First English edition of the Nuremberg chronicle: being the Liber chronicarum of Dr. Hartmann Schedel…

Helena, mother of Constantine the emperor, was a woman of great faith and spiritual mind, and was distinguished for her acts of magnanimity. When, after the baptism of her son she saw miracles performed by Silvester before her son and against the Jews, nightly visions moved her to go to Jerusalem to search for the wood of the cross. But that was a difficult task; for the image of Venus was in the same place, put there by the old persecutors for the Christian people to worship in the place of the Savior. But with great secrecy she searched the city everywhere, and found three crosses. On one something was written in three tongues 'Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.' Beside it stood Macherius, a bishop of that same city. He said that the first was the true cross; that the third one was laid on a dead woman, and the woman was soon restored to life. And so the cross of the Lord was found on the third day of May by Helena, and was adorned by her; and it was held in great veneration. Judas, the finder of the cross, was baptized, and was afterwards called Ciriacus. Later Helena built a temple on the site where the cross was found; and she departed from the place, bringing to her son the nails with which the body of Christ was fastened to the cross. One of these he put in his horse's bridle, to use in battle. But Constantine was persuaded that in the future no one should make such base use of it. Eager for the spread of Christianity, Constantine erected many churches in Rome. Helena died well loved by God and by mankind at Rome on the 18th day of August.[Helena, according to the best authorities, was born in either York or Colchester, England, and is inseparably connected with the discovery, or the "invention," as it is not improperly termed, of the Holy Cross at Jerusalem. Some say she was the daughter of a mighty British prince, King Coilus or Coel, and that in marrying Constantius Chlorus she brought him a kingdom for her dowry. In her old age she became a Christian, and her zeal for her new religion, and the influence she exercised over the mind of her son, no doubt contributed to the spread of Christianity throughout the empire. None of the old legends have been more universally diffused than the "History of the Cross." She is particularly connected with Benedictines, for it was believed that her remains had been carried off from Rome about the year 863, and were deposited in a Benedictine Abbey in Champagne.]

Arius (Arrius), a priest at Alexandria, and a man more distinguished by looks and form than by virtue, began to sow discord in the Christian faith. He undertook to separate the Son from the substance of the Eternal and unspeakable God, saying there was a time when he was not. He did not understand that the Son was coeval with the Father, and of the same substance, or an independent element in the Trinity. As it was said, I and the Father are one. With such cunning he pressed forward as if to poison the whole world with his error. In the second year of Constantine a council was assembled, and to it came the Christians and the Arians. But when Arius could not accomplish certain things as he wished, he attempted to humiliate the Christians by accusing Athanasius of the black arts. But God did not permit this devilish man to go unpunished, for before long, when Arius was surrounded by many bishops and people, and sought to relieve himself in a secret chamber, his innards fell into it; and thus he suffered a death utterly worthy of his shameful life.

Arius is a name celebrated in ecclesiastical history, not so much on account of the personality of its bearer, as of the "Arian" controversy or heresy that it provoked. Nothing is known of the birth of its author. We first hear of him as a deacon in Alexandria. After some controversy he was ordained presbyter in 311, and discharged his duties with industry and faithfulness. The cause of the controversy was a fundamental difference of doctrine, which had far-reaching religious and philosophical implications. "Is the Divine which appeared on earth and made its presence actively felt, identical with the supremely Divine that rules heaven and earth? Did the Divine which appeared on earth enter into a close and permanent union with human nature, so that it has actually transfigured it and raised it to the plane of the Eternal?"

