St. Athanasius wrote 'On the Incarnation' at least 7 years before Nicea and it's still considered one of the finest expositions of the Orthodox understanding of the relationship of the Father to the Son and of the Son to humanity ever written.Then why wasn't St. Athanasius and St. John cited directly to the heretics? Why did a council need to be held and a new creed formulated? Also, you make it sound as if the heretics knew they were wrong and just wanted to lead people astray. Surely that is not the case. I'm sure the heretics believed their teachings were orthodox and that orthodoxy was the actual heresy.
St. John was quite clear: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." Nicea wasn't necessary because the Apostle had been unclear. It was necessary because heretics chose to pretend it wasn't clear.
You honestly think that nobody directly cited John 1 to Arius?
To expand a little on the historical basics:
1) No Ecumenical Council was ever called because the Fathers were sitting around and thought "It would be a good idea if we clarified the Church's teaching on X". Every council was called specifically in the face of a heresy which resisted local attempts at correction.
2)The last point bears reiteration--the Orthodox response to every condemned heresy was never first
formulated at a council. In every case, communion had already been borken and Orthodox Fathers had already
enunciated the Orthodox position and condemned the heresy before, often well before, the council was called. I've already mentioned St. Athanasius preceding Nicea. But to continue, St. Basil wrote On the Holy Spirit
at least a decade before Constantinople I. St. Cyril's 12 anathemas against Nestorius were published before Ephesus. St. Flavian and St. Leo excommunicated and deposed Eutyches before Chalcedon. Pope St. Martin had synodically condemned Monothelitism 40 years before the 6th Ecumenical Council, and the Latern council of 769 condemned iconoclasm 20 years before the 7th Ecumenical Council.
Or in other words, the Ecumenical Councils were not called to 'clarify Orthodox doctrine'. They were called to condemn heretics--who had already
been condemned but whose condemnation had run into a real-world roadblock (Nestorius was Patriarch of Constantinople and could ignore the condmenations of other Patriarchates, Eutyches was spiritual father to the highest-ranking civil servant in the Empire who protected him, the Monothelites and Iconoclasts had been backed by Emperors) that needed the weight of the entire Church to overcome it. I borrowed the St. Hilary quote from a contemporary thread currently talking about how dogma is fundamentally apophatic in nature because it is an important point to keep in mind: the primary goal, function, and achievement of each Ecumenical Council was not to improve on what had been handed down to them by the Apostles, but rather to identify and condemn what was clearly not
consistent with what had been handed down. Or as the Fathers of Chalcedon put it: " this present holy, great, and ecumenical synod, desiring to exclude every device against the Truth, and teaching that which is unchanged from the beginning has decreed..."
Also, you make it sound as if the heretics knew they were wrong and just wanted to lead people astray.
If you mean in the sense that Arius said, "Well, I know the Gospel of John says the Word was God, but I just disagree and am going to teach something different", then no that's not what I'm saying. But the Fathers are pretty unanimous in ascribing a certain degree of willfulness, of deliberate and stubborn volition to heresy. It's not that Arius outright said, I disagree with St. John, but that he read St. John and said, "well, the plain meaning, and the teaching handed down, just don't make a lot of sense to me. So I'm going to reintepret it in a way that makes more sense". This is getting back to Cavaradossi's point about the 'foolishness to the Gentiles'--the Apostolic Teaching that the Father and the Son are one doesn't make logical sense and it didn't make sense in terms of enlightened Classical philosophy.
So St. John said, "The Word is God"
Arius said, "well it depends on what you mean by 'is'"
Nicea said "No stupid. is means is. homoousious, one in essence."
If the point of the councils was to clarify Orthodox doctrine in such a way that it would remove the confusion of heretics, they were all abject failures. Arius died rejecting Nicea. Nestorius died rejecting Ephesus. Eutyches died rejecting Chalcedon. Again, the point of the councils was not to 'improve' or 'clarify' the Apostolic teaching--it was to formally declare with the voice of the whole Church what had already been declared by the Apostles and intervening Fathers, "This is the Faith of the Fathers. That is not."