The Nicene Creed — what is it and why is it called that?

This creed gets its name from a time and place: the first ecumenical Church council held at Nicaea, which is now known as İznik in northwestern Turkey, in 325 AD.

Now that may raise another question for you: what is an ecumenical council? Well, to explain more about the Nicene Creed, we are going to have to take a look at The First Council of Nicaea in order to better understand why this creed was written.

Advertisement

First things first though; an “ecumenical council” is ideally a Church-wide meeting where all the Bishops from all across the Church come together to hold a very large and very important meeting to discuss topics and issues affecting the whole Body of Believers, with the results intended to be binding on all believers. Most often, these Councils were called to combat heresy and false teachers who had come about and gained enough popularity that it warranted an official response, with the creeds being the result after proper orthodoxy had been ratified.

Seeking unity, the Council was convened by Constantine I in response to the Arian controversy which had gripped the Greek-speaking East. The teaching of Arius of Alexandria were considered heretical by most bishops of the time, fearing that it would cost people their salvation. 1800 bishops were invited by Constantine (that was every bishop across the Roman Empire), but only around 250-320 turned up from across the Empire, except Britain, according to the various surviving documents from different attendees.

This Council was an extremely historic event as nothing quite like it had happened before since the Council of Jerusalem around 50 AD (Acts 15), which convened in a similar manner to counter controversial and false teaching which was upsetting the Church Body. As with that Council, the Nicene Council and its outcome was intended for the whole of the Church global.

What actually happened at Nicaea

I won’t go into too much detail about everything the Council discussed, but other than condemning and exiling Arius for his false teaching that the Son of God was a created being (or “creature”) out of nothing like the rest of creation, the council aimed to settle on a uniform date for celebrating Easter as the East followed Jewish customs of Passover for the date, and the West followed another custom. Other than that, the other decrees (“canons”) declared were to do with how bishops should be consecrated, how bishops and priests should stay within their parishes and some rules on lending money with interest. There were 20 short canons/rulings in all which you can read here, if you’re interested to see exactly what went on.

Advertisement

For another viewpoint of what occurred during the Council, Eusebius of Cæsarea (who you may know as the author of Ecclesiastical History) was in attendance and wrote a letter covering the events to send back to his Diocese explaining the formation of the creed and why and how they came up with it. You can read his letter here, or you can also read the letter of Athanasius who was also present at the council as a secretary to the Bishop of Alexandria, here. It’s also often said that Nicholas of Myra (also known as Saint Nicholas – yes, that St. Nick) attended and actually slapped Arius across the face(!), but that is most likely an exaggeration at best, or an urban legend.

If you do read the canons of the council and the letters of Eusebius and Athansius, you’ll see that the Nicene Council had some specific goals to achieve and that their main objective was that of the divine nature of Christ and how to deal with the teaching of Arius. What they didn’t do, as some pervasive myths claim, was to “decide what went in the Bible”, “create Catholicism”, “change the Sabbath to Sunday”, or “invent the deity of Christ”! The internet allows for a lot of nonsense to get spread, especially when much of the disinformation was proliferated by a Hollywood film and originated in a bestselling Dan Brown book, The Da Vinci Code.

The Reason for the Creed

First of all, then, in the presence of our most religious Sovereign Constantine, investigation was made of matters concerning the impiety and transgression of Arius and his adherents; and it was unanimously decreed that he and his impious opinion should be anathematized, together with the blasphemous words and speculations in which he indulged, blaspheming the Son of God, and saying that he is from things that are not, and that before he was begotten he was not, and that there was a time when he was not, and that the Son of God is by his free will capable of vice and virtue; saying also that he is a creature.

The Synodal Letter, Council of Nicaea

And the words invented by them [the Arians], and spoken contrary to the mind of Scripture, are as follows:—

God was not always the Father; but there was a time when God was not the Father. The Word of God was not always, but was made 'from things that are not;' for He who is God fashioned the non-existing from the non-existing; wherefore there was a time when He was not. For the Son is a thing created, and a thing made: nor is He like to the Father in substance; nor is He the true and natural Word of the Father; nor is He His true Wisdom; but He is one of the things fashioned and made.

