Nicene Creed

Following is the Creed (modern wording) with notes inserted.

We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.

Actually the phrase "maker of heaven and earth" was not in the Apostle's Creed until sometime after the 6th Century.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only son of God,

Here we have "begotten of the Father before all times, before all ages." Arius was fond of saying, "The Logos is not eternal. Before Jesus was begotten by God, he did not exist." The Athanasians replied that the begetting of the Logos was not an event in time, but an eternal relationship.

God from God, Light from Light,

A favorite analogy of the Athanasians was the following: Light is continously streaming forth from the sun. (In those days, it was generally assumed that light was instantaneous, so that there was no delay at all between the time that a ray of light left the sun and the time it struck the earth.) The rays of light are derived from the sun, and not vice versa. But it is not the case that first the sun existed and afterwards the Light. It is possible to imagine that the sun has always existed, and always emitted light. The Light, then, is derived from the sun, but the Light and the sun exist simultaneously throughout eternity. They are co-eternal. Just so, the Son exists because the Father exists, but there was never a time before the Father produced the Son.

The analogy is further appropriate because we can know the sun only through the rays of light that it emits. To see the sunlight is to see the sun. Just so, Jesus says, "He who has seen me has seen the Father." (John 14:9)

true God from true God, begotten, not made,

This line was inserted by way of repudiating Arius's teaching that the Son was the first thing that the Father created, and that to say that the Father begets the Son is simply another way of saying that the Father has created the Son.

Arius said that if the Father has begotten the Son, then the Son must be inferior to the Father, as a prince is inferior to a king. Athanasius replied that a son is precisely the same sort of being as his father, and that the only son of a king is destined himself tobe a king. It is true that an earthly son is younger than his father, and that there is a time when he is not yet what he will be. But God is not in time. Time, like distance, is a relation between physical events, and has meaning only in the context of the physical universe. When we say that the Son is begotten of the Father, we do not refer to an event in the remote past, but to an eternal and timeless relation between the Persons of the Godhead. Thus, while we say of an earthly prince that he may some day hope to become what his father is now, we say of God the Son that He is eternally what God the Father is eternally.

C.S. Lewis stated it this way: “One begets fundamentally something fundamentally like oneself ( and similarly for what proceeds from oneself), while one “creates” or “makes” something unlike oneself.

of one Being with the Father.

This line: "of one essence with the Father, of one substance with the Father, consubstantial with the Father," (in Greek, HOMO-OUSIOS TW PATRI) was the crucial one, the acid test. Without this statement, the Arians would have continued to teach that the Son is good, and glorious, and a Mighty Power, and God's chief agent in creating the world, and the means by which God chiefly reveals Himself to us, and therefore deserving in some sense to be called divine. But they would have continued to deny that the Son was God in the same sense in which the Father is God. If they had triumphed at Nicea, even in the negative sense of having their position acknowledged as a permissible one within the limits of Christian orthodoxy, the damage to the Christian witness to Christ as God made flesh would have been irreparable.

The language finally adopted in the East was that the Trinity consists of three HYPOSTASES (singular HYPOSTASIS) united in one OUSIA. The formula used in the West, and going back at least to Tertullian (who wrote around 200, and whose writings are the oldest surviving Christian treatises written in Latin), is that the Trinity consists of three PERSONAE (singular PERSONA) united in one SUBSTANTIA. ( In Latin, the word persona was used to describe a mask used by an actor. ) In English, we say "Three Persons in one Substance." In Latin, the word persona was used to describe a mask used by an actor.

Through him all things were made.

This is a direct quote from John 1:3. Before the insertion of the HOMO-OUSIOS clause, this line immediately followed "begotten, not made." The two lines go naturally together. The Son is not a created thing. Rather, He is the agent through Whom all created things come to be. Inserting the HOMO-OUSIOS at this point breaks up the flow.

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.

You will note that the older translation has here simply, "He suffered and was buried" (Latin, "passus et sepultus est"). Apparently by the time of Nicea, it was no longer necessary to emphasize, to spell out unmistakeably, that Christ had really died at Calvary, as it had been spelled out in the Apostles' Creed. And indeed, I have never heard anyone try to argue that the Creed here leaves a loophole for those who want to believe that Jesus merely swooned on the Cross. So apparently the Nicene Fathers were right in supposing that their language would not be misunderstood. However, the framers of the new translation decided to make the meaning unmistakeable and to close this particular loophole. The Nicene Creed does not mention the belief that Jesus visited Hell after his death.

On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures;

The wording here is borrowed from 1 Corinthians 15:4. The older translation has "according to the Scriptures," which in terms of modern language is misleading. Today, when we say, "It will rain tomorrow, according to the weatherman," we mean, "The weatherman says that it will rain, but whether he is right is another question." And this is clearly not what either St. Paul or the Nicene Fathers had in mind. The newer translation is an improvement. Even better might be "in fulfilment of the Scriptures," which is clearly what is meant.

