Who Wrote the Nicene Creed and Why Does It Matter?

The Nicene Creed is one of the most important documents in the history of Christianity. But who wrote it? This is a question I was unable to find the answer to until I read the original sources for myself. I recommend R. P. C. Hanson’s The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God which is helpful for tracking down primary source material. The first version of the creed was written by Eusebius of Caesarea and then changed to include language which explicitly condemned Arianism. The creed he proposed at the council can be found in the letter to his congregation on the Nicene Creed. I have created the following chart to show how indebted the language of the creed is to Eusebius:

Eusebius’ Proposed Creed

Nicene-Constantinople Creed of 381

We believe in one God, Father, Almighty, maker of all things seen and unseen;

And in one Lord Jesus Christ the Word of God, God from God, Light from Light, Life from Life, only-begotten Son, first-born of all creation, begotten from the Father before all ages, through whom all things have come into being, who was incarnate for our salvation; and spent his life among men, and suffered and rose the third day and went up to the Father and will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.

And we believe in the Holy Spirit.

We believe each of these three exists, the Father truly Father and Son truly Son and Holy Spirit truly Holy Spirit, as our Lord said when he sent his disciples to preach, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them into the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” We are deeply convinced that these things are so and that this is our belief and has long been so and that we hold by this faith until death, anathematizing all atheist heresy. We bear witness that we have always believed this with heart and soul, ever since we have been conscious of ourselves, and that we now believe and truly proclaim God Almighty and the Lord Jesus Christ, and are ready to demonstrate by arguments and to persuade you that we have always so believed and so preached in times past.

We believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible;
And in one Lord, Jesus Christ
the only begotten Son of God,
begotten from the Father before all ages,
light from light,
true God from true God,
begotten not made,
of one substance (homoousion) with the Father,
through Whom all things came into existence,
Who because of us men and because of our salvation came down from the heavens,
and was incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary
and became man,
and was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate,
and suffered and was buried,
and rose again on the third day according to the Scriptures
and ascended to heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father,
and will come again with glory to judge living and dead,
of Whose kingdom there will be no end;
And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and life-giver,
Who proceeds from the Father,
Who with the Father and the Son is together worshiped and together glorified,
Who spoke through the prophets;
in one holy Catholic and apostolic Church.
We confess one baptism for the remission of sins;
We look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen

After presenting his creed to the council, Eusebius said:

“When we presented this faith, there was no opportunity for resistance by anyone. But our emperor, most beloved of God, himself first of all witnessed that this was most orthodox. He agreed that even he himself thought thus, and he ordered all to assent to subscribe to the teachings and to be in harmony with them, although only one word, homoousios, was added.”

The key difference between Eusebius and the Nicene Creed is the inclusion of homoousios or that the Son is of the same nature as the Father. The Arians had no problem with the creed until homoousios was introduced. Ambrose, in his work On the Faith, reproduces a portion of a letter from the Arian Eusebius of Nicomedia (not Caesarea) that was read at the council: “If, indeed, we say that the Son of God is uncreated, then we are beginning to declare that he is homoousios with the Father” (3.15). As a result, homoousios was adopted because it was the one term the Arians could not agree to. It was also broad enough that the non-Arian parties involved at Nicaea could read whatever meaning they wanted into it, thus preserving the unity of the church which was Constantine’s greatest concern.

Arius, in his letter to Alexander of Alexandria, uses language that is similar to the creed when he writes that the Father “begot an only-begotten Son before eternal times. . . . Thus there are three hypostases. . . . the Son begotten timelessly before everything, alone was caused to subsist by the Father.” The Arian Creed of Sirmium in 357 affirms that Christ was “born from him before the ages . . . the Son is born from the Father, God from God, Light from Light, whose generation as Son, as has been said, no one knows except the Father; and that the Son of God himself our Lord and God, as it is said, assumed flesh . . . the Trinity should always be preserved, as we read in the gospel.” The Arians could even call Christ “God” in a qualified sense and use terms like “Trinity” and “three hypostases” which they defined differently from the orthodox while rejecting homoousios.