Epistles on Arianism and the Deposition of Arius

These quotes pretty much lay the groundwork for why the creed and council was necessary and what it aimed to achieve: an outline of proper orthodoxy which laid down the correct and Scriptural view concerning the nature of Christ’s divine nature and relation to the Trinity. By making this the official set of beliefs, this was hoped to quash the Arianism which was spreading and unite the churches together in a holy unity (John 17:20-23). And for much of history, this creed has served that purpose in acting as the “gatekeeper” of orthodoxy, pointing people towards the proper understanding of God and the Christian faith via Scripturally-based statements.

Advertisement

Some of you reading this may already be familiar with this creed, others may recognise aspects of it, but you may not realise that the fuller and longer version that is more common actually came around 56 years later from the First Council of Constantinople in 381 AD. The initial creed was much shorter and included a statement at the end specifically targeting the teachings of Arius. This wasn’t the only revision the Nicene Creed went under, as there was another addition many centuries later which caused some serious controversy, which exists even to this day.

The Filioque controversy

“And the Son” – filioque in Latin: the phrase in the creed which has caused the most controversy and division, was not added officially into the Roman Rite (and is still excluded in the East) until much later in 1014 AD; and on the face of it, it seems like such an innocent and small addition. Yet arguably these three little words (or one Latin word) contributed towards the Great Schism of 1054 AD, which split the Eastern and Western Church into what we now know as Roman Catholics (West) and Eastern Orthodoxy (East) as it has large implications on Christology and the doctrine of the Trinity. If you want to read more on the history of this controversy, Wikipedia has a large article on it with many references and sources to follow through on.

The Nicene Creed

In the table below, you will see the original creed from the Nicene Council, plus the additions from the Constantinople Council alongside the where these statements come from in Scripture, so that you can better see the development of this creed. The filioque is included in italics on its own line for clarity.

Nicene Creed (325)

Advertisement

Nicene-Constantinople Creed (381)

Scriptural Basis

We believe in one God,

We believe in one God,

Advertisement

Mark 12:29, 32; Eph 4:6; Deuteronomy 6:4

the Father Almighty,

the Father Almighty,

Matthew 6:9; 2 Cor 6:18; Eph 4:6; Malachi 2:10; Exodus 6:3; Gen 35:11

 
Advertisement

maker of heaven and earth,

Genesis 1:1; John 1:1; Isaiah 44:24

maker of all things visible and invisible;

and of all things visible and invisible.

Advertisement

Colossians 1:16; Romans 1:20

and in one Lord Jesus Christ,

And in one Lord Jesus Christ,

Romans 10:9; Eph 4:5,6

Advertisement

the Son of God, the only-begotten of his Father,

the only-begotten Son of God,

John 3:16; Matthew 16:16

 

begotten of His Father before all worlds,

Advertisement

John 1:2

God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God,

Light of Light, very God of very God,

John 17:22; John 8:12; John 1:1; Colossians 2:9

Advertisement

begotten (γεννηθέντα), not made,

begotten, not made,

John 1:2; 3:16

being of one substance (ὁμοούσιον) with the Father.

Advertisement

being of one substance with the Father,

John 1:18; 10:30

By whom all things were made, both which be in heaven and in earth.

by Whom all things were made.

Advertisement

Rom 11:36; Hebrews 1:2,10; John 1:3, 10; Col 1:16; 1 Cor 8:6

Who for us men and for our salvation

Who for us men and for our salvation

Col 1:13-14; 1 Thess. 5:9; Matt 1:21; 1 Timothy 2:4; Romans 3:23

Advertisement

came down

came down from heaven

John 3:13, 3:31; 6:38, 41

and was incarnate

Advertisement

and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary,

Luke 1:34-35

and was made man.

and was made man,

Advertisement

John 1:14; Heb 2:14

 

and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate.

