Prof. Jaroslav Skira (Regis College)



Note: The full electronic versions of most of the texts can be found at Early Church Fathers (CCEL). These readings are adapted from the translations found at this site.

Week # 6: Early Christologies & Councils (Nicea, 325AD):
- Athanasius, Arius, Eusebius, Church-State

Textbook reading: Gonzalez. Story of Xianity. Chps. 14, 16, 17, 19.

Some Study Guidelines / Questions:
1. Remember to read the text historically-critically (i.e. in terms of an "exegesis").
2. What is the attitude of the state to the church in this period? What laws have been enacted with respect to Christianity?
3. What is Arius' early theology? Does he alter his opinions after Nicea?
4. Why is the phrase "like in essence" (homo-i-ousios) rejected in favour of "of the same essence" (homo-ousios)? What objections are voiced against the word consubstantial (homoousios)?
5. In Eusebius, is there a confusions of the terms ousia and hypostasis in the Nicene formula he quotes?
6. How are the Scriptures used in developing this Nicene christology? Which passages seem to be normative or more important? What passages are used to described Christ's humanity? his divinity?
7. Any developments in the canons of Nicea?
8. What are your impressions of the archeological site at Nicea?
9. What other themes would you note are important from the Gonzalez textbook or the primary source readings?


The Edict of Milan [c.313]

From Lactantius, On the Deaths of Persecutors 48 [cf. NE 250]

48.a. When we, Constantine and Licinius, emperors, had an interview at Milan, and conferred together with respect to the good and security of the commonweal, it seemed to us that, amongst those things that are profitable to mankind in general, the reverence paid to the Divinity merited our first and chief attention, and that it was proper that the Christians and all others should have liberty to follow that mode of religion which to each of them appeared best; so that that God, who is seated in heaven, might be benign and propitious to us, and to every one under our government. And therefore we judged it a salutary measure, and one highly consonant to right reason, that no man should be denied leave of attaching himself to the rites of the Christians, or to whatever other religion his mind directed him, that thus the supreme Divinity, to whose worship we freely devote ourselves, might continue to vouchsafe His favour and beneficence to us. And accordingly we give you to know that, without regard to any provisos in our former orders to you concerning the Christians, all who choose that religion are to be permitted, freely and absolutely, to remain in it, and not to be disturbed any ways, or molested. And we thought fit to be thus special in the things committed to your charge, that you might understand that the indulgence which we have granted in matters of religion to the Christians is ample and unconditional; and perceive at the same time that the open and free exercise of their respective religions is granted to all others, as well as to the Christians. For it befits the well ordered state and the tranquillity of our times that each individual be allowed, according to his own choice, to worship the Divinity; and we mean not to derogate from the honour due to any religion or its votaries. Moreover, with respect to the Christians, we formerly gave certain orders concerning the places appropriated for their religious assemblies; but now we will that all persons who have purchased such places, either from our exchequer or from any one else, do restore them to the Christians, without money demanded or price claimed, and that this be performed peremptorily and unambiguously; and we will also, that they who have obtained any right to such places by form of gift do forthwith restore them to the Christians: reserving always to such persons, who have either purchased for a price, or gratuitously acquired them, to make application to the judge of the district, if they look on themselves as entitled to any equivalent from our beneficence.

48.b. All those places are, by your intervention, to be immediately restored to the Christians. And because it appears that, besides the places appropriated to religious worship, the Christians did possess other places, which belonged not to individuals, but to their society in general, that is, to their churches, we comprehend all such within the regulation aforesaid, and we will that you cause them all to be restored to the society or churches, and that without hesitation or controversy: Provided always, that the persons making restitution without a price paid shall be at liberty to seek indemnification from our bounty. In furthering all which things for the benefit of the Christians, you are to use your utmost diligence, to the end that our orders be speedily obeyed, and our gracious purpose in securing the public tranquillity promoted. So shall that divine favour which, in affairs of the mightiest importance, we have already experienced, continue to give success to us, and in our successes make the commonweal happy. And that the tenor of this our gracious ordinance may be made known unto all, we will that you cause it by your authority to be published everywhere.


Constantine the Great (c. 285?-337)

Constantine's Letters. In Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 5 [cf. NE 252]

18. [A letter in which the Emperor commands that a synod of bishops be held at Rome in order to foster the unity and harmony of the churches] Constantine Augustus to Miltiades, bishop of Rome, and to Marcus. Since many such communications have been sent to me by Anulinus, the most illustrious proconsul of Africa, in which it is said that Caecilianus, bishop of the city of Carthage, has been accused by some of his colleagues in Africa, in many matters; and since it seems to me a very serious thing that in those provinces which Divine Providence has freely entrusted to my devotedness, and in which there is a great population, the multitude are found following the baser course, and dividing, as it were, into two parties, and the bishops are at variance.

19. It has seemed good to me that Caecilianus himself, with ten of the bishops that appear to accuse him, and with ten others whom he may consider necessary for his defence, should sail to Rome, that there, in the presence of yourselves and of Retecius and Maternus and Marinus, your colleagues, whom I have commanded to hasten to Rome for this purpose, he may be heard, as you may understand to be in accordance with the most holy law.

