From the 1st to the 2nd Œcumenical Council
The First Œcumenical Council, the Council of Nicæa, concluded on 25 July 325 with the Emperor Constantine’s fervent wish that it would quell the heresy fomented by Arius, ‘so that no room should remain for division or controversy concerning the faith.’ This wish was not to be granted. The Council of Nicæa in fact was the prelude to half a century of debate, dissension and even violence such as had never before racked the church—and would not again until the Reformation and the Wars of Religion more than a thousand years later. It saw bishops expelled from their sees, exiled to every corner of the Roman empire, then returning again in what looks almost like a game of musical chairs. St Athanasius the Great, the leading spirit of the orthodox in the fourth century, was himself exiled from Alexandria five times and returned from exile as many times.
The fifty-six years from the Council of Nicæa to the 2nd Œcumenical Council held at Constantinople in A.D. 381 were filled with councils, some local, some regional, as the various parties in the Church jockeyed for position and influence. It can conveniently be divided into three periods. In the first, the sixteen years to the Council of Rome in 341, the theological issues appeared to have all been settled at Nicæa and the conflicts seemed purely over personalities. In the second, the eighteen years from the Council of Antioch in 341 to the twin councils of Rimini and Seleucia, held in 359, theological issues again came to the fore and repeated efforts were made to formulate creeds to supplement or supersede the Nicene Creed. In the third, the twenty-two years to the Council of Constantinople, the councils of Rimini and Seleucia, although they appeared to make the Arian party triumphant, in fact opened the path to the resolution of the crisis based on the theology of the Three Cappadocians. We will begin therefore with an account of the struggle from the Council of Nicæa in 325 to the councils of Rome and Antioch in 341. The chronology of what follows is based mainly on R.P.C. Hanson, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God (1988).