Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. II: The Ecclesiastical History of Socrates Scholasticus.: Of the Synod which was held at Nicæa in Bithynia, and the Creed there put forth.Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
p. 8 Chapter VIII.—Of the Synod which was held at Nicæa in Bithynia, and the Creed there 153 put forth.
Such admirable and wise counsel did the emperors letter contain. But the evil had become too strong both for the exhortations of the emperor, and the authority of him who was the bearer of his letter: for neither was Alexander nor Arius softened by this appeal; and moreover there was incessant strife and tumult among the people. Moreover another local source of disquietude had pre-existed there, which served to trouble the churches,—the dispute namely in regard to the Passover, which was carried on in the regions of the East only. 154 This arose from some desiring to keep the Feast more in accordance with the custom of the Jews; while others preferred its mode of celebration by Christians in general throughout the world. This difference, however, did not interfere with their communion, although their mutual joy was necessarily hindered. When, therefore, the emperor beheld the Church agitated on account of both of these causes, he convoked a General Council, 155 summoning all the bishops by letter to meet him at Nicæa in Bithynia. Accordingly the bishops assembled out of the various provinces and cities; respecting whom Eusebius Pamphilus thus writes, word for word, in his third book of the life of Constantine: 156
Wherefore the most eminent of the ministers of God in all the churches which have filled Europe, Africa, and Asia, were convened. And one sacred edifice, dilated as it were by God, contained within it on the same occasion both Syrians and Cilicians, Phœnicians, Arabs and Palestinians, and in addition to these, Egyptians, Thebans, Libyans, and those who came from Mesopotamia. At this synod a Persian bishop was also present, neither was the Scythian absent from this assemblage. Pontus also and Galatia, Pamphylia, Cappadocia, Asia and Phrygia, supplied those who were most distinguished among them. Besides, there met there Thracians and Macedonians, Achaians and Epirots, and even those who dwelt still further away than these, and the most celebrated of the Spaniards himself 157 took his seat among the rest. The prelate 158 of the imperial city was absent on account of age; but some of his presbyters were present and filled his place. Such a crown, composed as a bond of peace, the emperor Constantine alone has ever dedicated to Christ his Saviour, as a thank-offering worthy of God for victory over his enemies, having appointed this convocation among us in imitation of the Apostolic Assembly. 159 For among them it is said were convened “devout men of every nation under heaven; Parthians, Medes and Elamites, and those who dwelt in Mesopotamia, Judæa and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the part of Libya which is toward Cyrene, strangers from Rome also, both Jews and proselytes with Cretans and Arabs.” That congregation, however, was inferior in this respect, that all present were not ministers of God: whereas in this assembly the number of bishops exceeded three hundred; 160 while the number of the presbyters, deacons, and acolyths 161 and others who attended them was almost incalculable. Some of these ministers of God were eminent for their wisdom, some for the strictness of their life, and patient endurance [of persecution], and others united in themselves all these distinguished characteristics: some were venerable from their advanced age, others were conspicuous for their youth and vigor of mind, and others had but recently entered on their ministerial career. 162 For all these the emperor appointed an abundant supply of daily food to be provided.
Such is Eusebius account of those who met on this occasion. The emperor having completed the festal solemnization of this triumph over Licinius, came also in person to Nice.
There were among the bishops two of extraordinary celebrity, Paphnutius, bishop of Upper Thebes, and Spyridon, bishop of Cyprus: why I have so particular referred to these two individuals, I shall state hereafter. Many of the laity were also present, who were practiced in the art of reasoning, 163 and each eager to advocate the cause of his own party. Eusebius, bishop of Nicomedia, as was before said, supp. 9 ported the opinion of Arius, together with Theognis and Maris; of these the former was bishop of Nicæa, and Maris of Chalcedon in Bithynia. These were powerfully opposed by Athanasius, a deacon of the Alexandrian church, who was highly esteemed by Alexander his bishop, and on that account was much envied, as will be seen hereafter. Now a short time previous to the general assembling of the bishops, the disputants engaged in preparatory logical contests before the multitudes; and when many were attracted by the interest of their discourse, one of the laity, a confessor 164 , who was a man of unsophisticated understanding, reproved these reasoners, telling them that Christ and his apostles did not teach us dialectics, art, nor vain subtilties, but simple-mindedness, which is preserved by faith and good works. As he said this, all present admired the speaker and assented to the justice of his remarks; and the disputants themselves, after hearing his plain statement of the truth, exercised a greater degree of moderation: thus then was the disturbance caused by these logical debates suppressed at this time.
