How much credit should Constantine and Council of Nicaea get for the bible and Christian doctrine?

A hair-splitting side debate ensued in another thread that does bring up some interesting points, so I thought I'd bring it into its own discussion.

Specifically, the influence (or lack thereof) of Constantine I and the First Council of Nicaea in shaping Orthodox Christianity. 

FACT A1Constantine did seek to strengthen Rome religiously, in large part in a "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em" sanctioning of Christianity. Which itself was split into many different sects and theologies with some very different ideas about it's frontman Jesus, what scriptures should be canon, and doctrine in general. 

FACT B1: Constantine also never really gave up his Pagan roots nor did he outright outlaw all non-Christian religions. It's debatable whether or not he ever truly converted to Christianity or whether he was just pandering to the populous. While he is recognized as the first, true, Christian-friendly Roman emperor, others before him had various degrees of tolerance for the religion and thereby, a helping hand in keeping the cult alive.

FACT A2Constantine was instrumental in convening the First Council at Nicaea in 325 C.E. He and Rome gave financial support to certain bishops and church representatives to come to the council. 

FACT B2: Constantine didn't personally preside over (or by some accounts, even really attend) the Council. He was the figurehead who said, "Y'all go hash this out."

FACT A3: The basic purpose of the Council was to bring together the generally accepted (read; politically accepted) sects and from there further narrow the field by debating and voting on the validity of doctrines by some of those present.

FACT B3: Specific scriptures and heresy/validity of those sects not in attendance were not on the menu. There was no grand floor debate to say "This gospel should be canon and that one shouldn't." or "Shall we let the Gnostics come and play? All in favor say aye."



Here's where it seems the debate in the previous thread lies: How much credit do we give to Constantine and the First Council of Nicaea for compiling the bible as we know it today?

- By virtue of the (B) facts above; Neither Constantine nor the Council of Nicaea had any direct hand in compiling the bible as we know it. Therefore some would say, "Neither of them had anything whatsoever to do with the compilation of the Christian bible."

- By virtue of the (A) facts above; Both Constantine and the Council of Nicaea heavily influenced which Christian sects would become the Orthodox Church, and by extension, it is those sects' scriptures that become canon while excluding now-heretical sects and their scriptures. Therefore some would say, "The bible as we know it today was effectively determined by Constantine and the First Council of Nicaea.

Both statements in my not so humble opinion are gross oversimplifications on opposite ends of the scale. Though admittedly, when my answer has to be 30 seconds or less, I've been guilty of the "Constantine and Nicaea effectively compiled the bible" end of the extreme.

So, discuss. When trying to pry open a Christian's eyes or enlighten someone genuinely curious about how we wound up with the scripture and doctrine that we did, how Orthodox Christianity became Orthodox, is there a quick and easy answer that's also accurate? Within the ballpark of accurate? How much credit do you give to Constantine and Nicaea for 'founding' Christianity and the bible as we know them today?



One reason I'd much rather give them too much credit than not enough is that for Christianity to take hold as a power-religion it had to be politically powerful. Christianity was born out of resistance to Roman oppression. And yet, by the 4th century, you've got a Roman emperor looking to co-opt Christianity as a political tool to regain control of the people. By then you also have some Christian sects who really don't hate the idea of being little tyrannical mini-emperors themselves. Constantine may never issued a declaration saying "If you want my blessing you and your religion had damn well better tell me what I want to hear," but I think we can all agree that's the rule of the land.

In that sense, Constantine and the Council were pivotal in effectively determining what Christianity would look like - including its sacred texts. Plus, the unwashed masses need to know that what they are following are far less the divine "Will of God" and more like political Will of Rome." 

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So where is this consensus that "the doctrines and books that were chosen were those that Constantine favoured", as FreeThinker claimed?

Why do you continue to misquote FreeThinker no matter how many times it is pointed out to you?

FreeThinker said "Books Constantine would favor" which is very different from the words you keep trying to put in our mouths that Constantine somehow actively said "Yes on that gospel, no to that one."

You asked in another post why I suspect you as a Theist/Seminary student: Because this is the kind of putting-words-in-people's-mouths that such folks engage in. Putting people on the defensive by almost-but-not-quite quoting them right. Demanding other people cite sources while giving none of your own. You and Dannyisme are very, very good at it.

