The Nicene Creed as a Philosophy of Life

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Creed and Philosophy of Life
The Creed and Philosophy of Life

What do you know about the Nicene Creed?  The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed was received by the whole undivided Church as the symbol or summary of the Christian Faith (the “Nicene Creed” – learn more here). The Nicene Creed begins with the words “I Believe” or “we Believe.” The original language of the Nicene Creed was in Greek and employed the plural form of the word, πιστεύω (pistevo). This is the same word that we find in the New Testament to speak of belief or faith. We find it as a participle, for example, in John 3:16: “that whoever believes (same word) should not perish but have eternal life.” It occurs also as a noun translated “faith” in Jude 3, “the faith once for all delivered to the saints”; and as a verb in Mark 9:24, where a man answers Jesus’ question, “I believe.”

Paul reminds Christians that we ought to share one Philosophy of life. We are to have “be eager to preserve the unity of the Spirit.” See how he describes out unity:

There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (Ephesians 4:3-6).

The Faith as a Philosophy of Life

What does it mean to have “one faith”? For Christianity “faith” is an acknowledgment of facts believed, the trust placed in the object of belief, and personal commitment to living out those beliefs. Faith is not best described as a feeling, but rather as a Philosophy of life, or way of living. This is reflected in the evidence we have from church history.

The first word in the Latin translation of the Nicene Creed is Credo. From this word we derive the English word “Creed”. When the Church affirmed the Creed, it was affirming what the whole Church believed. The Church viewed the Creed as a summary of the Apostle’s Doctrine, “the faith once for all delivered.” The Reformers continued to hold the Creed in high esteem.  One reformed confession, the English Articles of Religion, addresses the authority of the Creeds. Article VIII declares that the three great early Creeds (Nicene, Athanasian, and Apostle’s), “ought thoroughly to be received and believed: for they may be proved by most certain warrants of Holy Scripture.”

The Creed and a Philosophy of Life

I have studied and taught on the Creeds in various contexts. I have recently been studying the Nicene Creed afresh with my children. For any of you familiar with teaching/discussing serious concepts with children, you know that creativity and fun are immensely helpful.

As I have immersed myself in the Creed, I sought ways to make it more understandable (and fun for the kids). This process has led me to fresh discoveries within these familiar documents. Because the kids are studying Latin in school, we used the Latin version for our base text.

The Creed fundamentally divides under three Great Trinitarian heads. We believe:

  1. in one God;
  2. in one Lord; and
  3. in the Holy Spirit.

The largest section (the second) flows from our belief in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God. That final heading has recently gripped my attention. I believe this section on the Holy Spirit, though more compact, is as full of content as the more obviously larger second heading. Here we find three sub-section marked by belief, confession, and expectation. These three join the main Trinitarian headings and form what looks to be a fourfold content structure.

The Creed as a Philosophy of Life

As I began viewing the Creed from this new angle, I began to see how I could open up and teach the Creed as much more than a historical statement. The Creed presents the Faith as a Way of Life–a Philosophy for Living–organized around the dominant, or head verbs:

Key Verb Creedal Content Philosophical Expression
Credamus in (We believe in )… I.     one God… and,

II.   one Lord… and,

III.  the Holy Spirit.

Metaphysics: The description of what really exists beyond observable nature, (Origins, Nature, Reality, and Goal)—rooted in the Triune God.
[Credamus (We believe)] one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. Epistemology: Here we have the testimony that gives us confidence that we know what we know—the Faith of the Church.
Confitetur (We confess) One baptism . . . Ethics: If what we know to be true (Epistemology) is true (Metaphysics), then we should respond to it –the life of discipleship.
Expectamus (We look forward to) I.     the resurrection of the dead; and

II.   the life in the age to come.

Aesthetics: Here we have the vision of beauty that guides the desires of believers –the end that is our beginning.

 

As you look at the chart, let me explain how I derived it. The major (head) verbs of the text (in its original Greek form) dictate my structure. It was important to reflect them here. I could not decide whether Greek, English or the Latin verbs I use with my kids would be most helpful. In the end, Latin won out. The Latin verbs more closely resemble the Greek structure than do the standard English translations. The Latin alphabet is also easier than Greek for the average English speaker to read and understand.

A Full version of the Nicene Creed in its original Greek, with both English and Latin translations, can be found online (here). Have a look at it under these subject heads. I discuss the Creed in much more detail in my podcast: (iTunes; Archive).

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