Just as the Bible’s creation process and Jesus life, the councils and early church theology is surrounded by many myths. This short essay will look at what was happening in the synods in the church’s infancy. The first synod was a local one in Jerusalem in the year 49. This is described in Acts in the New Testament. The first larger meeting was in Nicaea in 325. Then there were councils of Constantinople in 381, Ephesus in 431, Chalkedon in 451, Constantinople in 553 and 680-681 and in Nicaea in 787.
We have many good Sources about what was discussed at the early church meetings. Therefore it’s a little bit strange to see all the speculations. Within the new age movement it’s claimed, without shred of historical documentation, that the church where censoring writings supporting transmigration. Others have argued that the church adopted with the smallest majority that the woman had soul, and the existence of the Holy Spirit. So what’s true?
We’re not sure how the legend about soul of women originated but Kari Vogt summarizeed it okay to say (in an otherwise highly critical article toward the church): “The church has admittedly at all times claimed that the woman has an immortal soul, just like the man. The myth that it had a synod to turn it down, should be killed once and for all. ”
The myth surrounding the Holy Spirit may come from Voltaire’s sarcastic “… after much debate, decided the Holy Spirit so that the council …” Alternatively, it may be a feather grown to five hens after the Council of Constantinople where they clearified how the spirit should be understood in the Trinity.
The allegation about attitudes and writings to support transmigration is presented countless times. But this has no historical footing. On the contrary, there are no scriptures used in churches that has a opening for this. It may however be some feathers from reality here: The first synod in Constantinople discussed the biew of Origen on the preexisting soul (and they rejected it). But even he was not talking about transmigration, but thought the soul to have a a haunt before we were born. Origen even reject emphatically the idea of reincarnation in his commentary from 247 where he says “the dogma of reincarnation, which is foreign to God. It is not handed down by the apostles nor put forward any place in Scripture.” And this is long before some councils have chance to “censor” anything.
The first synod was convened by Emperor Constantine. he wanted to build on to Christianity as a unifying foundation for the Roman Empire. It’s debated if he used the church to form his own useful tool. The reality in relation to Constantine’s influence is he simply didn’t have that much power over the council: He was actually on the losing Arian wing amongst other wielders of power in the army and among the rich! At the council there were no other who disputed the divinity of Jesus, and there were no contested vote over which scriptures to include in the Bible. The disagreement consisted of the relationship between Father and Son. Otherwise it was brought up minor things like how they should relate to the apostates during the persecutions of the previous emperor, church order and when Easter should be celebrated.
A hot topic at the meeting was how to understand the relationship between the Father and the Son. This was led by the priest Arius who made statements about Jesus as created by God. His new doctrine of Jesus faced strong reactions in church and were rejected. They formulated first a statement only built on the Bible that everyone agreed on, but then Arians also used this confession to advocate his views. Then it was formulated a new version with many anti-arian formulations; such as “born, not made.” It was just a very few who would not sign this – Arius himself and a few followers of him. A very large and almost unanimous majority vouched that this was a good way to formulate the Christian faith. This is interesting considering that the idea that God became man really is totally alien and repulsive in both Greek philosophy and Judaism. A radical idea had manifested in an alien enviroment and still was almost unanimously agreed upon.