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§ 8. The Nicene Creed.


I. See the works on the œcumenical Creeds noticed p. 12, and the extensive literature on the Council of Nicæa, mentioned in my Church History, Vol. III. pp. 616, 617, and 622. The acts of the Council are collected in Greek and Latin by Mansi, Collect. sacr. Concil., Tom. II. fol. 635–704. The Council of Nicæa is more or less fully discussed in the historical works, general or particular, of Tillemont, Walch, Schröckh, Gibbon, A. de Broglie, Neander, Gieseler, Baur (Hist. of the Doctrine of the Trinity), Dorner (History of Christology), Hefele (History of Councils, Stanley (History of the Eastern Church).

II. Special treatises on the Nicene symbol:

Ph. Melanchthon: Explicatio Symb. Nicæni, ed. a J. Sturione, Viteb. 1561, 8vo.

Casp. Cruciger: Enarrationis Symboli Nicæni articuli duo, etc., Viteb. 1548, 4to, and Symboli Nicæni enarratio cum præfatione Ph. Melanchthonis, acc. priori editioni plures Symboli partes, Basil (without date).

J. H. Heidegger (d. 1698): De Symbolo Nicæne-Constantinopolitano (Tom. II. Disp. select. pp. 716 sqq., Turici, 1675–97).

J. G. Baier: De Conc. Nicæni primi et Œcum. auctoritate atque integritate, Jen. 1695 (in Disputat. theol. decad. I.).

T. Fecht: Innocentia Concilii et Symboli Nicæni, Rostock, 1711.

T. Caspar Suicer (d. 1684): Symbolum Nicæno-Constant. expositum et ex antiquitate ecclesiastica illustratum, Traj. ad Eh. 1718, 4to.

George Bull (d. 1710): Defensio Fidei Nicænæ, Oxon. 1687, in his Latin works ed. by Grabe, 1703; by Burton, 1827, and again 1846; English translation in the Anglo-Catholic Library, Oxf. 1851, 2 vols.

The Nicene Creed, or Symbolum Nicæno-Constantinopolitanum, is the Eastern form of the primitive Creed, but with the distinct impress of the Nicene age, and more definite and explicit than the Apostles' Creed in the statement of the divinity of Christ and the Holy Ghost. The terms 'coessential' or 'coequal' (ὁμοούσιος τῷ πατρί), 'begotten before all worlds' (πρὸ πάντων τῶν αἰώνων), 'very God of very God' (θεὸς ἀληθινὸς ἐκ θεοῦ ἀληθινοῦ), 'begotten, not made' (γεννηθείς, οὐ ποιηθείς), are so many trophies of orthodoxy in its mighty struggle with the Arian heresy, which agitated the Church for more than half a century. The Nicene Creed is the first which obtained universal authority. It rests on older forms used in different churches of the East, and has undergone again some changes.4747   Compare the symbols of the church of Jerusalem, the church of Alexandria, and the creed of Cæsarea, which Eusebius read at the Council of Nicæa, in Usher, l.c. pp. 7, 8; more fully in Vol. II. pp. 11 sqq., and in Hahn, Bibliothek der Symbole, pp. 40 sqq., 91 sqq.

The Eastern creeds arose likewise out of the baptismal formula, and were intended for the baptismal service as a confession of the faith of the catechumen in the Triune God.4848   Eusebius, in his Epistle to the people of Cæsarea, says of the creed which he had proposed to the Council of Nicæa for adoption, that he had learned it as a catechumen, professed it at his baptism, taught it in turn as presbyter and bishop, and that it was derived from our Lord's baptismal formula. It resembles the old Nicene Creed very closely; see Vol. II. p. 29. The shorter creed of Jerusalem used at baptism, as given by Cyril, Catech. xix. 9, is simply the baptismal formula put interrogatively; see Hahn, pp. 51 sqq.

We must distinguish two independent or parallel creed formations, 25an Eastern and a Western; the one resulted in the Nicene Creed as completed by the Synod of Constantinople, the other in the Apostles' Creed in its Roman form. The Eastern creeds were more metaphysical, polemical, flexible, and adapting themselves to the exigencies of the Church in the maintenance of her faith and conflict with heretics; the Western were more simple, practical, and stationary. The former were controlled by synods, and received their final shape and sanction from two œcumenical Councils; the latter were left to the custody of the several churches, each feeling at liberty to make additions or alterations within certain limits, until the Roman form superseded all others, and was quietly, and without formal synodical action, adopted by Western Christendom.

In the Nicene Creed we must distinguish three forms—the original Nicene, the enlarged Constantinopolitan, and the still later Latin.

