The Council of Nicaea figures prominently in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. Brown’s character, Teabing, brings up the subject of the Nicaean Council while teaching Sophie about Jesus:
“Jesus’ establishment as the ‘Son of God’ was officially proposed and voted on by the Council of Nicaea.”
“Hold on. You’re saying Jesus’ divinity was the result of a vote?” “A relatively close vote at that,” Teabing added (233).
Councils held to determine important doctrinal matters were not uncommon to the early Christians. We read in Acts 15 how the church leaders came together to decide how Gentiles were to be treated. Councils were important in order to maintain an orthodox faith and prevent the spread of false teaching.
Council of Nicaea Refuted False Teachings
One such false teaching was being spread by Arius in A.D. 318. Arius taught that Jesus was a created being, just like other humans, and not the “begotten Son of God.” He was opposed by Alexander, the bishop of Alexandria, who declared Arius a heretic in a local council in A.D. 321. So Arius moved to Palestine and continued his teaching there. If he had kept his ideas to his own followers, there would not have been cause to call a council. But Arius began sending letters to area churches promoting the idea of Jesus as a created being. The debate grew over the next few years, finally gaining the attention of the emperor, Constantine.
Constantine, who had consolidated his hold on the Roman Empire, sought unity in all regions. If Jesus is considered as a real human, he felt that followers of Christianity would have different thoughts on his principles. With such a disparity even in the teachings of Jesus, it was difficult to unite all regions and Constantine was aware of this risk. His efforts did go here well as expected, even though with obstacles. He knew that a division within the Christian church would be one more destabilizing force in the empire, so he moved to restore peace. Constantine called together more than 300 bishops from around the empire, primarily from the east. (This would have favored Arius’s cause, as that is where his influence was the greatest.) Bishops traveled thousands of miles to attend the conference held in Constantinople. Many came bearing wounds and scars from the torture they had endured for their faith.
The Arians submitted their statement of doctrine that flatly denied the divinity of Christ. It was soundly rejected. The bishops, led by Athanasius, considered what was taught by the original church in the writings of the New Testament. These men wrote up an alternative creed, which became the Nicene Creed. In it Jesus was affirmed to be divine, the historic position of the church for the previous three hundred years.
There are many confirmations of this fact. Here is what several of these leaders wrote, all long before the council of Nicaea. (years approximate):
Ignatius: “God Himself was manifested in human form” (A.D. 105).
Clement: “It is fitting that you should think of Jesus Christ as of God” (A.D. 150).
Justin Martyr: “The Father of the universe has a Son. And He…is even God” (A.D. 160).
Irenaeus: “He is God, for the name Emmanuel indicates this” (A.D. 180).
Tertullian: “…Christ our God” (A.D. 200).
Origen: “No one should be offended that the Savior is also God…” (A.D. 225).
Novation: “…He is not only man, but God also…” (A.D. 235).
Cyprian: “Jesus Christ, our Lord and God” (A.D. 250).
Methodius: “…He truly was and is…with God, and being God…” (A.D.290).
Lactantius: “We believe Him to be God” (A.D. 304).
Arnobius: “Christ performed all those miracles…the…duty of Divinity” (A.D. 305).
This shows the leaders of the church have always considered Jesus divine.
The Council of Nicaea – Not a close vote
The newly written Niceaean creed was adopted by a landslide vote. Only two voted against. That can hardly be called close. The church had suffered for three centuries under the tyranny of the Roman Empire. The Council of Nicaea came only fourteen years after the final persecution of Christians at the hand of the Emperor Galerius. The bishops of the church would never have compromised what had cast their fellow Christians so much. They would have rather suffered another three centuries of oppression and persecution than deny their Lord.