The Nicene Creed

In the fourth century a great controversy developed in Christendom about the nature of the Son of God. Constantine called bishops together to unify the 4th century church in the face of growing theological disputes over the divinity of Christ. The Nicene Creed is a Christian statement of belief named for the city of Nicaea, (present day Iznik, Turkey) where it was originally adopted by the First Ecumenical Council in 325 AD.

The Nicene Creed contains much of the same wording as the Apostles Creed; however, it was written to refute those whose doctrines minimized or even rejected the Divinity of Jesus Christ. Thus it defended and expanded the doctrines expressed in the Apostles Creed to counter the heresies common at that time, the most prominent of which was known as Arianism. Arianism was a belief system that held the belief that the Son of God did not always exist but was begotten within time by God the Father, therefore Jesus was not co-eternal with God the Father. Arianism holds that the Son is distinct from the Father and therefore subordinate to Him.

Even today, there are some who reject the Nicene Creed and the doctrine of the Trinity, arguing that it was never taught by Jesus. They argue that the Nicene council imposed the doctrine of the formerly pagan Emporer Constantine on the bishops gathered for the council, forcing them to include it as part of the creed. This is a false belief, however, because the doctrine of the Trinity IS taught by Jesus. It can be found in what is know as the "Great Commission" in the New Testament, which was complete by the end of the first century AD. In it Jesus tells all believers to ". . .go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit...." Thus, the doctrine of the Trinity was a widely held belief long before the council met at Nicaea. Many of the early church fathers, including Polycarp, Justin, Martyr, Ignatius, Tertullian, and Origen, defended this doctrine.

Following the controversy about the doctrine of the Trinity, at what has come to be known as the Second Ecumenical Council in 381 AD, the Nicene Creed was amended at the Council in Constantinople. This including the addition of the 3rd paragraph. The creed was widely accepted by the church as amended.

Old Orthodox (Traditional) Wording of the Nicene Creed

We 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 Son of God, the only-begotten, begotten of the Father before all ages. Light of Light; true God of true God; begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father, by whom all things were made;

Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became man. And He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered, and was buried. And the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead; whose Kingdom shall have no end.

And [we believe] in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets. In one Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins. I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

Then in the late 6th century, at a local council in Toledo, Spain - not a full ecumenical council - a gathering of local bishops added the words “and from the Son” (Latin: “Filioque”) to more fully describe the procession of the Holy Spirit. This seemingly minor change in the wording of the creed generated a great controversy that eventually caused the great split in 1054 AD between the Eastern Orthodox church and the Roman Catholic church. Adding the word “filioque”, and capitalizing the word "Catholic", which designated the Roman Catholic church specifically rather than the universal body of believers, was viewed as a power grab by the Roman Catholic Church, imposing their own unique doctrines into the creed. This issue has never been resolved to this day. The Eastern Church severed all ties with Rome and the Roman Catholic Church, including the pope and the Holy Roman Emperor, and became the Greek Orthodox Church.

Today, despite the controversy that split the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches so many years ago, the Nicene Creed is still the most widely accepted and most commonly used statement of the Christian Faith. Being common to many Christian denominations, even Christians who do not have a tradition of using it in their worship services nevertheless are committed to the doctrines it teaches. It can indeed be considered the most unifying and universal of all the creeds.

Modern Nicene Creed

We believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, begotten from the Father before all ages, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made; of the same essence as the Father. Through him all things were made.

For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven; he became incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary, and was made human. He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate; he suffered and was buried. The third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures. He ascended to heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead. His kingdom will never end.

And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life. He proceeds from the Father and the Son, and with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified. He spoke through the prophets. We believe in one holy *catholic and apostolic church. We affirm one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look forward to the resurrection of the dead, and to life in the world to come. Amen.

(Once again, please not that the word * "catholic", as used here, refers to the universal church, or the body of believers at all times and in all places, NOT to the Roman Catholic church.)

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