20. But in order that you may be enabled to have most perfect knowledge of all these things, I have subjoined to my letter copies of the documents sent to me by Anulinus, and have sent them to your above-mentioned colleagues. When your firmness has read these, you will consider in what way the above-mentioned case may be most accurately investigated and justly decided. For it does not escape your diligence that I have such reverence for the legitimate Catholic Church that I do not wish you to leave schism or division in any place. May the divinity of the great God preserve you, most honoured sirs, for many years.


Constantine's Letters, In Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 6 [cf. NE 253-254]

1. [State Grants to Clergy in Africa] Constantine Augustus to Caecilianus, bishop of Carthage. Since it is our pleasure that something should be granted in all the provinces of Africa and Numidia and Mauritania to certain ministers of the legitimate and most holy catholic religion, to defray their expenses, I have written to Ursus, the illustrious finance minister of Africa, and have directed him to make provision to pay to your firmness three thousand folles [=currency].

2. Do you therefore, when you have received the above sum of money, command that it be distributed among all those mentioned above, according to the briefs sent to you by Hosius.

3. But if you should find that anything is wanting for the fulfillment of this purpose of mine in regard to all of them, you shall demand without hesitation from Heracleides, our treasurer, whatever you find to be necessary. For I commanded him when he was present that if your firmness should ask him for any money, he should see to it that it be paid without delay.

4. And since I have learned that some men of unsettled mind wish to turn the people from the most holy and catholic Church by a certain method of shameful corruption, do you know that I gave command to Anulinus, the proconsul, and also to Patricius, vicar of the prefects, when they were present, that they should give proper attention not only to other matters but also above all to this, and that they should not overlook such a thing when it happened.

5. Wherefore if you should see any such men continuing in this madness, do you without delay go to the above-mentioned judges and report the matter to them; that they may correct them as I commanded them when they were present. The divinity of the great God preserve you for many years.


Constantine's Letters. In Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 10 [Cf. NE 253-254]

7.a. [Clerical Exemptions] Greeting to you, our most esteemed Anulinus. Since it appears from many circumstances that when that religion is despised, in which is preserved the chief reverence for the most holy celestial Power, great dangers are brought upon public affairs; but that when legally adopted and observed it affords the most signal prosperity to the Roman name and remarkable felicity to all the affairs of men, through the divine beneficence,- it has seemed good to me, most esteemed Anulinus, that those men who give their services with due sanctity and with constant observance of this law, to the worship of the divine religion, should receive recompense for their labours.

7.b. Wherefore it is my will that those within the province entrusted to you, in the catholic Church, over which Caecilianus presides, who give their services to this holy religion, and who are commonly called clergymen, be entirely exempted from all public duties, that they may not by any error or sacrilegious negligence be drawn away from the service due to the Deity, but may devote themselves without any hindrance to their own law. For it seems that when they show greatest reverence to the Deity, the greatest benefits accrue to the state. Farewell, our most esteemed and beloved Anulinus.


Arius (c.256?-336)

Arius' Thalia. In Athanasius, Councils of Ariminum and Seleucia 15-16 [cf. NE 286]

15.a. Arius and those with him thought and professed thus: "God made the Son out of nothing, and called Him His Son; the Word of God is one of the creatures;" and "Once He was not;" and "He is alterable; capable, when it is his Will, of altering." Accordingly they were expelled from the Church by the blessed Alexander. However, after his expulsion, when he was with Eusebius and his fellows, he drew up his heresy upon paper, and imitating in the Thalia no grave writer, but the Egyptian Sotades, in the dissolute tone of his metre, he writes at great length, for instance as follows:

15.b. "God Himself then, in [the divine] nature, is ineffable by all men. Equal or like [God there is] none, or one in glory. And Ingenerate we call Him [sic.], because of Him [sic.] who is generate by nature. We praise Him as without beginning because of Him who has a beginning. And adore Him as everlasting, because of Him who in time has come to he. The Unbegun made the Son a beginning of things originated; and advanced Him as a Son to Himself by adoption. He has nothing proper to God in proper subsistence. For He is not equal, no, nor one in essence with Him. Wise is God, for He is the teacher of Wisdom.

15.c. There is full proof that God is invisible to all beings; both to things which are through the Son, and to the Son He is invisible. I will say it expressly, how by the Son is seen the Invisible; by that power by which God sees, and in His own measure, the Son endures to see the Father, as is lawful.

15.d. Thus there is a Triad, not in equal glories. Not intermingling with each other are their existences. One more glorious than the other in their glories unto immensity. Foreign from the Son in essence is the Father, for He is without beginning. Understand that the Monad was; but the Dyad was not, before it was in existence. It follows at once that, though the Son was not, the Father was God. Hence the Son, not being (for He existed at the will of the Father), is God Only-begotten, and He is alien from either.

15.e. Wisdom existed as Wisdom by the will of the Wise God. Hence He is conceived in numberless conceptions: Spirit, Power, Wisdom, God's glory, Truth, Image, and Word. Understand that He is conceived to be Radiance and Light. One equal to the Son, the Superior is able to beget; but one more excellent, or superior, or greater, He is not able. At God's will the Son is what and whatsoever He is. And when and since He was, from that time He has subsisted from God. He, being a strong God, praises in His degree the Superior.

