The Nicene Creed, Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed or Icon/Symbol of the Faith, is an ecumenical Christian statement of faith accepted in the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, Oriental Orthodoxy, the Assyrian, the Anglican Communion, Lutheranism, the Reformed churches, Methodism, and many other forms of Protestantism.
There are several designations for the two forms of the Nicene creed, some with overlapping meanings:
In musical settings, particularly when singing in Latin, this Creed is usually referred to by its first word, Credo.
The purpose of a creed is to act as a yardstick of correct belief. A creed is an epitome, not a full definition, of what is required for orthodoxy. It was hoped that by memorizing this summary of the faith, lay people without extensive theological training would still be able to recognize deviations from orthodox doctrines based on the Bible as interpreted in Christian Tradition.
The Nicene Creed, both in its original and revised formulas, is an implicit condemnation of specific beliefs as errors. Thus, as different variations in Christian belief evolved in the fourth century and were perceived as threats, new phrases were seen to be needed, like amendments to a constitution. As the historical developments of a constitutional society can be traced through amendments to its constitution, the particular theological developments in a religious society show in the successive forms of its written creed.
The Coptic Church has the tradition that the original creed was authored by Pope Athanasius I of Alexandria. F. J. A. Hort and Adolf Harnack argued that the Nicene creed was the local creed of Caesarea brought to the council by Eusebius of Caesarea. J.N.D. Kelly sees as its basis a baptismal creed of the Syro-Phoenician family, related to (but not dependent on) the creed cited by Cyril of Jerusalem and to the creed of Eusebius.
Soon after the Council of Nicaea, new formulas of faith were composed, most of them variations of the Nicene Symbol, to counter new phases of Arianism. The Catholic Encyclopedia identifies at least four before the Council of Sardica (341), where a new form was presented and inserted in the Acts of the Council, though it was not agreed on.
The second Ecumenical Council in 381 added the section that follows the words "We believe in the Holy Spirit" (without the words "and the son"); hence the name "Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed," referring to the Creed as it was after the modification in Constantinople. This is the received text of the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches but in the liturgy they use a modified form of it, changing the plural verbs by which the Fathers of the Council collectively professed their faith to the singular of the individual Christian's profession of faith.
The third Ecumenical Council reaffirmed the 381 version, and decreed that "it is unlawful for any man to bring forward, or to write, or to compose a different (ἑτέραν) Faith as a rival to that established by the holy Fathers assembled with the Holy Ghost in Nicæa." Some have interpreted this as a prohibition against changing this creed or composing others, but not all accept this interpretation.
The following table displays side by side the earlier (325) and later (381) forms of this Creed in the English translation given in Schaff's "Creeds of Christendom,"  which indicates by brackets the portions of the 325 text that were omitted or moved in 381, but uses no typographical mark to indicate what phrases, absent in the 325 text, were added in 381.
|First Council of Nicea (325)||First Council of Constantinople (381)|
|We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible.||We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.|
|And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father [the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God], Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father;||And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds (æons), Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father;|
