The Nicene Creed

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What the symbols mean

The Cross which is also a sword – A symbol for the Emperor Constantine, and his successors, because he called the ecumenical council which began the process of thinking that resulted in this creed, because he was the first Christian emperor and because he began the tradition of imperial Christianity. The cross is central here because the doctrine of Christ is central in the Creed.

The Green Triangle and the Three symbols with it – The doctrine of the Trinity formalized in the Nicene Creed.

The Hand Reaching Down – God the Father.

The CHI RHO Monogram – Christ – the first two letters of the Greek word for Christ, used by Constantine on shields and helmets of his army.

The Dove – The Holy Spirit.

The Crowns – The rule and glory of God.

 

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THE NICENE CREED

 

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, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became truly human.  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 and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified, who 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.

 

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The History of The Nicene Creed

In the first three centuries, the church found itself in a hostile environment.  On the one hand, it grappled with the challenge of relating the language of the gospel, developed in a Hebraic and Jewish-Christian context, to a Graeco-Roman world. On the other hand, it was threatened not only by persecution, but also by ideas that were in conflict with the biblical witness.

In A.D. 312, Constantine won control of the Roman Empire in the battle of Milvian Bridge. Attributing his victory to the intervention of Jesus Christ, he elevated Christianity to favored status in the empire. “One God, one Lord, one faith, one church, one empire, one emperor” became his motto.  The new emperor soon discovered that “one faith and one church” were fractured by theological disputes, especially conflicting understandings of the nature of Christ, long a point of controversy. Arius, a priest of the church in Alexandria, asserted that the divine Christ, the Word through whom all things have their existence, was created by God before the beginning of time. Therefore, the divinity of Christ was similar to the divinity of God, but not of the same essence. Arius was opposed by the bishop, Alexander, together with his associate and successor, Athanasius. They affirmed that the divinity of Christ, the Son, is of the same substance as the divinity of God, the Father. To hold otherwise, they said, was to open the possibility of polytheism, and to imply that knowledge of God in Christ was not final knowledge of God.

To counter a widening rift within the church, Constantine convened a council in Nicaea in A.D. 325. A creed reflecting the position of Alexander and Athanasius was written and signed by a majority of the bishops.  Nevertheless, the two parties continued to battle each other. In 381, a second council met in Constantinople. It adopted a revised and expanded form of the A.D. 325 creed, now known as the Nicene Creed.  The Nicene Creed is the most ecumenical of creeds. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) joins with Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and most Protestant churches in affirming it. Nevertheless, in contrast to Eastern Orthodox churches, the western churches state that the Holy Spirit proceeds not only from the Father, but from the Father and the Son (Latin, filioque). To the eastern churches, saying that the Holy Spirit proceeds from both Father and Son threatens the distinctiveness of the person of the Holy Spirit; to the western churches, the filioque guards the unity of the triune God. This issue remains unresolved in the ecumenical dialogue.
(historical synopsis taken from The Book of Confessions)