The first Article of the Creed, as we have seen, is an affirmation of faith in God the Father, the Creator of all things. The second Article is an affirmation of faith in God the Son. It is the first of six Articles that pertain to the Son before the affirmation of faith in God the Holy Spirit in the eight Article. Since the Creed consists of twelve Articles in total, this means that half of them concern God the Son.
In the Apostles’ Creed the second Article is “et in Iesum Christum, Filium Eius unicum, Dominus nostrum” which in the English of the Book of Common Prayer is “And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord”. In the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed the second Article is “Καὶ εἰς ἕνα Κύριον Ἰησοῦν Χριστόν, τὸν Υἱὸν τοῦ Θεοῦ τὸν μονογενῆ, τὸν ἐκ τοῦ Πατρὸς γεννηθέντα πρὸ πάντων τῶν αἰώνων.” In this series we shall treat what is ordinarily considered the third Article of the conciliar Creed to be part of the second. This is “φῶς ἐκ φωτός, Θεὸν ἀληθινὸν ἐκ Θεοῦ ἀληθινοῦ, γεννηθέντα οὐ ποιηθέντα, ὁμοούσιον τῷ Πατρί· δι' οὗ τὰ πάντα ἐγένετο.” Taken together, these are rendered in the Book of Common Prayer as “And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of his Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made.” Note that in the Greek of the Creed the words “Θεὸν ἐκ Θεοῦ” do not precede “φῶς ἐκ φωτός”. Here the Book of Common Prayer follows the Latin which has “Deum de Deo” before “lumen de lumine”. This is one of two places where the Latin text of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed inserts something that is not present in the original Greek, the other being the famously controversial Filoque in the Article about the Holy Spirit. This is less controversial than the Filoque which played a key role in the dispute which led to the Greek and Latin Churches breaking Communion with each other because here the Latin interpolation does not express anything about which the Latin and Greek Churches are in theological disagreement. Indeed, “Θεὸν ἐκ Θεοῦ” appeared in the original Nicene Creed of 325 AD but was dropped when the Creed was revised at the First Council of Constantinople of 381 AD. Redundancy seems to have been the reason for its having been removed. In the original Nicene Creed the words “μονογενῆ, τοὐτέστιν ἐκ τῆς οὐσίας τοῦ Πατρός, Θεὸν ἐκ Θεοῦ” followed “begotten of the Father” and preceded “Light of Light”. The First Council of Constantinople (381 AD) in revising the Creed moved the μονογενῆ and placed it in attributive position to “the Son of God”. The remainder of these words which assert nothing that was not stated more precisely later in the same Article (1) were replaced with “before all worlds”. Nobody really knows how “Deum de Deo” made its way back into the Latin version of the Creed. It is also present in the Armenian version of the Creed but so are all the other words that were removed from the original Nicene Creed in the Constantinopolitan revision and this version also expands the “through whom all things were made” so as to repeat the “heaven and earth” and “visible and invisible” clauses of the first Article.
The first Article of the Creed, as we saw in our discussion of the same, established continuity between the faith we confess as Christians and the faith of Old Testament Israel by asserting our belief that the One God, the Father, is Creator of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. In this second Article, the faith we confess diverges from that of others who claim continuity with the Old Testament religion. We believe in Jesus Christ.
Who is Jesus Christ?
