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Arius, Nicea and the Creeds – Class Notes


Bob’s Easy Church History #325

Arius, Nicea and the Creeds

Arius was the ‘Presbyter’ (preaching elder) of Alexandra – a sea-port in Egypt. He had some very strange views on the divinity of Christ. Arius believed that before Jesus was born at Bethlehem, he had no existence. His ‘sound bite’ was: “There was, when He wasn’t” Because of this he believed and taught that while Jesus was God, he was a ‘lessor’ part of the Godhead, – adopted into it rather than there by right. So, Jesus couldn’t really be our Saviour, Just a good example for us to follow…

Followers of Arius were called ‘Arians’ Nowadays there still are people who hold similar beliefs. They call themselves “UNITARIANS”

Nobody like Arius… His boss, the ‘Bishop’ tried to get him to toe the line, but he just wouldn’t… The rest of the church worldwide were appalled at his teaching. But he had a cunning plan, …Make up nice catchy choruses with Arian beliefs, and teach them to the sailors down at the docks, and they’ll sing them all over the world – like Sea shanties. And they did! Arius’s plan worked. Rome was the hub of the empire, all ships docked there, and soon the people of Rome were singing the songs and learning the false doctrines. Arianism was spreading.

The Emperor (Constantine) was NOT amused. He had a fragmented empire, and he wanted it united, and he too had a cunning plan. The church stretched right across the empire, – perhaps he could use the church to unite the diverse people-groups… but wait, this Arius was breaking the church up, just when he needed it united. Something must be done.

He called all the leaders of the church together at a town called Nicea, to talk about Arianism (and a few other things!) Attendees were 1800 Bishops from throughout the empire, including 1000 from west and 800 from east – none from Britain. . No-one knows how many actually came, but it is thought that there was more Eastern representation than western. Among them were: Arius the Herisiarch, St. Athanasius of Alexandria, St Nicholas of Myra, Eusebius of Nicomedia, and Eusebius of Caesarea (perhaps the first church historian)

Matters to be discussed included the Arian question regarding the relationship between God the Father and the Son (not only in his incarnate form as Jesus, but also in his nature before the creation of the world); i.e., are the Father and Son one in divine purpose only or also one in being? The date of celebration of the Paschal/Easter observation, the Meletian schism, the validity of baptism by heretics and the status of the lapsed in the persecution under Licinius.

Some leading figures included:
St Anthanasius, 296-298 Deacon at Alexandria and Secretary to the Bishop Opposed to Arianism He said;. “Jesus that I know as my Redeemer cannot be less than God” ~at the Council of Nicea
St Nicholas of Myra, Very generous man – known for his kindness and benevolence. First known Christian pugilist. Was so outraged by Arius’s false teaching that he punched him on the nose!
At the conference, the Arians were devious, and continually challenged the meaning of Biblical terms. The Orthodox bishops introduced a new term: Homoousious. – it means ‘of the same substance’. Everything that God the Father is, so is God the Son. Nearest NT Greek is hypostasis. It means ‘the exact imprint’ in Hebrews 1:3 (Eusebius of Nicomena wanted to use a slightly different word, homoi-ousious. It means of ‘similar substance’. That was rejected.) Jesus, because He is ‘of the same substance’ as us, is our representative on the cross. Because He is of the same substance as the Father, he is sinless and holy, and so satisfies God’s wrath and demonstrates his love.

The Nicene Creed:
We believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father by whom all things were made; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man, and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried, and the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father. And he shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead, whose kingdom shall have no end.

And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, who proceedeth from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, who spoke by the prophets. And we believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins. And we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.




Make up your own simple creed:

I believe in… _________________________________________________________________________

Can you say ‘The Apostles Creed’ from memory? (Try!) In what situations would it be good to have memorised a concise summary of belief?

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen. Matthew 28:19-20

What do the Baptism Words tells us about the nature of the godhead?

God exists as a T _ _ _ _ _ _
Shorter Catechism:
Q. 6. How many persons are there in the godhead?
A. There are three persons in the Godhead; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory.

Why would this have been a problem for the very first Christian converts, and what was the early church’s response?
Read these verses.

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
John 8:58. Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.
John 17:5. And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.
John 17:24. Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.
Colossians 1:17 And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.
Hebrews 7:3. Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually.
Revelation 22:13. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.

What do they tell you about Jesus – did His life begin at Bethlehem as Arius believed?


Mark 1:11. And there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
John 10:30. I and my Father are one.
John 12:45. And he that seeth me seeth him that sent me.
John 14:10. Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works.
2 Cor. 5:19 To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself

What do these verses tell you about the relationship between Father and Son?


Hebrews 1:1. Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. (ESV)

Can you think of another word similar to ‘the exact imprint of his nature?’ (Gk: ‘υποστασεως – hypostasis)


Why is it important that the hymns and songs we sing are correct in doctrine, as well as just being nice tunes?

Jesus is FULLY MAN and FULLY GOD. Can we ever fully understand this?
Shorter Catechism:

Q. 21. Who is the redeemer of God’s elect?
A. The only redeemer of God’s elect is the Lord Jesus Christ, who, being the eternal Son of God, became man, and so was, and continueth to be, God and man in two distinct natures, and one person, forever.

Pray About It

Thank God:

* For the Divine Nature of Christ.
* For men and women in bygone days who defended the faith against error.

Pray that we will also be faithful to God’s truth, revealed in the Scriptures, in our day.

From → History

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