CHURCH AND STATE AT NICAEA

Many people have the impression that Church teaching on the nature of Jesus was generally accepted until a fellow named Arius came along in the 4th century and and upset things by foolishly teaching something different, so the Church decided to have an all-Church council at Nicaea (in present day Turkey) to condemn Arius and make the Church’s teaching on the matter official.  Everyone then accepted the  Council’s Nicene Creed that explained the nature of Jesus in clear terms, and things returned to normal.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.  If you would like to know all the details of the origins of the controversy and the overwhelming effect of the Council and its linking of the power of the State with Church on the historical development of Christianity (and thus of Christian art and iconography) I suggest you read Charles Freeman’s very interesting and helpful book The Closing of the Western Mind, which contains chapters offering a very good summary of the events leading to the Council of Nicaea, of the Council itself, and of its transforming consequences.

However, if we clear away all the clutter and dust of centuries-old argument overlaying the controversy, we find that it originated in a simple fact:  the writings of the New Testament as a whole were never adequate in providing a clear and unequivocal statement of Christian doctrine.  If you have any doubt of that, just remind yourself of the great number of warring sects and denominations in Christianity from ancient times until today.  But that is a vast topic, and our focus here is on iconography.

Let’s look at a pattern for an icon of the Nicene Council — or as the Russians call it, Первый Вселенский Собор/Pervuiy Vselenskiy Sobor — the “First Universal Council,” or to use more churchy language, the “First Ecumenical Council.”


There is considerable variation among icons of this council, but the Stroganov Podlinnik pattern above gives us a good idea of elements often included.  Though no identification of figures is given in the Stroganov Podlinnik, we can turn to the textual Bolshakov Podlinnik for help.  It begins like this:

First, a palace; in the palace on a golden throne sits Tsar [Emperor] Constantine in imperial clothing ornamented with gold and pearls, in the hand a scepter.

Constantine is the crowned figure we see at top center:


The Bolshakov then goes on to mention figures  often found near Constantine in such icons:  Eustaphios of Antioch, Makarios of Jerusalem, Hosius of Cordoba, Spyridon of Trimythous, Alexander of Alexandria, Paphnutios of Thebes, Palamon of Egypt, Athanasius the Great and other Church fathers.

In the foreground of the pattern, we see a group at left, headed by St. Nicholas, who is conversing with Arius, who stands just behind Emperor Constantine seen a second time at lower right.  Arius and his followers are identifiable by the absence of halos.  So this icon makes quite clear the Eastern Orthodox view of who are considered the “good guys” and who the “bad guys” in this icon and event.


On the  left side of the pattern is an image we have seen and discussed previously:


Perhaps you will recognize it as the “Vision of Peter of Alexandria,” who tradition claims saw Jesus as a boy with torn garments, symbolizing the tear in the fabric of the Church caused by the teachings of Arius.  For more information, see this previous posting:
https://russianicons.wordpress.com/2017/02/10/vision-of-peter-of-alexandria/

On the right is an image of the death of Arius as told by his bitter enemy, Socrates Scholasticus.  We see Arius seated in a toilet enclosure, and his insides are pouring out — supposedly a punishment from God for his “heresy.”

If we look at a recent fresco of the Council of Nicea in the Megalo Meteoron Monastery in Greece, we see similar elements, but also some differences.

(Photo J. Jensen: (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, Wikimedia Commons –photo enhanced here)

Let’s look at the top inscriptions:


The first — at top center — identifies the church in the background as that of
Ἡ ἉΥΙΑ  CΟΦΙΑ
HE HAGIA SOPHIA
“HOLY WISDOM.”

Below that and divided into two parts at each side is the title of the icon:

Ἡ ΕΝ ΝΙΚΑΙΑ ἉΥΙΑ ΠΡΩΤΗ   ΟΙΚΟΥΜΕΝΙΚΗ CΥΝΟΔΟC
HE EN NIKAI HAGIA PROTE OIKOUMENIKE SYNODOS
“THE IN NICAEA HOLY FIRST ECUMENICAL SYNOD”

In the “power position” at center, we see the Emperor Constantine, titled here

Ὁ ΜΕΓΑC ΚΩΝCΤΑΝΤΙΝΟC
HO MEGAS KONSTANTINOS
“THE GREAT CONSTANTINE.”

Above him, as in the Stroganov pattern, we see a rendering of the “Vision of Peter of Alexandria.”

And at the base of the icon, in a position of weakness and submission, we see a fallen figure titled

Ὁ ΑΙΡΕΤΙΚΟC ΑΡΕΙΟC
HO AIRETIKOS AREIOS
“THE HERETIC ARIUS.”

Such icons then, are intended to support  a particular ecclesiastical view of the Council of Nicaea and its significance.

