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By Deal W. Hudson

2/25/2014 (1 year ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The knowledge bestowed by believing, or by faith, its noun form, is mediated by inner assent, an act of the will in responding to the revelation of these truths by God Himself in his Son, the Word, as read in Scripture and reflected upon in tradition.

When the bishops gathered at Nicaea in 325 agreed to their creed, they meant to create boundaries, not to gather everyone under some kind of big tent.  These boundaries were defined by clear propositions that could be applied as a standard, a shared orthodoxy, based upon what God had revealed.  After all, it was no Greek myth that they had gathered to elucidate, or like Lord Byron, to emulate.  These bishops from throughout Christendom had come together for the very first time to say, "this and nothing less than this."

For the Nicene Creed to begin so abruptly, so suddenly, without any attempt to soften the message, is itself a statement.  As a document then, the Nicene Creed was far from diplomatic in tone, it was rather a blunt assertion of the truth about the Christian faith. You might say it has a kind of take-it-or-leave-it quality: There are no qualifiers, no bones thrown to the opposition, nothing but the muscle and bone of the faith.

For the Nicene Creed to begin so abruptly, so suddenly, without any attempt to soften the message, is itself a statement. As a document then, the Nicene Creed was far from diplomatic in tone, it was rather a blunt assertion of the truth about the Christian faith. You might say it has a kind of take-it-or-leave-it quality: There are no qualifiers, no bones thrown to the opposition, nothing but the muscle and bone of the faith.

Highlights

By Deal W. Hudson

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

2/25/2014 (1 year ago)

Published in U.S.

Keywords: creed, credo, nicene creed, apostles creed, doctrine, symbol, symbolum, catechesis, catechism, doctrine, Church Council, Nicea, Bishops, I Believe, We Believe, Deal W. Hudson


WASHINGTON,DC (Catholic Online) - On May 3, 1810, the poet Lord Byron, in spite of his clubfoot, swam across 6.5 km of ocean known as the Bosphorus, also considered the boundary between Europe and Asia. Byron was inspired by the Greek myth of Leander swimming the Hellespont, another narrow strip of ocean further south, every night to be with his love, Hero, who shone a lamp from her tower to guide his way.

This story is widely known, and the poet's swim continues to be celebrated each year by hundreds who gather to repeat Byron's feat.  What is less known, and less celebrated by travelers, is an ancient town nearby, Nicaea, where in 325 AD the Church's first ecumenical council was held in 325.  Called by Constantine I, the first Christian emperor of Rome, the First Council of Nicaea adopted the first official statement of Christian belief, now known as the Nicene Creed. Amended in 381 at the Council of Constantinople, the Nicene Creed has been recited as part of the Roman Catholic liturgy for 1700 years.

This was not the first time Constantine I had used his temporal power to call the bishops together to create a doctrinal consensus against groups such as the Donatists and the Arians. Through his earlier regional councils in Northern Africa Nicaea, Constantine I sought to establish an orthodoxy, a true (orthos) belief (doxa), a doctrinal standard for Christians regardless of where they lived. Throughout the rim of the Mediterranean Sea, especially in Africa, there were charismatic leaders, bishops and priests, who taught that Jesus was a created being (Arius) or that any priest who recanted his faith during the Roman persecution no longer had the authority to celebrate the sacraments (Donatus).

It's almost misleading to talk about the "heretical groups" of 4th century Christendom, because the Arians, Donatists, and Nestorianians, among others, often dominated entire regions of Church.  From their perspective it was not they but them who were the heretics. Needless to say, they despised the effort of Constantine I to bring a uniformity to Christian belief that would label themselves as outside the new orthodoxy. 

With this historical conflict in mind, one can the hear the dramatic effect of the opening word of the Nicene Creed: "We believe." Yes, the Greek word used at Nicaea was Πιστεύομεν, the first person plural, whereas in the Latin it is rendered in the first person singular, Credo, "I believe." There's no need, I think, to make very much of this difference given the fact that the creed is recited corporately in the Mass, thus providing something like a virtual, or implied, "we." 

For the Nicene Creed to begin so abruptly, so suddenly, without any attempt to soften the message, is itself a statement.  As a document then, the Nicene Creed was far from diplomatic in tone, it was rather a blunt assertion of the truth about the Christian faith. You might say it has a kind of take-it-or-leave-it quality: There are no qualifiers, no bones thrown to the opposition, nothing but the muscle and bone of the faith. 

When we say we "believe," what are we not saying? We are not saying we "feel," or "hope," or "accept," or "are placing a bet."  To believe is to know in a certain kind of way.  Yes, to know!  Belief is too often looked upon as a kind of vague emotional connection to a body of doctrine, or as a form of utterly blind assent to what our parent's have taught us, the tradition in which we were raised, or various authority figures in our lives.  Belief is none of that. If it were, the Nicene Creed could not begin with it.  Belief is knowing something, and the beliefs asserted by the Creed are more important than any other knowledge, whether known through belief, logical argument, intuition, or scientific experiment. 

Note the kinds of propositions that are to be believed by a Christian:

There is one God, no more.
This God created all that is.
Jesus Christ is God's only Son.
Jesus Christ is begotten, not made.
Jesus Christ is truly God.


One cannot feel such assertions, or emote them, they must be known to be taken into our lives, our minds and hearts. To believe means to grasp the meaning of these propositions and many more, and such propositions, all would agree, are far from self-explanatory or elementary. Our minds cannot simply memorize such things to know them, they must be understood. This is not to say that the only object of belief is a proposition, ultimately belief is put in God Himself, His Son, and the Holy Spirit, in other words, belief is about a person, three persons to be exact.

How can such assertions as Jesus Christ is the Son of God be considered knowledge - how can we say we "know" this to be true? It can be proven in any of the ways truth is demonstrated. The knowledge bestowed by believing, or by faith, its noun form, is mediated by inner assent, an act of the will in responding to the revelation of these truths by God Himself in his Son, the Word, as read in Scripture and reflected upon in tradition.

This act of the will can be considered an act of love, analogous to the way one person puts their trust in the word of another, someone whose worthiness to be trusted has been established. Love embraces the Person whose Word has been uttered, the Person who is being addressed, being worshiped, by the propositions of the Creed.

When the bishops gathered at Nicaea in 325 agreed to their creed, they meant to create boundaries, not to gather everyone under some kind of big tent.  These boundaries were defined by clear propositions that could be applied as a standard, a shared orthodoxy, based upon what God had revealed.  After all, it was no Greek myth that they had gathered to elucidate, or like Lord Byron, to emulate.  These bishops from throughout Christendom had come together for the very first time to say, "this and nothing less than this."

© Deal W. Hudson, Ph.D

-----
Deal W. Hudson is president of the Morley Institute of Church and Culture, Senior Editor and Movie Critic at Catholic Online, and former publisher and editor of Crisis Magazine.This column and subsequent contributions are an excerpt from a forthcoming book. Dr. Hudson's new radio show, Church and Culture, is heard on the Ave Maria Radio Network.

---


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