Thursday, 28 March 2019

Lenten Study Group 2019:
2, The Nicene Creed

An icon of the Council of Nicaea, with the Emperor Constantine and the bishops holding a scroll with the words of the Nicene Creed

Patrick Comerford

Lent Study Group 2019:

The Rectory, Askeaton, Co Limerick

2, The Nicene Creed,

8 p.m., 28 March 2019

Introduction:

Four Lenten study evenings are taking place in the Rectory at 8 p.m. on Thursdays in Lent. These evenings are open to all parishioners and friends:

1, Thursday 21 March: The Apostles’ Creed;
2, Thursday 28 March: The Nicene Creed;
3, Thursday 4 April: The Athanasian Creed;
4, Thursday 11 April: The 39 Articles.

At one time, it was expected that all members of the Church would know and be able to recite the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments and the Apostles’ Creed.

These were once the minimum requirement for Confirmation, and to ensure everyone could learn them by rote then were often painted on boards behind the altar or on the east end walls in parish churches.

Today, few people may know the Apostles’ Creed by heart, and fewer still may know that while the Apostles’ Creed has its origins in the confession of faith required in the Early Church in Rome for Baptism.

How many people know, for example, that we use the Apostles’ Creed at Morning Prayer and Baptism, and it is the Nicene Creed that we use at the Eucharist or Holy Communion?

The Preamble and Declaration (see Book of Common Prayer, pp 776-777), which could be described as the constitutionally foundation document of the Church of Ireland, says that the Church of Ireland shall ‘shall continue to profess the faith of Christ as professed by the Primitive Church.’

This evening we are looking at the Nicene Creed. Although it is not found in the New Testament, Anglicans have always accepted it as one of the ‘Ecumenical Creeds,’ alongside the Apostles’ Creed and the Athanasian Creed.

So, this evening we are looking the Nicene Creed, its origins, how we use it, asking how it differs from the Apostles’ Creed, and looking at its strengths and its weaknesses.

The ecumenical creeds as we understand them within the Anglican tradition are three in number: the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed.

The tomb of Lancelot Andrewes in Southwark Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The place of the Nicene Creed in Anglican understanding:

These three Creeds have long been accepted as an integral part of Anglicanism. Article 8 of the 39 Articles states: ‘The Three Creeds, Nicene Creed, Athanasius’ Creed, and that which is commonly called the Apostles’ Creed, ought thoroughly to be received and believed: for they may be proved by most certain warrants of holy Scripture’ (The Book of Common Prayer 2004, p 780).

The common focus in Anglican theology is based on an appeal to scripture, tradition, and reason. But this was expanded in the dictum of the early Caroline divine, Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626):

‘One canon reduced to writing by God himself, two testaments, three creeds, four general councils, five centuries and the series of Fathers in that period … determine the boundary of our faith.’

In other words, Lancelot Andrewes is saying the tradition of the Church in Anglicanism finds its foundations in the three creeds – the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed – the decisions of the first four General Councils of the Church (Nicaea, 325; Constantinople, 381; Ephesus, 431; and Chalcedon, 451); the first five centuries of the history of the Church, and the corpus of Patristic writings.

In providing this succinct summary of the foundations of tradition, Andrewes was influential for all of Anglicanism. So, for example, after the Caroline restoration in the 17th century, John Bramhall (1594-1663), Archbishop of Armagh, declared that he would admit all to Communion, especially the Lutherans, but also Greeks, Armenians, Abyssinians, Russians, and all who confess the apostolic creed and accept the first four general councils, even Roman Catholics ‘if they did not make their errors to be a condition of their communion.’

In 1888, the third Lambeth Conference passed a resolution that led to the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, which states that Christian reunion could be based on a number of principles, including the acceptance of ‘The Apostles’ Creed, as the Baptismal Symbol; and the Nicene Creed, as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith.’

In recent years, other creedal statements have made ecumenical contributions and had ecumenical impact. These include, for example, the Barmen Declaration, drawn up by Confessing Christians in Germany in opposition to the claims of the Nazis in the early 1930s, and the Kairos Declaration, published in South Africa at the height of resistance to apartheid.