Almost everything we are discussing here is a matter of conjecture drawn from scant historical sources. You challenge, I respond with a plethora of sources to back up my conclusion, you attack back sans sources.
My thesis is that Constantine ordered 312 to 324 CE for the fabrication of the Christians which included the new testament and the "church history of Eusebius", but did not include the "Gnostic Gospels and Acts, etc". These non canonical (Apocyphal) books were authored as a seditious literary reaction by the academic Greeks of Alexandria --- I suggest that these non christians took great offence to the NT as the "Holy Writ" of the Greek civilisation. Consequently they began to author their own "Gnostic Gospels and Acts" in which the figure of Jesus appears as DOCETIC. The signature of satire as related to the political context surrounding the invasion of Constantine of the east and the New Religion is evident through these books of the NT Apocyrpha and the Nag Hammadi Codices.

See my website at:
http://www.mountainman.com.au/essenes

or the discussion in this forum entitled ---- My message is that Jesus did not exist but was a 4th century literary fabrication

http://www.atheistnexus.org/forum/topics/my-message-is-that-jesus-did

Good question!
Follow the evidence wherever it may lead.
Or Stalin's version of revisionist history where people were erased from history and from photographs. Constantine employed the Roman political tool of Damnatio memoriae on at least four occassions.
Well Jack, as I mentioned in your "My message is..." thread, the glaring blimp in the sky here is the lack of evidence one way or another and the volatility of the evidence that does exist. We don't exactly have Constantine's personal diary of deep, dark thoughts. What we do have is a Roman emperor suddenly giving a lot of recognition to a cult religion which (if we go with the evidence of pre-Constantine Christianity), appears to have started out as a lot less "Yay Rome" and a lot more "Rome Sucks, viva the little guy" kind of cult. We also have the historical precedent and common-sense wisdom of how such politicians typically operate. Altruism is rarely a very big priority for them.

It is from this, the historian's job is to put together the 500 piece jigsaw puzzle with 485 of the pieces missing.

When past discussions got comically ridiculous is when they got hijacked by heated declarations of "I know best, you don't" and my favorite "I know what the real Jesus did/said/thought and you don't" with no evidence to back it up. Like it or not, we're all speculating to a large degree. Difference is, some of us accept that and welcome constructive debate; acknowledging that on many points, we'll simply never know for certain. Some, want us to believe their omniscience on faith alone.

Which is what I come to Atheist Nexus to get away from.
I agree with you Jo. Some of history is firmly corroborated and some is speculative. As you point out, people can lose sight of this fact. It's ironic when they become dogmatic on an atheist website.

Constantine's motivations definitely fall under the speculative category; as does the influence he exerted on the council. While one may favor certain ideas, they're still matters of opinion.

This discussion has led me to read up on the subject. I had two major misconceptions about the Council of Nicaea; namely, that it (1) determined biblical canon and (2) had set the date of Easter to coincide with a pagan celebration of fertility.

Biblical canon took a surprisingly long time to seal. I forget where I picked up the notion that this was determined at the Council of Nicaea. It made sense, at the time, because it seems like it should be the "first order of business".

I had also thought that the Council of Nicaea had set the date of Easter based on pagan influence. This was not the case. The issue was actually about the reliability of the Jewish calendar. The council decided to calculate the date of Easter independent of the Jewish calendar.

As for speculation on Constantine's motivations and designs (if any) for the council; the fact that he was an emperor -- and that his mother had already converted to Christianity -- loom large for me.

It's implausible to me, to the point of seeming naive, to think that Constantine's main motivations were anything but political. He was, after all, an emperor. That's my opinion. I think there's a good chance that his mother's Christian faith led him to appreciate just how powerfully this upstart religion took hold of people. Give a savvy politician a little time to contemplate and understand the gift-horse staring him in the face and he will take advantage of it. This intimate tie-in, through his mother, of the Christian faith might well be an element prior emperors lacked -- and therefor failed to recognize.

Speculation? Sure.
I agree that trying to know Constantine's deep inner thoughts is bound to be based on truckloads of suppositions, but the thing is that the only reason one would try to know his inner thoughts in the first place, is if you (for some reason) doubt Constantine's own explanation for what he did.
The thing I notice in both of your posts (Free Thinker and Jo) is that you both seem to have trouble imagining religious politicans. First of all, I think that's a little strange considering we all live in a world with a majority of religious politicans, but second, it might be influenced by the example of various dictators we've seen in the 19th and 20th century, who always used religion as a tool of oppression and submission: these people were sure to keep their political ambitions well in the forefront of their mind, and leave any actual religious feelings aside.

