(I have chosen to republish, in a slightly revised form, all six parts of my Nicene Creed series as one post. I think seeing it all together helps with continuity. You can find the individual posts here.)
Ethical monotheism is a late development. I’ve written, elsewhere, about my doubts. One of them being that the connection between morality and religion is new. Sure, obey the gods so the crops will grow or your enemies will fall in battle. But, obey the gods because the gods are the arbiters of righteousness? That’s different. The Hebrews were first, in their raw demand that YHWH act justly. And the Greek Philosophers searched the depths of wisdom and found Theos. He reigns alone.
the Father Almighty
A metaphor, of course. And rough cut of the infinite love and care that God has for creation. I’ve always thought of might as related to war. But might means strength and came into English from the German machen which means “to make.” Enshrined in the creed is this qualifying sentiment: God is like a father with infinite ability and will to create. God has created, is creating, and will create.
maker of Heaven and Earth
God’s will yielded fruit. All that is, whether temporal or eternal was devised by a father with infinite ability and will to create. Nothing is random or without design. Nothing is a waste. All things mean. There is, of course, the fundamentalist sense that God created all things in the blink of an eye, intending them to be now just as they are. But plumbing the depth of the natural world yields the subtlety of God the designer. He is not merely an artificer, nor a factory robot. He is an architect.
and of all things visible and invisible
A restatement of the previous line, to be sure. But the creed, written to summarize the Faith in a few of words as possible, isn’t needlessly redundant. God is the maker of all that we know, and most certainly of all that we don’t know. Of all things that were, are, or will be. World without end.
And we believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds;
If Jesus is Lord then Caesar is not. The rulers of this world have been toppled by the Jewish messiah, the King who came. And he is the only begotten son of the Father. There are many sons and daughters by adoption. Many orphans who have been gathered in. But only he is begotten. Begotten prior to time. And space. And language. Beyond comprehension.
God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father,
As I bear my parents’ DNA, so does Jesus bear the Divine DNA of the Father. But he does so truly and perfectly. The creed, so sparse with words, so careful about the included lines, repeats itself six times. Just to be clear. The man Jesus is God. Arius, after all, was in the room.
by whom all things were made.
This Son of the Father was integral to creation. Indeed, creation inheres in Jesus. As does the ongoing breathing of all things.
Who, for us people for our salvation, came down from heaven,
The impulse is to make it about us, you know? That old narcissistic soteriology. Unless, of course, our salvation is about more than us. Unless our salvation is more about restoring all things. Making new all that is fallen. But it’s his kenosis that we love.
and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man;
The crux of the claim, of course: Jesus son of Joseph, born of woman, is also God. From eternity. But God is particular and specific. And, understanding ethos, must understand the human condition. Jesus became man. And he now he knows.
and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried;
Crucified for us? Yes. To satisfy our bloodlust. Our hunger and thirst for vengeance. He suffered and died because our proclivity toward violence demanded it. And when our rage was spent, he entered the tomb. And we underwent catharsis.
and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures;
Death will not have the final victory. But, don’t you know, there was dirt under his fingernails still? The (re)newed body. The whole Israel. The new Human One. His humanity was the bait and his divinity the hook. As once he commanded his friend, so now he commanded himself: remove the death shroud and walk into life. His soul has not been abandoned to Sheol.
and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father;
The elevation, here. The fulfillment of the Incarnation. For humanity, in perfect tandem with divinity, is crowned with glory everlasting. At the Father’s right hand, the co-ruler of all things. His resumption of his place after his sojourn in flesh has brought flesh into perfection. The relationship is now renewed. Shalom shall reign.
and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead;
Judgment not as we understand it. Judgment as in justice as in the great restoration–the final reconciliation. In him all things hold together, and he has made the final peace. His judgment is the judgment of Heaven crashing into earth. The judgment against Sin, Death, and Satan. The judgment against a dehumanizing way of life. The judgment of resurrection for all, both the dead and the living.
whose kingdom shall have no end.
And this judgment shall be in force in the everlasting Kingdom over which he shall reign. Evil only exists because the law of the King is not in force. Upon his return, his law of Love will reign over all things. And he shall be our light, for darkness will be banished. And he will be our life, for Death will be cast into the sea.
And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
He indwells all of us, you know? The animating breath of creation. We would yet be dust without his intervention, his interruption of nature. He is closer to your soul than your breath is to your lungs.
who proceeds from the Father and the Son;
I don’t comprehend the controversy, but he is the Love between YHWH and Jesus. And he draws us into the creation dance, swirling around our senses and tickling our minds.
with the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified;
The Holy Spirit is not a messenger from God, nor is he reducible to human conscience. He is fully God. The central picture of the beatific vision is the Trinity–love poured out in perfection.
He has spoken by the Prophets.
It is noteworthy that the creed highlights the prophets while ignoring the histories and the Pentateuch. The central place of revelation in the Hebrew scriptures is the prophets. His central message to all hearts is to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.
And we believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
The Church, in grief, is split into various institutional unities, but she is, by the grace of God, one in the Spirit. Her sacraments derive from one source, her ministers descend from one order, and her members are the body incorporate. She is holy–set apart for the work of God. She is catholic, existing everywhere and in all places. And she is apostolic; she is historically continuous and descended from the first emissaries of our Lord.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
If the Church is one, then there is only one baptism. The creed, sparse as it is, stresses the singularity of this sacrament. Baptism–death in the watery grave and resurrection into Christ–is the beginning of hope. It is the crux of Christian conversion.
We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.
The Kingdom is here and yet coming. The creed acknowledges the eschatalogical hope–that Death will start working backwards. The sea and Hell will yield forth their dead, and the Spirit of God will immanate all people. Justice and Peace will reign on the earth, and all humans will fully embody their humanity. At the last, the trinitarian work of redemption will be complete.