The Council of Nicaea

Statue de Constantin Ier, Musée du Capitole, Rome

The Council of Nicaea is a major event that cannot be left out when talking about church history. The Council of Nicaea was a world-wide religious conference convened by the Roman Emperor in 3131), after Christianity was recognized in the Roman Empire. The council venue was the city of Nicaea of Bithynia, Asia Minor (currently Iznik in Turkey). It was held twice. The first council was held in 325, and the second council2) was held in 787. The purpose of the meeting was to organize Christian doctrine.

16th-century fresco depicting the Council of Nicaea

The discussion about the Passover took place at the first council of Nicaea.

Roman Emperor Constantine convened the first meeting at his palace in May-June of 325 A.D. Emperor Constantine invited approximately 1800 bishops from the Eastern and Western churches of the empire but only 250-318 bishops participated. The goal of Constantine was to end the on-going conflicts between the Eastern and Western churches, unify the Christian churches doctrines and stabilize the empire.

Two major issues were introduced which were the on-going controversial debates between the Eastern and Western churches.

One major issue was the ‘Paschal Controversy’. At that time, the Western church, which centered on Rome, had a custom of observing the Passover Holy Communion on Easter. The Roman Church was displeased with the Eastern Church observing the Passover Holy Communion on the 14th day of the month of Nisan and wanted to unify the day for observing the Passover.

The other issue was the ‘Arian controversy'. The Arian controversy arose from Arius, a presbyter (an elder) of Alexandria, Egypt, who insisted that Jesus is not God but just a creature and not an eternal being. His insistence gave rise to intense controversy.

Following the two-month council, Constantine decided the Holy Communion was to be observed on Easter Sunday by siding with the Western Church. The date of Easter was changed to ‘the first Sunday after the vernal equinox (full moon) just as the Western church had insisted. Although it was difficult in itself to calculate the date according to the moon's cycle every year, because the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were abolished, was what made it impossible to observe Resurrection Day as appointed in the Bible.

About the year 190 the question regarding the proper day for celebrating Easter was agitated in the East, and referred to Pope St. Victor I. The Eastern Church generally celebrated Easter on the day on which the Jews kept the Passover, while in the West it was observed then, as it is now, on the first Sunday after the full moon of the vernal equinox.3)

Another controversial issue, the Arian controversy, concluded with Arius being formally excommunicated and exiled. At the time, the ‘Symbloum Nicaenum’ (the Nicene Creed) contained the faith of the ‘Trinity’ that is God the Father, God the Son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit were of one substance.

After the First Council of Nicaea, those who observed the Passover were called ‘Quartodeciman’ (Quartodecimanism) and branded as heretics. Over time, Passover and Easter [Passover and Resurrection Day|Passover and Easter] were considered as the same day. This is why is it ironic that Christians are unfamiliar with the Passover, the greatest feast in the Bible.


2)
The Second Council of Nicaea was convened in 787 by Empress Irene II, who was in control of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine empire). It was the second meeting in Nicaea, but the seventh meeting for the council. At this meeting, it was decided to ban the destruction of holy images and to restore the tradition of worshipping holy images.
3)
The Faith of our Fathers, Catholic Publishing House, ISBN-13: 978-0895551580