On the following day all the bishops were assembled together in one place; the emperor arrived soon after and on his entrance stood in their midst, and would not take his place, until the bishops by bowing intimated their desire that he should be seated: such was the respect and reverence which the emperor entertained for these men. When a silence suitable to the occasion had been observed, the emperor from his seat began to address them words of exhortation to harmony and unity, and entreated each to lay aside all private pique. For several of them had brought accusations against one another and many had even presented petitions to the emperor the day before. But he, directing their attention to the matter before them, and on account of which they were assembled, ordered these petitions to be burnt; merely observing that Christ enjoins him who is anxious to obtain forgiveness, to forgive his brother. When therefore he had strongly insisted on the maintenance of harmony and peace, he sanctioned again their purpose of more closely investigating the questions at issue. But it may be well to hear what Eusebius says on this subject, in his third book of the Life of Constantine. 165 His words are these:
A variety of topics having been introduced by each party and much controversy being excited from the very commencement, the emperor listened to all with patient attention, deliberately and impartially considering whatever was advanced. He in part supported the statements which were made on either side, and gradually softened the asperity of those who contentiously opposed each other, conciliating each by his mildness and affability. And as he addressed them in the Greek language, for he was not unacquainted with it, he was at once interesting and persuasive, and wrought conviction on the minds of some, and prevailed on others by entreaty, those who spoke well he applauded. And inciting all to unanimity at length he succeeded in bringing them into similarity of judgment, and conformity of opinion on all the controverted points: so that there was not only unity in the confession of faith, but also a general agreement as to the time for the celebration of the feast of Salvation. 166 Moreover the doctrines which had thus the common consent, were confirmed by the signature of each individual.
Such in his own words is the testimony respecting these things which Eusebius has left us in writing; and we not unfitly have used it, but treating what he has said as an authority, have introduced it here for the fidelity of this history. With this end also in view, that if any one should condemn as erroneous the faith professed at this council of Nicæa, we might be unaffected by it, and put no confidence in Sabinus the Macedonian, 167 who calls all those who were convened there ignoramuses and simpletons. For this Sabinus, who was bishop of the Macedonians at Heraclea in Thrace, having made a collection of the decrees published by various Synods of bishops, has treated those who composed the Nicene Council in particular with contempt and derision; not perceiving that he thereby charges Eusebius himself with ignorance, who made a like confession after the closest scrutiny. And in fact some things he has willfully passed over, others he has perverted, and on all he has put a construction favorable to his own views. Yet he commends Eusebius Pamphilus as a trustworthy witness, and praises the emperor as capable in stating Christian doctrines: but he still brands the faith which was declared at Nicæa, as having been set forth by ignorant persons, and such as had no intelligence in the matter. And thus he voluntarily contemns the words of a man whom he himself pronounces a wise and true witness: for Eusebius declares, that of the ministers of God who were present at the Nicene Synod, some were eminent for the word of wisdom, others for the strictness of their life; and that the emperor himself being p. 10 present, leading all into unanimity, established unity of judgment, and agreement of opinion among them. Of Sabinus, however, we shall make further mention as occasion may require. But the agreement of faith, assented to with loud acclamation at the great council of Nicæa is this:
We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible:—and in one 168 Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten of the Father, that is of the substance of the Father; God of God and Light of light; true God of true God; begotten, not made, consubstantial 169 with the Father: by whom all things were made, both which are in heaven and on earth: who for the sake of us men, and on account of our salvation, descended, became incarnate, and was made man; suffered, arose again the third day, and ascended into the heavens, and will come again to judge the living and the dead. [We] also [believe] in the Holy Spirit. But the holy Catholic and Apostolic church anathematizes those who say “There was a time when he was not,” and “He was not before he was begotten” and “He was made from that which did not exist,” and those who assert that he is of other substance or essence than the Father, or that he was created, or is susceptible of change. 170
