CONTENT WARNING: the following articles may contain some disturbing content including religious commentary, mild language, crude humor, descriptions of medieval war, and irreverent interpretations of sacred texts. *Note: This article was originally written in 2013.
325 CE / AD – The First Council of Nicaea: The Nicene Creed established.
The Reign of Emperor Constantine: 306-337
The Council of Nicaea itself is a controversial topic, so naturally I dived in headfirst. Instead of walking on eggshells in my retelling of how things went down I decided instead to just whack you in the face with a massive hardcover text book, and regurgitate the data in a concise narrative summary.
However, if FACTS offend you, than might I suggest a bucket of sand to bury your head in.
That said, prepare to have your collective perceptions blown to kingdom come.
Some would argue that the Council of Nicaea was anything but an Epic Fail, and I’m inclined to agree with them… almost. Yes, it was created out of desperate circumstances in an effort to unify the Empire and restore peace and order to the galaxy, and a lot of good in the world has come from it, BUT things didn’t go so smoothly for everyone…
The Council of Nicaea was convened in Bithynia (modern-day Turkey) on May 20th, 325 (AD) by the order of the Roman Emperor Constantine. This was no mere board meeting where the attendees sat through a series of monotone lectures full of pie-charts, bar-graphs, and synergy, this was in fact a very heated debate that would more closely resemble a Mortal Kombat tournament of theological ideologies. Two competing ‘theories’ entered the Thunderdome, and only one was allowed to survive. It was at this particularly pivotal meeting where a cabal of powerful men throughout the Roman Empire decided the fate of Western Civilization.
To his credit, the Roman Emperor Constantine was attempting to establish a unified order among the citizens of a fracturing nation, however the guy was also a power-hungry greedy bastard. The aftermath of the Nicene Creed is still felt today. But in order to understand what took place at this exclusive meeting, we need to back up a bit…
Let’s turn the clock back a couple millennia…
The Secret Origins of Christianity
During the reign of the Roman Emperors Octavian and Tiberius, in what we now would refer to as the 30’s (the 0030’s that is), there lived an obscure Jewish rabbi by the name of Joshua, in the province of Judea. Joshua gained a posse of ‘apostles’ while he traveled from town to town giving sermons on mounts, teaching parables, giving to the needy, helping the sick, and preaching about compassion with his bros. Joshua allegedly went from being a lowly carpenter to a rock star of the Middle East, he even gained some notorious groupies like a certain call girl named Mary. You see ‘Joshua’ brought forth a totally new and unheard of concept to Western civilization: ‘Love thy neighbor’, which for some reason totally pissed off both local officials and religious leaders of their time.
His prophetic words spread through Judea like a gasoline-induced forest fire.
Then the Roman governor of Jerusalem, Pontius Pilate, went down in history as a colossal dick when he ordered the arrest, and subsequent public execution of this peace-loving, long-haired, sandal-wearing, goatee-sporting prophet for ‘threatening imperial stability’ by brutally unnecessary means of Crucifixion – widely considered one of the worst possible ways to die, which the Romans reserved for thieves and traitors…
Oh, I might’ve forgotten to mention a small detail, the name Joshua (pronounced Yeshua back then) translated from Hebrew into Greek as JESUS.
You see, ‘Jesus’ (a.k.a. The Christ – a term for the Messiah, from the Greek word ‘Christos’) gained quite a cult-following (in the literal sense of the term), and many held firm to a belief that Jesus of Nazareth was the descendant of the Hebrew God himself, Yahweh. Sources claim Jesus Christ was actually born in 4 B.C. (before himself?) and died in 30 CE according to contextual clues from various accounts.
One of Jesus’s disciples, dude named Paul, began spreading Jesus’s message of peace and love, and brought it to the masses, beyond just the Jewish community of Jerusalem. Paul went onto write some 27 scriptures which compile a good portion of what is now known as ‘The New Testament’.
The early followers of Christ began to take on the last name of Christian and were therefore referred to as such. Many of them also believed that Jesus had conquered death itself, and would be returning at the End of Times, which some believed would be in their lifetimes. Nothing could deter their passion, even the fact that this particular form of spirituality was illegal. Many ‘true believers’ would use code-words and symbolism to mask their activities and practiced their worship in secrecy, under the guise of Sun-worshipers, giving reverence to the Greek / Roman deity Apollo, to avoid suspicion among their peers.
During the reign of EMPEROR NERO they were relentlessly persecuted to the point where they nicknamed Nero the Anti-Christ. They also used a coded symbol to acknowledge their fellowship, the Icthys: essentially the original Jesus-fish. Early Christians basically had to set up a speak-easy in the basement just so they could have Bible study.
