College Notes
Church History
Lecture 8

Eusebius/Constantine/Council of Nicea

A. Probably ends about 1OO-1O2 A.D.
B. Because of Polycarp's direct contact with John, some think that this era should end with him
    1. After Polycarp we enter the second era
    2. Rev 2:8 describes it:

"I   know your works and tribulation, and poverty, but you are rich (spiritually) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews (God's people) and are not,  (he is a Jew who is one inwardly) but are of the synagogue of Satan." 

C. The Diocletian persecution occurs during this time
D. Rev 2:1O describes this:
"And you shall have tribulation ten days."

E. Ezek 4:6 a day for a yr. = 1O years
    1. From the time of Nero there were 1O persecutions
    2. One of these is referred to here from 3O3-313 A.D.
        a. This was the 1Oth and final persecution
        b. It was against true Christians and false         
        c. Eusebius provides us with the best history of this time

II. EUSEBIUS - 264-340 A.D.
A.  Which one?
    1.  Dozens listed in encyclopedia.
    2.  Eusebius of Caesarea.

B.  Earliest Catholic historian - "Father of church history".

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica 11th edition:

"He believed that he was living at the beginning of a new age, and he felt that it was a fitting time, when the old order of things was passing away, to put on record for the benefit of posterity the great events which had occurred during the generations that were past."  p. 954 

C.  Early life:
1.  Born 264 A.D. in Palestine
    2.  Family - unknown.
3.  Youth in city of Caesarea.
    4.  Baptized in Caesarea.
     a.  Caesarea - center of "Christian Scholarship"
     b.  He introduced Alexandrian views at Caesarea

D.  Education:
    1.  Taught by Pam Philus.
2.  Ingrained with Alexandrian approach.
3.  Given surname Pam Phili.

E.  Ordained in Caesarea.

F.  Events:
1.  303 A.D. - Diocletian became exiled.
2.  313 A.D. - ordained as the new Bishop of Caesarea.
     a.  Edict of Milan ensued by Constantine - Toleration edict
3.  Had extreme admiration for Constantine.
4.  Dr. Arias was originator of the controversy, which caused Constantine to convince Council of Nicea.
5.  318 A.D. - Arian Controversy - dispute over relationship with Christ to God.
     a.  Taught Christ not divine - Arius
     b.  Eusebius sympathized with Arius
     c.  Dealt with at Council of Nicea
6.  Eusebius was active at Council of Nicea...
        a.  Gave opening address
     b.  Leader of semi-Arian party (moderate)
     c.  Accepted doctrine of the council, condemning Arius
     d.  Still showed Arian leanings 

According to the the Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th edition:

"During this period [pre-Nicean Council] he took the side of Arius in the dispute with Alexander of Alexandria, and accepted what he understood to be the position of Arius and his supporters, who, as he supposed, taught both the divinity and subordination of   the Son. It was natural that he should take this side, for in his traditional fear of Sabelianism, in which he was one with the followers of Origen in general; he found it difficult to approve the position of Alexander, who seemed to be doing away altogether with the subordination of the Son. And, moreover, he believed that Alexander was misrepresenting the teaching of Arius and doing him great injustice.  Meanwhile at the council of Nicea he seems to have discovered that the Alexandrians were right in claiming that Arius was carrying his subordinationnism so far as to deny all real divinity to Christ. To this length Eusebius himself was unwilling to go, and so convinced that he     had misunderstood Arius, and that the teaching of the latter was imperiling the historic belief in the Divinity of Christ, he gave his support to the opposition, and voted for the Nicene Creed, in which the teachings of Arians were repudiated." p.954


    7.  336 A.D. - dedicated the church of the Holy Sepulcher.
8.  337 A.D. - Constantine dies.
     a.  Was baptized shortly before death by Eusebius
    9.  Eusebius died - c.339-340 A.D.
    10.  Regarded as one of the most learned of Fathers.

