Road to Nicaea
Road to Nicaea
Early Christianity
Early Christianity 

"Christianity is a creedal religion. You cannot separate Christianity from its ancient creeds. In fact, every true Christian adheres to the ancient creeds of the church, whether he knows it or not . . . . Creeds are concise doctrinal summaries of the doctrines of Scripture, and are subordinate to Scripture as our only infallible rule for faith and life . . . . If we are true Christians who have put our trust in the Christ of the Bible, it is impossible for us not to affirm the church's ancient creedal statements on the Bible's teaching. What's more, we are living in a day when we must not only affirm them but defend them against the onslaught of heretical teachings about the person and work of Jesus Christ."

 

-- Dr. Burk Parsons, Chief Publishing Officer of Ligonier Ministries, and Senior Pastor of Saint Andrews Chapel in Sanford, Fla. (Table Talk magazine)

 

"In one of the quirks of church history, the "Nicene Creed" used in church hymnals and liturgies is a different creed from the one accepted at Nicaea. In 381, the Council of Constantinople affirmed the Nicene Creed and condemned heresies that had since arisen against Nicaea. But from later records (preserved at the Council of Chalcedon, 70 years later) we know that another creed was also used, now known as the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed. This creed is more strictly Trinitarian than the Nicene, describing each member of the Trinity in relation to the other members. The creed of 325 says less about the Father and only mentions the Holy Spirit with no description at all, since the council's attention was fixed on how the Son is no less divine than the Father."

 

-- Dr. D.H. Williams, Professor of Religion in Patristics and Historical Theology, Baylor University. (Christian History magazine, Winter 2005 issue)

 

 

ORIGINAL NICENE CREED (AD 325)

 

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 from the Father, only-begotten, that is, from the substance of th Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, of one substance from 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 and became incarnate, becoming man, suffered and rose again on the third day, ascended to the heavens, will come to judge the living and the dead.

 

And in the Holy Spirit.

 

But as for those who say, there was when he was not, and, before being born he was not, and he came into existence out of nothing, or who assert that the son of God is a different hypostasis or substance, or is subject to change or alteration--these the Catholic* and Apostolic Church anathematizes.

THE NICENE CREED - AGREED AT COUNCIL OF CONSTANTINOPLE IN 381

 

(Source: Early Church Texts

 

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The Greek and Latin texts of the "Nicene" creed are given below with an English translation. Elsewhere on the Early Church Texts website (click here) the Latin and Greek texts below have links to online dictionaries and more information about where the texts are taken from.

 

The full version of the Early Church Texts website 1) is like an encyclopedia of the first five centuries of Church history; 2) is a "Reader" in Early Church history and theology, with carefully selected and presented extracts from Greek and Latin texts, with English translations alongside; 3) gives easy access to a large number of complete Greek and Latin early Christian texts (many with the facility for viewing a translation alongside), including virtually all of the Greek and Latin texts from the first five centuries contained in the Migne Patrologiae Cursus Completus volumes. There is an index of commentaries, homilies etc. by biblical book. Click here for more information.

 

 

The Nicene Creed is the traditional statement of Christian faith and is affirmed today by Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, Protestant, and Roman Catholic churches. The Western version is shown below. The Eastern version doesn't include the phrases in brackets. 

 

 

 

NICENO-CONSTANTINOPOLITAN CREED (AD 381)

 

 

I 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-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; [God of God], Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made. 

 

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

 

And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father [and the Son]; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets. And I believe in one holy catholic* and apostolic Church. I acknowlege one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

 

*The word 'catholic' with a lower case 'c' refers to the universal church worldwide

 

 

Greek

 

