Continuing in our exploration of the early Christian creeds; specifically the Nicene Creed, let me open this session with a few comments by J.N.D. Kelly about the Nicene Creed. Then, I will reproduce the first line of the Nicene Creed, and then we can examine it with regard to how we can think about its claims from the stance of Christian apologetics.
First Kelly on the Nicene Creed:
Creeds, it would appear, even creeds properly designed for use at baptism, were coming to be employed in detachment from the baptismal services as a means of demonstrating that the man who professed them was above reproach theologically…In the new type of creed the motive of testing orthodoxy was primary: the creeds were deliberately framed with this object in view. The common opinion is that at all events this new and drastic step was first taken at the council of Nicaea.
- J.N.D Kelly, Early Christian Creeds, 207. (emphasis added)
Moreover, speaking to Nicaea’s universality Kelly adds:
The creed of Nicaea was the first formula to be published by an ecumenical synod: consequently it was the first which could claim universal authority in a legal sense.
- Early Christian Creeds, 207.
But, this formula, put together by 318 bishops from around the Roman Empire (to include far-off enclaves like Britain), was not novel in its origin:
It was long ago observed that N [the Nicaea formula] bore a striking resemblance at certain points to creeds of the Syro-Palestinian type. H. Lietzmann followed up this hint, and argued [on Kelly’s view successfully] that the creed underlying N…must have been one belonging to the Jerusalem family. The creeds to which its kinship is most marked are the first of the two quoted by St. Epiphanius, and the one used by St. Cyril of Jerusalem [313-386 AD].
Early Creeds, 227.
In sum, the basis for the 325 Nicene creed is likely very ancient; itself going back to the city of Jerusalem, the epicenter of the original, apostolic proclamation about Jesus. This provides strong evidence that this Creed stood very much in line conceptually with what the Apostles themselves had preached and what was entailed in the pages of Scripture.
That said, let’s look at the first line of this creed:
We believe in one God, the Father, almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible;
What truth claims can we identify in this line that would need to be defended? I will put them in propositional form (i.e. We believe that “x”)__
- We believe that one God exists
- We believe that God has revealed Himself as Father
- We believe that God is all-powerful
- We believe that God made all things that would be considered “heavenly” or “earthly”
- We believe that God made all things that are visible, physical, or empirically measurable, and all things that are not visible, non-physical, or not empirically measurable (i.e. God created the universe and everything in it, or any other thing that may have existed prior to the space-time continuum in which we now exist).
So, what are some arguments that we would need in order to defend each of these claims?
Here we need arguments for God’s existence: the Kalam Cosmological Argument, the Fine-Tuning argument, etc.
Here we need to defend how the Bible actually speak about God. We can make distinctions here that while God is spirit, and in that sense genderless, He nevertheless has chosen to reveal Himself as Father.
Here we need to clarify what we mean by “power.” Can “power” do “all things” or are there limits on what we mean when we talk of God’s power?
4 & 5. Here we would probably want to defend the idea that God is the only uncreated being; God is a se, while all other things are created. Another way of putting this is that God is necessary, while all other things are contingent or derivative. There are debates about this, however, which we can discuss; although they can get pretty technical.
What non-orthodox views do these claims preclude:
Atheism, polytheism, atheistic religions (Buddhism), pantheism, possibly panentheism
We should not refer to God as “Mother” or some other gendered expression (let’s discuss this one maybe; it is an important issue today, I think).
God can do anything that power can do; to claim that God cannot do something that power could do, would be false. This is often an important claim to defend when the Problem of Evil and Suffering is brought up. In the 1950’s and 1960’s there was a movement called “process Theology” which discarded the idea that God is actually all-powerful. It is more detailed than that, but on that alone we would argue against Process Theology. We can discuss this as well.
4-5. God is not created, like other things, so again Naturalism and Pantheism are incompatible with this claim, because God is neither part of nature, nor was God created by something else; otherwise what we are referencing would not be God.
Finally, what sources might we need to draw from to defend these claims;
Philosophy of Religion, with regards to defending God’s existence
Biblical Studies (NT & OT studies), with regards to understanding God as “Father”
Metaphysics, with regard to the question about the kinds of created things that do exist, and how we should think about causality and causal “power.”
So, these are just a few of my reflections. I look forward to engendering some healthy discussion on this first line of the creed.