Rev. Canon Prof. Charlotte Methuen

Rev. Canon Prof. Charlotte Methuen, Scottish Episcopal Church. 


 “It marks a point at which Christianity goes from being a persecuted religion and a religion very much on the sidelines to actually having an official status,” said Methuen, a member of the Commission on Faith and Order of the World Council of Churches (WCC). 

“Without the Council of Nicaea we might not have had European Christendom and the whole of the European history would have been different,” Methuen said in a WCC video interview.

The Council of Nicaea was a gathering of Christian bishops under the patronage of the Roman Emperor Constantine, who converted to Christianity in 312 CE and was concerned about disunity among Christians.

“And so the Council of Nicaea is partly called to help Constantine establish a unity amongst Christians,” said Methuen, professor of ecclesiastical history at the University of Glasgow. 

“And the reason it's important is because it marks that shift of Christianity, the point at which Christianity becomes a legal religion in the Empire.”

From being a persecuted religion, Christianity now had an official status, she said.

 “And in lots of ways the Council of Nicaea and that whole period at the beginning of the fourth century sets up Christianity or sets up what's going to become European Christendom,” she said.

Methuen is a member of a steering group planning for a WCC World Conference on Faith and Order in Egypt in 2025 to mark the Nicaea anniversary. 

Meeting under the theme “Where Now for Visible Unity?” it will be the sixth such conference since 1927 to gather to wrestle with issues of church unity in the contexts of their day. 

“I think we've come a long way in the last hundred years,” said Methuen. “I think the way that we can talk together, the way that we can pray together would have been unthinkable in the 1920s.”

She acknowledged there might be some truth in the claim that the fourth-century Council of Nicaea led to an unhealthy collaboration between the church and the state, which was detrimental to Christian witness. 

“That’s an argument that was made at the time,” said Methuen, noting that people had said The church has sold out, the church ought to be a persecuted minority.” 

 “It’s one of the great ‘what-ifs’ of history,” she said. “I’m not sure we would have had Christianity in quite the same way as such a key part of particularly Western European or European culture if it hadn't been for Constantine.” 

More information about Nicaea 2025

Booklet “Toward the Sixth World Conference on Faith and Order - Commemorating the Council of Nicaea: Where Now for Visible Unity?”