Advent Series: Nicene Creed – God the Son (3)

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the 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.

Who, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

Now, for a variety of historical reasons, the section of the creed concerning the Son is the most detailed. Within this section is a denial of every major Christological error that had come up at this point, as well as many statements that preempt errors that would come in the future.

The article begins with what might be called a statement on Christ’s person. While the second covers what is classically considered Christ’s work.

Although not as explicit as the later Chalcedonian definition, the Creed here uses the same kind of appositive technique highlighted in our discussion of the Father to note that Jesus Christ is one and the same person as the only-begotten Son of God. This is important as later the next major Christological controversy would be a denial of that very fact. This single person, says the Creed, was begotten of the Father before all worlds. The Creed then proceeds to offer five clarifying statements which explain what it means to be begotten of the Father.

  • God of (from) God – The Son both is God, and is from God. As we noted last week, the Creed sees the Father as the “one God” and then defines the Son and Spirit in relation to that one God. Here Christ is said to be the one God, but he is said to be the one God because he is from (ἐκ) the one God. This language is strikingly similar to what we see in John 1:1 where the Logos is said to be both with God, and said to be God. This intentional equivocation on the word God is intended to emphasize both the unity and distinction of the Son and Father.
  • Light of (from) Light – Perhaps drawing on a familiar analogy that was being used around the time of the Council, particularly by the Cappadocian Fathers, this statement is essentially the same as the former.
  • Very (Truly) God from Very (Truly) God – This statement may seem as though it is a simple repetition and intensification of the first is actually an explicit denial of Arianism. Arianism did not deny that the Son was God, nor did they deny that he was from God. They denied that he was God in the same way that the Father was God. By adding an attribute that emphasizes the absoluteness of the Son being God, and by saying that the Son came from the Father, who is also absolutely God, they cut the Arian argument off from the start. In our language this might be communicated by saying “the one God from the one God.” This not only affirms the nature of the Son as identical with the Father, but it also emphasizes the idea that though they are indeed separate persons they are not separate Gods.
  • Begotten, not made – Further emphasizing the uncreatedness of the Son, they clarify what is meant by begotten. Namely, begotten means “not made.” Although this is paradoxical, this is an exercise in formally defining terms. This makes it clear that the Nicene Fathers were using the term begotten analogically rather than univocally .
  • Being of one substance with the Father – This final statement sums up what the previous four meant. Although there is linguistic disagreement as to whether this means that the Father and Son have the exact same kind of nature, or whether they have a singular nature which they share, it is clear from extra creedal documents that the latter is intended. Here is where the potential polytheism of Trinitarianism is averted. There Father and Son (and Spirit) are not two (or three) Gods precisely because they are of the same (numerically singular) nature, rather than of separate (numerically plural) natures.
  • By whom all things were made – although not an appositive statement, this further bolsters that the Son is indeed uncreated and thus God. Where we see that the Father is the Maker of all things, the Son is that instrument by which the Father made all things. It is important to understand this fact, as we are not speaking biblically when we call the Son the Creator in an absolute sense. Rather, the Son is the instrument by which the Father created. We will see something similar next week when we consider the Spirit.

Once the Creed establishes the person of the Son, it proceeds to describe his work. It does this by unfolding the historical reality and progression of the Son’s earthly ministry beginning with his incarnation, proceeding to his crucifixion, death, burial, ascension, and looking forward to his return.

  • For us men and for our salvation – the Creed roots the purpose of the incarnation in the salvation of human persons. Although this does not exclude an “incarnation anyway” approach, it highlights that the summary of the Biblical information that the Nicene Fathers wanted to enshrine as formal dogma was that the incarnation was a result of and solution for sin.
  • Came down from heaven and was incarnate – Christ, who was and is truly God, came down and took on a human nature.
  • By the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man – Although it isn’t the case that the Son was passive in this reality, the Creed here seeks to stay close to the clearest historical biblical statements on the incarnation. That is, that it was the agency of the Holy Spirit by which the incarnation took place. Furthermore, Christ’s nature was not created de novo, rather it was created of the Virgin Mary. The Holy Spirit did not implant a human nature in the womb of Mary, rather he mysteriously generated a human nature from Mary the same way it would normally happen upon the union of a sperm and egg in a natural pregnancy. The human nature of Christ began as an egg in Mary’s ovary, which was miraculously caused to become a human fetus and develop into an ordinary human nature with both a human body and spirit. Because of this, we can say that Christ truly experienced every stage of human life.
  • He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate… – The Creed again affirms that Christ’s crucifixion was for us and goes on to say that he really suffered, was really buried (was actually dead)
  • On the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures – Christ’s resurrection is affirmed as a historical fact, and the predictive prophecy of the Old Testament is affirmed
  • And ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father – Christ’s return to heaven as the justified, human, Davidic messiah is affirmed. His session as this risen Davidic king is also affirmed. Rather than look forward to some future earthly session, the Creed here understands Christ as currently sitting in session.[1]
  • He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead – Christ will return in such a way that all will know that he is God, and upon this return he will judge all persons both the quick (living) and the dead.
  • Whose kingdom shall have no end – Christ’s return will inaugurate a permanent kingdom in which Christ will dwell with his saints for all time. The implication of Christ returning and reigning is that his reign will be over a restored earth, although this is not explicitly stated.

Taken together, this section paints a picture of the Son as the one God who enjoys eternal and unbroken fellowship with his Father in light of his personal origin in and shared nature with the Father. This same Son of God truly became a man for the purpose of saving his wayward people, which he did exactly as the Scriptures both foretold and recorded. This same Son upon accomplishing his earthly task returned to his Father to enjoy the filial relationship he always had as God, but to enjoy that relationship now as man as well. Finally, this same Son will return to judge all men, and establish an eternal earthly kingdom over which he will reign.


 

[1] This, along with the closing clause of this section, is an explicit denial of Chialism. Chialism was the idea that Christ was not currently reigning, and that upon his return he would have an earthly reign for 1000 years, that would end upon the close of that millennium. Although this is not the same perspective as modern Pre-millennialism… it does bear concerning affinity. This is particularly the case with Dispensational varieties of Pre-millennialism.

 

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