Letter of the Council of Nicaea to the Egyptian Church
Reference numbers： Urk. 23
Incipit： Ἐπειδὴ τῆς τοῦ Θεοῦ χάριτος
Date： June 325
Ancient source used： Socrates, Church History 1.9
Modern edition used： W. Bright, Socrates’ ecclesiastical history, 2nd edition (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1893)
Other ancient sources： Athanasius, Defense of the Nicene Definition 36
Theodoret, Church History 1.9.2
Gelasius, Church History 2.34.2
(1.) To the great church of the Alexandrians, which is holy by the grace of God, and to our beloved brothers throughout Egypt, Libya, and the Pentapolis. We bishops assembled at Nicaea, constituting the great and holy council, send greetings in the Lord.
(2.) Since, by the grace of God, a great and holy council has been convened at Nicaea, after our most pious sovereign Constantine summoned us out of various cities and provinces for that purpose, we at the sacred council thought it most necessary to write you a letter, in order that you may know what subjects were considered and examined, and what was eventually decided on and decreed. In the first place, the impiety and guilt of Arius and his adherents was examined in the presence of our most pious emperor Constantine.
(3.) We unanimously decided that his impious opinion should be anathematized, with all the blasphemous expressions he has uttered, namely that “the Son of God came to be out of nothing,” that “there was a time when he was not,” and even that “the Son of God, because he possessed free will, was capable of either both evil and good.” They also call him a creature (ktisma) and a work (poiēma).
(4.) The holy Council has anathematized all these ideas, barely able to endure it as we listened to such impious opinions (or rather madnesses) and such blasphemous words. You must either have been informed of the verdict of our proceedings against him already, or you will soon learn. We will omit relating our actions here, for we would not trample on a man who has already received the punishement which his crime deserved.
(5.) Yet his deadly error has proved so contagious that it has dragged Theonas of Marmarica, and Secundus of Ptolemaïs, into destruction; for they have suffered the same condemnation as Arius.
But after the grace of God delivered us from those detestable heresies, with all their impiety and blasphemy, and from those persons, who had dared to cause such conflict and division among a people previously at peace, the rash actions of Meletius and those who had been ordained by him still remained to be dealt with. We now state to you, beloved brothers, what resolution the Council came to on this point.
(6.) The Council was moved with compassion towards Meletius, although strictly speaking he was wholly undeserving of favor, and decreed that he remain in office in his own city but exercise no authority either to ordain or nominate for ordination; and that he appear in no other district or city on this pretense, retaining no more than the normal level of authority.
(7.) The Council also decided that those who had been appointed by him, after having been confirmed by a more legitimate ordination, should be admitted to communion on these conditions: that they should continue to hold their rank and ministry, but regard themselves as inferior in every respect to all those who have been ordained and established in each place and church by our most-honored fellow-minister, Alexander. Thus they will have no authority to propose or nominate whom they please, or to do anything at all without the agreement of some bishop of the catholic church who is one of Alexander’s subordinates.
(8.) On the other hand, those who by the grace of God and your prayers have not been found in schism, but have continued blameless in the catholic church, shall have authority to nominate and ordain those who are worthy of the sacred office, and to act in all things according to ecclesiastical law and custom.
(9.) When it happens that those holding offices in the church die, then these who have been recently admitted will be advanced to the office of the deceased, provided that they are found worthy, that they are duly elected, and that the bishop of Alexandria ratifies the decision.
(10.) This right is allowed for all the others indeed, but to Meletius personally we by no means grant the same permission, on account of his former disorderly conduct, and because of the rashness and fickleness of his character. We want no authority or jurisdiction to be given to him, for he is a man liable again to create similar disturbances.
(11.) These are the things which specifically affect Egypt, and the most holy church of the Alexandrians. If any other canon or ordinance has been established, our Lord and most-honored fellow-minister and brother Alexander, who is present with us, will explain the more specific details when he returns to you, since he has participated in all we have done, and has in fact been the leader.
(12.) We also have good news for you that we have harmonized our opinions on the subject of the most holy feast of Easter, which has been happily settled through your prayers. All the brothers in the east who have previously kept this festival when the Jews did have agreed with the Romans, with us, and with all of you who have kept Easter with us from the beginning, to follow the same custom as we.
(13.) So rejoice in these results and in the general agreement and peace, as well as in the cleansing of all heresy. Receive our fellow-minister and your bishop Alexander with great honor and abundant love, because he has greatly delighted us by his presence. Even at his advanced age, he has undergone extraordinary efforts in order that peace might be re-established among you. Pray on behalf of us all, that the things we decided were appropriate may be maintained without violation through Almighty God, and our Lord Jesus Christ, together with the Holy Spirit, to whom be glory for ever. Amen.
Translation from NPNF2 vol. 2, pp. 12-3, adapted by AJW