History of the Creed

This web-site follows the Reformation ideal of 'Sola Scriptura,' that is to say, the information found herein is either fully substantiated by accompanying Bible quotes, or else should be discounted. The question of importance therefore is not who wrote this Creed and why, but whether it conforms to scripture; and the answer to this, as has been shown, is 'to perfection.' To accuse the Creed of nonconformity with scripture amounts to accusing scripture of nonconformity with scripture, because most of its language is taken directly from scripture.

That bishops assembled and concurred with this Creed would mean more had bishops not assembled and concurred with plainly heretical creeds like the 'Blasphemy of Sirmium,' once the political winds had shifted and were blowing from the other direction. History cannot confirm the thesis that bishops are magically protected from heresy. Had Charles Manson proclaimed this Creed, it would still be true, because Biblical. Were it not Biblical, it would not be true, however many assembled bishops asserted the contrary.

For those whose interest is historical rather than doctrinal, the Council at Nicaea makes a puzzling study. The Council was convened by Constantine, then emperor of the Roman Empire, in a dazzling and complete breach of the wall of separation of church and state. The tradition thus inaugurated would prove as ruinous to the church as to the state. Constantine, having seen a vision in the sun of a cross with the words 'By this sign you will conquer,' began Biblically enough by proclaiming the Edict of Milan, an early and unfortunately soon abandoned experiment in religious tolerance. He began his pattern of excessive entanglement of the state with the Christian faith in bewilderment, as seen below, later used the police power of the state to enforce orthodoxy, and later still shifted to sympathy with Arianism.

The ultimate sanction at this period was banishment; later in the century Priscillian would inaugurate the long and tragic march of murdered heretics. Forgers later had a field day with Constantine, the first Christian emperor. Nevertheless, so far as it can be trusted, herewith some documentation of this complex figure's various views, beginning with bewilderment:

"The Conqueror Constantine, the greatest, august, to Alexander and Arius.

