Monday, April 11, 2011

The Council of Nicaea and the Formation of the Nicene Creed

In June of the year 325 A.D. a council was called in the city of Nicaea for the delegates of the relatively new Christian religion to codify in writing the core dogmatic tenets of the Christian faith.  The need for this was due to an arising controversy created by Arius, a Libyan preacher, who had declared that Christ was indeed divine, but that God had actually created him and as such “there was when he was not”. 

This constituted Jesus as being less than the Father and therefore was contradictory to the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.  As the Arian teaching was becoming more wide-spread, the early church formed the council of Nicaea in order to emphatically state what constituted actual doctrines of the Christian faith as passed down through Holy tradition and teachings that originated from Christ himself and his apostles.

The result of this council that was convened to rebuke these heretical teachings was the Nicene Creed.  It is a profession of faith that is used to this very day in the Roman Catholic Church Masses on Sundays and various solemnities.  Further, this ancient statement of faith is also recognized as expressing the core doctrine and dogmas of not only the Catholic faith, but also that of the Lutheran, Anglican, and Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches. 

Note that within the Nicene Creed is the phrase, “We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.”  Also note that the word “catholic” is not capitalized here.  This is because it is not referring to the specific denomination of Catholicism, but rather refers to the meaning of universalism that the word originally denoted, as the catholic church was indeed the true universal Christian Church and remained the only one up until the 16th Century.  It was at that time that Martin Luther began the Protestant reformation which ultimately resulted in the removal of seven of the books from the canon of the Bible, hence the differences between the original catholic Bible and those used by Protestant denominations to this day.

Following is the current translation of the Nicene Creed from the Catholic Missal used in Masses today:

We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, one in Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.

For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man.

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate,
he suffered, died, and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in fulfillment of the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead
and the life of the world to come. Amen.


John Myste said...

I really don't see why preserving the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is so important. The Father and the Son, as with most fathers and sons, did not agree on very much. Their generations were many centuries apart, and so was their thinking.

If I were a Jew, I could not imagine assuming divinity in Christ just because He claimed to be divine; and if I were a Christian, I could not imagine going back to the barbarism of the Father, just because the Jewish Jesus could not let the old roots decay.

I am not sure why we need to marry these disparate deities together, while each personification has a distinct concept of morality and a distinct agenda.

Sorry if this seems contentious. I don’t want to get into a religious debate. I genuinely consider the problem of the concept of the Trinity to be a big one and I think the Council of Nicaea made a horribly illogical decision; however, from a political perspective, it allowed both the “Jews” and the “pagans” to find a home in Christianity, and so it made perfect sense. It was politically reasonable, even though it left a permanent contradiction in the middle of the religion.

T. Paine said...

John, I figured you would either not comment at all, or same something irreverent and fascinating.

I am not sure though that I understand your comment when you state, " I genuinely consider the problem of the concept of the Trinity to be a big one and I think the Council of Nicaea made a horribly illogical decision".

Is this so, to your mind, because of the seemingly disparate personalities of the father and the son?

I am hardly a theologian, but from my few studies, I do not find the inconsistencies that you seem to discover. Indeed the coming of Jesus as the Son of Man was the very fulfillment of the Old Testament Prophets' prophecies, for lack of a better word.

As for the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, it is the very core of Christianity. If the mysteries of the Holy Trinity were somehow invalidated as a mere fabrication of man for political reasons, then a faith that encompasses over a third of the world's population would essentially be nullified. Good luck with that! ;)

John Myste said...

Actually, a third of the world does not believe in the Trinity. In fact, not even all Christians in America do. Moreover, the nullification of the Trinity would not nullify Christianity.

Additionally, there was no fulfillment of any prophesy of the coming of Jesus to override Judaism with an insurrection.

And also, Jesus was a Jew. He kept the Jewish holidays, unlike Christians, who made up their own. What he abandoned, was the strict word of God. Instead, He believed that having a good heart and treating most people with kindness (during his non racist moments), was more important than following God's word to the letter.

The Jewish God was angry, jealous and murderous. Jesus did not embrace such things and taught that they were wrong. The Jewish God commanded, cast the first stone. Jesus ridiculed one would cast the first the stone.

