The Council of Nicaea
The Nicene Creed
The Nicene Creed is a statement of belief widely used in Christian liturgy. It is called Nicene because it was originally adopted in the city of Nicaea by the First Council of Nicaea in 325. Wikipedia
The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed
I believe in One God,
the Father Almighty,
Maker of Heaven and Earth,
and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the Son of God,
the Only-Begotten, begotten of the Father before all ages;
Light of Light;
True God of True God;
begotten, not made;
of one essence with the Father,
by Whom all things were made;
Who for us men and for our salvation
came down from Heaven,
and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary,
and became man.
And He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate,
and suffered, and was buried.
And the third day He arose again,
according to the Scriptures,
and ascended into Heaven,
and sits at the right hand of the Father;
and He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead;
Whose Kingdom shall have no end.
And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life,
Who proceeds from the Father;
Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified;
Who spoke by the prophets.
And in One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.
I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins.
I look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come.
We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary
and became truly human.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.
From the English Language Liturgical Commission, 1988. Other ancient creeds and testimonies of the faith are collected in The Living Theological Heritage of the United Church of Christ. Affirmations of the faith for public worship are available in the New Century Hymnal and the Book of Worship of the United Church of Christ. All three books can be purchased from United Church Resources, 800-325-7061.
About this testimony
Also known as the Nicene- Constantinopolitan Creed, this classic testimony of the faith was the consensus of ecumenical councils in Nicea, 325, and Constantinople, 381. The creed was a response to the “Arian” movement, which challenged the church’s teaching that Christ was both fully human and fully divine. Arians emphasized the humanity of Christ, and therefore believed he was “subordinate” to the Father. But the faith proclaimed in Constantinople was in a Christ who was both, and therefore “of one being” with the Father. This creed is recited in the Sunday worship of the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Anglican churches, and many Lutheran and Reformed congregations also use the creed when they celebrate Holy Communion.
The Nicene Creed: Where it came from and why it still matters
March 9, 2018
The Nicene Creed is one of the most famous and influential creeds in the history of the church, because it settled the question of how Christians can worship one God and also claim that this God is three persons.
The historical context of the Nicene Creed
What we call the Nicene Creed is actually the product of two ecumenical councils—one in Nicaea (present-day Iznik, Turkey) in AD 325, and one in Constantinople (now Istanbul) in AD 381—and a century of debate over the nature of the relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
The council was summoned to resolve a problem that had sprung up seven years earlier and had left the Christian church fiercely divided. In Alexandria in AD 318, a presbyter named Arius began publicly proclaiming his theory that Jesus was not God at all, only a celestial servant of the true Most High God, who alone was almighty, transcendent, the creator and first cause of all things.
After all, Jesus was prone to emotion (as opposed to the Father, who was always in control of his emotions), grew and learned (as opposed to the Father, who never changed), and died (as opposed to the Father, who is immortal).
Thus, only the Father could be considered uncreated and “timelessly self-subsistent.”
Arius thought that his interpretation had good footing in the theology of the great teacher Origen of the prior century. Origen had said that the Father was due glory and reverence as God himself (autotheos) that was not due to the Son.
Arius’s bishop, Alexander, disagreed, pointing out that Origen also said “Father” is an eternal attribute of God. This means two things: first, since it’s not possible to be a father without also having offspring, the fact that God is eternally a father means that he eternally has a son.
Furthermore, Alexander pointed out, God is perfect and not subject to change, so how could God change from not being a father to being a father?
In attempting to preserve the dignity of the Father, Arius was tampering with some of the crucial distinctions that separate God from humanity. But it was not ultimately so much a debate about Origen as a debate about Scripture.
At places, Jesus seems to suggest that he is subordinate to the Father (for example, John 14:28). At the same time, Scripture is equally clear that Jesus is and claimed to be both divine and equal with the Father as God (John 1:1; 5:16–18; 10:30; 14:6–14).
The question is how we can worship Jesus and worship the Father (who we know is different from Jesus) and still claim to be monotheists who worship one true God? (Many people today, such as Muslims, have particular trouble with this idea.)
After years of fierce division that stretched from clergy to the common people, the ecumenical council was summoned to resolve the issue once and for all.