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.

This speaks to the divinity of Christ, ascending to heaven, sitting at the place of royaty at the right hand of God, coming again as judge and ruler of an eternal kingdom.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father [and the Son].

Everything after "We believe in the Holy Spirit" was added at the Council of Constantinople in 381. The words shown in brackets, "and from the Son," are a Western addition to the Creed as it was originally agreed on by a Council representing the whole Church, East and West. They correspond to the Latin word FILIOQUE (FILI = Son, -O = from, -QUE = and) , and the controversy about them is accordinglyknown as the Filioque controversy. If we are looking for a statement that can be taken as common ground by all Christians, East and West alike, it clearly cannot include the FILIOQUE. On the other hand, Western Christians will be unwilling to have it supposed that they are repudiating the statement that the Spirit proceeds jointly from Father and Son.

With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets. This line was directed against the view that the Holy Spirit did not exist, or was not active, before Pentecost.

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.

This is a phrase that also appears partly in the Apostles Creed("the holy catholic church"). It indicates the four marks of the Christian Church – unity, purity, universality and authenticity – and is based on the premise that all true Christians (irrespective of race, nationality or sex) form a single united group, the body of Christ (cf.1 Corinthians 12:27"), , founded by the apostles and innately holy.

We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

Baptism is needed for the remission of sins; this implies that only baptized persons will be saved.

We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. AMEN. Among the opponents of the Resurrection we naturally find first those who denied the immortality of the soul; secondly, all those who, like Plato, regarded the body as the prison of the soul and death as an escape from the bondage of matter; thirdly the sects of the Gnostics and Manichaeans who looked upon all matter as evil; fourthly, the followers of these latter sects the Priscillianists, the Cathari, and the Albigenses; fifthly, the Rationalists, Materialists, and Pantheists of later times. Against all these the creed establishes the dogma of the resurrection, and secondly consider the characteristics of the risen body.

Comparing the Apostle's Creed and the Nicene Creed

The Nicene Creed is different from the Apostle's Creed. The Nicene Creed is a creed that tries to define, to use more precise language for the church's faith, to set boundaries. It even introduces a word that is not in the Bible, homoousios, of one substance or being, because the bishops felt that it helped explain how God could be one yet twofold (the debate about the Holy Spirit will follow two generations later). With that term the council fathers wished to say that in whatever way God is God, Christ also is God. The term "begotten" (which is biblical) means that he comes into being eternally from the Father—he is not made like human beings.

Both creeds find their chief purpose in explaining Jesus as a being with both humanity and some form of divine nature. The Apostle's creed, however, stops short of explicitly naming Jesus as God, and does not elaborate in the slightest about the nature of relationship of the Holy Spirit to the Father or Jesus. The Nicene creed, in contrast, makes explicit the divinity of both the Spirit and Jesus (as the Son).

The Nicene Creed and the Canon of Scripture

The New Testament and the Nicene Creed are deeply entangled with each other. The wording and the concepts in the Nicene Creed come from the New Testament—in fact, one of the most important debates at the Council of Nicea concerned whether it is proper to include a word in the Nicene Creed that does not occur in the New Testament. On the other hand, at the time that the Church issued the official canon of the New Testament, it customarily compared writings to the Nicene Creed to determine if they were orthodox. So you are correct if you say that the Nicene Creed proceeds from the New Testament, and you are correct if you say that the New Testament is certified by the Nicene Creed.

To put it more precisely, the Nicene Creed and the canon of the New Testament were formed together as part of the same process.

The Aftermath of the Council.

  Unfortunately, the Council of Nicea did not completely resolve the debate over Arianism.  The problem surrounded the use of the Greek homoousia, which the council used to describe the relationship between the Son and the Father.  The Western theologians understood the term as Tertullian had used it, to mean unity of substance or essence.  The Eastern theologians understood it only to affirm the divinity of the Son, and thus feared that it left the door open for Modalism.  This misunderstanding of terminology prevented the church from being able to completely do away with the Arian heresy, and left the door open for the Arians to remain a prominent group of theologians.

The Arians set out discrediting their opponents after the council, finally winning the approval of Constantine on his deathbed in 336.  Constantine’s son, Constantius, became a defender of Arianism in the eastern portion of the Roman Empire.  The opponents of Nicea, primarily Arians, splintered into three distinct groups. 

The question about the Holy Spirit and its part in the Trinity was not settled until the council at Constantinople in 381.

The Arian position has been revived in our own day by the Watchtower Society (the Jehovah's Witnesses), ( who explicitly hail Arius as a great witness to the truth. Gnosticism is also present in the book, The Da Vinci Code, and the movie Matrix.