I am no fan of Jesus, but I can get on board with rejecting the barbarism of His Father.

Now, I wish not to get into a contentious debate about this, as it is really pretty irrelevant. The council bound their Jesus God to a Barbarian. I think they had to, for political reasons. They were trying to build a religion that appealed to pagans and Jews and keeping everyone happy required something like this. "Let's keep the Jesus God, but also not throw away the Jewish God," they must have said.

And that is what they did.

One more thing: if I count the number of Buddhists in the world, I get a pretty large number. I would be much closer to embracing a religion such as that one for the mere fact that what I know about it contains fewer inconsistencies. I am not even sure how Christians come up with what portions of the Bible they choose to believe or why. It is baffling.

T. Paine said...

John, I too don't wish to get into a protracted debate on the topic, but suffice it to say that you are egregiously wrong on most of this, sir. :)

First, I would argue that those "Christians" that do not believe in the doctrine of the trinity reallly are not Christians, regardless of the name they ascribe to themselves. That is no more accurate than the old East Germany calling itself the German Democratic Republic actually made it a democratic republic.

Further, I am baffled how nullifying one of the most central beliefs of Christianity would not render the faith as meaningless.

Next, I understand that Jesus was a Jew and upheld Jewish custom and faith. That said, He himself proclaimed that "he did not come to abolish the Jewish Law, but rather to fulfill it."

From the prophetic books such as Isaiah that proclaimed the coming of a messiah for the Jews, Christ did indeed fulfill those prophecies in every way.

He spoke out against the Scribes and Pharisees keeping the letter of the law while ignoring the spirit of it. He did not disregard the old Jewish Law but rather instituted a new covenant with the people. Indeed he spoke of the necessity of keeping the ten commandments, but also added the greatest commandment of loving God with all of your heart and soul, and loving your neighbor as yourself.

I understand your detached and rather cynical explanation for the early Christian church, particularly as articulated out of the council of Nicaea, but that frankly does disregard the facts that Christ did fulfill Old Testament Jewish scripture of prophecy and is indeed the messiah of which it spoke.

It was not a "marriage" of disparate faiths as you have intimated, but rather the fulfillment of a Judeo faith's premises and prophecies. The two are not inconsistent, but rather the evolution, if you will, of a faith that predicted such a fulfillment would eventually ocurr with the coming of the Christ.

As for the Bible, it was canonized by the fathers of the early church who were often disciples or apostolic successors to them and Christ himself. What Christ taught, if what his apostles taught. What they were divinely inspired to codify in scripture was read and determined by the church fathers to either be faithful and inspired writings from God or not. Those that met that threshold were canonized into the Bible, which is still used in Catholicism today.

John Myste said...

Mr. Paine,

I am very glad you chose not to debate this issue, as you would have had your hands full. I daresay, your cup would have runneth over.

As for your response, I would say your faith is confirmed, sir.

John Myste said...

So, like, I was at this blog, and I was defending faith in God, right, and all of a sudden, about 18 comments in, the blog owner declared that I had lost the debate.

Naturally, I stopped debating at that point. There was no reason to continue after I lost.

(Just wanted a little extra credit for defending faith in God).

Tim McGaha said...

My own opinion of this Council was that Emperor Constantine, a relatively new convert to Christianity, was slightly confused by the controversy, and got all of the leading bishops together and told them to hug it out. Being that he was the one who had recently legalized their religion, they complied, and came up with a short summation of what they would all agree on.

The doctrine of the Trinity is a result of a finite language attempting to describe the Infinite. In the end, I can describe it a little. I can defend it a little. But it is still a mystery. And isn't celebrating mystery an important part of the religious experience?

T. Paine said...

Myste, I acknowledge and am indeed impressed with your having defended a hypothetical faith in God, my friend. I wouldn't want to seem ungracious and ask exactly how you went about doing so, however.

Mr. McGaha, first thanks for stopping by, sir. Second, I would basically concur with your first paragraph and absolutely embrace the second one.

Indeed, one wonders if Christianity would have spread as it did initally if not for the conversion of Emporer Constantine to the faith.