A creed formulated and defined at the Council of NICAEA in 325, representing the faith of the church as understood by the 300 or so bishops who, on the summons of the Emperor CONSTANTINE I, deliberated the orthodoxy of the Arian interpretation of Christology. The predecessors of the Nicene Creed were local baptismal creeds that also served as the basis for catechetical instruction.
These baptismal creeds expressed in summary form the faith of the congregation. The Nicene Creed not only epitomized the faith of the bishops present, it also functioned as a test of orthodoxy for bishops. It, therefore, represented the basis for a new kind of unity of the church, one that rested on imperial sanctions; the three bishops who refused to sign were exiled.
Several baptismal creeds have been proposed as the prototype for the Nicene Creed. Those formulas of the Nicene Creed not found in the earlier creeds reveal a strong anti-Arian revision of the baptismal creed. The “Only Begotten from the Father” of the baptismal creeds was clarified with the phrase “that is, from the substance [ousia] of the Father.” To the baptismal formula “begotten of the Father,” the Nicene Creed adds “begotten not made.”
The insertion of the term HOMOOUSION (same substance) into the Nicene Creed introduced into the confession of faith a philosophical term with a very limited history in theological discussions, one that was intended by the emperor to be a formula for concord. The anathemas appended to the Nicene Creed condemn the Arian views that the Son was a different hypostasis (essence) from the Father, or a different ousia (being) from the Father, or that the Son was made or changeable.
The Nicene Creed did not immediately supplant the local baptismal creeds and become the universal confession of the church. According to tradition the Nicene Creed was expanded at the First Council of CONSTANTINOPLE in 381; it was modified again and adopted at the Council of CHALCEDON in 451, in which form it became a confession of faith that could be called ecumenical.
- Boularand, E. L’Hérésie d’Arius et la foi de Nicée. Paris, 1972.
- Burns, A. E. Introduction to the Creeds. London, 1899.
- Dossetti, G. L. Il simbolo di Nicea e di Constantinopli. Rome, 1967. Harnack, A. “Apostolisches Symbolum.” In Realencyklopedie für protestantische Theologie und Kirche, Vol. 11, pp. 15f. Leipzig, 1902.
- Hort, F. J. A. Two Dissertations. Cambridge, 1876. Kelly, J. N. D. Early Christian Creeds. London, 1950. Loofs, F., ed. Das Nicänien. Tübingen, 1922.
- Luibheid, C. “Eusebius and the Nicene Creed.” Irish Theological Quarterly 39 (1972):299-304.
- Rietzmann, H. “Symbolstudien.” Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 24 (1925):196ff.
- Schwartz, E. “Das Nicaenum und das Constantinopolitanum auf der Synode von Chalkedon.” Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 25 (1926):38-88.