The Gospels that were left out of the Bible…
The teachings of Christ’s brotherhood spread from Palestine to the far corners of the Roman Empire. In fact, years after these events, a series of books chronicling the life and legend of ‘Joshua, the Carpenter-turned-Prophet’ started to show up all around the Roman Empire, some of these ‘biographies’ were even written by people who claimed to ‘know a guy that knew a guy that had seen Jesus in person, this one time at the market, where he was buying produce’.
There were many Gospels, or witness accounts of Jesus’s life, most of which were told by word of mouth until someone with the resources and knowledge scribed them down on parchment, but the earliest of these is often considered to be the book of Mark which was authored sometime between 65 to 73 CE, followed by Matthew, than Luke, and John, which were all written anywhere ranging from 70-110 CE, comprising the Four Canonical Gospels from the current ‘New Testament’ ….according to multiple sources with conflicting accounts and little credibility that is. Some evidence suggests that Matthew may have predated Mark, but it’s impossible to verify one way or another, but many early versions were recovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls (along with surprisingly different takes on other Biblical stories found in the Old Testament). Unfortunately none of the original documents remain intact, only rewrites, and revisions dating back to the Fourth Century (for reasons I’m about to reveal), HOWEVER these Four were NOT the only Gospels.
There were MANY Gospels, most of which were formed during the 2nd Century AD. These are often referred to as the Gnostic Gospels, or Apocrypha, including but not limited to: The Gospel of James, The Gospel of Peter, The Gospel of the Hebrews, the Gospel of Phillip, and stories of Jesus as a rebellious infant that made Dennis the Menace look like, well… baby Jesus. The Gospel of Mary Magdalene mentions how Peter got jealous, because she was so special and important to Jesus (Mary was not actually a prostitute, that was some smack talking by Pope Gregory ‘the Great’ and some have even speculated that she was Jesus’s wife).
Even Judas (the backstabbing bastard who betrayed Jesus for some coin / drug money) had his own Gospel! The Gospel of Judas was recently discovered after an Egyptian thief found it in a cave and sold it on the Black market where it eventually found its way into the hands of academic scholars from Princeton and Yale who authenticated its authenticity. In fact there’s one account that may even predate Mark, The Gospel of Thomas. The problems came about when some of these so-called ‘first-hand accounts’ started to contradict one another.
Now you may or may not be wondering: ‘why haven’t I hear of these other books, what was it this Council was voting on, and why do I care?!’
Don’t worry kids, I’m getting there.
Monotheism Under Siege
In the Year 66 CE, Jewish Zealots rose up against Roman authority in an insurrection. This rebellion of urban guerrilla warfare held its own against the mighty forces of the Roman Empire for four years until the Roman Legions descended upon Jerusalem in 70 CE and laid siege to the fortified walls of the Holy City, under the command of Titus. Jerusalem fell, the zealots were decimated, their temples burned, and the Jews were forced to flee from their home.
Around the 2nd Century CE, the Roman pantheon of gods (including Jupiter, Mars, Mercury, Venus, etc) was accompanied by worshipers of Mithra, Isis, and others which was totally fine for a time, because polytheists tended to be cool with the concept of other gods, but then came a religion that became… problematic. A new sect of Judaism that arose: Christianity. It was Paul (author of most of the New Testament) who originally brought “The Word” to the Gentiles (non-Jew folk), by basically saying you don’t need to be circumcised, kosher, and Hebrew, you just need to be baptized, celibate and stuff. This early religion began to take root throughout the furthest reaches of Rome’s influence, there were three main factions of Christianity that slowly gained in numbers over the next few centuries, these cultural traditions were: Greco-Roman, Near Eastern / West Asian, and Hebraic, each with their own slightly differing version of Christianity.
The main difference between Christianity and all the rest was that they professed to be the followers of The ONE TRUE GOD and enforced that all other deities were false. This was no more apparent than within the Church of Martyrdom: the Soldiers of Christ who literally waged holy war like the Islamic extremists of today. There are accounts of these early Christian martyrs stirring up trouble just to have themselves made example of. This of course was only a small, but loud faction. They became a group of suicidal, propaganda-spreading, thrill-seekers. These martyrs were fundamentalist believers who would gladly go to the grave in service of the Lord; unfortunately many other innocent Christians paid the price…
One day the Roman Emperor Diocletian randomly decided he was going to destroy monotheism, just because, and so began the Great Persecutions in 303 CE. However, unlike the Jews, these Christians had no kingdom of their own, except for that of Heaven and couldn’t easily be targeted. The Christian martyrs took this as their calling to live Jesus’s example by sacrificing themselves tin the name of their religion. Those that kept their faith a secret in order to survive would later be labeled as traitors.
