Discuss the Nicene question as it evolved from scripture to theology to creed
GOD THE FATHER
GOD THE SON
PART ONE: Knowing God vs. Knowing About God
A. Theology deals with questions that are beyond the human mind’s
B. Therefore, theology must often use the language of metaphor and
analogy. Metaphors and analogies compare two things which are
somehow alike, yet somehow different from each other.
1. God is called “Father.” But is God a male? A biological parent?
Does God have gender? What does it mean to compare God to a
2. The Bible also uses “motherly” analogies to describe God:
a. Genesis 1:27 – both the man and the woman are created in the
“image of God.”
b. Hosea 13:8 – “Like a bear robbed of her cubs, I will attack them
and tear them asunder.”
c. Deuteronomy 32:11-12 – “Like the eagle that stirs up its nest,
and hovers over its young, God spreads wings to catch you, and
carries you on pinions.”
d. Isaiah 42: 13-14 – “I groan like a woman in labor . . .”
e. Isaiah 49:15 – “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort
you . . .”
C. Because God is beyond space and time and beyond human
comprehension, is there any way in which we can know God, or at least
know about God? The theologian St. Thomas Aquinas believed we
could, through his three-step principle of analogy:
Step One – Every positive statement about God must be denied.
God is so different from the created universe that God is not in any way
good, or loving, or compassionate, in the way we humans experience
goodness, love or compassion.
Step Two – But because there is a limited similarity (analogy)
between God and creation, there is a limited way in which we can make
affirmative statements about God. So, God’s knowledge is “somehow like”
human knowledge, God’s love is “somehow like” human love, etc.
Step Three – Having affirmed God’s attributes based on the analogy
between God and creation, we can take those attributes of God “to the max”
– to infinity. So God is all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful. In this way
we can know about God, although in only a very limited way.
PART TWO: The Evolution from Scripture to Theology
to Creed in Early Christianity
The Christian belief system evolved over the first 300+ years of its history.
This evolution took place in three successive, yet overlapping phases:
Phase 1 – Scripture
A. Recall that we defined scripture as a “written expression of a
community’s faith stance.”
B. The Christian Scriptures contain many statements about God, Jesus,
and the Holy Spirit. Some of them are inconsistent, and some even
appear to be contradictory:
1. John 1:1 – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with
God, and the Word was God.”
2. John 10:30 – “The Father and I are one.”
3. Compare these to John 14:28 – “. . . the Father is greater than I.”
4. Or to Romans 8:10 – “ . . . if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus
from the dead is in you . . .”
C. There were many writings that claimed to be “scripture” in the early
Christian communities, and no early Christian community possessed
all the books we now know as the Christian Scriptures. In early
Christianity there was no Bible as we know it.
D. Some early Christians accepted the Hebrew Scriptures as scriptural,
while other Christians rejected it.
Phase 2 – Theology
A. Recall that we defined theology as “rational, systematic reflection on a
community’s faith stance.” As the Christian Scriptures began to be
written, many theologians reflected on them. Some of them came to
very different conclusions about God the Father, the Son (Jesus), the
Holy Spirit and other questions. AND all these different theologians
and their communities called themselves Christians.
B. Theological positions about the Father:
1. Only the Father is God.
2. The Father is God, but so are the Son and the Holy Spirit.
3. God the Father is the creator of the world.
4. God the Father is not the creator of the world.
C. Theological positions about the Son:
1. Jesus is God, but not a human being.
2. Jesus is not God – he is only a human being.
3. Jesus was born as a human being, but became God at the time of
his baptism or the moment of his death.
4. Jesus is both God and a human being.
5. Jesus saved the world from sin by dying on the cross.
6. Jesus saved only a few people from ignorance of their true,
spiritual selves by sharing his secret knowledge with them.
D. Theological positions about the Holy Spirit:
1. The Holy Spirit is God.
2. The Holy Spirit is not God.
Phase 3 – Creed
A. Recall that we defined a creed as “a brief, concise listing of the core
beliefs of a faith community.”
B. The Nicene Creed was the early Christian Church’s attempt to
promote unity by defining its core beliefs clearly and concisely.
PART THREE: The Evolution of Belief about God the
Phase 1: God the Father in the Scriptures
A. In the Hebrew Scriptures God is seen as the one supreme,
all-powerful God, the Lord, the Pantokrator: he is
known as El Shaddai (“God almighty) as in Exodus 6:3, or
Yahweh Sabbaoth (“Lord of hosts”) in Psalm 91:1-2.
B. God is also seen as the creator of the world (Genesis 1-2).
Phase 2: The Theological Question of God the Father
Question #1: Is God one? This is the question of monotheism.
