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Who Actually Attended Nicaea?

September 8, 2010

Earlier this week I needed to track down a certain person to determine whether or not he attended the Council of Nicaea in 325. I wasn’t sure where to find this information, and so someone pointed me to a book that contains all the relevant evidence. I thought it might be useful to list it here in case someone else is asking the same question. Apparently there are different lists of the attendees that are extant in Latin, Greek, Coptic, Syriac, Arabic, and Armenian, and all of the lists do not exactly coincide. All of these lists have been helpfully drawn together in one place in Heinrich Gelzer, Heinrich Hilgenfeld, and Otto Cuntz, eds., Patrum Nicaenorum Nomina (Stuttgart and Leipzig: Teubner, 1995). I was surprised to find that in the back of the volume there is a map showing where everyone was from. The most striking thing about the map is that it shows nearly all of the attendees as being from the Eastern part of the Roman Empire. The representation at Nicaea (a supposedly ‘ecumenical’ council!) seems to have been overwhelmingly eastern.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. Gabe permalink
    September 8, 2010 2:36 pm

    Interesting find! What are your thoughts now after finding this out? Could it be similar to a courtroom having a biased jury???



    • Matthew Crawford permalink
      September 8, 2010 4:13 pm

      I’m not sure what you mean. If you mean that those at the council were biased in favor of Athanasius and his theology (actually it would have been Alexander his bishop), that’s probably incorrect. If anything it would have been the other way around. Athanasius’ biggest supporters (outside of Egypt) were mostly in the West, and it was the easterners who later met at Tyre in 335 and deposed him. The fourth century is an incredibly complex time, with a swirling mix of politics, personalities, and theology. Some of those commonly considered ‘western’ were actually in the East, and vice versa, so we do have to be careful about overly pitting ‘East’ versus ‘West’. At any rate, I think we should judge the merit of the council by the theology it produced rather than by the politics and other factors that undoubtedly went into its judgment.

    • Matthew Crawford permalink
      September 8, 2010 4:16 pm

      One other important point is that this ‘ecumenical’ council was also restricted to the confines of the Roman Empire. Those Christians who lived to the East, beyond the borders of the Empire were not represented at the council and did not ratify the decision of Nicaea until nearly a century later at their own council.

  2. September 8, 2010 8:13 pm

    I’ve heard Nikolaos of Myra (St. Nickolas, aka Santa Claus) was at Nicea.

    • Matthew Crawford permalink
      September 10, 2010 5:25 am

      I just checked and his name shows up in the Greek list from the Vatican as well as in an Arabic list. Still, I’m not sure that the story of him punching Arius is true! It makes for a fun picture though.

      • November 29, 2011 10:00 am

        Matt, is there a book that you could reference in a post on Nicholas getting in a skirmish with Arius? That’d be an interesting post!

      • November 29, 2011 1:00 pm

        Adam, I wish I knew of one, but I’ve never seen this mentioned in print. I’ve only heard it referenced as a story in lectures. If you find one, let me know!

  3. Gabe permalink
    September 9, 2010 10:41 am

    Thanks for the response, that clears things up. At first I thought you may be questioning whether or not there was sufficient representation of the different theological views at Nicea. The formation of the canon at Nicea is an issue that troubled me a little in New Testament when I was at Southern Seminary, so the topic still interests me.



  4. September 9, 2010 10:59 am

    Hmm, very interesting source. I’m hoping you follow up on this with more Nicaea posts, Matt!


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