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Nicene Creed: The Nicene Creed (Part II)

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Feb. 08, 2012

The fundamental question to be considered by the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. dealt with who Jesus Christ was, substantially speaking—was He of a divine essence, or a created essence.  The debate centered around two Greek words which looked very similar, yet the difference between them stood to capsize the Church’s theology.

In fact, the whole debate factored around one letter that separated the two words—introducing that one, pesky iota (the Greek letter ‘i’).  Was Jesus Christ the same as God the Father or just similar?  In the Greek language the word for ‘of the same substance’ was homoousia.  The word for ‘of a similar substance’ was homoiousia.  If Jesus Christ was God, He naturally had to be of the same substance: homoousia.  If,  however, He was only a really neat semi-godlike creature, then He only shared certain things with God, but was not Himself totally divine: homoiousia.

At both the insistence of the orthodox Church Fathers and the Emperor Constantine, himself (who made unprecedented appearances in this Council), the substance of Jesus Christ was rightly concluded to be the same as the Father.  Once and for all the divinity of Christ was attested to by applying the term homoousia to describe His essence, or substance.  As a consequence, to alleviate the confusion that the controversy had made to the Church’s Faithful, the Council formulated a solemn confession of faith which would clearly use the Apostle’s Creed as a starting point and expound, namely on the second article.  The new creed was meant to emphatically denounce Arianism, to debunk any notion that Jesus Christ was either a creature or did not share the substance of the Father.  The result:

We believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible;
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten from the Father,  only-begotten, that is, from the substance of the Father, God from God,  light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, of one substance (homoousia) with the Father, through Whom all things came into being, things in heaven and things on earth, Who because of us men and because of our salvation came down and became incarnate, becoming man,  suffered and rose again on the third day, ascended to the heavens, and will come to judge the living and the dead;
And in the Holy Spirit. 

The result, as one can see is not the Nicene Creed that we know today.  That is because, unfortunately, this meeting in 325 A.D. did not conclude the controversy. In just over five decades later in 381 A.D. the Church would be called together yet again to reformulate the Creed.

***It is worth noting that the full flavor of ‘homoousia’ is translated in the current English version of the Creed with the word ‘consubstantial.’***