H.  Writings:
1.  Life of Constantine
2.  The Chronicle, History of the World 
3.  Historia Ecclesiastica
     a.  History of Christian church - events through 324 A.D.
     b.  No information on council of Nicea
     c.  The primary source of church history
     d.  Divided into ten books
     e.  Many early heresies described

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, Eusebius wrote:

"It is my purpose to write an account of the successions of the holy Apostles as well as of the times which have elapsed from the day of our Saviour to our own; to relate how many and important events are said to have occurred in the history of the church: and to mention those who have governed and presided over the church in the most prominent parishes, and those who in each generation have proclaimed the divine word either orally or in writing. It is my purpose also to give the names and number and times of those who through love of innovation have run into the greatest errors, and proclaiming themselves discoverers of knowledge, falsely so called, have like fierce wolves unmercifully devastated the flock of Christ. It is my intention, moreover, to recount the misfortunes which immediately came on the whole Jewish nation in consequence of their plots against our Saviour, and to record the ways and times in which the divine word has been attacked by the Gentiles, and to describe the character of those who at various periods have contended for it in the face of blood and tortures, as well as the confessions which have been made in our own day, and the gracious and kindly succor which our Saviour has accorded them all." p.954

        f. References of note in Historia Ecclesiastica
         1)  Bk.2 ch.13 - Simon Magus
         2)  Bk.2 ch.25 - Nero's persecution
         3)  Bk.3 ch.26 - Menander, successor to Simon Magus
         4)  Bk.3 ch.27 - Ebionites
         5)  Bk.4 ch.14-15 - Polycarp
         6) Bk.5 ch.23-25 - Polycrates and Passover controversy
         7) Bk.6 ch.6 - lists first 12 popes

A.  Mother of Constantine.
1.  Helena - important to Catholicism.
2.  Exiled and degraded for a while.
3.  Constantine elevated her.

The Encyclopedia Americana says:

"Helena was probably born at Drepanon, in Bithynia. According to St. Ambrose, her parents were pagans, and she was an innkeeper. She became the concubine of Constantius Chlorus, who abandoned her for political reasons when he became Roman emperor.   But their son Constantine, at the beginning of his reign (306), gave her the title of Augusta, and under his influence she became a Christian." p. 61

    4.  She went to holy land - found "holy sites" of the eternal. 
     a.  These sites have been accepted today by the Roman Catholic Church

According to The Age of Constantine:

"When she traveled through the East she gave large sums to the inhabitants of individual cities, and additional   amounts personally to those who approached her.   She also distributed large sums to the soldiers: the   poor, moreover, received money   and clothing, and others were helped out of imprisonment for debt, exile, and oppression of every sort. Obviously Constantine regarded such an excursion by the only completely trustworthy member of his family as appropriated and as consonant with the spirit of the East." p. 312

The Age of Constantine shows how she finally had high status:

"Perhaps the only decent relationship in the circle of this great Constantine,  'who persecuted what was nearest him and slew first his son and nephew, then his wife, then a crowd of friends,' was that with his mother Helena. Whatever her position with reference to Chlorus may have been, in the Oriental view she was sufficiently legitimized by having given birth to the ruler. He is said to have been accessible to her counsel always. Purposely clothed with official honors, she spent her last years in charitable works, pious pilgrimages, and Church foundations. She died at an age past eighty, apparently not long before her son. Drepanum in Bithynia was named Helenopolis for her."  p. 276

B.  Father had prominence:
1.  Affinity to Christianity.
2.  May have granted help to Christians.

C.  306 A.D. - Constantine becomes emperor.

The Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th says:

"Constantine I known as 'The Great'... was born on the 27th of February, probably in A.D. 288, at Naissus (the modern Nish) UN Upper Moesian (Servia). He was the illegitimate son of Constantius I.  And Flavia Helena (described by St Ambrose as an innkeeper). His father, already a distinguished officer, soon afterwards became PRAEFECTUS PRAETORIO, and in 293 was raised to the rank of Caesar and placed in command of the western provinces. While still a boy, Constantine was sent-practically as a hostage-to the Eastern court... (Later, after his father brought him back)...on the point of crossing to Britain to repel an invasion of Picts and Scots, after gaining victory, Constantius died at Eboracum  (York), and on the 25th of July 3O6, the army acclaimed his son as Augustus... He accepted the nomination of the army with feigned reluctance and wrote a carefully-worded letter to Galerius, disclaiming responsibility for the action of   the troops, but requesting recognition as Caesar...Galerius was not in a position to refuse the request."