The incredible irony of Eusebius’ writing of the first version of the creed is that he was a supporter of Arius rather than being an orthodox trinitarian. He held to a subordinationist form of Logos Christology which taught that Christ only existed eternally in the mind of God, but not as a distinct person from him until he was begotten. He also denied the deity of the Holy Spirit. He says concerning the Spirit:

“But only the Son has been honored by the paternal Godhead, that he might be the maker and creator of all the geneta, both visi­ble and invisible, and even of the existence of the Paraclete Spirit. . . . But the Paraclete Spirit is neither God nor Son, since he does not get his origin from the Father like the Son, but is one of the things which came into being through the Son” (Ecclesiastical Theology 3.6.3).

Eusebius says in the letter to his congregation explaining how he could sign the Nicene Creed that the Son did not exist in actuality before he was begotten:

“Since even before he was begotten in actuality, he was in the Father ingenerately in potentiality, since the Father is always the Father.”

He says in his Demonstratio Evangelica:

“Perhaps one might say that the Son originated like a perfume and ray of a light from the Father’s unoriginated nature and ineffable substance infinite ages ago, or rather before all ages, and that once he had come into existence he has eternal being and existence along with the Father. . . . He has his own substance and existence and has not co-existed unoriginatedly with the Father. . . . And anyone would allow that a father exists before a son” (5.1).

“But the Father precedes the Son and has preceded him in existence, inasmuch as he alone is unbegotten. The One, perfect in himself and first in order as Father and the cause of the Son’s existence. . . . Receiving from the Father both his being and the character of his being. . . . Unthinkably brought into being from all time, or rather before all times, by the Father’s transcendent and inconceivable will and power” (4.3).

“He first before all things was made by the Father, as something one in form, the instrument of every existence and nature” (4.4).

“He is the perfect creation of a perfect Creator” (4.2).

“I return to my Lord all thanks . . . For we do not say that the Son was with the Father, but that the Father was before the Son. But the Son of God himself, knowing well that he was greater than all, and knowing that he was other than the Father, and less than and subject to Him, very piously teaches this to us also when he says, ‘The Father who sent me is greater than I’ . . . Since the Son also is himself God, but not true God” (Letter to Bishop Euphration).

The Son is not without beginning like the Father is:

“When you hear the Logos called God by the evangelist, you are not to understand him as intending to imply that the Logos is anarchos and unbegotten like His Father, but that He was in arche” (Ecclesiastical Theology 2.14.3 as cited in G. L. Prestige, God in Patristic Thought, 145).

Eusebius had previously supported Arius and declared his teachings to be biblical. Even after Nicaea, he was present at the Council of Tyre in 335 which exiled Athanasius for teaching that Jesus is God while reinstating Arius (Khaled Anatolios, Retrieving Nicaea, 59). Eusebius only begrudgingly supported the addition of homoousios in the Creed and defined the term differently than the party of Athanasius. Eusebius agreed with the Arians that the Son is not eternally existent as a distinct person from the Father. The Arians believed that because Christ was begotten by the Father (based on their understanding of Proverbs 8:22-25), this made Christ a created being. Athanasius held with Origen that this begetting is an eternal act and therefore there was never a time when he was not.

This means that Eusebius’ statement that Christ was “begotten from the Father before all ages” is not an affirmation of eternal generation (which Eusebius did not believe in), but of Logos Christology where begetting results in Christ’s existence as a person. Eternal generation does not teach that the Son was begotten before all ages, but that this begetting is an eternal necessary continuous act that occurs from everlasting to everlasting in timeless eternity. This terminology was later reinterpreted as teaching eternal generation because of the influence of Athanasius. This may be one reason why “before all ages” was absent from the original Nicene Creed of 325 but present in the Constantinople revision which keeps Eusebius’ original language. By that time, Origen’s concept of eternal generation had become the dominant belief instead of the Logos Christology of the second century Christian apologists because it was better able to answer the objections of Arianism. Logos Christology was the fountain from which Arianism and eternal generation sprang when Origen rejected Logos Christology for being irreconcilable with the immutability of God. Eusebius’ beliefs represent the old guard of Logos Christology with a subordinationist bent before eternal generation became the dominant position in Christianity.

