I’d like to spend one more day on the Nicene Creed and give its history very briefly.
Because it is one of the critical turning points in the history of Christianity. Much was at stake, and Christianity could have taken a seismic turn, resulting in a vastly different-looking religion than the way we know it today.
In AD 324, Emperor Constantine reunited the Roman Empire under a single throne. He was a recent convert to Christianity himself and had ended the persecution of Christians by decree in AD 313. There’s a wide range of opinions on Constantine himself, but he was the one who convened the first ecumenical, fully representative, universally recognized council of the Christian church (in AD 325).
The council was summoned to resolve a problem that had sprung up seven years earlier and had fiercely divided the church. There was this elder in Alexandria, Arius, who started proclaiming in AD 318 that Jesus was not God at all, only a celestial servant of the true Most High God. He said that only the Father could be considered uncreated and “timelessly self-subsistent.”
This was a big deal, with huge implications for the church, thus an issue that needed to be resolved. For one, among many, how can Christians worship the Father and Jesus and still claim to be monotheists worshiping the one true God? The ecumenical council was called to resolve this issue once and for all. (Ecumenical means worldwide or general in extent, influence, or application.)
It expands on the Apostles’ Creed of AD 140 much more on the life and work of Christ. It has a new section on the relationship between Jesus and the Father, since the chief concern of the council was to defend the true divinity of the Son against Arius (Arianism). That’s why there’s so much explicitness on Jesus being “only-begotten,” “God of God,” “of the same substance as the Father.” It was traditional in early Christian writings to use the example of light, for it cannot be separated, like a ray of light from the sun, thus stating that Jesus is “Light of Light.”.
[Because the council was primarily concerned with discussing Jesus, the original form did not state much about the Holy Spirit. But it was updated at the first Council of Constantinople in AD 381 to include and reflect the deity of the Holy Spirit.]
This creed encapsulates the entire good news of the gospel into a short and rich summary. It is enriching for us to remember where we came from down through the centuries. The fact that the Holy Spirit and Jesus are just as much God as the Father is a nonnegotiable part of Christianity. We don’t need to perfectly articulate an accurate trinitarian theology necessarily, but questions will inevitable arise on the relationship between God the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and they need to be answered well. This is what separates Christianity from so much else in the world.
Recall Jesus’ question to each of us:
“But what about you? Who do you say that I am?”
What was at stake if the early Christians had given in to Arianism was the work of God in Christ for our salvation being rendered meaningless. No mere man or half-god can intervene to restore fallen humanity, let alone all of creation. Only the Creator can “step into” creation to fix its brokenness and restore its original purpose. Athanasius explore this truth in his amazing work On the Incarnation if you want to read more on this cosmic work that only God can accomplish. He basically said that only the Creator can recreate. Only the Maker can remake. Only God can save us from our sins.
Since the Father and the Son are the same substance, we can know that we can actually know God through Jesus Christ. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being (Hebrews 1:3). So when we look on Jesus, we look at God. Without confidence that Jesus is God, we could not be sure that Jesus can speak for God, forgive sins for God, declare righteousness for God, or do anything to make us children of the Father.
Amen and amen.