Nicene Creeds: AD 325 and 381
The Nicene Creed (Greek: Σύμβολον τῆς Νικαίας or, τῆς πίστεως, Latin: Symbolum Nicaenum) is a statement of belief widely used in Christian liturgy. It is called Nicene /ˈnaɪsiːn/ because it was originally adopted in the city of Nicaea (present day İznik, Turkey) by the First Council of Nicaea in 325.
The main significance of the Nicene Creed was that it established much of what is now known as orthodox Christian teaching on the subject of God and the Trinity. It remains the only statement of faith that is accepted by all major parts of the Christian faith.
Aside from stating many standard Christian beliefs, the Nicene Creed tries to discourage the belief that Jesus was made by God the Father sometime after Creation and is subordinate to God.
"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 (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 the 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 was revised in the year 381 and 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.
Πιστεύομεν εἰς ἕνα Θεὸν Πατέρα παντοκράτορα
We believe in one God,
Credimus in unum Deum,
What is known as the "Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed" or the "Nicene–Constantinopolitan Creed" received this name because it was adopted at the Second Ecumenical Council held in Constantinople in 381 as a modification of the original Nicene Creed of 325. In that light, it also came to be very commonly known simply as the "Nicene Creed".
It differs from the creed adopted at the First Council of Nicaea. The most notable difference is the additional section "And [we believe] in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver-of-Life, who proceedeth from the Father, who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, who spake by the prophets. And [we believe] in one, holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. We acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins, [and] we look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen."
Some scholars have questioned the traditional explanation of the origin of this creed, which has been passed down in the name of the council. A local council of Constantinople in 382 and the third ecumenical council (Ephesus, 431) made no mention of it, affirming the 325 creed of Nicaea as a valid statement of the faith. Many of the bishops of the Chalcedon Council in 451 initially greeted it skeptically, but it was then produced from the episcopal archives of Constantinople, and the council accepted it "not as supplying any omission but as an authentic interpretation of the faith of Nicaea". In spite of the questions raised, it is considered most likely that this creed was in fact adopted at the 381 second ecumenical council.
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.