So why isn’t the Eusebian authorship of the Nicene Creed talked about more in books and articles on the Council of Nicaea? I believe the reason for this is because it is an embarrassing historical revelation that calls into question the belief that the Nicene Creed is definitional for what it means to be a Christian when most of the language of the creed about Christ is drawn from a non-trinitarian subordinationist who supported Arius and only signed the Nicene Creed in its final form because of political pressure and the desire to be restored to fellowship with the church after being censured at the Council of Antioch in 325. The Arian Eusebius of Nicomedia by not signing the creed had more integrity than Eusebius of Caesarea. It is homoousios (which Eusebius defined differently than the orthodox), not the begetting language (which the Arians had no problem affirming) that distinguishes trinitarianism from Arianism.

I believe the Arians, the proponents of Logos Christology, and the proponents of eternal generation all misunderstood Proverbs 8:22-25 and the begetting language of Scripture with regard to the Son. Acts 13:33-34, Hebrews 1:4-5, and 5:5-6 interpret Psalm 2:6-7 as being fulfilled in the resurrection and exaltation of Christ, not in an act of begetting before the foundation of the world which potentially compromises the eternal existence of Christ. It is the words of Christ, not Eusebius of Caesarea, which unite all Christians together. His words alone will never pass away (Matt 24:35). I’ll take the Bible any day over the words of a non-trinitarian.

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Sunday Meditation – Pursuing God

“Those who enjoy God are in pursuit of still more. They are always breathing after him, and desire to enjoy more communication with him. The wicked are always running from God and seek refuge away from his company. The whole tendency of our soul towards God is expressed by verbs of motions: running, our earnestness to enjoy God; and seeking, our diligence in the use of means. The great care of our souls is to find God, that he may direct, comfort, strengthen, sanctify, and teach us to sweetly enjoy his grace. If we are to find him, we will find him where he is to be found: in his Word, prayer, and in the assembly of his people. Enjoying fellowship with Christ is the goal of all our effort. To serve God is one thing, but to seek him is another. To serve God is to make him the object of worship, to seek God is to make him the end of worship.”

Thomas Manton

Should Christians Vote for Donald Trump?

There’s a running joke about politics that it’s voting between the lesser of two evils. Except in this year’s presidential election, it’s not a joke any more. Both candidates are morally unqualified for the office they seek and in this article I am going to explain why Christians cannot in good conscience support a demagogue like Donald Trump. He is a modern-day Mussolini who seeks to divide our country by appealing to racial prejudice. He looks up to dictators and praises them for their ruthlessness. In fact, Trump has even quoted approvingly from Mussolini in the past.

He is a habitual liar who cannot be trusted to keep his word. He has a penchant for manufacturing historical events to suit his purpose without providing any evidence for his claims. To give one example, he has said that U. S. Soldiers are guilty of embezzling money intended for reconstructing Iraq on more than one occasion. Christians believe that character matters when it comes to leadership. Trump lacks the integrity to command the highest office in the land. He has twice committed adultery and if he will cheat on and lie to his own wife, what is to prevent him from lying to the rest of the country? Trump represents everything evangelicalism is opposed to. He is a man who is characterized by pride and self-centeredness.

Even though he has released a list of conservative justices that he has said he may appoint to the Supreme Court, we have no way of knowing if he will keep his word. He is on record for saying that Planned Parenthood “has done very good work” for millions of women. If Christians in government are relying on the Supreme Court to put an end to abortion, they will be waiting forever. If we want to stop abortion, then state and local governments should pass laws abolishing all acts of abortion and engage in civil disobedience when the federal government tells them they are violating the law. But Christians are held to a higher law when it comes to the sanctity of life and therefore they must break unjust human laws which shed the blood of innocents (Prov 24:11).

