It’s one thing to live as a Christian in a world where your faith is persecuted and oppressed. Life may be hard but the boundaries between belief and unbelief are fairly clear. It’s quite another to remain faithful when the name “Christian” is not persecuted but praised and even endowed with power!
Some Christians responded to the new state of affairs brought about by Constantine’s profession of faith by retreating to monastic communities in the deserts of Egypt and North Africa. While some church members were on the move to the African deserts, barbarian tribes in Europe were on the move as well. Tribes migrating from northern Europe were quickly changing the western half of the Roman Empire—especially after the fateful winter of 406 (or 405), when the Rhine River froze and allowed a massive band of barbarians to cross the empire’s ancient border.
Throughout this era, councils of church overseers gathered to respond to theological conflicts that arose in their churches. Some of these church councils were “ecumenical”—a term that, at this time, simply meant that the council represented churches throughout the Roman Empire.
The first four ecumenical councils wrestled specifically with how Jesus was both God and man, one person with two natures. The church councils didn’t create these beliefs about Jesus; what they were striving for was a clear articulation of what the apostles had taught centuries earlier about the nature of Jesus.
:: First Ecumenical Council ::
Where? Nicaea (modern Iznik, Turkey)
What was the problem? Arianism, the belief that Jesus was created and not eternally divine
Conclusion? Jesus is fully and eternally God, equal with the Father and Spirit in power and glory
:: Second Ecumenical Council ::
Where? Constantinople (modern Istanbul, Turkey)
What was the problem? Apollinarianism, the belief that Jesus had no human mind, only a divine mind, and was thus not fully human
Conclusion? Jesus was fully human
:: Third Ecumenical Council ::
Where? Ephesus (near modern Selcuk, Turkey)
What was the problem? Nestorianism, the belief that Jesus was two separate persons—one human and one divine—with one body
Conclusion? Jesus was one person, not two; Mary carried in her womb not merely a human Messiah but the incarnate God
:: Fourth Ecumenical Council ::
Where? Chalcedon (part of modern Istanbul, Turkey)
What was the problem? Eutychianism, the belief that Jesus had only one nature, a mixture of human and divine
Conclusion? Jesus possessed two natures, one human and one divine
To learn more about these christological conflicts, watch this video that summarizes the primary beliefs about Jesus from the church’s first five centuries: What are some of the ancient heresies about Jesus Christ?
30 Days through Church History: Day 11