I BELIEVE IN ONE GOD
Christians, like Jews and Muslims, believe that only one God exists. The creed states the assumption of the ancient Shema: “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord.” It begins with “I believe,” because reciting the creed is ultimately an individual confession of belief, although the creed also expresses the collective beliefs of the Church.
THE FATHER ALMIGHTY
Jesus frequently calls God “Father” in the Scriptures, and this usage tells us that God is a loving God active within His creation. God the Father is the first person (Greek “hypostasis,” “individual reality”), or distinction, within the Godhead. The Father is the “origin” or “source” of the Trinity. As such, God the Father is often called “God Unbegotten” in early Christian thought.
MAKER OF HEAVEN AND EARTH, OF ALL THINGS VISIBLE AND INVISIBLE
Catholics believe that God created the visible world (created matter) and the invisible one (spiritual world of angels, etc.). Thus, God created everything. Some early sects, such as the Gnostics, believed that God the Father created the spirit world, but that an “evil” god (called the “demiurge”) created the similarly evil material world. The creed dispels such a notion.
I BELIEVE IN ONE LORD JESUS CHRIST
Jesus Christ is the Lord of all. The title Lord means that Jesus is master of all, and has connotations of deity, since the Hebrew word “adonai” and Greek word “kyrios” (both meaning Lord) were applied to Yahweh in the Old Testament. However, unlike earthly rulers, Jesus is a friend to the oppressed and a servant.
THE ONLY BEGOTTEN SON OF GOD
Jesus is in a unique relationship with God the Father. While Hebrew kings were sons of God symbolically (see Psalm 2), Jesus is the only Son of God by nature.
BORN OF THE FATHER BEFORE ALL AGES
Begotten has the meaning of born, generated, or produced. God the Son is born out of the essence of God the Father. Just as a child shares the same humanness as his or her parents, the Son shares the essential nature of God with the Father. Since God is eternal, the Son, being begotten of God, is also eternal.
GOD FROM GOD, LIGHT FROM LIGHT
God the Son exists in relation to God the Father. The Son is not the Father, but they both are God. Just as a torch is lit one to another, the Father and Son are distinct, but both light. Some Christians, called Sabellians or Modalists, wrongly said that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were one God who changes roles. So when God creates, He is Father, while on earth, He is Son, and so forth. However, the Scriptures have all three persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – interacting at the same time, as shown at Jesus’ baptism. St. Athanasius, writing during the Nicene era, said the Father and Son are one as “the sight of two eyes is one.”
TRUE GOD FROM TRUE GOD
God the Son is not a half-god or inferior to God the Father. God the Son is fully and utterly God, distinct from the Father, yet not divided from the Father. The Arians said Jesus could be called god but not true God. In other words, they wrongly believed the Logos (the “Word,” a popular title for Jesus in early Christian literature) was the first creation of God.
BEGOTTEN, NOT MADE
Some Christians today (Jehovah’s Witnesses) and in the past (Arians) have suggested God created Jesus like God would an angel. The creed tells us that just as when a woman gives birth she does not create a child out of nothing, being begotten of God, the Son is not created out of nothing. Since the Son’s birth from the Father occurred before time was created, begotten refers to a permanent relationship as opposed to an event within time.
CONSUBSTANTIAL WITH THE FATHER
God the Father and God the Son are equally divine, united in substance and will. Father and Son share the same substance or essence of divinity. That is, the Father and Son both share the qualities and essential nature that make one in reality God. However, sharing the same substance does not mean they share identity of person.
THROUGH HIM ALL THINGS WERE MADE
The Bible tells us that through the Son, as Word of God, all things have been created.
FOR US MEN AND FOR OUR SALVATION, HE CAME DOWN FROM HEAVEN
Jesus came from heaven, from a spiritual reality other than our own. While the creed says “down,” it is important to remember that our language is limited by time and spatiality. Heaven is not “up,” just as God is not a biologically male father.
AND BY THE HOLY SPIRIT, WAS INCARNATE OF THE VIRGIN MARY, AND BECAME MAN
God the Son became incarnate in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. He was born of a virgin through the Holy Spirit. God truly became human in Jesus Christ. Catholics believe that Jesus of Nazareth was and is a real human being, not simply a spirit or ghost. The incarnation of God in Christ is the ultimate act of love, because rather than sending an angel or good human to accomplish the redemption and restoration of creation, God Himself became human.
