Constantine and the Council of Nicaea: Defining Orthodoxy and Heresy in Christianity, 325 CE

Reacting Consortium Press | Now Available | ISBN 978-1-4696-3141-7

Constantine and the Council of Nicaea plunges students into the theological debates confronting early Christian Church leaders. Emperor Constantine has just sanctioned Christianity as a legitmate religion within the Roman Empire, but now discovers that Christians do not agree on the most fundamental aspects of their beliefs. Some Christians have resorted to violence, battling over which group has the correct theology. Constantine is outraged that he has to settle what he regards as petty disputes between factions. Hoping to settle these problems at a great Church Council to be held in Nicaea, Constantine has invited all of the Bishops of the Church to attend. The outcome of this conference will shape the future of Christianity for millennia. The first order of business is to agree on a Creed which states the core theology of the Church and to which all future Christians will have to subscribe if they are to be regarded as holding to the ”true faith.” Those who will reject the Nicaean Creed will be deemed heretical and subject to discipline or even exclusion from the Church. The basic questions to be decided include: Who or what was Jesus and what was his relationship to God? How should the Church be organized? What should be the rules of behavior for its leaders? What is the role of women in the Church? Some will attempt to use this creed to continue their battles and to exclude their enemies from the Church. If they succeed, Constantine may fail to achieve his goal of unity in both empire and Church. He will do everything in his power to assure that agreement is reached, but, given the animosity between the factions, he will need all of the skills which allowed him to become sole Emperor. The debate over theology is informed by reading about the various theological positions of the time using Bart Ehrman’s Lost Christianities and readings from a range of non-canonical Christian texts including the Gospel of Thomas.

About the Authors:

David E. Henderson is Professor of Chemistry at Trinity College and a founding member of the Environmental Science Program at Trinity. He has a wide range of interests including environmental protection and the history of religion. His research has included studies of acid precipitation and its effects on stream chemistry. He is author of two other Reacting games, Acid Rain in Europe, 1979-1989 and Evolution in Kansas, 1999. Frank Kirkpatrick is Ellsworth Morton Tracy Lecturer and Professor of Religion at Trinity College. He teaches Christian social ethics and philosophical theology, the history of Christian thought, and the philosophy of religion.