1. Some Christians affirmed the oneness of God.
a. For these Christians monotheism is an extension of the
monotheism of the Hebrew Scriptures – as part of their covenant,
the Israelites promised to serve one God only, Yahweh.
b. The “one God” of these Christians has absolute dominion, or
sovereignty, over the universe and over humanity, so that there
can be no other god.
2. Other Christians affirmed that God is not one:
a. The Gnostics, a collection of secret sects, whose origins are hazy
(Persian, Greek, Egyptian, Jewish), affirmed the existence of a
supreme God who is unknown and unknowable, and who lives
beyond all visible creation. This God is the real lord of the
universe. Other lesser gods, called aeons, emanate from the
supreme God. These aeons perform a variety of functions. So,
God is not one, but split, according to the Gnostics.
b. Examples of Gnostic theologians: Valentinus, Basilides, Marcion,
c. Examples of Gnostic scriptures: The Secret Book of John;
Thunder: the perfect Mind; The Hypostasis of the Archons; The
Apocryphon of James; The Gospel of Thomas.
Question #2: Is the supreme God the creator?
1. Those Christians who affirmed the oneness of God also
affirmed that the supreme God created the world and
a. They accepted the creation stories in the book of Genesis – in fact,
they accepted the entire Hebrew Scriptures as scriptural.
b. They believed that God wanted to create the world, and that God
created the world with a goal or purpose in mind.
c. They believed that creation is good, as Genesis chapter 1 states.
2. The Gnostics, who did not affirm the oneness of God,
believed that the supreme God was not the creator.
a. The supreme God did not want to create. He was perfectly happy
b. The world was created by a lesser, inferior god, sometimes named
c. The world created by the Demiurge was not good, but split
between good and evil, light and darkness. The material part of
the world was seen as evil. Only the spiritual part of the world was
seen as good.
d. Humanity, too, was seen as split between “carnal” or material
people, and “spiritual” people. Only “spiritual” people could be
e. Jesus came to save the very few “spiritual” people by imparting to
them his secret knowledge, called gnosis. The gnosis allowed
these people to overcome their ignorance of their true, spiritual
selves. SO the Gnostics believed Jesus came to save a few from
ignorance by giving them gnosis – NOT that Jesus came to save all
humanity from its sins by dying on the cross.
Phase 3: God the Father in the Nicene Creed
A. The first assertion of the Nicene Creed: “We believe in one
God, the Father, the Almighty . . .”
1. This assertion condemns the Gnostic view, and affirms the view of
those Christians who believed in the oneness of God.
2. This assertion affirms the view that the one God is the supreme
God, the Pantokrator.
B. The second assertion of the Nicene Creed – “ . . . Maker of
heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen . . .”
1. This assertion condemns the Gnostic view of creation, and affirms
the view of those Christians who believed the supreme God is the
Conclusion: The Nicene vs. the Gnostic views of God and
1. The Nicene view of God and creation:
a. There is one God.
b. The one God is the creator of all things.
c. God creates by his will, and so God’s will is embedded in creation
– the universe has a purpose, it is not a mistake.
d. God cares about his creation.
e. Everything that God creates is good.
2. The Gnostic view of God and creation:
a. The Gnostics are extreme dualists – they believed that God, the
world, and humanity are divided:
1. God is split – between a distant supreme God and a lesser
creator god. God is not one, and the creator god is not the God.
2. The world is split – between light and dark, good and evil.
3. Humanity is split – between the carnal people, who are
evil and doomed, and the elect, the gnostics, the enlightened ones
who are saved by Jesus’ gnosis.
GOD THE SON
Phase 1: God the Son in the Christian Scriptures
1. The Gospel of John, Chapter 1
-Verse 1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with
God, and the Word was God.” Is God one – or two?
-Verse 3: “All things were made through him. . .” The Son
participated in the creation of the world. But isn’t the Father
-Verse 14: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us . . .” Is
the Son divine, or human? Or both?
-Verse 18: “No one has even seen God; the only Son . . . has made
him known.” Are the Father and the Son truly one? If so, in what
2. The Christian Scriptures in general are not clear about the
Son, and the Son’s relationship to the Father:
A. Jesus is God: John 1:1; John 8:58; John 14:9; John 18:5;
Colossians 2:9; Revelation 1:8.
B. Jesus is not God: Matthew 19:16-17; Matthew 24:32-36; Mark
15:33-34; Luke 23:47; John 5:19; John 12:44-50; John 14:28;
C. Jesus became God: At the moment of his baptism – Matthew
3:11-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22. OR at the moment of his death
– Mark 15:39.
D.Jesus is both God and a man: Philippians 2:5-11.
Phase 2: The Theological Question of God the Son
1. The Nicene Question: what is the relation between
the Father and the Son?