This creed was recognized and acquiesced in by three hundred and eighteen [bishops]; and being, as Eusebius says, unanimous is expression and sentiment, they subscribed it. Five only would not receive it, objecting to the term homoousios, of the same essence, or consubstantial: these were Eusebius bishop of Nicomedia, Theognis of Nice, Maris of Chalcedon, Theonas of Marmarica, and Secundus of Ptolemaïs. For, said they since that is consubstantial which is from another either by partition, derivation or germination; by germination, as a shoot from the roots; by derivation, as children from their parents; by division, as two or three vessels of gold from a mass, and the Son is from the Father by none of these modes: therefore they declared themselves unable to assent to this creed. Thus having scoffed at the word consubstantial, they would not subscribe to the deposition of Arius. Upon this the Synod anathematized Arius, and all who adhered to his opinions, prohibiting him at the same time from entering into Alexandria. At the same time an edict of the emperor sent Arius himself into exile, together with Eusebius and Theognis and their followers; Eusebius and Theognis, however, a short time after their banishment, tendered a written declaration of their change of sentiment, and concurrence in the faith of the consubstantiality of the Son with the Father, as we shall show as we proceed.
At this time during the session of the Synod, Eusebius, surnamed Pamphilus, bishop of Cæsarea in Palestine, who had held aloof for a short time, after mature consideration whether he ought to receive this definition of the faith, at length acquiesced in it, and subscribed it with all the rest: he also sent to the people under his charge a copy of the Creed, with an explanation of the word homoousios, that no one might impugn his motives on account of his previous hesitation. Now what was written by Eusebius was as follows in his own words:
You have probably had some intimation, beloved, of the transactions of the great council convened at Nicæa, in relation to the faith of the Church, inasmuch as rumor generally outruns true account of that which has really taken place. But lest from such report alone you might form an incorrect estimate of the matter, we have deemed it necessary to submit to you, in the first place, an exposition of the faith proposed by us in written form; and then a second which has been promulgated, consisting of ours with certain additions to its expression. The declaration of faith set forth by us, which when read in the presence of our most pious emperor, seemed to meet with universal approbation, was thus expressed:
“According as we received from the bishops who preceded us, both in our instruction 171 [in the knowledge of the truth], and when we were baptized; as also we have ourselves learned from the sacred Scriptures: and in accordance with what we have both believed and taught while discharging the duties of presbyter and the episcopal office itself, so now we believe and present to you the distinct avowal of our faith. It is this:
“We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible:—and in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Word of God, God of God, Light of light, Life of life, the only-begotten Son, born before all creation, 172 begotten of God the Father, before all ages, by whom also all things were made; who on account of our salvation became incarnate, and lived p. 11 among men; and who suffered and rose again on the third day, and ascended to the Father, and shall come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. We believe also in one Holy Spirit. We believe in the existence and subsistence of each of these [persons]: that the Father is truly Father, the Son truly Son, and the Holy Spirit truly Holy Spirit; even as our Lord also, when he sent forth his disciples to preach the Gospel, said, 173 Go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Concerning these doctrines we steadfastly maintain their truth, and avow our full confidence in them; such also have been our sentiments hitherto, and such we shall continue to hold until death and in an unshaken adherence to this faith, we anathematize every impious heresy. In the presence of God Almighty, and of our Lord Jesus Christ we testify, that thus we have believed and thought from our heart and soul, since we have possessed a right estimate of ourselves; and that we now think and speak what is perfectly in accordance with the truth. We are moreover prepared to prove to you by undeniable evidences, and to convince you that in time past we have thus believed, and so preached.”
