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DiploNews – Issue 7 – 8 October 1999

DiploNews – Issue 7 – October 8, 1999

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Linguistics and Diplomacy: Constructive Ambiguity – Example from History

From John Julius Norwich, A Short History of Byzantium.

In 325 Constantine the Great convened the first Ecumenical Council of the Christian Church at Nicaea, in order bring the different factions of the Christian church (orthodox and Arian) back together.

It was he (Constantine) who proposed the insertion, into the draft statement of belief, of the key word that was to settle, at least temporarily, the fate of Arius and his doctrine. This was the word homoousios — meaning con-substantial, or "of one substance", to describe the relation of the Son to the Father. Its inclusion in the draft was almost tantamount to a condemnation of Arianism, and it says much for Contantine's powers of persuasion that he was able to secure its acceptance, pointing out that the word was of course to be interpreted only "in its divine and mystical sense" — in other words, that it could mean precisely what anyone chose it to mean. By the time he had finished, nearly all the pro-Arians has agreed to sign the final document.

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