Aaron David Fruh

On Decrees that Spilled Jewish Blood: The Evil Legacy of the Nicene Council

The Council of Nicaea in 325. Public Domain

As a Christian who investigates Christian Antisemitism, I sometimes wonder what Christianity would be like today had it not sold its soul to the Roman Empire in the 4th century during the reign of Constantine. From the time of the Council of Nicaea, when Church leaders merged piety with a lust for political power, Christianity entered into an apostasy from which it has never recovered.

Once the church developed a taste for political control, its appetite for power was never quenched. Yes, there have always been Christians—many, in fact—who desire to live authentically. But over the centuries, Christianity’s lust for power has always been present, often resulting in the genocide of those it deems enemies—think about the Crusades, the Inquisition, the pogroms, and the Holocaust, just for starters.

The philosopher Fredrich Nietzsche once said, “All things are subject to interpretation. Whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power, not truth…Our needs interpret the world, our drives, and their for and against. Every drive is a kind of lust to rule; each one has its perspective that it would like to compel all the other drives to accept as a norm.” Regarding Christians who are driven to merge their religious piety with political power, Nietzsche was right: Their interpretations of the world around them are often a function of power and not truth. Their motivations are driven by “a kind of lust to rule.”

The Council of Nicaea rang with a genocidal note when it codified theological Antisemitism known as Triumphalism (the church has triumphed over Jews) and Replacement theology (the church has replaced Israel and the Jewish people). As a Christian, it is impossible for me to read the decisions passed down by the church leaders who formed the Council of Nicaea without feeling tremendous shame for how several of those decrees weaponized a newly militarized Church to carry out violence against Jews over the coming centuries. Decrees like this one:

“And truly, in the first place, it seemed to everyone a most unworthy thing that we should follow the custom of the Jews in the celebration of this most holy solemnity (Passover), who, polluted wretches, having stained their hands with a nefarious crime, are justly blinded in their minds…
It is fit, therefore, that rejecting the practice of this people, we should perpetuate to all future ages the celebration of this rite, in a more legitimate order…Let us then have nothing in common with the most hostile rabble of the Jews.”

Historian Jules Isaac states, “After very deep historical research, I say and maintain that the fate of the Jewish people did not take on a truly inhuman character until the 4th century A.D. with the coming of the Christian empire.”

In 535 CE, Emperor Justinian declared, “The greatest gifts God gives to men are the Sacerdocy (church hierarchy/priesthood) for the service of men and the Empire for the order of human affairs.” The ability of one to survive in an empire ruled by church hierarchy would depend on their obedience to religious edicts and the laws of the empire—all others would be persecuted.

Today theological Antisemitism is flourishing in church pulpits and seminary lecterns. Replacement theology would lay dormant for several years after the Holocaust but has returned with vengeance. It would only be a matter of time before theological Antisemitism would merge with nationalism as it did in the 4th century under Constantine and as it did during the Holocaust under the Nazis. That time has come with the emergence of the Christian Nationalist Movement in America—a movement driven by the fear of Jews and Judaism and already using violent language to motivate its followers. The evil legacy of the Anti-Jewish decrees from the Nicene Council lives on.

During the Nicene Council, the alarm bells should have sounded, but no attention was given to the possibility that the decrees passed down in the council would eventually shed Jewish blood. The same is true today. As Christian Nationalists develop a taste for the possibility of wielding the power of a Christian empire, the alarm bells should be sounding, but the silence of Nicaea remains.

About the Author
Aaron David Fruh is a Research Fellow at The Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy (ISGAP) and the President of Israel Team Advocates, whose mission it is to change the growing anti-Israel narrative on college campuses. Aaron is the author of five books including The Casualty of Contempt: the alarming rise of Antisemitism and what can be done to stop it (editor), and Two Minute Warning: why it’s time to honor the Jewish people before the clock runs out. Aaron has written for The Jerusalem Post and The Algemeiner.