Ni·cae·a (nīˈsēə) n. 1. an ancient city in Bithynia, near the Sea of Marmara: at an important church council held here in 325 AD, the Nicene Creed was formulated: English Name, Nice 2. Nice (city in France): the ancient name.
Some thoughts on Nicaea:
1. I stopped going to mass for good when I could no longer say the words of “The Nicene Creed” without feeling anger and revulsion rise up in my body. While other Catholic prayers ceded my sacredness, this one felt the most visceral: one God, the Father, the almighty; one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God; the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son, he is worshiped and glorified. Even the holy spirit, the most ethereal of the trinity, was male. Where was I to find myself in this paradigm? God made me in “his image”? I cannot name the number of times I recited the creed over the years (hundreds? thousands?); having gone to Catholic school kindergarten through college, mass was not only a part of my family life but my school life and my education. I was only three years old, at the ordination of a friend of my parents when I saw the line of men in cassocks drifting up the aisle and asked my father where the women were (His answer: I don’t know, Lisa). But it was in high school that I began to clearly see my absence from the representation of the sacred in Catholic prayers. And I felt the reasoning given for this as what they were: excuses. If the prayers were written a long time ago and by men and that’s why the patriarchal language existed, then we needed to rewrite the prayers, to change the language to make it real for our culture and all the people in our church. If it was that way because that’s the way it had always been, then it was time for change.
The First Council of Nicea, where The Nicene Creed was written and adopted, was the first ecumenical council of the Catholic Church. The conference was called to reach consensus on questions of the church’s body, to work towards unification. Agenda items: 1. Clarification of the relationship between God the Father and Jesus: are the Father and Son one in divine purpose or also in being? (i.e. the beginnings of the Trinity; Jesus is “begotten, not made”) 2. Deciding the date to celebrate Easter 3. Discussion of the Meletian schism (an early breakaway sect) 4. The validity of baptism by heretics (Paulian heretics denied that Christ was divine and thus not part of the holy trinity; baptisms conducted by subscribers to Paulianism were deemed invalid) 5. The status of the lapsed in persecution under Licinius (the persecution of Christians had just ended with the February 313 Edict of Milan by Emperors Constantine and Licinius)
Primarily, the council was gathered to discuss and reach agreement on the deity or non-deity of Jesus. It is interesting to note that among early Christians, there was division about whether he was God or was sent by God; was he a prophet or divine himself?
All of these specific questions bore me now. Jesus was an amazing teacher (whose most central teachings on love and peace are now largely ignored or passed over by those who claim to know him), as was the Buddha and Mohammed. All the terminology and details of the Catholic Church that I once desired to know or felt privileged when I knew and “understood” feel unimportant to me now. It seems to me that so much of Christianity and Catholicism and many world religions come from a defensive platform. Our way! our God! is right, is the best, and here are all the reasons why. Laws and rules and prayers that are based on this defensive and reactive standpoint are a waste of time to me. The Dalai Lama says: My religion is kindness. I can get behind that: a religion where compassion and love towards another is the rule, where we can meet each other with genuine attempts at understanding, where it is in the way we live—not what temple we visit—that we show our faith. And where the divine resides within each one of us.
2. The first time I played the “Ha Ha” Game was on a beach in Nice, France. This was not the sort of beach I was used to: beige, covered in tiny grains. There were black and gray rocks, big ones that covered the earth near the water. Stones and gravel. I was there on spring break, from Rome where I was studying. My friends and I, close although we’d not known each other long, laid on the rocks, one head on another’s belly, and when the inevitable first laugh came, the movement and sound cascaded down the row. The inevitability caused by others’ laughter, the luxury of silliness when one is supposed to be, finally and always, an adult. Other moments I remember from that trip: Nice just a few weeks before Carnival, the busyness of preparations but no clear signs; buckets of irises, of carnations—red, purple, pink, white—cascading out of buckets at the flower market; a hostel painted all in white; my all purpose wool green sweater with flecks of white; the French version of American diner breakfast; a bus ride to see Rodin’s This Kiss, something that was maybe the most tender and erotic art I had ever seen, and large hands rising up to form a sort of temple: Cathedral.