To the majority of modern evangelical Christian scholarship, the Nicene Creed is regarded as the quintessential prerequisite for Christian faith. In this traditional belief, all proper Christians affirm the Nicene Creed. Several statements in the Nicene creed represent concepts which are forbidden in Jewish law thus disqualifying Christianity as a Noahide faith. Christians however, in practice, do not always hold by the Nicene Creed.
Some religious denominations such as Oneness Pentecostals, Arianism, churches of Christ, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Jehovah's Witnesses adhere to Christian scripture and identify themselves emphatically as Christians, but reject the Nicene Creed as an error or a misinterpretation and further reject the more recent Lausanne Covenant that affirms the Creed. As a result, many other Christians regard these denominations as not being Christian at all.
In modern interfaith relations, there have been many heated clashes between Nicene and non-Nicene traditions over the definition of Christianity, and of what constitutes a Christian. In some countries (such as the United States), this has led to litigation with charges and counter-charges over a theological issue, involving allegations as wide-ranging as slander, perjury, discrimination, and breach of contract.
First Council of Nicaea holding the Nicene Creed. The Nicene Creed (Latin language|Latin: Symbolum Nicenum), Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed or Icon/Symbol of the Faith, is the most widespread Christianity|Christian statement of faith.
The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed is the most widely accepted creed in Christianity. Since its original formulation it continues to be used in the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodoxy|Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodoxy|Oriental Orthodox, Assyrian Church of the East|Assyrian, Anglican Communion|Anglican, Lutheranism|Lutheran, and most other Protestant churches.
There are several designations for the two Nicene creeds and several of them do have overlapping meanings:
- Nicene creed can refer to the original version adopted at the First Council of Nicaea (325), to the revised version adopted by the First Council of Constantinople (381). Later came the Western versions that include the filioque clause.
- Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed or Niceno-Constantinopolitanum can stand for the revised version of Constantinople 381. Later came the Western versions that include the filioque clause.
- Icon/Symbol of the Faith is the usual designation for the revised version of Constantinople 381 in the Orthodox churches, where this is the only creed used in liturgy.
- Profession of Faith of the 318 Fathers refers specifically to the version of Nicea 325 (traditionally, 318 bishops took part at the First Council of Nicea).
- Profession of Faith of the 150 Fathers refers specifically to the version of Constantinople 381 (traditionally, 150 bishops took part at the First Council of Constantinople)
The purpose of a Christian creed was to establish conformity of belief, uniquely essential for Christians, and by public professions of the faith, to identify heretics or any disconformity within each community. The Creed is an epitome, not a full definition, of what is required for personal orthodoxy. It was hoped that by memorizing this summary of the faith, lay people without extensive theological training would still be able to recognize deviations from "orthodox" Christianity.
The Nicene Creed, both in its original and revised formulas, is an implicit condemnation of specific alleged errors. Thus, as different variations in Christian belief evolved in the 4th century and were perceived as threats, new phrases were seen to be needed, like amendments to a constitution. Just as one can perceive the historical developments of a constitutional society through amendments to its constitution, a careful and knowledgeable reader can identify the particular theological developments in the other kind of society that enforces a creed.
The original Nicene Creed of 325
The original Nicene Creed was first adopted in 325 at the First Council of Nicaea, which was the Ecumenical Council. At that time, the text ended after the words "We believe in the Holy Spirit."
The Coptic Church has the tradition that the original creed was authored by Athanasius. Fenton John Anthony Hort|F.J.A. Hort and Adolf Harnack argued that the Nicene creed was the local creed of Caesarea brought to the council by Eusebius of Caesarea. J.N.D. Kelly sees as its basis a baptismal creed of the Syro-Phoenician family, related to but not dependent of the creed cited by Cyril of Jerusalem and to the creed of Eusebius.
Soon after the Council of Nicaea, new formulas of faith were composed, most of them variations of the Nicene Symbol, to counter new phases of Arianism. The Catholic Encyclopedia identifies at least four before the Council of Sardica (341), where a new form was presented and inserted in the Acts of the Council, though it was not agreed on.
The Nicene Creed of 381
The second Ecumenical Council in 381 added the remainder of the text except for the words "and the son"; this is the version still used by Eastern Orthodoxy|Eastern Orthodox and Greek Catholic churches today.
The third Ecumenical Council reaffirmed the 381 version, and stated that no further changes could be made to it, nor could other creeds be adopted.
The original Nicene Creed adopted at the Council of Nicaea in 325 ended just after the words, "We believe in the Holy Spirit..." The section from that point forward was added at the Second Ecumenical Council in Constantinople in 381; hence the name "Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed", which refers to the Creed as it was following the modification in Constantinople. The Third Ecumenical Council reaffirmed the creed in this form and explicitly forbade making additional revisions to it.
