The Council of Nicaea and the Bible
(Some excellent material from a netfriend, Roger Pearse):
There seem to be a number of legends about the First Council of Nicaea (325AD) in circulation on the internet, presented as fact. Some people seem to think that the council, which was the first council of all the Bishops of the Christian Church, either invented the New Testament, or edited it to remove references to reincarnation (or whatever) or burned large numbers of heretical works, or whatever. These are in error. This page documents the problem and provides links to all the ancient source material in order to allow everyone to check the truth for themselves.
Here’s my first example, from usenet:
In tracing the origin of the Bible, one is led to AD 325, when Constantine the Great called the First Council of Nicaea, composed of 300 religious leaders. Three centuries after Jesus lived, this council was given the task of separating divinely inspired writings from those of questionable origin.
The actual compilation of the Bible was an incredibly complicated project that involved churchmen of many varying beliefs, in an atmosphere of dissension, jealousy, intolerance, persecution and bigotry.
At this time, the question of the divinity of Jesus had split the church into two factions. Constantine offered to make the little-known Christian sect the official state religion if the Christians would settle their differences. Apparently, he didn’t particularly care what they believed in as long as they agreed upon a belief. By compiling a book of sacred writings, Constantine thought that the book would give authority to the new church. Here’s a second version of the same idea:
The references in the Christian religion of reincarnation, I am told, were removed by the Council of Nicea. (See Note A)Here’s a third version of this idea:
Also, we do know that there were many books of supposed prophets floating around up until 312 CE when the Council of Nicea decided which books were scripture and which ones were burned. Thanks to the notorious habit of early Christian leaders of destroying books/scrolls, we may never know what doctrine existed before the Council of Nicea.
And another even more extreme example:
Christianity consisted of many sects. By converting Constantine (The Great) the Paul heresy triumphed as the concept of trinity and the ending of the Mosaic law (which made swine flesh permissible) brought this version of Christianity very close to the Hellenic paganism that was practiced in Rome and Greece. At Nicea Constantine had 300 versions of the Bible burnt, thus legitimising and patronizing only the Paulic heresy.
And another (I’m not making any of these up):
Actually, legend has it that at the Council of Nicea, Constantine was unsure of what else to include as a holy scripture (which later the batch became the Bible). He threw the batch that he was to choose from onto a table. Those that remained on the table were in, those that fell off were out. (See Note B)
The most common source of the misinformation at the moment is the Da Vinci code:
A new version of the story (June 2001), which also includes a very confused version of the ‘Secret Mark’ theory of Morton Smith (not 480, obviously):
There are one or two places where there is evidence of which is ‘right’, the most famous example perhaps being the account of the raising of Lazarus which was removed from Mark on the instructions of the Council of Nicea as it hat overtones of a ‘mystery cult’.
[source queried – answer:]
If you could give me a couple of days, I could probably dig out the entire text, which was contained in a letter sent in 480 by the Bishop of Alexandria to one of his underlings; who was involved it trying to stamp out a group of ‘Heretics’ who were still using the original version. And another:
The Roman Catholic Church created the canon of Christian scripture at the Council of Nicea, at the same time that they determined the doctrine of Trinity (through the assasination of a few of the voting bishops, by one vote). (See Note D)And the legend reappears in the Da Vinci Code.
These all sound individually quite confident and authoritative. But how do we find out if they are true? The answer must be to assemble all the primary data; any documents issued by the council, and any ancient accounts of its proceedings.
Documents Issued by the Council
The 318 bishops issued a creed (Symbolum), 20 canons, and a letter to the church of Alexandria. An English translation of these is available from http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/3801.htm