The Creed: Part III (A continuing Guest series from Joel Gonzaga)
Before continuing into the Creed let's first look at a little bit of the history. What will follow is a very, very condensed summary of an already summarized article. If you have time, you can read the rest article in its entirety here.
The Creed dates back to the early fourth century. This is an era of time when the writings that we know as the Bible were still in the process of being formalized into the list we know today. During this time, there was no such thing as a denomination. Christianity was all under the umbrella of a universal church. Church government was handled by various bishops who oversaw certain regions and cities. Some of these were Constantinople, Rome, Alexandria and Antioch. These bishops claimed succession directly from John, Peter, Paul and other leaders in the New Testament.
Of course, even then there were problems and disagreements. One such disagreement came from a heretic named Arius. Now, before continuing, I want to make it clear that I almost never use the word heretic and I hope that you will not either. The more you learn, the more you can see good ideas, but you also see some bad ones. Sometimes you even realize you've been taught some bad ideas. However, no matter bad an idea might be, it takes quite a bit before I think it should be declared heresy. The H-word is a serious charge, and not to be thrown around carelessly.
Back to Arius: he was a presbyter from Libya. He made the following statement: “If the Father begat the Son, then he who was begotten had a beginning in existence, and from this it follows there was a time when the Son was not.” “Begat” means “created in the same likeness as creator.” So you could say that birds “beget” little baby birds but “create” nests. This may seem trivial, but is implications are important. Following Jesus' claims in the Gospel of John (that is whole different article in itself!), Christians assert that Jesus did not merely have a special relationship with God, but that Jesus was God.
Already, such a claim can be confusing –and that's okay. The idea that Jesus is both “man” and “God” is called the Incarnation. Arius, by implication, was denying the Incarnation. Why? Because if Jesus was created than he could not also be the role of creator, which is a mark of divinity. He might be very close to God, he might have a special relationship with God the Father, but he is very much not God himself. The Church of Latter Day Saints and the Jehovah Witnesses deny the incarnation in similar ways that Arius did.
To settle this dispute, bishops from all over Europe met at what is today called the Council of Nicea. There were quite a few fights about what Arius said. There were also songs. If you could imagine a political debate in which both the republicans and democrats recite poems you get kind of an idea that was going on. Naturally, the fights broke into sides. Athanasius, who wrote one of the greatest books ever on the Incarnation, opposed Arius along with many others. Athanasius and his peers eventually invoked an earlier creed they had heard when they were young. After much addition and modification, this became the Nicene Creed.
It has since been an authoritative statement about who Jesus is and what God Christians believe in.
Hopefully, by now, you've taken some time to memorize a few lines of the Creed. In the next few posts, we go through it line by line and talk about what it means today.