The Nicene Creed is the statement of faith embraced by Catholic, Orthodox, and Coptic Christians around the world.
And with more than a billion people affirming it, the creed is certainly worth understanding.
And the first step in understanding the Creed is to know its four parts.
What are the four parts of the Nicene Creed?
The four parts of the Nicene Creed are the assertions of belief in the God the Father, Jesus the Son, the Holy Spirit, and universal church. Moreover, the creed presents necessary truths to believe about each of its parts. People who affirm the Creed must believe each part.
It is unfortunate that many of the people who recite the Creed do not fully understand what they are saying.
So let’s cover the parts of the Creed to understand what each means and stay away from error.
A Brief Background
The Nicene Creed came out of the First Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D.
The council hosted bishops from both the Latin-speaking West and the Greek-speaking East.
It was formed in order to settle a dispute about the proper understanding of Christ’s divinity.
It was necessary because some Christians argued that belief in Christ’s divinity violated the First Commandment. Others argued that if Jesus was not divine, then his sacrifice was insufficient.
So the Creed was established to finalize these disputes.
What Are the Four Parts of the Nicene Creed? – Belief in God the Father
I believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.
The first part of the Creed affirms the First Commandment and Christian monotheism.
Its second line names God and identifies Him as the Father.
And the third and fourth lines attribute to his creative capacity the existence of all that is.
What Are the Four Parts of the Nicene Creed? – Belief in Jesus the Son
The Nicene Creed was established because of many disputes on the nature of Christ and the understanding of his divinity. It is for this reason that the second part of the Creed is the longest.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the Only Begotten Son of God,
born of the Father before all ages.
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
consubstantial with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
and by the Holy Spirit
was incarnate of the Virgin Mary,
and became man.
First, the second part affirms that only one Jesus exists and that additional Christs would not be forthcoming. It asserts His role as the Son who existed before creation and attributes His existence to Himself.
It proceeds to affirm the position of the Son alongside the Father in the Trinity. And the first half ends with a description of his descent from Heaven onto the earth.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate,
he suffered death and was buried,
and rose again on the third day
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.
The second half of the second part describes the death and resurrection of Christ and affirms the reliability of scriptures. It follows with his current position alongside the Father. And it ends with belief in His future deeds.
What Are the Four Parts of the Nicene Creed? – Belief in the Holy Spirit
And in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father,
who with the Father and the Son
is adored and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.
The third part of the Creed affirms the existence of the Holy Spirit and describes its position in the Trinity. It then proceeds to describe the mechanism by which the Holy Spirit makes God’s desires known on earth.
The spirit has spoken through the prophets, and may do so again. It is for this reason that Christians must not reject the institution of prophethood.
This section has been the source of the largest controversies within Christianity in the years that followed the Creed’s development.
Filioque is a Latin term added ot the original Nicene Creed.
It has been the subject of great dispute between Eastern and Western Christianity. It is not in the original text of the Creed. And it says that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, rather than from the Father alone.
In the sixth century, some Western Churches added the words “and from the Son” (Filioque) to the Creed in order to describe the procession of the Holy Spirit.
Many Eastern Orthodox Christians rejected this. They argued that the western churches had violated canon by altering the Creed.
By 1014, the church in Roma had adopted the Filioque, but the eastern churches had rejected it.
The Filioque is important because it affects the proper understanding of the Trinity.
And this matters because the Trinity is used to construct Christian doctrines.
A faulty understanding of the Trinity will result in faulty doctrines.
The term has been a major source of conflict between Eastern Christianity and Western Christianity. The conflict created by it,a mong certain other things, led to the Great Schism in 1054. And it has served as an obstacle to reunification ever since.
Although some attempt shave been made to resolve the conflict.
the most noteworthy efforts are found in the writings of Maximus the Confessor. And he was canonized by both the eastern and the western churches for his efforts.
Disputes on the Filioque have, alongside papal primacy, been the main sources of schism between the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches.
What Are the Four Parts of the Nicene Creed? – Belief in the Universal Church
The fourth part of the Nicene creed states:
And one, holy, catholic
and apostolic Church.
Here in this statement we are presented with the four marks of the church.
People who affirm the Nicene Creed recognize that the true Christian church can be identified by four things: (1) unity, (2) holiness, (3) catholicity, and (4) apostolicity.
The Church Is One
The church must be unified in some way. Multiple churches which are at odds with one another cannot be the one true church.
Now, different factions have their own understanding of “oneness”.
Roman Catholics believe it means acknowledging the same tradition throughout the entire church and acknowledging the same leader.
Whereas Orthodox Christians believe it means affirming the same belief system. They do not, however, require that this belief be expressed in the same way among all Christians.
And Protestants claim that the church is “spiritual” and that its oneness is made manifest by people calling themselves Christian.
The Church Is Holy
The true church will acknowledge the seven mysteries/sacraments: Baptism, Chrismation, Confession, Holy Communion, Marriage, Ordination, and Unction.
The Church Is Catholic
This does not mean that the Roman Catholic church is the right church.
Catholic is a Greek word that means universal. It takes that meaning in this case.
And the universality of the church means that all Christians must exist within it. To be outside of the universal church is to not be Christian.
An Orthodox view on the name of the Roman Catholic Church:
If you met someone who named himself Winner, would you think that he was a winner?
The Church Is Apostolic
This means two things. The church must be led by the descendants of the apostles, and it must retain their faith.
The Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Coptic Orthodox churches descend from the apostles. Although this does not mean that they all retain the apostolic faith. Each church holds that the others have corrupted it in some way.
The Roman Catholics are accused of fabricating doctrines pertaining to the papacy.
The Eastern Orthodox are accused of rejecting Peter’s apostolic primacy.
And the Coptic Orthodox are accused of twisting Jesus’ divinity.