D.  312 A.D. - Saw famous vision while on military campaign.
1.  Saw flaming cross.
2.  Cross, traditional symbol of Christianity to Roman Catholics.
3.  Voice said, "In this sign conquer".
4.  Engraved this sign into shields of army.

Quoting from the Plain Truth, July/Aug, 1983:

"Just before the battle of Milvian Bridge, Constantine had seen a vision. In the sky appeared a flaming cross, and above it the words ‘In Hoc Signo Vinces'  (‘In this sign, conquer!'). Stirred by the vision, he ordered that the Christian symbol the monogram (the superimposed Greek letters X and P,  'Chi and Rho,' the first two letters of the word Christos) be inscribed upon the standards and shields of the army."  p. 21

E.  313 A.D. - Edict of Milan (Toleration)
1.  Granted religious freedom.
2.  Equal rights to those in the church.
3.  Christianity could grow.

The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church says that:

"In 313 he and Licinius, soon to control the Eastern empire, decreed full legal toleration for Christianity (Edict of Milan), and the church enjoyed increasing favor - restitution of confiscated property, financial aid for Catholics, clerical exemption from hereditary offices, civil jurisdiction for bishops."P.255

And according to A Manual of Church History:

"He exempted the Christian clergy from military and municipal duties and their property from taxation (313); abolished various pagan customs and ordinances offensive to Christians (315); facilitated the emancipation of Christian slaves (315); legalized bequests to Christian churches, a very important measure (321); enjoined the civil observance of Sunday, though only as the day of the Sun, and in connection with an ordinance requiring the consultation of the soothsayer (321); contributed largely  toward  the  building of  Christian  houses  of worship;  and  gave  his sons  a  Christian  education." p.306

F.  Residence:
1.  Resided in the East - Asia Minor.
2.  Founded Constantinople - today known as Istanbul.

The Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th edition, says:

"In 326 Constantine determined to remove the seat of empire from Rome to the East, and before the close of the year the foundation stone of Constantinople was laid. At least two other sites - Sardica and Troy were considered before the emperor's choice fell on Byzantium. It is very probable that this step was connected with Constantine's decision to make Christianity the official religion of the empire. Rome was naturally the stronghold of paganism, to which the great majority of the senate clung with fervent devotion. Constantine did not wish to do open violence to this sentiment, and therefore resolved to found a new capital for the new empire of his creation. He announced that the site had been revealed to him in a dream; the ceremony of inauguration was performed by     Christian ecclesiastics on the 11th of May 330, when the city was dedicated to the Blessed virgin. p. 989

G.  Baptism:
1.  Not in his lifetime, however, baptized on death bed 
2.  He was baptized by Eusebius - 377 A.D.

Wand writes of his conversion in the History Of The Early Church:

"About Constantine’s personal religion the most divers views have been, and still are, held.  It is doubtful whether he was a genuine Christian who whole-heartedly accepted the faith and teaching of the Church; or whether he was really a syncritist whose desire was to establish a universal diestic religion; or whether he was an astute statesman who believed he could find in Christianity the social and moral force that would bring unity to his heredity Constantine was bound to the worship of Jove and Hercules, but... after he began to achieve fame he showed a marked veneration for the  sun,  which  seems to have represented to him  the unity  behind  the  many different  forms of  religious belief... the many scholars  who adopt the third alternative point to the ambiguous character of many  of Constantine's  acts. The famous vision of the cross of the light and the regulation with regard to Sunday are both capable of a pagan as well as a Christian interpretation. His postponement of baptism until he was on his deathbed might lead to the same conclusion, had it not been a sufficiently common practice. His handling of ecclesiastical problems shows that his greatest anxiety was to maintain peace and unity."P.136

H.  Controversy in church arising - Alexandrian views.
1.  God the father, Christ no his son.
2.  Main reason for Council of Nicea.