|by whom all things were made [both in heaven and on earth];||by whom all things were made;|
|who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man;||who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man;|
|he suffered, and the third day he rose again, ascended into heaven;||he was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered, and was buried, and the third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father;|
|from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.||from thence he shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead;|
|whose kingdom shall have no end.|
|And in the Holy Ghost.||And in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father, who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified, who spake by the prophets. In one holy catholic and apostolic Church; we acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.|
|[But those who say: 'There was a time when he was not;' and 'He was not before he was made;' and 'He was made out of nothing,' or 'He is of another substance' or 'essence,' or 'The Son of God is created,' or 'changeable,' or 'alterable'—they are condemned by the holy catholic and apostolic Church.]|
The following table presents in the same way the texts of the two Councils, as given in the original Greek language on the Web site Symbolum Nicaeno-Constantinopolitanum - Greek:
|First Council of Nicea (325)||First Council of Constantinople (381)|
|Πιστεύομεν εἰς ἕνα Θεὸν Πατέρα παντοκράτορα, πάντων ὁρατῶν τε και ἀοράτων ποιητήν.||Πιστεύομεν εἰς ἕνα Θεὸν Πατέρα παντοκράτορα, ποιητὴν οὐρανοῦ καὶ γῆς, ὁρατῶν τε πάντων και ἀοράτων.|
|Πιστεύομεν εἰς ἕνα κύριον Ἰησοῦν Χριστόν, τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ θεοῦ, γεννηθέντα ἐκ τοῦ πατρὸς μονογενῆ, τουτέστιν ἐκ τῆς ουσίας τοῦ πατρός, θεὸν εκ θεοῦ ἀληθινου, γεννηθέντα, οὐ ποιηθέντα, ὁμοούσιον τῳ πατρί||Και εἰς ἕνα κύριον Ἰησοῦν Χριστόν, τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ θεοῦ τὸν μονογενῆ, τὸν ἐκ τοῦ πατρὸς γεννηθέντα πρὸ πάντων τῶν αἰώνων, φῶς ἐκ φωτός, θεὸν ἀληθινὸν ἐκ θεοῦ ἀληθινοῦ, γεννηθέντα οὐ ποιηθέντα, ὁμοούσιον τῷ πατρί•|
|δι' οὗ τὰ πάντα ἐγένετο, τά τε ἐν τῳ ούρανῳ καὶ τὰ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς||δι' οὗ τὰ πάντα ἐγένετο•|
|τὸν δι' ἡμᾶς τοὺς ἀνθρώπους καὶ διὰ τὴν ἡμετέραν σωτηρίαν κατελθόντα καὶ σαρκωθέντα και ενανθρωπήσαντα,||τὸν δι' ἡμᾶς τοὺς ἀνθρώπους καὶ διὰ τὴν ἡμετέραν σωτηρίαν κατελθόντα ἐκ τῶν οὐρανῶν καὶ σαρκωθέντα ἐκ πνεύματος ἁγίου καὶ Μαρίας τῆς παρθένου καὶ ἐνανθρωπήσαντα,|
|παθόντα, καὶ ἀναστάντα τῇ τριτῇ ἡμέρᾳ, καὶ ἀνελθόντα εἰς τοὺς οὐρανούς,||
σταυρωθέντα τε ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν ἐπὶ Ποντίου Πιλάτου, καὶ παθόντα καὶ ταφέντα, καὶ ἀναστάντα τῇ τρίτῃ ἡμέρα κατὰ τὰς γραφάς, καὶ ἀνελθόντα εἰς τοὺς οὐρανοὺς, καὶ καθεζόμενον ἐκ δεξιῶν τοῦ πατρός
|καὶ ἐρχόμενον κρῖναι ζῶντας καὶ νεκρούς.||καὶ πάλιν ἐρχόμενον μετὰ δόξης κρῖναι ζῶντας καὶ νεκρούς•|
|οὗ τῆς βασιλείας οὐκ ἔσται τέλος.|
|Καὶ εἰς τὸ Ἅγιον Πνεῦμα.||Καὶ εἰς τὸ Πνεῦμα τὸ Ἅγιον, τὸ κύριον, (καὶ) τὸ ζωοποιόν, τὸ ἐκ τοῦ πατρὸς ἐκπορευόμενον, τὸ σὺν πατρὶ καὶ υἱῷ συμπροσκυνούμενον καὶ συνδοξαζόμενον, τὸ λαλῆσαν διὰ τῶν προφητῶν. εἰς μίαν, ἁγίαν, καθολικὴν καὶ ἀποστολικὴν ἐκκλησίαν• ὁμολογοῦμεν ἓν βάπτισμα εἰς ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν• προσδοκοῦμεν ἀνάστασιν νεκρῶν, καὶ ζωὴν τοῦ μέλλοντος αἰῶνος. Ἀμήν.|
|Τοὺς δὲ λέγοντας, ὁτι ἦν ποτε ὅτε οὐκ ἦν, καὶ πρὶν γεννηθῆναι οὐκ ἦν, καὶ ὅτι ἐξ οὐκ ὄντων ἐγένετο, ἢ ἐξ ἑτέρας ὑποστάσεως ἢ οὐσίας φάσκοντας εἶναι, [ἢ κτιστόν,] τρεπτὸν ἢ ἀλλοιωτὸν τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ θεοῦ, [τούτους] ἀναθεματίζει ἡ καθολικὴ [καὶ ἀποστολικὴ] ἐκκλησία.|
Amongst the Latin-speaking churches of Western Europe, the words "and the Son" (the Filioque clause) were added to the description of the procession of the Holy Spirit, in what many have argued is a violation of the Canons of the Third Ecumenical Council. Those words were not included by either the Council of Nicaea or that of Constantinople, and most Eastern Orthodox theologians consider their inclusion to be a heresy. The Anglican Communion's current consensus position is "recommending to the provinces of the Anglican Communion that in future liturgical revisions the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed be printed without the Filioque clause." (1988 Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops, Resolution 6.5)
The phrase "and the son" (Filioque in Latin) was first used in Toledo, Spain in 447 with the purpose of countering the Arian Christian faith of the Visigothic nobility of Spain. The practice spread then to France, a stronghold of Arianism, where it was repudiated at a council held at Gentilly in 767. Emperor Charlemagne called for a council at Aachen in 809 at which Pope Leo III forbade the use of the Filioque clause and ordered that the Nicene creed be engraved on silver tablets so that his conclusion might not be overturned in the future.
The dispute over the Filioque clause was one of the reasons for the East-West Schism. The clause had been adopted in the West, although the Third Ecumenical Council (431) had prohibited to individuals the promulgation of any other creed. The manner of the clause's adoption was therefore controversial and in the tenth century Photius, the Patriarch of Constantinople, used this clause in his conflict with the Pope. He accused the West of having fallen into heresy and thereby turned the Filioque clause into the doctrinal issue of contention between East and West.
In Rome, the Filioque clause first appeared in 1014 in the coronation liturgy of Emperor Henry II by Pope Benedict VIII and was officially added to the Latin creed in 1274 by the Second Council of Lyon, which effected a short-lived reunion between East and West.
Note that "Filioque" is not the only phrase in the Latin text that is not in the Greek of the Councils: "Deum de Deo" (God from God) is also not found in the Greek. The Armenian text (see below) has many more additions, specifying more precisely the belief of the Church.
The Nicene Creed has been regarded as a touchstone of true Christian faith, though not a complete expression of it. When the word "symbol" meant a "token for identification (by comparison with a counterpart)," the Nicene Creed was given, in Greek and Latin, the name "symbol of faith," a name still used even in languages in which "symbol" no longer has that meaning.
Groups such as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, The Church of the New Jerusalem and Jehovah's Witnesses, while accepting the Christian Scriptures, reject the Nicene Creed as false. They identify themselves emphatically as Christians, an identification strongly contested by most others. This clash over what constitutes Christianity or a Christian has in some countries, such as the United States, led to litigation with charges and counter-charges over theological issues relating to the definition of "Christian," and allegations as wide-ranging as slander, perjury, discrimination, and breach of contract.
While not necessarily rejecting the Nicene Creed as erroneous, some evangelical Christians, on the basis of their sola scriptura view, consider it as in no way authoritative, since it is not part of the Bible.
These do not recite the Nicene Creed in their services. In the Roman Rite Mass (liturgy) the "profession of faith" is made by using either this Creed or the Apostles' Creed (the Roman Missal includes the latter in the name "symbol of faith"). In the liturgies of the ancient Churches of Eastern Christianity (Eastern Orthodox Church, Oriental Orthodox Church, Assyrian Church of the East) and the Eastern Catholic Churches, the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed is used, never the Apostles' Creed.
The Creed was originally written in Greek, owing to the location of the two councils. Though the councils' texts have "Πιστεύομεν … ὁμολογοῦμεν … προσδοκοῦμεν" (we believe … confess … await), the Creed that the Churches of Byzantine tradition use in their liturgy has "Πιστεύω … ὁμολογῶ … προσδοκῶ" (I believe … confess … await), accentuating the personal nature of recitation of the Creed.
