Not Helpful

“The Council of Nicea (325) was called by the Roman Emperor Constantine in order to resolve the issue. Athanasius (296-373), the champion of orthodoxy, though often standing alone, contra mundum (against the world), guided the council into the truth.” Johnson, The Identity and Attributes of God, 37

I actually graduated with an MDiv believing this. I don’t mean to single out Johnson or to reproach any one person, but it does show a collective failure to have the history we teach be accurate. Fiction is where we go for inspiring stories, mythology. This does not give enough information about what happened and in fact gives wrong information about what did.

Here are the inaccuracies.

  1. Athanasius was only present at Nicea as the secretary of his bishop Alexander. He guided nothing in the council, nothing at all. He wasn’t ordained bishop till three years later.
  2. The Council of Nicea was only the beginning of the global conflict. While Arius was condemned, the Arian cause went on to dominate the Empire and was not finally defeated till the Council of Constantinople in 381, almost 60 years later. It was during this period subsequent to 325 that Athanasius came to be a Bishop, went through his numerous exiles, and persevered in the face of defeat (against the world), and died, along with most of those present at the Council of Nicea.
  3. The original formula of Nicea demonstrated how slippery any of the proposed terminology could be without the stability that a theological culture gave to the terms. Athanasius himself “did not insist on the term homoousios until the 350s” (Thompson, Athanasius, xi).

One of the most important things achieved in that century of controversy was a theological culture in which being faithful to Scripture when teaching the doctrine (specifically, the doctrine of God) is possible. That’s Lewis Ayres conclusion, whose book has been around since 2004 and is a good source of accurate history on Nicea and its legacy.

I can understand not getting into the minutiae of history, but how does it help to tell us what did NOT actually happen? Don’t you think things like this are why we have the issues regarding the Doctrine of God that we do? The issues this very book is admired for addressing? I don’t see how it can be otherwise.

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