Sophia and Timaeus attend the First Ecumenical Council at Nicaea where Timaeus hopes to persuade Emperor Constantine and the assembled Bishops to continue with the policy of religious freedom that Constantine implemented in 313 AD. The following is the novel’s description of Nicaea in May 325 AD when Sophia and Timaeus arrived.
They arrived in Nicaea during the second week of May. The bustling city was already swollen with Christian luminaries and their retinues and more were arriving every day. Everywhere the robes of bishops, presbyters, priests, deacons and scribes shuffled through white stone streets. Nicaea could scarcely contain the outpouring of grace, pride and self-importance. It had only been twelve years since Constantine the Great had lifted the ban on Christianity. Only two years had passed since Constantine had declared Christianity the favored religion of the Roman Empire. Men who scarcely a decade earlier had either fled in terror of a legionary or submitted bravely to torture and forced hard labor, were now the most celebrated men in the Empire. Many of their names were widely known. Their doctrinal disputes, once argued in hushed tones in crabbed quarters, were now a matter of state, hotly debated by partisans in shops and on streets in every major city. The Empire was now Christian. But what was Christianity? That was a question that Constantine wanted resolved once and for all. The first great Ecclesiastical Council at Nicaea was called to answer that question.
Over three hundred bishops attended the Council. Each was allowed to bring five assistants: priests, deacons and scribes, and, since the Emperor paid travel expenses, most bishops arrived with a full retinue. Once in Nicaea, lodging was provided in well-equipped housing, either, for the bishops of the great cities, in Constantine’s palace or, for bishops of smaller Sees, in housing that had been built expressly for the clerics. The bishops had private rooms; three sleeping quarters were provided for the other members of their portable households. They dined communally, all catered and paid for by the Emperor. If these spiritual descendants of the barefoot God felt like royalty, they could not be blamed.
What a gathering! How many future saints! How many names remembered down through the darkened corridors of time! It was a hall of fame of ecclesiastical luminaries unlike anything seen before or since. There were three patriarchs, or popes, present, although those titles had not yet descended upon their haloed heads. The already mentioned Alexander, Patriarch of Alexandria was there with his young, soon-to-be successor, Athanasius. Alexander, Patriarch of the new capital in nearby Byzantium, now named New Rome, attended bearing the dignity of his ninety years like a sash across his robe. Eustathius, the Patriarch of Antioch, though only in his early thirties, with golden brown hair and beard, conscientiously took on the appearance of a prosperous Christ as he imagined him to be, wearing red tunics and blue robes and keeping his hands pressed closely together, as if in prayer, even as he walked.
So many others. Hosius of Cordoba, advisor to Constantine and one of the chief organizers of the Council, dark skinned with greying hair, was already nearly seventy, with a long life ahead of him. The two Eusebiuses, Eusebius of Caesarea, the historian, Timaeus’ mentor and friend, and Eusebius of Nicomedia, a distant relative of Constantine, both arrived heavily armored with knowledge and wit. Macarius, Bishop of Jerusalem, was there, white robed and white bearded. With his priest Gregorius, Macarius was a reminder to Timaeus of just how dangerous his mission was. The golden haired Nicholas of Myra, posthumously transformed into Santa Claus, attended, exuding a kindness and humility that was not always in his heart. The pious Spyridon of Timythous, who held down two jobs, bishop and shepherd, attended, as did Hypatius of Gangra, who would be killed by a woman robber the next year on the road from New Rome. The killer’s insanity that immediately resulted from the act, and the cure that resulted from her repentance and conversion, paved Hypatius’ road to sainthood.
At the outskirts of town a circus was set up to meet the spiritual needs of the secular population, complete with jugglers, elephants, charioteers, beggars, whores and pick-pockets. There is no record of the worlds of the Council and the circus colliding, but with all that was going on, for a brief few weeks Nicaea took on the role of apparent center of the universe, sacred and profane. As sinful as many of the activities of the circus undoubtedly were, it is an open question which of the two events sent the greater number of souls to their eternal damnation.