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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I couldn't care less about the style in which Momigliano wrote ......... So you lose. Again. As usual.

And according to your modus operandi of argument by the provision of careless and dogmatic assertions, not because you can provide any references to the ancient historical evidence, which is what I have asked you to attempt to provide. You may as well offer prayers to the God of Parsimony that your opinion is infallible.
I thought you were familiar enough with the actual historical evidence? Look at the statements of the ancients on what Constantine saw. Look at how they describe it.

Invariably it's actually a phenomenon or a vision that Constantine experiences, and that starts informing his actions from then on.
@FreeThinker who wrote ... "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. "

And the emperor was regarded by every man and his dog in the empire as "Lord God Caesar < INSERT NAME here for the relevant supreme imperial mafia thug>.

Of course Constantine was motivated by politics and not religion.
He understoof that there was still a great authority at that epoch 312 to 324 CE held in the ancient and highly revered Graceo-Roman religious cults, and so he set out to get rid of them all. To do this he sposnored a non Greek cult (a Jewish based story) and therefore was entitled to destroy the temples and shrines of his opposition religious cults, and to plunder them for gold and silver and treasure, etc, etc, etc.

Christianity was just an expedient means by which COnstantine got absolute control of the religious milieu which all Roman emperors prior to him had supported and sponsored. Just look at the coinage of all prior emperors, and at the inscriptions that are associated with the Graeco-Roman temples prior to the year 312 CE.
@matt .... "Look at the statements of the ancients on what Constantine saw. Look at how they describe it."

Look instead at exactly who these ancients were --- they were tax exempt imperially sponsored "christian church [ahem] 'historians'". The history of a battle and a victory normally has two independent sides to it - that of the victors and that of the vanquished. Examine all the fragments of the histories preserved for the events and happenings which purportedly occurred in the rule of Constantine (305 to 337 CE) and you will locate only the one side - the side of the victorious christian political party. We do not have any histories or reports from the "pagans" coming out of this epoch. The reason for this is known -- the non christian accounts were censored and destroyed and burnt by the victorious 4th century christians who were supported by the imperial Roman army.

Do you understand that it is normal to expect two sides to such a momentous event of the "Christianisation" of the empire under Constantine? Do you understand what a Moebius strip is? It is a two sided figure which has been given an odd number of twists such that there is only ever one side, no matter how hard you attempt to find the second side. Analogously, this is the state of affairs with the history of the 4th century --- it has only one side because the victors of the struggle which ensued at that time twisted the historical truth for political gain.

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

The "Lord God Caesar Constantine" attended the War Council of Nicaea as the supreme warlord of the West and East. All attendees had to walk through a WALL OF SWORDS. Eusebius wants us to think that they were very friendly Christian swords but I suspect otherwise, on the basis of Constantine's track record as a brigand and a robber -- later described as a "ward irresponsible for his own actions" [Victor].

Constantine alone decided to publish the Bible, one very similar (give or take only a few books!) to the Bible being published today. It is more than likely that Constantine also manufactured the "Historia Augusta" -- a monumental forgery with hundreds of fake documents and fake authors which made a mockery of the history of the preceeding few hundred centuries.

My vote sees Constantine as the one who fabricated the new testament and the "Historia Augusta" and the "Historia Ecclesiastica" (ie: Christian Church history). It was a political move against the Graeco-Roman religions and their perceived authority in the 4th century Roman empire.
Hi Jack -

Look instead at exactly who these ancients were ---

Therein lies the heart of searching for the grain of truth in most any mythology. Who is telling the story? What do they have to gain/lose by twisting it? In what direction would they be most motivated to twist it?

That said, my vote still lies solidly in the middle between your Constantine-as-supreme-orchestrator theory and Matt's faith in the accuracy and altruism of the players involved.
Faith in the accuracy and altruism of the players?

Yeah, nice strawman. Pretty insulting too.
Matt -

You have consistently defended the Josephus and Tacitus accounts as accurate; not forged and not reports of hearsay. Ergo, Jesus had to have been a real historical figure.

You have consistently argued that while the gospels embellish a little here and there for the sake of livening up the story, they are generally accurate accounts of the life of Jesus.

You pooh-pooh those of us who argue that the canon gospels were likely chosen for their political value rather than their accuracy.

