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Lecture 14 : Nicaea and Athanasius. 17 October 2013. Introduction. Constantine (cont.) Christological and Trinitarian Controversies Arius and Alexander (Bishop of Alexandria) Council of Nicea Athanasius’ Life Life of Anthony Assignments. Constantine the Great and the Church.

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Lecture 14 nicaea and athanasius

Lecture 14: Nicaea and Athanasius

17 October 2013



  • Constantine (cont.)

  • Christological and Trinitarian Controversies

  • Arius and Alexander (Bishop of Alexandria)

  • Council of Nicea

  • Athanasius’ Life

  • Life of Anthony

  • Assignments


Constantine the great and the church
Constantine the Great and the Church

  • Builds Churches, with his mother Helen, in Holy Land (Church of Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, Church of Nativity in Bethlehem)

  • Moves against the Donatists in North Africa

  • Calls Council of Nicea to resolve the Arian controversy: The Nicene Creed

  • Builds the great city of Constantinople as New Rome

  • Dies in 337 (after murdering his wife and eldest son); baptized by an Arian bishop shortly before he dies

  • Initial reaction of Church is that the Christian kingdom has arrived

    • Constantine as another apostle; authority of bishop


Major changes in 4 th c due to constantine and his successors
Major Changes in 4th C Due to Constantine and his successors

  • Social and Political

    • Sunday as a day of rest

    • Constantinople as New Rome

  • Legal

    • Bishops could act as judges in their diocese (Roman administrative province)

    • Crucifixion prohibited

    • No branding of prisoners because mars image of God

  • Economic

    • Christian could not charge another Christian interest on a loan (sin of usury)

    • Christian clergy given tax relief

    • Churches could receive legacies


Major issues within the church
Major Issues Within the Church

  • Who are heroes now that there are no longer martyrs?

  • How to deal with new members who may be joining Church because it is politically expedient?

  • What is relation between bishops and civil rulers?

    • Evolves very differently in the East and West


Eusebius bishop of caesarea 260 341
Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea (260-341)

  • ‘Father of Church History’

  • Much of what we know about biography of earlier figures comes from him

    • Gave sources of his informaiton, some no longer extant

  • Really thought that with Constantine the rule of Christ was being established

  • Tried to describe how God works in human history


Key points in eusebius life of constantine

Story of Battle of Milvian Bridge (I.29-39)

Laws favoring martyrs and Edict of Toleration (II.20-42)

Unity: Arianism and Donatism (II.61-66)

Easter to be observed on Sunday, not Passover (III.5)

Council of Nicea (III.6-21)

St. Helena and building Churches in Jerusalem (III.26-46)

Edict against heretics (gnostics) (III.64-65)

Sunday as day of rest (IV.18)

Constantine as bishop (IV.24)

Constantine’s Baptism and Death (IV.63-64)

Key Points in Eusebius’ Life of Constantine


Background to nicene creed
Background to Nicene Creed

  • Council of Nicaea called by Constantine in 325

    • to resolve Arian controversy,

    • bring unity to Church, and

    • therefore unity to Empire

  • Virtually all Eastern bishops and some Western bishops attended

  • Bishop Alexander of Alexandria succeeded in routing the Arian bishops


4th century christological and trinitarian controversies
4th Century Christological and Trinitarian Controversies

  • Who was Jesus Christ? What was the relationship between His divinity and humanity?

    • What happened at the Incarnation?

    • Recall that earliest heresy denied His humanity (docetism)

  • How to describe the relationship of the “persons” in the Trinity?

    • Three Gods?

    • One God with three aspects?

  • Controversies used technical philosophical language

  • Controversies hinged on proper interpretation of Scripture:

    • Proverbs 8:22 ff

    • Genesis 1-3

    • John 1:1-14


Proverbs 8 22 23
Proverbs 8:22-23

  • NIV

    • 22 "The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works, before his deeds of old; 23 I was appointed from eternity, from the beginning, before the world began

  • NRSV

    • 22 The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago. 23 Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth.

  • Douay-Rheims

    • 22 The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his ways, before he made any thing from the beginning. 23 I was set up from eternity, and of old, before the earth was made.

  • NAB

    • 22 "The LORD begot me, the first-born of his ways, the forerunner of his prodigies of long ago; 23 From of old I was poured forth, at the first, before the earth.