"...I understand this to have been the origin of the present controversy, that you, Alexander, required of your presbyters what they respectively thought of a certain passage of the law, or rather questioned them in regard to a point of useless debate and that you, Arius, advanced that which should either not have entered into your mind at first, or after having gained admission, should have been locked up in silence; and that dissensions arising among you in consequence, communion has been refused, and the most holy people, rent into two factions, have departed from the harmonious union of the common body. Therefore, let each of you, mutually pardoning the other, embrace what your fellow-servant most reasonably advises. But what is this? It was improper at first that questions should be asked on subjects of this kind, and then for the person interrogated to reply. Questions of this nature, which no law compels us to discuss, but which are suggested by a fondness for disputation in an hour of unprofitable leisure, may indeed be permitted as an exercise of the intellectual faculties. We ought however, to confine them within our own bosoms, not readily bringing them forward at public meetings, nor rashly confiding them to the ears of every one. For how eminently gifted must be the man, who can accurately understand the true nature of such great and difficult matters, or explain them in a manner worthy of their importance? But if any one should be supposed capable of performing this with ease, what portion of the common people would he be likely to convince? or who, in the subtle management of such questions, could avoid the danger of falling into serious mistakes? In matters of this description, therefore, one should restrain a talkative disposition, lest, either through the weakness of his understanding, he should fail to explain what is proposed; or his hearers, being unable, from slowness of perception, to comprehend what is said, should necessarily fall into blasphemy or schism. Let, therefore, an unguarded question and an inconsiderate reply be set against each other, and mutually overlooked. This contention has not arisen respecting any important command of the law, nor has any new opinion been introduced with regard to the worship of God; but you both entertain the same sentiments, so that you may join in one communion. It is thought to be not only indecorous, but altogether unlawful, that so numerous a people of God should be governed and directed at your pleasure, while you are thus emulously contending with each other, and quarrelling about small and very trifling matters. You know, if 1 may admonish your prudence by a little example, that even the philosophers themselves, although associated in one sect or profession, were frequently at variance on particular points. But although they differ, in consequence even of the excellence of their knowledge, they again unite, on account of their fellowship, in the same general purpose. How much more reasonable is it, then, that you, who are ministers of the Most High God, should be likewise unanimous in the profession of the same religion. But let us examine with more accuracy and attention what has been said; let us ask, whether it be just and reasonable, on account of petty and idle disputes among you about words, that brother should be arrayed against brother, and that the venerable assembly, through your quarrels respecting things of so little importance, and by no means necessary, should be mutually estranged by an unholy contention. Such contentions are low and vulgar, and better suited to the ignorance of children, than becoming the gravity and wisdom of priests and discerning men. Let us voluntarily depart from the temptations of Satan. Our great God, the Saviour of all, has vouchsafed to every one a common light. Permit me, his servant, I beseech you, to terminate this affair, by the aid of his providence, that you, his people, may be recalled to unity in your public assemblies by my exhortations, my labors, and the urgency of my admonitions. For, as I have already remarked, you have one and the same faith, and one opinion concerning our religion; and as the requisition of the law, in its various parts, urges all to an agreement of sentiment, the topic which has excited animosity and division among you, since it belongs not to the essence and life of religion in general, should by no means produce discord and sedition among you. And I say not these things by any means to oblige you to be of the same opinion, with regard to this very foolish controversy, or by whatever other term it may be denominated. For the honor and character of the assembly of Christians may be preserved entire, and the same communion retained among you all, notwithstanding you may greatly differ among yourselves in matters of very little importance, since all men have not the same understanding of every thing, the same turn of mind, or mode of thinking. Let there be, therefore, among you but one faith and mind concerning the providence of God, and one worship and service of the Deity. But your subtle disputes and inquiries respecting these most trifling matters, if you cannot agree in sentiment, should remain in your own thoughts, and be laid up in the secret depths of the mind. Let your mutual friendship remain unshaken: and be firm in your belief of the truth, and your obedience to God and his law. Return to mutual love and charity. Restore to the whole people their accustomed harmony. Purify your own hearts, and renew your former acquaintance and familiarity. It often happens that friendship is more pleasant when enmity is followed by reconciliation. Enable me again to enjoy quiet days, and nights undisturbed by solicitude, that in future the pleasure of the pure light, and the happiness of a tranquil life may be reserved for me. Otherwise, I cannot but sigh and lament, and be dissolved in tears; nor can I pass without great disquietude the remainder of my days. For how can I look for repose, while the people of God who serve the same Master as myself, are torn asunder by an iniquitous and fatal contention? That you may comprehend the excess of my grief on account of this affair, I ask your attention to what I am going to say. Arriving lately at Nicomedia, I had determined to proceed immediately to the East. When I was hastening towards you, and had already performed the greater part of my journey, the news of your differences changed my resolution, lest I should be compelled to behold that with my eyes, of which I thought I could hardly bear the recital. Open therefore to me, by your agreement, a way into the East, which has been closed against me by your contentions. Permit me, as speedily as possible, to behold you and all others of the people happy and rejoicing, and to render, with you, due thanks to God for the common agreement and liberty of all."

(Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History, Appendix, An Historical View of the Council of Nice, Isaac Boyle, pp. 35-39)

Later, and for a time, he 'got religion' on Nicene orthodoxy:

"Constantine, august, to the Catholic Church of Alexandria.

"All hail, beloved brethren! We have received a signal benefit from the divine providence, in that, being freed from all error, we acknowledge one and the same faith. Henceforth it will not be in the power of the devil to do any thing against us; for all his insidious machinations are utterly removed. The splendor of truth, at the command of God, has vanquished those dissensions, schisms, and tumults, which invaded our repose, and, if I may so speak, the deadly poisons of discord. We all, therefore, believe that there is one God, and worship in his name.

"That this happy state of things might be brought about, I called together in the city of Nicaea as many of the bishops as possible, with whom, as one of your number, and rejoicing exceedingly to be your fellow-servant, I undertook myself to examine into the truth. Whatever, therefore, might give occasion for controversy and dissension was accurately considered and discussed. May the Divine Majesty pardon the many and grievous expressions concerning our blessed Saviour, and our hope and life, which were indecorously and blasphemously uttered by some who declared opinions contrary to the divine scriptures, and our holy faith, and professed to believe them. When, therefore, more than three hundred bishops, not less to be admired for their modesty than for their talents and intelligence, confirmed one and the same faith, which is derived from the truths of the divine law accurately investigated, Arius alone, who first sowed this evil among you, and afterwards among others also, with impious design, was found to be overcome by diabolical art and influence. Let us receive, therefore, that doctrine which was delivered by the Almighty. Let us return to our beloved brethren, from whom this shameless minister of Satan has separated us. Let us return to the common body and to our own members, with all diligence, since it is due to your prudence and understanding, to your faith and holiness, that, the error of this man, who is evidently an enemy of the truth, being demonstrated, you return to divine grace. For what was approved by three hundred bishops can only be considered as the pleasure of God, especially as the Holy Spirit, dwelling in the minds of so many and such worthy men, has clearly shown the divine will. Wherefore, let no one hesitate, let no one delay; but let all return with alacrity to the path of truth, that when, with all convenient speed, I shall visit you, I may offer, with you, due thanks to the Searcher of all hearts, that having made known to you the unadulterated faith, he has restored to you that mutual charity, which was so much to be desired.