Sunday Meditation – The Joy of the Spirit

“The joy of the Spirit is real fruit: solid, substantial, refreshing, and nourishing. He comforts, revives, strengthens, and establishes the soul. Long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, meekness, etc., are all the fruits of the Spirit, and they are nowhere to be found but in the believer’s heart. Though he takes away all your outward comforts, and makes you as poor and as afflicted as Job, yet being within you, he can bring you effectual peace and comfort. Let him make the cross ever so heavy, empty you from vessel to vessel, cause you to be destitute, afflicted, and tormented; still the Holy Spirit, being within you, can fill your hearts with joy unspeakable and full of glory. ‘Peace I leave with you’, said Christ. The world cannot give peace and joy without removing the cross and the affliction. Christ gives peace in the midst of trouble. The Spirit within us causes us to glory in tribulation, to rejoice under the cross, and to triumph even in death. This is a blessing, which we are sure, God never did or never will deny to any one that asks it of him. ‘Ask and you shall receive’ is his gracious declaration. O seek earnestly, and plead this promise, and you are sure to succeed! God will amply supply the want of all these things, and your hearts shall rejoice, and your joy no man, no devil, can take from you.”

Thomas Charles

Were the Socinians Biblicists?

One the accusations used against biblicists (those who derive Christian doctrine from God’s Word alone) is that they are imitating the Socinians who rejected the deity of Christ while claiming to follow Scripture alone. They argue that because the Socinians were biblicists who did not regard the ecumenical creeds of the early church as authoritative for the church today, modern day biblicism is heading down the same path the Socinians once did. But what is puzzling about this argument is that the Socinians were not biblicists at all, but rationalists who gave lip service to the authority of Scripture while rejecting every doctrine of Scripture which seemed unreasonable to them. While biblicism is a theologically conservative movement, Socinianism is the grandfather of theological liberalism which picks and chooses what it wants to believe. They are at complete opposite ends of the theological spectrum.

True biblicism is the belief that the Bible alone the Word of God written and therefore all human creeds and confessions, regardless of how cherished they are, must be tested by it. Biblicism is simply an attempt to do good theology by testing all things by Scripture (Acts 17:11). While the Socinians rejected what they could not understand, biblicism calls us to accept as true everything revealed to us by God in Scripture, even if we cannot fully understand it. Socinianism makes its own reasoning ability the standard by which every doctrine is to be tested while biblicism makes the Bible alone the standard by which every tradition is to be weighed. One is a system that begins with man while the other begins with God’s Word alone. Socinianism is man-centered while biblicism is God-centered seeking to submit our minds fully to God’s Word. I have written more on the differences between good and bad theology here.

The criterion for distinguishing truth from error in Socinianism is not the Bible, but what they could consider reasonable to believe while claiming to believe in Scripture alone. But there is a world of difference between claiming to believe in Scripture alone versus actually believing in Scripture alone. Not only did the Socinians deny the deity of Christ, they denied his pre-existence as the adoptionists once did. And it’s hard to call someone a biblicist who doesn’t even believe in the pre-existence of Christ and denies that God has exhaustive knowledge of future events. While the Racovian Catechism of Socinianism defends the authenticity, sufficiency, and perspicuity of Scripture, there is nothing in it defending the inerrancy of Scripture. While the first generation of Socinians claimed to believe in the authority of Scripture, the second generation explicitly rejected the inerrancy of Scripture and went so far as to deny the existence of a personal devil. While claiming to be biblicists, the Socinians weren’t biblicist enough.

The biblicism of George Müller looks nothing like the doubtful musing of Faustus Socinus. Was Müller secretly a rationalist in disguise for studying God’s Word alone instead of the writings of fallen man? The Bible is our ultimate authority, not the creeds of the early church which are far from perfect. While the creeds of the early church rightly affirm the doctrine of the Trinity, they also affirm baptismal regeneration, the descent of Christ into hell, the perpetual virginity of Mary, clerical celibacy, praying to Mary and the saints, and the veneration of icons. While we have a high regard for the fathers of the church, we have a higher regard for Scripture.

