THE NICENE CREED
The Nicene Creed is the most widely accepted and used brief statements of the Christian Faith. In liturgical churches, it is said every Sunday as part of the Liturgy. It is Common Ground to East Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, Calvinists, and many other Christian groups. Many groups that do not have a tradition of using it in their services nevertheless are committed to the doctrines it teaches. (Someone may ask, “What about the Apostles’ Creed?” Traditionally, in the West, the Apostles’ Creed is used at Baptisms, and the Nicene Creed at the Eucharist (aka the Mass, the Liturgy, the Lord’s Supper, or the Holy Communion). The East uses only the Nicene Creed.) I here present the Nicene Creed in two English translations, The first is the traditional one, in use with minor variations since 1549, The second is a modern version, that of (I think) The Interdenominational Committee on Liturgical Texts. Notes and comment by me follow.
TRADITIONAL WORDING 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 his 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 Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified al so 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 sitteth on the right hand of the Father; and he shall come again, with glory, to judge both 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 proceedeth from the Father [and the Son]; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spake by the Prophets. And I believe 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.
MODERN WORDING 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: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man. 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]. With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified. He 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.
NOTES AND COMMENT When the Apostles’ Creed was drawn up, the chief enemy was Gnosticism, which denied that Jesus was truly Man; and the emphases of the Apostles’ Creed reflect a concern with repudiating this error. When the Nicene Creed was drawn up, the chief enemy was Arianism, which denied that Jesus was fully God. Arius was a presbyter (=priest = elder) in Alexandria in Egypt, in the early 300’s. He taught that the Father, in the beginning, created (or begot) the Son, and that the Son, in conjunction with the Father, then proceeded to create the world.
The result of this was to make the Son a created being, and hence not God in any meaningful sense. It was also suspiciously like the theories of those Gnostics and pagans who held that God was too perfect to create something like a material world, and so introduced one or more intermediate beings between God and the world. God created A, who created B, who created C… who created Z, who created the world. Alexander, Bishop of Alexandria, sent for Arius and questioned him.
Arius stuck to his positi on, and was finally excommunicated by a council of Egyptian bishops. He went to Nicomedia in Asia, where he wrote letters defending his position to various bishops. Finally, the Emperor Constantine summoned a council of Bishops in Nicea (across the strait s from modern Istambul), and there in 325 the Bishops of the Church, by a decided majority, repudiated Arius and produced the first draft of what is now called the Nicene Creed.
A chief spokesman for the full deity of Christ was Athanasius, deacon of Alex andria, assistant (and later successor) to the aging Alexander. The Arian position has been revived in our own day by the Watchtower Society (the JW’s), who explicitly hail Arius as a great witness to the truth.
I here print the Creed (modern wording) a second time, with notes inserted.
* 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,
Here and elswhere (such as John 1:14) where the Greek has MONOGENETOS HUIOS, an English translation may read either “only Son” or “only begotten Son.” The Greek is ambiguous. The root GEN is found in words like “genital, genetics, generation,” and suggests begetting. However, it is also found in words like “genus” and suggests family or sort or kind. Accordingly, we may take MONOGENETOS to mean either “only begotten” or “one-of-a-kind, only, sole, unique”.
*eternally begotten of the Father,
Here the older translation has “begotten of the Father before all worlds.” One might suppose that this means, “before the galaxies were formed,” or something of the kind. But in fact the English word “world” used to mean something a little different. It is related to “were” (pronounced “weer”), an old word for “man,” as in “werewolf” or “weregild.” (Compare with Latin VIR.) Hence a “world” was originally a span of time equal to the normal lifespan of a man.
Often in the KJV Bible, one finds “world” translating the Greek AION (“eon”), and a better translation today would be “age.” (Thus, for example, in Matthew 24:3, the question is one of “the end of the age,” which makes it possible to understand what follows as a description of the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70, and of the end of an era in the spiritual history of mankind. But I digress.)
So here we have “begotten of the Father before all times, before all ages.” Arius was fond of saying, “The Logos is not eternal. God begat him, and before he was begotten, 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 to be a king. It is true that an earthly son is younger than his father, and that there is a time when he is no t yet what he willbe.