Jesus is the Name of this Second Person Whom we confess alongside God the Father. St. Luke in his Gospel tells of the Annunciation, the visit the angel Gabriel paid to the Virgin Mary to tell her that she was favoured by God in that she would bear a child Who would be God’s Son. Gabriel told her that her Son was to be given the name Jesus. St. Matthew in his Gospel records that at some point after this Joseph of Nazareth to whom Mary was espoused was visited by an angel in a dream who told him to marry Mary and raise her child Who was the Son of God. Joseph is also told to give the child the name Jesus and is given a reason for the name “for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). This is what the name Jesus means. It was a common name among the Jews because it was the name of an important figure in the Old Testament. יְהוֹשֻׁעַ which when put directly into English from Hebrew is traditionally rendered Joshua was the name of one of Moses’ lieutenants, who led the Israelites into battle against various enemies when they were en route from Egypt to the Promised Land, who was one of the spies Moses sent into the Promised Land and the only one other than Caleb who proved to be faithful, and who was chosen to lead the people into the Promised Land after Moses death. The book narrating the conquest of Canaan bears his name. The book of Numbers tells us that his name was originally Oshea but that Moses changed it to Jehoshua or Joshua. Oshea means “salvation”. J(eh)oshua means “Jehovah is salvation”. Jesus is this Name after it has been transliterated from Hebrew into Aramaic, then from Aramaic into Greek, then from Greek into Latin, and finally Anglicized by the removal of inflection and rendering Latin’s consonantal I as J. It is in the divine Person Who bears this name in the New Testament that its meaning is truly fulfilled. The Old Testament Joshua prefigured Him. Through Joshua, God brought His people out of the wilderness in which they had been wandering due to their disobedience and into the Promised Land. Indeed, in the fact that Moses, through whom the Law was given and whose name often signifies that Law, led the people in the wilderness but could not lead them across the Jordan into the Promised Land, which was reserved for Joshua, we see illustrated in the Old Testament that key theme of the New, that the Law cannot take a person from the wildness of sin and bring him into the Promised Land of peace with God, only Jesus can do that. Jesus is Jehovah come into the world to save His people and the world from sin by taking that sin away on the Cross.
Christ is said or written together with Jesus so often that many assume it to be His surname. It is more accurately thought of as a title. As with the name Jesus it is the Anglicization of the Latin spelling of a Greek word that represents a Hebrew original. In this case, however, the Greek word is a translation rather than a transliteration of the Hebrew. The Hebrew word is מָשִׁיחַ which is rendered directly into English as Messiah. This word means “Anointed One”. In the Old Testament the kings of Israel were anointed with oil. So were the high priests and, on at least one occasion, prophets. Samuel was instructed by God to anoint first Saul, then David, as king with oil. David would not harm Saul because he was “the LORD’s anointed”. While every king of Israel and every high priest was a small-m “messiah” or small-c “christ”, the big-M Messiah or big-C Christ was the promised King who would arise out of the House of David to restore and redeem Israel. Promises of this Redeemer-King can be found throughout the Old Testament but especially in the writings of the prophets who arose to warn Israel and Judah and call them to repentance in the period just before and during the Assyrian and Babylonian invasions that took the northern and southern kingdoms captive respectively. In the prophetic writings it is promised that the future King will not merely restore Israel to what she was under David and Solomon but will usher in a Golden Age in which all nations will acknowledge His kingdom which will last forever, a New Covenant will be written in the hearts of man rather than on tablets of stone, and the curse on Creation due to man’s sin will finally be lifted.
The Gospel Jesus preached to Israel from the beginning of His earthly ministry was “the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand”. “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” can be paraphrased as “the promises are fulfilled, the Kingdom is present among you now”. Jesus could proclaim such a Gospel because the Kingdom was present in the Person of Himself, the King. He explained to them, however, in His teachings, that His Kingdom was spiritual rather than political and that it was bondage to sin that He came to deliver them and the world from rather than from the Roman Empire. That He, Jesus, is “the Christ, the Son of the Living God” was the sole article in the very first Christian confession or creed. This was the confession made by St. Peter in response to a query from the Lord first about Whom His disciples said that He was. Jesus praised the confession as revelation from His Father in Heaven and declared that He would build His Church upon this rock, then began to explain to His disciples that He would be crucified and rise again the third day. Later, just before He raised her brother Lazarus, Martha made the same confession as St. Peter in response to Jesus’ asking her whether she believed His assertion that “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.” (John 11:25-27). These interactions show that the Christ, the promised King of the House of David, the High Priest after the Order of Melchizedek, the Prophet greater than Moses, was the One Who gives everlasting life to all who believe in Him and that to do so He had to die Himself then rise again.
