The Council of Nicaea and its bitter aftermath

TIRED OF JUST READING about the Arian controversy? Ready to dip into the original letters? Then pick up a copy of J. Stevenson’s A New Eusebius (S.P.C.K., 1957; rev. ed. 1987), a fabulous collection of 319 documents from the early church. You’ll want to pay special attention to Alexander’s encyclical letter warning against the Arian heresy, Arius’s letters to Eusebius of Nicomedia and Alexander, Constantine’s initial letter to Alexander and Arius urging reconciliation, the Canons of Nicaea, Eusebius’s guarded letter to his church in Ceasarea following the council, and Constantine’s denunciation of Arius in his observations of the council as narrated by the church historian Socrates.

Also of interest is Stevenson’s companion volume, Creeds, Councils, and Controversies (Seabury Press, 1966; rev. ed. 1990), which includes excerpts from 236 fourth- and fifth-century documents and follows Athanasius’ battle with Arian emperors like Constantius II until the triumph of Nicene orthodoxy under the emperor Theodosius. Readers will find in this collection such gems as Ossius of Cordoba’s reprimand of Constantius for taking Arius’s side in the matter, contemporary accounts of Athanasius’ exiles, and the Canons of the Council of Constantinople in 381.

Here’s a selective bibliography for those seeking more in-depth study of the Nicene council and its creed:

Stuart Hall, Doctrine and Practice in the Early Church (Eerdmans, 1991)

W. H. C. Frend, The Early Church (Fortress, 1982)

J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Creeds (Longmans, 1960; 3rd ed. 1982)

Robert Louis Wilken, The Spirit of Early Christian Thought (Yale, 2003)

Rowan Williams, Arius: Heresy & Tradition (Eerdmans, 1987; rev. ed. 2001)

Timothy D. Barnes, Constantine and Eusebius (Harvard, 1981)

R. P. C. Hanson, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God (T. & T. Clark, 1988)

Arianism After Arius: Essays on the Development of the Fourth Century Trinitarian Conflicts, edited by Michel Barnes and D. H. Williams (Edinburgh, 1993)

Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, edited by E. Ferguson (Garland, 1997)

D. H. Williams, Retrieving the Tradition and Renewing Evangelicalism: A Primer for Suspicious Protestants (Eerdmans, 1999)

Luke Timothy Johnson, The Creed: What Christians Believe and Why It Matters (Doubleday, 2003)

Nicene Christianity: The Future for a New Ecumenism, edited by Christopher R. Seitz (Brazos, 2001)

And just for fun, check out I Believe, an illustrated version of the Nicene Creed by Pauline Baynes, who did the original illustrations for C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2003).

By Steven Gertz and Jennifer Trafton

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #85 in 2005]

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