Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 26

The Nicene Creed~ Part 12

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.

FROM HEAVEN

The Gospel lies behind the following clause of the Creed when it says: No one has gone up to heaven except the one who came down from heaven; the Son of man who is in heaven. ~ John 3:13 (NKJV) Messianic reflection tended to begin from this point and move downwards. The heavenly Son of Man descends to the earth and manifests as the suffering Son of Man on this earth. It is remarkable from the earliest known iterations of the Creed how the same subject reference is used throughout all the Messianic statements. The heavenly Son is described as the same subject as the earthly Savior; no distinction between the two states is made concerning the one person. In the earliest centuries of the church, that personal unity was often taken for granted. The context of argument supplied by the Gnostics had made it imperative for the catholic pre-Nicene theologians to insist that the Son of God was a Mediator and Savior from the very throne of God. It was no alien God that had made the material world or who had appeared within it as a savior, but, on the contrary, it was the Logos-maker who came down to that very creation he had once fashioned.

As the fourth century dawned, however, confusion began to rise about the relation of the heavenly Son of God to Yeshua of Nazareth. Some speculations of Origen had partly caused it, roughly sketched out as they were in those early years of the third century, that tended to speak of the Logos-Sophia uniting with the preexistent Soul Yeshua, one of the original spiritual creation that so united itself in love to the divine Word that it offered itself as the soul-medium of the immaterial Logos presence on earth. He meant Origen’s theory of the intermediating Soul Yeshua as a mode of the personal unity of the incarnate Lord. However, if pressed by complex logic, the theory could suggest to critics that the Logos and Yeshua were two distinct persons. The Nicene fathers, therefore, used this Creedal clause to reaffirm the total weight of the ancient rule of faith’s intentionality in using a single subject in all the Messianic clauses: that the heavenly Son of God was none other than Yeshua of Nazareth and that all the deeds and acts of the earthly Savior were deeds and acts of the Word. Throughout the fourth century, and indeed for long after, the ramifications of that central statement had to be elaborated and explained with greater precision and sensitivity; nevertheless, the confession that the Heavenly Son and the earthly Messiah were the same person was the significant contribution of the Nicene Creed, and to it, the fifth-century theologians, such as Cyril of Alexandria, keep returning, to insist that no Messianic nuance should ever lose sight of that belief.

BY THE POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

Just as flesh signified the sin and fragility of humanity in Biblical Literature, so did Ruach signify the power and energy of God. The attribution of distinct hypostatic identity of the Ruach, as not simply a cipher for divine power and presence but a specific and focused person of the Trinity, was a theology that was clarified only after the tremendous Messianic crisis. It can be said that in the history of Messianic thought, the personal subsistence of the Ruach as a distinct member of the Trinity is something that grows out of the reflection on the significance of the divine person of Yeshua. It might be more accurate to say that the two trajectories grew up alongside one another.

The greatest theologians who formulated the early doctrine of the Deity of Yeshua were always the very ones who were also its chief interpreters of the glory of the Ruach. Nowhere is this more evident than in Athanasius, Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nazianzus, Cyril of Alexandria, Maximus the Confessor, and John of Damascus. These were the most outstanding protagonists of patristic Pneumatology [1] and were, as well, the leading pillars of the Nicene Creed.

The Creed here refers to the dynamic of incarnation to the agency of the Ruach and the Virgin Mary. The Ruach thus initiates the flesh in a way that flies in the face of all Gnostic suppositions that tended to suggest that the Ruach was hostile to or opposite to the flesh. Behind the Creedal phrase lies the Lukan text of what the angel Gabriel explained to the Virgin about her overshadowing by the divine power. This image recalled the great drama of Genesis 1:2 and thereby suggested the incarnation was the Ruach’s renewing of the creation, where it is said, and thus the child shall be holy. In almost all patristic literature, the Ruach is associated with the divine energy of sanctification. In the course of the Monarchian disputes of the second and third centuries (Paul of Samosata was an example) and then again in the fourth-century Arian crisis, some theologians had approached Yeshua’s godly power and His status as a godly witness in terms of his election by the divine Ruach. If the Lord was holy, it was seen to be a result of his special inspiration by the Ruach for this school. The Nicene patristic witness is clear and persuasive in response to this. The Lord is Himself the giver of the Ruach and cannot be understood as simply one more of the line of ancient prophets. The Ruach indeed anointed Him with grace, but that is to be understood as the anointing of His humble humanity, in which He was a model vessel of the Ruach, though all that the Lord did was in the unity of the Trinity. Yeshua’s possession of the divine Ruach is the quintessential sign that He is the Father’s own Word, in the unity of the Trinity where all possess one another in love and energy. The incarnate Lord’s gift of the Ruach to the world, through the power of the incarnation, is described by Cyril of Alexandria as no less than the regeneration of the human race.[2]

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

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] The branch of Messianic theology concerned with the Ruach.

[2] McGuckin, J. A., & Oden, T. C. (Eds.). (2009). We Believe in One Lord Jesus Christ (Vol. 2, pp. 114–115).

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