The structure of the Nicene Creed
The final form of the Nicene Creed reads as follows:
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made. Who, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.
>And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets. And I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.
The creed follows basically the same structure as the Apostles’ Creed. It mentions all three members of the Trinity in a similar order and retains the snapshot of the gospel story when it describes Jesus. It also expands the description of the life and work of Christ, explicitly stating that his mission was “for us and for our salvation.”
The creed deliberately draws on tradition to show that the ideas put forward here are not an innovation to the “faith delivered once for all.”
What the Nicene Creed says about the relationship between Jesus and the Father
The main difference between this creed and the Apostles’ Creed, however, is a new, expanded section on the relationship between Jesus and the Father, since the chief concern of the council was to defend the true divinity of the Son against Arius. The creed asserts this by professing the “Lord Jesus Christ” to be the “Son of God,” “begotten of the Father,” “only-begotten.” These are biblical assertions (Mark 1:1 and 1 John 4:15 call Jesus the Son of God; Acts 13:33 and Heb. 5:5 speak of him as begotten of the Father; John 1:14 and 3:18 both use the Greek word monogenous, which means “only-begotten”). Jesus, they claim, is God: “God from God.”
If you need an analogy, the next phrase serves. It’s like light. How can you separate light from light? You can’t. (This was a traditional example in early Christian writings, usually concerning the ray of the sun and the sun itself.) Neither can the Father and the Son be separated.
Then it repeats for emphasis that Jesus is “very God of very God”; he is not made or created or a product of the true God. Jesus is the true God.
Athanasius was at the council as a deacon in the service of Alexander. He later recounted that up to this point, the Arians were still on board. In fact, they were winking and snickering at one another, as if to say, “This is fine. We can still get around this.”
Something more had to be added to defend orthodoxy, even if it could not be stated using only biblical terminology. Something was needed that would settle once and for all that the divinity of Jesus is the divinity of the Father, one and the same. It was agreed to make it clear that this Jesus is forever and eternally “of one substance with the Father.” By insisting that the Son is “of one substance” with the Father, the Arian view was rejected and the council affirmed that the Father is not “more God” than the Son. God is God, in trinity.
What the Nicene Creed says about the Holy Spirit
Because the council was primarily interested in discussing Jesus, the original form of the creed did not have much to say about the Holy Spirit. (The creed was updated after the first Council of Constantinople to reflect the deity of the Holy Spirit.)
However, there is a great deal that is said implicitly about his divinity. It is best to read the Nicene Creed as three articles. It begins, “We believe in . . .” and then suspends two subparagraphs: “. . . and in one Lord Jesus Christ,” “. . . and in the Holy Spirit.” It is Trinitarian in form.
Understanding it this way, we see all that follows as part of the third article of the creed — the Holy Spirit’s article.
To the Holy Spirit, and to his activity, belong the holy catholic and apostolic church, its teaching, its confession, its sacraments, and its ultimate new birth into the resurrection of everlasting life.
Put simply, the Holy Spirit is the one who leads the church in its worship and its confession of the triune God.
Why the Nicene Creed matters
However, it is the Nicene Creed, not the Apostles’ Creed, that describes the minimum of Christian belief.
By sad experience, the leaders of the church found that there were areas in the “rule of faith” that left too much open to personal interpretation. The fact that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are just as much God as the Father is a nonnegotiable part of Christianity. It is not that Christians are expected to have a perfectly precise Trinitarian theology to be considered orthodox, but since questions about the relationship between Jesus and God the Father are inevitable, they needed to be answered well.
The Nicene Creed encapsulates what Scripture says about that relationship and acknowledges the mystery of it.
If Christianity had agreed with Arius that Jesus could be a lesser god—if it had failed to defend monotheism, if it had fallen into the trench of professing three unrelated deities—it may have dissolved into the religion of Rome and its pantheons of false gods.
If the early Christians had lost their nerve and conceded the “lesser divinity” of Jesus, whatever that might mean, then the work of God in Christ for our salvation would have been rendered meaningless. No mere man, nor half god, could possibly intervene to save fallen and sinful humanity, let alone restore all of creation. Only the Creator can enter creation to fix its brokenness and redeem its original, latent purpose.
This post is adapted from material found in the Know the Creeds and Councils online course, taught by Justin Holcomb.