I.  Called together Council of Nicea - Reasons.
1.  Arian problem.
2.  Quarto-decimen.
3.  Sabbath controversy.
4.  Establishes when Easter to be kept.

A.  Recognized as first official council of the church after one held in Acts 15. Lasted from May 20 or June 19 to Aug 25, 325.

B.  Constantine calls all-important bishops together from the east and west.
    1.  Well over 300 bishops.
2.  Representing the Roman Catholic Church.

According to the New Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. X:

"The Council opened at Nicaea in Bithynia (modern Iznik, northwestern Turkey in Asia), in Constantine’s palace, with an address by the Emperor.   About 300 bishops were present... more than 100 came from Asia Minor, about   30 from Syria-Phoenicia, fewer than 20 from Palestine and Egypt. Prominent figures were Hosius of Cordoba  (who presided with   the delegates of Pope Sylvester)...." p.432

C.  Gathered in Nicea.

D.  Motive for:
1.  Saw diversities in church developing.
2.  Wouldn't tolerate religious controversy - wanted them settled.

The New Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. X, says:

"Captivated by Christianity, Constantine wanted to give it the protection of the state; for, in line with the old Roman idea, he regarded himself as Pontifex Maximus of Christianity, 'bishop in matters external’ (Vita Const.  4.24).  As such, he thought it his task to settle a controversy that was upsetting the politico religious unity of   his Christian empire.... When another synod in Antioch late in 324 failed to effect the desired unity, the Emperor decided to settle the controversy by a general synod of the more important bishops of the world."  P.432

E.  Subjects dealt with...
1.  Aryanism.
2.  Easter.

The Plain Truth Magazine says on page 21:

"The Council of Nicea confronts two major issues.  It deals firstly with a dispute over the relationship of Christ to God the Father. The dispute is called the Arian controversy. Arius, a priest of Alexandria, has been teaching that Christ was created, not eternal and divine like the Father. The Council condemns him and his doctrine and exiles Arian teachers. (The movement, however, continues strong in many areas.  When Gothic and Germanic invaders are converted to Christianity, it is frequently to the Arian form.)  The other major issue at the Council is the proper date for the celebration of Passover. Many Christians especially those in Asia Minor still commemorate Jesus' death on the 14th day of the Hebrew month Nisan the day the  "Jewish" Passover lambs had been slain. In contrast, Rome and the Western churches emphasize the resurrection, rather than the death of Jesus. They celebrate an annual Passover feast   but always on a Sunday. The Council rules that the ancient Christian Passover commemorating the death of Jesus must no longer be kept on pain of death. The Western custom is to be observed throughout the Empire, on the first Sunday after the full moon following the vernal equinox.   It is later to be called  "Easter" when the Germanic tribes are converted en masse to Christianity." p. 21

From the Letter of the Emperor to all those not present at the Council (Found in Eusebius, Vita Const., Lib iii. 18-20.), Constantine explains the reason for the change to Easter:

