Jolly Old St. Nicholas ... at the Council of Nicaea


From Fr. Joel Daniels:

It is sometimes forgotten that the Bishop of Myra, jolly old St. Nick himself, was present at the Council of Nicaea (A.D. 325), in which the doctrine of homoousios - that Jesus is of the same substance as the Father - was affirmed. The inestimable Ben Myers, however, has gifted us with A Christmas Carol about St. Nicholas, the Arians, and the Nicene Creed , set to the tune of Jingle Bells, to remedy this occasional oversight. (Ben’s ὁμοούσιον Πατρί is Greek for “same substance of the Father”; φως ἐκ φωτός is “light from light.”)

(Phil) #2

Thanks! In case anyone wants a little basic history on this stuff, here is an informative condensed history:

(John Dalton) #3

I read this recently after I think @RLBailey mentioned it. A very interesting history.


More from Fr.Joel Daniels:

After the Christmas Carol featuring St. Nick, Arius, etc. people sent him other gems, including this:

Mary had a little lamb,
Eternally begot.
For contra Arius, there was
No time when he was not.

and this Comic Strip , in rhyming couplets, about St. Nicholas’s visit to Nicaea.

Says Joel,

The authors of the latter are to be commended for their linguistic facility in, for example, rhyming “conclusion” and “homoousion” (“of the same substance”). The authors also make reference to a legend that an outraged St. Nicholas punched Arius at the Council of Nicaea, illustrated in the image above. [It’s below in this post]. This is almost certainly not true; Arius was not a bishop so it is unlikely that he was at the council. Nonetheless, it makes the important point that our Christmas celebrations only matter if Jesus of Nazareth is God incarnate. He was, and he is. Veni, Veni, Emmanuel.

(George Brooks) #5

This is exactly where Christianity took the wrong turn … leading to most of the negative aspects of established religion:

"The Council of Nicaea (AD 325)
The major heresy that brought about the calling of the first Church council was Arianism. Arius did not attend the Council; he was [not] a bishop. He was a Presbyter in Alexandria who strongly disagreed with the prevailing theological views of the Egyptian church. He taught that Christ was indeed the highest of the Father’s creation and that the Father had created all things through the Son and that the Son shared in the glory of the Father, but the Son was not equal to the Father—he did not share in the Father’s eternal nature. The catch phrase of Arians was, “There was a time when the Son was not!”

The Orthodox position coined their own catch phrase: “There never was a time when the Son was not!” The point—Jesus Christ was co-eternal with the Father. After much debate at the council of Nicaea, the council backed the views of Athanasius who argued that Jesus was “homoousis” (of the same being) with the Father, and rejected the views of Arius who argued that Jesus was “homoiousis” (of like being) with the Father."

Ultimately, the Church established the “Ten Pounds in a Five Pound Sack” rule: Jesus was both mortal and divine at the same time, with two different natures wholly in effect, but shared 100% as well. Is this even a knowable thing? And it becomes the basis for all sorts of other arguable aspects. So it is not surprising that The Trinity is also described with some wild specifics:

"In the fourth century, Arius, as traditionally understood,[note 1] taught that the Father existed prior to the Son who was not, by nature, God but rather a changeable creature who was granted the dignity of becoming “Son of God”. In 325, the Council of Nicaea adopted the Nicene Creed which described Christ as “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father”. The creed used the term homoousios (of one substance) to define the relationship between the Father and the Son. After more than fifty years of debate, homoousios was recognised as the hallmark of orthodoxy, and was further developed into the formula of “three persons, one being”.

Even when another council actually comes up with the right solution … it is not upheld:

“The third Council of Sirmium, in 357, was the high point of Arianism [well, actually, the high point of trying to avoid either position!]. The Seventh Arian Confession (Second Sirmium Confession) held that both homoousios (of one substance) and homoiousios (of similar substance) were unbiblical and that the Father is greater than the Son. (This confession was later known as the Blasphemy of Sirmium).”

“But since many persons are disturbed by questions concerning what is called in Latin substantia, but in Greek ousia, that is, to make it understood more exactly, as to ‘coessential,’ or what is called, ‘like-in-essence,’ there ought to be no mention of any of these at all, nor exposition of them in the Church, for this reason and for this consideration, that in divine Scripture nothing is written about them, and that they are above men’s knowledge and above men’s understanding…”

If the line could have been held right there … “that in divine Scripture nothing is written about them, and that they are above men’s knowledge and above men’s understanding …” think of the good that might have been accomplished.

