In Scot McKnight book The King Jesus Gospel, which I reviewed a little while ago, Scot issued an interesting challenge: “I have always encountered people who boldly announce to me that they are ‘noncredal’ and even say ‘I don’t believe in the creeds’ because of their next words: ‘I believe in the Bible.’ I respond with one question, and I think I ask this question because I too was at one time one of their number: ‘What line or lines in the Nicene Creed do you not believe?'” He states later in the same paragraph that “there’s nothing there not to believe.”
With the deepest respect to Scot, this post is my response to his question. In point of fact, I have what I think are several reasonable objections to the Nicene Creed, which I’m going to lay out below. First of all, here’s the text I’m using. There are several variants, and I had to pick one, so I went with the version I found at www.reformed.org/documents/nicene.html:
The Nicene Creed
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
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.
And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.
And I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.
I’m not going to do a complete line-by-line commentary of the Nicene Creed because it’d get real boring real fast. I will stipulate, in answer to the objections that I’m sure some will raise, that there is a historical context in which the various clauses of the Nicene Creed (and others) may be more fully understood. But part of the error in insisting upon the creeds, in my view, is precisely that the creeds are taught in most churches as a thing to be believed and assented to, entirely devoid of their historical context. In fact, if we looked more frequently at the controversies that were being considered, which influenced various clauses in the creed, I rather suspect more of us might come to the conclusion I have, that some of those old arguments don’t compel us as they compelled the Fathers who fought over them in the third, fourth and fifth centuries.
At any rate, the following paragraphs address my major thoughts or objections.
I believe …
Strange as it may seem, my first objection comes with the very first two words, “I believe.” I’ve mentioned before that I see the Shema of the Old Testament, quoted by Jesus in Mark 12:29-31 among other places, as one of the best examples of a creed actually in the Bible. The Shema starts off with a simple declarative statement “The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” The focus is not the fact that we believe something, it is the reality that there is a God and He is one. God is God, and God is there, and God is one, regardless of what you, I, or anybody else thinks or believes. The shift from “there is a God” to “I believe in a God” may seem subtle to some, but to me it implies that the individual’s assent is the important thing.
Furthermore, the Shema goes from declaring that there is one God, to commanding that this God is to be loved as Lord. The creeds, on the other hand, focus merely on “right thoughts,” that is, giving intellectual assent to the existence and character of God. This is part of the shift from discipleship to religion against which I’ve argued repeatedly on this blog.
… the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds… (referring to Jesus)
This is not a section I actually take issue with, though I do take issue with the proposition that it matters. What I mean by this is that this clause, along with the “begotten, not made” clause later, address the issue of Jesus’ pre-creation existence. While I do see texts in scripture that suggest Jesus did in fact pre-exist creation (not least the first chapter of John, and John 8:58), I don’t know that a dogma of Jesus’ origin, and the timetable of his existence, is something we actually need to care about. Sure, the biblical evidence suggests these clauses are true (I think). But I fail to see what difference it makes. I certainly don’t countenance the Constantinople Council’s anathematization of anyone who disagreed.
… God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God … (referring to Jesus)
I rather suspect that only a tiny fraction of everyone who recites this phrase has any clue what it even means. I’m not sure I do. I presume it’s referring in some way to Jesus’ divinity, and the commentaries on it that I find through a quick Google suggest the same, though interestingly I find an alternative translation “God from God, Light from Light” etc., which may even be compatible with the divine-yet-subordinate position that I have previously suggested is a more accurate characterization of what Jesus said about himself–that is, that he comes from, and is therefore distinct from, the Father. So my objection to this phrase depends on how the speaker interprets it: if as a classic Trinitarian construction that places Jesus as fully divine and equal to the Father, I object to the content; if rather it’s just something the speaker doesn’t comprehend, I then object to reciting as credal, words that have no meaning to the speaker.
I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life …
It’s in Pneumatology that I really start to take serious issue with the Nicene Creed. This is one place where this creed goes far beyond its antecedent Apostles’ Creed, which merely stated “I believe in the Holy Spirit,” full-stop, with no qualification or theorizing. Whatever the Holy Spirit is or is not (and on this I have previously written), I can think of no place in the Scriptures where the Holy Spirit is referred to as Lord, and “Giver of Life” is mis-attributed altogether. The two texts to which I would point for this latter would be Genesis 2:7 and its beautiful New Testament mirror in John 20:22. In Genesis it is God the Father who breathes the breath of life into man (“breath” and “spirit” are synonyms in Greek and, I’m told, in Hebrew too), and in John it is Jesus who breathes the Holy Spirit onto the disciples, initiating or symbolizing their new life in the new Kingdom. The Spirit is, if anything, the life that is given, not its giver.
… who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified … (referring to the Holy Spirit)
I can find no place in the Scripture that admonishes or commands anyone to worship the Holy Spirit, nor states that the Spirit is glorified. Nor can I think of any reference to people doing so. The Breath of God is, as I wrote before, the tangible and very active presence of God working and speaking in the world, but it is never an object of worship.
There is more, I am sure, to be said, and this post is more of an opening for dialog than anything definitive. Nevertheless each of the above objections is, I believe, a reasonable point to challenge the Nicea crowd for going beyond what is written in some rather substantial ways.
There remain areas where, while I say it differently, I do believe things that are substantially similar to the statements of the great creeds. I illustrated as much in my post What IS a Christian, Anyway? I’m not saying the creeds are all wrong, but I do hold that emphasizing them is most assuredly wrong. As Tom Wright stated in a recent lecture at Calvin College, “It is possible to check the credal boxes, and miss the larger reality to which they are the signposts.” More than that, I would say without reservation that the Nicene Creed includes several boxes that ought not to be checked at all.
102 thoughts on “Why I Don’t Accept the Nicene Creed”
Just found your blog thanks to a post on Kurt Willem’s Pangea blog. This was an interesting way to start my morning. Thanks.
One thought—I coincidentally spoke on John 6:60-71 last Sunday. V. 63 says, as plain as day, “it is the Spirit who gives life.” (Although, not Lord and Giver of Life).
Thanks for your comment Steve. You may be right on John 6:63, but Jesus is contrasting “spirit” and “flesh” in that statement. In this context it is by no means clear that “spirit” means the Holy Spirit. I took a quick look at several English translations…NASB, ASV, NIV, and ESV all capitalize “Spirit” which, of course implies the Holy Spirit. KJV and NRSV do not capitalize it. Of course Koine Greek texts were written either in all caps or all small; they didn’t have the convention of capitalizing proper names we now use. The Greek “τὸ πνεῦμά” (to pneuma) can be used equally for the Holy Spirit (e.g. Matt. 3:16), the human spirit (Matt. 26:41), or even an unclean spirit (Mark 1:26). It can also just be plain “wind” (John 3:8) though I have actually questioned that translation before. Bottom line, the original language does not help us to parse what kind of “spirit” Jesus was referring to in that verse. It is interesting to me, however, that in the second half of that same verse Jesus says that the words he has spoken “are spirit and they are life.” That suggests to me something other than the Trinitarian Holy Spirit is the subject of his discourse.
Nevertheless this is the sort of question I hoped for…I welcome further thought and challenge.
A literal translation of 6:63 does not have the word who “who gives life” this implies Jesus is referring to The Holy Spirit, but he is referring to his words “the words I speak are spirit.” Dan is correct there is no verse that credits the Holy Spirit with giving life.
Thank you for this very thought provoking piece.
I agree that it is not Biblical to worship the Holy Spirit – in fact this was taught by the leader of the Church of which I was a part some 32 years ago (In the song “Father we love you, we worship and adore you” for the third verse he taught us – and I still sing – Spirit we love you … glorify Christ’s name in all the earth. Glorify HIS name…” etc.
However as far as him being the giver of life, I have always thought that this referred both to the giving of life , as Stephen Barkley pointed out above, and also the fact that it was he who ‘overshadowed’ Mary and brought about the Christ child with her.
Thanks Jacqui. I think you and your former leader were/are onto something.
For me the question of the Creed, any creed, is based on one fact: the mission of a Church when it is called to spread the Gospel. Creeds are not built out of someone’s fancy, the idea that I have been inspired to do something based on my individual epiphany. How is truth discovered? By the word of God. And how is the word of God to be understood? By reading of the Scriptures. And how were the Scriptures properly copied and passed on to the faithful? Through the Church. Not just any church but one that was universal, that had bishop, presbyters, deacons and scholars go over the books that were to be accepted into the Canon, the inspired books, of the Bible. There is only one Church, the churches of the East and the West. Two councils were convened in the late 4th and early 5th centuries. There are known as the Councils of Carthage and Hippo. The popes, or spiritual fathers of the church, convened them, sanctioned them and gave them the universal blessing for the Church. Now, once the Canon of the Scriptures is established, no where else did this happen, then the faithful, under the guidance of that Church, the one chosen by Christ, can faithfully continue to study, struggle for a better understanding of their meaning. WIthout the guidance of that Church, we have Babylon on earth once again.
