A hair-splitting side debate ensued in another thread
that does bring up some interesting points, so I thought I'd bring it into its own discussion.
Specifically, the influence (or lack thereof) of Constantine I and the First Council of Nicaea in shaping Orthodox Christianity.
: Constantine did seek to strengthen Rome religiously,
in large part in a "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em" sanctioning of Christianity. Which itself was split into many different sects and theologies with some very different ideas about it's frontman Jesus, what scriptures should be canon, and doctrine in general.
FACT B1: Constantine also never really gave up his Pagan roots nor did he outright outlaw all non-Christian religions. It's debatable whether or not he ever truly converted to Christianity or whether he was just pandering to the populous. While he is recognized as the first, true, Christian-friendly Roman emperor, others before him had various degrees of tolerance for the religion and thereby, a helping hand in keeping the cult alive.
FACT B2: Constantine didn't personally preside over (or by some accounts, even really attend) the Council. He was the figurehead who said, "Y'all go hash this out."
FACT A3: The basic purpose of the Council was to bring together the generally accepted (read; politically accepted) sects and from there further narrow the field by debating and voting on the validity of doctrines by some of those present.
FACT B3: Specific scriptures and heresy/validity of those sects not in attendance were not on the menu. There was no grand floor debate to say "This gospel should be canon and that one shouldn't." or "Shall we let the Gnostics come and play? All in favor say aye."
Here's where it seems the debate in the previous thread lies: How much credit do we give to Constantine and the First Council of Nicaea for compiling the bible as we know it today?
- By virtue of the (B) facts above; Neither Constantine nor the Council of Nicaea had any direct hand in compiling the bible as we know it. Therefore some would say, "Neither of them had anything whatsoever to do with the compilation of the Christian bible."
- By virtue of the (A) facts above; Both Constantine and the Council of Nicaea heavily influenced which Christian sects would become the Orthodox Church, and by extension, it is those sects' scriptures that become canon while excluding now-heretical sects and their scriptures. Therefore some would say, "The bible as we know it today was effectively determined by Constantine and the First Council of Nicaea.
Both statements in my not so humble opinion are gross oversimplifications on opposite ends of the scale. Though admittedly, when my answer has to be 30 seconds or less, I've been guilty of the "Constantine and Nicaea effectively compiled the bible" end of the extreme.
So, discuss. When trying to pry open a Christian's eyes or enlighten someone genuinely curious about how we wound up with the scripture and doctrine that we did, how Orthodox Christianity became Orthodox, is there a quick and easy answer that's also accurate? Within the ballpark of accurate? How much credit do you give to Constantine and Nicaea for 'founding' Christianity and the bible as we know them today?
One reason I'd much rather give them too much credit than not enough is that for Christianity to take hold as a power-religion it had to be politically powerful. Christianity was born out of resistance to Roman oppression. And yet, by the 4th century, you've got a Roman emperor looking to co-opt Christianity as a political tool to regain control of the people. By then you also have some Christian sects who really don't hate the idea of being little tyrannical mini-emperors themselves. Constantine may never issued a declaration saying "If you want my blessing you and your religion had damn well better tell me what I want to hear," but I think we can all agree that's the rule of the land.
In that sense, Constantine and the Council were pivotal in effectively determining what Christianity would look like - including its sacred texts. Plus, the unwashed masses need to know that what they are following are far less the divine "Will of God" and more like political Will of Rome."