I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made; who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried. And the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures and ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father. And He will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead, whose kingdom will have no end.
And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified, who spoke by the prophets. And I believe in one holy Christian and apostolic Church, I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins, and I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.
The First Ecumenical or Universal Council of Nicaea, 325 AD
The Apostolic Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15) unanimously acknowledged that it was not necessary for Gentile believers to be circumcised or to keep the ceremonial Law of Moses in order to be saved. Many Church assemblies, or synods, were held after that. Toward the end of the Second Century and into the Third, the bishops of a province-- for example in Palestine, Ephesus, Pontus and Galatia—would meet together in order to stop a dispute that had arisen in the Church, or to prevent one that was threatening to arise. As the Church spread, these assemblies and the reasons for holding them increased. There were burning questions of doctrine, important questions about Church discipline (for example: how to deal with those who, in times of persecution, had denied the faith either in a public or not so obvious manner). On top of that, not all congregations had the same practice when dealing with those who had been baptized by heretics: should their baptisms be recognized when they join the Church. Furthermore, there were disputes about when Easter should be celebrated and what the main focus of this festival was to be. Controversies over these and other points had greatly stirred up large areas of the Church. More than once Church fellowship had been broken off, or at least threatened, over these questions—sometimes rightly, sometimes wrongly.
In the interest of the Church’s goal—the unity in the Spirit that God’s Word commands—the idea of a universal council was gradually becoming highly desirable.
The first of the universal, or, ecumenical councils was held in 325 AD in Nicaea in Bithynia [modern day Turkey]. The main reason for it was the false teaching of Arius in Alexandria, Egypt concerning the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ. Arius denied Jesus’ true divinity.
Emperor Constantine had known the futility of the heathen religions and the fullness of life that there is in Christianity. For a long time he was wavering and undecided; at first he only tolerated the Christian faith, but later became certain and resolute and confessed it. But because he was not yet baptized and his knowledge of the Christian faith was still faulty, he let himself be completely influenced in matters of faith by those who had his ear at the moment. They were always changing between orthodox and heterodox bishops. One of the orthodox bishops, Hosius from Cordoba in Spain, finally led him to call the council.
“The first fruits from the servants of God” (as Eusebius of Caesarea put it) came together from all the churches in all of Europe, Africa and Asia, from Egypt together with Thebes, from Asia Minor and from Thrace. The Bishop of Rome was absent due to his age, but two presbyters represented him. Hosius was there from Spain. Even several bishops from outside the Roman Empire—a Persian and a Goth—came. The total number was 318. Some distinguished themselves with wise speech, others by more skillful rhetoric. Because of their age, some already appeared venerable, while others were in the prime of youth. Because they were confessors during the time of Diocletian’s final persecution, some bishops still carried the marks of Christ on their body. Paphnutius, for example, did not have his right eye.
The council began on 20 May. The festive opening was in the great hall of the imperial palace. Chairs were set in rows on both sides where those who had been invited took their places. Then three people of the imperial household and a number of Constantine’s friends came. Then Constantine himself finally took a golden seat in the midst of the bishops.
Eusebius of Caesarea addressed him. Then Constantine said that it was his wish to hold this assembly, further explaining that when, with God’s help, he had gained the victory over his enemies, he thought there would be nothing more to do but to thank God and rejoice with those who had been freed. He did not regard the news about the dissention among the bishops lightly. In his desire to help and offer his services in this matter, he immediately called them all together and rejoiced that they were then present. He believed his wish would only be fulfilled when he would see all the bishops united in the Spirit.
It was the Spaniard, Hosius…who presided over the council most of the time. The emperor paid the travel costs for the 318 bishops from Greece, Asia, North Africa, Pannonia, Spain, and Gaul and their costs during their stay in Nicaea. He himself also often attended the hearings and gave the bishops much good advice. Only a few of Arius’ staunch supporters were there. Among them was Bishop Eusebius of Nicomedia who was held in high regard by the imperial court. There was also a rather strong party in Nicaea that wanted to find a compromise in this dispute. At its head was Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea in Palestine, the Church historian. Finally, there were the firm confessors of the divinity of Christ, Bishop Alexander with his Archdeacon Athanasius together with a number of bishops.
The proceedings began with the emperor himself taking an active part in them. In addition to Arius and his chief opponent, Athanasius, together with their followers, there were still a few parties that wanted to “mediate” between error and truth. In the meetings that were held between the public sessions, lay people also came forward with their testimony. Arius expressed his doctrine bluntly and freely. Rufinus reports: “The majority, however, rejected his godless undertaking.”
The most important man of the council was, without question, Athanasius. When the Arians tried to hide behind their rational deductions, he exposed them. Previously, only bishops spoke at Church assemblies and provincial councils, but here a man, who was not even a bishop but merely a deacon, did the best job. By Athanasius clearly refuting the false teaching of the Arians by the word of God and by his sharp mind, exposing and shining the brightest light on every false conclusion of Arius and his party, many bishops who had begun to waver were once again placed on the firm foundation of the Word of God and in the end the correct wording was found for the truth to be confessed against Arius: “Jesus Christ is God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father.”
The Spaniard, Hosius of Cordova, advised Emperor Constantine. When it came to formulating the Church’s confession of faith on the Person of Christ, it was Constantine himself who proposed that the word, á½μοοá½»σá½¶ος, i.e. that Christ is one substance with the Father, be accepted. Arius and no Arian could subscribe to that, even though it is the clear and undeniable doctrine of Holy Scripture. Even though the word “one substance” is not in the Scripture, the fact is, is that it is testified to and taught in the Scriptures hundreds upon hundreds of times. We cannot follow the course of the council’s discussion of each doctrine individually, but we present the “Nicene Creed,” this amplification of the Apostles’ Creed, to the reader so that it may be compared with [version now commonly in use], which should really be called the “Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed” and comes from 381 AD.
In the end only three refused to confess and to subscribe to this. Among them, of course, was Arius whose way of speaking about Christ was expressly condemned as heretical.
The disputes about the celebration of Easter that had gone on for many years were also settled and decided at the Council of Nicaea.
Besides all this, the Council of Nicaea made a lot of decisions of varying degrees of importance. Some were about the condition of the Church; others were about customs in the Church, while others were about Church discipline.
The decisions of the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea enjoyed such high esteem in the Church that, for a time, the Egyptian and Syrian churches celebrated a yearly festival in memory of the 318 bishops.
E.A.W. Krauss, Lebensbilder aus der Geschichte der christlichen Kirche, St. Louis, MO, [Concordia Publishing House] 1911 pg. 141-151.