 

 

ENOUGH GREEK TO CHOKE A HORSE…

In yesterday’s posting,  I gave some quick tips on beginning to decipher “difficult” Church Slavic inscriptions — those that are not common and repetitive.

Church Slavic, however, is not used on Greek icons, which (rather obviously) use Greek in inscriptions.

Today we will look at a Greek icon useful in learning to transliterate and ultimately read Greek inscriptions.  It has many ligatures (letters joined together) common on Greek icons.

Before we look at the whole image, let’s examine the title inscription at the top:

syninsc1

It reads:

Η CΥΝΟΔΟc TωΝ ΑΓ. ΠΑΤΕΡѠΝ
HE SYNODOS TON HAG[ION] PATERON
The Synod      of-the  Holy        Fathers

Keep in mind that the little apostrophe facing right above a letter means that in Classical Greek pronunciation it is preceded by an “h” sound.  But in later and modern Greek pronunciation that “h” sound is omitted.  And obviously, HAGION  is abbreviated here.

But what is the Synod of the Holy Fathers?  A Synod is a council.  This image represents the main figures involved in the First Council of Nicea, which declared that Jesus is God.  Of course the icon only shows us the winners.  Those who disagreed automatically became heretics.  The winners make the rules.  So essentially this is an image of the “Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council of Nicea,” and examples often bear that title.

Here is the icon, a type associated with the “Sunday of the Holy Fathers” in the Eastern Orthodox Church Year:

Nicaea_icon

We need only briefly examine the iconography.  The saints are not identified by title, but by appearance; they are:

At center: Emperor Constantine, who legalized Christianity in the Roman Empire and became its patron (and incidentally also murdered his wife Fausta and had his son Crispus put to death as well as having his brother-in-law strangled and his nephew flogged to death; not a nice guy).

At far left with the “beehive” hat is Spyridon of Trimythous (though his beard is somewhat darker here than usual, and his hat, though its usual shape, is made more “fancy” than the customary shepherd’s “woven  basketwork” texture found in most of his images);

At left beside Constantine is (with the flat-ended beard) Athanasius the Great of Alexandria;

At right (beside Constantine) is Paphnutius the Confessor;

At far right is Alexander, Patriarch of Constantinople.

My real focus today, however is not on the iconography but rather on the large scroll with its lengthy inscription.

Common sense is a tremendous help in deciphering icon inscriptions.  We already know that this is an icon of the First Ecumenical Council.  And the ultimate result of that Council, traditionally, was the Nicene Creed, which Eastern Orthodox call the “Symbol of Faith.”  So it does not take a genius to guess that an icon of that council bearing a long text would be likely to feature the text of the Nicene Creed, and indeed that is precisely what we see here:

The whole point of this posting is to give you some practice in transliterating Greek and its ligatures.  I do not expect you to translate it, though you will probably recognize a word here and there if you have been paying attention to my postings on Greek icon inscriptions.

Here is the first line.  I have put joined letters in brackets and put expanded abbreviations in parentheses:

sy1

ΠΙ[CΤ][ΕΥ]Ω ΕΙC ΕΝΑ Θ(ΕΟ)Ν ΠΑΤΕΡΑ Π[ΑΝΤ]ΟΚΡΑ[ΤΟ]ΡΑ ΠΟΙΗ[ΤΗ]Ν [ΟΥ]Ρ[ΑΝ]ΟΝ Κ(ΑΙ) [ΓΗ]C

PISTEUO  EIS  ENA THEON  PATERA PANTOKRATORA   POIETEN OURANON  KAI GES

Now here is the whole thing (at least as much of it as is written on the scroll).  It is given first in capital letters, then in upper and lower case Greek with accents.  I have divided the lines to match the scroll so you will have an easier time in transliterating, and I have given a rough line-by-line translation so you will have an idea of what it all means.  You will notice that I have used the “modern” form of the letter Omega, which in the old inscription is Ѡ, but in modern Greek Ω:

ΠΙCΤΕΎΩ ΕΊC ΕΝΑ ΘΕΌΝ, ΠΑΤΈΡΑ, ΠΑΝΤΟΚΡΆΤΟΡΑ, ΠΟΙΗΤΉΝ ΟΥΡΑΝΟΎ ΚΑΊ ΓΉC,
Πιστεύω εἰς ἕνα Θεόν, Πατέρα, Παντοκράτορα, ποιητὴν οὐρανοῦ καὶ γῆς,
Pisteuo eis hena Theon, Patera, Pantokratora, poieten ouranou kai ges,
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth,

ΟΡΑΤΏΝ ΤΕ ΠΆΝΤΩΝ ΚΑΊ ΑΟΡΆΤΩΝ. ΚΑΊ ΕΊC ΕΝΑ ΚΎΡΙΟΝ, ΊΗCΟΎΝ ΧΡΙCΤΌΝ, ΤΌΝ ΥΙΌΝ
ὁρατῶν τε πάντων καὶ ἀοράτων.  Καὶ εἰς ἕνα Κύριον Ἰησοῦν Χριστόν, τὸν Υἱὸν
horaton te panton kai aoraton.  Kai eis hena Kurion Iesoun Khriston, ton Huion
and of all things visible and invisible.  And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son