Diocletian, whom adopted the title ‘Lord and King’ was the son of an emancipated slave from the Balkan-provinces who had worked his way up the ranks in the military. It was during his rule, Diocletian established a new system: the ‘Tetrarch’, which divided imperial powers between four men, two pairs of which would control the East and West halves of the thinly stretched empire.
Under the rule of Diocletian, there was a Roman soldier by the elongated handle of Flavius Valerius Constantius, a Roman Legionnaire. Constantius was a closet-monotheist, he revered ‘Sol Invictus’ the God of the Sun, above all other deities. Anywho, this guy Constantius stopped at the Roman-equivalent of a Motel 8, between fighting barbarian hordes on the frontiers of civilization and riding the long roads home to Rome. It was there where he briefly met (and banged) the Inn Keeper’s daughter, Helena. Nine months later she gave birth to a boy in 274 , Constantine.
Constantine was, by all unbiased historical accounts, not a Christian. He was born and raised in the Roman pagan faith. When Constantine was young, his father, Constantius, married his boss’s daughter (Emperor Maximian’s stepdaughter), Theodora, which ensured his eventual rise. However, others in line for the Emperor’s coveted seat used their own positions to make sure Constantine never lived long enough to inherit the throne in a game of musical chairs after Diocletian stepped down and retired.
It is said that the jealous Galerius often deployed the young Constantine to the front lines of the most insane and hopeless battles where fighting was the hottest, in hopes that he’d be conveniently dispatched by the business end of a barbarian axe. Turns out Constantine was a bit of a badass. He was once ordered to face off against a vicious prisoner of war from the barbarians of the Danube Valley in single-combat.
Another legend says that Constantine was once goaded into wrestling a lion. In both instances Constantine came out on top, presumably covered in the leftovers of his adversaries. Thus Constantine was quickly promoted to Tribune First Class traveling with the imperial entourage. He may not have had impressive test scores, but on the field of battle he dispatched enemies of the empire like a loaded submachine gun. He won campaign after campaign against the Persians along the eastern frontier. Following the demise of his father (Constantius), Constantine was declared Augustus, one of the four Emperors of Rome in his stead.
This one time Emperor Maximian attempted to eliminate his rival by having Constantine’s wife, Fausta, assassinate her husband. When she refused, Maximian himself attempted to perform the deed, but Constantine got the drop on him. When Maximian snuck into Constantine’s bed chamber, blade in hand, ready to strike the man under the sheets, Constantine himself revealed himself behind a curtain. Constantine had the emperor killed under suspicious circumstances. Maximian’s son, Maxentius took his father’s place, and his first act was that of revenge.
So in 312 CE, Emperor Maxentius moved against his brother-in-law: Constantine.
Constantine often sought the patronage of his late father’s God: Sol Invictus for courage and wisdom in the inevitable showdown, but the night before the battle Constantine had a dream or drug-induced vision so random and bizarre he took it as divine intervention. There are several differing accounts of what Constantine saw in the sky the night before the battle, some speculate that it was a symbolic metaphor written into history, or an atmospheric phenomenon, he claims to have seen a cross in the sky according to Eusebius. According to Lactantius Jesus himself appeared before Constantine in a dream and told him to mark his soldiers shields with His symbol, and told him “In this Sign Conquer!” That symbol was not actually the cross, but the Chi-Rho (basically a P-X) which doubled as the emblem of the Christian God, and the Greek word Chreston meaning ‘Good’.
Clash of the Emperors
It was October 28th, 312 that would go down in history as the Battle of Milvian Bridge where the two armies clashed in Civil War. Constantine’s forces completely destroyed Maxentius’s, but not so much divine intervention as superior military tactics and stupidity on the part of the opposing forces. Constantine launched his cavalry and broke the line and followed it up by an advancement of infantry. Max ordered a retreat back to Rome to regroup, but they had their backs up against the Tiber river.
Max’s men clustered around the only escape route: Milvian Bridge, while Constantine’s forces picked them off. The crowded mob of retreating soldiers caused the stone bridge to collapse under the weight taking Maxentius himself with it. Those that didn’t stand and fight drowned in the river along with their emperor. To further put insult to injury Constantine had Maxentius’s body fished out of the Tiber, he then lobbed off his head, placed it on a stake, and then had it paraded around Rome along with the Chi-Rho. Constantine was victorious, and the Christians saw it as a sign from God.
