Post Author: Bill Pratt
In A.D. 325, an ecumenical council of Christian bishops gathered to discuss a theological issue that was tearing apart the unity of the church. A common misconception about this council was that the argument was over whether Jesus was God or man. In fact, this idea has become so popular that one of my skeptical friends, who usually knows his stuff, made this mistake recently in a discussion we were having.
He said, in effect, that the church was arguing about whether Jesus was a man or God all the way up to and including the Council of Nicaea. This view, however, is completely false.
The two major positions presented at the council were proposed by Arius and Athanasius. Arius believed that Jesus was created by God the Father in eternity, but that he did not share eternality with the Father. Athanasius believed that Jesus and the Father both existed from eternity, that one never existed without the other.
Please note that the issue was not about whether Jesus was merely a man or God, but what kind of God Jesus was. Both parties agreed he was divine, that he was much more than a mere man, but they disagreed about how he was divine.
The council sided with Athanasius against Arius, declaring that Jesus always existed along with the Father. The debate about Arianism, however, did not subside until the Council of Constantinople in A.D. 381 provided further clarification of the terms used at Nicaea and united the church around its understanding of the nature of Christ.