The Nicene Creed

Creed comes from a Latin word, credo, which means “I believe,” so creeds are a statement of belief, particularly about Christianity. These are things that the church has historically taught through the entirety of its existence to distinguish what makes Christianity different from other religions.

History of the Creed:

The Nicene Creed is the most thoroughly documented creed that I am addressing. It was originally adopted by the Council of Nicea (the first ecumenical council) in 325 AD to resolve the Arian controversy, which denied the divinity of Jesus. I’ll be addressing Arianism and other trinitarian heresies in December.

The creed was modified at the second ecumenical council (the council of Constantinople) in 381 to include the section on the Holy Spirit and affirm his divinity, in addition to Jesus’. The third ecumenical council (the council of Ephesus) affirmed the 325 version of the creed as a defense against Nestorianism in 431. The earliest written copy we have is from the council of Chalcedon in 451.

It is currently the only authoritative ecumenical statement accepted by Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy, the Persian church, and most of Protestantism, including the Anglican communion. 

Controversies Regarding the Creed:

The third ecumenical council affirmed the 325 version of the creed and explicitly banned the creation of any other creed or changing the Nicene creed. This ended up setting the stage for the Filioque controversy. Filioque is a Latin word meaning “from the Son.” That phrase was not originally in the 325 creed and was added in the 6th century by some Latin speaking churches in Spain. 

The Eastern Orthodox Church does not say that clause because they argue that it violates Canon VII from the council of Ephesus banning changing the creed. The Filioque was formally adopted by Roman Catholicism in 1014, but this caused such a great conflict within Eastern Orthodoxy that the churches severed ties in 1054, known as the Great Schism. While there were other factors contributing to the Great Schism, it seems that the filioque is such a big component that it still proves as an obstacle to reunification efforts. 

Reformed Liturgical Use and Confessional References:

The creed is mostly said before the Lord’s Supper and is also said as a confession of faith on major Sundays in the church calendar.

Resources to Learn More: