Thursday, April 23, 2009

Council of Nicaea

Last Shabbat, my good friend Sarah got into a “heated debate” with her mother and brother over the Council of Nicaea. At the time, I was completely lost and hating that feeling, I spent the weekend educating myself.

Here’s what I learned:

The First Council of Nicaea has some weird stories moving around it. The most common one being that during the time of this Council they mucked about with the books of the Bible, adding things, editing things and generally moving things around as they please. I was intrigued by this idea of man manipulating faith, and decided to hit the books.

The first thing I did was find English translations of historical writings dating from the period of the Council. You can find them on this page (scroll down until you reach the Historia Ecclesia). I found that lots of cool people were around that time, writing about the Council. Like Socrates, for example. I found that all the writings went along with the letter that the Council wrote when they first began the meeting.

Here’s what they did at the Council: they set up a lot of rules (my favorites have to do with castrated priests and standing while praying), set up Easter and kick this guy Arius out of the Church.

Arius and his followers, the Arians, believed that Yeshua (Jesus) wasn’t with God in the beginning. He was just born and was pretty dang cool, maybe a bit cool than the other prophets, and that’s it. This idea didn’t swing with the Church, to say the least, and he was found a heretic.

The first mention of any changes being made comes from a preface in the Book of Judith inside of Jerome’s Latin Bible. The interesting point is, Jerome didn’t write his Latin Bible until years after the Council, and wasn’t even present.

So, where does this rumor come from?

Well, six years after the First Council of Nicaea, Constantine ordered fifty Bibles to be drawn up for the use of the Churches. He wanted this Bible to please both the Pagans and the Christians, perhaps hoping to unite the people of his kingdom. For this task he called upon Eusebius.

Eusebius was a fan of this guy called Origen who believed in the truthfulness of the Apocrypha. He used Origen’s letters and commentaries to help him put together the fifty Bibles. Two of these Bibles survive today, the Codex Vaticinus and the Codex Sinaius. They both use the Apocrypha as part of the whole and have some verses and chapters omitted.

Perhaps this is where the rumor starts? Perhaps where people begin to question the fullness of the Bible? Really, we’ll never know for certain. Far too much information has been lost. If you are interested in what I believe, then I believe that God is perfectly capable of making it so the books he wants us to read available. I think that, at the moment, the Apocrypha are wonderful accompaniment pieces to the Bible, and bring more meaning to other texts. Are the God-inspired, though? I don’t know.

Whether you believe the Apocrypha to be God-inspired or not I don’t think matters terribly, because all of us are trying to reach the same goal of living a Christ-like life.

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