Table of Contents
Nicene Creed: God the Son
To understand this part of the creed, it is important to remember the significant source of the Arian heresy. Namely, how can there be three persons in one God? Or, put another way, is Jesus really fully God, or some lesser God created by the Father?
The answer has probably become so familiar to us that we don’t think much about it these days. Of course. We understand the Trinity. We know that God is one, and three persons. We know that Jesus is fully God and fully human.
But such was not the case during the time the Creed was written. We have already discussed the fundamental problems. So this section of the Creed is really about spelling out exactly what we believe. And because the Incarnation is such a critical foundation for our faith, the Creed spends a lot of time emphasizing that Jesus really is the divine Son of God.
I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ
This section begins with what was not viewed as a controversial statement. Saint Paul says in the Letter to the Philippians that Jesus Christ is Lord. Moreover, to say the Jesus Christ is Lord is only possible for us because of the Holy Spirit.
Moreover, the identification of Jesus as Lord is sprinkled all throughout the New Testament. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “By attributing to Jesus the divine title “Lord”, the first confessions of the Church’s faith affirm from the beginning that the power, honor and glory due to God the Father are due also to Jesus, because “he was in the form of God” and the Father manifested the sovereignty of Jesus by raising him from the dead and exalting him into his glory.” (CCC 449)
And again, the Catechism says that the title “Lord” indicates sovereignty and is a profession of divinity. And so the Creed uses very specific language to reinforce the divinity of the Son while preserving the one God. How?
The Only Begotten Son of God
The word “begotten” does not get much use today, but it has a very specific meaning that is necessary for us to understand what we are saying in the Creed. Better than I could do, here is what C.S. Lewis has to say about this word in Mere Christianity.
“We don’t use the words begetting or begotten much in modern English, but everyone still knows what they mean. To beget is to become the father of: to create is to make. And the difference is this. When you beget, you beget something of the same kind as yourself. A man begets human babies, a beaver begets little beavers and a bird begets eggs which turn into little birds. But when you make, you make something of a different kind from yourself. A bird makes a nest, a beaver builds a dam, a man makes a wireless set – or he may make something more like himself than a wireless set: say, a statue. If he is clever enough carver he may make a statue which is very like man indeed. But, of course, it is not a real man; it only looks like one. It cannot breathe or think. It is not alive.
Now that is the first thing to get clear. What God begets is God; just as what man begets is man. What God creates is not God; just as what man makes is not man. That is why men are not Son’s of God in the sense that Christ is. They may be like God in certain ways, but they are not things of the same kind. They are more like statues or pictures of God.” — C.S. Lewis
This is not merely a minor distinction between create and begot. It is important, for if Jesus is to be the divine Son of God, then he cannot have been created by God the Father, because he would be a creature and not a divine being. So, by saying Jesus, the Son, is begotten by God, it means that Jesus shares in the divinity of God.
So it is not that God the Father created the Son. The Son is co-equal with the Father. The Son is fully divine. So Jesus is not just a worthy human being to imitate, but is the Son of God. He is fully divine, not almost as divine as the Father. He is truly God.
Born of the Father before all ages
Not only is the Son begotten from the Father, we also state that this has been true before all ages. There has never been a time when the Son was not and the Father was. The Father begot the Son outside of the constraints of time.
So while it may seem to be the case that being “born of the Father before all ages” is an act of time, it is not. If the Creed simply said “born of the Father” and left out “before all ages” then we could have an interesting discussion about what this means. But it is only possible for God to live “before all ages” and so we are not referring to a chronological series of events, but rather a mysterious statement about God who is beyond all knowing.
God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God
The Creed makes clear the belief that Jesus is co-equal with the Father. God from God, Light from light. By declaring that Jesus is God from God, Light from light, true God from true God, it is the case that we are saying the Jesus and God the Father are one. Jesus is truly God. But Jesus is also fully human.
And we need to be clear. It is not that Jesus has a divine half and a human half, and they are fused together. No, Jesus is fully divine and fully human. “The unique and altogether singular event of the Incarnation of the Son of God does not mean that Jesus Christ is part God and part man, nor does it imply that he is the result of a confused mixture of the divine and the human. He became truly man while remaining truly God. Jesus Christ is true God and true man.” (CCC 464)
Begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father
Recall the need for the Council of Nicea. On the one hand, there were heresies such as Docetism, which suggested that Jesus was less than fully human. There were other heresies that suggested Jesus was fully human, and “adopted” by God as the son, or that the humanity of Jesus ceased once he assumed divinity.
