The Nicene Creed + Commentary

Centuries ago, the church debated the issue of who Christ was. In today’s church, we like to innovate so much that we become arrogant and can sometimes stomp all over the ancient creeds. But we ignore this creed at our peril.

The Nicene Creed was published in 325 by the Council of Nicaea, a town in northern Turkey today. The statement about the Holy Spirit was added at the Second Ecumenical Council held Constantinople in 381. So it is fair to call it the Constantinopolitan-Nicene Creed.

Here are Scriptures (and no doubt others not included in this long list) that they used to build their creed:

2. Two Natures in One Person: He Was Human and God

Now let’s look into their deductions from these Scriptures, boiled down in this remarkable creed. I write my commentary as a student, only to learn.

Nicene Creed

Please note that there are other versions which add a section or two, as it evolved in 381. Let’s work with this one.

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 with 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 and became man, and suffered, and rose again on the third day, and ascended to the heavens, and will come to judge the living and 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 that He came into existence out of nothing, or who assert that the Son of God is of a different hypostasis or substance, or created, or is subject to alteration or change – the Catholic [universal] and apostolic Church anathematizes.

Πιστεύομεν εἰς ἕνα Θεὸν Πατέρα παντοκράτορα
πάντων ὁρατῶν τε καὶ ἀοράτων ποιητήν·
καὶ εἰς ἕνα Κύριον Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν
τὸν Υἱὸν τοῦ Θεοῦ,
γεννηθέντα ἐκ τοῦ Πατρὸς μονογενῆ
τουτέστιν ἐκ τῆς οὐσίας τοῦ Πατρος
Θεὸν ἐκ Θεοῦ,
Φῶς ἐκ Φωτός,
Θεὸν ἀληθινὸν ἐκ Θεοῦ ἀληθινοῦ,
γεννηθέντα, οὐ ποιηθέντα,
ὁμοούσιον τῷ Πατρί,
δι’ οὗ τὰ πάντα ἐγένετο
τά τε ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ καὶ τὰ ἐν τῇ γῇ,
τὸν δι’ ἡμᾶς τοὺς ἀνθρώπους, καὶ
διὰ τὴν ἡμετέραν σωτηρίαν, κατελθόντα,
καὶ σαρκωθέντα,
καὶ ἐνανθρωπήσαντα,
παθόντα,
καὶ ἀναστάντα τῇ τρίτῃ ἡμέρᾳ,
ἀνελθόντα εἰς τοὺς οὐρανούς,
ἐρχόμενον κρῖναι ζῶντας καὶ νεκρούς.
καὶ εἰς τὸ Ἅγιον Πνεῦμα.
Τοὺς δὲ λέγοντας Ἦν ποτε ὅτε οὐκ ἦν,
καὶ Πρὶν γεννηθῆναι οὐκ ἦν,
καὶ ὅτι Ἐξ οὐκ ὄντων εγένετο,
ἢ Ἐξ ἑτέρας ὑποστάσεως ἢ οὐσιάς φάσκοντας εἶναι
ἢ κτιστόν
ἢ τρεπτόν
ἢ ἀλλοιωτὸν τὸν Υἱὸν τοῦ Θεοῦ,
τούτους ἀναθεματίζει ἡ ἁγία καθολικὴ καὶ ἀποστολικὴ ἐκκλησία.
Credimus in unum Deum
patrem omnipotentem,
omnium visibilium et invisibilium factorem.
Et in unum Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum
filium Dei,
natum ex Patre unigenitum,
hoc est, de substantia Patris,
Deum ex Deo,
lumen ex lumine,
Deum verum de Deo vero,
natum non factum,
unius substantiae cum Patre, quod graece dicunt homousion,
per quem omnia facta sunt quae in coelo et in terra,
qui propter nostram salutem descendit,
incarnatus est,
et homo factus est,
et passus est,
et resurrexit tertia die,
et adscendit in coelos,
venturus judicare vivos et mortuos.
Et in Spiritum sanctum.
Eos autem, qui dicunt, Erat quando non erat,
et ante quam nasceretur non erat,
et quod de non exstantibus factus est,
vel ex alia substantia aut essentia, dicentes convertibilem et demutabilem Deum:
hos anathematizat catholica Ecclesia.