With the exception of your setting up one (or two) institutions as the “true Church” I’m mostly with you here…though I do (as already written) reject the councils as having, in far too many respects, gone beyond what was written…to the detriment of the gospel.
I’d be interested to know how you would interpret Jesus’ statement that “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” (John 4.23-24)….
Also, given Athanasius’ rebuttal of Arius’s position of that Jesus (nor the Holy Spirit) could be an adequate mediator between God and humanity of they weren’t fully divine seems to be neglected in your article. And, to say that that is not relevant for today seems odd, since the Arian heresy finds an audience today with Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses….
The “I believe” seems appropriate historically, given that the Arian heresy was very much alive and well with renegade bishops embracing it….
Also, the “classical Trinitarian construction” you mention seems more Western/Augustinian in nature, and doesn’t seem to include the Eastern classical Trinitarian construction that has the Son and the Spirit as arms extending from the Father, which brings an “equal divine but functionally different/subordinate” bent to it….
Eric, thank you for engaging. To your first question I would answer that to “worship in spirit” is a very different thing than to “worship the Spirit.” The latter is what’s stated in the Nicene Creed; the former seems more like what Paul describes in Romans 8:26, where the Spirit intercedes for us in prayer to the Father.
As to the controversy between Arius & Athanasius, I would only say that their arguments are based upon logical conclusions not by any means required of the evidence in Scripture. Athanasius said only one who is “fully divine” could save us. According to what evidence? The Biblical evidence is that whatever and whoever Jesus was, his work and that of is unquestionably “fully divine” Father *did* save us. I’m happy to accept that as true without getting into complex Christological contortions as to why it was possible. To me, it was possible for the simple reason that the sovereign Father determined it was. Likewise with Jesus having a beginning. So what? Jesus’ own statements make clear that in some form (obviously pre-incarnate) he preexisted creation. But he himself never commented on his pre-creation being, and frankly, we would do well not to worry about trivia that we don’t understand and for which the Father did not reveal an answer.
As to the Eastern construction, I admit being pretty much unfamiliar with Eastern thought. I know that I have no more truck with Eastern apostolic succession than the Western variety, so while I regard those of that confession as my brethren, I have no interest in joining myself to a church that insists on that apostolic hierarchy. But some of my Eastern-influenced interlocutors have suggested in the past that a lot of the problems I have with Western Evangelicalism are much less problematic from an Eastern perspective. Some day I’m going to have to read more. To your direct question, however, I’ve heard a variety of hair-splitting over ontological equality and functional subordination, and I remain unconvinced for the simple reason that I see Jesus in his own words presenting subordination sans equality.
Just read your comment in response to Stephen, and wanted to focus on that last part:
“in the second half of that same verse Jesus says that the words he has spoken “are spirit and they are life.” That suggests to me something other than the Trinitarian Holy Spirit is the subject of his discourse.”
Given that Jesus states that he is “the way, the truth and the life” later in John 14, I’m curious how one could not equate the spirit with Jesus in John 6.63, and esp. in the context of the whole Logos theme that starts John off….
But that’s exactly my point, Eric. Jesus’ use of “spirit” in those words seems adjectival, categorical. Whatever he is saying (and that’s the subject of a long analysis, and perhaps a good bit of semi-fruitless speculation), it seems to me he is pretty clearly *not* describing a distinct “person” or “being” we call The Holy Spirit.
Dan: Interesting, but I will not comment. Btw, I did try and write to your last post on CMP’s blog, but he would not let this one thru? And seeing that you are, it appears an Open Theist? I will not engage, as you know I am a Reformed or Calvinist Anglican. But I will recommend John Frame’s: No Other God. 😉
Sorry, Robert, that you find me beyond dialog. Yes, I am an open theist, though I don’t write off my Calvinist brethren…
Hey Dan…I still think a thorough read of Cappadocian and Athanasian theology would really help you understand the Creed much better. You might not agree with what you read, but I think you would certainly be able to understand why they proclaimed what they did, and why they proclaimed it.
Maybe, if Ryan, but I don’t think lack of understanding is really the issue. I think the councils, very much including Athanasius, determined they needed to conclusively answer questions neither posed in, nor addressed by Scripture. In so doing, they erred in category, not merely accuracy. An in-depth study of their work might inform this opinion, but I doubt it’d refute it. An awful lot of authorities both ancient and modern concede that Arius was never refuted on Scriptural, exegetical grounds by his interlocutors. Thus the councils did by fiat what they failed to do by exegesis.
Dan: I am not engaging, for we have already been down this road, and I don’t think anything else, on this subject, would be fruitful. I can see that there is really no “dialogue” with the EO Brethren, here for you either! Just opinion. See, just today what I have put out on my own blog on Arius and Arianism, you might find it surprising? And I do have Rowan Williams book myself: Arius: Heresy and Tradition, (1987. I think the American edition is 2002?) We simply must engage the history and theology itself, and this you have simply not done! At least I have not seen it?
Maybe, but in my readings of the Fathers they never claimed to hem God in or to determine anything conclusively. They, as bishops and shepherds, were trying to protect the flock against what they understood (Biblically) as being dangerous. I do think that if you read them you would see how highly they regarded Scripture, their own weakness, their inability to circumscibe God and how gentle, sophisticated and gentle their teachings were compared to how they are popularly understood today. To say that they did it without Scripture is, in my opinion, disingenuous.
Robert, your question is a fair one. I try to honestly engage with any commenters on this site, with the Scriptures and their exegesis of them. Not being in either an academic or pastoral profession, my time to research the historical and theological literature is somewhat limited. I make no claims to academic theological credentials, and only claim that it is actually possible for the layman to engage Scripture on its own terms.
I would say that as to the historical figures, were I to have the time and resources to engage them directly, I would bring to them precisely the same standard I bring to dialog with living, breathing contemporaries…and that is how what they are saying squares with the Scriptural testimony, and whether the conclusions they offer actually follow from the Scriptural evidence or whether they rely on other assumptions and/or sources.
My rejection of “father XXX says so therefore you’re wrong” arguments is based, not on a firm conviction about father XXX, but rather on the notion that father XXX has no authority in and of himself, as regards adding to, conclusively interpreting, or ending dialog on a point of scripture. But as to the theologian’s discipline of quoting and cataloging each authority’s position, and then discussing where it does or does not have merit, I would love that luxury but don’t have it. Given my limited time and resources, I choose to focus them primarily on the source whose authority I *do* accept (Scripture) rather than those I do not.
My conviction remains, as a disciple of Jesus, that I am not left with only two choices…that of the full-time academic or the submissive layman who accepts the academic’s claims without evaluation.
That said, if in your extensive knowledge of the Fathers, you want to propose a biblical argument one of them has made, that I have overlooked, that’s a dialog I would love to have. Many have pointed out that a certain Father’s opinion might prove me wrong…None have yet showed me the Scriptural foundation for that claim.
And to your final comment; that there is no “dialogue” with EO brethren here…none have come. I reject no one but the troll. What do you suggest?
@Ryan, I have a strong sense that you’re mostly right…that the Fathers themselves largely did not claim for themselves the level of near-infallibility that I perceive (rightly or wrongly) in modern Christians who appeal to them. I would mitigate that claim somewhat, however, given the several documents from the councils that anathematized anyone who didn’t share their conclusions. “If you don’t agree, you can go to hell” is not exactly a position of humility.
If I said they came to the conclusions they did without Scripture, I misspoke, as that was not my intention. I do see that people today appeal to their authority without seeming to find it necessary to reach through the Fathers’ work to the Scriptural basis they used (if that was, indeed the basis). Even if what we’re saying is that Athanasius (for example) found X to be true in Scripture, therefore we accept it as true, without actually going back, not just to Athanasius, but to his Scriptural citation and reasoning, then to the extent we accept Athanasius on his own merits alone, I believe we err. And that’s exactly what I see many neo-patristics doing.
To sum, to what extent the Fathers themselves were in error, and to what extent Christians today err in ascribing unjustified and uncritical weight to the Fathers’ conclusions, is a question I have not fully divided in my own mind. To do so would require a lot more research than I have the time to do at this stage in my life. But the conclusion remains the same…to accept anything simply and entirely upon the evidence that the Fathers concluded it, is to my mind a grave error. It is this I feel I am being challenged to do, and to the extent that is the challenge, I reject it on the grounds of inappropriate authority.
And as a point of engagement, both Robert and Ryan, this particular thread is one where I made several very specific challenges, not to the Nicene council as an entity, but to explicit statements in the Nicene Creed. Do you have any interest in countering or engaging those challenges?
We often lack critical reflection of things, you are correct. The Fathers as men and individuals were indeed fallible, and anyone who believes other wise has forgotten that god alone is without sin.
Where we diverge is on the point of whether or not the Church militant is capable, in the Spirit, to discern and decree truth. It, for us, is in the witness of time that the Fathers gain credibility (on particular issues).
As far as accepting your last challenge, I would love a continued dialogue. I just don’t know where to begin. So many of the points I would challenge you on are mostly points where I think actually reading the source texts would change your mind.
I am curious though, maybe we could start here, is the Spirit God?
As an aside, I don’t accept the Creed you used. It contains the Roman “heresy” of the filioque. This creed states that the Spirit proceeds from the Father “and the Son,” as where the original reads the Spirit proceeds from the Father.
Light from Light, True God from True God is a good rendering because ek is used in the Greek. fos ek fotos etc.
Dan: I try not to press my philosophical and theological education (D. Phil.,Th.D.), at least foremost, for I am really always a perpetual student type. And with this I approach almost everything, at least in the Creedal sense, from history, and something of the historical method, again at least here. But, blblically I am much more of a presuppositionalist. And I have always found the best of the Church Fathers, both East and West, to be men close to Scripture. But of course men that have been pressed within the neo-Platonism for the most part. Here certainly is the backdrop of the NT Scripture, with the idealism and visionary. And we know the Holy Scripture was the OT Greek Septuagint, in the NT Church. And as I have said, St. Paul was certainly a Jewish Greco-Roman Hellenist, (Acts 21: 39 ; 22:2-3).
I am one that reads and reads, so I am always seeking to see what has and is being said about especially historical things. As to the Council of Nicaea 1, I would suggest Kalled Anatolios’s fine book: Retrieving Nicaea, The Development and Meaning of Trinitarian Doctrine. (A Baker Book) He is I believe an Eastern rite Catholic. And also he has written two of the finest books on Athanasius I have read too!
Btw, I would agree with Ryan on the “filoque”, who is himself an EO or Orthodox, if you did not know it? Though I am not sure I would see it always as “heresy”? But it sure can be if it is pressed!
And actually, I would agree with both of you that the Spirit preceding from the Father is more consistent with the Biblical evidence than proceeding from the Father and Son. So on that point I would, without knowing it, have landed on the Eastern border of that particular controversy.
I do not, however, see evidence in the Biblical text that the Spirit *is* God, which is one element of my objection to those clauses in the NC. I elaborated on this point a little more in a three-post series on the HS that I did a little over a year ago:
The Holy Spirit – Breath of God
The Holy Spirit – When and Where?
If Spirit = Breath, What of Theopneustos?
I think these might elucidate my perspective on the Spirit. But the short answer is that the Biblical testimony is that the Holy Spirit is from God, but may not even be a being or “person” at all so is not accurately described as God.
You may also notice in this series, Robert, that I referred to the Septuagint rendering of the Spirit in Genesis 1 in this very series. I’m quite aware of the LXX as the Scriptures the N.T. writers would have known and used.
Mulling this over a little further, Robert, I find the filioque controversy actually supporting my objection to the Trinity. Unless the Father and the Son are ontologically distinct, splitting out from whom the Spirit proceeds is a logical impossibility.
No. Their ontology/essence is the same. Are you and I ontologically distinct? No. We are human, that is ontologically what we are, we are different persons, but not different ontologically. In time-bound and very human language, my son is ontologically one with me, but he is distinct in his person. This is the language and thought of the Trinity. The three are one in essence, “Hear O Israel the Lord is one…” One God, in three persons. The Father is the head, the source, the one from whom all things come, but the other two are essentially one with him, and in perfect and undivided communion with the Father. The world was made, as John says, by the Word; the world is saved by the work of the Son–which is impossible if he is not God ( Mark 2:7). Genesis show that the Spirit to was involved in creation, and is the living breath of God (participle denoting a timeless aspect). He is the life that is within all things, and is giving life to man. He, is given and speaking and praying on our behalf, sanctifying us, allowing us to proclaim Christ and him crucified. His activity and life giver and sanctifier, is derived from hm being the Spirit of God. My spirit is not ontologically distinct from me, it is me, a part of me. He is a person too, not a thing. He comes and goes and moves like a thing (wind, breath etc) but he comes and goes as He wills. He speaks in a small still voice. He is personal.
Let us create…
Argh… We’re obviously even using the word “ontology” differently…not a complete surprise since even philosophers don’t seem to have standardized the term (see this link to see what I mean). You appear to be referring to formal ontology, in that you refer to the Son & Father to be the same category of thing (to oversimplify), something with which I at least partially agree). But to extend your analogy, you and I are both human, but we certainly are not in the sort of intimate fellowship you then described for the Trinity. So with respect i’d suggest there’s a bit of a disconnect in your argument.
But to, clarify, my use of the term “ontologically distinct” was really according to the “scientific” character of the term in the article linked above…distinction of being, individuality of being or entity…the distinction which allows you and I to both be human, male, etc. and yet be truly non-overlapping beings. In that sense, I would repeat, unless the Father and Son are distinct in this way, the filioque controversy is a non-sequitur.
@Dan: I confess that it is hard to dialogue wih you? Are your sure you understand philosophy 101? But I confess that Open theists shew logic to my mind. Btw, concerning the Holy Spirit, as I mentioned on Michael’s blog, the book by E.W. Bullinger: Word Studies on the Holy Spirit would be a good challenge. He covers many scripture texts, from the Gospel’s to Revelation!
I think I will bow out here, and leave you in the good hands of our brother Ryan. Perhaps you might check out Khaled Anatalios books I mentioned sometime?
Well, Robert, I’m sorry to see you depart with this tone. If I may, a parting question to you. Have you considered whether you’re even interested in dialog with your educational or intellectual inferiors as you perceive them? I answered your direct questions with direct statements, hyperlinks, and Scripture. You answer mine with authors and book titles. You can respond to my reasoning if you please…I can only respond to yours if I break my Amazon budget (which I won’t), or if I have access to an academic library (which I don’t).
You ask whether I understand philosophy 101. I probably do not, and I have never claimed otherwise. But I believe my statements are sufficiently clear that if you choose, you can understand and respond to exactly what I am saying.
This brings up my core point. One, but only one of two things is true of the Nicene creed (and a variety of other theological constructs, for that matter). Either they are technical statements of arcana incomprehensible to the layman, or not. If the latter is true, my objections are worthy of honest consideration and candid response you do not deign to give. If the former, the Church and its leaders (including you personally, since you prepend the honorific “Father” to your name) are guilty of malpractice in that no one ought ever be encouraged, let alone mandated, to subscribe to a position he cannot hope to comprehend.
I described ontology from the perspective of the Fathers who defined the Trinity. Persons are distinct. Which is why the Orthodox have such a problem with the Filioque. I will read your definition of ontology later when I have more time. But know, that this distinctiveness and non-overlap within the Trinitarian union is why I’ve been prodding you to read the sources; becasue, in them you’ll see that what you want the Trinity to be, and how you basically understand it is almost true. They are three distinct persons living in a dynamic union of love with the Father as the head. They share the ontology of Godhood, but are distinct in their persons. We go no further, but have defined this to safeguard salvation against those he devalue Christ and the Spirit to creature-hood, which would eliminate our salvation.
This intrigues me, Ryan, because what you’re saying is radically different from how I perceive Protestants represent the Trinity. Do you have any online sources that expound further on this perspective?
As my comments on the Holy Spirit make clear, that’s not my only objection to the Trinity construct, but it is an important one.
PS..Dan, just one last thing? Let me share this link with you from Athanasius towards the Arian’s. Though he is abhored by the error and the attack on the doctrine of God (as we all should be!), his logic and scripture are beyond reproach, and steadfast!
I will want to read that entire discourse, Robert, though it will not happen today. Thank you for the link. I have previously read that quote or something very similar. My argument remains (as you likely already realize) that if one cannot be impeached on logic or Scripture, one cannot consequently be held a heretic as the standard for dogma allows no other authority. In this we quite obviously differ, but that is not a difference that can be resolved by reason. We simply acknowledge different authorities. That’s a point of faith, not debate.
@Dan: I am sorry you have taken this so personally, I have only pressed and confronted your epistemology and method. As an old “theolog” myself this has been more theological and techincal to method, etc. And I suggested a few books. But again, noting how you engage, I have not thought it worth a real dialogue, as I have stated. And it appears I was right. My point, is one must have the tools, and too the willingness to use them. And again, I just have not seen them with you, sorry to be so blunt. It appears to me at least, that you have kind of a “fundamentalist” approach, check me if I am wrong? But again, I have challenged you historically and theologically, and certanly your “epistemology”.
You have challenged me to go read a bunch of people, Robert, and maybe some day I will be able to do so. You have not actually challenged my reasoning, other than to say that reasoning from Scripture alone is unacceptable. I presume that’s what you mean about my epistemology. You have said I’m misinformed about history, but you haven’t actually informed me with any historical information. You have implied that I might be wrong exegetically, but you haven’t actually suggested any scripture at which is the case. I’m not entirely sure how this is engagement.
