Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Nicene Creed – A brief history

The Creed is a statement of faith that uses particular formulations of words to define what the believer believes, thus excluding what is considered to be dangerous heresy.

Biblical roots
Proto-creeds, or creed-like formulations can be found within the Bible
  • Deuteronomy 6:4: Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!
  • Matthew 28:19: … the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit …
  • 1 Corinthians 8:6: … yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.

Early baptismal liturgy
By AD200, the Baptismal liturgy in Rome (as recorded by Apollinaris Claudius) had developed into a now-familiar pattern by asking the baptismal candidate the following questions:
  • Do you believe in God the Father Almighty?
  • Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was born of the Virgin Mary, and was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and was dead and buried, and rose again the third day, alive from the dead, and ascended in to heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father, and will come to judge the living and the dead?
  • Do you believe in the Holy Ghost, in the Holy Church, and the resurrection of the flesh?
The baptismal candidate would then affirm his or her faith by answering “Credo”, or “I believe”.

The Council of Nicea (AD325)
The Council of Nicea was called by the Emporer Constantine in AD325 after his conversion to Christianity at the Battle of Milvan Bridge (AD312). His Edict of Milan in AD313 made the empire officially neutral in regard to religious worship, and it ended the state’s hostilities to the Christian church. It was not until AD380 that Christianity was made the official state religion under the Edict of Thessalonica.
Among other issues, the Council was called to answer to Arius, who threatened to split the church with his teaching that “there was a time when the Son was not.” Constantine recognized that a schism in the Christian church would be just one more destabilizing factor in his empire, and he moved to solve the problem by calling for the Council. The location of Nicea is the modern-day town of Iznik about 90 km south-east of Istanbul in Turkey.
The Council was attended by a couple of hundred bishops (the traditional figure of 318 may be an over-estimation). The vast majority were from the East with less than a dozen from the rest of the Empire. They were divided into three groups;
  • the Arians who believed that Christ was of a different substance to God - heteroousios;
  • the Orthodox, who believed that Christ was of the same substance as God – homoousios;
  • the Eusebians (after Eusebius of Ceasarea), who believed that Christ was of a similar substance as God – homoiousios.
Incidentally, we are mainly reliant on Eusebius’ accounts for the historical record. Eusebius would later turn on key players in the Orthodox camp, notably Athanasius of Alexandria, who attended Nicea as a young clerk.
There is no question that Constantine wanted a unified church after the Council of Nicea, but he did not really care about how it might be achieved; he left that to the Bishops. The Othordox group prevailed and won over the Eusebians and dismissed the Arian position, formulating the Nicene Creed in such a way to unambiguously anathematize it. The Council thus affirmed the view prominent Church fathers prior to Nicea; that Jesus Christ is fully and wholly divine and deserving of our worship and obedience as to God alone. Arius was banished, but not silenced.

The Council of Constantinople (AD381)
In the decades that followed Nicea, Arianism experienced many victories, and there were periods when the Arian Bishops constituted the majority of the visible ecclesiastical hierarchy. When Constantine died in AD337, he was succeeded by his second son, Constantius II, who supported the Arian faction. Constantius II promoted his semi-Arian agenda through the Councils of Rimini (AD358) and Seleucia (AD359), however the theologians he supported were ultimately discredited and the malcontents he opposed (Athanasius and others) emerged victorious. Constantius II is not remembered as a restorer of unity, but as a heretic who arbitrarily imposed his will on the church.
Athanasius, who had been removed from his see five times (once by a force of 5,000 soldiers), continued in his outspoken opposition to Arianism. The Arian faction finally collapsed amid political infighting and in AD 381 the Council of Constantinople, under the influence of Athanasius, met and reaffirmed, without hesitation, the Nicene faith, complete with the homoousious clause and its Trinitarian formulations. The Athanasian Creed, although attributed to Athanasius, was probably written some time after his death.

See also
In response to Mormonism “Those abominable creeds” by Ron Huggins

1 comment:

  1. Erratum: There are, in fact, two characters named Eusebius involved with the story of the Nicene Creed.

    Eusebius of Ceasaria (also known as Eusebius Pamphili) who wrote the history of Nicea (in his hagiographical Life of Constantine) and also articulated the Eusebian position, as outlined above.

    Eusebius of Nicodemia was Bishop of Berytus (modern Beirut) and a close ally of Arius. It was this Eusebius who attempted to impose Arianism on the Empire between the Councils of Nicea (AD325) and Constantinople (AD381).