Q: #336. What is The Nicene Creed?
A: First off, let’s define what a “creed” is. A creed (Latin = “credo” meaning “I believe”) is basically a doctrinal statement or a “statement of faith,” based upon scripture, which summarizes what a religious group believes. In Christianity, there are quite a few creeds, but by far the two most used are “The Nicene Creed” and “The Apostles’ Creed.” Historically, creeds were often written to combat heresy and false teaching that was going on the time.
The Nicene Creed came out of, and got its name from, a meeting of bishops who gathered together in the city of Nicaea in 325 A.D. This council met at the urging of Emperor Constantine, who wanted them to come to unity on several issues, but primarily on the humanity/deity of Jesus Christ. At the time, there was division, mainly led by a prominent religious leader named “Arias,” who was teaching that Jesus was created by God rather than being God. In response to this heresy, the bishops drafted the “statement of faith” which has become known as “The Nicene Creed.”
This creed, originally written in Greek, was later revised two times. In a later council, which met at Constantinople in 381 A.D., the words following “And I believe in the Holy Spirit” were added, except for “[and the Son].” These words were added primarily to combat the heresy that denied the deity of the Holy Spirit, as well as a few other issues. At a much later council, which met in Spain in 589 A.D., the words “[and the Son]” were added (called the “filioque clause”). This last addition created some serious division, which later resulted in a split between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches in 1054 A.D. There are also several of versions of the Nicene Creed that leave these words out. (A Biblical case can be made for both positions.)
Historically, this creed has been associated with, and used during the Lord’s Supper/Communion. Many prominent denominations use it for this, or as a part of their weekly worship service such as: Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Anglicans.
There are a number of versions of The Nicene Creed, but most are the same with just a few word variations.
I 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 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 us men 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 quick and the dead; whose kingdom 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 acknowledge 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.
There are two other controversies which arise with this creed. A first, small one comes from the use of the word “catholic.” However, this does not mean Catholic (capital “c”) as in the Roman Catholic Church, but rather, “catholic” means “universal,” as in the one true church comprised of all believer’s in Jesus Christ. As such, some versions of the Nicene Creed replace “catholic” with “universal” or “Christian.”
A second, bigger controversy comes from the phrase “baptism for the remission of sins.” Some denominations, particularly most who practice infant baptism, believe that baptism is a necessary part of salvation (“baptismal regeneration”). I speak about the issue of baptism for salvation here and baptizing infants here.
This creed is not read in many churches today, especially in newer non-denominational ones, which are not affiliated with the denominations mentioned above. However, despite the controversies, this creed does contain a number of great truths upon which all Christians should agree.