Constantine immediately started to rewrite history by making Maxentius look like a tyrant while making himself out to be a liberator. Then in true Roman-style he had all opposition and potential threats to his seat of power eliminated. After defeating the armies of Licinius and Martinianus, they surrendered so that their lives would be spared. Constantine went back on his word and had them murdered, and thus becoming the sole ruler of the Roman Empire. Constantine himself now felt like perhaps there was something to this Christian God, rather than attributing his success to incredible luck.
In 313 CE Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan which proclaimed religious toleration in the West. For the first time ever Christianity was a legitimate faith along with polytheism, and mysticism. What started out as a minor cult of followers would soon become the official faith of the masses, but there was a minor problem, the Christians didn’t all believe the same thing, and therefore conflicts arouse, further threatening to destabilize the West. Some took to violence over the smallest details, there are accounts of violent attacks, and burned down churches in the name of “The True Faith”. After a while, Constantine got tired of all the bickering, and decided to end the debate once and for all by holding a convention of philosophers and bishops to come and argue it out till they were blue in the face.
The Council Debates
The year was 325 CE. The place: Nicaea.
What was it these men had traveled from the far corners of the world to vote on?
To sum it up simply, they were deciding once and for all whether Jesus was God, or the Son of God, or um both…
The Council of Nicaea was later followed up by several Ecumenical Councils, the Councils of Constantinople and a Second Nicene Council. It was also at these unprecedented meetings where politicians of the Roman Empire decided on what to include and what not to include in THE BIBLE. Jerome was the guy who was tasked with translating all the biblical books into Latin. For many years after, the Bible was only to be read by the officials of the Catholic Church, until Martin Luther kick-started the Protestant Reformation had the Bible published for the illiterate masses in 1534 with the advancement of the printing press. The King James Version of the Bible was commissioned by the Church of England and completed in 1611 prior to the 30 Years War. The King James Bible might be the most widely accepted translation today, but is often considered to be the least accurate.
One of the main points of debate at Nicaea became what was Orthodox and what was heretical. The term heresy actually comes from the Greek word ‘choice’, the Roman Catholics on the other hand have since adopted the word to mean ‘the wrong choice’. Constantine wanted the Christians to establish a Dogmatic creed that would trump all others as Cannon, a solidified concrete Truth that could not be challenged. Arius and (Saint) Alexander argued over whether or not Christ was a divinely-inspired man, or God himself. It might as well have been a boxing match, or the flip of a coin that decided the outcome.
In the end the vote favored Alexander. Arius and the Arians were exiled, and those who did not convert were killed. Any and all Gnostic Gospels were destroyed. It was during this time that the concept of Original Sin was also first invented, and was accepted as official doctrine which led to a trend of misogyny originating from the believe that Eve (and therefore all women) was to blame for the evils of the world. A guy named Saint Augustine would later preach at length about how it was God’s Fail to create women in the first place. Augustine also rejected the notion of free will. Augustine was kind of a douche. These guys argued over everything down to when Easter should be celebrated, you know the finer points of theology: holidays.
The Council also eliminated many of the Gospels that blatantly contradicted one another. I imagine it was sort of like sorting through the entire timeline of Marvel comics history and figuring out what counted and what didn’t. The Gospel of Thomas for instance was rejected in place of The Gospel of John because it had shown Jesus Christ in a more human light, and quoted Jesus as explaining that everyone had a spark of divinity in them. This was not a message the Church agreed with.
The Virgin Birth was also established as a fact (without any actual evidence to support it). The Gospel of Mark originally didn’t have the resurrection story in it, and many books in the Old Testament were altered to fit in with the New and Improved Testament. None of these intangible theological concepts could be proven seeing as they were spiritual faith-based notions, but whatever was decided at this meeting would be put into law for all time whether it was right or wrong.
Science hadn’t been invented yet.
The Trinity is created.
The first draft of the Nicene Creed that was established was a simple statement, but held so many connotations. It was later elaborated on. The Creed states what one had to believe in order to be considered a Christian. Most of the document focuses on Jesus being both the Son of God and of the substance of God, fully human, and fully divine (200%?). Almost as an after thought, the last line of the creed states “And in the Holy Ghost” as if it was tacked on at the last second.
The Council of Nicaea is essentially the Secret Origin of the Catholic Church, and by extension modern Christianity as we know it. The many Protestant Religions: Anglicans, Baptists, Mormons, Seventh Day Adventists, Puritans, Quakers, and hell even Unitarians and Universalists (predecessors of the Unitarian-Universalist movement) can trace their spiritual lineage back to this one event (except the Unitarians were the ones that were exiled after the establishment of the Nicene Creed, because they rejected the notion of the Trinity). Before Emperor Constantine established Christianity as the new and improved official religion of the Empire, he had to edit it, and unify the various Christian sects (and Pagans) under one unified (official) belief in Jesus as an integral part of The Holy Trinity: The Father, The Son, and The Holy Ghost. Not to be confused with the Triforce of Hyrulian lore (see: “The Legend of Zelda – Ocarina of Time”).