Source:

https://earlychurchtexts.com/public/creed_of_nicaea_325.htm

Commentary

Let’s comment on this creed line by line or section by section.

We believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible;

The Greek word pantokratõr literally means “ruler over all” It appears in the NT: 2 Cor 6:18; Rev. 1:8; 4:8; 11:17 15:3; 16:7, 14; 19:6, 15; 21:22. God is the almighty, which means he is sovereign over all. He made everything, whether visible (our universe) or invisible (angels and the heavenly dimension), but as we will learn, he has not made the Son or the Spirit, because they too are God.

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,

This is the heart of the creed. Let’s spend some time here.

The Son is of the Father and begotten, which means that the Father generates the Son in his personhood. The main point is that the Father is the “source” of the person of the Son and the person of the Spirit. The generation is eternal, without beginning. Anything that is eternal cannot have a beginning. Anything that does not have a beginning is not made or created. Therefore, the Father, the Son, the Spirit are not created or made, but are co-eternal.

The Greek noun ὁμοούσιον (homoousion from homoousia, pronounced hoh-moh-OO-see-on) literally means “same substance.” The Son was of the same substance or essence as the Father. In contrast, the alternative (but deficient) Greek word is homoiousion (pronounced hoh-moi-OO-see-on, meaning “similar substance”). The Son has a similar substance, but not the same substance. However, if the Son were “similar” to God, he could not be “true God” or “perfect God.” Therefore, this notion was rejected because it lowers Christ’s deity relative to the Father. The Son would not fully or truly or equally share in the substance that the Father has

The right answer: Father and Son are co-equal in their shared substance / essence.

Let’s offer an illustration starter kit. In the next illustration, you may want to study this image for a few minutes (take as long as you need). Do you now see how the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit share the same substance? And also note that this image keeps the three persons distinct:

I really like the triangle superimposed on the circle. The three persons (the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit) are distinguished by the circle with the words “is not.” The Father is neither the Son nor the Spirit; the Son is neither the Father or the Spirit; and the Spirit is neither the Father nor the Son. Further, each person is in a separate corner of the triangle. Therefore, the three persons are distinct, yet each person shares the same substance or essence called God.

Now let’s look at a wrong illustration. This one keeps the three persons distinct (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), and that’s right, but it also divides the substance, and that’s wrong:

The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are distinct (right), but the substance is divided in three parts (wrong). This is erroneous. Christianity rejects tritheism (thee gods).

Here is the right illustration from Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (p. 321, Fig. 14.4):

Note that three persons (F, S, HS) are within one God, sharing the same essence. The one God (= the circle), monotheism, and all three persons are contained in it. Each person is equal to the whole being of God. The dotted lines keep the the persons distinct, but they also are dotted to indicate interpersonal relationship between the three persons. The substance is not divided, but shared by all three persons.

The dotted lines are designed to illustrate the term perichōresis (pronounced pair-ee-khoh-reh-sis and literally meaning “rotation”). It shows the intimate relationship of the persons. It means the “coinherence” of the three persons. They are closely related in the one Being, God. I like the idea of relationship in the Trinity. That’s what matters to me as a follower of Jesus.

As usual, don’t push illustrations too far. They are merely designed to help guard against misunderstanding and to clarify. They are starter kits.

light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, of one substance with the Father

Next, I love the words “light from light” because they talk about the Son proceeding from the Father, as light proceeds from the sun. Light from Light share the same substance or essence.

“True God from true God”: what can be said of God can be said of Jesus in his divine nature.

In these lines we see that the Son is from the Father. What does this mean? Let’s circle back around to “begotten.”

I like what professional theologian Donald Frame says of “begotten.” “‘Begotten’ is little more than a synonym for ‘Son'” (p. 494). In affirming we don’t know the details, Frame also says, “A certain amount of reverent agnosticism is appropriate here” (p. 495). No, this is not agnosticism that doubts God’s existence, but the kind of agnosticism that keeps quiet about such heavenly matters like eternal generation or being begotten.

