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Nicene Creed

The Nicene Creed is an ecumenical Christian statement of faith accepted in the Eastern Orthodox Church, Assyrian Church of the East, Oriental Orthodox churches, the Roman Catholic Church, the Lutheran Church, the Anglican Communion, and almost all branches of Protestantism, including the Reformed churches, the Presbyterian Church, and the Methodist Church.

For the text of the Nicene Creed in English, see English versions of the Nicene Creed in current use.

Nomenclature

There are several designations for the two forms of the Nicene creed, some with overlapping meanings:

  • Nicene Creed can refer to the original version adopted at the First Council of Nicaea (325), to the revised version adopted by the First Council of Constantinople (381), to the later Latin version that includes the phrase "Deum de Deo" and "Filioque", and to the Armenian version.
  • Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed can stand for the revised version of Constantinople (381) or to the later Latin and Armenian versions.
  • Icon/Symbol of the Faith is the usual designation for the revised version of Constantinople 381 in the Orthodox churches, where this is the only creed used in the liturgy.
  • Profession of Faith of the 318 Fathers refers specifically to the version of Nicea 325 (traditionally, 318 bishops took part at the First Council of Nicea).
  • Profession of Faith of the 150 Fathers refers specifically to the version of Constantinople 381 (traditionally, 150 bishops took part at the First Council of Constantinople)

In musical settings, particularly when singing in Latin, this Creed is usually referred to by its first word, Credo.

History

The purpose of a creed is to act as a yardstick of correct belief. The creeds of Christianity have been drawn up at times of conflict about doctrine: acceptance or rejection of a creed served to distinguish believers and deniers of a particular doctrine or set of doctrines. For that reason a creed was called in Greek a σύμβολον, a word that meant half of a broken object which, when placed together with the other half verified the bearer's identity. The Greek word passed through Latin "symbolum" into English "symbol", which only later took on the meaning of an outward sign of something. The Nicene Creed was adopted in the face of the Arian controversy. Arius, a Libyan preacher, had declared that although Jesus Christ was divine, God had actually created him, and there was a time when he was not. This made Jesus less than the Father and contradicted the doctrine of the Trinity. Arius's teaching provoked a serious crisis.

The Nicene Creed of 325 explicitly affirms the divinity of Jesus, applying to him the term "God". The 381 version speaks of the Holy Spirit as worshipped and glorified with the Father and the Son. The Athanasian Creed describes in much greater detail the relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Apostles' Creed, not formulated in reaction to Arianism, makes no explicit statements about the divinity of the Son and the Holy Spirit, but, in the view of many who use it, the doctrine is implicit in it.

The original Nicene Creed of 325

The original Nicene Creed was first adopted in 325 at the First Council of Nicaea. At that time, the text ended after the words "We believe in the Holy Spirit", after which an anathema was added.

The Coptic Church has the tradition that the original creed was authored by Pope Athanasius I of Alexandria. F. J. A. Hort and Adolf Harnack argued that the Nicene creed was the local creed of Caesarea (an important center of Early Christianity) brought to the council by Eusebius of Caesarea. J.N.D. Kelly sees as its basis a baptismal creed of the Syro-Phoenician family, related to (but not dependent on) the creed cited by Cyril of Jerusalem and to the creed of Eusebius.

Soon after the Council of Nicaea, new formulae 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.

The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed of 381

The second Ecumenical Council in 381 added the section that follows the words "We believe in the Holy Spirit" (without the words "and the Son"); hence the name "Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed", referring to the Creed as modified in Constantinople. This is the received text of the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches. In liturgy, though, they use a modified form of the creed, changing from the plural verbs by which the Fathers of the Council collectively professed their faith to the singular of the individual Christian's profession of faith.

The third Ecumenical Council reaffirmed the 381 version and declared that "it is unlawful for any man to bring forward, or to write, or to compose a different (ἑτέραν) Faith as a rival to that established by the holy Fathers assembled with the Holy Ghost in Nicæa"(i.e. the 325 version) This statement has been interpreted as a prohibition against changing this creed or composing others, but not all accept this interpretation. This question must be considered against the background of long and continuous controversy in the Church concerning the nature of the Trinity, and of Jesus in particular; and the debate over whether a creed proclaimed by an Ecumenical Council is definitive or subject to change.

Comparison between Creed of 325 and Creed of 381

The following table displays side by side the earlier (325) and later (381) forms of this Creed in the English translation given in Schaff's Creeds of Christendom, which indicates by brackets the portions of the 325 text that were omitted or moved in 381, but uses no typographical mark to indicate what phrases, absent in the 325 text, were added in 381.