The phrase here is that Jesus was of one substance with the Father. While a bit simplistic, the word substance is what something is. There are also what are known as accidents. So, the substance of a car is a car. The car is still a car whether it is blue, green or red.
Now when it comes to a human and to God, they each have a different substance. We are not God. Jesus is God, and so is of the same substance as the Father. This is what is meant by consubstantial. God, Father and Son, are of the same substance.
This is quite important. If the Father had created the Son, the Father and the Son would not have the same substance. But because the Father begot the Son, they are one substance. Moreover, Jesus is fully human and fully divine. Jesus Christ it “united in the one person of God’s Son.” (CCC 480)
Through him all things were made
To state that through him all things were made is to make a statement about Jesus having equality with God the Father and God the Son. While we may think of the “Father” as the creator, it is equally true to refer to Jesus as the creator. By stating that through the Son, Jesus, all things were made, a statement is being made about his divinity.
Therefore, Jesus is equal to the Father. And this was an important resolution of the Council of Nicea. As it is with so many aspects of this section of the creed, the unity of Father and Son as divine, while at the same time preserving the one God is of utmost importance.
For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven
The Father sends Jesus to the earth for the purpose of our salvation. The whole reason for the Incarnation was that we could be saved. We sinned, which in justice meant we were condemned. But the love of God was made manifest and visible by the Incarnation of the Son.
By the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary and became man
It is critical that the incarnation of Jesus was not ordinary. If Jesus had been born only because of human effort, then he would have been a creature, not divine creator. And so, it was only in the divine action of the Holy Spirit that the Son could become human.
Remember, the whole theological debate concerned the divinity of the Christ and the preservation of the one God. The interaction between the Holy Spirit and the Incarnation was through the generous “yes” of the Virgin Mary. But the Incarnation was most dependent upon the action of the Holy Spirit.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate he suffered death and was buried
The reason for the Incarnation, as we have said, was to make possible our salvation. This happened because of the generous self-gift of Jesus upon the cross. And yet, a crucified Messiah was a significant challenge for the Jewish population to overcome. It was difficult in the ancient world to imagine a God subject to such a humiliating death.
In fact, if the crucifixion were the entire story, then we would not have heard much, if anything at all, about Jesus. This loving action of Jesus only becomes significant because of the resurrection, which we profess in the next sentence of the creed.
And rose again on the third day
Without the resurrection of Jesus, there would be no point to the debate about the divinity of Jesus. It was only because of his resurrection that the question of divinity arose. But it is quite important to recognize that the resurrection is not a mere resuscitation.
Lazarus was resuscitated. The widow’s son was resuscitated. While they came back to life, they eventually died. Resurrection is a qualitatively different mode of being. Jesus was raised from the dead but the resurrected nature was completely different.
We see this this in part because we read in the gospels that Jesus was not immediately recognized by those who knew him well. This resurrection of Jesus makes possible our own resurrection. And like Jesus, in our own resurrection, Jesus will qualitatively change us too.
In accordance with the Scriptures.
All of this occurs because this was the divine plan. This is foretold in the Scriptures, and it is fulfilled. This is not a chance event, but a divine plan. It was not just luck by which we were saved, but by the divine will of God and the generous outpouring of his grace.
He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
This is a statement that reinforces the divine nature of Jesus. As the Divine Son of God, his rightful place, is at the right hand of the Father, as Father and Son are one. While the Beatific vision is the hope that we share, that we will be in the presence of God, we will not be at the right hand of God. Jesus is not at the right hand of God as a creature, but as the divine Son.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead
So that the tremendous gift of salvation can be given, Jesus returns at the end of time. We are, at that time, given our eternal choice. The power of God’s love is so strong, that he permits us to make free choices, even if the free choice we make is to reject God.
And so we will be given our choice at the judgement. Should we choose to reject God completely, God will allow us to do so. But, if we choose God, then what awaits for us is what we state next.
And his kingdom will have no end
We will be given the choice of an eternal relationship in the presence of Jesus. The Kingdom of Jesus is an everlasting kingdom. It is one that will outlast even time itself.
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