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The early days of Christianity

2.2.2. Politics and power first priority #2

Between ‘first-born’[1] indicating being the first one of the New Covenant period, the first born of the New Creation which was pre-eminent for the followers of the Messiah[2] , the New Adam opening the gateway for the new people of God, became under fire because certain people started to believe that Jesus was the first person born, even before Adam, the first man was created. This idea entered in the second period of the 2nd century and developed further in the 3rd century with Clement of Alexandria [c. 150- c. 214 CE] who used the term “protoktistos” in his Stromata[3] but later on calls Jesus “protoktistos”, [first-created][4] Clement uses the term first-created, as though it was first-born, to Clement and others, the two meant the same thing and were interchangeable and in fact, if we look at Clements same work [Stromata] just a little later on in chapter 14, page 465, we come across the expression, “tes sophias tes protoktistou tw thew”, which means, “Wisdom, which was the first of the creation of God”, here we clearly see the [genitive] “protoktistou” [of the creation]! Clement repeatedly identifies the Word with the Wisdom of God, and yet he refers to Wisdom as the first created of God; while in one passage he attaches the epithet “First-created,” and in another “First-begotten,” to the Word.

To the church fathers [pre-Nicene] the terms “prototokos” and “protoktistos” were naturally synonymous and interchangeable terms, they treat both equally and with the same meaning!

Icon depicting the First Council of Nicaea.

Icon depicting the First Council of Nicaea. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There was a partnership formed (harmonia, syymphonia) wich became one of the foundations of the Christian Empire.[5] Because the religious peace of the East was threatened the Roman Emperor Constantine I convoked (325) the first ecumenical council (see Nicaea, First Council of Nicaea) to solve the problems raised by Arianism. Arianism as the theological view that Jesus was divine, but was created by and is lesser than God the Father, was officially condemned as incorrect by the Council of Nicaea in 325, which gave its seal of authority to the established trinitarian view. The Nicene Creed was formed and taken up in catechisms that require students to memorize the Nicene Creed. The Greek term homoousios [consubstantial, of the same substance] used by the council to define the Son’s relationship to the Father was not universally popular: it had been used before by the heretic Sabellius. Some, like Marcellus of Ancyra the Galatian churchman, the most violent opponent of Arianism in Asia Minor, developed the theory that the Trinity was the result of emanations from God that would ultimately revert to God in the final judgement. In attacking Arianism, lapsed into Sabellianism (Sabellius). The voices of orthodoxy, however, were not silent. In the West St. Hilary of Poitiers and in the East St. Basil the Great ( c.330–379, Greek prelate, bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia, Doctor of the Church and one of the Four Fathers of the Greek Church with the Cappadocian theologian St. Gregory Nazianzen ( c.330–390) and St. Gregory of Nyssa ( d. 394?) continued to defend and interpret the Nicene formula. By 364 the West had a Catholic emperor in Valentinian I, and when the Catholic Theodosius I(346?–395, Roman emperor of the East (379–95) and emperor of the West (394–95), son of Theodosius, the general of Valentinian I) became emperor of the East (379), Arianism was outlawed.

St. Gregory of Nyssa (eastern ortodox icon)

