The Nicene Creed
I hope my few readers will indulge me. I have only a few days before the end of the liturgical year which consists of a mere thirty-four weeks. I cannot possibly finish the Epistle of James in that time and do not wish to break the epistle across two years. Therefore, I have opted to spend the few days left of this year with the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed of 381. It has the distinguishing feature of being the first creed ever received by the Church when we could say that we were truly one and not divided as we are today. Its wording is broad enough to allow for further searching into the mysteries of the faith while also defining the necessary lines outside of which one must struggle to call oneself a Christian. And while some traditions and denominations boast that they are not “creedalistic” claiming that they prefer the Bible, the fact of the matter is every faith group believes something and explicitly or implicitly excludes others on the basis of their beliefs. The general consensus of the Church over the ages is that this creed (along with the Apostles’) is the definitive creed of the Church of Jesus Christ.
And so I begin with the first word of this Creed in Latin, Credo, “I believe,” in Greek, Πιστευομεν, pisteuomen, “We believe.” This is the first word of the Creed, not because it is our belief that makes the propositions of the Creed true—those propositions are true whether we affirm them or not—but because these truths must be believed and personally embraced. And why must we believe them? Because the Bishops at those Councils (Nicaea in 325 and Constantinople in 381) said so? Of course not. We believe them because they express the apostolic teaching with the Scriptures express. We know these assertions of the Creed are true because we have read the Scriptures ourselves and can affirm, “Yes, this is what the Bible says; this is the essence of the Christian faith.” And we affirm these truths with both mind and heart. With the mind we understand them. We certainly do not claim to be able to exhaust the meaning of the divine mysteries there declared, but we do recognize that they speak of matters both historical and intelligible. But we embrace them even more with the heart as matters of life and death.
Indeed, we affirm that it is because we believe with the heart that we are able to understand with the head. Which is all to say that although the matters of the creed are objectively true, they must be personally embraced. Faith will always be personal, for our God is a personal God. And so the greatest commandment is the most personal: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind.