Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 25

The Nicene Creed~ Part 11

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, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father,

God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through Him, all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
He came down
from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
He became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake, He was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
He suffered death and was buried.
On the third day, He rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and His kingdom will have no end.

AND FOR OUR SALVATION

Here as in other places in the Creed, we find parallel phrases juxtaposed. The first of the pair, for our sake, is mirrored with and for our salvation. The reason for these parallels was a perceived need for increasing specification because of more particular contexts of controversy as the fourth century unfolded. The motive of the incarnation as an act of concern from the part of God toward the human race was a Creedal element of the ancient rule of faith that was designed to offset Gnostic belief in a divine power that stood away from this world. In the Gnostic system, the supreme deity was interested only in liberating souls from a material world that evil and alien power had created. The rule of faith had taught, to the contrary, that the supreme God is, in fact, the Creator of the visible as well as the invisible cosmos, and the sending of the Son of God to earth was for our sake, motivated by love for God’s own creation.

For our salvation, the second clause came about because the Arian crisis had necessitated a deeper clarification of what that motive of God’s advent might entail. What did salvation mean, and how was it affected by the descent of the Son of God? Arian theology tended to see the Son of God as one of the chief angelic powers of God, who had come to serve an educational mission: to give examples and correct teachings to a race that had gone astray. This was a one-sided development of one of the many themes found in the works of Origen in the third century. In the response of the Nicene fathers to the Arian movement, we see a continual focus on the status of the incarnate Word as true God come among humankind. The advent of the deity in the flesh to the human race is not merely seen to be an educational activity. However, there is much reflection on how the teachings of Yeshua were essential.

Consequently, there is a reiterated affirmation that salvation is not affected merely through an example. The incarnate Word is seen to bring a life-giving power back to the human race, which had lost the vital energy of life and immortality that had initially been given to it by the very Logos who made humankind. The Word returns to His own to immortalize and deify fallen humanity.

HE CAME DOWN

The Creedal phrase came down from heaven is solely based on Yeshua’s words in the Gospel of John, describing Himself as the living bread that came down from heaven. Ancient Messianic witness to the incarnation as an act of the saving God is organized around this great verb that is found throughout the scriptural record but mainly organizes the thought of the Johannine Gospel as a grand drama of salvation worked out in the twin axes of epiphanies of the Word’s coming down and ascending on high: His exaltation and return to transcendent glory. In the Greek translation of the Tanakh, the term katabasis (coming down) could signify a rich range of meanings. A katabasis could be that of the mother stooping down to her child (an image used in the psalms and the prophets to describe the compassion of the God of Isra’el) or the vigorous and swift descent to aid a friend against the attacks of a foe. Perhaps the most dynamic meaning of all was to connote the fantastic descent of God to reveal His energy and action among humankind. The coming down was thus a cipher for the great theophanic epiphanies of God in the Tanakh, notably at Sinai and in the pillar of fire that God used to symbolize His presence leading the Isra’eli through the desert. For such reasons, the idea of coming down to His people to save and illuminate was inherent in this weighty biblical phrase. We find it used in the early church as a keynote description of the act of the Word’s incarnation: the typical example, for the Messianics, of God’s self-revelation and His compassionate stooping down to humankind.

The early Fathers are quite clear among themselves, and more or less unanimous, that there is only a movement of salvific [1] energy from above to our side, from God to humankind, never a movement the other way around, such as the ascent of a blessed person to the throne of God. The initiative is entirely that of the divine Savior. This is perhaps one of the most striking differences between the Christology of the ancient church and that of recent times. The coming down of the Word of God into embodiment is described with great reverence among the Fathers as an act of profound compassion on the part of God, an act of humility and endurance, motivated by the desire to save and comfort His people. [2]

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] Having the intent or power to save or redeem. Merriam-Webster Dictionary/

[2] McGuckin, J. A., & Oden, T. C. (Eds.). (2009). We Believe in One Lord Jesus Christ (Vol. 2, pp. 96–97).

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