The Council of Nicaea is often misrepresented. Jehovah's Witnesses and modern critics of the divinity of Christ allege that the council was merely a tool of imperial manipulation. They point to Nicaea, not the Bible, as the source of the doctrine of the Trinity, and interpret the Council as the triumph of heresy over orthodoxy, rather than the reverse. They argue that Emperor Constantine "forced" the Council to adopt the crucial word consubstantial (homoousios) to describe the equal divinity of the Father and the Son.

But did Constantine really run the show at Nicaea?

The relationship between the church and the emperors starting with Constantine to the end of the Roman Empire in the East (also known as the Byzantine Empire, A.D. 330-1453) worked much like a marriage. Much of it was improvised, and the lovers quarreled at times and manipulated each other to get what they wanted. When it came to matters of faith, however, the boundaries of their relationship left no uncertainty about where the power of one left off and the other began.

Defender of the Faith

In 336, the 30th year of Constantine's reign, Eusebius of Caesarea gave a speech in honor of the emperor. His talk provided an official statement of the imperial image and political theory that would define the role of the emperor until the fall of the Byzantine Empire: "Thus invested with the image of the kingship of heaven, he [the emperor] pilots affairs on earth while looking upward in order to steer according to the pattern of his archetype … He [God] has modeled the kingdom on earth into an image of that in heaven, and he urges all men to strive toward it."

Eusebius affirmed Constantine as God's anointed one, an earthly reflection of the image of Christ in heaven—one ...

Subscriber Access OnlyYou have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Already a CT subscriber? for full digital access.