As we look at the Ecumenical Creeds, we can ask ourselves:

● How relevant are these Creeds for today?

● What we would put in or keep out if we were asked to join the first committees set the tasks of writing the Creeds?

● What are the reasons for some people objecting to the creeds?

● What about some modern expressions of our faith in parallel creeds?

The Church of Aghia Sophia in Nicaea

The Nicene Creed:

Although we know the creed used at the Holy Communion or the Eucharist as the Nicene Creed, this is not what it actually is.

The Creed, which was approved at the Council of Nicaea in 325, was drawn up to defend the orthodox faith against Arianism, and includes the term homoousion (consubstantial, of one substance with) to express the relationship of the Father and the Son in the Godhead. Four anti-Arian anathemas were appended to the original Nicene Creed and came to be regarded as an integral part of the text.

But what we know and use as the Nicene Creed is a longer formula, used in the Eucharist in both the East and West. This is more accurately known as the ‘Niceno-Contstantinopolitan Creed.’ It is said to have been adapted at the Council of Constantinople in the year 381, although it may have been endorsed rather than drafted at that council, using the baptismal creed then in use in the Byzantine capital.

From the time of the Council of Chalcedon in the year 451, this Creed has been the defining creed of the church.

Some foundational assumptions

First of all, let us look at some of the presumptions we can bring to this evening’s discussion:

1, The Creeds are formative:

The Creeds help us to approach the essential importance of what we believe, as Christians, and why. They have served this purpose for most of us throughout our experience of worship, perhaps since early childhood. They are an expression of the faith of the Church, not of the individual Christian.

2, The Creeds are for use in worship:

The Vatican wants to return to using the words ‘I believe …’ at the opening of the Creeds. The Nicene Creed as in Holy Communion I in The Book of Common Prayer 2004 opens: ‘I believe …’ (The Book of Common Prayer, p 182). The Apostles’ Creed in Morning Prayer is also expressed as an individual statement of faith: ‘I believe …’ (pp 95, 112). But in the modern versions, the Nicene Creeds opens with the words: ‘We believe …’ (p 205).

The English language version is based on the Latin version that opens in the singular, Credo in unum Deum … But the original Greek version opens with that statement in the first person plural, Πιστεύοµεν εἰς ἕνα Θεὸν …

The Nicene Creed, like the Apostles’ Creed, is best spoken in communion with other Christians, and is only best understood within the context of an act of worship. At first glance it does not appear to be a prayer. Who are they addressed to?

If we think of them as canticles, like Gloria or Magnificat, we can find ourselves using them in worship in new and surprising ways.

3, We can meditate on the Creeds:

Despite their primary place in worship, the Creeds are a mystical statement of our faith, and, of course, we can meditate on them, in the same way as we can meditate on a piece of spiritual writing, prayers from our favourite prayer books, psalms, canticles or readings from Scripture.

By meditating on them, phrase-by-phrase, we can bridge the historical and the contemporary, the popular and the ecclesial, the objective and the subjective.

In an exercise like that, we can bring together our catholic heritage (objective creed) with an evangelical response (its personal and communal meaning).

The Nicene Creed and the Four Ecumenical Councils:

Like most doctrinal statements, the Nicene Creed was not written in one sitting, nor was it written in a vacuum. This creed was developed, worded, phrased and edited at the Ecumenical Councils of Nicaea (325), Constantinople (381), Ephesus (431) and Chalcedon (451), and the version we have in The Book of Common Prayer (2004) is not the one and only, definitive, ecumenical version.

An icon of the Council of Nicaea

The First Ecumenical Council, Nicaea (325):

At the first draft of the Nicene Creed in 325, the principal was the heresy of Arius of Alexandria, a priest who taught, among other peculiar beliefs, that Jesus Christ, ‘The Son,’ was a creation of the ‘The Father.’

