Ah, the Council of Nicaea.
The main issue at the Council was related to the Trinity & the exact nature of Christ’s divinity. The issue was that a bishop, Arius, was teaching that Jesus was a created divinity (coming into existence at some point), instead of always existing. It had nothing to do with the Bible’s canon (i.e. table-of-contents). The opponents were not Gnostics, nor did it have anything to do with the Dan Brown’s picture of people teaching that Jesus was just a man. (See What Really Happened At Nicea?)
But in the tradition of the Da Vinci Code, the Council is the subject of rampant speculation, and the target of every accusation of nastiness that anyone might think of concerning the early history of Christianity. If you can imagine something bad being done by the early church, just say it happened at the Council of Nicaea, throw in Constantine’s name, and you’ll have an instant air of believability.
Perhaps we could call this condition “Nicene Tourettes”?
This week, Glenn Beck contracted the contagious condition. I knew he had a reputation for populist rhetoric, but this is this first time I know of that he’s gone with left-wing myth & conspiracy theory. (I’d wonder if he’s been reading Dan Brown novels lately, but it has a more obvious source–his Mormon background.) On his radio show, Beck started talking about Council. He brought up the Dead Sea Scrolls (which were actually buried in a cave before Christ), and the Apostles’ Creed (which preceded the Council by up to one or two hundred years), and said that Constantine used the Council to help him “cobble together an army” (which, you know, being the emperor, he already had.)
RazorsKiss has provided a transcript & response. You can also hear it with a response by Dr. James White in this mp3, starting at timestamp 1:24. I would add two things to the written response:
- Beck was probably confusing the Dead Sea Scrolls, which are pre-Christian Jewish documents, with the library found at Nag Hammadi, where we found early copies of Gnostic writings. Dr. White said that some people have speculated that the Nag Hammadi library was a cache created in Constantine’s reign, hiding Gnostic writings to prevent them from being burned. Beck probably heard that speculation, confused it, and is now repeating it as fact.
- Though Beck seems to be making up the executions, some Arians were banished after the Council. However, see Dr. White’s discussion of the aftermath of Nicaea in the What Really Happened article. the Council did not manage to suppress Arian teaching, and the power of government was not responsible for its defeat. Nicene Christianity didn’t win by the power of the sword, as people often think today. After the Council, Arian teaching spread and dominated the empire. The Nicene Creed won not by the sword, but by the Biblical arguments of the bishop Athanasius–who himself was suppressed by political power & assaulted by 5000 soldiers!