Summary: How did the Council of Nicaea and the Nicene Creed help establish the teachings of the early church? In addition, what controversies were dealt with? This lesson explores this important turning point in Christian history.
The Creed Established at the Council
Down through the ages, there have been many iterations of and additions to the Nicene Creed.
In fact, within the 4th Century, there was another council (held at Constantinople in 381) which revised the creed in response to the Pneumatomachian heresy, which denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit.
Most churches today which recite the creed use a version similar to this one:
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, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with 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. 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.
All versions contain important points regarding the divinity of Christ.
All say, “one substance/being”
This is the language of Homoousia.
This was the crux of the debate, and continues to be today.
All say, “Begotten, Not Made”.
The creeds affirm that Christ is “from” God the Father, in that He shares His essence.
But they reject that He is part of the created order; because He shares the essence of the Father, He is coequal and coeternal with the Father.
NOTE: Some people reject the phrase “begotten God”, but it is a phrase used in Scripture
John 1:18 (NASB) “No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.” [[ monogenh\ß qeo\ß ]]
Note regarding the Filioque Clause.
Certain versions say that the Holy Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son. This is certainly in keeping with some of the Scriptures wherein Jesus made the point that He would send us another Comforter.
However, within the history of the church there were those who believed that such language made the Holy Spirit subservient (and lesser) to God the Father and the Son. As such they rejected that clause in the creed.
The Controversies Surrounding the Council
Contrary to popular belief, the Council of Nicea had nothing to do with the choosing of the books which would be included in the Bible
This is a major controversy which is often espoused by those who want to attack the faith (It was even used by Dan Brown in the Davinci Code).