First Council of Nicea (325) First Council of Constantinople (381)
We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible. 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, begotten of the Father [the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God], Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds (æons), Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father;
by whom all things were made [both in heaven and on earth]; by whom all things were made;
who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man;
he suffered, and the third day he rose again, ascended into heaven; 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 sitteth on the right hand of the Father;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. from thence he shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead;
whose kingdom shall have no end.
And in the Holy Ghost. And in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father, who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified, who spake by the prophets. In one holy catholic and apostolic Church; we acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.
[But those who say: 'There was a time when he was not;' and 'He was not before he was made;' and 'He was made out of nothing,' or 'He is of another substance' or 'essence,' or 'The Son of God is created,' or 'changeable,' or 'alterable' — they are condemned by the holy catholic and apostolic Church.]

The following table presents in the same way the texts of the two Councils, as given in the original Greek language on the Web site Symbolum Nicaeno-Constantinopolitanum - Greek:

First Council of Nicea (325) First Council of Constantinople (381)
Πιστεύομεν εἰς ἕνα Θεὸν Πατέρα παντοκράτορα, πάντων ὁρατῶν τε και ἀοράτων ποιητήν. Πιστεύομεν εἰς ἕνα Θεὸν Πατέρα παντοκράτορα, ποιητὴν οὐρανοῦ καὶ γῆς, ὁρατῶν τε πάντων και ἀοράτων.
Πιστεύομεν εἰς ἕνα κύριον Ἰησοῦν Χριστόν, τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ θεοῦ, γεννηθέντα ἐκ τοῦ πατρὸς μονογενῆ, τουτέστιν ἐκ τῆς ουσίας τοῦ πατρός, θεὸν ἐκ θεοῦ ἀληθινοῦ, γεννηθέντα, οὐ ποιηθέντα, ὁμοούσιον τῷ πατρί Και εἰς ἕνα κύριον Ἰησοῦν Χριστόν, 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, τά τε ἐν τῷ ούρανῳ καὶ τὰ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς δι' οὗ τὰ πάντα ἐγένετο·
τὸν δι' ἡμᾶς τοὺς ἀνθρώπους καὶ διὰ τὴν ἡμετέραν σωτηρίαν κατελθόντα καὶ σαρκωθέντα και ενανθρωπήσαντα, 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,
παθόντα, καὶ ἀναστάντα τῇ τριτῇ ἡμέρᾳ, καὶ ἀνελθόντα εἰς τοὺς οὐρανούς, σταυρωθέντα τε ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν ἐπὶ Ποντίου Πιλάτου, καὶ παθόντα καὶ ταφέντα, καὶ ἀναστάντα τῇ τρίτῃ ἡμέρα κατὰ τὰς γραφάς, καὶ ἀνελθόντα εἰς τοὺς οὐρανοὺς, καὶ καθεζόμενον ἐκ δεξιῶν τοῦ πατρός
καὶ ἐρχόμενον κρῖναι ζῶντας καὶ νεκρούς. καὶ πάλιν ἐρχόμενον μετὰ δόξης κρῖναι ζῶντας καὶ νεκρούς·
οὗ τῆς βασιλείας οὐκ ἔσται τέλος.
Καὶ εἰς τὸ Ἅγιον Πνεῦμα. Καὶ εἰς τὸ Πνεῦμα τὸ Ἅγιον, τὸ κύριον, (καὶ) τὸ 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· προσδοκοῦμεν ἀνάστασιν νεκρῶν, καὶ ζωὴν τοῦ μέλλοντος αἰῶνος. Ἀμήν.
Τοὺς δὲ λέγοντας, ὁτι ἦν ποτε ὅτε οὐκ ἦν, καὶ πρὶν γεννηθῆναι οὐκ ἦν, καὶ ὅτι ἐξ οὐκ ὄντων ἐγένετο, ἢ ἐξ ἑτέρας ὑποστάσεως ἢ οὐσίας φάσκοντας εἶναι, [ἢ κτιστόν,] τρεπτὸν ἢ ἀλλοιωτὸν τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ θεοῦ, [τούτους] ἀναθεματίζει ἡ καθολικὴ [καὶ ἀποστολικὴ] ἐκκλησία.