Mark 15:15, 25; John 19:16-18; 1 Peter 2:24

He suffered

Advertisement

He suffered and was buried,

John 19:1-3; Luke 23:53; Matt 27:50, 59-60

and the third day he rose again,

and the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures,

Advertisement

1 Corinthians 15:3-4; Luke 24:6, 45-46; Mark 9:31; 16:9; Acts 10:40

and ascended into heaven.

and ascended into heaven,

Acts 1:9

 
Advertisement

and sits at the right hand of the Father.

Mark 16:19; Luke 22:69; Acts 7:55

And he shall come again

And He shall come again with glory

Advertisement

Matthew 26:64; Mark 13:26; Jn 14:3; 1 Thess. 4:17

to judge both the living and the dead.

to judge both the living and the dead.

Acts 10:42; Matthew 3:12; 16:27; 2 Cor 5:10; 2 Tim 4:1; 1 Peter 4:5

 
Advertisement

Whose kingdom shall have no end.

Heb 1:8; 2 Peter 1:11

And in the Holy Ghost.

And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life

Advertisement

Acts 1:8; John 6:63; 2 Cor 3:6

 

Who proceeds from the Father,

John 15:26

 

and the Son; (Latin: filioque)

Advertisement

John 16:7

 

Who with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified,

2 Corinthians 13:14; Ephesians 1:13-14; 1 Peter 1:2,12; Phil 3:3; Romans 12:1

 

Who has spoken through the prophets.

Advertisement

1 Peter 1:10-11; Eph 3:5; Matthew 2:23; Hebrews 1:1

 

And we believe in one, holy, catholic (universal) and Apostolic Church.

Eph 4:4; Eph 1:4, 5:27; Matt 28:19; John 17:20-23; Acts 1:8; Eph 2:20; Matt 16:18; Rom 12: 4-5; 1 Cor 10:17; Col 1:18

 

We acknowledge one baptism

Advertisement

Eph 4:5; Gal 3:27; 1 Cor 12:13

 

for the forgiveness of sins,

Acts 2:38; 22:16; Col 2: 12-13; 1 Peter 3:21

 

we look for the resurrection of the dead

Advertisement

John 11:25; Luke 20:36; John 5:28-29; Rom 6:4-5; 1 Thess. 4:16

 

And the life of the world to come. Amen.

2 Peter 3:13; Rev 21:1

And whosoever shall say that there was a time when the Son of God was not (ἤν ποτε ὅτε οὐκ ἦν), or that before he was begotten he was not, or that he was made of things that were not, or that he is of a different substance or essence [from the Father] or that he is a creature, or subject to change or conversion (τρεπτὸν) — all that so say, the Catholic and Apostolic Church anathematizes them.

   
Advertisement


That's all for the Council of Nicaea, I hope this has helped to clarify what happened at Nicaea and why the Church decided to create such a creed in defense of true doctrine against heresy; and if you missed it before, you can also read my article about the Apostle’s Creed to see how and why that came about.

Don’t forget to subscribe so you don’t miss any more updates in this series and leave any thoughts in the comments below!


Further Reading and Sources:

 

Contribute on Patreon

Enjoying this? Consider contributing regular gifts for this content on Patreon.
* Patreon is a way to join your favorite creator's community and pay them for making the stuff you love. You can simply pay a few pounds per month or per post that a creator makes, and in return receive some perks!

Subscribe to Updates
Order my new book today from Amazon or fortydays.co.uk

Subscribe to:

Have something to say? Leave a comment below.

Leave a comment   Like   Back to Top   Seen 330 times   Liked 0 times

Subscribe to Updates

If you enjoyed this, why not subscribe to free email updates and join over 103 subscribers today!

Order my new book today from Amazon or fortydays.co.uk

Subscribe to Blog updates

Enter your email address to be notified of new posts:

Subscribe to:

Alternatively, you can subscribe via RSS

‹ Return to Blog

We never share or sell your email address to anyone.

