One of the most controversial and yet crucial topics of Christian theology is the deity of Jesus. It lies at the heart of the the Christian faith. Such faith rests on Jesus’ actually being God in human flesh, and not simply an extraordinary human, even the most unusual person who ever lived. Jesus understood himself as equal with the Father and as possessing the right to do things that only God has the right to do.
Controversy erupted in the early 300s over the teachings of a North African priest named Arius. Influenced by Greek rationalism, Arius argued for an absolute monotheism that denied the deity of Jesus and claimed that He was a created being. Similar to modern Jehovah’s Witnesses, Arius contended that “there was a time when he was not”. Jesus was, therefore, of a different essence than the Father. Arius’s commitment to Greek thought demanded that God, who is spirit and absolutely indivisible, could never truly identify with humanity, which is basically material. The two were forever irreconcilable. Thus only a creature, created within time, could possibly bridge that gap. That creature was Jesus Christ.
The Roman Emperor Constantine, a professed Christian who had ended the persecution of the church in A.D. 313, called the Council of Nicea in 325 to deal with the uproar. Three positions were represented at Nicea:
1. Jesus was of a different essence from the Father (Arius);
2. Jesus was of the same essence as the Father (Athanasius);
3. Jesus was of a like essence to the Father (a compromise position).
The debate was heated and often bitter and the creed that Nicea produced condemned Arius as a heretic. Arguing that Jesus was of the same essence as the Father, the Nicene Creed declared Jesus to be “true God from true God”. And denying one of the central tenets of Arianism, the council proclaimed Jesus as “begotten, not created”.
Eckman, J. P. (2002). Exploring church history (29-30). Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway.