Harvard Theological Review

Research Article

Faith and Order at the Council of Nicaea: a Note on the Background of the Sixth Canon

Henry Chadwicka1

a1 Christ Church, Oxford, England

At the Council of Nicaea all the bishops but two signed the creed and canons. This virtual unanimity must have been very gratifying to Constantine, and it represents no mean achievement in reconciliation on the emperor's part — for it is not what anyone would have expected after the dramatic events leading up to the calling of the Council. The creed appears to have been on every ground acceptable to Alexander of Alexandria and to Ossius of Cordova. If it was not, they had only themselves to blame, since they had been chiefly responsible for its form and had previously agreed, at a meeting of the Council's steering committee at Nicomedia, on the crucial word homoousios. It is not so certain that the creed was equally acceptable to the extreme anti-Arians, Marcellus of Ancyra or Eustathius of Antioch. Eustathius seems to have been ill content that the Nicene fathers had not had the courage of their convictions and had failed to confirm the decisions of the Council of Antioch held shortly before it; in his view they should have roundly condemned the rank Arianism of Eusebius of Caesarea and his two friends, Theodotus of Laodicea and Narcissus of Neronias. We may reasonably doubt whether any document that Eusebius was conscientiously able to sign would have been regarded as satisfactory by Eustathius. But neither Eustathius nor Marcellus would themselves have found difficulty with the content of the creed. And there is no reason to suppose that the nineteenth canon, regulating the terms for the admission of members of the congregation loyal to Paul of Samosata, represented any policy other than that which Eustathius would have been happy to implement. So far as his own position was concerned, he could sign both creed and canons with an untroubled conscience.