1. The original Nicene Creed dates from the first œcumenical Council, which was held at Nicæa, A.D. 325, for the settlement of the Arian controversy, and consisted of 318 bishops, all of them from the East (except Hosius of Spain). This Creed abruptly closes with the words 'and in the Holy Ghost,' but adds an anathema against the Arians. This was the authorized form down to the Council of Chalcedon.

2. The Nicæno-Constantinopolitan Creed, besides some minor changes in the first two articles,4949   The most remarkable change in the first article is the omission of the words πουτέστιν ἐκ τῆς οὐσίας τοῦ Πατρός, θεὸν ἐκ θεοῦ on which great stress was laid by the Athanasian party against the Arians, who maintained that the Son was not of the essence, but of the will of the Father. adds all the clauses after 'Holy Ghost,' but omits the anathema. It gives the text as now received in the Eastern Church. It is usually traced to the second œcumenical Council, which was convened by Theodosius in Constantinople, A.D. 381, against the Macedonians or Pneumatomachians (so called for denying the deity of the Holy Spirit), and consisted of 150 bishops, all from the East. There is no authentic evidence of an œcumenical recognition of this enlarged Creed till the Council at Chalcedon, 451, where it was read by Aëtius (a deacon of Constantinople) as the 'Creed of the 150 fathers,' and accepted as orthodox, together with the old Nicene Creed, or the 'Creed of the 318 fathers.' But the additional clauses existed in 374, seven years before the Constantinopolitan Council, in the two creeds of Epiphanius, a native of Palestine, 26and most of them as early as 350, in the creed of Cyril of Jerusalem.5050   See Vol. II. pp. 31–38, and the Comparative Table, p. 40; Lumby, p. 68; and Hort, pp. 72–150. Dr. Hort tries to prove that the 'Constantinopolitan' or Epiphanian Creed is not a revision of the Nicene Creed at all, but of the Creed of Jerusalem, and that it dates probably from Cyril, about 362–364, when he adopted the Nicene homoousia, and may have been read by him at the Council of Constantinople in vindication of his orthodoxy. Ffoulkes (in Smith's Dict. of Christ. Antiq. Vol. I. p. 438) conjectures that it was framed at Antioch about 372, and adopted at the supplemental Council of Constantinople, 382.

The Nicene Creed comes nearest to that of Eusebius of Cæsarea, which likewise abruptly closes with πνεῦμα ἅγιον; the Constantinopolitan Creed resembles the creeds of Cyril and Epiphanius, which close with 'the resurrection' and 'life everlasting.' We may therefore trace both forms to Palestine, except the Nicene homoousion.

3. The Latin or Western form differs from the Greek by the little word Filioque, which, next to the authority of the Pope, is the chief source of the greatest schism in Christendom. The Greek Church, adhering to the original text, and emphasizing the monarchia of the Father as the only root and cause of the Deity, teaches the single procession (ἐκπόρευσις) of the Spirit from the Father alone, which is supposed to be an eternal inner-trinitarian process (like the eternal generation of the Son), and not to be confounded with the temporal mission (πέμψις) of the Holy Spirit by the Father and the Son. The Latin Church, in the interest of the co-equality of the Son with the Father, and taking the procession (processio) in a wider sense, taught since Augustine the double procession of the Spirit from the Father and the Son, and, without consulting the East, put it into the Creed.

The first clear trace of the Filioque in the Nicene Creed we find at the third Council of Toledo in Spain, A.D. 589, to seal the triumph of orthodoxy over Arianism. During the eighth century it obtained currency in England and in France, but not without opposition. Pope Leo III., when asked by messengers of a council held during the reign of Charlemagne at Aix la Chapelle, A.D. 809, to sanction the Filioque, decided in favor of the double procession, but against any change in the Creed. Nevertheless, the clause gained also in Italy from the time of Pope Nicholas I. (858), and was gradually adopted in the entire Latin Church. From this it passed into the Protestant Churches.5151   Comp. Vol. II., at the close.

Another addition in the Latin form, 'Deus de Deo,' in article II., created 27no difficulty, as it was in the original Nicene Creed, but it is useless on account of the following 'Deus verus de Deo vero,' and hence was omitted in the Constantinopolitan edition.

The Nicene Creed (without these Western additions) is more highly honored in the Greek Church than in any other, and occupies the same position there as the Apostles' Creed in the Latin and Protestant Churches. It is incorporated and expounded in all the orthodox Greek and Russian Catechisms. It is also (with the Filioque) in liturgical use in the Roman (since about the sixth century), and in the Anglican and Lutheran Churches.5252   In the Reformed Churches, except the Episcopal, the Nicene Creed is little used. Calvin, who had a very high opinion of the Apostles' Creed, depreciates the Nicene Creed, as a 'carmen cantillando magis aptum, quam confessionis formula' (De Reform. Eccles.). It was adopted by the Council of Trent as the fundamental Symbol, and embodied in the Profession of the Tridentine Faith by Pius IV. It is therefore more strictly an œcumenical Creed than the Apostles' and the Athanasian, which have never been fully naturalized in the Oriental Churches.