St. Gregory of Nyssa (eastern ortodox icon) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The second ecumenical council was convoked to reaffirm the Nicene formula (Constantinople, First Council of 381, second ecumenical council). It was convened by Theodosius I, then emperor of the East and a recent convert, to confirm the victory over Arianism. Arianism within the empire seems to have expired at once. However, Ulfilas or Wulfila [Gothic,=little wolf], (c.311–383, Gothic bishop, translator of the Bible into Gothic) was converted to Christianity at Constantinople and was consecrated bishop (341) by the Arian bishop Eusebius of Nicomedia and carried (c.340) Homoean Arianism to the Goths living in what is now Hungary and the NW Balkan Peninsula with such success that the Visigoths and other Germanic tribes became staunch Arians. Arianism was thus carried over Western Europe and into Africa. The Vandals remained Arians until their defeat by Belisarius (c.534). Among the Lombards the efforts of Pope St. Gregory I and the Lombard queen were successful, and Arianism finally disappeared (c.650) there. In Burgundy the Catholic Franks broke up Arianism by conquest in the 6th cent. In Spain, where the conquering Visigoths were Arians, Catholicism was not established until the mid-6th cent. (by Recared), and Arian ideas survived for at least another century. Arianism brought many results — the ecumenical council, the Catholic Christological system, and even Nestorianism, and, by reaction, Monophysitism. Nestorianism on the one hand saying Jesus was to be two distinct persons, and Monophystium on the other, closely and inseparably uniteophysitism [Gr.,=belief in one nature], a heresy of the 5th and 6th cent., which grew out of a reaction against Nestorianism. It was anticipated by Apollinarianism and was continuous with the principles of Eutyches, whose doctrine had been rejected in 451 at Chalcedon (see Chalcedon, Council of ) fourth ecumenical council. [6]

The emperor Constantine completed what Paul had begun to some —a world hostile to the faith in which Jesus had lived and died. The Council of Nice in 325 determined that Church and Synagogue should have nothing in common, and that whatever smacked of the unity of God and of the freedom of man, or offered a Jewish aspect of worship, must be eliminated from Catholic Christendom.

The transfer of the seat of power from Rome to Constantinople, and the founding of the East Roman empire under Constantine I. gave to Asia Minor, and especially to Constantinople, a commanding importance in the history of the Church for several centuries. The seven oecumenical Councils from 325 to 787 were all held in that city or its neighborhood, and the doctrinal controversies on the Trinity and the person of Christ were carried on chiefly in Asia Minor, Syria, and Egypt.


[1] “who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation;” (Colossians 1:15 ASV)

[2]The Greek for firstborn is proto with tikto: firstborn. The Greek for first created would be proto with ktizo: first created. Paul did not use the second but the first. Second, the biblical use of the word “firstborn” is most interesting. It can mean the first born child in a family (Luke 2:7), but it can also mean “pre-eminence.” In Psalm 89:20, 27 it says, “I have found David My servant; with My holy oil I have anointed him…I also shall make him My first-born” (NASB). As you can see, David, who was the last one born in his family was called the firstborn by God. This is a title of preeminence here.” CARM(Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry)

[3] Book, 5 chapter 6, section 35, and book 5, chapter 14, section 89

[4] Stromata in ANF 2, chapter 6, page 452

[5] June, 325. (First Council of Nicaea) plus fourteen councils, held between 341 and 360

[6] H. M. Gwatkin, Studies of Arianism (2d ed. 1900); J. H. Newman, The Arians of the Fourth Century (1933, repr. 1968); J. Pelikan, The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (1971).

W. H. Frend, The Rise of the Monophysite Movement (1972); J. Pelikan, The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (1971) and The Spirit of Eastern Christendom (1974).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia® Copyright © 2007, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved. www.cc.columbia.edu/cu/cup/

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Dutch version / Nederlandse versie:  Politiek en macht eerste prioriteit #2

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  • The Top Ten Most Important Church Councils (catholicexchange.com)
    To be deep into history, John Henry Newman wrote, is to cease to be a Protestant. Put another way, to be deep into history is to become stronger in the Catholic faith—something we are all called to do in this Year of Faith.
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    one key to understanding the orthodox teachings of these councils is heresy. The councils, especially the earliest ones, were essentially anti-heresy conventions, called to sort the wheat of dogma from the chaff of heresy.
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    In all, there were 21 ecumenical councils.
  • From Lofty Words to Faithful Action (lifegivingwater.wordpress.com)
    Arius believed that people were putting too much emphasis on the Jesus’ divinity that they were forgetting his humanity. After all, does it not say in John 3:16 that Jesus was God’s only begotten son, explicitly stating that Jesus was brought into existence by the Father?  Yet, Alexander felt that to emphasize Christ’s humanity was to strip Christ of his divinity and to make him less than fully divine.

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