Personally, I like to simplify things. The Scriptures reveal the Father and the Son, not to give us a headache, but so we can relate to them. We can have a personal relationship with the Father as intimately (and more so) as we have with our own father. And we can relate to the Son as the Messiah and Lord, who has a unique relationship with the Father. The Son reveals the Father. The title Father is more personal and revealing than “God.”

Bottom line: let’s have a relationship with the Father and the Son (and the Holy Spirit), since they are revealed in Scripture in those two persons (and the third person of the Spirit), for our relational benefit.

through Whom all things came into being, things in heaven and things on earth,

Jesus was the instrument of creation (John 1:3; Heb. 1:2).

Who because of us men and because of our salvation came down, and became incarnate and became man, and suffered, and rose again on the third day, and ascended to the heavens, and will come to judge the living and dead,

“Men” and “man” should rightly be translated as “people” or “persons” or “human beings” (plural) or “person” or “human being” (singular). The Greek noun anthrōpos does not mean “man” in the sense of “male,” but is more generic, encompassing mankind and womankind.

This section is clearly what the Scriptures teach–the incarnation–so I don’t need t expand on them. Instead, here are some links:

4. Do I Really Know Jesus? He Took the Form of a Servant

Why the Cross?

9. Do I Really Know Jesus? He Died for You

11. Do I Really Know Jesus? He Was Resurrected from the Dead

13. Do I Really Know Jesus? His Resurrection Changes Everything

14. Do I Really Know Jesus? He Appeared to His Disciples

15. Do I Really Know Jesus? He Ascended into Heaven

17. Do I Really Know Jesus? He Is Seated at Right Hand of Father

Bible Basics about the Final Judgment

Everyone Shall Be Judged by Their Works and Words

And in the Holy Spirit. Another addition says: “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father. With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets.”

The later (so-called) Athanasian Creed adds:

23.. The Holy Spirit is of the Father and of the Son; neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.

The Spirit is co-eternal and of the same substance of the Father. Remember the circle with the Holy Spirit inside it. The Spirit is in and is of the same “God substance.”

Athanasian Creed + Commentary

The Spirit’s Deity and Divine Attributes

But as for those who say, There was when He was not, and, Before being born He was not, and that He came into existence out of nothing, or who assert that the Son of God is of a different hypostasis or substance, or created, or is subject to alteration or change – the Catholic [universal] and apostolic Church anathematizes.

This section takes down the Arians (today they have partly morphed into Jehovah’s Witnesses). The Arians said that there was a time when the Son was not (he did not exist eternally). This creed says no. Evidently some Arians said that before the Son was born of the virgin Mary, he did not exist. The creed says no to this idea. Others said that he was created out of nothing. The creed says no. The Arians said that the Father and Son had slightly different (or “similar”) substances / essences, but the creed also says no to this. Others said the Son was created. No. Evidently, some heresies said the Son was subject to alteration or change in his divine nature. No. (However, he acquired a human nature at his birth, but this did not change his divine nature).

The Trinity: What Do Arians and Jehovah’s Witnesses Teach?

The Trinity: What Are Defective Ideas?

Conclusion

I really like this creed. It makes me feel like a part of the ancient community of our brothers and sisters who lived centuries ago. We Americans dismiss the past, stomping all over it. We tear down old buildings and put in a parking lot (car park). But we must be careful that we don’t absorb the “American spirit” and reject or devalue this ancient creed.

By this creed, I learn who Jesus really was. He was God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God. We can worship him as God the Son and the Son of God. Now, in our worship time, either privately or at church, we can really know the one we worship!

Finally, instead of getting confused by this wonderful creed, let’s enjoy a relationship with the Father and Son (and the Spirit). The Scripture reveals them so that we can relate to them, not dissect them with our brain power and stick them in a creed.

Yes. I love this creed, but if it remains academic and does not lead to a deeper relationship with the Father, through the Son, and by the power of the Spirit, then we are swallowing dust.

I need the creed. I read the creed. You need the creed. Do you read the creed? You must read the creed!

Most of all, enjoy a relationship with the Father through the Son and by the Spirit!

RELATED

Athanasian Creed + Commentary

6. Two Natures in One Person: Definition or Creed of Chalcedon + Commentary

SOURCES

Works Cited

 

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