I've already subscribed / don't show me this again

Recent Posts

Power Cuts and the Fear of God

| 11th November 2019 | Devotional

The other week we had a series of power cuts in our town. It doesn’t happen very often here where I am, but there was particularly bad weather recently which damaged some cables; but sitting in the dark winter evening, my phone low on battery power, it made me realise just how much we rely on electricity for nearly everything these days. We don’t even have a gas supply so we were completely cut off from doing anything! Now it might sound obvious, but it’s easy to forget how dependent we are on modern conveniences until it’s suddenly taken away and you’re sat in the cold surrounded by tiny little tea-light candles. The following Sunday, the sermon at church touched on the fear of God, which got me thinking about how that concept is still kind of strange to me—God is love, He’s our Father, we’re His children… but then we are to also fear Him?  What does this have to do with electricity and power cuts, I hear you say—I’ll come to that in a moment. I’ve often been taught that the word “fear” used in this context actually means “respect”, so I decided to look up the Greek and Hebrew words that are used when we see the words “fear God” in the Bible. It wasn’t exactly what I expected to find. 2 Corinthians 5:11 is where I began, as that was the verse quoted in the sermon. Knowing therefore the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are revealed to God, and I hope that we are revealed also in your consciences. I thought I may see a Greek word with a semantic range which includes “respect” or “honour” maybe, but what I found was the word φόβος (phobos) which literally means “alarm or fright; be afraid, fear, terror”. It’s also where we get our English word “phobia” from! So I went forward a couple of chapters to this verse: 2 Corinthians 7:1Having therefore these promises, beloved, let’s cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. But again, the word “phobos” was used, so now I decided to search across the New Testament for this phrase, and the next passage that came up was in Romans. Romans 3:18“There is no fear of God before their eyes.” This is part of a larger passage which ends on this verse about the fear of God (still using the same Greek word), where I saw a footnote to say it had been a quote from Psalm 36:1. Ah, I thought, maybe the Hebrew word used for “fear” will show something different! I thought wrong. This particular verse in Psalm 36 used the word פַּחַד (p̱aḥaḏ), which has a wide meaning such as: a (sudden) alarm (properly, the object feared, by implication, the feeling): — dread(-ful), fear, (thing) great (fear, greatly feared), terror. So again, the type of fear is an actual fear!  A little searching through the Old Testament revealed that the word “fear” has a couple of other Hebrew words which lie underneath the English translations, one of which does also mean “reverence” as well (יָרֵא [yârê], found in Gen 22:12 and 1 Sam 12:14). So maybe there is an element of that understanding in the Greek by the time the New Testament writers came along who meant that ‘fear’ as awe and reverence as well. So this all leads me back to where I was a week or so ago, sat in church listening to a sermon, wondering when my power would be back on. As I thought about all of this, the combination of electricity and the fear of God combined into something that helped me put some perspective on it: the fear of God is like a live, sparking electric cable.  I’ll clarify my thinking—if we saw an electric cable on the ground, flailing around and sparking  everywhere, we should be fearful of that because touching it could kill us! But when electricity is used right, it is good for and to us; it provides power and comfort etc. Without it we lose access to pretty much everything these days and go into darkness—Much like if we lose sight of,...

Patristics.info has launched!

