A Passionate Defence: Exploring The Role Of Athansius And The Cappadocian Fathers In The Establishment Of The Nicene Creed
By Katherine Sturm
Trinity College Dublin Journal of Postgraduate Research, Vol. 7 (2007)
Introduction: The centuries of the Early Church Councils mark an important period in Christian theology. The fourth-century councils in particular provided a foundation for all further theological investigation in Western Christendom. In 325 AD, the first ecumenical council happened at Nicaea focusing on issues of the identity of Jesus Christ. The Nicene Creed, the “orthodox and catholic dogma binding on all clergy of the Great Church,” was established near the end of the century at the Council of Constantinople in 381. The emergence of a creed that reflected orthodox theology for the entire church established the foundations for future theological inquiry.
Two primary schools of theological thought existed in the Roman Empire in this period, Alexandria and Antioch, with different approaches to theological thought and scriptural exegesis. The abundance of prolific writers and theologians during this period also revealed the many different opinions on the interpretation of scripture. Disagreements over theological teaching and cries against heresy were common. It is even said that in 318, in Alexandria, “Rioting between Christians broke out in the streets over a point of theology.” The canon of scripture was still in flux, with no authoritative New Testament yet available. The Old Testament provided the only officially canonized portion of scripture, and the New Testament was still in fragments. There also were differences in the concerns of the empire, with communities reflecting different opinions regarding “orthopraxy” or correct behaviour, and “orthodoxy” or correct thinking. These discussions regarding emphasis continue even into the contemporary church. In spite of the heresies, the varied exegesis, and the lack of a canonized New Testament, one “correct” formula was established and universally accepted as normative for the Christian Church. This formula was proclaimed throughout the Christian church as the Nicene Creed. This paper will explore Athanasius’ influence in its development and will illustrate development of his theological claims by the Cappadocian Fathers, looking at the dissenting movements and the development of the Holy Spirit in the explanation of the Holy Trinity.