In the confession of St. Peter and Martha, “the Christ” and “the Son of God” are placed in apposition which is a way of saying that the two expressions refer to the same Person without needing an extra word to link or equate them. In the Psalms of David there are a number of verses in which the LORD speaks to or about the Messiah as His Son. The Old and New Testaments use the expression “son of God” with several different meaning. In the book of Job, the “sons of God” who assemble in His court are usually understood to be the angels. In St. Paul’s sermon at Mars Hill he spoke of all people as being God’s children. In the Old Testament the nation Israel is sometimes spoken of as God’s son and in the Johannine literature of the New Testament believers in Jesus are said to be children of God. When either Testament speaks of Jesus, the Christ, as the Son of God, however, He is not spoken of as being One Son among many, but as God’s Only Son. Similarly, when Jesus speaks of God the Father, He sometimes speaks of Him as His Father and He sometimes speaks of Him to His disciples as “your Father”, but He never speaks of God as “Our Father” so as to make His Sonship identical with that of His disciples. While the Lord’s Prayer begins with “Our Father” this is not Jesus including Himself with His disciples in “Our” and joining them in a common prayer but prescribing this form of prayer to them. The way in which Jesus is God’s Son, therefore, is unique to Himself and not shared with any other.
Everything in the portion of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed that we are considering alongside the second Article of the Apostles’ Creed that is not also found in the second Article is there for the purpose of clarifying precisely what it means that Jesus is the Son of God. This was at the heart of the controversy over which the two first Ecumenical Councils, the ones which gave us the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, were convened. A priest in Alexandria named Arius taught that Jesus was the first creation of God, Who had a beginning before which He was not, that God had created Him out of nothing with a similar but not identical nature to His Own, and then through Him had created all other things. When his heresy began to spill out and infect other dioceses and provinces outside of Alexandria, the First Council of Nicaea was convened to deal with the controversy. The orthodox side, led nominally by Arius’ own bishop, the Patriarch Alexander I of Alexandria, but in actuality by his archdeacon Athanasius, prevailed, the Arian positions were anathematized, and the Council published the original Nicene Creed, but the controversy continued long after with the Arians at times having the upper hand (Athanasius, who succeeded Alexander as Patriarch of Alexandra, was temporarily deposed of his See for seven years and was sent into exile on five separate occasions), making necessary the First Council of Constantinople which revised the Creed into the form we know today and condemned Arianism as heresy.
Before the second Ecumenical Council produced the final version of the Creed there were numerous attempts by Arian groups and other similar heresies to revise the Nicene Creed to their liking. An account of these can be found in the Historia Ecclesiastica of Socrates Scholasticus, the fifth century Christian historian who picked up where Eusebius of Caesarea, the “Christian Herodotus” left off. (2) The word in the Nicene Creed to which the most objections were made was ὁμοούσιον which means “of the same essence”. The heretical revisions replaced this word with such alternatives as ὁμοιούσιον which means “of a similar essence” and ὅμοιον which means “similar” in a more general sense. There are many today who consider such disputes to be hairsplitting but the orthodox side was right to stand its ground and insist upon ὁμοούσιον because that one iota that separates ὁμοούσιον from ὁμοιούσιον is the difference between the Son being God and the Son being a creature, the closest to God of all creatures, but a creature nonetheless. The word ὁμοούσιον captures what it is that makes Jesus’ Sonship distinct from that of all lesser beings who are in some lesser sense children of God. Human beings in general and angels are “sons of God” in the sense that they are His creatures but this does not make them God. Christians are children of God through regeneration (John 1:12-13) and adoption (Rom. 8:15) but this does not make them God. In creation, living things reproduce after their own kind. A cat gives birth to a cat, a dog sires another dog, a bird lays an egg and when it hatches it is another bird that comes out, etc. A man has a son and that son is a man like his father. This is the sense in which Jesus is God’s Son and in this sense of the word God has only the One Son, the Son Who is God as His Father is God. ὁμοούσιον was the best word for this because it guarded against the Arian heresy that Jesus is of a similar but different and lesser nature to God the Father without lending any support to the Sabellian heresy which stresses the unity in nature of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to the point that it denies the distinction between the Persons.
