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The Nicene Creed, or the Icon/Symbol of the Faith, is a Christian statement of faith accepted by the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and major Protestant churches. It gets its name from the First Council of Nicaea (325), at which it was adopted and from the First Council of Constantinople (381), at which a revised version was accepted. Thus it may be referred to specifically as the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed to distinguish it from both the 325 version and later versions that include the filioque clause. There have been many further creeds, in reaction to further perceived heresy, but this one, as revised in 381 was the very last time both Catholic and Orthodox communions could bring themselves to agree upon a Credo.
The purpose of a Christian creed was to establish conformity of belief, uniquely essential for Christians, and by public professions of the faith, to identify heretics or any disconformity within each community. The Creed is an epitome, not a full definition, of what is required for personal orthodoxy. It was hoped that by memorizing this summary of the faith, lay people without extensive theological training would still be able to recognize deviations from orthodox Christianity.
The Nicene Creed, both in its original and revised formulas, is an implicit condemnation of specific alleged errors. Thus, as different variations in Christian belief evolved in the 4th century and were perceived as threats, new phrases were seen to be needed, like amendments to a constitution. Just as one can perceive the historical developments of a constitutional society through amendments to its constitution, a careful and knowledgeable reader can identify the particular theological developments in the other kind of society that enforces a creed.
The Nicene Creed was first adopted at the first Ecumenical Council in 325, which was also the First Council of Nicaea. At that time, the text ended after the words "We believe in the Holy Spirit." The second Ecumenical Council in 381 added the remainder of the text except for the words "and the son"; this is the version still used by Eastern Orthodox and Greek Catholic churches today. The third Ecumenical Council reaffirmed the 381 version, and stated that no further changes could be made to it, nor could other creeds be adopted.
Soon after the Council of Nicaea, new formulas of faith were composed, most of them variations of the Nicene Symbol, to counter new phases of Arianism. The Catholic Encyclopedia identifies at least four before the Council of Sardica (341), where a new form was presented and inserted in the Acts of the Council, though it was not agreed on.
In the texts below, the amended sections, adopted in 381, have been identified thus in order to give them prominence. In the section that follows the texts, each amendment will be discussed in context.
The original creed was written in Greek, the language of the eastern Mediterranean where both councils were seated. The most accepted Greek text from 325 is plural, beginning with Πιστεύομεν. The most generally accepted Greek text from 381 is in the singular, beginning with Πιστεύω. Therefore, the revision from "we believe" to "I believe" may have been intentional on the part of the second Ecumenical Council.
In addition, the Nicene version ended with an anathema that was deleted in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan version:
|Τοὺς δὲ λέγοντας, ὅτι ἦν ποτε ὅτε οὐκ ἦν, καὶ πρὶν γεννηθῆναι οὐκ ἦν, καὶ ὅτι ἐξ οὐκ ὄντων ἐγένετο, ἢ ἐξ ἑτέρας ὑποστάσεως ἢ οὐσίας φάσκοντας εἶναι. ἢ κτιστόν, τρεπτὸν ἢ ἀλλοιωτὸν τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ θεοῦ, τούτους ἀναθεματίζει ἡ καθολικὴ καὶ ἀποστολικὴ ἐκκλησία.||But those who say: "There was a time when he was not;" and "He was not before he was made;" and "He was made out of nothing," or "He is of another substance" or "essence," or "The Son of God is created," or "changeable," or "alterable"--they are condemned by the holy catholic and apostolic Church.|
Most modern scholarly opinion believes that μονογενή means "only" or "unique" coming from μονο - "mono" meaning "only" and γενή coming from γενος "genus" meaning kind - "only one of its kind", thus the translation "only Son" in the above modern translation of the creed. One possible mistake at this point is to translate "genus" according to its Latin meaning. In Greek, however, "genos" (γένος) may mean offspring, a limited or extended family, a clan, a tribe, a people, a biological entity (e.g. all the birds), or indeed any group of beings sharing a common ancestry. Therefore its meaning can vary from the very narrow to the very broad. A telling example of Greek usage of the word "genos" would be "Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, to genos Bouvier" (i.e. née Bouvier).
