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.

Loftus Hall is a fine house
without giving credibility
to any of the ghost stories

Loftus Hall … dates back to the first Anglo-Norman settlements in Co Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Travelling around the Hook Peninsula recently, between Hook Head and New Ross, two of us stopped briefly to look at Loftus Hall, perhaps the largest country house in this part of south Co Wexford.

Loftus Hall is known for many myths and legends, including ghost stories and hauntings. But it is also an important part of the architectural heritage and historical legacy of Co Wexford.

The house stands on the original site of Redmond Hall, first built by the Redmond family ca 1350, at the time of Black Death, on the site of an earlier castle. The family traces its line back to Raymond le Gros, who landed at Baginbun, south of Fethard-on-Sea on the Hook Peninsula, on 1 May 1170. Alexander Redmond or FitzRedmond was granted the Hook area in the first wave of the Anglo-Norman settlements. His descendants, Robert and Walter Redmond, built the castellated mansion known as Redmond’s Hall in the early 14th century.

During the civil and confederate wars of the mid-17th century, Redmond Hall was attacked in 1642 by English soldiers loyal to Charles I.

Alexander Redmond, who was 68 at the time, barricaded the Hall and prepared to defend it. He was assisted by his sons, Robert and Michael, some of their tenants, two men at arms and an itinerant tailor who was working in the Hall at the time. The defenders were only 10 in number, armed simply with long-barrelled fowling pieces. In the lengthy battle that ensued, Captain Aston realised his cannon were too small to have any impact on the main door. To add to his woes, half his men abandoned him as they pillaged the countryside. As the battle dragged on, a heavy mist from the sea enveloped the Hook Peninsula.

When the Irish Confederates at Shielbaggan heard of the attack, they marched to the Hall and surprised the attackers under cover of the fog. About 30 English soldiers escaped to their boats and back to the fort. But Captain Aston was among those who were killed. Many others were taken prisoner, and several were hanged at Ballyhack and New Ross, including one of the Esmonde brothers.

The Redmond family pedigree, registered in 1763, claims Alexander Redmond also defended the Hall against one or even two attacks by Cromwellian forces in 1649. There is a tradition that the defenders used sacks of wool to block up breaches in the walls created by cannon fire. These woolsacks and a representation of the Hall are depicted on the coat of arms confirmed to the Redmond family in 1763.

It is said that Alexander Redmond negotiated favourable terms with Cromwell and died in the Hall in 1650 or 1651. But the surviving family members were evicted and held onto only one-third of their original estates in Co Wexford.

The pier gates at the entrance to Loftus Hall … the earlier house, Redmond Hall, was bought by the Loftus family in the 1660s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The Hall and most of the Redmond estates on the Hook Peninsula were later bought by Nicholas Loftus from ‘several adventurers and soldiers.’ The Loftus family was descended from Adam Loftus (1533-1605) of Rathfarnham Castle, Archbishop of Armagh (1562-1567), Archbishop of Dublin (1567-1605), Lord Chancellor of Ireland (1573-1576, 1581-1605) and first Provost of Trinity College Dublin (1592-1594).

Adam Loftus had 20 children, and his eldest son, Sir Dudley Loftus, was granted lands around Kilcloggan in south Wexford in 1590. His son, Nicholas Loftus acquired the Manor of Fethard-on-Sea in 1634 and Fethard Castle became the family residence. His son, Henry Loftus, moved from Dungulph Castle to the Hall in 1666, when it became the principal residence of the Loftus family.

The Redmond family disputed the claims of the Loftus family in court but without success. They were compensated in 1684 with lands in Ballaghkeene in north Co Wexford. Some of their descendants joined the Wild Geese in France and other European armies, others were involved in banking and politics. One branch of the family became a prominent political dynasty in Co Wexford in the 19th and 20th centuries, including John Redmond, who led the Irish Party until he died in 1918.

To establish the new name of his house, Henry Loftus placed an inscription in stone on the entrance piers: ‘Henry Loftus of Loftus Hall Esq 1680.’ He carried out extensive repairs to the Hall in 1684.

The Loftus family rose in the peerage over the following centuries, receiving the titles of Baron Loftus of Loftus Hall (1751), Viscount Loftus of Ely (1756), Earl of Ely (1766, and again in 1771). But the male line of the family and titles died out in 1783. Loftus Hall was inherited by the last earl’s nephew, Sir Charles Tottenham (1738-1806), MP for Fethard-on-Sea (1776-1783) and then for Wexford Town (1783-1785).

