Tuesday, July 9, 2024

Today, on the Christian History Almanac, we commemorate the closing of the council of Constantinople and the (re)creation of the church’s “greatest creed.”

It is the 9th of July 2024. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.


The summer days keep rolling, and the Christian History Almanac is continuing to cover the biggest events in church history—some you may know, and this is a refresher—or you can pretend like it’s a refresher and learn about some things you’ve probably at least heard about.

We head back to the early church today.

[I sometimes wonder if this show could be the 4th, 16th, and 20th century Christian History Almanac with the preponderance of events of these particular centuries]

Here at the Almanac, we love a good “ecumenical council,” especially those early ones with most everyone on board. Christians rightly note the year 325 as the beginning of an epoch with the first ecumenical council at Nicaea.

If this were a movie, the Council in 325 would solve all the church's problems, and there would be a banquet, and everyone would remember the time we saved the church.

However, the Council of Nicaea was almost completely and immediately forgotten. Athanasius, the great defender of orthodoxy against Arius, would be exiled, and when Constantine died, his Arian-leaning son took over.

It is easy to get lost in the weeds here- but at stake was the confession of Christ and what it meant to say that he was, in the words of Thomas, “My Lord, and My God.”

What was approved at Nicaea in 325 is sometimes referred to as the “Creed of Nicaea” is not what you might recite at church as the “Nicene Creed.” One of the reasons the “Creed of Nicaea” was not picked up by churches is that 1) there was not a sense that this creed had solved the problem, and 2) it was a clunky creed and not suitable for liturgy.

Add to this mix the ascension of Julian the Apostate as Emperor in 355, and you’ll excuse the church for being less concerned about “essences” and “substances” and more about the crumbling of the Empire just now open to the church.

We can add two more things to this pot: a group called the “Macedonians” took their aim away from the divinity of Christ and instead questioned the divinity of the Holy Spirit. This is also the era of the Cappadocian Fathers- Basil the Great and the Gregorys of Nyssa and Nazianzus (Nazianzus was confirmed as a bishop at this upcoming council).

Things began to change with Theodosius I coming to power in the East. He was called “the Great” on account of his work for the church, which included calling 150 bishops to Constantinople to discuss the crises in the church.

The council was initially an eastern-only affair, but the creed was for the Western church as well. There was a secondary issue about Constantinople's place and its authority relative to Rome and its other sees—this issue of authority would assure more attention to this council. The Council of Constantinople called in 381, would be a landmark event.

Unlike the aftermath of the Council of Nicaea, the Council of Constantinople ended, and attention quickly went elsewhere (fair enough, the slow crumbling of the Roman Empire was a little more than a nuisance). But as Constantinople pointed a finger at Nicaea, so too did the council of Chalcedon in 451 point a finger at Constantinople. Councils weren’t called to be “one of the seven ecumenical councils” but rather gained that status over time.

Chalcedon would rightly point to a final (almost) wording of the creed that would settle (for now) the Christological issues. While the Macedonian party and their claim against the Holy Spirit were defeated, the Nicene Creed would be altered again to answer a question about the divinity of the Holy Spirit—but that’s a story for another time and another schism.

The Council of Constantinople—Theodosius I, the Christian Emperor in the East, called a gathering to settle a Christological debate, the wording of the Nicene Creed was honed, and Arianism was dealt a setback.

For those wondering about the “officially ecumenical” councils—the Roman Catholic Church claims 21, the Eastern Orthodox have 7, and the Oriental Orthodox have 3—you can debate how “ecumenical” they really are. BUT, you can see that all three groups recognize the council that closed on this, the 9th of July in 381—the Council of Constantinople.  


The last word for today is from the daily lectionary from James 5:

10 Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.


This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 9th of July 2024, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.

The show is produced by a man who, when he hears “essence,” thinks less of the “ nature of Christ” and more of his favorite herbal shampoos- he is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man with all kinds of questions about shampoos- are we doing it right? Can you combine the wash and conditioner? Was Pert+ offering something that CAN’T exist? I’m Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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