Arius had received his theological education in the school of the presbyter Lucian of Antioch. The latter was a follower of Paul of Samosata, bishop of Antioch, who had been excommunicated in 269; but his theology differed from that of his master in a fundamental point. Paul, starting with the conviction that the One God cannot appear substantially on earth, and consequently that he cannot have become man in Jesus, had taught that God had filled the man Jesus with his Logos or Power. Lucian, on the other hand, persisted in holding that the Logos became man in Christ. But since he shared the above mentioned belief of his master, nothing remained but for him to see in the Logos a second essence, created by God before the world, which came down to earth and took upon himself a human body. In this body the Logos filled the place of the intellectual or spiritual principle. Lucian's Christ, then, was not "perfect man," for that which constituted in him the personal element was a divine essence; nor was he "perfect God," for the divine essence was a created thing. It is this idea that Arius took up and interpreted. The principle that he had in view was firmly to establish the unity and simplicity of the eternal God. However far the Son may surpass other created things, he remains himself a created being, to whom the Father before all time gave an existence formed "out of nothing." Arius was perhaps quite unconscious that his own monotheism was hardly to be distinguished from that of the pagan philosophers, and that his Christ was a demi-god.

For years this controversy went on until it reached the ears of Constantine. Now sole emperor, he saw in the one Catholic Church the best means of counteracting the movement tending to the disintegration of the Roman empire; and he at once realized how dangerous dogmatic strife might prove to its unity. He summoned a general or ecumenical council, which was convened in Nicaea in 325, where the question was finally decided against Arius, that the Son was "of the same substance" with the Father, and all thought of his being created or even subordinate had to be excluded. Constantine accepted the decision of the council, and resolved to uphold it. Alexander the Bishop, returned to his see triumphant, but he died soon after, and was succeeded by Athanasius, his deacon, with whose fortitude and strange vicissitudes the further course of the controversy is bound up.

Although defeated in the council, the Arians were by no means subdued. Constantine was won over to a conciliatory policy by the influence of Eusebius of Caesarea, and Eusebius of Nicomedia, the latter of whom returned from exile in 328 and won the ear of the emperor, whom he baptized on his deathbed. Athanasius was banished in 335. During his absence Arius returned to Alexandria, but was suddenly taken ill while walking in the streets, and almost immediately died.

The Nicene Council, the first of all such councils, was called in the sixteenth year of Constantine at his command and pursuant to his efforts against the heretical teachings of the benighted Arius. It was attended by 318 bishops. For sometime the council transacted business and carried on disputations. Some, clever in questioning, and crafty, attached themselves to Arius, opposing the monism of our belief. However, one of their number, a highly educated philosopher, who previously had attacked our faith, being moved by God's spirit, entirely accepted our belief as holy. At length, after industrious investigation of the matter in council, it was concluded to record and acknowledge that the Son and the Father were a single substance. Those who held with Arius, seventeen in number, said that the Son of God was created separately, and was not born of the Godhead. But when the truth concerning their dissension became known, Constantine, with threats, ordered that the conclusions of the council be observed, those gainsaying it to be sent into exile. But only six, together with Arius, accepted the penalty and exiled themselves, while the remainder confessed the established truth. In this council the Sabellian heretics who held the Father and the Holy Spirit to be a single person, were also condemned. In the council the bishops lodged with Constantine accusations against one another, asking his judgment concerning them. These, Constantine caused to be burned, saying that they should await the judgment of God alone, and not of men. And there it was also ordained that those addicted to carnality should not be accepted into the priesthood in the future.

Nicene Council: 'Council' (the Greek term is 'synodos'; the Latin transliteration, used in the Chronicle, is synodus) is a general term for assembly. The term is here limited to ecclesiastical councils summoned to adjust matters in dispute with the civil authority, or for the settlement of doctrinal and other internal disputes. From a very early period in Church history, such councils or synods have been held on matters of doctrine or discipline, and they were evolved from smaller or more local gatherings. Before the form became absolutely fixed, there arose in the 4th century the ecumenical council, (ecumenical is Greek, signifying 'the inhabited world'). The ecumenical synods were not the logical outgrowth of the network of provincial synods, but the creations of imperial power. Constantine laid the foundations when, in response to a petition of the Donatists, he referred their case to a committee of bishops convened at Rome, summoned the council of Arles to settle the matter. For both of these councils it was the emperor that decided who should be summoned, paid the traveling expenses of the bishops, determined the meeting place, and the topics to be discussed. He regarded them as temporary advisory bodies, to whose recommendations the imperial power might give the force of law.