The Filioque controversy

In the late sixth century, the Latin-speaking churches of Western Europe added the words "and the Son" (Filioque) to the description of the procession of the Holy Spirit, in what Easterners have argued is a violation of Canon VII of the Third Ecumenical Council, since the words were not included in the text by either the Council of Nicaea or that of Constantinople. If these words are associated with the Greek verb ἐκπορεύεσθαι of the text adopted by the Council of Constantinople, it is held that they would be heretical, but not if associated with the Latin verb procedere, which corresponds instead to the Greek verb προιέναι, with which some of the Greek Fathers also associated the same words.

The phrase "and the Son" (Filioque in Latin) was first used in Toledo, Spain in 589 with the purpose of countering the Arian heresy of the Visigothic nobility of Spain. The practice spread then to France, the territory of the Franks, who had adopted the Catholic faith in 496, in contrast to the other Germanic kingdoms, who followed Arianism. This led to controversy with envoys of the Byzantine Emperor Constantine V at a synod held at Gentilly in 767. In the time of Emperor Charlemagne, a council at Aachen in 809 approved the addition, but Pope Leo III opposed adding "Filioque" to the Creed, while approving the doctrine, and had two heavy silver shields made and displayed in St Peter's, containing the original text of the Creed of 381 in both Greek and Latin.

The dispute over the Filioque clause was one of the reasons for the East-West Schism. It became controversial in the 10th century, when Photius, Patriarch of Constantinople, used this clause in his conflict with the Pope. He accused the West of having fallen into heresy and thereby turned the Filioque clause into a doctrinal issue of contention between East and West.

In Rome, the Filioque clause first appeared in 1014 in the coronation liturgy of Emperor Henry II by Pope Benedict VIII and was officially added to the Latin creed in 1274 by the Second Council of Lyon, which effected a short-lived reunion between East and West.

Note that "Filioque" is not the only phrase in the Latin text that is not in the Greek of the Council of Constantinople: "Deum de Deo" (God from God) is another such phrase. The Armenian text (see below) has many more additions, specifying more precisely the belief of the Church.

In 1988, the Anglican Communion's Lambeth Conference "ask(ed) that further thought be given to the Filioque clause, recognising it to be a major point of disagreement (with the Orthodox) ... recommending to the provinces of the Anglican Communion that in future liturgical revisions the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed be printed without the Filioque clause." This recommendation still awaits implementation.

Views on the importance of this creed

The Nicene Creed has been regarded as a touchstone of true Christian faith, though not a complete expression of it. When the word "symbol" meant a "token for identification (by comparison with a counterpart)", the Nicene Creed was given, in Greek and Latin, the name "symbol of faith", a name still used even in languages in which "symbol" no longer has that meaning.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, The Church of the New Jerusalem, the Jehovah's Witnesses, and similar groups, accept the Christian Scriptures in whole or in part, but reject the Nicene Creed. They consider themselves Christians, an identification contested by others who consider acceptance of the Nicene Creed a key part of Christianity.

While not necessarily rejecting the Nicene Creed as erroneous, some evangelical Christians, on the basis of their sola scriptura view, consider it as in no way authoritative, since it is not part of the Bible.

These do not recite the Nicene Creed in their services. In the Roman Rite Mass (liturgy) the "profession of faith" is made by using either this Creed or the Apostles' Creed (the Roman Missal includes the latter in the name "symbol of faith"). In the liturgies of the ancient Churches of Eastern Christianity (Eastern Orthodox Church, Oriental Orthodox Church, Assyrian Church of the East) and the Eastern Catholic Churches, the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed is used, never the Apostles' Creed.

Original text and ancient versions

Greek text

The Creed was originally written in Greek, owing to the location of the two councils. Though the councils' texts have "Πιστεύομεν ... ὁμολογοῦμεν ... προσδοκοῦμεν" (we believe ... confess ... await), the Creed that the Churches of Byzantine tradition use in their liturgy has "Πιστεύω ... ὁμολογῶ ... προσδοκῶ" (I believe ... confess ... await), accentuating the personal nature of recitation of the Creed.

Πιστεύω εἰς ἕνα Θεόν, Πατέρα, Παντοκράτορα, ποιητὴν οὐρανοῦ καὶ γῆς, ὁρατῶν τε πάντων καὶ ἀοράτων.

Καὶ εἰς ἕνα Κύριον Ἰησοῦν Χριστόν, 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 ἡμέρα κατὰ τὰς Γραφάς.
Καὶ ἀνελθόντα εἰς τοὺς οὐρανοὺς καὶ καθεζόμενον ἐκ δεξιῶν τοῦ Πατρός.
Καὶ πάλιν ἐρχόμενον μετὰ δόξης κρῖναι ζῶντας καὶ νεκρούς, οὗ τῆς βασιλείας οὐκ ἔσται τέλος.