ΤΟΥ ΘΕΟΎ ΤΌΝ ΜΟΝΟΓΕΝΉ, ΤΌΝ ΕΚ ΤΟΥ ΠΑΤΡΌC ΓΕΝΝΗΘΈΝΤΑ ΠΡΌ ΠΆΝΤΩΝ ΤΏΝ ΑΙΏΝΩΝ
τοῦ Θεοῦ τὸν μονογενῆ, τὸν ἐκ τοῦ Πατρὸς γεννηθέντα πρὸ πάντων τῶν αἰώνων·
tou Theou ton monogene, ton ek tou Patros gennethenta pro panton ton aionon.
of God the only begotten, the one from the Father born before all the ages.

ΦΏC ΕΚ ΦΩΤΌC, ΘΕΌΝ ΑΛΗΘΙΝΌΝ ΕΚ ΘΕΟΎ ΑΛΗΘΙΝΟΎ ΓΕΝΝΗΘΈΝΤΑ, ΟΎ φῶς ἐκ φωτός, Θεὸν ἀληθινὸν ἐκ Θεοῦ ἀληθινοῦ, γεννηθέντα οὐ
phos ek photos, Theon alethinon ek Theou alethinou, gennethenta ou
light from light, true God from true God, begotten not

ΠΟΙΗΘΈΝΤΑ, ὉΜΟΟΎCΙΟΝ ΤΏ ΠΑΤΡΊ, ΔΙ’ ΟΎ ΤΆ ΠΆΝΤΑ ΕΓΈΝΕΤΟ. ΤΌΝ ΔΙ’ ΗΜΆC ΤΟΎC
ποιηθέντα, ὁμοούσιον τῷ Πατρί, δι’ οὗ τὰ πάντα ἐγένετο.  Τὸν δι’ ἡμᾶς τοὺς
poethenta, homoousion to Patri, di hou ta panta egeneto.  Ton di hemas tous
made, of-same-substance-as the Father, through whom all things were made.   Who for us

ΑΝΘΡΏΠΟΥC ΚΑΊ ΔΙΆ ΤΉΝ ΗΜΕΤΈΡΑΝ CΩΤΗΡΊΑΝ ΚΑΤΕΛΘΌΝΤΑ ΕΚ ΤΏΝ ΟΥΡΑΝΏΝ
ἀνθρώπους καὶ διὰ τὴν ἡμετέραν σωτηρίαν κατελθόντα ἐκ τῶν οὐρανῶν
anthropous kai dia ten hemeteran soterian katelthonta ek ton ouranon
men and for our salvastion came down from the heavens

ΚΑΊ CΑΡΚΩΘΈΝΤΑ ΕΚ ΠΝΕΎΜΑΤΟC ‘ΑΓΊΟΥ ΚΑΊ ΜΑΡΊΑC ΤΉC ΠΑΡΘΈΝΟΥ ΚΑΊ ΕΝΑΝΘΡΩ-
καὶ σαρκωθέντα ἐκ Πνεύματος Ἁγίου καὶ Μαρίας τῆς Παρθένου καὶ ἐνανθρω-
kai sarkonthenta ek Pneumatos Haiou kai Marias tes Parthenou kai enanthro-
and became flesh from the Holy Spirit and Maria the virgin and became-

ΠΉCΑΝΤΑ CΤΑΥΡΩΘΈΝΤΑ ΤΕ ΥΠΈΡ ΗΜΏΝ ΕΠΊ ΠΟΝΤΊΟΥ ΠΙΛΆΤΟΥ

πήσαντα.  Σταυρωθέντα τε ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν ἐπὶ Ποντίου Πιλάτου,
pesanta.  Staurothenta te huper hemon epi Pontiou Pilatou,
man.   He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate,

ΚΑΊ ΠΑΘΌΝΤΑ ΚΑΊ ΤΑΦΈΝΤΑ…
καὶ παθόντα καὶ ταφέντα…
kai pathonta kai taphenta…
and suffered and was buried…

Now if you have gotten through all of that, I shall be truly amazed.  Fortunately, most Greek icon inscriptions are much shorter. But keep in mind that this is just practice in learning to recognize and transliterate the letters of Greek, which is the step necessary to begin reading inscriptions.    And for that, recognizing ligatures (joined letters) is essential.

Most people have no idea at all how to transliterate a Greek inscription written in the old style with ligatures, so you can “be the first on your block,” as the old ads used to say.  Of course whether anyone else on your block will care or not is quite another matter.  They might just look on you as being a bit odd, and well, perhaps you are, given that you are reading this site!