But more importantly, you have not squared the circle between the arcana required properly to comprehend the Creed, with the notion that any legitimately orthodox Christian (though incapable of really understanding it) ought to confess it.
Unless I’m very wrong, what I have taken from your posts is that no one who hasn’t taken (had) the time to study extensively the patristic writings, has any business doing anything but meekly accepting that whatever they said, distilled down to the Creeds, must be accepted at face value. If I have erred in that conclusion, then how?
You perceive rightly. The standard protestant view and understanding of the Trinity is woefully lacking. The Orthodox view is more dynamic and sensitive to the unknowability of God, seeking not to define or limit him as much as it desires to safeguard our salvation.
Online resources I will hunt for some. If it’s books you like I could happily purchase a copy of “On God and Christ” for you and drop it in the post, or something along those lines.
I went through your posts on the Holy Spirit. Orthodox theology disagrees with you on many points, though you come very close to us at times.
I think, therefore, that our dialogue would be more fruitful if you were to ask questions of me than vice-versa. I have concluded this because I see that you have many issues with some of the doctrines we’ve been discussing but I have not been able to discern what bothers you the most. If we were to come at your posts, point by point, we would be at this for a very long time, and could potentially miss the forest for the trees.
An eminently reasonable suggestion, @Ryan. The first and most fundamental question, as I am guessing you may have also detected in my exchanges with Robert, is one of what authorities are valid to use for the establishment of dogma. I’ve gotten into this several times, perhaps the best summary is my Word About Creeds, but I’ll put it to you as a two-parter here:
1) Is there spiritual value in establishing a non-negotiable dogma whose detail or precision is more, or more tightly defined, than supporting Scripture might suggest? If this is valid, why and for what purpose?
2) If the answer to (1) is yes, what or who has the authority to so establish such a dogma, and what or who constitute valid grounds to challenge it or them?
I ask these before I get into the H.S. detail because for me they are foundational to the whole process. Even if we do not agree on the answers (as I suspect we may not), we can still seek common ground for the purpose of exploring the detailed questions. I look forward to your thoughts!
1. Yes there is a spiritual advantage in establishing non-negotiable dogmas. You and I clearly disagree that the dogmas go beyond Scriptural bounds, some may seem to be a stretch at times, but they are Scripturally based. The Orthodox faith has no dogma that is not Scripurally based. Also, you have seen that we also understand things differently (or actually similarly), i.e. the Trinity. So, the why is, for us, a non-issue because we don’t think we went beyond the text. The purpose is to frame right belief concerning our salvation–thus the purpose is solely salvific. It isn’t to define God, it is, as the Creed above says, “for us and our salvation.” It’s to keep us from going astray.
2. The answer for parts 1a and 1b is the same. Nothing in the Church is determined unilaterally by one person or one group. In other words, only the Church has the right to accept or question dogma. The dogmas and creeds were formulated and accepted over the course of hundreds of years. They were normative then and are normative now because the body of Christ (headed by Christ and guided by the Spirit) has discerned them to be true and normative. For them to be over turned would take hundreds of years and the overwhelming support of the militant Church (the opposite of what made them so in the first place). There is no place for ex-cathedra. The Orthodox Church, though it is hierarchical, is still democratic. There have been doctrines, ideas and movements that were seen to be good or declared at other councils that the laity refused-and the councils and their decisions became null.
I appreciate these responses a great deal, Ryan. You are clearly representing a markedly different attitude, at least in your experience of EO, when compared either to the Roman Catholic church or most Protestant churches. The hair I would split with you on dogmas is that “Scripturally-based” and “Scripturally-derived” are two different concepts (something I believe you implied yourself). I would argue that only the latter dare be determined as dogma; the former may be acceptable teaching as long as held with an open, but non-dogmatic hand. Nevertheless, I find that while this distinction may provide a framework for understanding places we might disagree, it absolutely need not mount a barrier to further exploration and dialog. I still hear in your answer a primacy to Scripture that I find reassuring.
I am also intrigued by the nuance in your answer to (2). I have not heard of doctrines declared at councils that were then rejected by laity, and that’s a chunk of history I would very much like to learn more about. It also feels contradictory (to me) to the statement with which you open the paragraph: “…only the Church has the right to accept or question dogma.” Does that mean that I, or a group of like-minded lay believers, do not have the right to question the Scripurality of a dogma settled by the church, whether historically or now? The latter half of your paragraph would suggest an answer in the negative, but I don’t quite understand the balancing act there. Can you elaborate a bit further?
Now, as we sort the foundational authority question, my first specific pneumatology question. I’ve already laid out my objection, but how do you interpret the Nicene characterization of the Holy Spirit as “the Lord, the Giver of Life,” and what do you see as the scriptural basis for that clause?
1. The derived and based distinction is splitting hairs, there doesn’t seem to be an appreciable distinction that makes itself apparent, but I could certainly be wrong. Further, unfortunately, our theology is very different but not many are taught to understand just how different. Here in the US many of us Orthodox think in Catholic and Protestant ways. For the Orthodox, especially (in my opinion) the early Fathers leaned equally, if not more, on Scripture than Tradition, and that has reversed in our times. Though Tradition (Kerugma) is a source of revelation (2 Thessalonians 3:6) it must always square with Scripture.
2. The 2nd? council of Florence, which was a reunification council with Rome was accepted and ratified by the bishops who attended, except one eastern rep, but at the end of the day the Orthodox majority said, as is crystallized in the words of St. Mark of Ephesos (I think), I would sooner be under the turban of the sultan than the tiara of the Pope.
The Church is all the saints, not just the hierarchy (so we’re clear). A group of people, or even a person, is welcome to question anything. If we don’t question what makes us seek? However, if we start bucking dogmas that have stood for 1500 years we had better be carrying some pretty big guns!!
We’ve got a ton of common ground here. I’m struggling to come up with a good example of the based-vs-derived distinction…let’s try mode of baptism as a probably-imperfect example (and I honestly don’t know what Eastern tradition is here). The word “baptizo”implies immersion both from what I’ve read of early tradition (Hyppolytus comes to mind). Furthermore, I have read (though I can’t come up with a reference at the moment) that the word was used to describe the sinking of a ship in extrabiblical literature.
Some churches have made a dogmatic stand that baptism must be by full immersion. I see this as Scripturally-supportable, certainly something which cannot be refuted by Scripture alone, and consistent with Scriptural obedience. I do not, however, see Scriptural evidence of sufficient strength to draw a dogmatic line in regard to how wet one gets in baptism, in large measure because the New Testament authors appear not to have concerned themselves with documenting methodology. Thus, I see baptismal mechanics as adiaphora strictly on the basis of insufficient Scriptural guidance.
Some Scriptures for “Lord” that were used are:
2 Thessalonians 3:5; 1 Thessalonians 3:12-13; 2 Corinthians 3:14-17.
As for the giver of life:
To have breath is to have life. In the garden God is breathing the breath of life onto the nostrils of man. Breathing (a participle) denotes a timeless aspect without end. God is breathing his Spirit into all humanity ceaselessly. John 3:5 testifies that the Spirit giving life because man cannot be born (given life) without him.
Admittedly the doctrine of the Spirit is very difficult.
So to be clear. Immersion itself is based, and mechanics are derived?
OK, I’m confused. What do those three Scriptures say that explicitly links the “Lord” to whom they refer with the H.S.? That’s a tenuous inference at best…
And I completely agree with your use of spirit as the breath of life; those articles of mine that I linked and you read above make the same case. But whether the “Holy Spirit” as a being is the “Giver of Life” or whether God’s Breath (non-personal) is the life given, does not seem so clear by my reading of the texts. I am inclined toward the latter as actually being a reading that makes more sense. Likewise John 3, taking the context of vv. 5-8, may well be this more-amorphous spirit-as-breath rather than a divine “Holy Spirit.” Certainly you yourself know that the N.T. writers often explicitly denote πνεύματος ἁγίου when they are talking about the Holy Spirit. One does not have to be Gnostic to suggest that in absence of the “hagion,” the spirit being described is sometimes, but not always, referring to other than the Holy Spirit.
And on baptism, no, I’m saying that the command to baptize is Scripturally-derived…that is, it can be conclusively drawn from Scripture itself. To baptize is a necessary component of obedience to Christ. The mechanics are based upon or inferred from Scripture, but can only be defined by some combination of extrabiblical sources, inference, or the like. Baptizing by immersion or by pouring water on the head are more or less supported by the texts and/or words (IMO immersion is better supported), but they are not explicitly derivable from Scripture and therefore cannot be determined to the level of dogma.
To be even more clear…that which can be “derived” from Scripture alone may (but not necessarily “must”) be seen as dogma; that which is supported, but reasonable readings of Scripture might come to other conclusions, may not ever be dogma.
