The Nicene Creed

Written and edited by:

Deacon Mark Koscinski CPA D.Litt.

What is it that makes someone a Catholic or Orthodox Christian? Both groups believe the Holy Spirit working through the Fathers of the First and Second Ecumenical Councils produced an essential statement of their faith, called a creed.    The First Ecumenical Council met in 325 A.D.  in Nicaea at the behest of Constantine the Great. The Arian question was causing turmoil in the Roman Empire and Constantine wished to have the matter decided one way or another.  Was Jesus God, or was He created?  Only God is Uncreated. The Arians believed Jesus to be created, and therefore was not part of the Godhead. Arianism became so prevalent it threatened the very foundations of orthodox belief. The council declared Arianism to be a heresy, and ensured the Church moved on the path toward a Trinitarian definition of the Godhead.  The formal declaration of the faith, as amended by the Second Ecumenical Council became known as the Nicene Creed.  It has been recited in Catholic and Orthodox Church services since then.  The version of the Creed included here is that of the Byzantine Catholic Church  in the United States.  There are of course various translations of the Creed

I believe in one[1] God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible: and in one[2] Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, the only begotten[3], born of the Father before all ages[4], Light from light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, one in essence [5]with the Father; through whom all things were made[6]. For us and for our salvation, he came down from heaven and was incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and he became man. He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate[7], and suffered and was buried. He rose on the third day according to the scriptures[8]. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father, and He is coming again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and His kingdom will have no end. And in the Holy Spirit[9], the Lord, the Creator of Life who proceeds from the Father[10]. Together with the Father and the Son He is worshiped and glorified; He spoke through the prophets. In one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church[11]. I profess one baptism[12] for the remission of sins. I expect the resurrection of the dead[13] and the life of the world to come, Amen.

[1] The Creed specifically references one God.  This precludes polytheism and henotheism (worship of a God specific to your nation or one God more powerful than the others).  The ancient Israelites and indeed, perhaps Constantine the Great until his final conversion could be labeled as henotheistic believers.

[2] Precludes more than one Son.  St. Athanasius, in one of his writings, precludes the existence of more than one Son, or more than one Word.

[3] Introduces the idea of the hypostases.  The Word is begotten from the Father, who is the source of the Godhead.  This is sometimes referred to, rather unfortunately, as the doctrine of the Monarchy of the Father.

[4] Precludes the Arian heresy.  The Son is before all ages.  The catch phrase of the Arian heresy is “there was a time when He was not”.

[5] The Greek word is homoousious, also rendered in English as consubstantial.  The opening of Matins (Orthros) begins, “Glory to the Holy, Consubstantial, Life-Giving and undivided Trinity, now and forever, Amen.”

[6] God spoke Creation into existence, literally with His Word. See the prologue to the Gospel of John.

[7] Fixes the Incarnation and the death of Jesus to a point in history.  The Inconceivable became Man for our salvation.

[8] What Scriptures? The Jewish Scriptures of course.  The canon of the New Testament had not been fixed. This is important because it directly links the OT to the NT.  The early Church had come under attack because the pagans considered Christianity to be a “novelty”.  Not so was the argument.  It was simply a fulfillment of the Jewish Scriptures, which had great antiquity.  This also refutes the Marcionites, who specifically rejected the OT and God as He is portrayed there.

[9] The portion of the Creed dealing with the Holy Spirit was added by the Second Ecumenical Council in 381. The Arians attacked the divinity of Jesus primarily.  Later on this attack would also go to the Holy Spirit. St. Athanasius and St. Basil the Great were particularly eloquent defenders of the divinity of the Holy Spirit.

[10] This later became a bone of contention between the Western Church and the Eastern Church.  By 800 A.D. many churches, and eventually Rome included the phrase “and the Son”.  This is the “filioque” controversy.  The Eastern Church believed the West had fundamentally changed the understanding of the Godhead through the insertion of this phrase. The East believed the Father was the source of the Godhead, since the Son is “begotten” and the Holy Spirit “proceeds” from the Father.

[11] The bishops believed there is only one True Faith.  Therefore the True Church must be one. It was founded by the Apostles, and it is holy.

[12] One baptism, administered once.  It also precludes other types of baptism such as that of John the Baptist.

[13]  Many Christians would be amazed to find out they profess bodily resurrection!  Yet, all one has to do is think about the Easter story to see this is the case.