Πιστεύομεν εἰς ἕνα Θεὸν Πατέρα παντοκράτορα
ποιητὴν οὐρανοῦ καὶ γῆς ὁρατῶν τε πάντων καὶ ἀοράτων·
καὶ εἰς ἕνα Κύριον Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν
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·
τὸν 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 ἡμέρᾳ κατὰ τὰς γραφὰς,
καὶ ἀνελθόντα εἰς τοὺς οὐρανοὺς,
καὶ καθεζόμενον ἐν δεξιᾷ τοῦ Πατρὸς,
καὶ πάλιν ἐρχόμενον μετὰ δόξης κρῖναι ζῶντας καὶ νεκρούς,
οὗ τῆς βασιλείας οὐκ ἔσται τέλος·
καὶ εἰς τὸ Πνεῦμα τὸ Ἅγιον, τὸ Κύριον καὶ 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·
ὁμολογοῦμεν ἓν βάπτισμα εἰς ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν·
προσδοκῶμεν ἀνάστασιν νεκρῶν,
καὶ ζωὴν τοῦ μέλλοντος αἰῶνος. ἀμήν.

English

 

 

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 begotten Son of God,
begotten from the Father before all ages, 
light from light,
true God from true God,
begotten not made,
of one substance with the Father,
through Whom all things came into existence,
Who because of us men and because of our salvation came down from the heavens,
and was incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary
and became man,
and was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate,
and suffered and was buried,
and rose again on the third day according to the Scriptures
and ascended to heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father,
and will come again with glory to judge living and dead,
of Whose kingdom there will be no end;
And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and life-giver,
Who proceeds from the Father,
Who with the Father and the Son is together worshipped and together glorified,
Who spoke through the prophets;
in one holy Catholic and apostolic Church.
We confess one baptism to the remission of sins;
we look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen

Latin

 

Credimus in unum Deum,
Patrem omnipotentem,
factorem coeli et terrae, visibilium omnium et invisibilium,
et in unum Dominum Jesum Christum,
Filium Dei unicum,
de Patre natum ante omnia saecula;
Deum verum de Deo vero;
natum, non factum;
ejusdemque substantiae qua Pater est;
per quem omnia facta sunt;
qui propter nos homines et propter nostram salutem descendit,
incarnatus est de Spiritu sancto, in Maria virgine homo factus,
crucifixus pro nobis sub Pontio Pilato, sepultus,
resurrexit tertia die,
ascendit ad coelos,
sedet ad dexteram Patris;
inde venturus est cum gloria judicare vivos ac mortuos,
cujus regni non erit finis.
Et in Spiritum sanctum, Dominum ac vivificatorem
a Patre procedentem,
qui cum Patre et Filio adoratur et glorificatur,
qui locutus est per Prophetas;
in unam catholicam atque apostolicam Ecclesiam.
Confitemur unum baptismum in remissionem peccatorum;
speramus resurrectionem mortuorum,
vitam futuri saeculi. Amen.

APOSTLES' CREED

 

 

The Apostles' Creed is the oldest creed of the Christian church and is the basis for others, such as the Nicene Creed, that followed. The Apostles' Creed, although not written by the apostles, goes back in its oldest form to at least AD 140. 

 

 

I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontitus Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried. He descended into hell. The third day he rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic* Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

 

*The word 'catholic' with a lower case 'c' refers to the universal church worldwide

 

 

The Apostles' Creed (Symbolum Apostolorum) was developed between the second and ninth centuries. It is the most popular creed used in worship by Western Christians. Its central doctrines are those of the Trinity and God the Creator. It has been called the Creed of Creeds.

 

Legend has it that the Apostles wrote this creed on the tenth day after Christ's ascension into heaven. That is not the case, though the name stuck. However, each of the doctrines found in the creed can be traced to statements current in the apostolic period.

 

The earliest written version of the creed is perhaps the Interrogatory Creed of Hippolytus (ca. A.D. 215). The current form is first found in the writings of Caesarius of Arles (d 542).

 

The creed was apparently used as a summary of Christian doctrine for baptismal candidates in the churches of Rome. Hence it is also known as The Roman Symbol. As in Hippolytus' version it was given in question and answer format with the baptismal candidates answering in the affirmative that they believed each statement.

 

(Source: Creeds.net)

 

Latin Text (ca. A.D. 700) 

 

Credo in Deum Patrem omnipotentem; Creatorem coeli et terrae. 