Older English translations as well as the Latin contain "only-begotten", "unigenitum" on the belief that γενή comes from the word for γενναω "born". On the other hand Old Latin manuscripts of the New Testament translate μονογενή as "unicus", "unique". No doubt debate will continue as to the author's intentions both in the New Testament, as well as the separate issue of the intended meaning in the creeds.
A considerable part of this confusion is due to the similarity of the key Greek verbs "gennao" and "gignomai".
"Γεννάω" (gennao) means "to give birth" and refers to the male parent. The female equivalent is "τίκτω" (tikto), from which derive the obstetric terms "tokos', labor, and "toketos", delivery, and words such as "Theo-tokos", Mother of God, and the proparoxytone "prototokos", firstborn, as opposed to the paroxytone "prototokos", primipara.
Γίγνομαι (gignomai) means "to come into existence".
The etymological roots of the two verbs are, respectively, "genn-" and "gen-", and therefore the derivatives of these two verbs exhibit significant auditory and semantic overlap.
Auditorily speaking, while the ancient Greeks pronounced double consonants differently from single ones (example: the double N was pronounced as in the English word "unknown"), by Roman times this had become the same as pronunciation of single consonants (example: the double N was then pronounced as in the English word "penny").
Semantically speaking, the Greek word for "parent" can derive both from "gennao" (γεννήτωρ, gennetor, strictly applicable only to the male parent) and from "gignomai" (γονεύς, goneus, which applies to both parents). In ancient and modern Greek usage however, the word "monogenes" invariably refers to a son without other brothers, or a daughter without other sisters, or a child without other siblings. In this context, both "only-begotten" and "only one of its kind" are equally valid translations.
Furthermore, the word "monogennetos" (a father's only son) and "monotokos" (a mother's only child) do not exist, while "monotokos" means a female who can only have one offspring at a time. Of course any -tokos derivative would be out of the question in this case, as the Nicene Creed seeks to clarify the parentage of God the Son in relation to God the Father.
The Greek word ομοούσιον indicates in orthodox theology that The Father and the Son are "cosubstantial", "of the same substance" or "of the same essence", because the Son is begotten of the Father’s own being (εκ της ουσιας του πατρος)
Full Greek version
Πιστεύομεν εἰς ἕνα Θεόν, Πατέρα, Παντοκράτορα, ποιητὴν οὐρανοῦ καὶ γῆς, ὁρατῶν τε πάντων καὶ ἀοράτων.
Καὶ εἰς ἕνα Κύριον Ἰησοῦν Χριστόν, τὸν Υἱὸν τοῦ Θεοῦ τὸν μονογενῆ, τὸν ἐκ τοῦ Πατρὸς γεννηθέντα πρὸ πάντων τῶν αἰώνων· φῶς ἐκ φωτός, Θεὸν ἀληθινὸν ἐκ Θεοῦ ἀληθινοῦ, γεννηθέντα οὐ ποιηθέντα, ὁμοούσιον τῷ Πατρί, δι' οὗ τὰ πάντα ἐγένετο.
Τὸν δι' ἡμᾶς τοὺς ἀνθρώπους καὶ διὰ τὴν ἡμετέραν σωτηρίαν κατελθόντα ἐκ τῶν οὐρανῶν καὶ σαρκωθέντα ἐκ Πνεύματος Ἁγίου καὶ Μαρίας τῆς Παρθένου καὶ ἐνανθρωπήσαντα.
Σταυρωθέντα τε ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν ἐπὶ Ποντίου Πιλάτου, καὶ παθόντα καὶ ταφέντα.
Καὶ ἀναστάντα τῇ τρίτῃ ἡμέρα κατὰ τὰς Γραφάς.
Καὶ ἀνελθόντα εἰς τοὺς οὐρανοὺς καὶ καθεζόμενον ἐκ δεξιῶν τοῦ Πατρός.
Καὶ πάλιν ἐρχόμενον μετὰ δόξης κρῖναι ζῶντας καὶ νεκρούς, οὗ τῆς βασιλείας οὐκ ἔσται τέλος.