The reason people argue that biblicism is heading down the same path as Socinianism is because their epistemological starting point for what they want the Bible to teach is being challenged. And it is easier to accuse their opponents of veering down the path toward heresy than actually interacting with their exegesis. It is easier to dismiss a position as unorthodox than studying Scripture alone apart from the tradition of the church to determine whether or not what we believe is actually what the Bible teaches.

If we are going to accept as true the doctrines of our theological tradition based on how long and how many people have believed them, then the Bible had might as well not even exist. If we are just going to use the Bible to find proof texts for what we really want to believe, then we have functionally subordinated the Bible to our tradition. Our tradition then becomes the lens through which the Bible is interpreted rather than interpreting Scripture with Scripture. I am afraid that such an approach to theology is just an excuse to smuggle unbiblical human teachings through the back door that no Christian would ever come to by studying God’s Word alone to discern truth from error.

I’ll let a well-known preacher have the last word:

“Well, then, we go on this principle mark you, that the only appeal is to the Word of God. This is a principle in which every holiest and soundhearted Protestant must agree with us; it is his principle as much as ours, and it is the only principle that will save him from all the errors and superstitions of Romanism. So that, taking the matter into the court of God’s Word only, it signifies very little to us what may have been said by such-and-such a council, or such-and-such a Church, or such-and-such a reverend father: it greatly simplifies the matter when it’s understood that we intend to submit this question to the Word of God, and to the Word of God only. And I say to every Protestant here, that he must accept the principle and act upon it. If he begin to refer to fathers, and churches, and councils, well then let him take care, he may rely upon it that on such a principle he will not be able to stand for one moment. If he thinks with such weapons to vanquish us, let him rest assured that he will very soon be vanquished himself by the same. It may be that the charge from such ordinance shall destroy us, but depend upon it the recoil will destroy the man who has the temerity to fire it. This principle then will be agreed in by every Protestant, excepting those who in these days are beginning to protest Scripture itself, but every sound-hearted, honest-minded Protestant, will go with us in saying that the Word of God is the only tribunal to which we can go” (Sermon No. 381 “Christian Baptism”).

The Document That Destroys Roman Catholicism

The greatest historical example of papal fallibility is seen in the letter of Pope Honorius to Sergius of Constantinople. In it, he affirms monotheletism or the belief that Christ possesses only one will as opposed to dyotheletism or the orthodox belief that Jesus possesses both a human will and a divine will because he is fully God and fully man. Honorius was anathematized as a heretic by the Sixth Ecumenical Council in 681 for saying in his letter that, “We confess one will of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

What many people do not know is that Honorius’ original letter has been preserved for us today. I photocopied the Greek text while at the library of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. It is taken from the second volume of the Enchiridion Fontium Historiae Ecclesiae Antiquae. I have uploaded it here for those who want to see for themselves that a pope taught as doctrine that which was later condemned as heresy. The key phrase is underlined on the second page.

Sunday Meditation – Genuine Faith

“Faith remembers to whom it belongs. God is your supreme Lord. Faith realizes that the honour and applause you get by sin places you under Satan’s dominion, and that all of the world’s pomp cannot satisfy. The world will beget a thousand cares and fears, but cannot quiet any of them. Faith renounces the world’s honour rather than defile its conscience. So, the great host of witnesses stand as trophies of faith (Heb. 11). O might their nobility steal into our hearts! What courage does it put into the soldier to see someone before him run upon the face of death! Faith turns the exploits of former saints into prayer: ‘Where is the Lord God of Abraham, Moses, and those other worthies, who by faith trampled the world’s pomp and glory, subdued temptations, stopped the mouths of lion-like lusts? Is not God also willing to give us the victory? Does not the same blood and spirit run in the veins of all believers? Will they be victorious but I only a slave to corruption? Help me Lord that I also might conquer.’ Faith pleads: ‘O my soul, prove yourself like these holy men by your victory over the world.’ Is your faith a temptation quenching faith? Is it able to defend you in the day of battle, and cover your soul in safety when Satan’s darts fly about you? Go and touch Christ by faith that virtue may flow from him to your soul and quench the fiery darts of temptation.”

William Gurnall