BTW Ryan, I just happened to come across a point on ontology that informs the vocabulary confusion we had, and which Robert disdained so, in some of my earlier quotes. I’m presently reading Braden Anderson’s “Chosen Nation,” a work of theopolitics that’s definitely stretching my technical capacity given that my education is all in the sciences. I quote a brief passage from Anderson’s characterization of William Cavanaugh’s position on the creation/fall narrative. He states that:
“The Christian story begins with the ‘natural unity of the human race,’ a unity rooted in the imago dei and the source of catholic unity. This unity is disrupted by humanity’s sin in the form of a ‘usurpation of God’s position.’ The initial effect of this sin is the breaking up of the whole of humanity throughout the world, the ‘very creation of individuals as such, that is the creation of an ontological distinction between individual and group.‘” (pp.74-75, quoting Cavanaugh, “The City,” 183-84, boldface emphasis mine).
I point this out merely to demonstrate that I am not unique in seeing ontological distinction as referring to the distinction of individuals within a category, Robert’s contempt of my admittedly-limited knowledge notwithstanding.
We’ll have to agree to disagree about the Scripture verses, because (IMO) the Lord that is directing to the Father and the Son in 2 Thes and the Lord of 2 Cor 17 is the Spirit.
Is that which is given (Spirit) not also that which gives? If I give you a flashlight, the flash light is the light that is given and it is also the light giver.
Can anything that continuously proceeds from the Father be anything but divine, even if it isn’t personal? Though, obviously I think him personal and divine because he intercedes for me (Romans 8:26). There is also an OT reference, which I can’t find now, I think it’s the only one, that gives the Spirit personal attributes other than neuter ones.
I now understand based and derived from your perspective.
I am not certain that I thought you to be unique, I have been taught to understand it from the context of the Fathers of the conciliar period. From that perspective it doesn’t appear that man changed ontologically, but relationally. Our relationships with each other and ultimately with God changed. I also base this on the Scriptures (derive it actually) because the whole Bible is about my relationship to God (Commandments 1-4, Jesus’ first command) and my relationship with others (commandments 5-10, Jesus’ second).
re: ontology. I’m not sure I agree with the quote…haven’t really thought about it. I introduced it only for the sake of pointing out that there seems to be a diversity of usage of it even as a term of art in the theological discipline.
You are right that there are some references (the Paraclete ones being other examples) that incline toward a personal HS, even as others suggest (to me at least) an apersonal presence of, or action of God rather than an entity or being. I don’t argue strongly for or against either. Rather, in the sense of “derived” vs. “supported” already discussed, I suggest that to memorialize one particular interpretation in credal form a la Nicaea is to go beyond what is written, and beyond the pale of legitimate dogma. So this is not so much a doctrine I oppose, as that I oppose the “dogmatization” of it, and more particularly the Constantinople anathametization of those who disagree.
@Dan: My agrguments are from both the Holy Scripture and certainly the Church Fathers, the Reformation, and history in general. And certainly something of the Church Catholic (this surely includes the Reformation & Reformed). But, when I look at yours, I am not sure just what is your authority? I suppose the literal idea of Scripture? For I don’t see much of any historical lines in your thought. But so much of what I would call human opinion. So, with this.. and of course with my time structure (lack of with you), I have made my so-called biblical & theological judgments.
And I still believe you are basically “Arian”, at least by theological definition. Note, my own blog post about even today’s so-called Arian Catholicism. Which is very real and alive! And as I believe the Arian heresy was certainly perhaps one of the worst in the Church’s history. It has hardly abated, but lives on with so many! And I am certainly one that takes that whole history and reality very real!
But anyway, it is good that Ryan has the time and patience to chat with you. I will try to keep abreast here.
PS..The other day on Michael’s blog, I had more time.
The Anethema against Arius was leveled to condemn his teaching, and to cause him to repent. Arius was a genius, and he didn’t receive so much time and effort for nothing. Most, if not all, the major heresies of the early period were being brought by intelligent people who knew Scripture. This is why the Church fought them so vehemently…to protect the kerugma.
On ontology I was talking to a friend of mine who is philosopher about different strands of ontological understandings and he basically said we could talk until the cows come home on that one subject–so yes, there is great diversity of understanding.
BTW, I have often wondered why it was worth making statements that marginalized entire groups pf people (sometimes very large), for the sake of making a distinction. Chalcedon and the monophysite controversies, but, at the end of the day I believe that what was determined is correct, even though the way in which it was determined and executed may have been lacking immensely.
Ryan: Indeed I have some Coptic Orthodox friends, and Miaphysite simply but profoundly means that Christ has one united nature out of two: divinity and humanity. Here appears to be more of Cyril’s ‘one incarnate nature of God the incarnate Logos/Word.’ I think the mystery of Chalcedon is quite big enough for this. Of course I like the more classic Orthodox statement: ‘He being one Son, dual in nature, not dual in Person.’
Also Ryan, here is a piece I wrote on my own blog…
The spirit of man is the lamp of the Lord, searching all the innermost parts . . .
The glory of young men is their strength, but the splendor of old men is their gray hair.
Blows that wound cleanse away evil; strokes make clean the innermost parts.” (Prov. 20:27;29-30. ESV)
We should note that only the LORD, gives out His “blows”, but for our growth, and not to harm us! And even our “spirit”, is like the lamp and life of the Lord! But HE must redeem us.. The imago Dei! The Reformed believe that the “imago” is accidental, not substantial so that it can be lost. And the Reformed teach that the Christ as the Son of God and the Second Person of the Trinity, is the “imago Dei invisibilis”, ‘the image of the invisible God, and is thus Himself.. the essential or natural image of God, in His equality with the Father, and not in the sense of his being an archetype for humanity.’
Note, Adam as the Federal Head.. lost the race of man! And only ‘In Christ’ is this again redeemed!
@ Fr Robert, I don’t disagree with Chalcedon, and I understand it pretty well. Probably not as well as you though.
The image of God is found within humanity, at least for us Orthodox. It wasn’t lost. Yes, we were lost to death by Adam, and have renewed to life by the last.
Robert, in answer to your question on authority, I claim none for myself. I claim only that God intended for his Scriptures to be read, studied, and understood by all his people, not merely a subset who have otherwise-defined authority, whether that authority is assumed by themselves or conferred by others. I claim further that no human is immune to challenge as to whether those Scriptures actually say what those humans have claimed they say. This non-immunity extends even to the Fathers and the Councils.
As I have explained to Ryan, my argument is simply that the Scriptures don’t tie a great many points up in the neat, airtight packages that the councils, and many theologians since, have tried to make. When the Scriptures themselves lack explicitness (and here I believe that both Christology and Pneumatology figure), it is not wrong for humans to inquire into more detail, for I genuinely believe that contemplating such detail can lead us to greater trust in and/or awe of God. But to specify and codify the results of that inquiry to levels of detail greater than Scripture itself has done, and then to place such conclusions in the realm of dogma beyond the pale of further question is, I believe, wrong. The result of having done so has been a great deal of unnecessary schism and condemnation.
I should add that I do not for one moment dismiss the value of scholarship, or the richness of the insights scholars can add/have added. What I dismiss is the scholars’ right to demand of the laity an unquestioning assent to the outcomes of their work. That the scholars have determined themselves to be, or been determined by others to be, authoritative in “the Church” does not change this.
@Ryan: We would have very much agreement on many things theological, as the Ecumenical Councils, many of the Church Fathers, and even much of the Church. However, the doctrine of Sin, and man’s loss to God’s nature, is as St. Paul says writing to Christians at Ephesus: “And you were “dead” in your trespasses and sins..” (Eph. 2:1). This is much more than a metaphor, and exposes man’s depth in Sin itself! I am one that sees the Scripture expressing man’s total loss “spiritually” before God. And until God “breathes” life on man, he is “dead” in sin! As our Lord spoke: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again (from above by God) he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3) Or even enter, (John 3:5).
And theologically, we can see this depth of the doctrine of sin in the writings of Augustine, who actually changed his early position, to the so-called later position, in Romans 7, etc. Note the famous written debate with Pelagius. Now we have semi-pelagian, etc.
@Dan: Again, by your statements, you appear to diminish the “authority” of the visible church, which is also an issue between us. Not to mention really the authority of Holy Scripture also. What would be your position as to the Church “sacraments”? I would guess this would be a version of today’s Zwinglian? But, note, Zwingli was not as liberal minded as today’s so-called Zwinglian ideas. I would maintain this on the historical of Zwingli himself. Myself, I am both Anglican and somewhat Lutherian on ‘Word & Sacrament’. Just to note, I did my D. Phil. on Luther’s Ontology of the Cross, so I feel close to Luther certainly (not so much to Lutheranism).