    • Notes [22-31] Wisdom is of divine origin. It is here represented as a being which existed before all things (Proverb 8:22-26) and concurred with God when he planned and executed the creation of the universe, adorned it with beauty and variety, and established its wonderful order (Proverb 8:27-30). Here that plurality of divine Persons is foreshadowed which was afterward to be fully revealed when Wisdom in the Person of Jesus Christ became incarnate.

    • Note [23] Poured forth: the exact meaning of the Hebrew is uncertain; the expression must imply the equivalent of "born." The Hebrews liken the movement of air and of spirit to that of liquids.

  • Septuagint

    • The Lord made me the beginning of his ways for his works. He established me before time was in the beginning, before he made the earth.


Key figures in controversy
Key Figures in Controversy

  • Origen

    • Strong support for monotheism and Trinity

    • Strong support of divinity of Son

    • Said Son was homoousia with Father; but three hypostses in Trinity

  • Sabellius, presbyter, 3rd C, Rome

    • Modal monarchist: one God,

    • Father, Son, Spirit different aspects (modes) of one person

    • Adoptionist Christology: Logos adopts Jesus

  • Paul of Samosata, Bishop of Antioch, late 3rd Century

    • Jesus was possessed of a special divine spirit, but a creature of God

    • Sharp distinction between Word of God (Logos) and person of Jesus; Jesus linked to Logos by a special grace

  • Arius, presbyter in Alexandria, 250-336

    • Studied in Antioch

    • Jesus as Word, but Word created

    • “there was when he was not”

    • Wanted to firmly support monotheism

  • Marcellus of Ancyra, d. 380

    • Strong opponent of Arius

    • But accepted only one person in Trinity; accused of Sabellianism


Types of arianism
Types of Arianism

  • Arius: The Word, the Son created from the substance (ousia) of the Father

  • Semi-Arianism: Son is like (homoiousia) the Father; opposed notion of homoousia because not in the Bible

  • Neo-Arians (late 4th C): Anhomoions unlike; the Son is unlike the Father


Glossary of terms
Glossary of Terms

  • Note terms have multiple meanings in their own language; very difficult to translate from Greek into Latin with same connotations (and then into English)

  • Logosmuch richer in meaning than just ‘word’: logic, wisdom, rationality, language

  • Ousia, Greek, essence, being

  • Substance, from Latin substantia,

    • what defines a thing as such; its essence;

    • Greek ‘equivalents’ are hypostasis; ousia

  • Homoousia: of the same essence, but not in Scripture

  • Homoiousia: of similar essence

  • Physis: nature

  • Hyposopon: person (but hypostatis can also mean person)



  • Literally means stand (stasis) under (hypo)

  • Has connotation of fundamental or foundational; also essence of a thing; basis for a plan

  • Paul: 2 Cor 9:4 and 11:17; confident boasting about Achaian’s plan for a collection


Hebrews and hypostasis
Hebrews and Hypostasis

  • Philosophically most sophisticated text in NT

  • Quoted by Clement of Rome

  • Heb. 1:3; 3:14; and 11:1

  • Heb 1:3; Son as “the exact imprint of his (God’s) being”

  • Heb 3:14 as steadfastness or confidence

  • Heb. 11:1 The definition of faith

    • Is it essence or confidence? Objective or subjective?

    • Vulgate uses substance (essence); Luther translated it as confidence

    • Pontifical grammatical analysis uses substance

  • See Basil’s Homily 38


Versions of heb 11 1
Versions of Heb 11:1

  • RSV and NRSV: Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

  • NAB: Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen

    • [1] Faith is the realization . . . evidence: the author is not attempting a precise definition. There is dispute about the meaning of the Greek words hypostasis and elenchos, here translated realization and evidence, respectively. Hypostasis usually means "substance," "being" (as translated in Hebrews 1:3), or "reality" (as translated in Hebrews 3:14); here it connotes something more subjective, and so realization has been chosen rather than "assurance" (RSV). Elenchos, usually "proof," is used here in an objective sense and so translated evidence rather than the transferred sense of "(inner) conviction" (RSV).