A popular way of expressing this belief for those who agreed with Arius was: ‘There was a time when he [The Son] was not.’ Arius taught that the Father, in the beginning, created (or begot) the Son, who then, with the Father, created the world. For Arius, then, Christ was a created being; his ‘god-ness’ was removed.

Alexander, the Patriarch of Alexandria, summoned Arius for questioning, and Arius was subsequently excommunicated by a council of Egyptian bishops. In exile in Nicomedia, Arius wrote in defence of his beliefs. His following and influence grew to the point that the Emperor Constantine called a council of bishops in Nicaea (Νίκαια, present day İznik), where the first draft of what we now call the Nicene Creed was promulgated by a decided majority as a creedal statement of faith – and a firm rejection of Arius’ teaching that Christ was the ‘begotten’ son of an ‘unbegotten’ Father.

The principal argument for the full deity of Christ was made by Athanasius, a deacon in Alexandria who later succeeded Alexander as Patriarch of Alexandria. The Creed the bishops assented to in 325 is, for the most part, contained in the Nicene Creed as it appears in the Book of Common Prayer (2004), beginning with ‘We believe in one God …’ and ending immediately after ‘in the Holy Spirit’ (The Book of Common Prayer, p 205).

The purpose was clear: to refute the teachings of Arius and to affirm the orthodox doctrine of One God in Three Persons with specific attention to the Christology of the Son.

The Second Ecumenical Council, Constantinople (381):

However, the Council of Nicaea did not end the Arian controversy. By 327, the Emperor Constantine had begun to regret the decisions of 325. He granted an amnesty to the Arian leaders and sent into exile Athanasius, by now Patriarch of Alexandria, who continued to defend Nicene Christianity.

An additional heretical teaching by Macedonius – who was twice Bishop of Constantinople (342-346, 351-360) – denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit. The followers of Macedonius were referred to as pneumatomachians or ‘fighters of the spirit.’ These pneumatomachians also believed that God the Son was a similar essence of substance as the Father, but not the same substance.

Macedonianism taught that the Holy Spirit was not a person – or hypostasis – but merely a power of God. The Spirit, then, was inferior to the Father and the Son.

Yet another group, led by Bishop Apollinarius, who opposed the teaching of Arius, argued that Jesus did not have a human soul and was not fully human.

In 381, the Emperor Flavius Theodosius convoked the First Council of Constantinople, the second meeting of bishops (also known as the Second Ecumenical Council). Among the influential theologians at the time were Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, Patriarch of Constantinople, who presided at the Second Ecumenical Council, and Saint Gregory of Nyssa, two of the Cappadocian Fathers – the third being Saint Basil the Great.

The Cappadocian Fathers

At that council, the bishops reaffirmed and expanded the Nicene Creed of 325 to address further questions about Christ’s divinity and humanity. They added five articles to the Creed concerning the Holy Spirit: the Lord, the giver of life; who proceeds from the Father (see John 15: 26); who is worshiped and glorified with the Father and the Son; and who has spoken through the prophets.

This expanded and modified Creed became the definitive document on the doctrine of the Trinity: one God in three persons or hypostases. Although more Councils and heresies followed, the Creed was essentially codified in 381 and received in 431 when the Council convened to discuss the Nestorian controversy.

Saint Mary’s Basilica … the Double Church where the Council of Ephesus met in 431 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Third Ecumenical Council, Ephesus (431):

The Emperor Theodosius II called the Third Ecumenical Council at Ephesus in 431 to address the Nestorian controversy. Saint Cyril of Alexandria was a central figure in the Third Ecumenical Council as its spokesperson and president.

Nestorius, who was Patriarch of Constantinople, objected to the popular practice of calling the Virgin Mary the ‘Mother of God’ or Theotokos (‘the Bearer of God’). Nestorius taught that the Virgin Mary gave birth to the man, Jesus Christ, not God the Logos.

Nestorianism taught the Logos only dwelt in Christ, whose physical body provided a kind of temple for the Logos. Nestorius promoted the term Christotokos for Mary: the Mother of Christ (‘the Bearer of Christ’).