Btw, I was, way back when, somewhat in that scholastic academy for a short bit, but chose the pastoral ministry over it. I lived and taught in Israel in the late 90s. But the academy really does not affect the Visible Church, at least the historical churches, as much as many think. However, we can certainly see that the so-called “emergent” church has really effected the Evangelical Church. It is here I would place myself, the position of Open Theism, etc. But my own Anglican Communion, has been affected much more by the cullture and postmodernity, etc. This has surely affected the whole Church today!
Believe it or not, BTW, while some of my discussion may (reasonably) recall “emergent” thought to you, I don’t find myself entirely at peace with that stream either. I get the distinct impression that a lot in that camp seem to be on the quest for new wineskins far more than they’re checking the contents. In addition, there is a great deal of extrabiblical relativism influencing “emergent” thought, and I’ve as much problem with extrabiblicality (?) from the left as I do from the right.
And re: the illogic of Open Theism you mentioned the other day and to which I failed to return, you might (or might not) find two papers on the subject interesting. One is by Dr. Alan Rhoda of Notre Dame, and is entitled Generic Open Theism and Some Varieties Thereof, and the other is Tom Belt’s Open Theism and the Assemblies of God. I find both quite compelling, as I do Greg Boyd’s work. You obviously won’t agree with them, but I think you may agree with me that at least they’re no slouches.
Back on the creed and the Holy Spirit…my more important question to @Ryan, and to @Fr Robert if you wish, is on my final bullet in the original post above. By far the part of Nicene pneumatology that concerns me the most is the claim that the H.S. is to be “worshiped and glorified” with the Father and the Son. Scripture is replete with commands to pray in the Spirit, and accounts of the Spirit interceding for us. I do not, however, see any Scriptural evidence to support worship of the Spirit. Obviously, if one already accepts the construct that the Spirit is an hypostasis of the Godhead, it follows logically that the Godhead ought to be worshiped in all forms…but herein we have a circularity to our logic that is a bit indissoluble.
To the contrary, it seems to me that the Biblical accounts are of the Spirit enhancing, directing, informing, or empowering both worship of and obedience to the Father and the glorification of the Son…but as an object of worship it/himself? Where do you find the Biblical justification for that?
“God is Spirit/spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4: 24)
Yes, I think I remember now, that you said you were Anabaptist, sorry.
I have actually read a few of Boyd’s books. Of course I was not impressed with the argument! John Frame buried this in his book: No Other God!
I think we are simply night and day different in our presuppositions and in our biblical and theological approach! As I stated about Menno Simons, who held a very certain Valentinian (Gnostic) position on the flesh and humanity of Christ. And as we have noted how brilliant Arius was, he was simply a heretic! Not a bad man personally no doubt (note his said personal asceticism), but he just could not be “orthodox”! And salvation itself is not based on asceticism, thank goodness. Luther tried that road.
But, as to the Trinity, when we read Matt. 28:19, “in the name (singular) of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” WE see the fulness of Divinity, itself/Himself! One God, Three Persons, the Three In One.
@Robert…hmm…Zwinglian? Not exactly, as I hold with Manz and Grebel and his other Anabaptist students that Zwingli erred greatly in maintaining the state-church linkage that he did in Zurich. As touching the symbolic rather than presence elements of the sacraments, though, I would definitely find myself closer to Z than most of his opponents…that is, with the exception of the sacrament of marriage, though I confess that I haven’t thought a whole lot about the weight I would put on the actual marriage ceremony as literally accomplishing anything other than a public acknowledgement of a mystical union God is accomplishing apart from the ceremony…so I guess as I think about it even marriage I parse to some degree.
As I wrote on communion (from an admittedly free-church Protestant/Evangelical start) a few months ago, looking at Jesus’ actions/teachings at the Last Supper, I find myself wondering whether in the ritualization of the Lord’s Supper–even in totally non-sacramental churches–we may have lost sight of something important that Jesus was actually doing, not in creating a sacred ritual, but in taking something as ordinary and daily as possible (the breaking of the bread) and imparting a sacred memory to it. But in addition to this, one of the biggest problems I have with classic sacraments is their dependence upon a priest to mediate them…as I read the N.T. either we all are priests or none of us are, to the same extent.
So really the issue is not my diminishing of the authority of the visible church, so much as the definition thereof. By this I mean, in classic Anabaptist tradition I suppose, that the church is comprised of all its members, not just its clergy and academics. Whether a council of bishops 1,700 years ago, or a hierarchy that claims apostolic succession today, I hold that authority these groups wield runs explicitly counter to Jesus’ own teaching on authority (cf. Matt. 20:25-27 for just one example). When, exactly, the church leaders fell back into the trap of lording it over the body, I’m not entirely sure. I already see elements of it in some writings of the second- and third-century bishops (certainly Hippolytus in the fourth). Given the number of times the gospels relate Jesus having to beat this notion into the disciples’ heads even during his ministry, I find myself wondering if they themselves may not have fully gotten the message.
I am sorry, but I can’t perceive of a way to deny the divinity of the Spirit, and thus cannot perceive of a way to deny him praise, honor and worship.
He is the Spirit of God, he proclaimed the incarnation to Mary in Luke and made it possible (he came upon the Virgin), he is sanctifying and saving me today (he is the Paraclete and the promise of things to come), he spoke through the prophets, he was active in Jesus’ baptism …and who but God himself could search the deep things of God (1 Corinthians 2:10)?
Fr. Robert, it is true that man is irreconcilably lost with out Christ, and is a slave to his own passions and death. That does not mean, however, that man is utterly depraved. If we are totally depraved what of the natural law spoken of by Paul in chapter 1 of Romans? Though we have gone far afield, it isn’t true that anything resembling the divine is gone. If all marks of the divine are gone from humanity explain how it is that a mother loves her child to death, or any other example you can think of concerning the practice of the gifts of the Spirit in the lives of people who are without or who deny Christ. Also, Augustine, though a blessed saint of the Church is certainly not the be all end all–particularly in the realm of sin. Mostly because the Greek rendering of Romans 5:14 is impossible to translate into Latin. We understand that it is death, not sin, that is transmitted from generation to generation. Which brings is to a very different end than Augustinian thought.
@Robert, I absolutely agree that our presuppositions are poles apart. As I am sure my beliefs (as far as I have worked them out) are consistent with my presuppositions, so I imagine the same about you. I hope I do not offend if I refer to a statement in the Qur’an when I just appeal that we challenge each other to greater faithfulness to the Lord and trust that God will straighten out our errors in the end.
And Ryan, please don’t misunderstand me. I do not deny the divinity of the Holy Spirit, I rather question the personality of the Spirit. Each of the actions you list is equally possible if the Breath of God refers, not to a divine individual, but to the palpable and present *action* of God in creation. *If* the Holy Spirit is an individual (and Matt. 28 is one of the places that leans toward that position, I agree), then certainly that individual is divine. But we’re in a circle of reasoning for which there is no categorically clear entry point.
And as Robert said about asceticism, we aren’t saved by our Pneumatology or Christology either, thank God. We are saved by the divine Person of Jesus Christ. Though you may or may not, in the final analysis, agree, I trust unreservedly that this last statement encompasses all three of us. Peace!
I know this isn’t Biblical, but I think St. Gregory Nazianzus said of the Spirit–The Old Testament speaks of the Father and points to Christ, and the New Testament declares Christ and points to the Spirit. It is pleasing to see that you think Him to be God, but are still trying to understand him and his role in life. These are important questions. I’ll look into them more, I m very busy right now, and it may take some time.
@Ryan, close but not quite. I said *if* the H.S. is a person then that person is divine. I also said that if one presupposes the Trinity then worship logically follows. But just as I have also argued that Jesus claimed divinity even as he made abundantly clear that he saw God the Father as other than himself, it similarly does not follow that a personal Spirit, being divine, is accurately described with the proper name “God,” which in this form I reserve for the Father.
Am I hereby arguing for Polytheism? On the basis of Jesus’ words I plead not guilty. JESUS left us with a tripartate paradox in which:
1) There is one God, the Father
2) Jesus himself, though “one with” the Father in some way (I suggest unity of purpose) is distinctly other than the Father in knowledge (no one knows the time, not even the Son) and at least once in history, will (not my will, but thine)
3) Nevertheless Jesus testified clearly to his own divinity and existence prior to creation.
For all three of these things to be true is paradoxical. The Trinity is one attempt to reconcile the paradox, and it sort of works, but to me it is unsatisfactory in grappling with Jesus’ submission & obedience to the Father.
I say all this just to contextualize that I state unreservedly that the Holy Spirit is from the Father, so divinely sourced. The personality part is ambiguous given the testimony of Scripture, but even if the Spirit is personal and therefore divine, I cannot reach the statement that he/it *is* God.
@Ryan: The great question would be what is man “lost” from? Finally, this is settled, as per Calvin and Luther, in scripture exegesis (Eph. 2:1-3), and not just a general view theologically, of nature. I, as the Reformed believe man has lost (effaced) the “imago Dei”. And only “In Christ” who is Himself the “imago Dei invisibilis”, the image of the invisible God (Col. 2:15), and thus may be called the essential or natural image of God, in his equality with the Father. And again, this presses us back to the Atonement itself, which is always the divine “expiation”. And which only the “Lamb of God”..Christ Jesus can amend! The value of the death & atonement is always the very “person” of Christ Himself! (2 Cor. 5:21) And so Christ fulfills both the Law (active obedience), and in his death, (the passive) obedience of God! Not really the “propitiation” of God Himself, as the “expiation” of sin and man’s own brokenness itself. Christ ‘the Federal Vision’ itself, the conciliation, and the saving presence and gracious revelation of God’s mercy!
Fr. Robert, I don’t understand. You think that Christ took on literally sinful flesh? That the flesh of Adam that he inherited was sinful? What Calvin or Luther say about it carries little weight for us. I do not sin because Adam did, I am dying because of Adam, and I sin because I choose to. No total depravity there. Death, and then secondly sin, are my enemies. Even if I live a perfect life I cannot be redeemed from our ancient enemy, who is death, and thus, Christ not only liberates from the results of my choices in this dying flesh (sin) he also rescues me from death itself.
Other than this point, you’re preaching to choir concerning the all encompassing salvation offered in Christ. Orthodoxy isn’t the new kid on the block when it comes to understanding salvation my friend.
Dan, I appreciate your honesty. I can rationally understand where you are coming from, but experientially I cannot fathom it. I pray that you find what you seek, and that God would grant us grace and understanding. I simply don’t know where to go from here. If you have any ideas I’m open.
@Ryan, I pray the same for you. And actually, in that there can be peace. May God grant all of us to find truth where that matters, and grace where it doesn’t. In the meantime, thank you for the grace-filled manner with which you have engaged. I do not see myself joining a liturgical service of any sort, but I clearly would enjoy reading and learning more of Eastern thought as a number of the points you have expressed have a resonance I have not found in Western thought…not least that Westerners tend to be a lot angrier in their rightness. You have shown a rather different spirit.
I appreciate that Dan. There are angry fundamentalist here too, but our Saints, and our Savior himself, won people over with love and understanding, not condemnation.
If I win anyone by force or coercion, I have stolen their freedom, and thus there is not true conversion of thought. One must arrive on their own. “Be being saved yourself, and thousands around will will be saved as a result.” I think there is deep wisdom in these words of St. Seraphim of Sarov. In other words, all the words in the world, without a life that backs them up, are useless; and, a holy life is seen and needs no words.
Please, I believe you have access to my e-mail, if you ever have questions about Orthodoxy, please feel free to contact me.
@Ryan: I of course believe in the sinless Impeccabillty of Christ, I am not sure how you have arrived that Federalism leads to what you have stated? It is simply the Pauline doctrine of Imputation. And one thing is certain, I know the Eastern Fathers much better than you know Luther and Calvin! And I am seeking “truth” and God’s revelation. But I think we have spent these issues, so I will call myself out done on this tread! Thanks for the short dialogue. But best of blessings ‘In Christ’.
@Dan: Thanks for the wee run on this post, I am going to call it quits for me however. We really must have a place of fellowship, and sadly middle knowledge and Open Theism is not it for me. But again, best ‘In Christ’ also.
Indeed, Pax Christi to both of you! You’re always welcome here!
@Fr- All I was saying is that our federal head gave us death, not sin, “and through death all men sin.” (Greek rendering of Romans 5:14) This is how we come to the conclusion that children are born sinless, and pure, only to succumb to sin on their own accord. That is all I was saying, not that federalism is bunk. I am sorry for being defensive, but this is a very important point for me.
cont’d I hit the button too soon. This point is why Christ was impeccable, he shared in everything, except sin, but if he truly became a man, which he did, then what he assumed was not imputed with sinlessness, but that sinlessness was natural and preserved. By sinlessness he was able to swallow death by death and give us hope and life eternal. This is federalism, but it’s federalism without imputed and generational sin, but generational death that leads to sin.
I’m an Orthodox Christian and a subdeacon in the Orthodox Church (Orthodox Church in America). I was pointed to your article on the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed by a friend, Fr. James Bozeman, whom I believe you are acquainted with. I’ve read your article as well as the ensuing comments and thought I’d chime in.
I have a document given to me by a hieromonk that details the scriptural references in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. You mention above that you have the most difficulty with the clause in reference to the Holy Spirit, “Who together with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified.” Now, I’m no Biblical scholar, but this document cites Mat 3:16-17 as support for this clause. This, of course, is Matthew’s account of Christ’s Baptism by the Forerunner. In our Orthodox theology, we refer to this event as Holy Theophany (celebrated on January 6). Further, we regard it not only as the initial manifestation of Christ as Son of God, but also the initial manifestation of God in Trinity. It seems to me that your difficulty comes down to whether or not you confess a tripartite God. Two thousand years of Christian Tradition, stemming directly from the Apostles themselves, holds that we worship one God in three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. If this bit of fundamental Christian dogma somehow eludes you, then I can understand your difficulty with the above clause of the Creed.
Moreover, I must be missing something in regard to your objection to the Creed because of its formulation intended to battle Christological and Trinitarian heresies in the age of the Ecumenical Councils. Yes, the Church gathered in Council seven times between 325 and 787 to answer the errors of Arius, Nestorius, etc. But when one considers that God is eternal and unchanging, existing outside of the time and space He created, and these Councils were working to settle on dogmatic definitions for that eternal and unchanging God, what does historical context have to do with it?
As a “cradle Orthodox,” I must say that I cannot relate to the notion of “sola Scriptura” held by Protestants. Again, the Church, based on the deposit of faith left to us by the Apostles, holds no such notions. Indeed, by cutting yourself off from Holy Tradition, you are, sadly, depriving yourself of a great deal of the richness of the authentic Christian faith, which countless martyrs have fought the good fight to uphold. Holy Tradition, the dogmas of the Councils, and other doctrines that may or may not have direct, specific Scriptural references, is derived not by any one person, but by the Church in all its catholic fullness. The alternative that you espouse, based on your individual exegesis of the Bible, is a concept that the ancient Church rejects. That concept is what has led to the vast proliferation of Protestant sects. As the Creed states, the Church is “one, holy, catholic, and Apostolic.” There can be no other way.
May I also suggest that although you seem somewhat familiar with the writings of the Fathers of the Church, there may be one little monograph you’ve overlooked: St. Basil the Great’s “On the Holy Spirit.” If you’re so inclined, you might give it a read. Further, if you’re interested in the document I cited earlier with scriptural references to back up every clause of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, I’d be willing to scan it and send you a .pdf file if you wish to tell me where to send it.
May the one true God Whom we rightly worship in Trinity guide you into all Truth.
With love in Christ,
Sdn. David Maliniak
Glen Rock, NJ
Hi David, and thank you for your comment. I would be happy to engage with that document … I think I’ve seen a version before, but I don’t have it. If you have a link to it, please feel free to post it in a comment, and that way other readers can look at the source. However, just in case I’ll email you privately (I can see your address from the admin panel) and you can send it to me.
I’ll defer responding to your individual points until I have a little more time, but please don’t interpret delay as lack of interest. To your main point, if you have not already read my general A Word About Creeds, you may find that instructive as I’m partly concerned by the notion, exemplified IMHO by the councils, that additional clarifications and/or dogmas beyond scripture’s own witness can/should be codified and then used as boundary points to include or exclude people from fellowship. That is, fundamentally, an error in my view.
Let’s dialog some more once the document with references is in-hand. While you’re at it, if you can find out whether it would be permissible for me to reproduce it on this site in order better to engage it, That may be helpful.
How can a true Christian deny the Nicene Creed?
I believe I’ve demonstrated how in this article, Sabrina. I leave it to you to peruse this blog and decide if I meet your standard for a “true Christian” or not. If you answer in the negative you certainly won’t be the first; but I would protest that I am…see this post for my criteria.
Dan, I find your arguments compelling.
When I Googled ‘Nicene Creed’ I was hoping to find some argument about ‘I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins’.
I think I understand what they’re trying to say – that is that you don’t have to keep on being baptised – once is enough. But the sentence itself is wrong. The act of baptism does not cause remission of sins. For remission of sins I must humbly come to God, confess my sins, repent and believe in the saving power of Jesus Christ. When I come to believe this, my response, as an act of obedience to Jesus Christ and as a public declaration of my faith will be to be baptised.
So baptism is a response, a public outward sign of what has happened in my heart. Baptism in and of itself has no power to do anything.