His father, Sir John Tottenham, had married the Hon Elizabeth Loftus in 1736. She was the daughter of Nicolas Loftus (1687-1763), and her two brothers, Nicholas Hume-Loftus (1708-1766) and Henry Loftus (1709-1783) had no male heirs to inherit their titles of Earl of Ely and their vast estates, including Loftus Hall and Rathfarnham Castle.

On inheriting Loftus Hall, he changed his name to Charles Tottenham Loftus, and in time received the titles of Baron Loftus of Loftus Hall (1785), Viscount Loftus (1789), Earl of Ely (1794) and finally, with the passage of the Act of Union, Marquess of Ely (1800).

His descendant, John Henry Wellington Graham Loftus (1849-1889), inherited Loftus Hall and the family titles as 4th Marquess of Ely in 1857 when he was only an eight-year-old. He was still in his 20s when he rebuilt Loftus Hall in 1872-1879, under the direction of his mother, Jane (Hope-Vere) Loftus (1821-1890), Dowager Marchioness of Ely and a Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Victoria.

Loftus Hall … rebuilt in the 1870s by John Loftus, 4th Marquess of Ely (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Lord Ely extensively rebuilt the entire house, adding many ornamental details such as the grand staircase, mosaic tiled floor, elaborate parquet flooring and technical elements not seen in Irish houses before, including flushing toilets and blown-air heating.

He was inspired by many of the details at Osborne House, Queen Victoria’s summer residence on the Isle of Wight. Its deliberate alignment maximises the panoramic vistas overlooking across Waterford Harbour and Saint George's Channel.

Loftus Hall stands on 70 acres of land and includes five reception rooms and 22 bedrooms. It is a three-storey house with a nine-bay front and without a basement. The symmetrical frontage is centred on the pillared porch, and the house has a balustraded parapet that hides the roof.

One of the most-admired features of the house is the magnificent hand-carved oak staircase. Other examples of fine Victorian craftsmanship include encaustic tiled floors, timber panelled doors, marble Classical-style chimneypieces, a ceiling with a stained-glass lantern and an Acanthus ceiling rose, decorative plasterwork, a bow-ended reception room and a chapel.

The diminishing scale of the windows on each floor produce a graduated visual impression. The decorative plasterwork is the work of James Hogan and Sons of Dublin. It has been said the stucco details might have been designed to resemble a grand hotel.

The adjacent coach house and stable outbuilding, the walled garden and a nearby gate lodge enhance the setting.

Loftus Hall was built in the expectation of a visit by Queen Victoria. But perhaps the proposed visit was all in imagination of the Dowager Marchioness: the Queen never visited Loftus Hall, and young Lord Ely was weighed down by unbearable debts.

He died at the age of 39 without children, having crippled the estate financially with his grand building scheme aimed at boosting his social standing in the aristocracy but probably hiding a sense of insecurity and a desire for acceptance.

The impoverished estate passed with the family titles to his distant cousin, John Henry Loftus (1851-1925), the son of a Church of Ireland priest. But the estate was in such a poor financial state that the new Lord Ely eventually decided to sell Loftus Hall.

Loftus Hall was bought in 1917 by a Benedictine order of nuns, who lived there for 18 years. It was then bought in 1935 by the Sisters of Providence, who ran a school for girls interested in joining the order until the early 1980s.

When the convent closed, Loftus Hall was bought in 1983 by Michael Devereux who reopened it as Loftus Hall Hotel. But it closed again in the late 1990s. It remained in the hands of the Devereux family until late 2008, when it was sold to an unnamed buyer. There were rumours it had been bought by Bono of U2, but it had been bought by the Quigley family from Bannow, Co Wexford.

In recent years, the hall has been turned into a tourist attraction with guided tours and seasonal events. The five acres of walled gardens at Loftus Hall have undergone a major restoration Spring 2016. From the overgrown tangle that had not been cared for in many years, a beautiful space has emerged to be explored and enjoyed.

It is difficult to determine where history ends and legends and fiction begin at Loftus Hall (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

To this day, fact and fiction are so closely entwined in the history of Loftus Hall that it is difficult to determine where history ends and legends and fiction begin.

Loftus Hall is the subject of two apocryphal legends. The first is the famous ‘Legend of Loftus Hall’ and the second is the story that the house was built in the expectation of a royal visit by Queen Victoria that may have been planned only in the mind of the Dowager Marchioness.

It is said that Sir Charles Tottenham was at Loftus Hall in 1775 with his wife and daughter Anne. During a storm, a ship unexpectedly arrived at the Hook Peninsula, and a young man was welcomed at the doors of Loftus Hall.