But this does not correspond to the extremely superstitious religious Rome of the 4th century AD: Romans (Christian and non-Christian) believed in ghosts, in demons, in manifestations of the divine, in faith healing, miracle-workings, supernatural omens, etcetera... Constantine was a pagan before the Battle at the Milvian Bridge, that we all agree on. Then, just before that battle, it's said in every source we have about him, that he saw an "omen" of the Christian God (which was probably a meteorite or something similar). Like any superstitious Roman soldier, he interpreted this as the Christian God favouring him, and so he had all of his soldiers paint Christian symbols (the rho-khi symbol) on their shields. The next day he won the battle, seized the 'throne' of Rome, and remained convinced for the rest of his life that the Christian God was favouring him.

None of this is speculation: this is all very well-documented. The only point where speculation might come in is when you imagine Constantine as a really cunning Real-politiker of the 19th century, who would fake a religious experience in order to gain power. But considering the small size of the Christian movement, what good would he get out of simply legalising them (not making it the state religion, mind you)? And how could he possibly have anticipated this considering his knowledge of Christianity was so limited?

I just don't see why you guys keep searching for highly speculative answers when there's a much more straightforward one glaring you in the face.
@MATT who wrote "The only point where speculation might come in is when you imagine Constantine as a really cunning Real-politiker of the 19th century, who would fake a religious experience in order to gain power. "

You should take the time to read the Historian Grant who writes that c.312 CE, "Constantine managed to convince himself that he'd had a religious experience"

Ha ha ha ha. I have never experienced an atheist forum in which the members argue so strenuously for the historical integrity of the christian religion. Have the "incontravertible truth and facts of christian history" been beaten down into the subconscious of humanity that they cannot be questioned without introducing ad hominems in an atheist forum?
"You should take the time to read the Historian Grant who writes that c.312 CE, "Constantine managed to convince himself that he'd had a religious experience""

Yup, that's exactly what I'm saying. He saw some kind of phenomenon (probably a meteorite or something similar) and interpreted it as a religious sign. And from then on it started informing his actions and it lead him to promote the Christian religion.
Similar experiences happen to people all over the world to this day, and people have no difficulty realising that the believers really find these experiences convincing. But apparently when we're talking about Constantine, he can't just have had a similar experience. That wouldn't fit with the Real-politiker Constantine image we'd like to be true.

So your point is...? That it wasn't a real sign from God? Thanks for that obvious point, Sherlock.

"I have never experienced an atheist forum in which the members argue so strenuously for the historical integrity of the christian religion."

Aside from the fact that nobody here is arguing for the historical integrity of the Christian religion (nice try at making me look pro-Christian though), that's no surprise to me at all, since most atheist fora will swallow any anti-Christian message wholesale, whether it's congruent with history or not.

Here, on the other hand, we have some people who pride themselves on being objective and rational, and following the facts where they go instead of starting a wild revisionist goose-chase. It's why we don't take you very seriously.
He saw some kind of phenomenon (probably a meteorite or something similar) and interpreted it as a religious sign. And from then on it started informing his actions and it lead him to promote the Christian religion.

But this is a a miracle according to the ancient historian Arnaldo Momigliano who wrote:

"“The revolution of the fourth century, carrying with it a new historiography will not be understood if we underrate the determination, almost the fierceness,
with which the Christians
appreciated and exploited

"the miracle"

that had transformed Constantine
into a supporter, a protector,
and later a legislator
of the Christian church.”

In fact, Momigliano uses the term miracle twice.
He also wrote in the same article:

On 28 October 312 the Christians suddenly and unexpectedly found themselves victorious. The victory was a miracle -
though opinions differed
as to the nature of the sign
vouchsafed to Constantine.

The winners became conscious of their victory
in a mood of resentment and vengeance.
A voice shrill with implacable hatred
announced to the world
the victory of the Milvian Bridge:
Lactatius' De mortibus persecutorum.

In this horrible pamphlet by the author of De ira dei
there is something of the violence of the
prophets without the redeeming sense of tragedy
that inspired Nahum's song for the the fall of
Nineveh.


Here, on the other hand, we have some people who pride themselves on being objective and rational, and following the facts where they go instead of starting a wild revisionist goose-chase.

Historical Revisionism

Within the academic field of history,
historical revisionism is the critical
reexamination of historical facts,
with an eye towards rewriting histories
with either newly discovered information
or a reinterpretation of existing information.

The assumption is that history as it has
been traditionally told may not be entirely accurate.