Having summoned Nestorius three times to no avail, the Council condemned his teaching as erroneous and stripped him of his bishopric. The council declared Christ to be both a complete man and complete God, and upheld the Virgin Mary as Theotokos because she gave birth not just to a man. The Council declared the text of the Creed, in its present form of 325 and 381, as complete and forbade any changes.

The Fourth Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon in 451

The Fourth Ecumenical Council, Chalcedon (451):

Flavius Marcianus, Emperor of the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire (450-457), called the Fourth Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon (Χαλκηδών, present-day Kadıköy), across the Bosporus from Constantinople and now a suburb on the Anatolian side of Istanbul.

Once again, this council was concerned with the nature of Jesus Christ. Monophysitism, from the Greek mono (one or alone) and physis (nature) argued the Christological position that Christ had only one nature, which was Divine. While Christ was human, they believed, his less-perfect human nature was dissolved into his more perfect divine nature.

The council condemned Monophysitism and reaffirmed that Christ has two and complete natures as defined by previous councils. These two natures, the Council argued, operate harmoniously and without confusion. They are not divided or separate, as the Nestorians argued; nor did they undergo any change, as the Monophysites contended.

The Council gave a clear and full statement of orthodox Christology in a document defining the union of the divine and human natures of Christ. This document, which concentrates specifically on the nature of Christ, reflects a very clear, final statement on the orthodox theology that Christ is at once man and God.

The statement declares that is the unanimous teaching of the Church that Christ is perfect in humanity and in divinity; truly God (an Alexandrian notion) and truly man (an Antiochian notion); consubstantial with God and with humanity. It established the absolute limits of theological speculation, using words like ‘unconfusedly,’ ‘unchangeably,’ ‘indivisibly’ and ‘inseparably.’

For Anglicans, the 1888 Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral does not list the Chalcedonian Creed among the fundamental doctrines for Communion based on scriptures, creeds, sacraments and the historic episcopate.

The Chalcedonian Creed does not appear to contain any doctrine concerning the Holy Spirit, nor does it use the word Trinity. This is a single paragraph lifted from a larger document that speaks about the decisions reached at Nicaea in 325 by the ‘318 Fathers’ in attendance and at Constantinople in 381 by the ‘150 Fathers’ in attendance.

The filioque … ‘and from the Son’

A heavily disputed clause was added to the Nicene Creed in 589 by the Third Council of Toledo primarily to counter Arianism among the Germanic peoples. Where the original Creed reads ‘We believe in the Holy Spirit … who proceeds from the Father,’ the amended creed reads ‘… from the Father and the Son.’

Pope Leo III forbade the addition of the filioque clause (the words ‘and from the Son’) and ordered the original Nicene Creed to be engraved on silver plates so that his conclusion would not be overturned in the future.

The filioque clause was one of the causes that eventually contributed to the Great Schism between East and West in 1054. A resolution of the 1988 Lambeth Conference called for the removal of the phrase ‘and the Son,’ but it still appears in the 2004 Book of Common Prayer.

Andrei Rublev’s icon of the Holy Trinity: an invitation to enter into the mysteries expressed in the Creed

Reading the Nicene Creed

A useful framework for reading the Nicene Creed is provided in the Orthodox Church, where the Nicene Creed is sometimes divided into 12 sections for catechesis. Each of these 12 sections of the Creed is helpful as we pray and enter into the mystery of the Creed:

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


The Father, the One who is Creator, cannot be seen by his human creatures. Yet all authority in heaven and on earth belongs to the Father.

The earlier version in the Book of Common Prayer (p 182) says:

‘I believe …
and of all things visible and invisible:’

The Apostles’ Creed says nothing about ‘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.


Instead of ‘eternally begotten,’ the earlier translation says ‘begotten … before all worlds.’

Instead of ‘true God from true God,’ it says, ‘Very God of very God.’

Instead of ‘of one Being with the Father,’ we had ‘Being of one substance with the Father.’

Instead of ‘Through him all things were made,’ we had ‘By whom all things were made.’