There is another way in which the Creed expresses the truth that Jesus’ Sonship to the Father is the kind of Sonship that means that He like His Father is God and this is the word “begotten”. In the English text of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed this word appears three times. The first of these is when it says that Jesus Christ is “the only-begotten Son of God”. Here “only-begotten” is the translation of τὸν μονογενῆ, the same word that is translated this way in the Authorized Bible in John 3:16. In the last century or so a consensus has arisen among New Testament Greek scholars this is a mistranslation based upon a mistaken etymology and that this word is better understood as meaning “unique” or “one of a kind”. This consensus is wrong, but even if it were correct it would not apply to the other two instances of “begotten” for in these the word γεννηθέντα is used which is the aorist passive participle of the verb which means “beget”. While this verb when used of the relationship between two created beings signifies that the begetter existed before the begotten when used of the Eternal Uncreated Father and His Eternal Uncreated Son it indicates the priority of the Father in the sense that He is the Source of the Son and the Son comes from Him but not priority in any temporal sense. That there never was a time before the Father had His Son is, indeed, what the two uses of “begotten” signify, the first by saying that the Son was begotten of the Father “before all worlds”, that is to say, before Creation, of which time is a dimension, the second by saying that “begotten” does not mean “created”. Theologically, this truth is usually referred to as the “eternal generation” of the Son, although the term filiation is also used.
These truths, that Jesus as the Son comes from the Father in such a way that What the Father is, God, He, the Son, is also are simply stated in each of the expressions “God of God”, “Light of Light” and “Very God of Very God”.
In this Article of the Creed we also affirm the Son’s Lordship. Saying that Jesus Christ is Lord can be another way of affirming His deity. To avoid profaning the divine Name, the custom had developed in the Hebrew tradition of saying the word that means “Lord” instead when reading the Old Testament text. When the Old Testament was translated into the Greek Septuagint this custom influenced the translators to put κύριος in the place of the divine Name and this practice persists into our English translation where the divine Name is transliterated as Jehovah or Jah in only a small handful of instances but otherwise rendered LORD spelled in all capitals to distinguish where the Name of God is what is indicated from places where אֲדֹנָי appears in the Hebrew text in which cases only the L is capitalized. When the New Testament calls Jesus κύριος, sometimes this word has the weight that it has in the LXX when it stands in for the Name of God, at other times it is used in a more literal sense of “Ruler” or “Master”. These meanings overlap, of course – Jesus as God is the Ultimate Sovereign Ruler of all – but there is a real distinction. Generally, when Jesus is declared to be Lord in a confessional sort of way (Rom. 10:9) the emphasis is upon His deity, when is spoken of as Lord in a more personal sort of way, the emphasis is upon His authority in His relationship with His disciples. In the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed the word “Lord” is qualified by the number “One”. This is directly parallel to how the Creed declares God to be One in the first Article about the Father. In the Nicene Creed, therefore, the emphasis in affirming Jesus’ Lordship is upon His deity. The Apostles’ Creed, however, which qualifies the word “Lord” with the possessive “our”, places the emphasis in His Lordship upon His relationship of authority to we who confess Him as such. The two versions of the Creed, therefore, complement each other, and present both aspects of Jesus’ Lordship as it is found in the New Testament.
The final affirmation in this portion of the Creed in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan version is “through whom all things were made”. This wording identifies the Son’s role in Creation in terms of instrumentality or means. The Son is the instrument through Whom the Father created all things. This is what we find asserted by St. John in the third verse of His Gospel “all things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made”. This follows shortly after St. John’s introduction of Jesus as “the Word” Who was “in the beginning” with God and Who “was God”. This alludes to the first chapter of Genesis which also starts with the words “in the beginning” and in which God creates all things through the means of His Word.
The second Article is all about the deity of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. We shall, Lord willing, next look at the third Article, in which the focus shifts to His humanity, God the Son become Man.
(1)“τοὐτέστιν ἐκ τῆς οὐσίας τοῦ Πατρός” is asserted with more precision as “ὁμοούσιον τῷ Πατρί” and “Θεὸν ἐκ Θεοῦ” as “Θεὸν ἀληθινὸν ἐκ Θεοῦ ἀληθινοῦ”.
(2) Eusebius was present at the Council of Nicaea as Bishop of Caesarea but finished writing his History just prior to the Council and concluded his narrative with the triumph of Constantine over his rivals.