One night, the family and the visitor were playing cards. In the game, each player received three cards, but Anne was only dealt two cards by the mystery man. A butler at the table was just about to question the man when Anne bent down to pick up the card she thought she may have dropped. As she bent beneath the table, she saw the mysterious man had a cloven foot.

As Anne stood up and challenged him, he went up through the roof, leaving behind a large hole in the ceiling. Soon Anne became ill, and the family was ashamed of her. She was locked away in the Tapestry Room, where she refused food and drink, and sat with her knees under her chin, looking out across the sea towards Dunmore East, waiting for the mysterious stranger to return. She died in the Tapestry Room in 1775. It is said that when she died, they could not straighten her body, and she was buried in the sitting position in which she had died.

It was said that the hole in the ceiling could never be repaired properly, and that to this day there is still a part of the ceiling that is slightly different from the rest.

The family eventually called on Canon Thomas Broaders, the local Roman Catholic parish priest who also a tenant on the Loftus Hall estate, to exorcise the house. Canon Broaders was parish priest of the Hook and Ramsgrange for almost 50 years, and the epitaph on his grave in Horetown Cemetery reads:

here lies the body of Thomas Broaders,
Who did good and prayed for all.
And banished the Devil from Loftus Hall.


But if this exorcism – if it ever took place – ever worked, it did not end the ghost stories. The ghost of a young woman, said to be Anne Tottenham, is said to return to Loftus Hall frequently.

However, there are main details in the story that are difficult to reconcile with historical details and facts.

Firstly, Canon Broaders died on 17 January 1773, two years before the supposed date of the story of Anne Tottenham and the card game.

Secondly, Charles Tottenham did not inherit Loftus Hall until 1785, ten years after these supposed events. He probably lived before that at either Tottenham Green, near Taghmon, or at Delare House, the Tottenham family townhouse in New Ross.

Thirdly, the first account of those events was published in The Whitehall Review on 28 September 1882 – over 100 years after they are said to have taken place.

Fourthly, the damaged ceiling could hardly have survived: the 17th century Loftus Hall was levelled in 1871 and the present house was built in its place in the 1870s.

Fifthly, there is a similar tradition in Taghmon that the whole affair took place at Tottenham Green, then the Tottenham family home, and not at Loftus Hall.

Indeed, some people believe these stories were told to keep local people away while Lord Ely was waiting for Queen Victoria to call – an anticipated visit that never materialised, if it was ever planned.

Today, the family titles are held by (Charles) John Tottenham, a former prep school teacher in Alberta Canada, who succeeded in 2006 as 9th Marquess of Ely, 9th Earl of Ely, 9th Viscount Loftus, and 9th Baron Loftus. His sister, Ann Elizabeth Tottenham, is a retired suffragan bishop in the Diocese of Toronto and the second woman to be elected a bishop in the Anglican Church of Canada. Their father, Charles John Tottenham (1913-2006), 8th Marquess of Ely, emigrated to Ontario.

Loftus Hall reopens to public next month, on 13 April 2019.

A Redmond Clan gathering is planned for Loftus Hall on 1-3 May, with a special reception at the Bishop’s Palace, Waterford, to honour the memory of John Redmond, leader of the Home Rule Party.

The Bishop’s Palace Waterford … a reception in May honours the memory of John Redmond (Photograph Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Praying through Lent with
USPG (23): 28 March 2019

‘Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry his Cross’ … Station V in the Stations of the Cross in the Friars’ Graveyard at Gormanston College, Co Meath (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During Lent this year, I am using the USPG Prayer Diary, Pray with the World Church, for my morning prayers and reflections.

USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is the Anglican mission agency that partners churches and communities worldwide in God’s mission to enliven faith, strengthen relationships, unlock potential, and champion justice. It was founded in 1701.

This week (24-30 March), the USPG Prayer Diary is focussing on the theme of Gender.

The Prayer Diary introduced this week’s theme on Sunday [24 March 2019] with a report from on the Skills Training Programme for Women and Girls, in Kurnool, an initiative of the Nandyal Diocese in the Church of South India.

Thursday 28 March:

Pray for places of employment, that they may be free from discrimination and prejudice and employer and employee may work together to ensure fairness for all.

The Collect:

Merciful Lord,
Grant your people grace to withstand the temptations
of the world, the flesh and the devil
and with pure hearts and minds to follow you, the only God; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Lenten Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God,
you hate nothing that you have made
and forgive the sins of all those who are penitent:
Create and make in us new and contrite hearts
that we, worthily lamenting our sins
and acknowledging our wretchedness,
may receive from you, the God of all mercy,
perfect remission and forgiveness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Continued tomorrow

Yesterday’s reflection