The Apostles’ Creed omits everything from ‘eternally begotten of the Father …’ to ‘through him all things were made.’
Christ, the Word and Son of God, is at the centre of all creation, and through whom all things are made.

For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary,
and was made man (truly human).


The Apostles’ Creed says nothing about our salvation, nor does it say he was ‘incarnate by the Holy Spirit.’

Earlier this week, we celebrated the Feast of the Annunciation (25 March 2019). What do we mean by saying he ‘was incarnate by the Holy Spirit’?

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.


The Apostles’ Creed makes no reference to ‘us and our salvation.’

We are just a short time away from Holy Week, three weeks away to Good Friday (19 April 2019), three weeks from recalling the Cross, the death of Christ. The Cross is the place where death and life confront each other, where death gives way to resurrection and eternal life.

On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;


The highlight of Lent is not Good Friday … it is the Resurrection and Easter Day.

There is no reference in the Apostles’ Creed to the Scriptures.

What is meant here by the Scriptures? Is the resurrection a story we are to find in the Gospels and the Epistles? Or was it fulfilling the promises of Scripture already received?

he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.


The Ascended Christ, the Son, is now seated at the right hand of the Father.

The figure at the right hand of an emperor or king was his spokesperson, his word. What he said was the word of the king himself.

He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.


Instead of ‘the living and the dead’ we once said ‘both the quick and the dead.’

The Apostles’ Creed does not refer to the kingdom without end.

This is the Christ who will return again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and to usher in his Kingdom, which will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father
[and the Son]
who with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.


The Apostles’ Creed makes a very cursory acknowledgement of the Holy Spirit.

The action of the Holy Spirit transfigures and transforms, and it is through the Holy Spirit that we are invited to experience new life, especially through the Holy Mysteries of Baptism, Chrismation (Confirmation), Eucharist, and Marriage.

The Spirit pointing us towards the Word, revealing to us who Christ is. The Son is begotten of the Father, the Spirit proceeds from the Father.

The Orthodox prayer to the Holy Spirit begins: ‘O Heavenly King, Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, who art everywhere present and fillest all things, Treasury of blessings and Giver of Life …’ In the Creed, the Holy Spirit is the Lord, the Giver of Life. This sense of the Spirit as the source of life, everywhere present, filling all things, contributes to one of the distinctive insights and approaches of Orthodox theology, which is intimately bound up with daily life. There is no such thing as theology which is purely intellectual. If theology fails to change me, if it fails to flood me with light, then it is ineffective.

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.

The earlier version omitted the word holy, saying instead ‘one Catholic and Apostolic Church.’ The Apostles’ Creed says refers simply to ‘holy catholic Church.’

‘The Church is the body of Christ, the fullness of the Holy Spirit, and the abode of the Holy Trinity. It is not primarily a sociological phenomenon, but a gift of God the Holy Trinity. That is why we speak in the Church about the mystery of the graced human person living in time the eternal mystery of the Trinity.’ – [The Church of the Triune God: The Cyprus Agreed Statement of the International Commission for Anglican-Orthodox Dialogue, 2006, I/22, p 18.]

We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

The Apostles’ Creed says nothing about baptism or the forgiveness of sins.

Every human person is made in God’s image, and as such is made in the image of the Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Each person who is baptised actually enters into the life of the Trinity in a unique way, and takes his or her first steps on the path toward divinisation – a path only to be realised in its fullness in the eschaton.

We look for the resurrection of the dead,

The Church is the Communion of Saints, and the promise of the resurrection is for both the living and the dead.

and the life of the world to come. Amen.

How do we give evidence of our vision of the future, the coming of the kingdom and the life of the world to come?

How relevant are the creeds today?

We all know how church reports are produced. If you were asked to join a committee drafting the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed, what phrases or sayings would you keep in? What would you say is importance to a relevant and contemporary expression of the Christian faith today that has been omitted from the two Creeds most used in the Church of Ireland today?

This exercise is best done in small groups where we can look at the two Creeds, and compare and contrast them.

