Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Tarsius and the Council of Nicaea

"Be still, and know that I am God." Bible, Psalm 46:10

While many have heard the word Nicaean
(Nicean) and may know it has something to do with christian religious experience or spirituality, historically exactly what it is, many fewer can say today.

The councils of Nicaea were convened in response to controversy about theological ideas around the nature of the Christ. These meetings were ecumenical councils. The second Nicaean Council took place in Constantinople about 786 BCE lasting until civil unrest disturbed the councilors so much they took early leave. These councils are considered the councils of the undivided church of this time. The imperial secretary, Tarsius figures importantly in this second proceeding. He later became the Patriarch of Constantinople.

The first council of Nicaea took place
some centuries earlier in Alexandria Egypt about 325 BCE. Present at this council notably were the patriarchs of Egypt, Libya, Syria, Persia, Palestine and also Greece and Thrace among others. Manuscripts of the proceedings have been discovered written in Arabic describing a number of significant events which took place here. There were a number of decisions made: notably that Bishops must know the Gospels by heart, not cursorily; that they must be exemplary in character and the still widely used, Nicene Creed was devised and agreed upon. If you learn nothing else, read and understand this creed, for it is all that Christianity proposes and all that it believes. Here it's in its original, unedited form:

We believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible; and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten of the Father, that is, of the substance [ek tes ousias] of the Father, God of God, light of light, true God of true God, begotten not made, of the same substance with the Father [homoousion to patri], through whom all things were made both in heaven and on earth; who for us men and our salvation descended, was incarnate, and was made man, suffered and rose again the third day, ascended into heaven and cometh to judge the living and the dead. And in the Holy Ghost. Those who say: There was a time when He was not, and He was not before He was begotten; and that He was made out of nothing, ex ouk onton; or those who maintain that He is of another hypostasis or another substance, not the Father, or that the Son of God is created, or mutable, or subject to change, those the catholic* church anathematizes."

In the previous era of Christian unity,
the convening of ecumenical councils was an important way for Christian leaders from far off lands to come together, discuss the Gospels and their meaning and come to unified conclusions regarding the spirituality and practice of the Christian faith. At this early time in history, the Bishop of Rome, todays Pope Francis, was widely regarded as the bishop who presides in love and charity, as St. Ignatius of Antioch termed it, and thus the Bishop of Rome (the Pope) takes precedence in the order of Bishops. At the time, there was an order of precedence among the ancient bishops' seats: Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem; the order was recognized by all in the era of the undivided church.

After centuries of rising tension, Christianity finally broke apart in 1054 CE. The reasons included abstract theological differences involving issues like the understanding of the Holy Spirit and practical disagreements over the extent of the Western pope’s authority over worldwide Christianity.
After the breach, the rival primates hurled mutual excommunications at each other. For nearly 1,000 years, the two churches did not interact on any level.

* Catholic is defined as: whole, universal, undivided

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