Following the establishment of the Nicene Creed, Constantine had many pagan temples converted into Catholic Churches. Constantine went on to have his son put to death and then his own wife out of sheer paranoia. Constantine then decided to reestablish the Roman capitol at Byzantium (a former Greek colony) in the east where he founded ‘Nova-Roma’ what would come to be known as the City of Constantinople in 330 CE (later known as Istanbul under the Ottoman Empire). Constantinople was situated between Europe and Asia which worked as a perfect location for trade routes, but a terrible location for a central capitol seeing as Rome itself was the center of the Roman Empire. This move would later be one of the main reasons behind the eventual collapse of Rome itself in 476 CE. The collapse of Rome was the catalyst for the dark ages that followed, and much of the information that was lost during this time was a result of the Church reinforcing the dogma established at the Council of Nicaea.
You see the fallout of establishing a state-enforced-faith-based-belief in which you are right and all others are inherently wrong has some surprising ramifications which have echoed throughout history, even affecting modern day events. All records of anything that could possibly contradict the Council’s officially sanctioned opinion were burned, including key historical documents and artifacts from ancient civilizations that have been irrevocably lost to time. Even if someone (like Galileo for instance) later discovered evidence of an infallible truth that didn’t conveniently fit in with their world view they simply wrote it off and would often convict philosophers and scientists of heresy. As a result many a “witch” was burned at the stake throughout the Middle Ages. Witch hunts were a tradition carried on by the paranoid Puritans of Salem.
This was also Pope Urban II’s justification behind a little pilgrimage to Jerusalem known as THE CRUSADES! (A series of failed military campaigns in the name of Christ, sparking a conflict that would rage for a couple hundred years with disastrous effects lasting for hundreds more, causing a rifts between the three major monotheistic religions of the world.)
Emperor Constantine (the ‘Great’) died in 337 after finally becoming baptized as a Christian on his deathbed, hoping to absolve his life of sin, just in case. Constantine was succeeded by his sons who had all converted to Christianity, inciting a trend for most of the Emperors and Senators who followed in their footsteps. Emperor Theodosius I of the Byzantium Empire reigned from 379-395 and issued the Edict of Thessalonica which established Nicene Trinitarian Christianity as the official State-sponsored religion of the Roman Empire and outlawed any and all other forms of worship, punishable by death. The tables had flipped. Theodosius also authorized the destruction of Pagan temples, and outlawed the Olympic games of Greece in 393 for good measure (this hiatus was ended in 1896 — and I thought waiting 4 years was bad enough). To put further insult to injury, THE Academy of Athens (founded by Plato in 387 BCE) was later shut down by another dick head, Emperor Justinian I in 529 CE, with similar justifications.
The Church once again schismed into two halves: East and West. The Catholic Church of the West in Rome, and the Eastern Orthodox Church in Byzantium. The Popes were the political leaders of Rome and excommunicated the religious leaders of Byzantium / Constantinople and vice-versa (“God’s on my side!” “No, God’s on my side!” “You’re a stupid head.” “Yeah!? Well, you’re not my friend anymore.”). The Catholic Church would eventually obtain very real political power over the government when it was established as the Holy Roman Empire in 962 until 1806. During its reign, the Holy Roman Empire would go onto massacre countless during The Crusades and then followed it up with the Spanish Inquisition, which was about as much fun as getting interrogated by a Bond villain with a penchant for scrotum-slicing laser beams.
So now that we’ve examined the evidence…
This is one of the best examples of how the road to Hell is indeed paved with good intentions.
A religion based on compassion and love went from being the faith of a small persecuted band of monks to an excuse for an intimidating empire to relentlessly persecute and manipulate others, and it’s all thanks to a greedy jerk named Constantine. There’s evidence to support that more evil has been done in the name of religion than good in the aftermath of the Nicene Creed. The Council of Nicaea was established to bring order to the chaos and in so doing brought about the catalyst that plunged all of Europe into an Age of Darkness that lasted well over a thousand years.
Check out some related articles on EpikFAILs.com
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“Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas” by: Elaine Pagels
“A History of God” by Karen Armstrong
“God Against the Gods” by Jonathan Kirsch
“Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years” by Diarmaid MacCulloch
“Constantine: Roman Emperor, Christian Victor” by Paul Stephenson
“The Gospel of Judas”