In our discussion, let us think of:

● three things you would delete;

● three things you would want to expand on;

● three things you would want to include that are not there now.

Difficulties with the Creeds

Can you imagine the different kinds of experience many have with the creeds:

● Some are suspicious of authority, and want to come to truth-claims in individualistic ways.

● Others are not yet prepared to make professions of faith, and have intellectual questions about issues arising from the creeds.

● Some individuals and congregations find the creeds to be irrelevant to daily life, and see little need for them in worship. I am sure some of us are aware of a handful of parishes that can go Sunday-after-Sunday without using the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles’ Creed, and the Nicene Creed.

How do we discover the connections between a profession of faith during Sunday worship, our struggle with issues that are in the Creeds or not in the Creeds, and our daily lives, the decisions, dilemmas and actions we face each day?

Difficulties and possibilities in working through the phraseology:

Some of the difficulties people can have with the Creeds and phrases in them would never have arisen at the time they were drafted:

God as ‘Father’ prompts questions about sexism.

God as ‘maker of heaven and earth’ leads to reflections on faith and science. How does this relate to the Dawkins debate?

That Christ ‘suffered’ surely relates to the sufferings of his followers too, the sufferings of the Body of Christ. How do we understand the suffering of Christ and the problems surrounding suffering in the world today? Why does God allow suffering? This is the problem we know in theology as theodicy.

His descent into hell forces questions about the impossibility of a godless world. There is a debate at the moment between Roman Catholic theologians about the descent into hell.

● Are there reaches in the depths of hell that Christ cannot descend to?

● If so, are there parts of me, or some people, that are beyond redemption?

● If so, then how can Christ be God incarnate if all things are not possible for him?

● If not, then what do we mean about salvation and redemption?

● Are there dangers of slipping into universalism?

● And why do we see them as dangers?

To believe in the Holy Spirit is to acknowledge the necessity of change in the individual and new creation in the community. Where does the Holy Spirit dwell today?

That the creed is completed with an affirmation of hope – ‘the life everlasting’ – is surely a cause for gratitude and praise.

Our ancestors in the faith stood to say these words, they reflected on them, and they put them into practice. To claim this life, summarised in the Creeds, is to say yes to the riches of a glorious heritage from the past and also to the present life that is given to us, as well as to the future. Have you thought of life everlasting from that perspective?

Some other objections to the Creeds

Some of the other objections to the creeds that we might discuss include:

1, The filioque: this phrase was introduced into the Nicene Creed in the early Middle Ages in a series of unilateral decisions in the Western Church.

The words ‘and from the Son,’ are a Western addition to the Creed as it was originally agreed on by a Council representing the whole Church, East and West.

They correspond to the Latin word filioque (fili = Son, -o = from, -que = and), and the controversy about them is accordingly known as the Filioque controversy.

If we are looking for a statement that can be taken as common ground by all Christians, East and West alike, it clearly cannot include the filioque. On the other hand, Western Christians will be unwilling to have it supposed that they are repudiating the statement that the Spirit proceeds jointly from Father and Son.

Some would suggest that we print the Creed with the filioque either in brackets or omitted altogether, but with the understanding that, while assenting to the resulting statement does not commit anyone to belief in the Dual Procession of the Spirit, neither does it commit anyone to disbelief in the Dual Procession.

2, Sola Scriptura: those who hold to this principle, argue that the Bible is the only rule of faith, and nothing else should be imposed on believers. But in response, it could also be said that Arians and Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, would also agree with this principle. How do we protect and ring-fence what we regard as essential doctrines or beliefs found in Scripture?

3, Freedom of conscience: Some fear that any required confession of faith might usurp ‘a tyrannical power over the conscience.’ But once again, what are the limits to the Christian faith beyond which a group or church loses its place within the mainstream Church? Are Non-Subscribing Presbyterians part of the Christian Church? What about Quakers? What about claims by Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons to be Christians? Who decides, and what tools or aids help us to decide within an ecumenical context?