15.f. To speak in brief, God is ineffable to His Son. For He is to Himself what He is, that is, unspeakable. So that nothing which is called comprehensible does the Son know to speak about; for it is impossible for Him to investigate the Father, who is by Himself. For the Son does not know His own essence, For, being Son, He really existed, at the will of the Father. What argument then allows, that He who is from the Father should know His own parent by comprehension? For it is plain that for that which has a beginning to conceive how the Unbegun is, or to grasp the idea, is not possible. …

16.a. [Athanasius then quotes a letter of Arius]… Arius, To Our Blessed Pope and Bishop, Alexander, the Presbyters and Deacons send health in the Lord:

16.b. Our faith from our forefathers, which also we have learned from you, Blessed Pope, is this:-We acknowledge One God, alone Ingenerate, alone Everlasting, alone Unbegun, alone True, alone having Immortality, alone Wise, alone Good, alone Sovereign; Judge, Governor, and Providence of all, unalterable and unchangeable, just and good, God of Law and Prophets and New Testament; who begat an Only-begotten Son before eternal times, through whom He has made both the ages and the universe; and begat Him, not in semblance, but in truth; and that He made Him subsist at His own will, unalterable and unchangeable; perfect creature of God, but not as one of the creatures; offspring, but not as one of things begotten; nor as Valentinus pronounced that the offspring of the Father was an issue; nor as Manichaens taught that the offspring was a portion of the Father, one in essence; or as Sabellius, dividing the Monad, speaks of a Son-and- Father; nor as Hieracas, of one torch from another, or as a lamp divided into two; nor that He who was before, was afterwards generated or new-created into a Son, as you too yourself, Blessed Pope, in the midst of the Church and in session has often condemned; but, as we say, at the will of God, created before times and before ages, and gaining life and being from the Father, who gave subsistence to His glories together with Him. For the Father did not, in giving to Him the inheritance of all things, deprive Himself of what He has ingenerately in Himself; for He is the Fountain of all things. Thus there are Three Subsistencies. And God, being the cause of all things, is Unbegun and altogether Sole, but the Son being begotten apart from time by the Father, and being created and founded before ages, was not before His generation, but being begotten apart from time before all things, alone was made to subsist by the Father. For He is not eternal or co-eternal or co-unoriginate with the Father, nor has He His being together with the Father, as some speak of relations, introducing two ingenerate beginnings, but God is before all things as being Monad and Beginning of all. Wherefore also He is before the Son; as we have learned also from your preaching in the midst of the Church. So far then as from God He has being, and glories, and life, and all things are delivered unto Him, in such sense is God His origin. For He is above Him, as being His God and before Him. But if the terms "from Him," and "from the womb," and "I came forth from the Father, and I am come" [Rom. 11.36; Ps. 110.3; John 16.28], be understood by some to mean as if a part of Him, one in essence or as an issue, then the Father is according to them compounded and divisible and alterable and material, and, as far as their belief goes, has the circumstances of a body, Who is the Incorporeal God.


Arius' on Nicea (c. 237/337?). In Socrates, Ecclesiastical History 1.26 [cf. NE 295]

26.a. Arius and Euzoius, to our Most Religious and Pious Lord, the Emperor Constantine.
In accordance with the command of your devout piety, sovereign lord, we declare our faith, and before God profess in writing, that we and our adherents believe as follows:

26.b. "We believe in one God the Father Almighty: and in the Lord Jesus Christ his Son, who was begotten of him before all ages, God the Word through whom all things were made, both those which are in the heavens and those upon the earth; who descended, and became incarnate, and suffered, and rose again, ascended into the heavens, and will again come to judge the living and the dead. [We believe] also in the Holy Spirit, and in the resurrection of the flesh, and in the life of the coming age, and in the kingdom of the heavens, and in one Catholic Church of God, extending from one end of the earth to the other."

26.c. This faith we have received from the holy gospels, the Lord therein saying to his disciples: "Go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." If we do not so believe and truly receive the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, as the whole Catholic Church and the holy Scriptures teach (in which we believe in every respect), God is our judge both now, and in the coming judgment. Wherefore we beseech your piety, most devout emperor, that we who are persons consecrated to the ministry, and holding the faith and sentiments of the church and of the holy Scriptures, may by your pacific and devoted piety be reunited to our mother, the Church, all superfluous questions and disputes being avoided: that so both we and the whole church being at peace, may in common offer our accustomed prayers for your tranquil reign, and on behalf of your whole family.


Icon of the Ecumenical Council of Nicea.

The Ecumenical Council of Nicea (c.325)

Canons of the Council of Nicea (1-20) [cf. NE 290]

Canon I: If any one in sickness has been subjected by physicians to a surgical operation, or if he has been castrated by barbarians, let him remain among the clergy; but, if any one in sound health has castrated himself, it behoove that such an one, if [already] enrolled among the clergy, should cease[from his ministry], and that from henceforth no such person should be promoted. But, as it is evident that this is said of those who wilfully do the thing and presume to castrate themselves, so if any have been made eunuchs by barbarians, or by their masters, and should otherwise be found worthy, such men the Canon admits to the clergy.

Canon 2: Forasmuch as, either from necessity, or through the urgency of individuals, many things have been done contrary to the ecclesiastical canon, so that men just converted from heathenism to the faith, and who have been instructed but a little while, are straightway brought to the spiritual layer, and as soon as they have been baptized, are advanced to the episcopate or the presbyterate, it has seemed right to us that for the time to come no such thing shall be done. For to the catechumen himself there is need of time and of a longer trial after baptism. For the apostolic saying is clear, "Not a novice; lest, being lifted up with pride, he fall into condemnation and the snare of the devil." But if, as time goes on, any sensual sin should be found out about the person, and he should be convicted by two or three witnesses, let him cease from the clerical office. And who so shall transgress these [enactments] will imperil his own clerical position, as a person who presumes to disobey this great Synod.