A few posts back here, you argue that though a superstition prompted by natural events, Constantine's religious experience was real and his subsequent motives are genuinely spiritually motivated with politics having little or nothing to do with it.

Do I have that right?
"You have consistently defended the Josephus and Tacitus accounts as accurate; not forged and not reports of hearsay. Ergo, Jesus had to have been a real historical figure."

No, that's wrong on two accounts. First of all, I don't say that Josephus' account is accurate. I've consistently pointed out that the Testimonium Flavium in Antiquities was altered and 'sexed up' by Christian scribes. I do think that it is not an outright forgery, as evidenced by (amonst other things) the fact that Origen references this passage before it was altered.
Second of all, I don't think that if those accounts are not forged then ergo a historical Jesus existed. Those references are part of the argument: we have a confluence of facts that are better explained by the existence of a historical Jesus, and one of these facts is these references. But yes, for the sake of argument let's say that you're close.

"You have consistently argued that while the gospels embellish a little here and there for the sake of livening up the story, they are generally accurate accounts of the life of Jesus."

No, wrong again. I've consistently argued that, they have - like just about every story in the Ancient world - a core of historical fact, and this historical fact shows in the many parts that are awkward justifications for historical events. This is again, part of the evidence for a historical Jesus. The parts they get right almost certainly is that he is a preacher (an apocalyptic one), a faith healer, and that he gets crucified by Pilate; and that he's from Nazareth. The parts they plainly make up is that they set the Jews (Pharisees etcetera) as the bad guys, (in later gospels) depict Jesus as the Son of God, make Jesus' message a more Gentile-friendly one, downplay his strict adherence to Jewish law and eschatology, and of course vastly exaggerate the miracle stuff.

To pretend that this means that I think they are "generally accurate" is bogus. I think we can accurately deduct facts from them. That's different. It's these subtle ways in which you make me look like a Christian apologist that sort of annoy me.

"You pooh-pooh those of us who argue that the canon gospels were likely chosen for their political value rather than their accuracy."

Yes, I do, because (i) there's no historical evidence for that at all and (ii) there's plenty of evidence to the contrary. You, on the other hand, have consistently failed to substantiate this conspiracy theory with a semblance of historical evidence, and are now clinging to it based on emotions and - so it seems - antipathy towards me.

"A few posts back here, you argue that though a superstition prompted by natural events, Constantine's religious experience was real and his subsequent motives are genuinely spiritually motivated with politics having little or nothing to do with it."

Correct. Again, I take the most parsimonious explanation of the evidence.

"Do I have that right?"

You barely get half of it right, actually, but it doesn't matter: your statement above was that I have "faith in the accuracy and altruism of the players". That was a strawman. A triple strawman, in fact:
(i) I don't have faith in anything, since I've consistently shown you the reasons why I've come to these conclusions, and you have consistently backed down from actually challenging those reasons
(ii) I don't think that Josephus' account is 'accurate' (since it's clearly sexed up) and I definitely don't think that the gospels are "generally accurate"
(iii) I sure as hell don't think any of the players involved were friggin' altruists. If you're referring to Constantine, how is sponsoring and helping your own particular branch of religious dogma mainly because of your religious experience (that's my actual position, remember) anything even remotely close to altruism?

So I'm sorry, Jo, but your characterisation of my position - faith, altruism, accuracy - was wrong on every point.

Now please, do you genuinely not understand the subtleties of these matters or are you consciously or unconsciously misrepresenting me? Totally serious question, because I think that you're a well-intentioned person, but for some reason these conversations just wind up in us talking besides each other. I don't have this problem with any of the other people here or elsewhere so I'd like to know why.
... Testimonium Flavium in Antiquities was altered and 'sexed up' by Christian scribes. I do think that it is not an outright forgery, as evidenced by (amonst other things) the fact that Origen references this passage before it was altered.

This is false - unevidenced. Eusebius who is our only source on Origen, has it that Origen makes no mention of the Testimonium Flavianum and specifically states that Josephus did not believe Jesus was "the Christ." It is false to therefore say that 'Origen references the passage', since he does not. What other "evidence" are you trying to trade in defence of this common christian forgery?


Good Summary is this ....


"A rank forgery, and a very stupid one, too", --- Bishop Warburton of Gloucester, 1762.


