Monday, May 13, 2019

Socrates Scholasticus on the Council of Nicaea

Socrates Scholasticus (c. 380 – after 439), a 5th-century Christian Church Historian, wrote concerning the events preceding the Council:

“Now a short time previous to the general assembling of the bishops, the disputants engaged in preparatory logical contests before the multitudes;”

This was not a closed-doors private affair, it was presented to the general populace beforehand!

He continued:

“and when many were attracted by the interest of their discourse,” [this was no boring affair!] “one of the laity, a confessor, who was a man of unsophisticated understanding, reproved these reasoners, telling them that
Christ and his apostles did not teach us dialectics,[1] art, nor vain subtleties, but simple-mindedness, which is preserved by faith and good works.
As he said this, all present admired the speaker and assented to the justice of his remarks; and the disputants themselves, after hearing his plain statement of the truth, exercised a greater degree of moderation: thus then was the disturbance caused by these logical debates suppressed at this time.” (Church History, Book 1 chapter 8.)
(End quote)

This anonymous layman spoke the brutal truth, and provides us with a window into the popular mindset and the volatile climate of this theological crisis.[2]

In other words, beliefs about God and Jesus should be rooted first in the Bible and not in philosophy. That layman detected that some theologians were rooting their beliefs in philosophy and admonished them that their beliefs should be rooted in the Bible. Thus, he saw a real danger in their approach and courageously voiced his concern. My heart goes out to that anonymous commoner.

[1] Defined as the “inquiry into metaphysical contradictions and their solutions.”
[2] The September 1, 1984 Watchtower pp. 25-30 “We Worship What We Know” article referred to this incident apparently through the book A History of Christianity, Volume 1: Beginnings to 1500 by Kenneth S. Latourette (1953), which says on page 154 without any citation to Socrates Scholasticus:
We read that one of these who had suffered for his faith in the persecutions which were of recent memory and who, hearing the pre-council disputes before the gathering at Nicaea, bluntly told the debaters that Christ did not “teach us dialectics, art, or vain subtleties, but simple-mindedness, which is preserved by faith and good works.” (
Compare this with the above Watchtower article, which said Jehovah’s Witnesses
share the view of the Christian layman who is recorded as having bluntly told the wrangling theologians assembled in Nicaea in 325 C.E.: ‘Christ did not teach us dialectics, art, or vain subtleties, but simple-mindedness, which is preserved by faith and good works.’ Apparently this man had suffered for his faith in Christ, even as many of Jehovah’s Witnesses have. Like him, they have no faith in theological philosophy. They accept with simplicity what the Bible states about God, Christ and the holy spirit, and they are willing to suffer for their simple faith and prove it by good works. (
(Underscoring added.)

Additional reading:

  • Cover from Wipf and Stock:

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