Nazarene Way of Essenic Studies
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, 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.
Historical purpose for a creed.
Not all religions can conceive of a creed. Such a thing would be unthinkable among the pagans of Greece and Rome or Old Europe, in Hinduism, or Buddhism. No creed has ever been promulgated in Islam, for the simple reason that there is no single hierarchic leader authorized or powerful enough to do so.
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. The Nicene Creed, both in its original and revised formulas, is an implicit condemnation of specific alleged errors. Thus, as new variations in Christian belief evolved in the 4th century and were perceived as a threat, 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.
In the texts below, the amended sections, adopted in 381, have been identified in order to give them prominence. In the section that follows the texts, each amendment will be discussed in context.
Greek version of the Nicene Creed
Πιστεύω είς ενα Θεόν, Πατέρα, παντοκράτορα, ποιητήν ουρανού καί γής, ορατών τε πάντων καί αοράτων.
Καί είς ενα Κύριον, Ίησούν Χριστόν, τόν Υιόν του Θεού τόν μονογενή, τόν εκ του Πατρός γεννηθέντα πρό πάντων τών αιώνων. Φώς εκ φωτός, Θεόν αληθινόν εκ Θεού αληθινού γεννηθέντα, ού ποιηθέντα, ὁμοούσιον τώ Πατρί, δι’ ού τά πάντα εγένετο. Τόν δι’ ημάς τούς ανθρώπους καί διά τήν ημετέραν σωτηρίαν κατελθόντα εκ τών ουρανών καί σαρκωθέντα εκ Πνεύματος ‘Αγίου καί Μαρίας τής Παρθένου καί ενανθρωπήσαντα. Σταυρωθέντα τε υπέρ ημών επί Ποντίου Πιλάτου καί παθόντα καί ταφέντα.
Καί αναστάντα τή τρίτη ημέρα κατά τάς Γραφάς.
Καί ανελθόντα είς τούς ουρανούς καί καθεζόμενον εκ δεξιών τού Πατρός.
Καί πάλιν ερχόμενον μετά δόξης κρίναι ζώντας καί νεκρούς, ού τής βασιλείας ουκ εσται τέλος.
Καί είς τό Πνεύμα τό ¨Αγιον, τό Κύριον, τό ζωοποιόν, τό εκ τού Πατρός εκπορευόμενον, τό σύν Πατρί καί Υιώ συμπροσκυνούμενον καί συνδοξαζόμενον, τό λαλήσαν διά τών Προφητών.
Είς μίαν, αγίαν, καθολικήν καί αποστολικήν Έκκλησίαν. ‘Ομολογώ εν βάπτισμα είς άφεσιν αμαρτιών. Προσδοκώ ανάστασιν νεκρών. Καί ζωήν τού μέλλοντος αιώνος.
Interpretation of the Greek text
The original creed was written in Greek, the language of the eastern Mediterranean where both councils were seated.
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. 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.
The Greek word ὁμοουσιον indicates in orthodox theology that The Father and the Son are "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)
Latin version of the Nicene Creed
Credo in unum Deum, Patrem omnipotentem, factorem caeli et terrae, visibilium omnium et invisibilium.
Et in unum Dominum Iesum Christum, Filium Dei unigenitum, et ex Patre natum ante omnia saecula. Deum de Deo, Lumen de Lumine, Deum verum de Deo vero, genitum non factum, consubstantialem Patri; per quem omnia facta sunt. Qui propter nos homines et propter nostram salutem descendit de caelis. Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto ex Maria Virgine, et homo factus est. Crucifixus etiam pro nobis sub Pontio Pilato, passus et sepultus est, et resurrexit tertia die, secundum Scripturas, et ascendit in caelum, sedet ad dexteram Patris. Et iterum venturus est cum gloria, iudicare vivos et mortuos, cuius regni non erit finis.
Et in Spiritum Sanctum, Dominum et vivificantem, qui ex Patre (Filioque) procedit. Qui cum Patre et Filio simul adoratur et conglorificatur: qui locutus est per prophetas. Et unam, sanctam, catholicam et apostolicam Ecclesiam. Confiteor unum baptisma in remissionem peccatorum. Et expecto resurrectionem mortuorum, et vitam venturi saeculi. Amen.
A 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.
(Note that, while this version is in the plural, the original Greek is in the first-person singular. )
Amendments to the Nicene creed
The original Nicene Creed adopted at the Council of Nicaea in 325 ended just before the words, "We believe in the Holy Spirit..." The section from that point forward was added at the Second Ecumenical Council in Constantinople; 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 clause
All Eastern Orthodox and Greek Catholic churches omit the words "and the Son" (the filioque clause), from the description of the Holy Spirit, in keeping with the first seven Ecumenical Councils. Those words were not included by the Council of Nicaea or of Constantinople, but were added later by Roman Catholics, and the Eastern Orthodox churches consider their inclusion to be a heresy. The Anglican Communion is generally sympathetic to the Orthodox position, and both versions are authorised, but inertia leads most churches to continue to include the Filioque except during ecumenical services.
Background to the filioque controversy
The phrase "and the son" (filioque in Latin) was first used in Toledo, Spain in 587, and was acknowledged as early as 447 at Rome by Pope Leo I without the consultation or agreement of the other four patriarchs of the Church at that time. The purpose of its addition in Spain was to counter a heresy that was local to that region. The practice spread then to France where it was repudiated at the Gentilly Council in 767. Emperor Charlemagne called for a council at Aix-la-Chapelle 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 and the manner of its adoption was one of the reasons for the Great Schism. The filioque clause was officially added to the creed by the Second Council of Lyons in 1274 although it was first used in liturgy during the coronation of Holy Roman Emperor Henry II by Pope Benedict VIII in 1014.
Some Christian communions, in particular the World Council of Churches and the Presbyterian Church, USA, omit the word "men", and others substitute the word "all", in the line "for us men and for our salvation..." This is considered a more gender-neutral translation of nos homines ("we men"). The frequency of usage of this variation is, however, unknown.
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, it is also referred to as the "Profession of Faith."
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The Nicene and Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed