Anti-Judiasm and the Council of Nicea
Written by Rick Arahon Chamberlain
The Council of Nicea was convened in 325 CE (AD) by Constantine, Emperor of the Roman Empire. Constantine, a worshipper of the ‘sun-god,’ technically ‘converted’ to Christianity. His reign marked the alliance of church and state. Christians were no longer persecuted by the pagans. Instead, Christians persecuted others (including other Christians) with a zeal and a vengeance that would shock the pagans. More Christians were killed (by other Christians!) in the first century after the Council of Nicea than had been killed by pagans in the century before Nicea.
Constantine, only one year after convening the Council of Nicea, had his own son (Crispus) put to death. Later he suffocated Fausta (his wife) in an overheated bath. Then he had his sister’s son flogged to death and her husband strangled. (1) It was also during the reign of Constantine that the cross became a sacred symbol in Christianity, just as it had been in pagan religions.(2)Throughout his reign, Constantine treated the bishops as political aides. He agreed to enforce whatever opinion the majority of the bishops formulated.
The Jewish Temple was destroyed in 70 CE by the Romans under Titus. Then Israel was totally destroyed as a nation with the defeat of Bar Kochba (a false Messiah) in 135 CE. Hundreds of thousands of Jews were massacred. Most of the survivors were dispersed into the Gamut (Diaspora or Exile), many of who were sold into slavery. The final utter defeat of Israel was seen by many Christians as a sign that Israel was rejected by her God. The “Church” was seen as the new Israel. Anti-Semitism began to take a firm hold on Christianity. By the time that Constantine called the first general church council at Nicea in 325, anti-Semitism was endemic in the “Church.” The Council of Nicea was attended by 318 bishops, none of whom were of Jewish ancestry.
Passover was still celebrated by the Gentile Christian church, but the Gentiles began to see a need to differentiate “their” Passover from the Jewish Passover. The bishops decided to move the Christian celebration of Passover to the first Sunday after the Jewish Passover (in most years). The Jewish Passover always falls on the 14th day of Abib (Nisan), which can fall on any day of the week. Centuries later, the very name of Passover (or Pesakh) also became distasteful to the Gentile church, and terms such as Easter (the name of a pagan goddess) were adopted by the increasingly paganized church. Occasionally, as in 1989, the Christian observance of Easter is almost a month before Passover.
The first edict in favor of the ‘Venerable Day of the Sun” (Sunday) was made at the Council of Nicea. Until this time, both Christian and Jew generally observed the seventh day Sabbath, according to the Biblical commandment.
Civil legislation enforced the decrees of the Council of Nicea. This was a victory over the truth by civil legislation. Constantine, as emperor, presided over the entire council. The decisions of the 318 church bishops were endorsed by civil law and backed by military power.
The churches which flourished in worldly wealth were the primary churches represented by this Council. The poor and humble churches could not afford to send representatives over a thousand miles away. The Catholic Encyclopedia says, “Some bishops, blinded by the splendor of the court, even went so far as to laud the emperor as an angel of God, as a sacred being, and to prophesy that he would, like the Son of God, reign in heavens (3)
Nicea, with its theological anti-Judaism, laid the groundwork for anti-Semitic legislation of later church councils. The Council of Antioch (341 CE) prohibited Christians from celebrating Passover with the Jews. The Council of Laodicea in the same century forbade Christians from observing the Jewish (and biblical) Sabbath. (Some Christians had been observing both Sunday and the Sabbath.) Christians were also forbidden from receiving gifts from Jews or matzoh (4) from Jewish festivals and “impieties.” (5)
It wasn’t all bad news in those early centuries. Judaism was not a “prohibited sect,” according to the Codex Theodosianus of 438 CE. Rabbis were entitled to the same privileges as Christian clergy. Jews were not to be disturbed on their Sabbath or Feast Days. Their synagogues were not to be attacked, violated, burned, or confiscated. However, conversion was a one-way street. Jews could convert to Christianity, and were encouraged to do so. However, Christians were forbidden to convert to Judaism. Also, Jews were forbidden to own Christian slaves, but Christians could own Jewish slaves. Christians were forbidden under penalty of death to marry Jews. Jewish tribunals were considered valid only in matters purely religious. The Fiscus Judaicus (Jewish tax) from earlier centuries was maintained, a tax which only Jews were required to pay to government authorities.
The few protections offered by the Codex Judaicus were relatively short-lived. It wasn’t many decades until attacks on Jews and their synagogues became commonplace. The Jew was a second-class citizen, somewhat protected by law, but merely tolerated, something akin to the dhimmi status that is given to non-Moslems in Islamic countries. However, these were the “good old days” compared to the horrors that would be inflicted upon Jews in later centuries by the “Church triumphant.” Rav Shaul (Paul) commanded the Christians to “provoke the Jews to jealousy” with righteous living. Unfortunately, Christians kept only half the commandment; they provoked the Jews.
The Council of Nicea (the first genuinely Roman Catholic council) was very creedal oriented. This is still very true of most of Christianity today. Creeds (what you believe) is far more important than what you believe. In Judaism, observance of the mitzvot (6) is the litmus test of a good Jew. Little emphasis is placed upon creeds. The emphasis upon creeds in the Christian church has resulted in the deaths of millions of martyrs and “heretics.” Christian love and charity were sadly lacking, even to other Christians. In fact, a Jew often had much better chances of survival than a Christian who was deemed to be a heretic.
I hasten to add the following comments: I know the difference between the genuine disciples of Yeshua and the pretenders. In this article, I have used the term Christian” even for those who were not born-again of the ruach (Spirit) of God. However, they called themselves Christians, and were considered as such by others, including the pagans. This article is not intended to slander the true disciples of Yeshua, whether they be Jews or Gentiles.
Copyright © Petah Tikvah Magazine
From Petah Tikvah Magazine Vol. 14, No. 3