When these articles of faith were proposed, there seemed to be no ground of opposition: nay, our most pious emperor himself was the first to admit that they were perfectly correct, and that he himself had entertained the sentiments contained in them; exhorting all present to give them their assent, and subscribe to these very articles, thus agreeing in a unanimous profession of them, with the insertion, however, of that single word “homoousios” (consubstantial), an expression which the emperor himself explained, as not indicating corporeal affections or properties; and consequently that the Son did not subsist from the Father either by division or abscission: for said he, a nature which is immaterial and incorporeal cannot possibly be subject to any corporeal affection; hence our conception of such things can only be in divine and mysterious terms. Such was the philosophical view of the subject taken by our most wise and pious sovereign; and the bishops on account of the word homoousious, drew up this formula of faith.
The Creed. 174
“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, the only-begotten of the Father, that is of the substance of the Father; God of God, Light of light, true God of true God; begotten not made, consubstantial with the Father; by 175 whom all things were made both which are in heaven and on earth; who for the sake of us men, and on account of our salvation, descended, became incarnate, was made man, suffered and rose again on the third day; he ascended into the heavens, and will come to judge the living and the dead. [We believe] also in the Holy Spirit. But those who say There was a time when he was not, or He did not exist before he was begotten, or He was made of nothing or assert that He is of other substance or essence than the Father, or that the Son of God is created, or mutable, or susceptible of change, the Catholic and apostolic Church of God anathematizes.”
Now this declaration of faith being propounded by them, we did not neglect to investigate the distinct sense of the expressions “of the substance of the Father, and consubstantial with the Father.” Whereupon questions were put forth and answers, and the meaning of these terms was clearly defined; when it was generally admitted that ousias (of the essence or substance) simply implied that the Son is of the Father indeed, but does not subsist as a part of the Father. To this interpretation of the sacred doctrine which declares that the Son is of the Father, but is not a part of his substance, it seemed right to us to assent. We ourselves therefore concurred in this exposition; nor do we cavil at the word “homoousios” having regard to peace, and fearing to lose a right understanding of the matter. On the same grounds we admitted also the expression “begotten, not made”: “for made,” said they, “is a term applicable in common to all the creatures which were made by the Son, to whom the Son has no resemblance. Consequently he is no creature like those which were made by him, but is of a substance far excelling any creature; which substance the Divine Oracles teach was begotten of the Father by such a mode of generation as cannot be explained nor even conceived by any creature.” Thus also the declaration that “the Son is consubstantial with the Father” having been discussed, it was agreed that this must not be understood in a corporeal sense, or in any way analogous to mortal creatures; inasmuch as it is neither by division of substance, nor by abscission nor by any change of the Fathers substance and power, since the underived nature of the Father is inconsistent with all these things. That he is consubstantial with the Father then simply implies, that the Son of God has no resemblance to created things, but is in every respect like the Father only who begat him; and that he is of p. 12 no other substance or essence but of the Father. To which doctrine, explained in this way, it appeared right to assent, especially since we knew that some eminent bishops and learned writers among the ancients have used the term “homoousios” in their theological discourses concerning the nature of the Father and the Son. Such is what I have to state to you in reference to the articles of faith which have been promulgated; and in which we have all concurred, not without due examination, but according to the senses assigned, which were investigated in the presence of our most highly favored emperor, and for the reasons mentioned approved. We have also considered the anathema pronounced by them after the declaration of faith inoffensive; because it prohibits the use of illegitimate 176 terms, from which almost all the distraction and commotion of the churches have arisen. Accordingly, since no divinely inspired Scripture contains the expressions, “of things which do not exist,” and “there was a time when he was not,” and such other phrases as are therein subjoined, it seemed unwarrantable to utter and teach them: and moreover this decision received our sanction the rather from the consideration that we have never heretofore been accustomed to employ these terms. We deemed it incumbent on us, beloved, to acquaint you with the caution which has characterized both our examination of and concurrence in these things: and that on justifiable grounds we resisted to the last moment the introduction of certain objectionable expressions as long as these were not acceptable; and received them without dispute, when on mature deliberation as we examined the sense of the words, they appeared to agree with what we had originally proposed as a sound confession of faith.
Such was the letter addressed by Eusebius Pamphilus to the Christians at Cæsarea in Palestine. At the same time the Synod itself also, with one accord, wrote the following epistle to the church of the Alexandrians, and to believers in Egypt, Libya, and Pentapolis.