| 13th September 2019 | Early Church

Hey everyone, so I’ve launched a new website called Patristics.info to be a new resource for all things early church related. I’ve added a few texts which I already had formatted from my book manuscript, plus other resources like timelines, maps, recommended books etc. I’ll be adding more soon in the coming days. I’ve also created a “topical index” page too which is auto-generated from the tags on the pages to aid with searching, plus I created a word highlighter on each page so you can search keywords in a text and have them highlighted if you’re looking for particular things. If anyone would like to be involved to contribute resources or blogs, or have any book you’ve written which you’d like linked/advertised on the site then just get in touch! I want this to be as useful a tool for people who are interested in this area as much as for people who are new to Patristics (the early church fathers). Features and functionality Much of the site is ready to go in terms of functionality and resources etc for the time being. I’m still working on adding more Early Church texts to the site, but this takes a lot of time as I need to transcribe them from unformatted text into a nicer format for reading, plus inserting all of the footnotes as well (I’m currently half way through 1 Clement now). While I mention the footnotes, I’ve created a feature similar to Wikipedia where if you hover on a footnote number, it will display a popup with the footnote text in it hopefully making it simpler to read the Patristic text and quickly see any additional information from the original translators as you go. This should also work well on mobiles too. Inline footnote hover popups Another new feature I’ve created is the Quote Search page: https://patristics.info/quote-search.html This is an experimental tool at the moment while I still perfect it, but please give it a go and submit any feedback if you can. The page will allow you to search a keyword and bring up a list of contextual quotes from within the Church Father texts where that word is mentioned. As far as I’m aware, there’s nothing else like this available online in this format so I hope it will prove useful for study! Example quote search for the word “baptism” I hope that you enjoy the site and find it a useful tool. Please share it online etc. and if you want to get involved with creating blogs or resources just get in touch, or if you feel so inclined, you can support this project financially via Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/LukeJWilson Go and explore the site today: Patristics.info !...

Should Christians get tattoos, and is it Biblical?

| 31st August 2019 | Tattoos

I was in a discussion not so long ago about tattoos, and I was asked about the historical view on this practice. It wasn’t something I had looked into before from a Church Fathers point of view, so it was an interesting topic of study. In my searching, I found this article from a Catholic site which seems to give a pretty interesting overview of some of the views about tattoos in the earlier centuries. The following is a quote about a Church Council in the context of native Britons, who still practiced tattooing at that time for pagan ritual, something which Tertullian also gives a fleeting reference to around 213 AD in his On the Veiling of Virgins, ch. 10. In the 787 Council of Northumberland — a meeting of lay and ecclesial leaders and citizens in England — Christian commentators distinguished between religious and profane tattoos. In the council documents, they wrote:“When an individual undergoes the ordeal of tattooing for the sake of God, he is greatly praised. But one who submits himself to be tattooed for superstitious reasons in the manner of the heathens will derive no benefit there from.” But, contrasted with Basil the Great of the fourth century, who supposedly (I say “supposedly” because I can’t find an original source for this quote, nor the quote above, though many other books and websites cite both; see end note) said: “No man shall let his hair grow long or tattoo himself as do the heathen” — it highlights that the views of this practice have been wide and varied over the centuries; as over in Egypt, the Coptic Church has been marking themselves with tattoos since the sixth or seventh century, even up to present times. All of this debate stems from one seemingly clear verse in Leviticus: Leviticus 19:28 (WEB)You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks on you. I am Yahweh. In the manner of how Hebrew works, the clause “for the dead” is applying to both phrases. The cuttings and the marks are not to be “for the dead”. Those Hebrew phrases which seem to repeat a similar thought are generally connected and are saying the same thing in two different ways to emphasise the point (just look at the Psalms for many examples of this). Not to mention that the word “tattoo” didn’t exist until the 17th century, prior to that it was translated as “marks on the skin” or something similar, which has much different connotations than the word “tattoo” has in our contemporary society. An ancient, obscure word is translated as “tattoo” in one place, and we impose our modern thinking of what that word implies onto Scripture making it anything but clear and moving us a little farther away from the original intent. This verse is more than likely admonishing against copying the surrounding pagan practices of the time than being a blanket rule against any form of “tattoo”. Arguably there are passages that say that Jesus’ body was “marked” in some way, as in the book of Revelation which some see as a reference to a tattoo of sorts: Revelation 19:16 (WEB)He has on his garment and on his thigh a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.” Or in the Old Testament, Isaiah speaks of God in a similar manner as having “engraved” the names of his people on the palm of his hand — a word with a much stronger and more violent visual than simply tattooing ink into the skin. Possibly even a nod towards what Jesus would eventually do for us when he would literally have his hands “engraved” (or “hacked” as this root word can also mean) for us on the cross! Isaiah 49:16a (WEB)Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands. Similarly, a couple of chapters previously to this one in Isa. 44:5, it speaks of the people writing the name of the LORD of their hands in celebration, and a similar, but less violent, word for “engraving” is used here too. Going back to the passage in Leviticus, the word ...