Canon 3: The great Synod has stringently forbidden any bishop, presbyter, deacon, or any one of the clergy whatever, to have a woman dwelling with him, except only a mother, or sister, or aunt, or such persons only as are beyond all suspicion.

Canon 4: It is by all means proper that a bishop should be appointed by all the bishops in the province; but should this be difficult, either on account of urgent necessity or because of distance, three at least should meet together, and the suffrages of the absent [bishops] also being given and communicated in writing, then the ordination should take place. But in every province the ratification of what is done should be left to the Metropolitan.

Canon 5: Concerning those, whether of the clergy or of the laity, who have been excommunicated in the several provinces, let the provision of the canon be observed by the bishops which provides that persons cast out by some be not readmitted by others. Nevertheless, inquiry should be made whether they have been excommunicated through captiousness, or contentiousness, or any such like ungracious disposition in the bishop. And, that this matter may have due investigation, it is decreed that in every province synods shall be held twice a year, in order that when all the bishops of the province are assembled together, such questions may by them be thoroughly examined, that so those who have confessedly offended against their bishop, may be seen by all to be for just cause excommunicated, until it shall seem fit to a general meeting of the bishops to pronounce a milder sentence upon them. And let these synods be held, the one before Lent, (that the pure Gift may be offered to God after all bitterness has been put away), and let the second be held about autumn.

Canon 6. Let the ancient customs in Egypt, Libya and Pentapolis prevail, that the Bishop of Alexandria have jurisdiction in all these, since the like is customary for the Bishop of Rome also. Likewise in Antioch and the other provinces, let the Churches retain their privileges. And this is to be universally understood, that if any one be made bishop without the consent of the Metropolitan, the great Synod has declared that such a man ought not to be a bishop. If, however, two or three bishops shall from natural love of contradiction, oppose the common suffrage of the rest, it being reasonable and in accordance with the ecclesiastical law, then let the choice of the majority prevail.

Canon 7: Since custom and ancient tradition have prevailed that the Bishop of Aelia [i.e., Jerusalem] should be honoured, let him, saving its due dignity to the Metropolis, have the next place of honour.

Canon 8: Concerning those who call themselves Cathari, if they come over to the Catholic and Apostolic Church, the great and holy Synod decrees that they who are ordained shall continue as they are in the clergy. But it is before all things necessary that they should profess in writing that they will observe and follow the dogmas of the Catholic and Apostolic Church; in particular that they will communicate with persons who have been twice married, and with those who having lapsed in persecution have had a period [of penance] laid upon them, and a time [of restoration] fixed so that in all things they will follow the dogmas of the Catholic Church. Wheresoever, then, whether in villages or in cities, all of the ordained are found to be of these only, let them remain in the clergy, and in the same rank in which they are found. But if they come over where there is a bishop or presbyter of the Catholic Church, it is manifest that the Bishop of the Church must have the bishop's dignity; and he who was named bishop by those who are called Cathari shall have the rank of presbyter, unless it shall seem fit to the Bishop to admit him to partake in the honour of the title. Or, if this should not be satisfactory, then shall the bishop provide for him a place as Chorepiscopus, or presbyter, in order that he may be evidently seen to be of the clergy, and that there may not be two bishops in the city.

Canon 9: If any presbyters have been advanced without examination, or if upon examination they have made confession of crime, and men acting in violation of the canon have laid hands upon them, notwithstanding their confession, such the canon does not admit; for the Catholic Church requires that [only] which is blameless.

Canon 10: If any who have lapsed have been ordained through the ignorance, or even with the previous knowledge of the ordainers, this shall not prejudice the canon of the Church for when they are discovered they shall be deposed.

Canon 11:Concerning those who have fallen without compulsion, without the spoiling of their property, without danger or the like, as happened during the tyranny of Licinius, the Synod declares that, though they have deserved no clemency, they shall be dealt with mercifully. As many as were communicants, if they heartily repent, shall pass three years among the hearers; for seven years they shall be prostrators; and for two years they shall communicate with the people in prayers, but without oblation.

Canon 12. As many as were called by grace, and displayed the first zeal, having cast aside their military girdles, but afterwards returned, like dogs, to their own vomit, (so that some spent money and by means of gifts regained their military stations); let these, after they have passed the space of three years as hearers, be for ten years prostrators. But in all these cases it is necessary to examine well into their purpose and what their repentance appears to be like. For as many as give evidence of their conversions by deeds, and not pretense, with fear, and tears, and perseverance, and good works, when they have fulfilled their appointed time as hearers, may properly communicate in prayers; and after that the bishop may determine yet more favourably concerning them. But those who take [the matter] with indifference, and who think the form of [not] entering the Church is sufficient for their conversion, must fulfill the whole time.

Canon 13. Concerning the departing, the ancient Canonical law is still to be maintained, to wit, that, if any man be at the point of death, he must not be deprived of the last and most indispensable provision for this journey. But, if any one should be restored to health again who has received the communion when his life was despaired of, let him remain among those who communicate in prayers only. But in general, and in the case of any dying person whatsoever asking to receive the Eucharist, let the Bishop, after examination made, give it him.