The filioque controversy
The Roman Catholic church added the words "and the Son" (the filioque clause) to the description of the Holy Spirit, in what many have argued is a violation of the Canons of the Third Ecumenical Council. Those words were not included by the Council of Nicaea nor of Constantinople, and most Eastern Orthodox theologians consider their inclusion to be a heresy. The Anglican Communion's current consensus position is "recommending to the provinces of the Anglican Communion that in future liturgical revisions the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed be printed without the Filioque clause." (1988 Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops, Resolution 6.5)
The phrase "and the son" (filioque in Latin) was first used in Toledo, Spain in 447 with the purpose of countering the Arianism|Arian Christian faith of the Visigothic nobility of Spain. The practice spread then to France, a stronghold of Arianism where it was repudiated at the Gentilly Council in 767. Emperor Charlemagne called for a council at Aachen in 809 at which Pope Leo III forbade the use of the filioque clause and ordered that the Nicene creed be engraved on silver tablets so that his conclusion may not be overturned in the future.
The dispute over the filioque clause was one of the reasons for the East-West Schism. The clause had been adopted in the west although the Third Ecumenical Council (431) had prohibited to individuals the promulgation of any other creed. The manner of the clause's adoption was therefore controversial and in the 10th century the Photius, Patriach of Constantinople, used this clause in his conflict with the Pope. He accused the West of having fallen into heresy and thereby turned the filioque clause into the doctrinal issue of contention between East and West.
In Rome, the filioque clause first appeared in 1014 in the coronation liturgy of Henry II, Holy Roman Emperor|Emperor Henry II by Pope Benedict VIII and was officially added to the Latin creed in 1274 by the Second Council of Lyon, which effected a short-lived reunion between East and West.
To the majority of modern evangelical Christian scholarship, the Nicene Creed is regarded as the quintessential prerequisite for Christian faith. In this traditional belief, all proper Christians affirm the Nicene Creed. One can also refer to Matthew D. O’Rear’s work on the Nicene Creed; O'Rear is one of the leading scholars on the formation and the modern uses of the Creed. The Nicene Creed is referred to by Roman Catholics and Orthodox as the "symbol of faith", and its recitation is often part of Christian worship services. In the Catholic Mass (Liturgy)|Mass, it is also referred to as the "Profession of Faith." In musical settings (especially in Latin (language)|Latin, it is usually referred to by its first word, Credo.
However, other evangelical Christians who take an extreme view of sola scriptura reject the Creed (and especially the reciting of it), not necessarily because it contains objectionable content, but simply because it is not found in the Bible.
Comparison between creed of 325 and creed of 381
Often the Creed of 381 is regarded as a simple extension of the creed of 325 - in an exact comparison though, there are some omissions (
omission) and additions (addition) which are difficult to explain, if a direct relation is supposed. Additionally, there are in Greek several insignificant changes in the position of words, which do not alter the meaning. (Translation from Kelly, Early Christian Creeds)
- We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty
- Maker of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen.
- And in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
- the Son of God, eternally begotten from the father,
only-begotten, that is, from the substance of the father,
- God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God,
- begotten not made, one in Being with the Father.
- through whom all things came into being,
things in heaven and things on earth.
- Who because of us men and because of our salvation came down from the heaven and became incarnate
- by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary, becoming man.
- For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
- suffered and was buried.
- On the third day he rose again in fulfillment of the Scriptures ||
- he ascended to 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
- And in the Holy Spirit. the Lord, the Giver of Life,
- Who proceeds from the Father
- 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.
But as for those who say, There was when He was not, and Before being born He was not, and that He came into existence out of nothing or who assert that the Son of God is of a different hypostasis or substance, or is subject to alteration or change - those the Catholic and apostolic Church anathematizes.
In the texts below, the amended sections, adopted in 381, have been identified thus in order to give them prominence. In the section that follows the texts, each amendment will be discussed in context.
The original creed was written in Greek language|Greek, the language of the eastern Mediterranean where both councils were seated. The most accepted Greek text from 325 is plural, beginning with Πιστεύομεν. The most generally accepted Greek text from 381 is in the singular, beginning with Πιστεύω. Therefore, the revision from "we believe" to "I believe" may have been intentional on the part of the second Ecumenical Council.
- Πιστεύομεν εἰς ἕνα Θεόν, Πατέρα, Παντοκράτορα, ποιητὴν οὐρανοῦ καὶ γῆς, ὁρατῶν τε πάντων καὶ ἀοράτων.