It would be like destroying the church over the issue of whether angels occupied space or not. Can you have a million angels occupy the period at the end of this sentence? Or is there only room for One? Can you imagine destroying property and people based on such a dispute?

(George Brooks) #6

A reconstruction of the real face of Nicholas:


A fair treatment on the real Nicholas:



Arius was never a bishop so it is unlikely that he was at the council.


So we’re getting theology from Wikipedia.

(George Brooks) #9

I would say “ouch” … but this error was not from Wikipedia… but from an article I was reading and forgot to cite! Posted just this past December 14, 2017:

Resurrecting Orthodoxy by Joel Edmund Anderson

Getting a Handle on the Early Church Councils (Part 1): Heresies, Nicea, and Constantinople.

Indeed. He was no bishop. According to the Biographical Dictionary of Christian Theologians (edited by Patrick W. Carey, Joseph T. Lienhard), he was a Presbyter (early term for Priest?) in Alexandria, getting his position from a schismatic Bishop named Meletius.

I have passed on the correction to Mr. Joel Edmund Anderson.

Not only was Arius not a Bishop, but he was in Exile as well… which would make it difficult to attend the popular council breakfasts, let alone the main meetings.

As soon as I read your correction, it made the cartoon of Nicholas punching Arius in the nose at the Council even more hilarious than I had realized!


Edit Note:
I got the word to the original author about the error regarding Arius; he was grateful to have an opportunity to correct that. I have made the necessary corrections in the post above.


Please explain…what exactly is the point where Christianity took the wrong turn? And what is the most negative aspect of established religion?

(George Brooks) #11


The wrong turn, I would claim, was starting to argue over things like the substance of Jesus. It’s like having a drunk philosopher professor start a fight between two freshmen on whether ghosts can move material objects or not… and to do it based on words … not natural evidence.

It’s all conjecture.

As to the arguable point whether this is the most negative aspect of established religion (or, in this case, specifically Christianity)… I suppose mileage can vary.

But if you send someone into exile over such a point, I think someone’s taking things just a bit too seriously… What’s next? Burning people at the stake for how they conceive of the afterlife? That would be majorly lame, right ?


Discussing theology is never a waste of time, especially discussing Jesus, the founder of the Christian faith. It was important because Arius was convincing people that Jesus was not God. The creeds were based on Scripture, prayer, and reflection. I agree that exile was too harsh. Simply labeling his teaching as bullsh*t heresy would have sufficed.

(George Brooks) #13

If I were to argue that Jesus didn’t have hair on his arms… and someone else argued that he did … how much time would you say we could have before you would say “beyond this point it’s a waste of time”?

Or … if this is too silly an example, we always have the the topic of whether angels occupied volume or not … what do you think? How many angels do you think could stand on your laptop?


The nature of Jesus as a topic of serious discussion cannot be compared with the your hairy arms example. The nature of Jesus is of supreme importance to mainstream Christians. If you don’t think it’s important, so be it. But you seem to think it’s important to say that God guides evolution by hurling asteroids at earth (which isn’t really guiding at all) and by firing cosmic rays at our gametes (sperm and ova). You’ve said it multiple times on these boards.

(George Brooks) #15


I don’t know if I would have been willing to offer these thoughts on God’s behavior if I was surrounded by people who thought it was logically impossible for God to do these things. Zeus has lightning bolts in his hands. Do you doubt that God could throw an asteroid? Secondly, if throwing an asteroid is not guiding, what would it be? Are you saying God has a terrible fast ball, with lousy aim? Thirdly, the guiding was never so much about the asteroid as it was about shaping the ecosystems on Earth. By hurling an asteroid at the Yucatan Peninsula, God shaped the ecosystems that shaped the gene pools of all of Earth’s life.

Even if one rejected Evolutionary theory, would that person reject the idea that the asteroid hit the Earth because of God’s design?

In short, is this really the same category of discussion or of speculating as those who went into exile for saying that Jesus did or didn’t have two 5 pound bags of ingredients, even though the body of Jesus only had room for one 5 pound bag?