Most modern scholarly opinion believes that μονογενή means "only" or "unique" coming from μονο — "mono" meaning "only" and γενή coming from γενος "genus" meaning kind - "only one of its kind," thus the translation "only Son" in the above modern translation of the creed. One possible mistake at this point is to translate "genus" according to its Latin meaning. In Greek, however, "genos" (γένος) may mean offspring, a limited or extended family, a clan, a tribe, a people, a biological entity (e.g., all the birds), or indeed any group of beings sharing a common ancestry. Therefore its meaning can vary from the very narrow to the very broad. A telling example of Greek usage of the word "genos" would be "Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, to genos Bouvier" (i.e., née Bouvier).
Older English translations as well as the Latin contain "only-begotten," "unigenitum" on the belief that γενή comes from the word for γενναω "born." On the other hand Old Latin manuscripts of the New Testament translate μονογενή as "unicus," "unique." No doubt debate will continue as to the author's intentions both in the New Testament, as well as the separate issue of the intended meaning in the creeds. It may be noteworthy that "only-begotten" is currently deemed an acceptable translation into English within Orthodox Christian jurisdictions that routinely use liturgical Greek.
A considerable part of this confusion is due to the similarity of the key Greek verbs "gennao" and "gignomai."
"Γεννάω" (gennao) means "to give birth" and refers to the male parent. The female equivalent is "τίκτω" (tikto), from which derive the obstetric terms "tokos', labor, and "toketos," delivery, and words such as "Theo-tokos," Mother of God, and the proparoxytone "prototokos," firstborn, as opposed to the paroxytone "prototokos," primipara (one giving birth for the first time).
Γίγνομαι (gignomai) means "to come into existence."
The etymological roots of the two verbs are, respectively, "genn-" and "gen-," and therefore the derivatives of these two verbs exhibit significant auditory and semantic overlap.
Auditorily speaking, while the ancient Greeks pronounced double consonants differently from single ones (example: the double N was pronounced as in the English word "unknown"), by Roman times this had become the same as pronunciation of single consonants (example: the double N was then pronounced as in the English word "penny").
Semantically speaking, the Greek word for "parent" can derive both from "gennao" (γεννήτωρ, gennetor, strictly applicable only to the male parent) and from "gignomai" (γονεύς, goneus, which applies to both parents). In ancient and modern Greek usage however, the word "monogenes" invariably refers to a son without other brothers, or a daughter without other sisters, or a child without other siblings. In this context, both "only-begotten" and "only one of its kind" are equally valid translations.
Furthermore, the word "monogennetos" (a father's only son) and "monotokos" (a mother's only child) do not exist, while "monotokos" means a female who can only have one offspring at a time. Of course any -tokos derivative would be out of the question in this case, as the Nicene Creed seeks to clarify the parentage of God the Son in relation to God the Father.
The Greek word ὁμοούσιον indicates that the Father and the Son are "consubstantial," i.e. of the same substance, essence or being, because the Son is begotten of the Father’s own being (ἐκ τῆς οὐσίας τοῦ πατρός)
The Latin text adds "Deum de Deo" and "Filioque" to the Greek. On the latter see The Filioque Controversy above. Inevitably also, the overtones of the terms used, such as παντοκράτορα, pantokratora and omnipotentem differ ("pantokratora" meaning "Ruler of all"; "omnipotentem" meaning omnipotent, Almighty). The implications of this for the interpretation of ἐκπορευόμενον and qui … procedit was the object of the study The Greek and the Latin Traditions regarding the Procession of the Holy Spirit published by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity in 1996. Again, the terms ὁμοούσιον and consubstantialem, translated as "of one being" or "consubstantial," have different overtones, being based respectively on Greek οὐσία (stable being, immutable reality, substance, essence, true nature), and Latin substantia (that of which a thing consists, the being, essence, contents, material, substance). 
"Credo," which in classical Latin is used with the accusative case of the thing held to be true (and with the dative of the person to whom credence is given), is here used three times with the preposition "in," a literal translation of the Greek "εἰς" (in unum Deum …, in unum Dominum …, in Spiritum Sanctum …), and once in the classical preposition-less construction (unam, sanctam, catholicam et apostolicam Ecclesiam).
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