Thanks Andrew. It would be interesting to look at the historical context of the creed for that statement … I rather suspect “one baptism” actually refers to the ritual being valid only if done by the “one true church,” such that other variations of the ritual or done by the “wrong” people would not be legitimate. That comes down to an overall ecclesiology that rigidly defines who’s in and who’s out, which I also reject. You are, however, completely correct that baptism itself does not confer remission of sins, but rather is an act of obedience done by one whose sins are forgiven.
Dan Martin, Jesus (Yahoshua) said he was going to the father to ask for the parakeletos who would teach his followers all things.
He called the Parakletos the Pneuma Aletheia ( pneuma of truth). This clearly not what the early commentators call the thrid person of God, because it has the role of being only a messenger. It cannot speak its own mind, but can only repeat what it has heard. Such pneumas are called angels. Yahoshua’s post death ministry was to baptize with this pneuma. HE BAPTIZED THE APOSTLES WHEN HE AROSE BY BREATHING ON THEM AND SAID “Receive ye the pneuma.” This angel baptism was replaced with water baptism and was lost to the church for now about two millenium. When you have the angel of the truth you enter the New covenant where you need no one to teach you. For it will write the living oracles in your heart and mind.
Sort of, Robert. You are right that not every place the scripture refers to πνεῦμα is the speaker referring to “The Holy Spirit.” I’ve demonstrated this in this post on the Holy Spirit. However, your phrase on “angel baptism” is not found anywhere in scripture and does not deserve recognition as anything other than wild speculation. And no one in Jesus’ kingdom ever reaches the stage where “you need no one to teach you.” The community of Jesus, infused with the Breath of God, must teach all of us. Properly constituted, each of us can contribute to that teaching, but never are we beyond needing it ourselves.
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You asked about my thoughts on this article. I’m going to answer just the article. If I get a chance, I’ll read the other 92 comments that are here. Wow. hot topic.
1. I agree with you “we believe.” I’ve never thought about that before. It is actually an idea that English teachers propound. Don’t say, they say, that something is your opinion or something you believe. It makes your treatis weak, and everyone alreadly knows that what you write is your opinion.
2. Section on only-begotten & begotten. Let’s hope it doesn’t matter because at least 90% of western have forgotten that the church once taught that Jesus was begotten by God in the past. Very few of them would agree with the early Christians that Proverbs 8:22-31, one of the strongest passages on this topic, applies to Jesus. Everyone at Nicea would have thought it applies to Jesus.
3. God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God: I know what this means! I know what it meant to the bishops at Nicea. Jesus was begotten before the beginning. He was not begotten by being created from nothing. He was begotten by issuing forth from God much as a stream issues from a spring. The stream is water from water, life-giving liquid from life-giving liquid, true water from true water. Your description of the words are accurate. You wrote, “which may even be compatible with the divine-yet-subordinate position that I have previously suggested is a more accurate characterization of what Jesus said about himself–that is, that he comes from, and is therefore distinct from, the Father.” That’s correct if I understand your wording.
4. I believe in the Holy Spirit: The bishops at Nicea would have agreed with you I suppose because the Creed as the council sent it out only included “We believe in the Holy Spirit.” In Chaledon (432?), the council issued a finalized Nicene Creed. It’s known as a really long word meaning “from Nicea and Constantinople.” That’s the Nicene Creed that is recited today. The parts about the Holy Spirit are added. See http://www.christian-history.org/nicene-creed.html for the original. I give my source there, which is a history written in the fifth century. I’m pretty sure Eusebius also gives the original Nicene Creed in his Life of Constantine.
5. Who with the Father and Son together is worshipped and glorified: I pay too much attention to history. I did not know that this was added to the original Nicene Creed. Nicea did not produce this sentence. Chalcedon did.
Couple extra things. The Nicene Creed did not simply win the day. Opposing bishops in the eastern empire produced numerous creeds up through 359. I think the two creeds issued by the Arians that year were the last of the Arian creeds. Theodosius 1 brilliantly ended the battle between the Arians and the Nicenes in 383. The story about it is fascinating, and the advice that led to a conclusion of the battle came from Sissinnius, a reader (not even clergy) of the Novatian Church in Constantinople. Yep, the advice that saved the Nicene Creed came from the Novatians (or Cathari) a hundred-year-old sect. At Nicea, one of the canons allowed Cathari clergy to return to the catholic churches and retain their position if no catholic was filling the position. They got absorbed back in later because there was very little difference between the Novatians and the catholics.
You may find it fascinating to to read Eusebius’ letter to the church of Caesarea (over whom he was bishop) explaining why he accepted the creed. It’s not long, and it is found in the ecclesiastical history of Socrates Scholasticus, written about a hundred years after the council. You can read it here: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/26011.htm. You’ll have to scroll down to chapter 8. Better yet, to get right to the first line of Eusebius’ letter, search the page for “intimation.” That word is only on the page twice, and the first occurrence is in the first line of Eusebius’ letter. Right above his letter in the same chapter is the original wording of the creed from the Council of Nicea itself.
Thanks for this, Paul, and in particular for the links you provided. I’m fascinated to see that what is today known as the Nicene Creed includes several Chalcedonian additions. As some of the 90-plus comments above will reveal, I was also not aware of the “Filioque Controversy” when I wrote the original post … if I were, I would have pointed out (as I did since) that I find myself on the Eastern side of that division, though I came to it from Sola Scriptura, not from any knowledge of EO doctrine.
A couple other things intrigue me. One I never noticed before, is that the Nicene Creed has Jesus go straight from suffering to resurrection … his burial is included in the Chalcedon-influenced Western version I quoted, but not in the original on your site. I wonder what influenced them to go from “…was crucified, died, and was buried…” of the Apostles’ Creed, to this wording which leaves out explicit reference to Jesus’ death? Not that one can be resurrected without having died, but still, it seems odd.
But if I correctly understand the history as you relate it, it seems to me that the popular Evangelical statements of faith of today, referring to God as “eternally existing as three co-equal persons,” would be as foreign–and perhaps anathema–to the fathers of Nicaea as they are to me. That, I confess, I did not expect.
Again, thanks for your engagement!
2 Cor. 3:17 says, “Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”
Do the math: Lord = Spirit. Spirit = Lord.
Maybe … or maybe Paul is saying the same thing Jesus was saying in John 4:24 … “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” Not every place that the scripture says “spirit” necessarily means “The Holy Spirit” as in a person of the Trinity. In fact, it often doesn’t. See also http://www.nailtothedoor.com/the-holy-spirit-breath-of-god/.
Any mention of a God and spirit equals the Holy Spirit in my view. That’s what the Holy Spirit is: the spirit of God.
I will be critical of you because you attack strawman while only having done a bad job researching the topic you are addressing, and because said topic is the bottom of a sea of blood of martyrs that you can’t just publicly disgrace without giving it the attention it deserves and expect to get away with it.
The first hint that the first objection that I was about to read next would be a stupid one came when you termed the start of the Nicene Creed as two words. It’s not two words but one, “pistevo”. It’s two words in the English only, which means you didn’t revisit the original. Why this hinted that everything else will be stupid? Because the objection, being “What matters is faith, not belief” citing the Shema (incorrectly) is attacking strawman ; That first word that you have a problem with is the verb from which “Faith” derives. The Creed thus starts by announcing it is a statement of Faith, not Belief.
Your non acceptance of it therefore stems from but a lazy approach to the subject.
I appreciate your question, though I could wish you approached it with a little more grace. However, with a little clarification I would in fact welcome your engagement.
The fact that “pistevo” is one word in Greek but translated as two in English is a simple artifact of translation. You are obviously bilingual (at least), therefore you know that word count as an objection is specious. On the other hand, I completely agree that the New Testament sense of πίστις (“pistis”) is far richer than simply belief as we conceive of it in English. I didn’t explicitly state the word, but I think/hope you would agree that my post “Why Faith?” captures that richness in a more (ahem) faithful manner.
However, it should be obvious to anyone who looks, that at least as used in the American churches where the bulk of my experience lies, the sense by which creeds are recited and by which acceptance is demanded, is in fact one of belief rather than faithfulness. One might suggest that this error is not American but rather Western, as the Latin “credo” is not synonymous with “fide/fidelis” and yet it was the word “credo” which opens the Latin construction of all creeds. So while it was perhaps not the intent of the original Fathers (more on that below), the notion that a creed is a series of propositions to which one must give assent has a long historical foundation … one which I oppose.
Having said that, I don’t believe the pre-schism Fathers can be so easily let off the hook. I’ve referred elsewhere in this blog to the Constantinople Anathemas … here I look specifically to the text of St. Cyril’s anathemas against Nestorius, which text can be found in both Greek and English at this page. Here it is plain to see that what is being anathematized is not unfaithfulness as you suggested above, but refusal to confess specific propositions … the operative word is ὁμολογέω, not πίστις.
I hope this small response demonstrates to you that I’ve done a little more homework than perhaps you thought. If you are willing to engage in gracious dialog, I welcome your thoughts.