Saturday, February 6, 2010
As many know, the creed labeled “the Nicene Creed” that is recited by Catholics, the Eastern Orthodox churches, Anglicans, and many Protestant confessional churches, is actually NOT ‘the’ Nicene Creed, but rather, it is the creed promulgated at the regional council of Constantinople, convoked by emperor Theodosius in 381 A.D. (with Catholics and most confessional churches of the West adding, without ecumenical warrant, the controversial filioque). Having explored some of the historical ‘difficulties’ acknowledged and delineated by patristic scholars concerning the relationship between the original Nicene Creed and what is now ‘traditionally’ termed the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed in our last two threads, I would now like explore, in greater depth, some of the controversial content of the original Nicene Creed. [Note: this new thread has been ‘inspired’, in part, by certain comments made by “Lvka” HERE, which in turn was a response to comments I had made earlier HERE.]
Countless books, essays, etc. have been written on the council of Nicea and the Nicene Creed, but I am going to focus primarily on the contributions provided by R.P.C. Hanson in his The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God. [Note: quotes from this work will be from Hanson’s 1988 edition; to save space, I am providing the following links for the full English-1, English-2, and Greek and Latin texts of the NC creed.]
[02-07-10 UPDATE: Discovered an exhaustive site today that has numerous early Church texts in English, Greek and Latin HERE; link to the Nicene Creed of 325 in English, Greek and Latin HERE.]
The original NC contained: “of the substance of the Father” (deleted in the NCC of 381). Concerning this phrase, Hanson wrote:
To say that the Son was ‘of the substance’ (εκ της ουσιας) of the Father, and that he was ‘consubstantial’ with him were certainly startling innovations. Nothing comparable to this had been said in any creed or profession of faith before. Neither Alexander nor the recent Council of Antioch had described the Son’s relation to the Father by introducing ousia or its cognates. (pp. 166, 167)
Not only was the phrase, “of the substance of the Father”, deleted in the NCC of 381, but as I have already noted in my last two threads, so too were the anathemas. Concerning this additional deletion, Hanson continued with:
The other really remarkable point about N is the condemnation in the anathemas at the end of the view that the Son is ‘of another hypostasis or ousia’ from the Father. This can only have been a highly ambiguous and extremely confusing statement. By the standard of later orthodoxy, as achieved in the Creed of Constantinople of 381, it is a rankly heretical (i.e. Sabellian) proposition, because the Son must be of a different hypostasis (i.e. ‘Person’) from the Father. (p. 167)
A bit later he adds:
But we must remember that for at least the first half of the period 318-381, and in some cases considerably later, ousia and hypostasis are used as virtual synonyms, not in one sense only but in two. (p. 183) [Note: Hanson here is explicitly at odds with Lvka’s comments, linked to above.]
In my post that I linked to above, I penned:
In the later anathemas of the original N, we find that “hypostasis”/person and “ousia”/substance are treated as identical. If we allow the creed formulated at Constantinople to be a correction/clarification of N, then the omission is a ‘considerable’ one (as Tanner suggests). How so? We have later historical issues that arose which may very well be related to this omission, and the “semantic confusion” that surrounded the Nicene period (see Hanson, ch. 7, pp. 181-208).
I then provided a probable example from the 13th century. I would now like to suggest another—this time from the late 4th century. From Jerome’s letter to Pope Damasus we read:
Just now, I am sorry to say, those Arians, the Campenses, are trying to extort from me, a Roman Christian, their unheard-of formula of three hypostases. And this, too, after the definition of Nicaea and the decree of Alexandria, in which the West has joined. Where, I should like to know, are the apostles of these doctrines? Where is their Paul, their new doctor of the Gentiles? I ask them what three hypostases are supposed to mean. They reply three persons subsisting. I rejoin that this is my belief. They are not satisfied with the meaning, they demand the term. Surely some secret venom lurks in the words. “If any man refuse,” I cry, “to acknowledge three hypostases in the sense of three things hypostatized, that is three persons subsisting, let him be anathema.” Yet, because I do not learn their words, I am counted a heretic. “But, if any one, understanding by hypostasis essence, deny that in the three persons there is one hypostasis, he has no part in Christ.” Because this is my confession I, like you, am branded with the stigma of Sabellianism.
If you think fit enact a decree; and then I shall not hesitate to speak of three hypostases. Order a new creed to supersede the Nicene; and then, whether we are Arians or orthodox, one confession will do for us all. In the whole range of secular learning hypostasis never means anything but essence. And can any one, I ask, be so profane as to speak of three essences or substances in the Godhead?… Let us keep to one hypostasis, if such be your pleasure, and say nothing of three. It is a bad sign when those who mean the same thing use different words. Let us be satisfied with the form of creed which we have hitherto used. Or, if you think it right that I should speak of three hypostases, explaining what I mean by them, I am ready to submit. But, believe me, there is poison hidden under their honey; the angel of Satan has transformed himself into an angel of light. They give a plausible explanation of the term hypostasis; yet when I profess to hold it in the same sense they count me a heretic. Why are they so tenacious of a word? Why do they shelter themselves under ambiguous language? If their belief corresponds to their explanation of it, I do not condemn them for keeping it. On the other hand, if my belief corresponds to their expressed opinions, they should allow me to set forth their meaning in my own words. (Jerome, Letter XV.3, 4 – NPNF 6.19.)
Further examples of confusion concerning the content of N can be provided, but the above from Jerome should suffice to confirm Hanson’s cogent reflections.
Grace and peace,