Καὶ εἰς τὸ Πνεῦμα τὸ Ἅγιον, τὸ κύριον, τὸ ζωοποιόν, τὸ ἐκ τοῦ Πατρὸς ἐκπορευόμενον, τὸ σὺν Πατρὶ καὶ Υἱῷ συμπροσκυνούμενον καὶ συνδοξαζόμενον, τὸ λαλῆσαν διὰ τῶν προφητῶν.
Εἰς μίαν, Ἁγίαν, Καθολικὴν καὶ Ἀποστολικὴν Ἐκκλησίαν.
Ὁμολογῶ ἓν βάπτισμα εἰς ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν.
Προσδοκῶ ἀνάστασιν νεκρῶν.
Καὶ ζωὴν τοῦ μέλλοντος αἰῶνος.
Credo in unum Deum, Patrem omnipotentem, factorem caeli et terrae, visibilium omnium et invisibilium.
Et in unum Dominum Iesum Christum, Filium Dei unigenitum, et ex Patre natum ante omnia saecula. Deum de Deo, Lumen de Lumine, Deum verum de Deo vero, genitum non factum, consubstantialem Patri; per quem omnia facta sunt. Qui propter nos homines et propter nostram salutem descendit de caelis. Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto ex Maria Virgine, et homo factus est. Crucifixus etiam pro nobis sub Pontio Pilato, passus et sepultus est, et resurrexit tertia die, secundum Scripturas, et ascendit in caelum, sedet ad dexteram Patris. Et iterum venturus est cum gloria, iudicare vivos et mortuos, cuius regni non erit finis.
Et in Spiritum Sanctum, Dominum et vivificantem, qui ex Patre (Filioque) procedit. Qui cum Patre et Filio simul adoratur et conglorificatur: qui locutus est per prophetas. Et unam, sanctam, catholicam et apostolicam Ecclesiam. Confiteor unum baptisma in remissionem peccatorum. Et expecto resurrectionem mortuorum, et vitam venturi saeculi. Amen.
Traditional English versions
|More recent version||More traditional|
|We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty,||I believe in one God, Father, All-Sovereign,|
|Maker of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen.||Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible:|
|We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God,||And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God,|
|eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light,||begotten of the Father before all ages; Light from Light,|
|true God from true God, begotten, not made, one in Being with the Father.||True God from True God; begotten, not made, of one essence with the Father,|
|Through him all things were made.||through Whom all things were made:|
|For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven:||Who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from Heaven,|
|All bow at the following words up to: and became man.|
|by the power of the Holy Spirit||and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit|
|he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man.||and the Virgin Mary, and became man:|
|For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;||And was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate,|
|he suffered, died, and was buried.||and suffered and was buried:|
|On the third day he rose again in fulfilment of the Scriptures;||And He rose on the third day according to the Scriptures:|
|he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.||And ascended into Heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father:|
|He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,||And He is coming again with glory to judge the living and the dead:|
|And his kingdom will have no end.||And His Kingdom will have no end:|
|We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life,||And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life,|
|Who proceeds from the Father (and the Son).||Who proceeds from the Father,|
|With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified.||Who with the Father and the Son is equally worshipped and glorified,|
|He has spoken through the Prophets.||Who spoke by the Prophets.|
|We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.||In One Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church|
|We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.||I confess one Baptism for the remission of sins.|
|We look for the resurrection of the dead,||I look for the Resurrection of the Dead:|
|and the life of the world to come. Amen.||And the Life of the Age to come. Amen.|
(Note that the modern version is in the plural like the Nicene version, although it is otherwise the Nicene-Constantinopolitan text, the Church changed it to first-person singular. In the west, this change was reversed, but Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Christians did not make this second change.) 
Current translation from English Language Liturgical Commission
- 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.
The original Nicene Creed adopted at the Council of Nicaea in 325 ended just after the words, "We believe in the Holy Spirit..." The section from that point forward was added at the Second Ecumenical Council in Constantinople in 381; hence the name "Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed", which refers to the Creed as it was following the modification in Constantinople. The Third Ecumenical Council reaffirmed the creed in this form and explicitly forbade making additional revisions to it.
