Original Research

Nicaea as political orthodoxy: Imperial Christianity versus episcopal polities

Rugare Rukuni, Erna Oliver
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 75, No 4 | a5313 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v75i4.5313 | © 2019 Rugare Rukuni | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 02 November 2018 | Published: 30 September 2019

About the author(s)

Rugare Rukuni, Department of Christian Spirituality, Church History and Missiology, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa
Erna Oliver, Department of Christian Spirituality, Church History and Missiology, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa

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Fourth-century Christianity and the Council of Nicaea have continually been read as a Constantinian narrative. The dominancy of imperial Christianity has been a consequent feature of the established narrative regarding the events within early Christianity. There is a case for a revisionist enquiry regarding the influence of the emperor in the formation of orthodoxy. The role of bishops and its political characterisation had definitive implications upon Christianity as it would seem. Recent revisions on Constantine by Leithart and Barnes incited the enquiry. The enquiry was made possible through document analysis; this mainly took the form of a literature study. The orthodoxy that emerged at Nicaea in 325 CE was reflective of the political–orthodoxy trajectory that Christianity took beyond the 4th century. Between imperial intervention and clerical polities, one was a definitive dynamic to the then emergent Christianity. The influence of the emperor, which was an apparently definitive feature characterising the era, was compositely relevant as a catalyst in the formation of the Christianity that emerged during the 4th century. The implication that centuries before the Council of Nicaea Christianity had been characterised by significant phases of socio-cultural dynamics relegates the influence of the emperor. The emperor Constantine and his association with the Council of Nicaea characterised an era of imperial ecclesiastical politics in Christianity, and so did the Jewish–Christian Schism and a monarchical episcopate that shaped the orthodox matrix of the church. This research deduced that the function of imperial intervention should be analysed in conjunction with diverse factors characterising the Christianity emergent at Nicaea, particularly ecclesiastical polities.


Church history; Imperial Christianity; Ecumenical orthodoxy; Ecclesiastical politics; Constantine, Self-definition and Nicaea


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