One of the greatest wars of all times was fought with pens and speeches, councils, ridicule and exile. It was the battle to define the central doctrine of Christianity: who Christ is in relation to God the Father. The battles raged for most of the fourth century.
Arius claimed that Christ was a created being. "There is a time when Christ was not," he said. This view became known as Arianism. The council of Nicea rejected it. Christ is of the same substance and essence as God the Father; in other words, Christ is God, said the delegates.
Arius had gained a strong following. Although the Emperor Constantine had supported the creed of Nicea while he lived, some of his successors did not. They fell under the spell of Arian advisors. Arians appointed their own bishops throughout the empire and so Arianism maintained a strong footing.
However, there were many voices raised for unity. They felt that the empire could tear itself apart over theology. As crazy as it may sound, theologians tried to work out formulas which would satisfy both sides. Logically, Christ either is truly God who took on the form of a man, or he is a created being. If he is "almost God" or some other in-between being, then he is not God, but a created being. The formulas tried to get around this with vague wording.
One attempt at compromise took place on this day, May 22, 359 at Sirmium in the eastern empire. A council which did not represent the entire church, consisting mostly of a number of Bishops who leaned toward Arianism, issued a creed. While on the surface it condemned Arianism, it objected to the Creed of Nicea for saying that Christ was of the same essence as God the Father. Christ, said this new creed, was begotten of the Father--but how or when we do not know. Jesus is only like God, it said.
However, the writers of the creed made a tactical mistake. In their preface, they stated "The Catholic [Universal] Faith was published ... on May 22." This opened them to ridicule. The faith had already been around for three centuries. Those who favored the Nicean creed with its clear statement of Christ's divinity, heaped ridicule on the creed, nicknaming it the "Dated Creed." That is the name it goes by to this day.
Pressures for unity were great, starting with the emperor on down. And so churches east and west signed on to the new creed, although some made changes in its wording first. On the whole, the Dated Creed wasn't much different than the Nicean creed, except in a few lines. However, the Dated Creed did not stand. Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, and other pro-Nicean theologians refused to accept any compromise that made the Son less than equal to God the Father. Later church councils settled the matter once again in favor of the divinity of Christ.
In the end orthodox logic won: As someone has remarked, God the Father could not be eternally a Father unless God the Son were eternally a Son.
- Chapman, John. "Semiarians and Semiarianism." The Catholic Encyclopedia. New Yrok: Robert Appleton, 1914.
- "Introduction to de Synodis." http://www.ccel.org/fathers2/NPNF2-04/ Npnf2-04-63.htm
- Steenberg, M. "A World Full of Arians; A study of the Arian debate and the Trinitarian Controversy from AD 360-380." http://www.monachos.net/patristics/ arians_360-380.shtml
- "Various Christologies. Part c. An Attempted Compromise. The 'Dated Creed', 353." [sic] http://www.bu.edu/religion/courses/ syllabi/rn301/creeds.htm
- Other internet articles.
Lasst updated July, 2007