The Roman Emperor Constantine convened bishops and Church leaders for a council in Nicaea in 325 A.D. to address the nature of Jesus as many different teachings and Christian cults were spreading.  The essential question was: Is Jesus the Son of God and the same essence as God? 



Church Fathers and Heresy

As the early Christian missionaries spread their message to the gentile world,  various converts brought into Christianity many views.  The word heresy comes from the Greek word for choosing.  The early Church Fathers decided which books to include in the New Testament and often chose those that directly refuted some of these heresies. There was constant debate during the first through fourth centuries centered over the human and spiritual nature of Jesus and his relationship to God and how to reconcile this with Judaic monotheism.

The Conversion of Roman Emperor Constantine, from a print, 1869, Johnson,Fry & Co.


Constantine, the Roman Emperor from 306 to 337 AD, was probably a follower of the Mithras religion and a Sun-god worshipper.  Before a certain battle,  Constantine had a vision and placed the Christian symbol on his soldier’s shields and standards.  He was victorious and became sympathetic to the Christians.  He is acknowledged as converting himself and Rome to Christianity in what would eventually become the Holy Roman Empire. 

Emperor Constantine and the Council of Nicaea. Constantine Burning Arian Books, illustration Drawing on vellum. From MS CLXV, Biblioteca Capitolare, Vercelli, a compendium of canon law, about 825 AD arian books

Arius was a priest from Alexandria, Egypt, and taught that since Jesus was created by God, Jesus could not be God -Jesus subordinate to God the Father.  And this caused a great crisis in the early Church.  Arius was excommunicated by his Bishop.  But a verse in the Gospel of John would seem to support Arius.  John 14:28  You heard me say to you, “I am going away, and I am coming to you.” If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. This view is referred to as the Arian Heresy or Arianism.

The result of the Council was the Nicene Creed, or Apostle’s Creed and the doctrine of the Trinity.  Two bishops objected and did not sign the Creed.  They were sent into exile.  The concept of the Trinity is not Biblical, but was coined by Tertullian, a Church Father from Carthage in the 2nd Century.     
The committee from Nicaea compromised and tried to merge Christ into the theory of monotheism, saying three equal but distinct persons: God the Father, God the Son and the Holy Spirit.  The result is somewhat ambiguous and is not about the teaching or ethics of Jesus.
The Council also eliminated many gnostic and other scriptures from their canon, a body of rules and books.  This helped define the “right opinion” or orthodoxy of the Church.  This Council led, in part, to the schism, or splitting of the Roman Empire and the Church into the east and west branches.  Constantine moved the capital of the Roman Empire to Byzantium, and called the city Constantinopolis, City of Constantine, now Istanbul, Turkey.


Christ with Alpha and Omega,

from a 4th century wall painting in a catacomb south of Rome.

Christ Militant

Constantine militarized Christianity, probably with some Mithras influence.  Christianity became less a religion about peace and justice and Jesus, to one where Christians must help defend an Empire, the same Empire that crucified Jesus. 

militant c
Major change occurred in Christianity during and after Constantine.  As Christianity became prestigious many Romans became Christian to gain favor of the Emperor.  This led to noticeable hypocrisy in the Church.  And Christian paradoxes developed as popes and bishops became emperor-like with pomp and royalty, contrasted with the piety of the martyrs and saints.  And soldiers of God destroying evil, contradicted the way of love in action.  And kill for Christ replaced pacifism and some of the teaching of Jesus.  Rather than Christianity converting Constantine, it may have been Constantine converting Christianity!

Augustine of Hippo Refuting Heretics,

13th century manuscript,

Morgan Library, New York.


St. Augustine of Hippo, on the Algerian coast in North Africa, was an influential Church Father. He, himself, was influenced by Gnostism and by the writings of Plotinus, a Neoplatonist, and by the Letters of Paul, the Missionary. 

Apologists were second century Christian writers who defended Christianity against the pagans, Jews and heretics.  The term comes from the Greek word for defense.  The Apologetics argued and presented Jesus as Divine Wisdom, the Son of God and the Logos, the creative Word of God.  It is interesting that our word apology is most often used to express regret for an error or rudeness, shows how the use and meaning of words change over time.

Gnostism was a major heresy.  Gnosis comes from the Greek word meaning knowledge.  Gnostics generally believed in a spiritual enlightenment.  Part of their philosophy included a dualism of good and evil, light and darkness, spirit and matter.  Matter, the world and the physical body, was on the evil side.  This led to celibacy by the elite, or elect, of some Gnostic sects.  This attitude later helped set the sexual code for the Church.  Because Gnostics believed in individual enlightenment, or knowledge, there developed many varied and strange Gnostic groups.

In 1945, in Nag Hammadi, in the Egyptian desert, thirteen previously unknown manuscripts were found buried in a large sealed clay pot.  They were buried around 400 A.D. for safe-keeping.  The gnostic Gospel of Thomas was one of the texts and has shed new light on early Christian thought and perhaps sayings of Jesus. papyrus
Fragment of a papyrus scroll found at Nag Hammadi in 1945. This is from a gnostic text the Apocryphon of John, or Secret Writing of John.

On the other side of the sexual issue was Carpocrates whose libertine form of Gnostism allowed all manners of sexual pleasures.  This derived from pagan temple prostitution and from teachings such as:
Romans 6:14  "For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace."       
A common Gnostic heresy was that Jesus could not be of the flesh, and was not human because Jesus could not have that evil nature.   Jesus was the redeemer of the light, and salvation was through separation of the spiritual side from the physical - influence of Zoroastrian teachings.  
The Gnostics were considered heretics by some of the Church Fathers.  Gnostics believed in duality of the light and the dark side and in  knowledge obtained by spiritual enlightenment.  This sounds similar to what we are discussing here.  But problems developed because of their own gnosis.   Some individuals became egotistical and lost their humility with their “higher knowledge”.  And the opportunity for individual gnosis led to many strange and diverse version of Gnostic beliefs. 

But there is some evidence that gnosism may have been part of early mainstream Christianity.  (The Gnostic Paul)    St. Paul in 1 Cor 3:1-3  And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.  I fed you with milk, not solid food.  Even now you are still not ready, for you are still of the flesh.     It appears that Paul is speaking as a Gnostic.  Valentinus, a well known gnostic teacher of the second century, may have used Paul’s writings for his own positions.  Many of Jesus’s sayings and Paul’s Letter are very strange indeed, and we really can not understand these things literally and isolated from the time and other information. 

There are always at least two levels for consideration of such matters.  Exoteric is for the general public, secular, profane and for the outer group.  Esoteric refers to the initiated, secret, profound and for within the inner circle.  Jesus had his own two groups and levels, as did Paul.

Here we have briefly seen the wide variety of views of the nature of Jesus and Christ.  And some the arguements for the trinitarian and the non-trinitarian. And probably the variety of opinion is not much different than in our present time. 
The Next Reformation should demand from the Vatican access for scholars,
all ancient manuscripts for evaluation in the light of our day and time.

The Next Reformation should accept the Nicene Creed (Apostle’s Creed) as a historical document, one of many written during the early centuries describing the nature of Christ.

There is a growing number of liberal - very liberal and progressive - Christians who are now saying that too many Christian dogmas are simply not beleivable in our time. For example, Bishop John Shelby Spong is calling for "a new reformation",  He has said that "conceiving of Jesus as the incarnation of the theistic deity has become a bankrupt concept" and that "original sin is nonsense".

Lets look for Christ Consciousness and the Holy Spirit in all of this ~