Visiting Iznik (Nicea, Nicaea), Turkey – Part 3

The First Ecumenical Council

If the New Testament is the complete and final revelation of God’s will to man, as it claims (2 Timothy 3:16-17), then no council of men, of whatever rank, has the right to change the apostolic order.

But as the churches grew and became popular, they began to imitate the government in leadership and they became more important to the leaders of the Roman Empire. When a controversy concerning the nature of Christ threatened to divide the Christians, the Emperor Constantine the Great (A.D. 307-337) called a council to meet at Nicea (or Nicaea, modern Iznik in Turkey) to discuss the issues.

Arian (c. A.D. 250-336), a presbyter of the church in Alexandria, Egypt, taught that Jesus was a created being inferior to God the Father. We speak of those who followed his teaching as Arians. It was this teaching that prompted the convening of the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325. Most works on church history covering this period will have a section devoted to Arian and the Council of Nicea.

Certain Latin terms entered the language of Christendom at that time.

  1. Homoousios – meaning that Jesus was of the same essence as God. This was the position taken by those gathered at the Council of Nicea.
  2. Homoiousios – meaning that Jesus was of like essence as God.
  3. Heteroousios – meaning that Jesus was of a different essence or substance than God. This view which relegated Jesus to a secondary god beneath the Father was the view of Arian and his followers.

There had been other councils, but this was the first that was to represent all of Christendom. In this sense the gathering failed. Of the 200 to nearly 400 church leaders (the numbers vary depending on the source) gathered at Nicea only a handful of them were from the West (the Latin or Roman church). The vast majority were from the East (the Greek church).

Constantine…

supplied postal wagons to transport bishops to Nicaea, as well as food and lodging during their trips. While they were in the city he took care of their needs and provided a large building for their sessions. (Cambridge History of Christianity, II:73.)

The imperial palace, located on the shore of Lake Ascania (Iznik), now lies nearly ten feet below water due to earthquakes (“Underwater basilica in Iznik to shed light on Roman era.” Hurriyet Daily News, July 25, 2016). Our guide took us to the location outside the Lake Gate where a few ruins could be seen. Ben Witherington says,

Unfortunately for this city, earthquakes struck in A.D. 358, 362, and 368, ruining many of the monumental buildings and structures (http://benwitherington.blogspot.com/2008/06/historic-nicea-iznik.html).

A fisherman stands on some of the ruins of the ancient imperial palace. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A fisherman stands on some of the ruins of the ancient imperial palace. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Notice a few stones above the current water level and the dark shadow of some ruins below the surface in the next photo.

A few ruins of the palace where the first council met can be seen underneath the water. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A few ruins of the palace where the first council met can be seen underneath the water. At least one portion of stone emerges from the water. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

In our last photo you will see some of the red tile (or brick) typical of the late Roman/early Byzantine period, as well as part of a marble column.

Late Roman and early Byzantine material. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Late Roman and early Byzantine material. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

In case you have read or heard that the Council of Nicea is responsible for the content of the canon of the New Testament I suggest you read Justin L. Petersen’s 2011 article (Petersen, Justin L. “Making (up) History: Fact, Fiction, and the First Council of Nicaea.” Ed. Wayne A. Detzler. Christian Apologetics Journal 9.1 (2011): 67-77).

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