Canon 14: Concerning catechumens who have lapsed, the holy and great Synod has decreed that, after they have passed three years only as hearers, they shall pray with the catechumens.

Canon 15. On account of the great disturbance and discords that occur, it is decreed that the custom prevailing in certain places contrary to the Canon, must wholly be done away; so that neither bishop, presbyter, nor deacon shall pass from city to city. And if any one, after this decree of the holy and great Synod, shall attempt any such thing, or continue in any such course, his proceedings shall be utterly void, and he shall be restored to the Church for which he was ordained bishop or presbyter.

Canon 16. Neither presbyters, nor deacons, nor any others enrolled among the clergy, who, not having the fear of God before their eyes, nor regarding the ecclesiastical Canon, shall recklessly remove from their own church, ought by any means to be received by another church; but every constraint should be applied to restore them to their own parishes; and, if they will not go, they must be excommunicated. And if anyone shall dare surreptitiously to carry off and in his own Church ordain a man belonging to another, without the consent of his own proper bishop, from whom although he was enrolled in the clergy list he has seceded, let the ordination be void.

Canon 17. Forasmuch as many enrolled among the Clergy, following covetousness and lust of gain, have forgotten the divine Scripture, which says, "He has not given his money upon usury," and in lending money ask the hundredth of the sum [as monthly interest], the holy and great Synod thinks it just that if after this decree any one be found to receive usury, whether he accomplish it by secret transaction or otherwise, as by demanding the whole and one half, or by using any other contrivance whatever for filthy lucre's sake, he shall be deposed from the clergy and his name stricken from the list.

Canon 18. It has come to the knowledge of the holy and great Synod that, in some districts and cities, the deacons administer the Eucharist to the presbyters, whereas neither canon nor custom permits that they who have no right to offer should give the Body of Christ to them that do offer. And this also has been made known, that certain deacons now touch the Eucharist even before the bishops. Let all such practices be utterly done away, and let the deacons remain within their own bounds, knowing that they are the ministers of the bishop and the inferiors of the presbyters. Let them receive the Eucharist according to their order, after the presbyters, and let either the bishop or the presbyter administer to them. Furthermore, let not the deacons sit among the presbyters, for that is contrary to canon and order. And if, after this decree, any one shall refuse to obey, let him be deposed from the diaconate.

Canon 19. Concerning the Paulianists who have flown for refuge to the Catholic Church, it has been decreed that they must by all means be rebaptized; and if any of them who in past time have been numbered among their clergy should be found blameless and without reproach, let them be rebaptized and ordained by the Bishop of the Catholic Church; but if the examination should discover them to be unfit, they ought to be deposed. Likewise in the case of their deaconesses, and generally in the case of those who have been enrolled among their clergy, let the same form be observed. And we mean by deaconesses such as have assumed the habit, but who, since they have no imposition of hands, are to be numbered only among the laity.

Canon 20. Forasmuch as there are certain persons who kneel on the Lord's Day and in the days of Pentecost, therefore, to the intent that all things may be uniformly observed everywhere (in every parish), it seems good to the holy Synod that prayer be made to God standing.


Eusebius of Caesarea (c.260-340?)

Eusebius, Letter to his Church. In Socrates, Ecclesiastical History 1.18 [cf. NE 291]

18.a. You have probably had some intimation, beloved, of the transactions of the great council convened at Nicea, in relation to the faith of the Church, inasmuch as rumour generally outruns true account of that which has really taken might form an incorrect estimate of the matter, we have deemed it necessary to submit to you, in the first place, an exposition of the faith with certain additions to its expression. The declaration of faith set forth by us, which when read in the presence of our most pious emperor, seemed to meet with universal approbation, was thus expressed:

18.b. According as we received from the bishops who preceded us, both in our instruction [in the knowledge of the truth], and when we were baptized; as also we have ourselves learned from the sacred Scriptures: and in accordance with what we have both believed and taught while discharging the duties of presbyter and the episcopal office itself, so now we believe and present to you the distinct avowal of our faith. It is this:

18.c. "We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible:-and the only-begotten Son, born before all creation, begotten of God the Father, before all ages, by whom also all things were made; who on account of our salvation became incarnate, and lived among men; and who suffered and rose again and will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. We believe also in one Holy Spirit." We believe in the existence and subsistence of each of these [persons]: that the Father is truly Father, the Son truly Son, and the Holy Spirit truly Holy Spirit, as also our Lord, sending forth his disciples for the gospel said, "Go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" [Mt 28.19]. Concerning these doctrines we steadfastly maintain their truth, and avow our full confidence in them such also have been our sentiments hitherto, and such we shall continue to hold until death and in an unshaken adherence to this faith, we anathematize every impious heresy. In the presence of God Almighty, and of our Lord Jesus Christ we testify, that thus we have believed and thought from our heart and soul, since we have possessed a right estimate of ourselves; and that we now think and speak what is perfectly in accordance with the truth. We are moreover prepared to prove to you by undeniable evidences, and to convince you that in time past we have thus believed, and so preached.