. . 'The faith of the Trinity lies,

Shrined for ever and ever, in those grand old words and wise;

A gem in a beautiful setting; still, at matin-time,

The service of Holy Communion rings the ancient chime;

Wherever in marvelous minster, or village churches small,

Men to the Man that is God out of their misery call,

Swelled by the rapture of choirs, or borne on the poor man's word,

Still the glorious Nicene confession unaltered is heard;

Most like the song that the angels are singing around the throne,

With their "Holy! holy! holy!" to the great Three in One.'5353   From 'A Legend of the Council of Nice,' by Cecil Frances Alexander, in 'The Contemporary Review' for February, 1867, pp. 176–179.

The relation of the Nicene Creed to the Apostles' Creed may be seen from the following table:


The Apostles' Creed; Received Text. The Nicene Creed, as Enlarged A.D. 381.
(The clauses in brackets are the later additions.) (The words in brackets are Western changes.)
1. I believe in God the Father Almighty,

1. We [I] believe5454   The Greek reads the plural (πιστεύομεν), but the Latin and English versions have substituted for it the singular (credo, I believe), in accordance with the Apostles' Creed and the more subjective character of the Western churches. in one God the Father Almighty,

[Maker of heaven and earth].

Maker of heaven and earth,


And of all things visible and invisible.

2. And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord; 2. 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;

3. Who was [conceived] by the Holy Ghost, 3. Who, for us men, and for our salvation,

Born of the Virgin Mary;

came down from heaven,


And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of


the Virgin Mary,


And was made man

4. [Suffered] under Pontius Pilate, was crucified [dead], and buried;

4. He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate;


And suffered and was buried;

[He descended into Hades];

          *             *            *            *           *

5. The third day he rose again from the dead;

5. And the third day he rose again,

According to the Scriptures;

6. He ascended into heaven, 6. And ascended into heaven,

And sitteth on the right hand of [God] the Father [Almighty];

And sitteth on the right hand of the Father;

7. From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

7. And he shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead;


Whose kingdom shall have no end.

8. And [I believe] in the Holy Ghost; 8. And [I believe] in the Holy Ghost,

The Lord, and Giver of life;


Who proceedeth from the Father [and the Son];


Who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified;


Who spake by the Prophets.

9. The holy [catholic] Church;

9. And [I believe] in5555   The Greek reads εἰς μίαν . . . ἐκκλησίαν, but the Latin and English versions, in conformity with the Apostles' Creed, mostly omit in before ecclesiam; see p. 15. one holy catholic and apostolic Church;

[The communion of saints];

          *             *            *            *           *
10. The forgiveness of sins;

10. We [I] acknowledge5656   Here and in art. 11 the singular is substituted in Western translations for ὁμολογοῦμεν and προςδοκῶμεν. one baptism for the remission of sins;

11. The resurrection of the flesh [body];

11. And we [I] look for the resurrection of the dead;

12. [And the life everlasting]. 12. And the life of the world to come.


We give also, in parallel columns, the original and the enlarged formulas of the Nicene Creed, italicizing the later additions, and inclosing in brackets the passages which are omitted in the received text:


The Nicene Creed of 325.5757   The Greek original is given, together with the similar Palestinian confession, by Eusebius in his Epistola ad Cæsareenses, which is preserved by Athanasius at the close of his Epistola de decretis Synodi Nicænæ (Opera, ed. Montfaucon, I. 239); also, with some variations, in the Acts of the Council of Chalcedon (Act. II. in Mansi, Tom. VII.); in Theoderet, H. E. I. 12; Socrates, H. E. I. 8; Gelasius, H. Conc. Nic. 1. II. c. 35. See the literature and variations in Walch, l.c. pp. 75 and 87 sqq.; also in Hahn, l.c. pp. 105 sqq. The Constantinopolitan Creed of 381.5858   The Greek text in the acts of the second œcumenical Council (Mansi, Tom. III. p. 565; Hardouin, Vol. I. p. 814), and also in the acts of the fourth œcumenical Council. See Vol. II p. 35; Hahn, l.c. p. 111; and my Church Hist. Vol. III. pp. 667 sqq.

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 (ὁμοούσιον) with the Father; by whom all things were made [both in heaven and on earth]; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man; he suffered, and the third day he rose again, ascended into heaven; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

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; 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 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 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.]


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