FOR OUR SAKE HE WAS CRUCIFIED UNDER PONTIUS PILATE; HE SUFFERED DEATH AND WAS BURIED
Jesus died on a cross, suffered as humans do, truly died, and was laid in a tomb. Despite what some critics will level against it, the Nicene Creed is more than just metaphysical speculation, and includes important historical confessions. Notice that in addition to being “true God from true God,” Jesus is fully human as well. The early Docetists, named from the Greek word “dokeo” (“to seem”), heretically believed Jesus only seemed to be human, but was not.
AND ROSE AGAIN ON THE THIRD DAY IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE SCRIPTURES
Jesus was resurrected bodily, as the Scriptures say. Just as Jesus truly died, He truly rose from the dead three days later. The bodily resurrection is the keystone of Christian doctrine and experience. However, Jesus was not just physically resuscitated (as was Lazarus), but rather His body was transformed at the Resurrection. Rejection of the bodily resurrection is a rejection of the foundation of Catholic Christianity. The word “again” is used because Jesus’ first “rising” was His birth. To “rise again” is be alive again.
HE ASCENDED INTO HEAVEN AND IS SEATED AT THE RIGHT HAND OF THE FATHER
In ancient science, heaven was thought to be situated above the sky dome. So in the Scriptures, Jesus is said to ascend to heaven. Whatever happened that day, Luke had to render the event into his own scientific paradigm, so he said Jesus “went up” to heaven.
HE WILL COME AGAIN IN GLORY TO JUDGE THE LIVING AND THE DEAD, AND HIS KINGDOM WILL HAVE NO END
Jesus is coming again to righteously judge the living and dead. His kingdom cannot be destroyed, despite all of humanity’s efforts. The creed says Jesus is coming; it does not say when or how, nor does it say to speculate on the date of His return.
I BELIEVE IN THE HOLY SPIRIT, THE LORD, THE GIVER OF LIFE
The Holy Spirit is also called “Lord.” The Holy Spirit sustains our lives as Christians, illuminating us after the new birth. The original Creed of Nicaea simply ended with “We believe in the Holy Spirit.” The other additions were approved at the Council of Constantinople in 381 A.D. However, most scholars believe that the text of the full creed dates prior to this council, and that the bishops simply gave their approval to a local creed already in use. The reason these additions were included in the Nicene Creed is that some heretics of the 4th century denied the full divinity of the Holy Spirit.
WHO PROCEEDS FROM THE FATHER AND THE SON
The Son is said to be begotten, while the Spirit is said to proceed. Both words convey that the Son and Spirit are in special relationships to the Father, yet also fully divine. The phrase “and the Son” (in Latin, “filioque,”) was not in the original text of the creed, but was added in many Western Churches in the late 6th century. The addition likely developed over time as a tool against Arianism. There are theological and historical justifications for the addition or exclusion of the filioque. The Eastern Churches oppose the addition of the filioque, while many Western churches accept it. Actually, despite current division on the matter, the issue has been pretty much theologically resolved. The Catholic Church acknowledges the Father is the sole source within the Trinity, and admits that “proceeds from the Father and the Son” means “proceeds from the Father through the Son.”
WHO WITH THE FATHER AND THE SON IS ADORED AND GLORIFIED
The Holy Spirit is God as are the Father and the Son, and worthy of the same worship.
WHO HAS SPOKEN THROUGH THE PROPHETS
The Spirit inspired the prophets of old and inspires the Church today.
I BELIEVE IN ONE, HOLY, CATHOLIC AND APOSTOLIC CHURCH
The creed requires belief in the Catholic (universal) Church, whose origins go back to the Apostles themselves. The Church is “holy” on account of Christ’s holiness and grace, and not because its members or leaders are perfect. In fact, at times throughout history, the Church has remained holy in spite of its members.
I CONFESS ONE BAPTISM FOR THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS
Catholics believe that sacramentally, through the waters of baptism, God forgives us of our sins, and we are born again. This belief is universally acknowledged in early Christian writings. If someone has been validly baptized in the name of the Trinity, re-baptism is unnecessary.