Book Plunge: Decoding Nicea

What do I think of Paul Pavao’s self-published book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

The Council of Nicea and Constantine. These are two subjects where we have a lot of heat and very little light. Look at a work such as The Da Vinci Code and you’ll find nonsense on there such as that the deity of Christ was decided at Nicea by a very close vote. One lady online told me that she abandoned Christianity when she found out the canon was decided at the Council and proceeded to send me a link that said that that was actually a great myth about the Council.

Paul Pavao has a book to help deal with this. A good benefit of his book is at the start, he’s not just trying to tell the facts about Nicea. He wants you to know how the facts are known. As he says:

You don’t have to wonder about what is being said in this book. You can look up every reference I give. There are not any other primary sources. Everything else said about the Council of Nicea that is not from these sources is speculation or wishful thinking.

He does just this. The book is heavily filled with endnotes. He does look at the debate at Nicea and points out it could be more accurately said that it was about what the Son of God was made of, what is His substance. Much was agreed on at the Council, but what was disagreed on was sure substantial.

This book also includes looking at several references in the church fathers to see what they had to say about the deity of Christ before Nicea. It’s easy to see that there were no innovations at the meeting. The appendices are filled with several historical documents as well.

As it goes into church history, there are looks at other questions as well. One such question I liked is the one on the Sabbath, though I wish there had been more on this. The SDA church lists several claims about the RCC supposedly admitting that they changed the date of the Sabbath. Perhaps that was out of the scope of the book though.

There is rather substantial pushback to RCC claims about the Pope. It would be interesting to see some members of the RCC respond to this. I as a Protestant agree with the claims and am skeptical of many of the claims my Catholic and Orthodox friends make about church history.

I also like the response to the idea that Constantine tried to destroy all the Gnostic writings. As Pavao says:

If Constantine was unable to succeed in extinguishing the memory and writings of Arius, just one man, do we really believe that he destroyed all the gnostic writings and there’s no record of his even trying?

What about the canon? Yep. Nothing to do with Nicea. There is an appendix with the canon lists from church history in the back. I do have some pushback here as I don’t think the Muratorian Canon really dates to the time it’s said to date to and is really a forgery.

Pavao also stresses that it’s a shame that Christians got so violent over the question of Nicea. We spent years working on our doctrine, which we should, but we didn’t spend so much time looking at our practice. Sadly, today we are still in the same boat. While we weren’t killing each other, remember the problems from the Inerrancy wars in the past decade? I am not opposed to Christian debate as we should have that, but too often we are ready to shoot our own instead of going after our own common enemies.

That is another great benefit of the book. The work is not only meant to help clear up myths about Nicea, which it does a great job of, but it also is meant to tell us how we should better live as Christians. Not enough study has been done on this topic and definitely not enough practice. What does it matter if we reached the orthodox position at Nicea if we go out instead and live like heathens?

The book is long, but it is worth it. It is also readily readable for the layman. Anyone can pick up this book and understand it. I encourage Christians and skeptics to do so. There are too many myths believed about Nicea.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth.)
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Book Plunge: Defending Constantine

What do I think of Peter Leithart’s book published by IVP Academic? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

If you want to go see a bad guy in secular history, you go with Hitler. If you want to see a bad guy in religious history, you go with Constantine. If anything has gone wrong in church history, somehow it’s connected with Constantine. Everything went wrong with him. From the average internet skeptic, you’ll hear that Constantine dominated the Council of Nicea or chose what books would be in the New Testament or changed the date of the Sabbath.

Historically, there are real questions about Constantine. Did he really have a conversion? Was he just an opportunist? What about the claim that he murdered his own family? Was he just a showman?

These are real questions.

Leithart takes an interesting look at these questions. He starts the stage not with Constantine but with what went on before Constantine. What was the state of the Roman Empire and how did that lead up to Constantine? Then once he got into office, what happened? How did he handle the Arian controversy? How did he handle the donatists?

Leithart also looks at the impact that Constantine had. What is the relationship between the government and religion? Does Jesus really have anything to say about how a country is run? Does Christianity have anything to say about a Caesar being a Christian?

What about questions of pacifism? Were Christians serving in the Roman military before Constantine came along? Was the church pacifist and then when Constantine came they became more hawkish? Leithart looks at this question as well.

If Constantine did not cause a major theological shift, did he cause any shift? What was the world like pre-Constantine and what is it like post-Constantine? Has Christianity been forever damaged because of the actions of Constantine?

It’s important to note that this is a defense of Constantine. While Leithart wants to show that many of our viewpoints on Constantine are just wrong or not very fair, this does not mean that Constantine was a Messiah. The case is not being made that we should start speaking about Saint Constantine. It is just being said that we should seek to understand Constantine in his historical and social context.

I do wish there had been more on other issues. It’s important that Leithart does respond to scholarly objections, but more and more in our day, we need responses to non-scholarly objections as well. Leithart does rightly speak on Nicea and show that Constantine did not dominate it, but it would have been nice at this point to have shown that a lot of popular myths about Nicea are just myths. These are the myths that the Sabbath was changed at Nicea or that the canon of the New Testament was decided at Nicea. The scholars might not really discuss that seriously, but that does not mean it’s not what the average Christian hears regularly.

Overall, this is an interesting read. It will definitely give you some to think about. If you want to see if there could be any good from Constantine, then get this book and see what Leithart has to say.

In Christ,
Nick Peters