The Nicene creed was written around A.D. 325. It was adopted in the face of the Arian controversy. Arius, a Libyan presbyter in Alexandria, had declared that although the Son was divine, he was a created being and therefore not equal with the Father. He made the statement “there was when he was not.” This belief made Jesus less than the Father, which posed challenges to the doctrine of the Trinity and the doctrine of salvation. The Nicene creed was a response to this challenge and a correction to his error.
We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth,
and 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.
The Nicene creed builds on and elaborates the Apostle’s Creed. Paramount in this creed is the explanation of the person of Christ and his relation to the father. The creed also elaborates on the saving work of the Son, the person and role of the Spirit, and things pertaining to the church. I will highlight a few of these key areas.
- The Son of God is unique in his dependence on the Father– He is “eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God.” This creedal statement has created a lot of discussion and debate throughout church history. The doctrine here described has been called “eternal generation.” A.A. Hodge attempts to put this mystery into words. Eternal generation is “an eternal personal act of the Father wherein, by necessity of nature, not by choice of will, He generates the person (not the essence) of the Son, by communicating to Him the whole indivisible substance of the Godhead, without division, alienation, or change, so that the Son is the express image of His Father’s person, and eternally continues, not from the Father, but in the Father, and the Father in the Son.”
- The Son of God is unique in his equality with the Father– The creed clarifies and balances the previous statement when it says that the Son was “begotten, not made, one in Being with the Father.” The doctrine of “eternal generation” does not call into question the absolute equality of the Father and Son. They share the identical nature and essence. The Son knows no beginning, he has always been. He has always shared everything with the Father.
- The Son of God is unique in his role as Creator– The creed specifies the Son’s key role in creation: “Through him all things were made.” This is a new and important addition to the Apostle’s creed that further establishes the deity of the Son.
- The Son of God in his unique role as Redeemer– The creed frames the saving work of Christ in a fresh way. “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.” The humility of the incarnation and the empowering of the Holy Spirit are center stage in this description of Christ’s mighty work.
- The Holy Spirit is unique in his role as Life-Giver– The creed identifies the Spirit as the “Lord,” equal to the Father and Son. As the Lord, he is the “giver of life.” It is the Spirit’s vocation to breathe life and sustain it. We see this in both creation and new creation.
- The Holy Spirit is unique in his relationship to the Father and Son– The Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son.” This is another phrase that has produced a lot of discussion, debate and significant conflict. The doctrine here has been called the “procession of the Holy Spirit.” A.A. Hodge explains the teaching. Procession refers to “the relation which the third person sustains to the first and second, wherein by an eternal and necessary, i.e., not voluntary, act of the Father and the Son, their whole identical divine essence, without alienation, division, or change, is communicated to the Holy Spirit.”
- The Holy Spirit is a proper object of our worship– The creed recognizes that worship necessarily follows the affirmation of deity. The Spirit is worthy of worship alongside the Father and Son.“With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.”
- The Holy Spirit inspired the prophets– The creed affirms the Spirit’s role in the speech of the prophets and by extension the inspiration of Scripture. “He has spoken through the Prophets.”
- The link between baptism and forgiveness– This creed, unlike any previous, addresses baptism. It also draws a link between forgiveness and baptism. “We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.”