Nicene creed
Nicene Creed

  • Based on various “Rules of Faith”

    • Lex orandi, lex credendi; the law of prayer is the law of faith

    • What the Church prays is what the Church believes

  • Based on Scripture, but wanted to be philosophically precise

    • Used a word not found in Scripture: homoousia

    • According to Eusebius, Constantine approved use of homoousia

    • In anathemas treated homoousia and hypostasis as equivalents

    • Later councils will distinguish between them; hypostasis as person; hypostatic union


Arianism after nicea
Arianism after Nicea

  • Continued to be a very potent heresy

  • Also, politically well connected: Constantine may have been baptized by an Arian bishop

  • His son, Constanstius, d. 360 took side of Arians;

    • Sent Arian missionaries to Germany

    • Alaric and the Goths who sacked Rome in 410 were Arian Christians

  • His cousin, Julian the Apostate, d. 363 tried to return the Empire to paganism

  • Of the claimants to Empire after Julian

    • Valantinian I in West, pro-Nicene (although his mother was an Arian)

    • Valens in East was a semi-Arian

  • Finally ‘settled’ with Theodosius the Great,

    • Council of Constantinople, 381, promulgates Nicene-Constantinople Creed,

    • What we now have

    • Note structure of CCC


Life of athanasius c 295 373
Life of Athanasius, c. 295-373

  • Known as ‘The Father of Orthodoxy’

  • Bishop of Alexandria; opposed Arius’s Christology

  • Constantine wanted unity within his new religion, just as he wanted unity within the Empire

  • Attended Council of Nicea 325 with Bishop of Alexandria (Alexander)

  • After Council as Bishop of Alexandria, Athanasius played a major role in condemning Arianism; including homoousia in Creed, “one in being with the Father”

  • However, Arius and Arianism remained popular

  • Constantine eventually seemed to side with Arius; exiled Athanasius to Germany

  • Eventually Athanasius returned to Alexandria and continued to fight for Nicene orthodoxy


Works of athanasius
Works of Athanasius

  • Sermons, Letters, Treatises

  • Life of Antony; may have been the most influential book during the Patristic period

  • On the Incarnation

  • Key points in Athanasius’s arguments

    • Liturgical practice of Church (i.e., ancient Baptismal creeds) important indicators of Truth to be believed: “What the Church prays, the Church believes”

    • Emphasis on Jesus’ redemptive action; necessity for Jesus to redeem all aspects of our humanity “what was not assumed, was not saved”


Background on the incarnation
Background On the Incarnation

  • Addressed to a devout orthodox Christian, Macarus

  • Intended to refute a variety of errors concerning Christ;

    • Philosophy

    • Judaism

    • Christian heresies: docetism and Arianism

  • Actually second of two books written against the pagans


Key points in on the incarnation
Key Points in On the Incarnation

  • Purpose of the Word Become Flesh: our redemption and restoration (2)

  • Story of Christ begins with Genesis and the Fall (4)

  • Christ redeems all of creation by fully assuming a body and being part of creation (8)

  • The Word of God, perfect image of God, restores us as image of God (11)

  • Christ brings knowledge of God; like a teacher who descends to level of his students (15)


The victory of the cross on the incarnation
The Victory of the Cross On the Incarnation

  • Summary of preceding arguments (20)

  • Why did Jesus suffer such a horrible public death (21)

  • Death brought by others to perfect his sacrifice (22)

  • Rather than an easy death, a most difficult one like a wrestler who demonstrates his strength by contesting with most difficult opponent (24)

  • Power of Resurrection is seen in acts of believers (30, 31)

  • Response to Jews: typology and prophecy fulfillment from OT

  • Response to Greeks (philosophers): proofs in lives of heroic virtue of Christian martyrs (47, 48)



  • Read On Incarnation

  • Read selection from PettersenAthanasius,

    p 1-36 (Optional)

  • Read Basil’s Epistle 38 (Optional)

  • CCC 456-463; Word Becomes Flesh

  • Benedict XVI,

    • General Audience, 20 June 2007, St. Athanasius of Alexandria, http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/audiences/2007/documents/hf_ben-xvi_aud_20070620_en.html

    • SpeSalvi, Para 7-9

    • Deus Caritas EstPara 24 and 31 (also 40)

  • Write short paper on Athanasius

  • Extra Credit: Write short paper on Basil’s Letter and SpeSalvidue day of Final Exam