The Nicene Creed, or the Icon/Symbol of the Faith, is a Christian statement of faith accepted by the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and major Protestant churches. It gets its name from the First Council of Nicaea (325), at which it was adopted and from the First Council of Constantinople (381), at which a revised version was accepted. Thus it may be referred to specifically as the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed to distinguish it from both the 325 version and later versions that include the filioque clause. There have been many further creeds, (see Creed) in reaction to further perceived heresy, but this one, as revised in 381 was the very last time both Catholic and Orthodox communions could bring themselves to agree upon a Credo.
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The modern English version of the Nicene Creed
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 from the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of the same substance as the Father. Through him all things were made. For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered, died, 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.
The purpose of the Christian creed was to establish conformity of belief, 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.Like any public confession of orthodoxy, the Creed is a form of cultural coercion that enforces uniformity.
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.
History: from Nicaea (325) to Constantinople (381)
The Nicene Creed was first adopted at the first Ecumenical Council in 325, which was also the First Council of Nicaea. At that time, the text ended after the words "We believe in the Holy Spirit." 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 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.
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.
Nicene Creed and Controversy of Christian Definition
Some religious denominations adhere to Christian scripture and identify themselves emphatically as Christians, but reject the Nicene Creed as an error or a misinterpretation, and also reject the more recent Lausanne Covenant that affirms the Creed. As a result, many other Christians regard these sects as not being Christian at all. Such sects include Arianism, Mormonism, and Seventh-day Adventists. However, most non-Christians generally regard these sects as being Christian because of their beliefs in Jesus and in most or all of the New Testament.
In modern interfaith relations, there have been many heated clashes between Nicene and non-Nicene sectarians over the definition of Christianity, and of what constitutes a Christian. In the some countries (such as the United States), this has led to litigation with charges and counter-charges over this very theological issue, involving allegations as wide-ranging as slander, perjury, discrimination, and breach of contract. In ancient times, these issues were largely set aside by the annihilation of the contemporary Arianist sect. In modern times, relations between evangelists of Nicene and newer non-Nicene sects are generally cold, and at times outwardly hostile as well.
- Wikipedia. (2004). Nicene Creed (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicene_Creed). Retrieved on Sept. 21, 2004.