Et in Jesum Christum, Filium ejus unicum, Dominum nostrum; qui conceptus est de Spiritu Sancto, natus ex Maria virgine; passus sub Pontio Pilato, crucifixus, mortuus, et sepultus; descendit ad inferna; tertia die resurrexit a mortuis; ascendit ad coelos; sedet ad dexteram Dei Patris omnipotentis; inde venturus (est) judicare vivos et mortuos. 

Credo in Spiritum Sanctum; sanctam ecclesiam catholicam; sanctorum communionem; remissionem peccatorum; carnis resurrectionem; vitam oeternam. Amen.

Greek Text 

 

Πιστεύω εις Θεον Πατερα, παντοκράτορα, ποιητην ουρανου και γης.

Και (εις) `Ιησουν Χριστον, υίον αυτου τον μονογενη, τον κύριον ήμων, τον συλληφθέντα εκ πνεύματοσ άγίου, γεννηθέντα εκ Μαρίας της παρθένου, παθόντα επι Ποντίου Πιλάτου, σταυρωθέντα, θανόντα, και ταφέντα, κατελθόντα εις τα κατώτατα, τη τρίτη `ημέρα `αναστάντα `απο των νεκρων, `ανελθόντα εις τους ουρανούς, καθεζόμενον εν δεξια θεου πατρος παντο δυνάμου, εκειθεν ερχόμενον κρϊναι ζωντας και νεκρούς. 

Πιστεύω εις το Πνυμα το `Αγιον, αγίαν καθολικην εκκλησίαν, αγίων κοινωνίαν, άφεσιν αμαρτιων, σαρκος ανάστασιν, ξωήν αιώνιον. Αμήν. 

Excerpt of Article by Dr. Justin S. Holcomb, of Reformed Theological Seminary . . .

 

Because it is recited in many churches every Sunday, the Nicene Creed is familiar to many Christians.

Like the Apostles’ Creed, it encapsulates the entire good news of the gospel into a short and rich summary. It describes the triune God, who turns toward humanity in the person of Jesus, the God-man who suffered, died, rose again, and ascended. Additionally, the creed goes on to express our future hope, the purpose of living the Christian life.

However, it is the Nicene Creed, not the Apostles’ Creed, that describes the minimum of Christian belief.

By sad experience, the leaders of the church found that there were areas in the “rule of faith” that left too much open to personal interpretation. The fact that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are just as much God as the Father is a nonnegotiable part of Christianity. 

 

It is not that Christians are expected to have a perfectly precise Trinitarian theology to be considered orthodox, but since questions about the relationship between Jesus and God the Father are inevitable, they needed to be answered well.

 

The Nicene Creed encapsulates what Scripture says about that relationship and acknowledges the mystery of it.

If Christianity had agreed with Arius that Jesus could be a lesser god—if it had failed to defend monotheism, if it had fallen into the trench of professing three unrelated deities—it may have dissolved into the religion of Rome and its pantheons of false gods.

If the early Christians had lost their nerve and conceded the “lesser divinity” of Jesus, whatever that might mean, then the work of God in Christ for our salvation would have been rendered meaningless. No mere man, nor half god, could possibly intervene to save fallen and sinful humanity, let alone restore all of creation. Only the Creator can enter creation to fix its brokenness and redeem its original, latent purpose.

Athanasius explored this truth in On the Incarnation, defending the claim that the Father and the Son share one common substance (homoousios). Only the Creator can recreate. Only the Maker can remake. Only God can save us from our sins.

Because the Father and the Son are one substance, we can also be assured that we actually know God in Jesus Christ.

After all, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being” (Heb. 1:3), and so when we look on Jesus, we look on God. Without confidence that Jesus is God, united in substance with the Father, we could not be sure that Jesus can speak for God, forgive sins for God, declare righteousness for God, or do anything to make us children of the Father.

Local and Regional Creeds of the Early Church

 

  • Creed of Aristides of Athens (100s)
  • Didache (60-150)
  • Creed of Cyprian of Carthage (250)
  • Der Balyzeh Papyrus (200-350)
  • Creed of Alexander of Alexandria (321-324)
  • First Synod of Antioch (325)
  • Second Dedication of Antioch (341)
  • Baptismal Creed of Jerusalem (350)
  • Apostolic Constitutions (350-380)

 


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