May 31, 2009 Luke 17:1-13
Today we commemorate the bishops that participated in the council at Nicea, the first of the seven ecumenical councils. The life of the early Church was dominated by the seven Ecumenical Councils. These Councils fulfilled a double task. First, they clarified and articulated the visible organization of the Church, crystallizing the position of the five great sees or Patriarchates, as they came to be known. Secondly, and more importantly, the Councils defined once and for all the Church’s teaching upon the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith — the Trinity and the Incarnation.
The discussions at the Councils had one very practical purpose: the salvation of man. Man is separated from God by sin, and cannot through his own efforts break down the wall of separation our sinfulness has created. God, out of love for us, has taken the initiative: He became man, was crucified, and rose from the dead, and ascended into Heaven thereby delivering humanity from the bondage of sin and death. This is the central message of the Christian faith, and it is this message of redemption that the Councils were concerned to safeguard. Heresies were dangerous and required condemnation, because they (just like sin) impaired the teaching of the New Testament, setting up a barrier between man and God, and so making it impossible for man to attain to salvation.
The First Ecumenical Council’s main theological concern was that Christ has full divinity and full humanity. The main work of the Council of Nicaea in 325 was the condemnation of Arianism. Arius, a priest in Alexandria, maintained that the Son was inferior to the Father, and, in drawing a dividing line between God and creation, he placed the Son among created things. The effect of Arius’ teaching, in making Christ less than God, was to render man’s deification impossible. Only if Christ is truly God, the Council answered, can He unite us to God, for none but God Himself can open to man the way of union. Christ is “one in essence” (homoousios) with the Father. He is no demigod or superior creature, but God in the same sense that the Father is God: “true God from true God,” the Council proclaimed in the Creed which it drew up, “begotten not made, one in essence with the Father.”