they also gave way to new questions that needed addressing. While the understanding of Christ’s divinity was clearer, the question turned to what it meant of Christ or as John’s gospel states, “The Word became flesh” (John 1:14, NIV). Once again, a better definition was sought.
The Chalcedonian Definition was an attempt to answer the question of whether Jesus had one nature or two. Because Jesus was declared divine, yet also was considered truly human. Bingham brings up the point that while Jesus did divine acts such as walking on water, raising the dead, and healing people, He also showed human frailty (53). Jesus experienced hunger, sadness, needed to sleep, and as all humans do, died (Ibid). However, this does not mean Jesus was two Beings (Ibid). The Chalcedonian Definition attempted to clear the understanding that Jesus had two natures in unity.
The conclusions they reached and how
The Church Fathers reached their conclusions through reasoning, discussion (even angry fighting), as well as using Greek philosophy, and appealing to Scripture. While some people may think of old men in pointed hats who appealed to their own egos, history shows the Church Fathers sincerely working toward keeping the purity of the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles. It is easy to look back and not catch the careful approach these men took to keep the Doctrines they fought for so hard, was also guided by the Holy Spirit. While these Creeds are not perfect in anyway, as Bingham points-out, these Creeds do not “answer all our questions about the Trinity and incarnation” however, “they do give us boundaries within we can find acceptable interpretations of the Scriptures about the Trinity and the two natures of Christ.” (54). These boundaries still a have an effect today. Even today, there are new Creeds that further build on the foundation built by the Early Church Fathers. The effect was not just in setting boundaries, but also in setting a sense of unity (Bingham 54). This unity of consensus helped quench the fires of heresy that had risen to threaten the Church.
Part Three: Application and Analysis
Even today, there are groups such as the Jehovah Witnesses that twist the scripture. Thankfully, we have these writings to solidify belief in the truth. The understanding that Jesus is not a mere man or other created being is a core belief in churches today with a few exceptions. Creeds like the Nicene Creed show us about Jesus; however only when we encounter who Jesus is, do we begin a journey in Christology. To encounter Jesus in Who He truly is allows us to grow in our own understanding of who we as believers are in Him. To depart from the truth that Jesus is divine does in fact open us to idolatry for instance. To believe only God can set things right by becoming a man to fulfill His own requirements, also shows the loving forethought of God toward His creation. To hold the wrong view of Jesus is to lose sight of the message of salvation. For, by not holding true to the message it is not holding true to the Messenger. For, if we contaminate the view of the Messenger, the message is also contaminated.
Bingham, D. Jeffrey. Pocket history of the Church. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2002.
elryics.com. When Daddy Gets Home. http://www.elyrics.net/read/n/neon-horse-lyrics/when-daddy-gets-home-lyrics.html (accessed March 29, 2013).
Hill, Jonathan. The History of Christian Thought. InterVarsity Press, 2003.
Lane, Tony. A Concise History of Christian Thought. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006.
Naude, Piet. A letter from South Africa. Ecclesio.com. http://www.ecclesio.com/2011/03/a-letter-from-south-africa-by-piet-naude/ (accessed March 29, 2013).