Section 2: TF Summary chronological history (the ancients)


0093: Eusebius cites Josephus Flavius - 20 book "Antiquity of the Jews"; Major ref to Jesus in Antiquities 18.3.3; with 20.9.1 (Minor Ref))
0160: Eusebius cites Justin Martyr who obviously pored over Josephus's works, makes no mention of the TF.
0160: Eusebius cites Pseudo-Justin who obviously pored over Josephus's works, makes no mention of the TF. (are these two authors distinct?)
0179: Eusebius cites Melito of Sardis - no mention of the TF
0180: Eusebius cites Theophilus Bishop of Antioch - no mention of the TF.
0190: Eusebius cites Irenaeus, saint and compiler of the New Testament, has not a word about the TF.

0200: Eusebius cites Clement of Alexandria, influential Greek theologian, prolific writer, head of the Alexandrian school - nothing about the TF.
0220: Eusebius cites Julius Africanus, a prominent chronographer from Emmaus - is silent about the TF.
0220: Eusebius cites Tertullian, early literary apologist/polemicist against unorthodox heresy - is silent about the TF.
0220: Eusebius cites Hippolytus (170-235), saint and martyr, nothing about the TF.
0230: Eusebius cites Origen (185-254), no mention of the TF and specifically states that Josephus did not believe Jesus was "the Christ."
0250: Eusebius cites Minucius Felix, lawyer and Christian convert - no mention of the TF.
0270: Eusebius cites Anatolius (230-c. 270/280) - no mention of TF.
0290: Jerome cites Methodius of Olympus - comprehensive philosophical education, important theologian; prolific author - no Ref.
0320: Lactantius, previously an official professor of rhetoric in Nicomedia; Constantine sponsored "tutor" - no mention.

0324: *** Eusebius: cites the TF thrice (three times Hermes!)
*** P.E. 3.5,
*** HE. 1.11,
*** Theophany.


0324: Constantine cites the testimony of Virgil and Cicero as "prophets", but fails to mention Josephus' testimony - REF
0362: Julian states "the wretched Eusebius claims that the study of logic exists among the Hebrews,
since he has heard among the Hellenes the word they use for logic."

0407: Chrysostom (347-407), saint and Syrian prelate, not a word about the TF.
05??: The author of the ancient Syriac text, "History of Armenia," refers to Josephus but not the TF. - REF
08??: Methodius, saint of the 9th century - makes no mention of it.
0814: Photius of Constantinople - admits that Josephus has made no mention of Christ.
"This is false - unevidenced. Eusebius who is our only source on Origen, has it that Origen makes no mention of the Testimonium Flavianum and specifically states that Josephus did not believe Jesus was "the Christ." It is false to therefore say that 'Origen references the passage', since he does not."

Gosh, the guy who thinks Origen never even friggin' existed has a problem with me claiming that Origen references Josephus. What a surprise.

For the record, it is mentioned in one of Origen's surviving books (namely Commentary on Matthew, book X).

*cue accusations of outright forgery*
the guy who thinks Origen never even friggin' existed has a problem with me claiming that Origen references Josephus. What a surprise.

There are "duplicate" Origens in the 3rd century: see the WIKI disambiguation page:

(1) Origen - a third-century Christian theologian.
(2) Origen the Pagan, a third-century Platonist philosopher

My position is that the christian one has been fabricated from the Platonist Origen. Details here.

For the record, it is mentioned in one of Origen's surviving books (namely Commentary on Matthew, book X).

Origen may mention Josephus, or that he has read the works of Josephus, even "Antiquities" in which the "Testimonium Flavianum" was inserted. But he does not mention the "TF" and in fact plainly states that Josephus did not believe in the Christ (which is the subject matter of the TF).
"Constantine alone decided to publish the Bible, one very similar (give or take only a few books!) to the Bible being published today. It is more than likely that Constantine also manufactured the "Historia Augusta" -- a monumental forgery with hundreds of fake documents and fake authors which made a mockery of the history of the preceeding few hundred centuries."

I laughed so hard that I think I pulled a muscle. Constantine sponsored the production of several (50) Bible's. In what alternative universe "is it more than likely" that he then also manufactured hundreds of documents and fake authors which made a mockery of the history of the preceeding few hundred centuries [sic]"?
This isn't likely at all. And given that nobody noticed this monumental forgery until now (based on almost pure speculation), what you have yourself here is a prime conspiracy theory.

Of a type I've never seen before.

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