The History of the Nicene Creed
by Will Rogers
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The History of the Nicene 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 only-begotten Son of God. Born of the Father before all ages. God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God. Begotten, not made, 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 He became flesh by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary: and was made man. He was also crucified for us, suffered under Pontius Pilate, and was buried. And on the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. And of His kingdom there will be no end. And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of life, Who proceeds from the Father and the Son. Who together with the Father and Son is adored and glorified; and Who spoke through the Prophets. And one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. I confess one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. And I await the resurrection of the dead. And the life of the world to come. Amen.”-Nicene Creed, 381AD version
The Nicene Creed is the earliest of all Christian Creeds, and is still widely regarded today in the Catholic churches, and in most Protestant churches. It is used by many as the standard by which a church is measured to be Christian or not. The Nicene Creed came about because of a particular heresy which had begun to form in the early church, perpetuated by a man named Arius. Constantine can be thanked as the primary reason the council which created the creed came about.
In 323 AD, Constantine had defeated Emperor Licinius, and had taken control of the Roman Empire. Shortly after, Constantine ended the persecution of Christianity in his Empire. Prior to this point, Christians had been persecuted all throughout the Roman empire. Soon afterwards, a problem developed in the church at Alexandria. The problem began in a debate between the Bishop of Alexandria, Bishop Alexander, and the Presbyter(pastor) Arius. Arius argued that Jesus, as the Son of God, had a beginning since He was begotten of the Father. Bishop Alexander argued for the case of Jesus being the same as the Father. This debate erupted into a serious matter that the church needed to face. It is unclear as to whom exactly called for the Council at Nicea, but history seems to point to Constantine as the one who initiated the call for the council. The council was assembled shortly after Constantine received a plea from his friend, Bishop Eusebius of Nicodemia, on behalf of Arius. Arius and Erebius were friends, and it was for this reason that Eusebius called on Constantine to help his friend.
In 325AD, some two hundred and fifty to three hundred and eighteen bishops convened in Nicea to discuss the matter. Records are unclear as too exactly how many there were, but three hundred and eighteen is almost universally accepted as the correct number. This number was recorded by Eusebius of Caesarea. Eusebius of Caesarea gives the names and cities of many of these men, so there is no reason to doubt his numbering of the bishops present at the council.
The Council members were by and large against the teachings of Arius, who was present at the council for questioning. Upon hearing his words, many members of the council stopped their ears and refused to listen. Eusebius of Nicodemia had a letter read containing the teachings of Arius, which was promptly torn to pieces by the men there, as well as an Arian confession of faith. At this point, it is rather safe to say that the teachings of Arius were considered heresy almost universally within the early church. When the council began to interrogate Arius, they discovered that he had a new way of interpreting every verse they brought before him. He did not interpret any verse in any manner that had been done before him. He was bringing new teachings into the church, which did not sit well with the bishops.
When the creed was first formed, there were seventeen bishops that opposed signing onto the creed. This was not because all seventeen of these bishops were in agreement with Arius, but because of the word used to describe the relationship between the Father and the Son. The word used was the Greek word homoousious which in the English is directly translated “consubstantial” or “of one substance.” The reason for the controversy over this word, is because an earlier heretic known as Paul of Samosta, who used the word in the sense that different coins are derived of different metals, such are the Father and Son. These bishops had a hard time reconciling an orthodox usage of this word, until it was pointed out by some that the word had been used by early church father Origen nearly a century before, and was already in orthodox terminology. The word was desperately needed at the time in order to refute the heresy of Arian, so it was accepted. At the final signing of the creed, only three bishops remained who refused to sign it. It can safely be said that the majority of bishops were non-Arian going into the council. Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, pointed out that Arian had no support for his views from any church fathers prior to this time, nor did he have any support from scripture. This was the final argument used to defeat the heresy of Arius, was that it had no support in the church prior to Arius. The wording of the decision of the Council at Nicea reflects this mind set, they stated “thus the catholic church believes” as opposed to “we have decided.”
It is supposed by some that the Emperor Constantine was responsible for the doctrine of the Trinity, and the idea that the Father and Son are one. However, those who hold this position seem not to realize that things changed very shortly for the orthodox in the church. Within a short time, the Arians made a powerful comeback, at least in the East, while the Orthodox retained control of the church in the West. The Arian comeback was not accomplished through ascendancy in the church, but through letters and personal visits to the Emperor. In 335AD, Constantine banished Athanasius from his empire, and Constantine himself held to Arian beliefs. In 336AD, Constantine called for Arius to come to Rome, where Constantine intended to force the church to accept Arius back into the fold. But on his way to Rome, Arius died when stopping to relieve himself. Constantine died shortly after, and his son gained control of the Roman empire. It wasn’t until fifty-six years after the Nicene Creed, that the orthodox bishops regained control, and in 362AD, at the Council of Constantinople, orthodoxy was reaffirmed by the early church, and with the Nicene Creed, and the creeds of Constantinople and later of Chalcedon orthodoxy was firmly established in the church, and the church now had a ruler by which to measure heresy.
The Original Nicene Creed 325AD
We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things, visible and invisible.
And in one Lord, JESUS CHRIST, the Son of God, begotten of the Father, [the only-begotten, that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God], Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance (homoeousion) with the Father; by whom all things were made [both in heaven and on earth], who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man; he suffered, and the third day he rose again, ascended into heaven; from thence he will come to judge the quick and the dead.
And in the HOLY GHOST.
[But those who say There was a time when he was not, and He was not before he was made, or He was made out of nothing, or He is of another substance or essence or The Son of God is created, or Changeable they are condemned by the holy catholic and apostolic church.]
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