In my recent survey of early Christian writings a recurring theme has emerged from the early church: the question of authority. Who holds claim to the true theology? What does it mean to be a heretic? Which are the authoritative gospels? As time went on, there became a desperate need to institutionalize the new faith via a statement of orthodoxy.
Apparently, the last straw was a dispute between a priest of Alexandria named Arius who had an argument with Pope Alexander of Alexandria regarding the true divinity of “the son” versus “the father.” In 325, a council was convened at Nicaea (present-day Iznik in northwestern Turkey) to establish certain orthodoxies for the faith. Roman Emperor Constantine invited all of the Christian bishops (about 1,000 in the East and 800 in the West), but a much smaller group attended, perhaps a few hundred men, including familiar names like Eusebius, Athanasius, and Jerome.
A universal creed was developed for all Christendom (an ‘ecumenical’ creed -a word coming from the Greek meaning “inhabited of the whole world”). The creed became known in Latin as Symbolum Nicaenum. A handful of decades later in 381, another council at Constantinople was convened to edit and revise the creed. It has been variously edited and revised over the centuries, but in all it has remained fairly consistent to the original message.
Being raised in the Catholic tradition, here is the Nicene Creed I recall hearing in church (the modern English translation that was adopted in the United States during the 1970s, after the death of Latin masses and prayers):
We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.