18.d. When these articles of faith were proposed, there seemed to be no ground of opposition: nay, our most pious emperor himself was the first to admit that they were perfectly correct, and that he himself had entertained the sentiments contained in them; exhorting all present to give them their assent, and subscribe to these very articles, thus agreeing in a unanimous profession of them, with the insertion, however, of that single word "homoousios" [consubstantial], an expression which the emperor himself explained, as not indicating corporeal affections or properties; and consequently that the Son did not subsist from the Father either by division or abscission: for said he, a nature which is immaterial and incorporeal cannot possibly be subject to any corporeal affection; hence our conception of such things can only be in divine and mysterious terms. Such was the philosophical view of the subject taken by our most wise and pious sovereign; and the bishops on account of the word homoousios, drew up this formula of faith.

18.e. [The Nicene Creed]:

"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 the Father, that is of the substance of the Father; God of God, Light of light, true God of true God; begotten not made, consubstantial [homoousios] with the Father; by whom all things were made both which are in heaven and on earth; who for the sake of us men, and on account of our salvation, descended, became incarnate, was made man, suffered and rose again on the third day; he ascended into the heavens, and will come to judge the living and the dead.

And in the Holy Spirit.

And those who say there was a 'time when he was not,' or ' He did not exist before he was begotten,' or ' He was made of nothing' or assert that 'He is of other substance [hypostasis] or essence [ousia] than the Father,' or that the Son of God is created, or mutable, or susceptible of change, the Catholic and apostolic Church of God anathematizes."

18.f. Now this declaration of faith being propounded by them, we did not neglect to investigate the distinct sense of the expressions "of the substance of the Father, and consubstantial with the Father" whereupon questions were put forth and answers, and the meaning of these terms was dearly defined; when it was generally admitted that ousias (of the essence or substance) simply implied that the Son is of the Father indeed, but does not subsist as a part of the Father. To this interpretation of the sacred doctrine which declares that the Son is of the Father, but is not a part of his substance, it seemed right to us to assent. We ourselves therefore concurred in this exposition; nor do we cavil at the word "homoousios" hating regard to peace, and fearing to lose a right understanding of the matter. On the same grounds we admitted also the expression" begotten, not made": "for made," said they, "is a term applicable in consequently he is no creature like those which were made by him, but is of a substance far excelling any creature; which substance the Divine Oracles teach was begotten of the Father by such a mode of generation as cannot be explained nor even conceived by any creature." Thus also the declaration that "the Son is consubstantial with the Father" having been discussed, it was agreed that this must not be understood in a corporeal sense, or in any way analogous to mortal creatures; inasmuch as it is neither by division of substance, nor by abscission nor by any change of the Father's substance and power, since the underived nature of the Father is inconsistent with all these things. That he is consubstantial with the Father then simply Father only who begat him; and that he is of no other substance or essence but of the Father. To which doctrine, explained in this way, it appeared right to assent, especially since we knew that some eminent bishops and learned writers among the ancients have used the term "homoousios" in their theological discourses concerning the nature of the Father and the Son.

18.g. Such is what I have to state to you in reference to the articles of faith which have been promulgated; and in which we have all concurred, not without due examination, but according to the senses assigned, which were investigated in the presence of our most highly favoured emperor, and for the reasons mentioned approved. And as to the anathemas published by them at the end of the Faith, we thought it without offence because it forbade the use of words not in Scripture, from which almost all the confusion and disorder of the churches have arisen. Accordingly, since no divinely inspired Scripture contains the expressions, "of things which do not exist," and "there was a time when he was not," and such other phrases as are therein subjoined, it seemed unwarrantable to utter and teach them. And moreover this decision received our sanction the rather from the consideration that we have never heretofore been accustomed to employ these terms. We deemed it incumbent on us, beloved, to acquaint you with the caution which has characterized both our examination of and concurrence in these things: and that on justifiable grounds we resisted to the last moment the introduction of certain objectionable expressions as long as these were not acceptable; and received them without dispute, when on mature deliberation as we examined the sense of the words, they appeared to agree with what we had originally proposed as a sound confession of faith.


Athanasius of Alexandria (c.295-373)

Athanasius, Ariminum and Seleucia 41, 43-45

41.a. Those who deny the Council [of Nicea] altogether, are sufficiently exposed by these brief remarks; those, however, who accept everything else that was defined at Nicea, and doubt only about the Coessential, must not be treated as enemies; nor do we here attack them as Ario-maniacs, nor as opponents of the Fathers, but we discuss the matter with them as brothers with brothers, who mean what we mean, and dispute only about the word. For, confessing that the Son is from the essence of the Father, and not from an other subsistence, and that He is not a creature nor work, but His genuine and natural offspring, and that He is eternally with the Father as being His Word and Wisdom they are not far from accepting even the phrase, "Coessential." Now such is Basil, who wrote from Ancyra concerning the faith. For only to say "like according to essence" [homo-i-ousios] is very far from signifying "of the essence" [homoousios] by which, rather, as they say themselves, the genuineness of the Son to the Father is signified. Thus tin is only like to silver, a wolf to a dog, and gilt brass to the true metal; but tin is not from silver, nor could a wolf be accounted the offspring of a dog. But since they say that He is "of the essence" and "like-in-essence," what do they signify by these but "coessential?" For, while to say only "like-in-essence," does not necessarily convey "of the essence," on the contrary, to say "coessential," is to signify the meaning of both terms, "Like-in-essence," and "of the essences."