- Καὶ εἰς ἕνα Κύριον Ἰησοῦν Χριστόν, τὸν Υἱὸν τοῦ Θεοῦ τὸν μονογενῆ, τὸν ἐκ τοῦ Πατρὸς γεννηθέντα πρὸ πάντων τῶν αἰώνων·
- φῶς ἐκ φωτός, Θεὸν ἀληθινὸν ἐκ Θεοῦ ἀληθινοῦ, γεννηθέντα οὐ ποιηθέντα, ὁμοούσιον τῷ Πατρί, δι' οὗ τὰ πάντα ἐγένετο.
- Τoν δι' ἡμᾶς τοὺς ἀνθρώπους καὶ διὰ τὴν ἡμετέραν σωτηρίαν κατελθόντα ἐκ τῶν οὐρανῶν καὶ σαρκωθέντα
- ἐκ Πνεύματος Ἁγίου καὶ Μαρίας τῆς Παρθένου καὶ ἐνανθρωπήσαντα.
- Σταυρωθέντα τε ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν ἐπὶ Ποντίου Πιλάτου, καὶ παθόντα καὶ ταφέντα.
- Καὶ ἀναστάντα τῇ τρίτῃ ἡμέρα κατὰ τὰς Γραφάς.
- Καὶ ἀνελθόντα εἰς τοὺς οὐρανοὺς καὶ καθεζόμενον ἐκ δεξιῶν τοῦ Πατρός.
- Καὶ πάλιν ἐρχόμενον μετὰ δόξης κρῖναι ζῶντας καὶ νεκρούς, οὗ τῆς βασιλείας οὐκ ἔσται τέλος.
- Καὶ εἰς τὸ Πνεῦμα τὸ Ἅγιον, τὸ κύριον, τὸ ζωοποιόν,
- τὸ ἐκ τοῦ Πατρὸς ἐκπορευόμενον,
- τὸ σὺν Πατρὶ καὶ Υἱῷ συμπροσκυνούμενον καὶ συνδοξαζόμενον,
- τὸ λαλῆσαν διὰ τῶν προφητῶν.
- Εἰς μίαν, Ἁγίαν, Καθολικὴν καὶ Ἀποστολικὴν Ἐκκλησίαν.
- Ὁμολογῶ ἓν βάπτισμα εἰς ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν.
- Προσδοκῶ ἀνάστασιν νεκρῶν.
- Καὶ ζωὴν τοῦ μέλλοντος αἰῶνος.
In addition, the Nicene version ended with an anathema that was deleted in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan version:
|Τοὺς δὲ λέγοντας, ὅτι ἦν ποτε ὅτε οὐκ ἦν, καὶ πρὶν γεννηθῆναι οὐκ ἦν, καὶ ὅτι ἐξ οὐκ ὄντων ἐγένετο, ἢ ἐξ ἑτέρας ὑποστάσεως ἢ οὐσίας φάσκοντας εἶναι. ἢ κτιστόν, τρεπτὸν ἢ ἀλλοιωτὸν τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ θεοῦ, τούτους ἀναθεματίζει ἡ καθολικὴ καὶ ἀποστολικὴ ἐκκλησία.||But those who say: "There was a time when he was not"; and "He was not before he was made"; and "He was made out of nothing", or "He is of another substance" or "essence", or "The Son of God is created", or "changeable", or "alterable" — they are condemned by the holy Catholic and apostolic Church.|
Most modern scholarly opinion believes that μονογενή means "only" or "unique" coming from μονο — "mono" meaning "only" and γενή coming from γενος "genus" meaning kind - "only one of its kind", thus the translation "only Son" in the above modern translation of the creed. One possible mistake at this point is to translate "genus" according to its Latin meaning. In Greek, however, "genos" (γένος) may mean offspring, a limited or extended family, a clan, a tribe, a people, a biological entity (e.g. all the birds), or indeed any group of beings sharing a common ancestry. Therefore its meaning can vary from the very narrow to the very broad. A telling example of Greek usage of the word "genos" would be "Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, to genos Bouvier" (i.e. née Bouvier).
Older English translations as well as the Latin contain "only-begotten", "unigenitum" on the belief that γενή comes from the word for γενναω "born". On the other hand Old Latin manuscripts of the New Testament translate μονογενή as "unicus", "unique". No doubt debate will continue as to the author's intentions both in the New Testament, as well as the separate issue of the intended meaning in the creeds. It may be noteworthy that "only-begotten" is currently deemed an acceptable translation into English within Orthodox Christian jurisdictions that routinely use liturgical Greek.
A considerable part of this confusion is due to the similarity of the key Greek verbs "gennao" and "gignomai".
"Γεννάω" (gennao) means "to give birth" and refers to the male parent. The female equivalent is "τίκτω" (tikto), from which derive the obstetric terms "tokos', labor, and "toketos", delivery, and words such as "Theo-tokos", Mother of God, and the proparoxytone "prototokos", firstborn, as opposed to the paroxytone "prototokos", primipara (one giving birth for the first time).
