We have not yet finished our study of the history of the Arian Controversy or the Arian Heresy, as it is known in church history. The Nicene Council marked two important “firsts.” One is that for the first time, the church found itself being dominated by the political leadership of the head of civil government.
But the bishops who gathered in council at Nicea were so preoccupied with solving the problem of who was the heretic that the issue of the relationship between church and state escaped their notice. Yet, this marked the beginning of what was to become an issue with which the world has had to contend ever since.
Secondly, this was the first time that civil punishment was exacted upon the heretics. Previously, synods of church officials removed from office those deemed heretics, and as in the case of Arius, banished him into exile. But that was church government. Now the civil government was exacting punishment. The original Nicene Creed also included the following anathema:
“And those who say there was a time when he [the Son] was not; and he was made out of nothing, or out of another substance or thing, or the Son of God is created, or changeable, or alterable;—they are condemned by the holy catholic and apostolic church.”
The word “catholic” there is a lower case “c”, and it simply referred to the universal church, because the Roman church had not yet arrogated supremacy to itself, so that there was no such thing at that time as what we today call the Roman Catholic church (Catholic with an upper case “c”).
Nearly all the bishops signed the Nicene Creed, even Eusebius, the church historian, whose majority party and semi-Arian position, was overruled by the emperor. However,
the other Eusebius, the Bishop of Nicomedia, while he, too, signed the creed, he did not sign the appended anathema. And for this, he was deposed, and he presumably lost his nifty palace in a sheriff’s auction (or the equivalent in those days) because he was banished by the order of Emperor Constantine.
Two Egyptian bishops, plus Arius himself, of course, refused to sign the creed and for this they were banished to Illyria, which was located on the western side of the Balkan peninsula, roughly the area occupied by modern Albania.
I stated that this marked the first time in church history that the civil government was not only in a dominant position over the church (excepting the church’s infancy, of course, when the Roman state murdered and martyred untold numbers of Christians), but that it was also the first time that the state enforced punishment upon those deemed as heretics.
This opened the door of what was to become a very long and dark period of centuries where horrible tortures and deaths were inflicted upon those adjudged as heretics, and in some cases, upon those who were only accused of departing from the orthodox faith.
Although the word “orthodoxy” means “right thinking,” it …