Καὶ εἰς τὸ Πνεῦμα τὸ Ἅγιον, τὸ κύριον, τὸ 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.
Ὁμολογῶ ἓν βάπτισμα εἰς ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν.
Προσδοκῶ ἀνάστασιν νεκρῶν.
Καὶ ζωὴν τοῦ μέλλοντος αἰῶνος.
Ἀμήν.

Latin version

Credo in unum Deum,
Patrem omnipoténtem,
factórem cæli et terræ,
visibílium ómnium et invisibílium.
Et in unum Dóminum Iesum Christum,
Fílium Dei Unigénitum,
et ex Patre natum ante ómnia sæcula.
Deum de Deo, lumen de lúmine, Deum verum de Deo vero,
génitum, non factum, consubstantiálem Patri:
per quem ómnia facta sunt.
Qui propter nos hómines et propter nostram salútem
descéndit de cælis.
Et incarnátus est de Spíritu Sancto
ex María Vírgine, et homo factus est.
Crucifíxus étiam pro nobis sub Póntio Piláto;
passus, et sepúltus est,
et resurréxit tértia die, secúndum Scriptúras,
et ascéndit in cælum, sedet ad déxteram Patris.
Et íterum ventúrus est cum glória,
iudicáre vivos et mórtuos,
cuius regni non erit finis.
Et in Spíritum Sanctum, Dóminum et vivificántem:
qui ex Patre Filióque procédit.
Qui cum Patre et Fílio simul adorátur et conglorificátur:
qui locútus est per prophétas.
Et unam, sanctam, cathólicam et apostólicam Ecclésiam.
Confíteor unum baptísma in remissiónem peccatorum.
Et expecto resurrectionem mortuorum,
et vitam ventúri sæculi. Amen.

The Latin text adds "Deum de Deo" and "Filioque" to the Greek. On the latter see The Filioque Controversy above. Inevitably also, the overtones of the terms used, such as "παντοκράτορα" (pantokratora) and "omnipotentem" differ ("pantokratora" meaning Ruler of all; "omnipotentem" meaning omnipotent, Almighty). The implications of this for the interpretation of "ἐκπορευόμενον" and "qui … procedit" was the object of the study The Greek and the Latin Traditions regarding the Procession of the Holy Spirit published by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity in 1996. Again, the terms "ὁμοούσιον" and "consubstantialem", translated as "of one being" or "consubstantial", have different overtones, being based respectively on Greek οὐσία (stable being, immutable reality, substance, essence, true nature), and Latin substantia (that of which a thing consists, the being, essence, contents, material, substance).

"Credo", which in classical Latin is used with the accusative case of the thing held to be true (and with the dative of the person to whom credence is given), is here used three times with the preposition "in", a literal translation of the Greek "εἰς" (in unum Deum ..., in unum Dominum ..., in Spiritum Sanctum ...), and once in the classical preposition-less construction (unam, sanctam, catholicam et apostolicam Ecclesiam).

English translation of the Armenian version

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, the maker of heaven and earth, of things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the begotten of God the Father, the Only-begotten, that is of the essence of the Father.
God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten and not made; of the very same nature of the Father, by Whom all things came into being, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible.
Who for us humanity and for our salvation came down from heaven, was incarnate, was made human, was born perfectly of the holy virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit.
By whom He took body, soul, and mind, and everything that is in man, truly and not in semblance.
He suffered, was crucified, was buried, rose again on the third day, ascended into heaven with the same body, [and] sat at the right hand of the Father.
He is to come with the same body and with the glory of the Father, to judge the living and the dead; of His kingdom there is no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, in the uncreated and the perfect; Who spoke through the Law, prophets, and Gospels; Who came down upon the Jordan, preached through the apostles, and lived in the saints.
We believe also in only One, Universal, Apostolic, and [Holy] Church; in one baptism in repentance, for the remission, and forgiveness of sins; and in the resurrection of the dead, in the everlasting judgement of souls and bodies, and the Kingdom of Heaven and in the everlasting life.

English translations

For English translations of the Nicene Creed, which of necessity are more recent than the original Greek and the Latin and Armenian versions, see English versions of the Nicene Creed in current use.

References

See also

Bibliography

  • L. Ayers, Nicaea and Its Legacy, (2004)
  • A. E. Burn, The Council of Nicaea (1925)
  • G. Forell, Understanding the Nicene Creed (1965)
  • J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Creeds, (1982) ISBN 0-582-49219-X

External links

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