Cf. the parallel account in Sozom. I. 17.8:154
In a single sentence this controversy was as to whether the Easter should be observed on a fixed day in every year or on the 14th of the lunar month Nisan of the Jews, on whatever day of the week that might happen to fall. For a fuller discussion of the controversy, see Smiths Dict. of the Bible, and the literature there referred to.8:155
οἰκουμενικήν : hence this is called the first Ecumenical Council.8:156
Euseb. Life of Const. III. 7–9.8:157
Hosius mentioned before in chap. 7.8:158
According to Valesius, who follows Musculus, the prelate here meant was the bishop of Rome. The reason alleged is that at the time of the meeting of the council, Constantinople had not yet been made the imperial city. But considering the general indifference of Socrates to the affairs of the Western Church, and the fact that when he wrote, the imperial city was actually Constantinople, it is very probable that it is the bishop of that city he means to name here, and not the bishop of Rome.8:159
Acts ii. 5-11.8:160
The exact number is variously given as 250 by Eusebius (Life of Const. III. 8); 270 by Eustathius; 318 by Evagrius (H. E. III. 31); Athanasius (Ep. to the African bishops); Hilarius (Contra Constantium); Jerome (Chronicon), and Rufinus.8:161
Young priests; lit. followers, from ἀκόλουθος.8:162
τῷ μέσῳ τρόπῳ: besides the meaning given to these words here they may be taken (1) as describing the temperate and genial character of the men so characterized, on the assumption that μέσος = μέτριος as often elsewhere, or (2) as applicable to those who occupied the middle ground in the controversy; of these, (2) is not admissible, as nothing has been said in the immediate context about the controversy, and as age is the main basis of classification in the passage; (1) also is less probable than the rendering given above.8:163
εἷς τῶν ὁμολογητῶν : the term ὁμολογητής was applied to those who during the persecutions had refused to sacrifice to idols, persisting in his profession of Christianity in spite of suffering. Cf. Clem. Strom. IV. 12; Petr. Alex. Epist. Can. 14.9:165
Euseb. Life of Const. III. 13.9:166
The Passover, or Easter.9:167
Macedonian = follower of Macedonius, not a native resident of Macedonia. Sabinus was the author of a collection of the acts of the Synod used by Socrates quite freely (cf. I. 9; II. 15, 17 et al.). Socrates, however, criticises him for prejudice against the orthodox. Sabinus was bishop of the church of the Macedonians in Heraclea, a city in Thrace.10:168
This is according to the reading of Valesius, Hussey, and Bright. The reading, our Lord, &c., of the English translations in Bagster and Bohns series is probably a typographical error, though strangely perpetuated down to the reprint of 1888.10:169
ομοουσιον , of the same essence; the word has become a historic landmark in theological debate, and one of the stock words of theological terminology.10:170
This creed is found twelve times in eleven ancient sources, two versions being given in the Acts of the Council of Chalcedon. The second version of the Council of Chalcedon contains certain additions from the creed of Constantinople; all the rest substantially agree. Cf. Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, Vol. I. p. 24, and Vol. II. p. 60, 91; Walch, Antiquitates Symbolicæ (1772), p. 87 seq.; Hahn, Bibliothek der Symbole, p. 40–107, and other literature referred to in Schaffs Creeds, &c.10:171
κατηχήσει ; the word is used of the steps preliminary to baptism, chief among which was instruction in the truth. Cf. VII. 17, and Smiths Dict. of the Bible.10:172
πρωτότοκον πάσης κτίσεως, taken from Col. i. 15. For the uses of πρῶτος instead of πρότερος, see John i. 15.11:173
μαθητεύσατε , from Matt. xxviii. 19.11:174
τὸ μάθημα: lit. lesson.11:175
ἀγράφοις: lit. unwritten, but defined by Hesychius as above.
Next: The Letter of the Synod, relative to its Decisions: and the Condemnation of Arius and those who agreed with him.
Like & share St-Takla.org
© Saint Takla Haymanout Website: Coptic Orthodox Church - Alexandria, Egypt / URL: https://st-takla.org / Contact us at