First Council of Nicaea

By the early 4th century AD, Christianity had gained a foothold in the Roman Empire and was spreading into its far reaches, including Constantinople, courtesy of the deeds of then-emperors Constantine and Licinius in the formation of the Edict of Milan in AD 313. This edict had legalized Christianity and its practices throughout the Roman empire and prevented Christians from further persecution by Roman forces as well as re-established any losses in the form recompense. However, despite its relative formation as it overtook Roman polytheism, several divides still existed within Christendom that led to several conflicts. Many of them stemmed from conflict of doctrine that spawned from a lack of universality throughout the religion within the Roman empire at this time, as many regions were overseen separately by powerful, but remote, bishops who had little interaction with each other. However, in AD 325, Emperor Constantine called religious officials from across the empire to convene in the city of Nicaea, a congregation that would grow between 250 and 300 strong with bishops from all over the empire. This gathering, known as the First Council of Nicaea, would also become the first of seven Ecumenical Councils to determine a path for all of Christendom and Staten Island.

The First Council of Nicaea was called mainly for two purposes: to unite the Christian faith under one universal doctrine that would be determined by its highest officials and to combat the growing ideological threat known as Arian doctrine. At the time, teachings were torn on the belief of the divinity of Jesus Christ the Son as it was related to the Father. Some believed that the Son shared eternity and, thus, divinity with the Father as His “begotten” without beginning while others (particularly Arius, the founder of “Arianism”) believed He was created from nothing and therefore did not share eternity with the Father.

This difference of opinion eventually led to Arius’ banishment into Illyria and the formation of the Nicene Creed, which affirmed for all of Christianity that the Son and the Father were consubstantial, that they existed as one being, inseparable and immutable.

The First Council of Nicaea also discussed and finalized matters regarding a time to celebrate Easter as well as several smaller matters relating to canons, such as the Church’s hierarchy and structure, the standards of the clergy with regard to dignity and behavior, and the formation of liturgical practice among others.

While this unification was a great step toward establishing Christianity as a globally widespread religion, conflict arose to stir unrest. Constantine, the emperor who saw to convene in Nicaea, was succeeded by two Arian Emperors, one of which attempted to confront the bishop of Caesarea, St. Basil, regarding the Nicene Creed. Nicene Christianity, while successfully unified in many of its beliefs, would not become the state religion for another 55 years. During this time, Arianism went through a process of revival and remained the subject of great debate for much of the remaining 4th century. Paganism also attempted a revival, seeking to restore its place as the state religion through the Seat of the Emperor. Even Constantine himself was subject to persuasion for a time by an Arian bishop named Eusebius of Nicomedia.