Nicene Creed

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The Nicene Creed or Symbol of the Faith, is the most widespread or ecumenical Christian statement of faith.

Since its original formulation it continues to be used in the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Syrian Orthodox (Jacobite), Oriental Orthodox, Assyrian, Anglican, Lutheran and most other Protestant Churches.


The purpose of a creed is to act as a yardstick of correct belief. A creed is an epitome, not a full definition, of what is required for orthodoxy. It was hoped that by memorizing this summary of the faith, lay people without extensive theological training would still be able to recognize deviations from orthodox doctrines based on the Bible as interpreted in Christian Tradition.

The Nicene Creed, both in its original and revised formulas, is an implicit condemnation of specific errors. Thus, as different variations in Christian belief evolved in the fourth century and were perceived as threats, new phrases were seen to be needed, like amendments to a constitution. As the historical developments of a constitutional society can be traced through amendments to its constitution, the particular theological developments in a religious society show in the successive forms of its written creed.

The original Nicene Creed of 325

The original Nicene Creed was first adopted in 325 at the First Council of Nicaea. At that time, the text ended after the words "We believe in the Holy Spirit", after which an anathema was added.[1]

The Coptic Church has the tradition that the original creed was authored by Saint Athanasius. F.J.A. Hort and Adolf Harnack argued that the Nicene creed was the local creed of Caesarea brought to the council by Eusebius of Caesarea. J.N.D. Kelly sees as its basis a baptismal creed of the Syro-Phoenician family, related to (but not dependent on) the creed cited by Cyril of Jerusalem and to the creed of Eusebius.

Soon after the Council of Nicaea, new formulas of faith were composed, most of them variations of the Nicene Symbol, to counter new phases of Arianism. The Catholic Encyclopedia identifies at least four before the Council of Sardica (341), where a new form was presented and inserted in the Acts of the Council, though it was not agreed on.

The Nicene Creed of 381

The second Ecumenical Council in 381 added the section that follows the words "We believe in the Holy Spirit" (without the words "and the son");[2] hence the name "Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed", referring to the Creed as it was after the modification in Constantinople. This is the received text of the Eastern Orthodox and Greek Catholic Churches,[3] but in the liturgy they use a modified form of it, changing the plural verbs by which the Fathers of the Council collectively professed their faith to the singular of the individual Christian's profession of faith.

The third Ecumenical Council reaffirmed the 381 version, and decreed that "it is unlawful for any man to bring forward, or to write, or to compose a different (ετέραν) Faith as a rival to that established by the holy Fathers assembled with the Holy Ghost in Nicæa."[4] Some have interpreted this as a prohibition against changing this creed or composing others, but not all accept this interpretation.[5]

Greek version

The Creed was originally written in Greek, owing to the location of the two councils. Though the councils' texts have "Πιστεύομεν ... Ομολογούμεν ... προσδοκούμεν}}" (we believe ... confess ... await), the Creed that the Greek Church uses in its liturgy has "Πιστεύω ... Ομολογώ ... προσδοκώ" (I believe ... confess ... await), accentuating the personal nature of recitation of the Creed.

Πιστεύω εις Ένα Θεόν, Πατέρα, Παντοκράτορα, ποιητήν ουρανού και γης, ορατών τε πάντων και αοράτων.
Και εις ενα Κύριον Ιησούν Χριστόν, τον Υιόν του Θεού τον μονογενή, τον εκ του Πατρός γεννηθέντα προ πάντων των αιώνων·
φως εκ φωτός, Θεόν αληθινόν εκ Θεού αληθινού, γεννηθέντα ου ποιηθέντα, ομοούσιον τω Πατρί, δι' ου τα πάντα εγένετο.
Τον δι' ημάς τους ανθρώπους και δια την ημετέραν σωτηρίαν κατελθόντα εκ των ουρανών και σαρκωθέντα
εκ Πνεύματος Αγίου και Μαρίας της Παρθένου και ενανθρωπήσαντα.
Σταυρωθέντα τε υπέρ ημών επί Ποντίου Πιλάτου, και παθόντα και ταφέντα.
Και αναστάντα τη τρίτη ημέρα κατά τας Γραφάς.
Και ανελθόντα εις τους ουρανούς και καθεζόμενον εκ δεξιών του Πατρός.
Και πάλιν ερχόμενον μετά δόξης κρίναι ζώντας και νεκρούς, ου της βασιλείας ουκ έσται τέλος.
Και εις το Πνεύμα το Άγιον, το κύριον, το ζωοποιόν,
το εκ του Πατρός εκπορευόμενον,
το συν Πατρί και Υιώ συμπροσκυνούμενον και συνδοξαζόμενον,
το λαλήσαν δια των προφητών.
Εις μίαν, Αγίαν, Καθολικήν και αποστολικήν εκκλησίαν.
Ομολογώ εν βάπτισμα εις άφεσιν αμαρτιών.
Προσδοκώ ανάστασιν νεκρών.
Και ζωήν του μέλλοντος αιώνος.

