Attention!
15 million Ukrainian are displaced by Russia's war.
Millions miss a meal or two each day.
Help us change that! Click to donate today!

Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Nicene Creed

Additional Links

is the name applied to a detailed statement of Christian doctrine which forms part of the liturgy of the Roman, Oriental, and Anglican churches, and is also received as a formulary by many of the other Protestant communions. The creed is given in the article on that subject. It remains simply to add that though it is called by the name of the Council of Nicaea (q.v.), nearly one half of the present clauses formed no part of the original Nicene formulary, that document containing a series of anathemas condemnatory of specific statements of Arius which find no place in the present so-called Nicene Creed. It was not even framed by the fathers of the first general council. They rather,adopted the existing Oriental Creed, as the Roman or Apostles' Creed was followed by the churches of the West. Eusebius, the historian, exhibited it to the council as the ancient creed of the Church of Caesarea, of which he was the bishop. Doubtless it had descended in that Church from primitive times. A general likeness may be observed between it and the Creed of Antioch, as given by Luciaii the Martyr (Socrates, Hist. Ecclesiastes 3:5; Ecclesiastes 6:12). The principal addition made to it by the council was the insertion of the phrase ὁμοούσιος τῷ Πατρί , "of one substance with the Father," in order to render the creed all that could be wished for as a standard of orthodoxy. (See ARIANISM).

Eusebins says, however, that this was no new term: "We are aware that certain illustrious bishops and writers among the ancients have made use of this expression, ὁμοούσιους, in defining the Godhead of the Father and Son" (ibid.). Athanasius declares the same thing in his epistle to the African bishops, and states that the term was incorporated in the Nicene Creed on the authority of ancient bishops: τῇ μαρτυρίᾷ τῶν ἀρχαίων ἐπισκόπων. In the preceding century Dionysius of Alexandria still appeals to older writers who used the expression τὸ ὁμοούσιον τῷ Πατρὶ εἰρήμενον ὑπὸ τῶν ἁγίων πατέρων (Athanasius, De Sent. Dionys.). Origen, the preceptor of Dionysius, used the word in the same sense as the Nicene Council, as shown by Ruffinus and Pamphilus in his apology. Tertullian, writing in Latin, while he thought in Greek, as was often the case with him, says that the three persons of the Godhead were "tius substantiae" (Adv. Pra. 11), which was the equivalent for ὁμοούσιος, as bishop Bull affirms; so also Ruffinus, "Unius substantise quod Graece ὁμοούσιον dicitur" (De Deprav. libr. Orig.). The term itself was coined in the philosophical schools of ancient Greece. Thus Aristotle affirmed the consubstantial character of the stars, ὁμοούσια δὲ πάντα ἄστρα; and Porphyry uses it with regard to the soul of life or vital principle that man shares with the lower animals, εἴγε ὁμοούσιοι αἱ τῶν ζώων ψυχαὶ ἡμετέραις (De Abstin. ab esu Anim. 1:19). Hence it was adopted by the Gnostic heretics to express the oneness of nature that existed between the psychic seed of the human race and the Demiurge (Irenaeus, Conti Haer. 1:9, 10, Cambridge ed.). The term fell into a certain degree of discredit when Paul of Samosata made use of it in his heretical Christology. He maintained that Christ had no pre-existence before his birth of the Virgin Mary, and that he could only be consubstantial with the Father through the deification of his mortal body. The very gainsaying of heresy thus helped to establish the high antiquity of the term as used by the Church. The Council of Antioch denied the consubstantiality of the Son in this gross sense, but left no doubt as to their belief in the eternally divine substance of the Word, though they suppressed for a time the term ὁμοούσιος as having been rendered suspicious by Paul. Altogether there can be no doubt that the term was well known and of familiar use for more than a century before the Church stereotyped it in her creed at Nice. The Caesarean Creed contained the clause "God of God," which was omitted by the fathers at Constantinople, but was afterwards restored to its position.

The insertion of "Filioque" (q.v.) by the Spanish Church was unauthorized. The final clauses were added at Constantinople, the Nicene formula having ended with καὶ εἰς τὸ Πνεῦμα τὸ ἄγιον . But midway between the two councils Epiphanius indicates three clauses in his longer, creed as used by the Church of Cyprus. It is probable therefore that the Creed of Caesarea also contained them; but Eusebius, having quoted so much of the formula as was germane to his purpose, stopped when he came to the expression of faith in the Holy Spirit in order that he might assert the hypostatic unity of each person, and so never completed the words of the creed. The creed so foreclosed by Eusebius remained on record as the faith of the Nicene fathers, an anathema against all who held Arian notions having been substituted for the closing words of Eusebius. The creed thus formed was used for catechetical instruction, and was the- baptismal confession of faith. as in fact it had been from the earliest days (comp. Eusebius, Ad Caesar.), but it had no place in the liturgy until the time of Peter Fullo. bishop of Antioch, who embodied it in the service (A.D. 471). Timothy, patriarch of Constantinople, adopted the same course (A.D. 511). In the third Council of Toledo (A.D. 589) the Spanish Church made it a part of the liturgy as an antidote to the Arianism of the Goths. The Gallican Church admitted it soon afterwards.

The question was raised in the Council of Aix (809) whether the Spanish and French churches were right in adding the Filioque clause in this creed, and it was referred by Charlemagne to pope Leo, who allowed the creed to be sung, but without the addition; and Walafrid Strabo says that the creed was chanted in trance and Germany after the condemnation of the Felician heresy in Gaul. Leo the Great, however, in consequence of the opposition of the patriarch of Aquilea and Photius, at length authorized the use of the clause, and used it in letters to the bishop of Astorga and the monks of Mount Olivet. Charlemagne decreed that the interpolation was to be used; the Council of Toledo (447 and 580) adopted it; and it was inserted by the Catholic Visigoths and Franks. In 680 archbishop Theodore and an English council accepted the clause. Pope Benedict in 1024; at the request of the emperor, required the creed to be chanted in Italy. It is the custom for the priest alone to intone the words, "I believe in one God." The Nicene Creed was only. received into the "Ordo Romanus" by pope Benedict VIII in A.D. 1014. The reason assigned for this long delay is the strict orthodoxy of the Western Church; this making unnecessary a decided expression against Arianism. Its position in the liturgy varies in the different rituals. In the Roman liturgy it is read on all Sundays, feasts of Christ, of the Virgin Mary, apostles' days, and all the principal festivals, but not on week-days or the minor saints' days, when the Apostles' Creed is used. In the English Prayer-book, the Nicene Creed occurs only in the Communion office; but in the American revision it has been placed with the Apostles' Creed, in the order of Morning and Evening Prayer, the minister having liberty to use either of them in the ordinary services, and also in the administration of the Communion, when necessary. See, besides the literature in the article CREED (See CREED), Harvey, Hist. and Theology of the Three Creeds; Schaff, Ch. Hist. 3:129 sq.; Liddon, Divinity of Christ, p. 18, 200, 256, 359, 410, 432, 434 sq., 473; Burnet, Examination of the Thirty-nine Articles, p. 135 sq.; Blunt, Dict. of Theology. s.v.; Biblical Repository, v. 280; Church Ren Oct. 1870, p. 383; Meth. Qu. Rev. Jan. 1875, p. 136.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.

Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Nicene Creed'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/n/nicene-creed.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

Search for…
Enter query in the box below:
Choose a letter to browse:
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W Y Z