4, Creedalism: There are those who argue that ‘Creedalism’ leads to nominal Christianity. They would say that a mental assent to the doctrines of the Creed has often served as a substitute for true conversion and has led to dead orthodoxy. But to even use a term like ‘dead orthodoxy’ demands some definition of orthodoxy.

5, Limiting the bounds of knowledge: Some argue that the use of confessions or creeds could give a false confidence that the truth in Scripture is exhausted by that confession or creed and thus true growth in the knowledge of the Scriptures becomes difficult. They say there is a danger that someone could feel that knowledge of the confession is enough and will consequently isolate himself from the dynamic of the living Word of God.

6, Restricting inquiry: Still others might say a creed can be used to repress genuine searching, to give artificial answers to questions, and to threaten those who are in a stage of inquiry and so tyrannise the tender consciences of believers.

7, What they leave out: If, as the Reformers said, the Church is where the Word of God is preached and the Sacraments are duly ministered (see Article 19, for example), where are these referred to in the Creeds? Apart from one passing reference to one baptism in the Nicene Creed, there is no other reference in the creeds to Baptism, the Eucharist, preaching or the mission of the Church; and there are no references to the implications of faith for discipleship, daily life and ethics ... there are no references to morality, sexuality, family life, slavery, sexism, business ethics, personal behaviour, because they are about Orthodoxy and not about Orthopraxis.

8, What they leave in: Does the Athanasian Creed say we believe in salvation (and damnation) by works? It says:

And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting:
and they that have done evil into everlasting fire.


Some concluding thoughts

God creates all people, men and women. He creates out of love, for a specific purpose, making our destiny eternal life with him. This destiny is called divinisation, and it means that we are created to experience life within the Trinitarian communion of persons.

What exactly this divinisation consists in we do not know, for it is a mystery known only by God. Our participation in the life of the Trinity will not make us sharers in this mystery in the same way each of the Persons in the Godhead shares in it. But God has, in a very real way, entered into the mystery of our humanity, so that we may enter into the mystery that is his communio personarum. Saint Athanasius said: ‘For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.’ By this he did not mean that we will become divine ourselves, but that through his incarnation in Jesus Christ, God has invited us into his life.

‘The deification … of the creature will be realised in its fullness only in the age to come, after the resurrection of the dead,’ Vladimir Lossky has written. [Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church (Crestwood, NY: Saint Vladimir’s Press, 2002), p 196.]

‘This deifying union has, nevertheless, to be fulfilled ever more and more even in this present life, through the transformation of our corruptible and depraved nature and by its adaptation to eternal life. If God has given us in the Church all the objective conditions, all the means that we need for the attainment of this end, we, on our side, must produce the necessary subjective conditions: for it is in this synergy, in this co-operation of man with God, that the union is fulfilled. This subjective aspect of our union with God constitutes the way of union which is the Christian life.’

Selected reading:

The Book of Common Prayer, the Church of Ireland, 2004.

Alison, CF, The Cruelty of Heresy (London: SPCK, 1994).
Ayers, Lewis, Nicaea and its Legacy (Oxford: OUP, 2004).
Bettenson, H, and Maunder, C (eds), Documents of the Christian Church (Oxford, OUP, 3rd ed, 1999).
Challenge to the Church: The Kairos Document (London: Catholic Institute for International Affairs and British Council of Churches, 1985/1989).
Geitz, ER, Gender and the Nicene Creed (New York: Church Publishing, 1995).
Gregorios, Paulos, Lazareth, WH, and Nissiotis, NA (eds), Does Chalcedon divide or unite? (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1981).
Micks, MH, Loving the Questions: an exploration of the Nicene Creed (New York: Seabury, 2005).
New Patterns for Worship (London: Church House Publishing, 2002).
The Road to Damascus: Kairos and Conversion (London: Catholic Institute for International Affairs and British Council of Churches, 1989).
Stevenson, J, and Frend, WHC, Creeds, Council and Controversies (London: SPCK, revised ed, 1989).
Young, Frances, The Making of the Creeds (London: SCM Press, 1991/2002).

Next week (3 April 2019): The Athanasian Creed.

No comments: