Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost,
As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be,
World without end. Amen, amen.
This article is aimed specifically at correcting the Emperor Constantine story as it is erroneously reported by the Jehovah’s Witnesses. It can also be directed at the many other historical inaccuracies circulated by Mormons and Muslims since they publish similar propaganda, although the lies of Islam and Latter-day Saints are told to achieve different ends.
For starters let me say plainly that Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Muslims and other cults must be condemned first and foremost because of their heretical opinions toward the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Each cult is judged by the Bible – and the Bible only – to be a false religion, not because they are confused about church (or secular) history. Yet, the aforementioned cults can also be proven to be false religions based on their follower’s nonexistence in historical documents: There were no Jehovah’s Witnesses before Charles Taze Russell. No Mormons before Joseph Smith, and of course no Muslims existed before Muhammad. If these religions are from the Lord of history, we would know of Muslims, Mormons, and Jehovah’s Witnesses during the earthly ministry of the Jewish Messiah. Jesus is not (and never was) a Muslim, nor is He a Jehovah’s Witness or a Mormon. Instead, Jesus was the Promised One made known throughout the Old Testament Scriptures. Thus, Islam and Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses were obvious, yet very clever, inventions of late-coming religious entrepreneurs; and having come along before the others, Muhammad is certainly the most productive of them all.
Since these three religions did not exist until recently, they must plagiarize the historical documents of the one true faith, Christianity, which was on the scene whenever church history occurred. Islam, Mormonism, and Jehovah’s Witnesses have left no footprints in historical trails prior to the arrival of their respective founders. How could they? – they did were not invented yet! To no one’s surprise, when the cultists do not agree with the earliest historical Christian documents, they distort or add to them – the same way they distort and add to the Holy Scripture. One example is the history of Emperor Constantine’s role in the Trinitarian controversy at Nicaea. The Watchtower followers might be pleased to know that a first-hand account of Constantine’s baptism actually supports their spurious sect’s key doctrines. Constantine was not a Jehovah’s Witness in name, for they were not invented yet; however, some of their ideas were beginning to sprout in the heavily-manured soil of 4th century Arianism.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses wrongly believe that Constantine was a Trinitarian Christian
The best place to learn out about this important bit of history is from Eusebius of Caesarea (c. AD 263 – 339), who was present when the Council of Nicaea convened (Note: do not confuse the man with Eusebius of Nicomedia). Eusebius of Caesarea wrote extensively on the subject and gives a detailed account for all to read – his work is still with us and you can find it here.
Instead of citing primary works and first-hand accounts like a good historian should, the Watchtower Society erects an argument based on ad hoc querying – that reads like a high-school term paper using third-hand descriptions from an outdated encyclopedia Britannica. The Watchtower version of Constantine’s role at Nicaea is not only filled with half-truths (and whole lies), but is the best example one can find if looking for prepossessed opinion, bias, and unscholarly presupposition. It is the most pathetic case of prejudiced historical revisionism ever devised on any topic known to man. I may, Lord willing, list the Watchtower’s gross and misleading errors in a future article, but unfortunately must stick to the original intent of this article, which is to point out that Constantine himself was a forerunner of the Jehovah’s Witness cult; he was, in fact, baptized an Arian on his deathbed.
Educating the Jehovah’s Witnesses on Constantine’s conversion could, I suppose, cause the Watchtower Society to revise their many Awake! articles, which reports a series of conspiracy theories similar to Dan Brown’s fiction. Being ignorant of the history of the Nicene Council, the Watchtower bosses have made the Emperor into a proponent of Trinitarian orthodoxy. But when all is said and done, Constantine was a true friend of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, not the Trinitarians. The JWs ought to be grateful to Christians like me and any others for reading Eusebius on their behalf. We have helped them find like-minded people in ages past with which they can identify as forerunners of their cult. Maybe they have an ancient history after all, and the Christians of all people have pointed it out for them.
Arianism, the forerunner to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, first surfaced in the late third century. It was precisely this religious movement’s heretical teachings that caused the Christian church to more carefully define to others (new and potential converts in particular) what the Bible taught about such things. The Trinitarians therefore wanted to defend the Bible’s teachings against the same errors that surface today brought about by ignorant teachers of the Watchtower Society. The Antioch school of theologians, the most important in the East at the time, rejected the doctrine of same-substance of Father and Son at a synod in A.D. 268, and developed a overemphasized subordinationist view of the Son’s relation to the Father. Lucian of Antioch (c. 240–January 7, 312), one of the Antioch leaders, became the teacher of Arius of Alexandria (a.d. 256-336) and of Eusebius of Nicomedia, who was a great defender of Arianism during and after the Council of Nicaea; it was from this school Arianism sprang.
The established concept of the same substance of the Father-Son was abhorrent to the Arians, for they believed the Son to be created out of nothing, like Adam was, while affirming the Father’s substance was the indivisible, eternal substance of deity. Arianism also rejected the deity of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit was in their view considered to be God’s force, not a personal Being, and definitely not God, but the power by which God worked in creation through The Word (Jesus).
OUTBREAK TO NICAEA (A.D. 318-325)
Arius developed his teacher Lucian’s subordination views into a full-blown system of thought in which he denied the pre-existence of Jesus Christ. He also rejected the personality and deity of the Holy Spirit. Apparently one day in A.D.. 318, at a teaching session, Bishop Alexander of Alexandria was lecturing on the eternity of the Jesus Christ. Arius voiced his objection to the view, and after some days of debate, the presbyters of Alexandria agreed with Alexander. As a result, Arius, unconvinced of the orthodox position, was banned from the Alexandrian churches. He left the city and was welcomed by Eusebius of Nicomedia, whose theology agreed with his. Eusebius of Nicomedia, too, was a fellow student of Lucian of Antioch and also of Eusebius of Caesarea. Although the theology of Eusebius of Caesarea was in fact opposed to Arius’s, his terminology did not agree with the main body of orthodoxy represented by Alexander. Eusebius of Caesarea therefore initially thought himself in agreement with Arius, though he later saw he was not.
Both Eusebiuses had strong ties with the Emperor Constantine, and appealed to him to come to Arius’s aid. Constantine talked with representatives of both sides of the controversy, especially with Bishop Hosius of Cordova (c. 257 – 359), a close friend and longtime aide of Constantine who supported the orthodox viewpoint of Alexander. Apparently Constantine did not really understand the theological issues very well at first, if at all. But he did understand that this crisis had caused a major division within Christianity. He did all he could to restore unity without using political force, but was not successful.
In the spring of A.D. 325, Constantine, with the encouragement of bishops on both sides, called for a conference of the leading bishops throughout the empire to discuss this and other matters, mainly questions of church government.
The role of the emperor in all the Nicene Council has been the subject of great debate. It has been argued that his goal was purely political: the unification of a powerful religious force within the empire would only benefit him. Christianity was growing rapidly and many higher class citizens had become baptized members of the Church. It seems highly questionable, however, to see Constantine’s only involvement in the problem was political maneuvering, as others (including the Jehovah’s Witnesses) have implied. The more likely view is that politics and religion were both important to Constantine, for it appears that he inherited from his mother an early tendency toward Christianity. Certainly at his famous “conversion” something more than an ingenious plan for military victory occurred to him.
1962 Hollywood depiction of Constantine’s conversion to Christianity:
Later in his life, Constantine’s desire to be baptized was so strong that he sought it to his dying day, and indeed received it from the Arian, Eusebius of Nicomedia. But while religious motivation was at least a large part of the reason for Constantine’s calling the Nicene Council together, we should not assume that he understood the theology behind it very well.
I suspect Constantine’s personal opinions were probably closer to the Jehovah’s Witnesses than they were orthodox, at least at the start of the controversy. But his real desire may have been to simply to believe the Christian faith, and it was up to the Church to decide what that faith was. The fact that during the Council proceedings, probably at the suggestion of Hosius, he proposed the addition of the word ὁμοούσιος to the initial Arian creed, which was submitted by Arius’s friend, Eusebius of Caesarea. This causes some to surmise that he had only begun to understand the issues, and had eventually seen the truth of the orthodox position. This is possible, but not likely, for Constantine’s later leanings were consistently in line with the Arians.
Jehovah’s Witnesses (and, indeed, many others unfamiliar with the details of the debate) are largely unaware that the Arians were the first to present a creed of their own. Whether this was actually authored by Arius is not known, nor is it certain whether he himself presented it to the Council. The Arian creed was roundly rejected by the vast majority of the attendees. Arius apparently left the Council at that time, or was forced to leave. Eusebius of Nicomedia, Arius’s friend, thus became defender de facto of Arianism during the rest of the meetings.
Next, the orthodox bishops countered the Arian’s creed with one of their own, inserting ὁμοούσιος, and by doing so incited the Arians to scorn. The issues were now out in the open, and the majority of the delegates to the Council were strongly in favor of the Trinitarian Creed, for it represented what they believed the original Apostles had taught all along. The vast majority of the delegates signed it. Only five who were still at the Council by the time the Nicene Creed was presented for signatures would not sign: Eusebius of Nicomedia, the defender of Arianism; Theognis of Nice; Maris of Chalcedon; Theonas of Marmarica; and Secundus of Ptolemais. All objected for the same basic reason: they understood ὁμοούσιος to teach that Jesus is co-equal with the Father. Although the Council of Nicaea ended with a rousing victory for the orthodox Christians, the victory was not to be complete until fifty-six years later, at the Council of Constantinople.
Shortly after the Council of Nicaea, the Arians made a powerful comeback, taking control of the Church, at least in the eastern parts. They also gained the good favor of the Emperor Constantine and his son Constantius, who became emperor upon Constantine’s death in 337, a year after the death of Arius.
THE JEHOVAH’S WITNESS FOREFATHERS CONVERT EMPEROR CONSTANTINE, A.D. 325-361
The Arian triumph after Nicaea was won by two means. First, the Arian party, knowing that it had been officially rejected by the Church realized that to gain an upper hand in the battle they needed turned to sources of power outside the church government, and this meant turning to the emperor. Eusebius of Nicomedia, a leader of the Arians, had close ties with the emperor through his family.
The emperor, however, wanted to believe what the holy catholic and apostolic Church believed. He had been initially convinced at Nicaea that the Church believed the ὁμοούσιος, orthodox position. The Arians had to therefore convince the emperor to change his mind. This could not be done directly, since the emperor, though his theological understanding was limited, had understood enough at Nicaea to know the difference between Creator and creature. The Arians (like the Jehovah’s Witnesses claim today) could not simply say to the emperor, “Constantine, we believe Christ is a created being, the first creation of the Father, who can be called ‘a god’ because of his participation in the Father’s glory and his work in redemption, but who is not really The God.” They needed to hide their real beliefs by using ambiguous statements of faith. This is precisely what they did, and by this they gained the emperor’s favor, appealing to him almost as if they were the poor, persecuted minority. The nasty Trinitarians were really the culprits causing disunity in the worldwide church. The Arians were unjustly criticizing by the Trinitarians over a mere misunderstanding and difference in terminology.
While the primary theological defense of Arianism was carried on by Eusebius of Nicomedia, the ecclesiastical historian Eusebius of Caesarea, who was a cunning diplomat, sought the peace of the whole Church, regardless of theological differences. It was by his diplomacy, combined with an ambiguous confession of faith sent by Arius and Euzoius, that Constantine was won to the side of the Arians. When Constantine turned his favor to the Arians, he recalled Arius from exile, sent him again to Alexandria, and the Arians were back in power. It was at Constantine’s insistence that Eusebius of Nicomedia became the Bishop of Constantinople the year after Constantine’s death (a.d. 337), a position which Eusebius held from his consecration (A.D. 338) until Macedonius, another Arian, assumed leadership in 342 or 343.
The Arians drafted another deceptive statement of faith. Nothing in it expressed the Arian belief that Christ was a mere created being and not true God, but neither was there anything which denied such a belief. Cults use the same strategy in our own day. In addition, the appeal to preserve the harmony of the Church was cleverly designed to focus the attention of the emperor on the unity of the Church rather than on the crucial issue of theological accuracy, namely, what sort of God the Church worships. The Arians realized they could not win by open discussion and debate; they consequently turned to politics and appeals to emotion as more important than truth itself.
Constantine was consequently won over by the Arians, and he protected them and their cause. Athanasius, who had become Bishop of Alexandria at Alexander’s death (a.d. 326), was ordered by the emperor to receive Arius back into fellowship. In A.D. 330 Eustathius, one of the Nicene leaders, was overthrown in Antioch and replaced by Arian leadership. In the same year Eudoxius, an Arian, became Bishop of Germanicia. The Arians were moved into the most important positions of church leadership.
THE JEHOVAH’S WITNESS FORERUNNERS MAKE POLITICAL ADVANCES
Constantine died in 337 (May 22), having been baptized on his deathbed by Eusebius of Nicomedia, whose religious beliefs mirrored the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The following year Eusebius of Nicomedia became the Bishop of Constantinople, with Macedonius his chief presbyter. The Arians thus controlled all the most important positions in the Church, excluding Rome and Alexandria. In 339, however, Athanasius was banished again from Alexandria while Constantius, the son of Constantine, was emperor of the eastern half of the empire, and supported the Arians with every possible means, including imperial force.
With the death of Constantine, Constantius became ruler of the East. He was completely in favor of the Arians, and placed the power of the emperor behind them in everything they did. Orthodoxy received severe blows in the East and became the decided minority among Church leadership, though it remained strong in the West under the protection of the Emperor Constans. Constans died, however, in 350, and Constantius became sole emperor. He did all he could to crush trinitarian orthodoxy throughout the empire.
The genuinely Arian elements in the great anti-Nicene party now threw off the mask and succeeded in getting an unadulterated version of their teaching canonized at a series of synods, notably the third council of Sirmium (357) and the synods of Nice (359) and Constantinople (360).
Constantius’s support of the Arians was not without difficulty, however. In 346 Constans put pressure on him which forced him to readmit Athanasius to the leadership of Alexandria.
Yet, having gained the backing of the highest political power in the empire, the Arians came completely into the open. The Arian party knew that it did not really represent either the contemporary Church or the centuries of the Church which preceded it. The Arians were quickly recognized by the Church itself (as well as those outside the Church) as anything but Christian. The Jehovah’s Witnesses know, just as the rest of the world does, that they do not represent true Christianity in our own time either. Yet for some time, the Arian party was actually in control over the Church throughout the empire, even if not in spiritual and intellectual control.
But during this long reign of Arianism, orthodox Trinitarianism was not dormant and was far from silent. The Church held councils, wrote letters and books, and proclaimed decrees against the Arians. The giant among the defenders of orthodoxy, and clearly the leading thinker of the time in any party, was the great theologian Athanasius. It is to his dedication and toil that orthodoxy owes a great debt for the preservation of Nicene Creed proclaimed in churches across the world to this day.