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.Â * 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. It was the one formula that th e Arians could not
interpret as meaning what they believed. Without it, they would have continued to
teach that the Son is good, and glorious, and holy, and a Mighty Power, and God’s chief agent in
creating the world, and the means by which God chiefly re veals 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. And they would have pointed out that,
since the Council of Nicea had n ot issued any declaration that they could not accept, it followed
that there was room for their position inside the tent of Christian doctrine, as that tent had been
defined at Nicea. Arius and his immediate followers would have denied that they were redu cing
the Son to the position of a high-ranking angel. But their doctrine left no safeguard against it, and
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. Incidentally, HOMOOUSIOS is
generally written without the hyphen. The OU (in Greek as in French) is pronounced as in
“soup”, “group”, and so on, and t he word has five syllables HO-mo-OU-si-os, with accents on
first and third, as shown. The Greek root HOMO, meaning “same,” is found in English words
like “homosexual” and “homogenized”, and is not to be confused with the Latin word HOMO,
meaning “man, hum an”. 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 th e
oldest surviving Christian treatises written in Latin), is that the Trinity consists of three
PERSONAE (singular PERSONA) united in one SUBSTANTIA. In English, we say “Three
Persons in one Substance.” Unfortunately, the Greek HYPO-STASIS and the Latin
SUB-STANTIA each consists of an element meaning “under, below” (as in “hypodermic”,
“hypothermia”, etc) followed by an element meaning “stand”. Thus it was natural for a
Greek-speaker, reading a Latin document that referred to One SUBSTANTIA to substitute
mentally a reference to One HYPOSTASIS, and to be very uncomfortable, while a Latin-speaker
would have the same problem in reverse. Thus the seeds were sown for a breakdown of
communication.Â * 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. Insert ing the HOMO-OUSIOS at this point
breaks up the flow, and if I had been present at the Council of Nicea, I would have urged the
bishops to insert it one line further down instead. In the older translation, in particular, someone
reading the Creed is likel y to understand it as referring to “The Father by whom all things were
made.” The newer translation, by revising the English wording, makes this misreading less
likely.Â * For us and for our salvation The older translation has, “for us men.” Now, while
En glish has in common current usage the one word “man” to do duty both for gender-inclusive
(“human”) and for gender-specific (“male”), Latin has “homo, homin-” for gender-inclusive and
“vir” for gender-specific, while Greek has “anthropos” for gender-inclu sive and “aner, andro-“
for gender-specific. (Given the demand for a similar distinction in English, I have been arguing
for a gender-inclusive use of “man”, and the revival of the older word “were” (as in “werewolf”
and “weregild”) in the gender-specific sense. But so far I have had but scant success.) Where the
older translation of the Creed is used, with its “for us men” at this point, a feminist might
consider complaining of sexist language. But the Greek and Latin wording here are both
gender-inclusi ve, and so a feminist, reading the Creed in either of those languages, ought to
find nothing that will upset him.Â *Â he came down from heaven:Â * by the power of the Holy
SpiritÂ *Â he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,Â *Â and was made man.Â * Fo r our sake he
was crucified under Pontius Pilate;Â * 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. And I for one am not sorry.Â * On the third day he rose againÂ *Â 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 o f 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 N icene Fathers had in mind. The newer
translation is an improvement. I would have suggested, “in fulfilment of the Scriptures,” which is
clearly what is meant.Â * he ascended into heavenÂ *Â and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
* He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,Â *Â and his kingdom will have no
end.Â *Â * We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,Â * who proceeds from the
Father [and the Son]. 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;
pronounced with accent on the O), and the controversy ab out them is accordingly known 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 u nwilling to have it supposed that they are repudiating the statement
that the Spirit proceeds jointly from Father and Son. I accordingly suggest that we print the
Creed with the FILIOQUE either in brackets or omitted altogether, but with the understanding
that, while assenting to the resulting statement does not commit anyone to belief in the Dual
Procession of the Spirit, neither does it commit anyone to disbelief in the Dual Procession. I reserve extensive comments on the Dual Procession, the history of the belief, and the reasons for and against believing in it, for a separate essay, called CREED FILIOQUE. * With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified.Â * He 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.
Since many Christians from various backgrounds will want to know, “Precisely what would I be agreeing to if I signed this?” I have commented extensively on the wording in a separate file, called CREED 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.
Posted by: James E. Kiefer
Source: CHRISTIA File Archives (for more info send INDEX CHRISTIA to firstname.lastname@example.org) jab/15-Mar-94