Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 21

 The Nicene Creed~ Part 7

In our last post, we continued to explore the Nicene Creed. This post digs a little deeper into the actual articles of faith in the Nicene Creed.

 We Believe in One Lord Yeshua Christ, the only Son of God

This phrase is essentially the same as the Apostle’s Creed, so I will not elaborate on it again. Where the Nicene Creed differs is a more elaborate description of Yeshua before mentioning His birth to Miryam.

ETERNALLY BEGOTTEN OF THE FATHER

The question of the divine status of the Son of God was couched, from the mid-third century onwards, in the question of the eternity of the Son-Logos. Origen had expressed the view that the Son-Logos shared in the eternity of God the Father, even if the Logos proceeded from the Father’s own being in a logical relation of priority and succession (Father and Son). In the early decades of the fourth century, this theological problem had become acute in the school of Lucian, an early Believer teacher, and martyr, who taught Arius. How could the Logos be eternal if He came as a second from God the Father?

 Arius was to press the logic of this strongly in the first quarter of the fourth century, so as to insist on the single absolute transcendence of the Father, with the Logos of God envisaged as emanating from Him as a quasi-divine being, not a divinity in the same sense as God; more, as it were, an honorary deity, an angelic and lofty being held in intimate closeness to God because of the unswerving probity of his devotion. For the ease of teaching this complex view to his parishioners, Arius coined the phrase “There was when he [the Logos] was not.” This was the birth of the Arian crisis – the affirmation that the Son was not an eternal being.

The Nicene party, led by Alexander and Athanasius, countered with the position that there can be no such thing as an honorary deity. And if the Son of God was not eternal, then He was clearly part of the ranks of creatures. But if he was divine, then it followed of necessity that the Son was eternal and born from the Father “before all ages.” The latter phrase, in particular, meant born “before the creation, and that passage of time that marks the unfolding of the creation.” It was theological shorthand for an affirmation that the Son-Logos was the agent of the creation itself. Athanasius deftly altered the Arian slogans he found on the walls of his city, adding a critical amendment of “never,” so as to make them read: “There was never a time when he [the Logos] was not.” The Fathers at the Council of Nicaea lay great stress on this creedal clause “begotten before the ages.” It graphically sums up the Pauline and Johannine doctrine that the eternal Son of God was the Father’s agent of creation; not part of the ranks of creatures but the Lord who created the ranks of creatures in the predetermined plan of his Father’s mercy.

 GOD FROM GOD

The creedal affirmation of the belief that the Son was God from God is an element that predates the Nicene controversy and once more stands as a synopsis of the generic Brit Hadashah confession of the divine status of the Son, as the Word of God sent from the Father’s side. It reflects the scriptural sense of the divinity of Yeshua as marked in such passages as John 1:1–2, John 1:18, John 8:42, John 20:28, 1 Timothy 3:16, Colossians 2:9, and elsewhere. This notion of the deity of the Son is not spelled out in great detail. In the Brit Hadashah passages where it occurs, the sense is primarily related to the notion of the divine power and honor that the Son enjoys as the heavenly apostle of the divine Father. But the Kehilla was deeply rooted in the prophetic Scriptures, and the Christian communities shared the sensitivity of the synagogue in late antiquity, that Godhead was not a title to be loosely bandied about in the manner of the Gentiles, with their many lords and gods.

The Word, though God, is not God in the same way as the Father is God. That affirmation sometimes led to the confusion of some theologians who deduced that the Word was not God “at the same level” as God is God. It would take the Arian crisis of the fourth century to bring out a phalanx of theologians of high caliber such as Athanasius and the Cappadocian fathers, Gregory of Nazianzus, Basil of Caesarea, and Gregory of Nyssa, who would turn their minds to the clarification of this issue. Highly conscious that the notion of divinity is an absolute one (if one is a monotheist) and that deity admits no degree, they set out to clarify the issue of the Son’s divinity with a newfound precision and force.[1]

In my next post, we continue to dig into the second article of the Nicene Creed: We Believe in One Lord Yeshua Christ.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] McGuckin, J. A., & Oden, T. C. (Eds.). (2009). We Believe in One Lord Jesus Christ (Vol. 2, pp. 42–43).

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