A couple hundred years after Jesus’ Ascension, a heavy debate arouse within the Church. There were some people who believed that although Jesus was the Son of God, he was not divine because he must have been created by the Father. These people were preaching that Christ was not fully divine and thus, less than the Father. On the other side of the argument were those who believed the Son has always existed, that he was begotten of the Father, that he chose to become man and thus the Son and the Father are co-equal. The debate was becoming so substantial that a council of all the bishops was organized in 325 AD.
The bishops from around the world gathered in Nicaea and by means of debate, prayer, and guidance of the Holy Spirit intended to end the discussion with an official declaration of what the Church’s stance was on the matter.
One of the main supporters of the first viewpoint (that Jesus was not divine) was a man named Arius. He talked about his beliefs for a loooooooooooong time, and the longer he spoke, the more annoyed St. Nicholas became. As the heresy continued, his agitation levels rose, and his blood began to boil. It got to a point that St. Nicolas was so angry with Arius for speaking about Christ in that way, that Nicholas stood up and smacked Arius in the face!
Everyone was dumbfounded by the turn of events. Nicholas’ actions did not seem becoming of a Bishop of the Catholic Church. As a result, his copy of the Gospels and his pallium (bishop garments) were taken from him (symbolizing his removal from office) and he was thrown in jail — his punishment to be finalized after the council ended.
In an un-arrogant manner, Nicholas held fast to his belief that Arius was in the wrong for preaching untruths about Jesus. That night, Nicholas received two visitors. Our Lady and Jesus came and asked him why he was in jail. Nicholas replied, “For love of you.” Nicholas had not struck Arius out of hate (in fact some Theologians will even argue that the aggression was merely an attempt to slap him back to his senses); Nicholas had behaved as he did out of love for Christ.
In response, Jesus handed Nicholas a book of the Gospels and our Lady gave him another pallium. In the morning, when the guard returned, he found Nicholas unchained, clothed, and silently reading the Gospels. When Emperor Constantine heard the news, he ordered Nicholas to be released. Seeing it was the will of Christ, the bishops restored St. Nicholas to his apostolic position.
In the end, the Council discerned the matter in favor of the belief that Jesus is fully God and not a creature. The Council put forth a creed — a statement of belief — as to what is the official stance of the Church. We know this statement as The Nicene Creed and we pray it often at Mass. Give it a read through and pay close attention to the 2nd paragraph. It’s easy to see why the Church had to be so specific about these things when you know the back story!
I believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.
I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the Only Begotten Son of God,
born of the Father before all ages.
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary,
and became man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate,
he suffered death and was buried,
and rose again on the third day
in accordance with the Scriptures.
He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead
and his kingdom will have no end.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.
I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.
I confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins
and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead
and the life of the world to come. Amen.