top of page

Two Versions of the Nicene Creed?

When the Roman Emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Empire in 325, the Doctrine of the Trinity – the understanding of the Divine as One God in three co-equal persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – was new.  A presbyter (we would say 'priest') in Alexandria, named Arius, was teaching that although the Son was divine, he was a created being and therefore less than the Father.  A great controversy arose.  The Emperor, needing a unified statement of belief for his newly chosen religion, called together a great Council at Nicaea with the task of coming to consensus on this matter.  Was Jesus co-equal with the Father, or was he not?  And the Holy Spirit?  Was the Holy Spirit also co-equal? 
The result of the Council's deliberations was what we call the Nicene Creed – almost.  Slight revisions were made at the First Council of Constantinople in 381.  The 'Standard' version of the Nicene Creed which has come to us as Episcopalians in our Book of Common Prayer (pages 326-328 and 358-359) is this:

We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is,  seen and unseen.  We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father.  Through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven:  by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.  For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried.  On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.  He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.  We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.  With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.  He has spoken through the Prophets. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.  We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.  We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.  Amen.

When we use our newer worship materials, however, in particular those in the book 'Enriching Our Worship,' we use a version of the Creed which changes 'who proceeds from the Father and the Son' to 'who proceeds from the Father.'  Here's why:
The original wording of the Nicene Creed, "I believe in the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father, who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified," was agreed upon at the fourth-century Ecumenical Council of Constantinople (Ecumenical Councils are councils of bishops and theologians of the entire Church).  The wording was altered in the Latin half of the Church by the addition of the words, "who proceeds from the Father and the Son," a change expressed in Latin by one word:  filioque.  This addition was made at a sixth-century regional synod meeting in Toledo, Spain.  In this region many Christians had originally been Arians who denied the full divinity of the Son.  The synod apparently believed that the constant liturgical repetition of the filioque clause would aid in teaching the faithful that the Son was fully God.  The phrase gradually spread until, by the eleventh century, it was in general use in the Latin Church.  Its inclusion has never been adopted by the Eastern churches.
In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Anglican theologians were unanimous in claiming that the only true bases of doctrine were Scripture and the teaching of the undivided Church (i.e., the five Ecumenical Councils held between the years 325 and 451).  The Church of England taught only what Scripture and tradition taught, they asserted.  Not knowing the full history of the filioque addition and mistakenly assuming that it had always formed part of the Creed, Anglicans retained the phrase, and some divines even went to great lengths to explain why the Greeks deleted it! 
The continued use of the filioque phrase by churches in the West remains a source of irritation between East and West.  The unilateral altering of a Creed originally authorized by an Ecumenical Council strikes Eastern Orthodox Christians as ecclesiologically high-handed and canonically indefensible.  The theology of the Holy Spirit which has grown up in the West since the introduction of the filioque is a point of serious, but less-heated, misunderstanding between East and West.
In 1976, the Anglican members of the Anglican-Orthodox Joint Doctrinal Commission said in an Agreed Statement that the filioque should not be included in the Creed because it had been introduced without the authority of an Ecumenical Council.  In 1978 Anglican bishops meetings at the Lambeth Conference recommended that churches of the Anglican Communion consider omitting the filioque from the Nicene Creed.  The 1985 General Convention recommended the restoration of the original wording of the Creed, once this action had been approved by the Lambeth Conference and the Anglican Consultative Council.  The change was then endorsed by the Lambeth Conference of 1988, the 1990 meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council, and the 1993 joint meeting of Anglican primates and the Anglican Consultative Council.  The 1994 General Convention affirmed the intention of the Episcopal Church to remove the filioque clause at the next revision of the Book of Common Prayer. 
Notes on the Nicene Creed (from Enriching Our Worship 1, Church Publishing, INC., 1997)

bottom of page