"May the Divine Being watch over you, my beloved brethren."

(Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History, Appendix, An Historical View of the Council of Nice, Isaac Boyle, pp. 50-51)

Given the rapidity with which Constantine veers from not having a clue in the world to holding very definite opinions, it seems likely the theological opinions he expresses are those of whoever was advising him, and that thus the story behind his shifts and turns is a story of palace politics rather than theology. On one point, however, the emperor's understanding was rock-solid: what criterion of the truth should the church adopt? If believers differed, then where was the truth to be found? His answer, to which any Bible-believer of the present day can say a heart-felt 'Amen,' is God's word:

“The excellent emperor next exhorted the Bishops to unanimity and concord; he recalled to their remembrance the cruelty of the late tyrants, and reminded them of the honorable peace which God had, in his reign and by his means, accorded them. He pointed out how dreadful it was, aye, very dreadful, that at the very time when their enemies were destroyed, and when no one dared to oppose them, they should fall upon one another, and make their amused adversaries laugh, especially as they were debating about holy things, concerning which they had the written teaching of the Holy Spirit. 'For the gospels' (continued he), 'the apostolical writings, and the oracles of the ancient prophets, clearly teach us what we ought to believe concerning the divine nature. Let, then, all contentious disputation be discarded; and let us seek in the divinely-inspired word the solution of the questions at issue.'” (Constantine, quoted in Theodoret, Ecclesiastical History, Book 1, Chapter 6).

And this advice this fortunate Council followed. The Council of Nicaea did not address the canon of scripture, nor did any council advertised as ecumenical until the sixteenth-century Council of Trent, which excluded Protestants and eastern Orthodox. It was not local councils nor individual bishops who established the canon: it was the consensus of the Holy Spirit speaking through believing churches in the early centuries. Nevertheless anti-Trinitarians assign Constantine a prominent role in forming the Bible:

“So here’s what happened. When Constantine decided he was going to cobble together an army, he did the uh… Council of Nicaea, right, Pat? … Council of Nicaea. And what they did is they brought all of the religious figures together, all the Christians, and then they said, “Ok, let’s put together the Apostles’ Creed, let’s, you know, you guys do it.” So they brought all their religious scripture together, and that’s when the Bible was first bound and everything else. And then they said, “Anybody that disagrees with this is a heretic and… off with their head!” (Celebrity Host Glenn Beck, Fox News, program May 27, 2010, transcribed at Schleitheim)

That no such thing ever happened dampens not at all the popularity of this story. Best-selling author Dan Brown portrays Emperor Constantine sorting through a stack of eighty gospels for inclusion in the finished product he was 'collating.' But the church used four, in that day as in Irenaeus' day:

“It is not possible that the Gospels can be either more or fewer in number than they are. For, since there are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds, while the Church is scattered throughout all the world, and the 'pillar and ground' of the Church is the Gospel and the spirit of life; it is fitting that she should have four pillars, breathing out immortality on every side, and vivifying men afresh. From which fact, it is evident that the Word, the Artificer of all, He that sitteth upon the cherubim, and contains all things, He who was manifested to men, has given us the Gospel under four aspects, but bound together by one Spirit. As also David says, when entreating His manifestation, 'Thou that sittest between the cherubim, shine forth.' For the cherubim, too, were four-faced, and their faces were images of the dispensation of the Son of God. For, [as the Scripture] says, 'The first living creature was like a lion,' symbolizing His effectual working, His leadership, and royal power; the second [living creature] was like a calf, signifying [His] sacrificial and sacerdotal order; but 'the third had, as it were, the face as of a man,' — an evident description of His advent as a human being; 'the fourth was like a flying eagle,' pointing out the gift of the Spirit hovering with His wings over the Church. And therefore the Gospels are in accord with these things, among which Christ Jesus is seated.”
(Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 3, Chapter 11, Section 8, late second century).