"When the question relative to the sacred festival of Easter arose, it was universally thought that it would be convenient that all should keep the feast on one day; for what could be more beautiful and more desirable, than to see this festival, through which we receive the hope of immortality, celebrated by all with one accord, and in the same manner?   It was declared to be particularly unworthy for this, the holiest of all festivals, to follow the custom (the calculation) of the Jews, who have soiled their hands with the most fearful of crimes, and whose minds were blinded....   We ought not, therefore, to have anything in common with the Jews, for the Savior has shown us another way; our worship follows a more legitimate and more convenient course; and consequently, in unanimously adopting this mode, we desire, dearest brethren, to separate ourselves from the detestable company of the Jews, for it is truly shameful for us to hear them boast that without their direction we could not keep this feast.  How can they be in the right, they who, after the death of the Saviour, have no longer been led by reason but by wild violence, as their delusion may urge them?  They do not possess the truth in this Easter question; for, in their blindness and repugnance to all improvements, they frequently celebrate the Passover twice in one year.   We could not imitate those who are openly in error.  How, then, could we follow these Jews, who are most certainly blinded by error?  For to celebrate the Passover twice in one year is totally in admissible.   But even if this were not so, it would still be your duty not to tarnish your soul by communications with such wicked people. Our Saviour has left us only one festival day of our redemption...Think then how unseemly it is that on the same day some should be fasting whilst others are seated at a banquet; and that after Easter, some should be rejoicing at feasts, whilst others are still observing a strict fast.  For this reason, Divine Providence wills that this custom should   be rectified and regulated in a uniform way; and everyone, I hope, will agree upon this point.   As, on the one hand, it is our duty not to have anything in common with the murderers of our Lord; and as, on the other, the custom now followed by the Churches of the West, of the South and of the North, and by some of those of the East, is the most acceptable.... You should consider not only that the number of churches in these provinces makes a majority, but also that it is right we should have nothing in common with the Jews.  To sum up in few words:  By the unanimous judgment of all, it has been decided that the most holy festival of Easter should be everywhere celebrated on one and the same day, and it is not seemly that in so holy a thing there should be any division.   As this is the state of the case, accept joyfully the divine favour, and this truly divine command; for all which takes place in assemblies of the bishops ought to be regarded as proceeding from the will of God."

    4   Other subjects discussed

According to the New Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. X:

"...  It is clear that the Nicene Creed proclaims numerical identity of the Father's nature and the Son's. The creed does no more than mention the Third Person, for the divinity of the Spirit was not at issue... Nicea promulgated 220 disciplinary decrees...  Canons 15 and 16 forbid bishops, priests, and deacons to involve themselves in the affairs of another diocese or locality. Canon 4 orders that all the other bishops of the province appoint bishops, and in case of difficulty, by at least three. The appointment was to be ratified by the metropolitan bishop. Canon 5 declares that provincial synods are to be held twice a year, presumably under the metropolitan, to examine excommunications inflicted by bishops.... "Some canons have to do with the dignity of the clergy: the ordination of eunuchs (c.1), of those insufficiently tested since baptism or proved unworthy (c.2), of those who have denied the faith in persecution  (c.10), and cohabitation of clerics with other than relatives or women beyond suspicion  (c.3).... A   two fold criterion is set up for the admission of heretics (c.19): those who have not erred on the doctrine of the Trinity, such as the Novatians, are to be reconciled without repetition of their Baptism; the followers of Paul of Samasata, however, are to be rebaptized, since it is not clear that they confess the Trinity. Deacons are warned (c.18) to give precedence to bishops and priests. On Sundays and the days of Pentecost, the faithful are to stand for the liturgy, not kneel (c.20)." p.433

1.  First exiling - excommunication from the church.
2.  Anathema - putting away from Christ.
3.  Is still recited in the Catholic Church as well as by some Protestant bodies.

The following is found in the Acts of the Ecumenical Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon, in the Epistle of Eusebius of Caesarea to his own Church and elsewhere;

"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 his Father, of the substance of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten (gennezenta), not made, being of one substance (homousios, consubstantialem) with the Father. By whom all things were made, both which be in heaven and in earth. Who for us men and for our salvation came down  (from heaven) and was incarnate and was made man. He suffered and the third day he rose again, and ascended into heaven. And he shall come again to judge both the quick and the dead. And (we believe) in the Holy Ghost. And whosoever shall say that there was a time when the Son of God was not, or that before he was begotten he was not, or that he was made of things that were not, or that he is of a different substance of essence (from the Father) of that he is a creature, or subject to change or conversion - all that so say, the Catholic an Apostolic Church anathematizes them."

Wand states in The History of the Early Church:

"It has often been pointed out that with the council of Nicea Christianity had entered upon a new stage in its development. It was now officially linked with Hellenic philosophy. Metaphysics had been brought in to assist religious faith, and in an authoritative formula, it had been found necessary to employ a terminology coined in paganism. This may be an exaggeration, but it is an exaggeration of a truth." P. 159

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