The filioque clause
The Roman Catholic church added the words "and the Son" (the filioque clause) to the description of the Holy Spirit, in violation of the Canons of the Third Ecumenical Council. Those words were not included by the Council of Nicaea nor of Constantinople, and the Eastern Orthodox churches consider their inclusion to be a heresy. The Anglican Communion's current consensus position is "recommending to the provinces of the Anglican Communion that in future liturgical revisions the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed be printed without the Filioque clause." (1988 Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops, Resolution 6.5)
The phrase "and the son" (filioque in Latin) was first used in Toledo, Spain in 587 without the consultation or agreement of the other four patriarchs of the Church at that time and in direct violation of canons of the Third Ecumenical Council that prohibited unilateral alteration of the Creed by anything short of another Ecumenical Council. The purpose of its addition in Spain was to counter a heresy that was local to that region. The practice spread then to France where it was repudiated at the Gentilly Council in 767. Emperor Charlemagne called for a council at Aix-la-Chapelle in 809 at which Pope Leo III forbade the use of the filioque clause and ordered that the Nicene creed be engraved on silver tablets so that his conclusion may not be overturned in the future. The dispute over the filioque clause and the manner of its adoption was one of the reasons for the Great Schism. The filioque clause was officially added to the Roman Catholic version of the creed by the Second Council of Lyons in 1274 although it was first used in liturgy during the coronation of Holy Roman Emperor Henry II by Pope Benedict VIII in 1014.
Some Christian communions, in particular the World Council of Churches and the Presbyterian Church, USA, omit the word "men", and others substitute the word "all" , in the line "for us men and for our salvation..." This is considered a more gender-neutral translation of nos homines ("we men"). The frequency of usage of this variation is, however, unknown. "Homo" in Latin, however, means "human being" more than "man" -- Latin "vir" means "man." However, later in Latin this changed, with "homo" meaning "man." Interestingly enough, the same is true of English. In Old English, "man" meant "human being," with "wer-man" and 'wîf-man" meaning "man" and "woman" respectively. Old English "wer" is directly cognate with Latin "vir."
Thus, modern gender neutrality here may be more historically and etymologically correct, interestingly enough, because the matter does not even arise in the original Greek: there the word "anthropoi" (humans or human beings) is used, as opposed to "andres" (men), or "gynaikes" (women). The issue is therefore limited only to certain ways of translating the original Greek into various languages, as the original itself has always been gender-neutral.
To the majority of modern evangelical Christian scholarship, the Nicene Creed is regarded as a prerequisite for Christian faith, and that the Creed is quintessentially Christian. In this traditional belief, all proper Christians affirm the Nicene Creed, and the Nicene Creed is affirmed by all proper Christians. The Nicene Creed is referred to by Roman Catholics and Orthodox as the "symbol of faith", and its recitation is often part of Christian worship services. In the Catholic Mass, it is also referred to as the "Profession of Faith."
Controversy of Christian definition
Some religious denominations adhere to Christian scripture and identify themselves emphatically as Christians, but reject the Nicene Creed as an error or a misinterpretation, and also reject the more recent Lausanne Covenant that affirms the Creed. As a result, many other Christians regard these denominations as not being Christian at all. Such denominations include Arianism, Mormonism, and Jehovah's Witnesses.
In modern interfaith relations, there have been many heated clashes between Nicene and non-Nicene sectarians over the definition of Christianity, and of what constitutes a Christian. In some countries (such as the United States), this has led to litigation with charges and counter-charges over this very theological issue, involving allegations as wide-ranging as slander, perjury, discrimination, and breach of contract. In ancient times, these issues were largely set aside by the annihilation of the contemporary Arianist sect. In modern times, relations between evangelists of Nicene and newer non-Nicene sects are generally cold, and at times outwardly hostile as well.
- A more extensive edition and discussion of the text of the council
- Creeds of Christendom, with a History and Critical notes. (history)
- Creeds of Christendom, with a History and Critical notes. (text comparisons)
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