41.b. And accordingly they themselves in controversy with those who say that the Word is a creature, instead of allowing Him to be genuine Son, have taken their proofs against them from human illustrations of son and father, with this exception that God is not as man, nor the generation of the Son as issue of man, but such as may be ascribed to God, and is fit for us to think. Thus they have called the Father the Fount of Wisdom and Life, and the Son the Radiance of the Eternal Light, and the Offspring from the Fountain, as He says, 'I am the Life," and, "I and Wisdom dwell with Prudence" [John 14.6; Prov. 8. 12]. But the Radiance from the Light, and Offspring from Fountain, and Son from Father, how can these be so fitly expressed as by "Coessential?" And is there any cause of fear, lest, because the offspring from men are coessential, the Son, by being called Coessential, be Himself considered as a human offspring too? Perish the thought! not so; but the explanation is easy. For the Son is the Father's Word and Wisdom; whence we learn the impassibility and indivisibility of such a generation from the Father. For not even man's word is part of him, nor proceeds from him according to passion; much less God's Word; whom the Father has declared to be His own Son, lest, on the other hand, if we merely heard of "Word," we should suppose Him, such as is the word of man, impersonal; but that, hearing that He is Son, we may acknowledge Him to be living Word and substantive Wisdom.

… 43. This is sufficient to show that the meaning of the beloved ones is not foreign nor far from the "Coessential." But since, as they allege (for I have not the Epistle in question), the Bishops who condemned the Samosatene [i.e. Paul of Samosata, fl. 260/270+?] have said in writing that the Son is not coessential with the Father, and so it comes to pass that they, for caution and honour towards those who have so said, thus feel about that expression, it will be to the purpose cautiously to argue with them this point also. Certainly it is unbecoming to make the one conflict with the others; for all are fathers; nor is it religious to settle, that these have spoken well, and those ill; for all of them fell asleep in Christ. Nor is it right to be disputations, and to compare the respective numbers of those who met in the Councils, lest the three hundred seem to throw the lesser into the shade; nor to compare the dates, lest those who preceded seem to eclipse those that came after. For all, I say, are fathers; and yet not even the three hundred laid down nothing new, nor was it in any self-confidence that they became champions of words not in Scripture, but they fell back upon fathers, as did the others, and used their words. For there have been two of the name of Dionysius, much older than the seventy who deposed the Samosatene, of whom one was of Rome, and the other of Alexandria. But a charge had been laid by some persons against the Bishop of Alexandria before the Bishop of Rome, as if he had said that the Son was made, and not coessential with the Father. And, the synod at Rome being indignant, the Bishop of Rome expressed their united sentiments in a letter to his namesake. And so the latter, in defence, wrote a book with the title "Of Refutation and Defence;" …

44. And I wrote in another Letter a refutation of the false charge which they bring against me, that I deny that Christ is coessential with God. For though I say that I have not found or read this term anywhere in holy Scripture, yet my remarks which follow, and which they have not noticed, are not inconsistent with that belief. For I instanced a human production, which is evidently homogeneous, and I observed that undeniably fathers differed from their children, only in not being the same individuals; otherwise there could be neither parents nor children. And my Letter, as I said before, owing to present circumstances, I am unable to produce, or I would have sent you the very words I used, or rather a copy of it all; which, if I have an opportunity, I will do still. But I am sure from recollection, that I adduced many parallels of things kindred with each other, for instance, that a plant grown from seed or from root, was other than that from which it sprang, and yet altogether one in nature with it; and that a stream flowing from a fountain, changed its appearance and its name, for that neither the fountain was called stream, nor the stream fountain, but both existed, and that the fountain was as it were father, but the stream was what was generated from the fountain.

45.a. … If then any one finds fault with those who met at Nicea, as if they contradicted the decisions of their predecessors, he might reasonably find fault also with the seventy, because they did not keep to the statements of their own predecessors; but such were the Dionysii and the Bishops assembled on that occasion at Rome. But neither these nor those is it pious to blame; for all were charged with the embassy of Christ, and all have given diligence against the heretics, and the one party condemned the Samosatene, while the other condemned the Arian heresy. And rightly have both these and those written, and suitably to the matter in hand. And as the blessed Apostle, writing to the Romans, said, "The Law is spiritual, the Law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good" (ROM 7.14, 12); and soon after, "What the Law could not do, in that it was weak" (ROM 8.3), but wrote to the Hebrews, "The Law has made no one perfect" (Heb. 7.19); and to the Galatians, "By the Law no one is justified" (Gal. 3.11), but to Timothy, "The Law is good, if a man use it lawfully" (1 Tim. 1.8); and no one would accuse the Saint of inconsistency and variation in writing, but rather would admire how suitably he wrote to each, to teach the Romans and the others to turn from the letter to the spirit, but to instruct the Hebrews and Galatians to place their hopes, not in the Law, but in the Lord who had given the Law.

45.b. So, if the Fathers of the two Councils made different mention of the Coessential, we ought not in any respect to differ from them, but to investigate their meaning, and this will fully show us the agreement of both the Councils. For they who deposed the Samosatene took Coessential in a bodily sense, because Paul had attempted sophistry and said, "Unless Christ has of man become God, it follows that He is Coessential with the Father; and if so, of necessity there are three essences, one the previous essence, and the other two from it;" and therefore guarding against this they said with good reason, that Christ was not coessential. For the Son is not related to the Father as he imagined. But the Bishops who anathematized the Arian heresy, understanding Paul's craft, and reflecting that the word "coessential" has not this meaning when used of things immaterial, and especially of God, and acknowledging that the Word was not a creature, but an offspring from the essence, and that the Father's essence was the origin and root and fountain of the Son, and that he was of very truth His Father's likeness, and not of different nature, as we are, and separate from the Father, but that, as being from Him, He exists as Son indivisible, as radiance is with respect to Light, and knowing too the illustrations used in Dionysius's case, the "fountain," and the defence of "coessential" and before this the Saviour's saying, symbolical of unity, "I and the Father are one" and "he that has seen me has seen the Father" (John 10.30, Ib. 14.9), on these grounds reasonably asserted on their part, that the Son was Coessential.