The Bishop of Rome did not attend the Nicene Council. No doubt his advisors had forgotten to tell him that, as author Dan Brown tells it, this was to be the inauguration of the "new Vatican power base." (The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown, Chapter 55).

John Singer Sargent, Apollo in His Chariot with the Hours

The Council did address the date of Easter, though not with the intent of establishing pagan goddess-worship. Their goal was rather uniformity. Jesus Christ rose from the dead on the first day of the week. But the day of passover travels through the week. The consensus was that Easter must fall on Sunday. Nor is the date of passover a 'given.' According to the Bible, it is the fourteenth day of the first month: "On the fourteenth day of the first month at twilight is the Lord’s Passover." (Leviticus 23:5). But which is the first month? The first to commence in the new year. And when does a new year begin? As the pagan Julius Caesar realized, the solar year is 365-1/4 days long,-- that is (approximately) how long it takes this luminary to complete its circuit from solstice to solstice, or equinox to equinox. But this number is evenly divisible neither by lunar months nor by seven-day weeks. Thus a lunar calendar, like the Babylonian calendar then in use by the Jews, requires intercalation of an 'extra' month from time to time, or else festivals will wander through the seasons. This outcome is unwelcome: what sense is there in celebrating harvest at seed-time? But some years are longer than others under this system, an inconsistency of which the solar time-piece is guiltless. The bishops, seeking to avoid celebrating Easter twice during the same solar year, tied the date to the vernal equinox, as, the Talmud testifies, the Jews themselves also did.

Easter Day


Sol InvictusWas Constantine a sincere Christian? No human observer can see his heart. That he was only baptized on the point of death is not necessarily proof to the contrary. Postponing baptism to the death-bed was a not uncommon strategy of the day, an unlooked-for consequence of the then-popular teaching of baptismal regeneration. The Apostolic Constitutions warn against it: “But he that says, When I am dying I will be baptized, lest I should sin and defile my baptism, is ignorant of God, and forgetful of his own nature. For 'do not thou delay to turn unto the Lord, for thou knowest not what the next day will bring forth.'” (Apostolic Constitutions, Book 6, Section 3, XV). If Constantine had been a fraud, putting on a public face of Christian belief for political gain, then what would have been his motive in deferring baptism? Baptism doesn't hurt, and it doesn't cost money. The people who did have a motive for deferring baptism were baptismal regenerationists playing 'chicken' with God. Some arguments against Constantine's sincerity focus on his failure to persecute pagans — as if there is something wrong with religious toleration! Constantine's religious practice, unfortunately, went beyond toleration to paganism to participation:

"His own father had been a devotee of the Unconquered Sun. While not denying the existence of other gods, the worship of the Unconquered Sun was addressed to the Supreme Being, whose symbol was the sun. During most of his political career, Constantine seems to have thought that the Unconquered Sun and the Christian God were compatible — perhaps two views of the same Supreme Deity — and that the other gods, although subordinate, were nevertheless real and relatively powerful. On occasion, he would consult the oracle of Apollo, accept the title of High Priest that had traditionally been the prerogative of emperors, and partake of all sorts of pagan ceremonies without thinking that he was thus betraying or abandoning the God who had given him victory and power. . .The official religion of the empire was paganism. As head of that empire Constantine took the title of Supreme Pontiff or High Priest, and performed the functions pertaining to that title. . .After his death, the three sons who succeeded him did not oppose the Senate's move to have him declared a god. Thus, the ironic anomaly occurred, that Constantine, who had done so much to the detriment of paganism, became one of the pagan gods —and to compound the irony, the Eastern church considers him a saint, thus resulting in a saint who is also a pagan god!" (Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, pp. 139-141).

Certainly it is difficult to sort this out! Whether he was a friendly a outsider or a sincere, if belated, convert, what is certain is that Christians no longer had to be afraid when they saw a cop. Christianity was at long last a legal religion, and Christians could live without fear. Along with this joyous news, however, came troubling precedents that would ultimately harm the church. A man unbaptized and thus not admitted to communion, uninstructed in Christian doctrine, yet holding in his hands the power to govern the world, is a troubling and perplexing gift. Perhaps it should have been returned with wrappings untouched. However that may be, the verdict of the Nicene Council, not his, is nothing to regret; it is the re-establishment of Biblical orthodoxy over against innovative error. God can draw a straight line with a crooked stick.