Spiritual Disciplines of the Early Church: Ancient Practices for the 21st Century

| 17th June 2019 | Early Church

I was asked not so long ago what kinds of things Christians did in the Early Church (first to fourth century) as a form of spiritual discipline, on a personal level as well as a corporate one. Though the concept of an individual “personal spiritual life” would have been quite foreign to first century believers as faith and Church was very much a corporate venture that had personal implications, rather than the other way around as it can often appear to be thought of today. Much of what made Christianity structured, disciplined and set apart from society, has largely been lost in practice, or forgotten and relegated to the annals of history by many practicing Christians today. With that said, let’s take a look at what the most common practices were of the ancient Church.   Reading/Memorising Scripture Memorising Scripture – specifically the Psalms and Gospels Singing/praying the Psalms as worship to God Both of these principles are based on Psalm 1:1–3 and Colossians 3:16. “Every Psalm brings peace, soothes the internal conflicts, calms the rough waves of evil thoughts, dissolves anger, corrects and moderates profligacy.” Commentary on Psalm 1, Basil the Great (4th century)   Prayer and Fasting Another common practice that was expected of believers was regular fasting, since Jesus had said “when you fast”, not “if”. Typically, fasting was done every week on Wednesday and Friday, based on Matthew 6:16–18, and also to honour the days of the Passion and crucifixion in later tradition. “But let not your fasts be with the hypocrites; … but fast on the fourth day (Wednesday) and the Preparation (Friday). … [But pray] as the Lord commanded in His Gospel (the Lord’s Prayer) … Thrice in the day thus pray.” Didache (c. 50 – 70) Alongside fasting, praying the Lord’s Prayer three times a day (morning, noon, evening) was a common discipline. From around the third century, liturgy and prayers in a church service would start to face East as that was seen where God’s glory arose, and in baptism ritual turning East was a sign of turning away from the devil towards Christ (Jews similarly prayed facing Jerusalem). This is also why many old church buildings are cross-shaped and have the alter end pointing Eastward. For it is required that you pray toward the east, as knowing that which is written: ‘Give ye glory to God, who rideth upon the heaven of heavens toward the east’ (Ps 67.34 LXX [Ps. 68:33 – 34]). Didascalia, Ch. XII (c.250) The various spiritual benefits to fasting are marked throughout the Church Fathers' works on the subject, but I find this quote from Augustine sums it up succinctly: “Fasting cleanses the soul, raises the mind, subjects one’s flesh to the spirit, renders the heart contrite and humble, scatters the clouds of concupiscence, quenches the fire of lust, and kindles the true light of chastity. Enter again into yourself.” Augustine; Sermon, On Prayer and Fasting, LXXII (c. 393–430) Fasting was also not just total denial of food all day, but often only until sundown (or evening meal), and would comprise of bread and water with some oils to dip the bread in. Some may be more like a vegetarian diet, but with no oil, fish or alcohol either. Meal times should be replaced with prayer, and in all times during the fast (as well as generally also), to bear in mind the true fast that is pleasing to the Lord as seen in Isaiah 58:6–9. “Isn’t this the fast that I have chosen: to release the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? Isn’t it to distribute your bread to the hungry, and that you bring the poor who are cast out to your house? When you see the naked, that you cover him; and that you not hide yourself from your own flesh?” Isaiah 58:6 – 7 (WEB)   Signing the Cross Another ancient custom is making the sign of the cross over yours...