Γίγνομαι (gignomai) means "to come into existence".
The etymological roots of the two verbs are, respectively, "genn-" and "gen-", and therefore the derivatives of these two verbs exhibit significant auditory and semantic overlap.
Auditorily speaking, while the ancient Greeks pronounced double consonants differently from single ones (example: the double N was pronounced as in the English word "unknown"), by Roman times this had become the same as pronunciation of single consonants (example: the double N was then pronounced as in the English word "penny").
Semantically speaking, the Greek word for "parent" can derive both from "gennao" (γεννήτωρ, gennetor, strictly applicable only to the male parent) and from "gignomai" (γονεύς, goneus, which applies to both parents). In ancient and modern Greek usage however, the word "monogenes" invariably refers to a son without other brothers, or a daughter without other sisters, or a child without other siblings. In this context, both "only-begotten" and "only one of its kind" are equally valid translations.
Furthermore, the word "monogennetos" (a father's only son) and "monotokos" (a mother's only child) do not exist, while "monotokos" means a female who can only have one offspring at a time. Of course any -tokos derivative would be out of the question in this case, as the Nicene Creed seeks to clarify the parentage of God the Son in relation to God the Father.
The Greek word ὁμοούσιον indicates in orthodox theology that The Father and the Son are "cosubstantial", "of the same substance" or "of the same essence", because the Son is begotten of the Father’s own being (εκ της ουσιας του πατρος)
Credo in unum Deum, Patrem omnipoténtem, factórem cæli et terræ, visibílium ómnium et invisibílium. Et in unum Dóminum Iesum Christum, Fílium Dei unigénitum. Et ex Patre natum ante ómnia sæcula. Deum de Deo, lumen de lúmine, Deum verum de Deo vero. Génitum, non factum, consubstantiálem Patri: per quem ómnia facta sunt. Qui propter nos hómines et propter nostram salútem descéndit de cælis et incarnátus est de Spíritu Sancto ex María Vírgine: Et homo factus est. Crucifíxus étiam pro nobis: sub Póntio Piláto passus, et sepúltus est. Et resurréxit tértia die, secúndum Scriptúras. Et ascéndit in cælum: sedet ad déxteram Patris. Et íterum ventúrus est cum glória judicáre vivos et mórtuos: cujus regni non erit finis. Et in Spíritum Sanctum, Dóminum et vivificántem: qui ex Patre Filioque clause|Filióque procédit. Qui cum Patre, et Fílio simul adorátur, et conglorifícatur: qui locútus est per Prophétas. Et unam, sanctam, cathólicam et apostólicam Ecclésiam. Confíteor unum baptísma in remissiónem peccatorum. Et expecto resurrectionem mortuorum. Et vitam ventúri sæculi. Amen.
The Nicene Creed, A Noahide Review
Here the Nicene Creed is presented and annotated with the forbidden and permitted parts. A third category, "not forbidden" means that it disagrees with Jewish teaching but it is not in violation of Noahide law. Several of these points are a matter of dispute, but the general idea is as follows:
- We believe in one God, / permitted
- the Father, the Almighty / permitted
- maker of heaven and earth, / permitted
- of all that is, seen and unseen. / permitted
- We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, / not forbidden
- the only Son of God, / forbidden *
- eternally begotten of the Father, / forbidden *
- God from God, Light from Light, / forbidden *
- true God from true God, / forbidden *
- begotten, not made, / forbidden *
- of one Being with the Father. / forbidden *
- Through him all things were made. / not forbidden
- For us men and for our salvation / not forbidden
- he came down from heaven: / not forbidden
- by the power of the Holy Spirit / not forbidden
- he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man. / not forbidden
- For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; / permitted
- he suffered death and was buried. / permitted
- On the third day he rose again / not forbidden
- in accordance with the Scriptures; / not forbidden
- he ascended into heaven / not forbidden
- and is seated at the right hand of the Father. / not forbidden
- He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, / not forbidden
- and his kingdom will have no end / not forbidden
- We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of Life, / not forbidden
- who proceeds from the Father and the Son. / forbidden
- With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. / forbidden
- He has spoken through the Prophets. / permitted
- We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. / not forbidden
- We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. / not forbidden
- We look for the resurrection of the dead, / permitted
- and the life of the world to come. Amen. / permitted
- Just believing these things to be true does not constitute idolatry. It would be acting on these beliefs that would be forbidden.
Reading the Christian teachings, such as the New Testament, does not contradict Noahide Law, but one must understand that these writings explicitly contain the above teachings which are noted as contrary to Noahide Law. One must avoid those teachings.