The Council of Nicaea is a very useful apologetics tool beyond just discussing matters of the Trinity. What most people don't realize is that Nicaea produced more than just a Creed, it also issued 20 canonical laws which were binding on all Christians living at that time. The information contained in these Canons is just as useful (if not more so) as any Church Father when it comes to evaluating Protestantism against the bar of Church history. Below, I will mention why each of the 20 Canons are incompatible with all Protestantism in one way or another. This leaves Protestantism in a significant bind, because virtually all Protestants wholeheartedly affirm the Creed and deem the Council to be an orthodox testimony in early Christianity. After reading these Canons, the Protestant must recognize that they cannot embrace the Creed without also embracing the Canons, because if the Canons teach heresy and error, then the Protestant has no business at all embracing the Creed which this same Council produced. Protestants have no problem affirming the Catholic Church is correct on a lot of things, but they say the Catholic Church is false and cannot be trusted because it also teaches many errors. By this same logic, a Protestant must reject Nicaea as well, for Nicaea teaches many "errors" in its Canons and binds all Christians to these "errors" as well.
- Canon 1 says if a clergy (willingly) undergoes castration, he is no
longer allowed to be a pastor. Yet I’m sure most Protestant clergy would
have no problem undergoing sterilization, and moreover they wouldn’t
let some council tell them what they can/cannot do with their own body.
Canon 2 says baptism is “spiritual washing,” which doesn’t sound very
symbolic, and warns against advancing a newbie into ordination to priest
or to bishop. This doesn’t sound very Protestant to me.
- Canon 3
explicitly makes the three-fold distinction between the office of
Deacon, Priest, and Bishop. Yet Protestants say there is only two
offices (they deny priest), and I think Calvin said the three-fold distinction was
- Canon 4 says that anyone who is to become a bishop
must go through a process of being appointed by other bishops and
ratified by the Patriarch. This doesn’t sound very Protestant since
Protestants practice self-ordination, wherein a person is a church
leader because they want to be one, and as long as other people are
willing to submit. They also reject the rank of Patriarch.
- Canon 5 says a person who has been
excommunicated in one diocese is not to be admitted to another diocese.
This doesn’t fit with the Protestant practice of "if you’re kicked out
of one church, just go down the street to the next one that will accept
you, or start your own".
- Canon 5 also makes mention of the liturgical season of Lent, which many Protestants consider tradition-of-men blasphemy.
Canon 6 says the Bishop of Rome has real authority, ruling by "ancient
custom" (i.e. long before AD325 at Nicaea). This is problematic for Protestants because it affirms a Bishop
of Rome, the Pope, very early on in Church history and affirmed by the Council
itself. If the Papacy is blasphemy, how can you accept this Council which endorses the Papacy?
- Canon 7 says the Bishop of Jerusalem should be honored
because of his link to the Holy Land. This is problematic for a
Protestant, because the Church is attaching special honorary affection
to a place. (Which ironically, if Protestants say the Holy Land is still
venerable because Jesus lived there, why isn’t Mary also venerable since
Jesus lived in Her?)
- Canon 8 lays out regulations for accepting
heretics back into the Church. This makes little sense in Protestantism
where no such regulations exist (at least not outside tiny pockets) and
no such standards by which to judge heresy.
- Canons 9 & 10 are
about the Council’s authority to set the universal canonical
requirements for ordination. Of course this is outrageous to Protestant
- Canons 11 & 12 show the Council has the
authority to issue penances for serious sins, even stiff penances.
Again, outrageous to Protestant sensibilities.
- Canon 13 speaks
of “ancient canon law” and about those receiving the last rites,
particularly “Viaticum” (receiving Eucharist on their deathbed).
Receiving Eucharist outside of a liturgical service makes no sense in
the Protestant mind, especially upon your death bed. This canon strongly
implies the Eucharist was kept reserved in a Tabernacle somewhere and
that it is a powerful spiritual gift, not a mere symbolic outward
reminder of what Jesus has already done for you.
- Canon 14 speaks
of the waiting period of catechumens (i.e. those converting to Christianity), meaning that that a person
ordinarily didn’t just hear the Gospel and become Catholic immediately,
they had to go through a mini-discernment process. Most Protestants
object to the notion of “catechumen” and see it as the Catholic Church
perverting the simple Gospel of simply accepting Jesus dying for your sins.
Canons 15 & 16 say clergy are not allowed to move from city to city,
and if they do they can suffer excommunication. This doesn’t square with
the Protestant notion that there is no such thing as jurisdictions and
that a pastor can go wherever he wants and preach wherever he wants.
Canon 17 forbids Usury, that is making money off of a loan, and
indirectly indicates a pastor shouldn’t be in any money making
businesses. Most Protestants today would say there is nothing wrong with
Usury, and indeed that a Pastor can also be a businessman on the side.
Ironically, Protetant scholar Philip Schaf’s Nicene Fathers series says the following while commenting on this canon: “The glory of inventing the new moral code on the subject
[of Usury], by which that which before was looked upon as mortal sin has
been transfigured into innocence, if not virtue, belongs to John
Calvin!” It was John Calvin who made Usury go from a mortal sin to a
virtue, and this sin is the economic backbone of most Western/Protestant nations.
- Canon 18 speaks
again of the three-fold distinction of Deacon, Priest, and Bishop, each
of a different rank. See Canon 3 above.
- Canon 19 gives
instructions on who is to be Re-Baptized, as well as speaks of women who
have taken on a religious habit (e.g. a Nun). Both of these are contrary
to Protestant sensibilities.
- Canon 20 speaks of universal
liturgical regulations, including kneeling during Sunday Liturgy, and
mentions the Season of Pentecost. Obviously, most Protestants don’t have
liturgical regulations and don’t have a Season of Pentecost, since this
is seen as unbiblical “traditions of men” imposed by Catholicism.
If you're a Catholic reading this, you need to recognize the apologetics treasure before you, and use it when talking with Protestants. If you're Protestant, you should be troubled by this historical testimony, as it not only goes strongly against Protestant sensibilities, this historical information is perfectly in line with Catholic sensibilities. Really, you cannot in good conscience remain Protestant and still accept Nicaea...but we also know you cannot in good conscience reject Nicaea, so the only solution is embracing historical Christianity, namely Catholicism.