Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. XIV:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
The First Ecumenical Council: The First Council of Nice.: Historical Introduction.
p. 2 Historical Introduction.
The history of the Council of Nice has been so often written by so many brilliant historians, from the time of its sitting down to to-day, that any historical notice of the causes leading to its assembling, or account of its proceedings, seems quite unnecessary. The editor, however, ventures to call the attention of the reader to the fact that in this, as in every other of the Seven Ecumenical Councils, the question the Fathers considered was not what they supposed Holy Scripture might mean, nor what they, from à priori arguments, thought would be consistent with the mind of God, but something entirely different, to wit, what they had received. They understood their position to be that of witnesses, not that of exegetes. They recognized but one duty resting upon them in this respect—to hand down to other faithful men that good thing the Church had received according to the command of God. The first requirement was not learning, but honesty. The question they were called upon to answer was not, What do I think probable, or even certain, from Holy Scripture? but, What have I been taught, what has been intrusted to me to hand down to others? When the time came, in the Fourth Council, to examine the Tome of Pope St. Leo, the question was not whether it could be proved to the satisfaction of the assembled fathers from Holy Scripture, but whether it was the traditional faith of the Church. It was not the doctrine of Leo in the fifth century, but the doctrine of Peter in the first, and of the Church since then, that they desired to believe and to teach, and so, when they had studied the Tome, they cried out: 47
“This is the faith of the Fathers! This is the faith of the Apostles!…Peter hath thus spoken by Leo! The Apostles thus taught! Cyril thus taught!” etc.
No Acts of either of the first two Ecumenical Councils have been handed down. 48
This is clearly set forth by Pope Vigilius as follows: “No one can doubt that our fathers believed that they should receive with veneration the letter of blessed Leo if they declared it to agree with the doctrines of the Nicene and Constantinopolitan Councils, as also with those of blessed Cyril, set forth in the first of Ephesus. And if that letter of so great a Pontiff, shining with so bright a light of the orthodox Faith, needed to be approved by these comparisons, how can that letter to Maris the Persian, which specially rejects the First Council of Ephesus and declares to be heretics the expressed doctrines of the blessed Cyril, be believed to have been called orthodox by these same Fathers, condemning as it does those writings, by comparison with which, as we have said, the doctrine of so great a Pontiff deserved to be commended?”—Vigil., Constitutum pro dammatione Trium Capitulorum. Migne, Pat. Lat., tom. lxix., col. 162.2:48
About twenty-five years ago Mr. Eugène Révillout discovered, in the Museum of Turin, two fragments in Coptic which he supposed to be portions of the Acts of this Council (of which the rest are still missing) incorporated into the Acts of a Council held at Alexandria in 362. But there is too little known about these fragments to attribute to them any fixed value. I therefore only refer the reader to the literature on the subject—Journal Asiatique, Fevrier–Mars, 1873; Annales de Philosophie Chrétienne, Juin, 1873; Revue de Questions Historiques, Avril, 1874; M. W. Guettée, Histoire de lÉglise, t. III., p. 21; Eugène Révillout, Le Concile de Nicée et le Concile dAlexandrie…daprès les textes Coptes.
Next: The Nicene Creed.
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