45.c. And as, according to a former remark, no one would blame the Apostle, if he wrote to the Romans about the Law in one way, and to the Hebrews in another; in like manner, neither would the present Bishops find fault with the ancient, having regard to their interpretation, nor again in view of theirs and of the need of their so writing about the Lord, would the ancient censure their successors. Yes surely, each Council has a sufficient reason for its own language; for since the Samosatene held that the Son was not before Mary, but received from her the origin of His being, therefore those who then met deposed him and pronounced him heretic; but concerning the Son's Godhead writing in simplicity, they arrived not at accuracy concerning the Coessential, but, as they understood the word, so spoke they about it. For they directed all their thoughts to destroy the device of the Samosatene, and to show that the Son was before all things, and that, instead of becoming God from man, He, being God, had put on a servant's form, and being Word, had become flesh, as John says (Phil. 2.7; John 1.14).

45.d. This is how they dealt with the blasphemies of Paul; but when Eusebius, Arius, and their fellows said that though the Son was before time, yet was He made and one of the creatures, and as to the phrase "from God," they did not believe it in the sense of His being genuine Son from Father, but maintained it as it is said of the creatures, and as to the oneness of likeness between the Son and the Father, did not confess that the Son is like the Father according to essence, or according to nature as a son resembles his father, but because of their agreement of doctrines and of teaching; nay, when they drew a line and an utter distinction between the Son's essence and the Father, ascribing to Him an origin of being, other than the Father, and degrading Him to the creatures, on this account the Bishops assembled at Nicea, with a view to the craft of the parties so thinking, and as bringing together the sense from the Scriptures, cleared up the point, by affirming the "Coessential;" that both the true genuineness of the Son might thereby be known, and that to things originate might be ascribed nothing in common with Him. For the precision of this phrase detects their pretense, whenever they use the phrase "from God," and gets rid of all the subtleties with which they seduce the simple. For whereas they contrive to put a sophistical construction on all other words at their will, this phrase only, as detecting their heresy, do they dread; which the Fathers set down as a bulwark against their irreligious notions one and all.

Athanasius, Discourses Against the Arians [cf. CCC 69]

29. Now the scope and character of Holy Scripture, as we have often said, is this,-it contains a double account of the Saviour; that He was ever God, and is the Son, being the Father's Word and Radiance and Wisdom; and that afterwards for us He took flesh of a Virgin, Mary Bearer of God, and was made man. And this scope is to be found throughout inspired Scripture, as the Lord Himself has said, "Search the Scriptures, for they are they which testify of Me." But lest I should exceed in writing, by bringing together all the passages on the subject, let it suffice to mention as a specimen, first John saying, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him, and without Him was made not one thing" [Jn 1.1.ff.].Next, "And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of one Only- begotten from the Fathers;" and next Paul writing, "Who being in the form of God, thought it not a prize to be equal with God, but emptied [=kenosis] Himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and being found in fashion like a man, He humbled Himself, becoming obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross" [Phil. 2.6-8]. Any one, beginning with these passages and going through the whole of the Scripture upon the interpretation which they suggest, will perceive how in the beginning the Father said to Him, "Let there be light," and "Let there be a firmament," and "'Let us make man" [cf. Genesis] but in fullness of the ages, He sent Him into the world, not that He might judge the world, but that the world by Him might be saved, and how it is written "Behold, the Virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a Son, and they shall call his Name Emmanuel, which, being interpreted, is God with us" [MT 1.23].

30. The reader then of divine Scripture may acquaint himself with these passages from the ancient books; and from the Gospels on the other hand he will perceive that the Lord became human; for "the Word," he says, "became flesh, and dwelt among us" [Jn 1.14] And He became human, and did not come into a man; for this it is necessary to know, lest perchance these irreligious men fall into this notion also, and beguile any into thinking, that, as in former times the Word was used to come into each of the Saints, so now He sojourned in a man, hallowing him also, and manifesting Himself as in the others. For if it were so, and He only appeared in a man, it were nothing strange, nor had those who saw Him been startled, saying, "What sort man is this?" [MT 8.27] and "why did you, being a man, make yourself God?" [Jn 10.33] For they were familiar with the idea, from the words, "And the Word of the Lord came" to this or that of the Prophets. But now, since the Word of God, by whom all things came to be, endured to become also Son of man, and humbled Himself, "taking a servant's form" [Phil. 2.7-8], therefore to the Jews the Cross of Christ is a scandal, but to us Christ is "God's power" and "God's wisdom" [1 Cor 1.23-24] for "the Word," as John says, "became flesh" (it being the custom of Scripture to call man by the name of "flesh," as it says by Joel the Prophet, "I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh;" and as Daniel said to Astyages, "I do not worship idols made with hands, but the Living God, who has created the heaven and the earth, and has sovereignty over all flesh;" for both he and Joel call mankind flesh).