A. The Nicene Problem arose in part because of the teaching of Arius.
1. Arius (250-336 CE) was a priest from Alexandria in Egypt. He
taught that the Son is not equal to the Father. He wrote: “There was a time
when he (the Son) was not,” and that the Father created the Son. He
believed the Father is of the order of Creator, and the Son is of the order of
creature. Arius did not deny the divinity of the Son, but he believed that the
Son is inferior to the Father, a lesser God than the Father. Although the Son
was divine, he was not divine by nature. His divinity was a reward or gift
from the Father.
2. Arius gained many followers, and so Arianism became both a
religious and political problem for the Church and the Roman Empire.
3. Before Arius, there were other theologians who attempted to answer
the Nicene question:
a. Clement of Alexandria (150 – 215 CE) – was a theologian from
Alexandria in Egypt. He believed that Jesus was God, “the living
God that suffered and is worshipped.” Jesus was “the priceless
God and Lord of the Universe.” But Jesus was also a man. If
Christians imitated Christ they too would become divine. He said,
“Christ became man so that you might learn from a man how to
b. Irenaeus (130 – 200 CE) was the bishop of Lyons in France. He
agreed with Clement of Alexandria that Jesus was both God and a
man. the “Incarnate Logos.” By becoming a man, the Son became
a model for Christians to fulfill their full potential and become
c. Tertullian (160 – 225 CE) was a theologian from Carthage in
North Africa. He used two analogies to try to solve the problem:
i. He said that the Father and Son are two parts of one
organism (like leaf and stem, head and hand). The problem with this
position is that God is not an organism, or even part of the material world.
ii. He said the Father and Son are united in complete harmony
of mind and will, that they think and act completely as one.
d. Origen (185 – 254 AD) was a theologian, Biblical scholar and
spiritual writer from Alexandria in Egypt. He used Plato’s
cosmology and his concept of the Forms to describe the
relationship of the Father and the Son. He said that the Father is
THE God, and that the Son emanates from, and participates in, the
Idea (Form) of God. The Father is THE God, and the Son is a
God of the second order. But this answer makes the Son inferior to
the Father, not his equal.
e. Paul of Samosata (3rd century CE) – was the bishop of Antioch
in Asia Minor from 260-272 CE. He believed Jesus was only a
man, and not God. He said the Word and the Wisdom of God
dwelt in Jesus as in a temple.
f. Athanasius (296 – 373 AD) was the bishop of Alexandria in
Egypt. He developed the formula that everything the Father is, the
Son is too, except for the name “Father.” He believed that if the
Son had been only a man, the human race could not have been
redeemed, since humanity was sinful and inferior to God. Only
God could save the world. So Christ, the “Logos made flesh,” must
be of the same nature as the Father. Athanasius thus asserted the
ontological equality of the Father and Son.
Phase 3: God the Son in the Nicene Creed
1. To settle the Nicene question, and the Arian controversy, the Roman
emperor Constantine called the Council of Nicea in 325 CE.
a. The bishops at Nicea began by asking the question: what is the
relation between the Son and the Father?
i. On the one hand, there is only one God (monotheism). God is
Pantokrator, the supreme, universal Power over all things.
ii. But the New Testament reveals that Christ also is Pantokrator
(he raised people from the dead; he said, “Before Abraham came to be, I
iii. And the New Testament affirms that Christ is the Son; that he is
somehow “from the Father,” that he is “other than” the Father.
iv. So the Nicene question became: how can Christian monotheism
be preserved, and at the same time acknowledge the belief that Christ, too,
is Pantokrator: that the Son is everything that the Father is?
b. The Council’s solution to the Nicene problem was as follows:
i. “We believe in one God, the Father, the
Almighty” (Pantokrator) – this affirms Christian monotheism.
ii. “The maker of heaven and earth” – the Father is Creator.
iii. “And we believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father.” Begetting is not creating – it is the
utterly unique act by which the Son came forth from the Father in eternity.
This answer rejects the position of Arius. The Son is begotten, not created.
iv. “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God.” The
Son is the equal of the Father. The Son is God, Light, true God, just like the
v. “Begotten, not made, one in being with the Father.” The Son
proceeds from all eternity out of the substance, the Being, the ousion of
the Father. The Council used the word homoousion, which means “one
in substance or Being,” in the Nicene Creed to affirm the ontological
equality of the Father and the Son.
vi. SO, the Son is the product of the Father’s substance, and
therefore God’s equal, and not the product of the Father’s will, which
would make the Son a creature.
vii. The Son and the Father are equal in every way, except for their
viii. With this solution the Arians were condemned, and the
Christian teaching on the relationship between the Father and
the Son was established. But the Council of Nicea did not end
the Arian controversy.