The Filioque controversy

Amongst the Latin-speaking churches of Western Europe, the words "and the Son" (the Filioque clause) were added to the description of the procession of the Holy Spirit, in what many have argued is a violation of the Canons of the Third Ecumenical Council. Those words were not included by either the Council of Nicaea or that of Constantinople, and most Eastern Orthodox theologians consider their inclusion to be a heresy. The Anglican Communion's current consensus position is "recommending to the provinces of the Anglican Communion that in future liturgical revisions the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed be printed without the Filioque clause." (1988 Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops, Resolution 6.5)

The phrase "and the son" (Filioque in Latin) was first used in Toledo, Spain in 447 with the purpose of countering the Arian faith of the Visigothic nobility of Spain. The practice spread then to France, a stronghold of Arianism, where it was repudiated at a council held at Gentilly in 767. Emperor Charlemagne called for a council at Aachen in 809 at which Pope Leo III forbade the use of the Filioque clause and ordered that the Nicene creed be engraved on silver tablets so that his conclusion might not be overturned in the future.

The dispute over the Filioque clause was one of the reasons for the East-West Schism. The clause had been adopted in the west, although the Third Ecumenical Council (431) had prohibited to individuals the promulgation of any other creed. The manner of the clause's adoption was therefore controversial and in the 10th century Photius I, the Patriarch of Constantinople, used this clause in his conflict with the Pope. He accused the West of having fallen into heresy and thereby turned the Filioque clause into the doctrinal issue of contention between East and West.

In Rome, the Filioque clause first appeared in 1014 in the coronation liturgy of Emperor Henry II by Pope Benedict VIII and was officially added to the Latin creed in 1274 by the Second Council of Lyon, which effected a short-lived reunion between East and West.

Note that "Filioque" is not the only phrase in the Latin text that is not in the Greek of the Councils: "Deum de Deo" (God from God) is also not found in the Greek. The Armenian text has many more additions, specifying more precisely the belief of the Church.

Modern usage

To the majority of modern Christians, the Nicene Creed is regarded as the quintessential expression of Christian faith. In this traditional belief, all "proper" Christians affirm the Nicene Creed. The Nicene Creed is referred to by Roman Catholics and Orthodox as the "symbol of faith," and its recitation is often part of Christian worship services. In the Catholic Mass, it is also referred to as the "Profession of Faith."

Eastern Orthodoxy

Text used by the Orthodox Church in America[7]

I believe in one God the Father almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten, begotten of the Father before all ages, Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten, not made, of one essence with the Father, by whom all things were made.
Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven and sitteth at the right hand of the Father.
And He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead; of His kingdom there shall be no end.
And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of life, Who proceedeth from the Father, Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, Who spake by the prophets.
In one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church; I confess one baptism for the forgiveness of sins; I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the age to come. Amen.

Text quoted by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America:[8]

I believe in One God, Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible.
And in One Lord, Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages.
Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten, not created, of one essence with the Father, through whom all things were made.
For us and for our salvation He came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became Man.
He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and He suffered and was buried.
On the third day He rose according to the Scriptures.
He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead. His kingdom will have no end.
And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father, who together with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified, who spoke through the prophets.
In one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.
I acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
I expect the resurrection of the dead; and the life of the age to come.



  • A E Burn, The Council of Nicaea (1925);
  • G Forell, Understanding the Nicene Creed (1965)
  • J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Creeds, (1982), ISBN 0-582-49219-X

External links

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