The Christian Church has had a long and storied history, with many significant moments occurring within or around the Church. For example, there was the burning of Jerusalem in the very early days of the Church, the formation of the Magna Carta instigated by Christian principles, and, of course, the publishing of the Summa Theologicae by Thomas Aquinas. All of these moments played a massive role in the history of the Church and the world. However, there is one event that stands out from all the rest as the most influential moment for the Christian church: the first Council of Nicaea. It was out of this gathering of 318 bishops that we got one of the most recognizable works of the Early Christian Church, the Nicene Creed. This Creed remains the backbone of orthodox Christina belief 1,600 years later. However, few know the story of the events surrounding the historic council.
The history of the council begins with the rise of the presbyter Arius to a position of power and prominence within the early Christian Church. This was problematic, as Arius believed in a Unitarian version of God. He believed that God was immutable and therefore rejected the concept of the Trinity, which holds that all members of the Godhead are one and equal with each other. In the view of Arius, Christ had to be lesser than God because, if God was immutable and Jesus was mutable, then, therefore, he cannot be equal with the Father.
To many in the Church at that time, the Arian belief was a severe heresy. According to the arguments of St. Athanasius, one of the most prominent critics of Arianism at the time, the beliefs of Arius reduce Jesus to being a semi-divine creation. If followed to its conclusion, this would mean that Jesus’s sacrifice in the cross was pointless, as Jesus must be divine in order to be a sufficient sacrifice for our sins.
However, despite the efforts of many members in the Church, the popularity of Arianism grew with each passing year. Eventually, the unrest within the Church began to spill over onto other parts of daily life. This was when Rome decided to step in. Upon witnessing the negative outcome of the infighting within the Church, Emperor Constantine decided to call a council of leading members of the Church in order to resolve the issue of the Arian heresy.
During the course of the council, it appeared that the Arians were winning the debate for a while, but, with time, the heretical positions of the Arians were laid bare, free of any obfuscation. Upon realizing what Arianism represented for Christianity, the council eventually decided almost unanimously in favor of the traditional, Trinitarian view of Christ and his position within the Godhead. As a statement of belief, the Nicene Creed was adopted to show people what the official position of the Church was on many fundamental matters, such as the divinity and humanity of Christ.