In the same manner he fixed time and place for the Council of Nicaea, used his influence to bring about the adoption of the creed, and punished those who refused to subscribe. The Council of Nicaea, on which subsequent ecumenical synods of the undivided church were modeled, commanded great veneration, for it was the first attempt to assemble the entire episcopate; but no more than the synods of Rome and Arles was it an organ of ecclesiastical self-government, but rather a means whereby the church is ruled by the secular power.

The numbering of ecumenical synods is not fixed, but the list below is the one most used in the Roman church today:

1.Nicaea I325
2.Constantinople I381
5.Constantinople II553
6.Constantinople III680
7.Nicaea II787
8.Constantinople IV869
9.Lateran I1123
10.Lateran II1139
11.Lateran III1179
12.Lateran IV1215
13.Lyons I1245
14.Lyons II1274
16.Constance (in part)1414-1418
17a.Basel (in part)1431ff
17b.Ferrara-Florence (a continuation of Basel)1438-1442
18.Lateran V1512-1517
21.Vatican II1962-1965

By including Pisa (1409) and by treating Florence as a separate synod, certain writers have brought the number of ecumenical councils up to 23.

The council of Nicaea is an event of highest importance in Christian history. Constantine, from his accession, showed himself the friend of the Christians. He recognized Christianity as the power of the future, and directed his energies toward the establishment of the positive relationship between it and the Roman state. But the church could only maintain its great value for the politician by remaining the same compact organism that it had proved itself to be under the stormy reign of Diocletian. But scarcely was the church at peace with the state when violent feuds broke out in its midst. Donatism in the West was followed by the Arian struggle in the East. The conflict kindled by the Alexandrian presbyter Arius with regard to the relation of Christ to God assumed a formidable character. Constantine therefore had recourse to an institution previously evolved by the Christian Church – the convocation of a synod to pronounce on the burning questions of the day. He convened a council, designed to represent the whole Curch of the empire, at Nicaea, in Bithynia.

The deliberations on the Arian question passed through several stages before the final condemnation of Arius and his doctrines was reached. Some accepted and others rejected it. The majority of the council followed a neutral tendency, rejecting the formulae of Arius, and declining to accept those of his opponents. An Arian confession of faith was first brought forward and read; but it aroused such a storm of indignation that obviously, in the interests of a restoration of ecclesiastical peace, there could be no question of its acceptance. On this, Eusebius of Caesarea submitted the baptismal creed of his community. Since the creed dated from a period anterior to the Arian struggle, its reception would have been equivalent to a declaration on the part of the council that it declined to define its position with reference to the controversy of the hour. But the emperor saw that if the difficulties were eluded in any such way, they would arise again to an accentuated form, and that consequently no pacification could be expected from this policy.

Accordingly Constantine proposed that the Caesarean creed should be modified by the insertion of the Alexandrian pass words, "identical in nature," as if for the purpose of more accurate definition, and by the deletion of certain portions. The creed thus evolved by an artificial unity was no ratification of peace; in fact, it paved the way for a struggle that convulsed the whole empire. For it was the proclamation of the Nicene Creed that first opened the eyes of many bishops to the significance of the problem there treated; and its explanation led the church to force herself by an arduous path of theological work, into compliance with those principles, enunciated at Nicaea, to which, in the year 325, she had pledged herself without genuine assent.


Helena; represented as a queen with crown and scepter, and holding a T-shaped wooden cross, which according to legend, she was instrumental in discovering.


Nicene Council; a variation on the illustration depicting the Council of Sinuessa at Folio CXXVI verso. This time around the Holy Spirit, as a dove, has rays of light emitted from the lower part of its body. Also, the central figure holds an open book in one hand and a crozier in the other.