The pejorative use refers to illegitimate manipulation
of history for political purposes, for example Holocaust denial.

This meaning is described further in the
article historical revisionism (negationism).


Those historians who work within the existing establishment and who have a body of existing work from which they claim authority, often have the most to gain by maintaining the status quo. This can be called an accepted paradigm, which in some circles or societies takes the form of a denunciative stance towards revisionism of any kind.
If there were a universally accepted view of history which never changed, there would be no need to research it further. Many historians who write revisionist exposés are motivated by a genuine desire to educate and to correct history. Many great discoveries have come as a result of the research of men and women who have been curious enough to revisit certain historical events and explore them again in depth from a new perspective.

Revisionist historians contest the mainstream or traditional view of historical events, they raise views at odds with traditionalists, which must be freshly judged. Revisionist history is often practiced by those who are in the minority, such as feminist historians, ethnic minority historians, those working outside of mainstream academia in smaller and less known universities, or the youngest scholars, essentially historians who have the most to gain and the least to lose in challenging the status quo. In the friction between the mainstream of accepted beliefs and the new perspectives of historical revisionism, received historical ideas are either changed, solidified, or clarified.
"But this is a a miracle according to the ancient historian Arnaldo Momigliano who wrote"

You keep pounding on that point is if it makes a lick of difference. You try to make it seem that because what Constantine had seen was thought by him and others to be a "miracle", we atheists should therefore ignore it.
This is garbage: whatever Constantine saw, it was more than likely a natural but rare phenomenon in the sky, which he (like everybody else in the ancient world) thought to be a miracle. This happened all the time in the ancient world: perfectly natural events or coincidences got seen as divine signs by the very superstitious Romans.
It was real for him, and it informed his actions from then on.

This experience (and his victory at the Milvian bridge, of course) was what caused him to sponsor Christianity. That's what all the evidence indicates. Your feeble attempts at discrediting a perfectly reasonable explanation (Constantine thought he saw something miraculous) in favour of a paranoid conspiracist scenario where Constantine was only interested in power, shows your bias.

"Many great discoveries have come as a result of the research of men and women who have been curious enough to revisit certain historical events and explore them again in depth from a new perspective."
Many more of these revionist guys have crashed and burned. The few that did manage to overthrow a consensus, had excellent cases and got their works rigorously tested and peer-reviewed. Then it was found out that they had a solid case.

So, when are you going to get your material peer-reviewed?
re: Momigliano's use of the term "miracle"

You really need to understand that Momigliano wrote in a very heavily ironic style. He was the foremost ancient historian of the 20th century, a Jewish-Italian refugee from Mussolini. He understood fascism by his own experience, and he understood that when Christianity suddenly appeared as the state religion of Constantine, it was a fascist movement. See the details here:
http://www.mountainman.com.au/essenes/article_060.htm

Thus, in the above, you need to understand that Momigliano used the term "miracle" in the profane political sense to indicate that "The revolution of the fourth century, carrying with it a new historiography will not be understood if we underrate the determination, almost the fierceness, with which the Christians appreciated and exploited this "[political] miracle" that had transformed Constantine into a supporter, a protector, and later a legislator of the Christian church.”

This has nothing to do with a meteorite or the sun on a cloudbank, and everything to do with political reality. This "miracle" also has nothing to do with the battle of the Milvian Bridge --- Constantine's army was totally superior and had probably been awaiting this moment for many years. Momigliano was probably one of the most down-to-earth people you will get. When he uses this term "miracle" he is using it in an extremely ironic political sense.

when are you going to get your material peer-reviewed?

When I have completed my research.
"You really need to understand that Momigliano wrote in a very heavily ironic style."

I couldn't care less about the style in which Momigliano wrote: he didn't agree with your assertion that Christianity did not exist until Constantine made it up, so that's another irrelevant point.
What matters is not whether modern people think it was an actual miracle, what matters is how the Ancients regarded this event. And the Ancients regarded it, as all their sources imply, as a miraculous event.

Which means all your speculative nonsense about "this was all a lie and it was a political scheme" lose by default: they are not the least parsimonious explanation of the evidence.

So you lose. Again. As usual.

"This "miracle" also has nothing to do with the battle of the Milvian Bridge --- Constantine's army was totally superior and had probably been awaiting this moment for many years."

More bluster and false assertions. We have no clue on the precise composition or experience level on both sides, and if anything, Maxentius' numerical advantage gave him an edge.
Not that this matters anyway: you simply bring these points up because it suits the way you view the past.

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