What should not be overlooked is that, despite all of Constantine's personal inadequacies or indeed even crimes like murder, he tendered the surrender of the kingdoms of this world to God's kingdom, thus putting to rest an ancient hostility:

"The heart and thrust of the two great books that reflect that period, Isaiah 40-55 and Daniel— both, significantly, books on which the early Christians drew a great deal— is the clash of the kingdoms. In both cases the theme is the same: the kingdoms of the world versus the kingdom of the true God. Israel's God confronts the pagan idols and the petty princelings who worship them. They are at present lording it over God's people; but when God acts, as he will, he will show them in no uncertain terms that he is God and that they and their puny little human-made idols (and cities) are not. He will vindicate his people. . ." (How God Became King, N. T. Wright, p.130).

Right then and there Babylon surrendered, this world mumbled 'No mas,' and God triumphed over the world. The Zealots, who took practical measures, failed utterly and disastrously, whereas Jesus, who adopted the seemingly impractical tactic of non-violent resistance, triumphed entirely. Unfortunately, the church did not graciously accept Babylon's surrender and go on being the church; the church became Babylon. But that's another story.


Roman emperors wielded great power and were no respecters of the people's rights. Is it really possible, as author Dan Brown alleges, that Constantine decided, upon a whim, to upgrade "Jesus' status almost four centuries after Jesus' death"? (Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code, Chapter 55), changing Him from a mere mortal man into "a deity"?:

“By officially endorsing Jesus as the Son of God, Constantine turned Jesus into a deity who existed beyond the scope of the human world, an entity whose power was unchallengeable.”
(Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code, Chapter 55).

No, and not just because Constantine was dead "almost four centuries after Jesus' death." It seems our master historian does not realize 'the fourth century' is the century that runs from 300 A.D. to 399 A.D. For nearly three centuries after the Lord's resurrection and ascension, Roman emperors had been exercising their power to its maximum trying to the achieve an innovation in Christian theology, namely: if Christians would only acknowledge Caesar as Lord, and burn incense before his statuette, they would be free to live in peace. The Christians would not, because the Lord said, "There shall be no foreign god among you; nor shall you worship any foreign god." (Psalm 81:9). Only the living God can lawfully be worshipped, not a man who deifies himself as did Caesar. There was never any compromise on this issue. Persecution was not constant but could start up at any time; at any moment the brothers and sisters might be rounded up and fed to the lions. Christians were willing to live without peace and security for nearly three centuries rather than acclaim as god a man who was a mere mortal man. Caesar did not by any means claim to be the only God; he claimed only to be "a deity." Yet Christians would not fear Caesar because they had been told,

"And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." (Matthew 10:28).

Yet, author Brown alleges, when Constantine came along, brandishing a much lighter stick (banishment rather than death), the 318 bishops assembled at Nicaea happily "upgraded" Jesus from what they had previously thought Him to be: a mere mortal man,— to "a deity." They never awarded Caesar this 'upgrade,' though some of these bishops bore scars on their bodies from his insistent efforts to achieve it. How could the threat of banishment achieve what torture had not?

The bishops were happy to continue worshipping Jesus as Christians had ever done, because the living God must be worshipped. As for Arius, he was only too happy to call Jesus "a deity." That's the problem. If you have "a deity" and another Deity, that's two deities, which is one more than it is lawful to count.

There can be no revision to this God-census. It is surprising how many people think the Bible left the final sum of all gods open to negotiation. The idea is popular amongst contemporary Roman Catholics that the Council of Nicaea blazed a new trail in resolving the total god-count down to one, thereby ruling out any "lesser deity:"

"The Arians, for example, were not unintelligent. They argued from the Scriptures that Christ was the first of God’s creation, a lesser deity, and the highest of all created things...Scripture alone was not sufficient to resolve the theological disputes." (Called to Communion Web-Site)).

In fact scripture does not leave this matter open:

"Thus saith the LORD the King of Israel, and his redeemer the LORD of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God." (Isaiah 44:16)

This argument is presented as if it were in favor of the Roman Catholic Church: because scripture is, allegedly, ambiguous, bishops were appointed as infallible interpreters. But the argument neatly wraps itself up and discards itself. The bishops, and others, who participated in these disputes, said two things: 1.) God is triune, and 2.) we know this because the Bible so testifies. Contemporary Roman Catholics say that 1.) is true, but 2.) is false. So the bishops, according to them, were mistaken in their interpretation of scripture...the very point at which they are alleged to be infallible!

There's only One God

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