Does the Nicene Creed declare the Son to be fully EQUAL to the Father?

SUMMARY

Analysts often claim that the Nicene Creed declares the Son to be equal with the Father.  However, the creed starts by saying,

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty,
Maker of all things visible and invisible
,”

This identifies the Son as subordinate to the Father in four ways:

      1. If the Father is the “one God” in which we believe, that excludes the Son.
      2. If the Father is Almighty, then the Son is not Almighty, for two Almighty beings is impossible.
      3. The Father/Son terminology also identifies the Son as subordinate to the Father.
      4. The Father is the “Maker of all things.” The creed later adds that all things were made BY the Son, but it remains the Father that made all things.  The Son is the Father’s hands through whom the Father made all things.

The creed makes a fundamental distinction between the Son and the created cosmos by saying that the Son is “begotten, not made;” even the “only Begotten.”   This also implies that the Son is SUBORDINATE to the Father, for He generated (begat) the Son. 

VERY GOD

The creed describes the “one Lord Jesus Christ” as “very God of very God,” but this is an inappropriate translation.  It should read “very god of very god,” for the word in the creed, that is translated “god,” is the common word for the immortal Greek gods.  In contrast, the word “God” is a modern invention, with a very different meaning.

HOMOOUSIOS

The creed adds that the Son was begotten “of the essence of the Father” and is “of one substance with the Father.”  This implies that the Son is equal with the Father in terms of substance or nature or being (ontological equality), but He subordinate to the Father in all other respects.  The Father is the only One who exists without cause and who is the Cause of all things that exist.

NO TRINITY DOCTRINE

The Nicene Creed does not contain the Trinity doctrine, for it does not describe the Holy Spirit as God and there is no mention of the One-ness of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  The issue before the council was not the unity of the Godhead, but the nature of the Son, relative to the Father.

The most famous and the most controversial word in the Nicene Creed is homoousios. It means “of the same substance:” 

In the time before the creed was formulated, this term meant likeness of substance.

Later Catholic theologians interpreted it as ‘identically the same substance.’ In other words, that the Father and Son not only have similar substance; exactly the same substance of the Father is also the substance of the Son.  This implies His numerical identity with the Father. 

But this article proposes that the council did not agree on the meaning of Homoousios.  The emperor himself proposed the term Homoousios and applied pressure on the council to accept this term.  For this reason, different bishops probably chose to interpret the term in different ways.

TEXT OF THE NICENE CREED

The Nicene Creed, according to Wikipedia, reads as follows:

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty,
Maker of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the Son of God, begotten of the Father
the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father,

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 [both in heaven and on earth];

And in the Holy Ghost.

But those who say:
‘There was a time when he was not;’ and ‘He was not before he was made;’ and
‘He was made out of nothing,’ or ‘He is of another substance’ or ‘essence,’ or
‘The Son of God is created,’ or ‘changeable,’ or ‘alterable’—
they are condemned by the holy catholic and apostolic Church.

IS THE SON SUBORDINATE?

Analysts often claim that this creed declares the Son to be equal with the Father.  In this section, that statement is evaluated and qualified.

The Nicene Creed starts by saying,

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty,
Maker of all things visible and invisible
,”

but later adds

And in one Lord Jesus Christ …
very God of very God

Does this mean that the Son is EQUAL with the Father?

DIFFERENCE BETWEEN God and god

But first, it is important to note, for the discussion of these phrases, that the original language of the creed did not distinguish between upper and lower case letters.  Consequently, the word “God” could actually also be translated as “god.”  There is a huge difference between these two words:

God – “God” is a modern word.  We use it today as the proper name for the “unbegotten,” as the ancients used to say; that is, the One who exists without cause.  The creed (and the New Testament) does not contain any one word that is exactly equivalent to the modern word “God.” 

god – The word which the creed uses is the common title for a Greek god (theos) and simply means a supernatural, immortal being, like the “gods” of the Greek pantheon.  It should be translated as “god,” unless the context indicates or implies that the Unbegotten is intended.

For a further discussion of the words “God” and “god,” see the articles Ignatius of Antioch or Arianism or THEOS.  With this information, the wording of the creed is discussed below:

THE ALMIGHTY FATHER

The creed identifies the Father as “Almighty.” This means that ONLY the Father is “Almighty,” for two “Almighty” beings is impossible.  This also means that the Son is not “Almighty.

The creed also says that “we believe in one god, the father.” (For the reasons above, to more accurately reflect the meaning of the text, capital letters have been converted into small caps.)  That statement means that we do not believe in many gods, but in only one god, and that is the One to whom Jesus referred as “Father.”  It excludes the Son as the “one god” in which we believe.  They are both gods, but only the Father is “Almighty.”  

The Father is the “Maker of all things visible and invisible.”  The New Testament often states that God created all things THROUGH the Son (John 1:3; Col. 1:16; Hebr. 1:2; “by” in 1 Cor. 8:6 – NASB).  The creed similarly says that all things were made BY the Son, but it remains the Father that made all things.  The Son is the Father’s hands through whom the Father made all things.

THE ONLY-BEGOTTEN SON

The Lord Jesus Christ is called “the Son of God” while the Almighty is His “Father.”  On their own, the terms “Son” and “Father,” imply that the Lord Jesus Christ is SUBORDINATE to the Father.

To say that the Son is “very god of very god” (or “true god of true god” in other translations) merely says that both the Father and the Son truly are supernatural, immortal beings.  It is a MUCH LOWER CLAIM that being the Almighty.  It does not even mean that they are the only gods.  Jesus even referred to humans, “to whom the word of God came,” as “gods” (same word – John 10:34-35).  To translate this as “true God of true God” misrepresents the meaning of the creed, for only the Almighty qualifies to be “God” in modern nomenclature.

The creed also says that the Son is “begotten, not made.”  The word “of,” in the phrase, “very god of very god,” is related to this concept.  This also implies that the Son is SUBORDINATE to the Father, for He generated (begat) the Son. 

The creed adds that the Son is the “only Begotten.”  In other words, no other being was “begotten” by the Father.  This implies a fundamental difference between the Son and “all things.”  All things were “made,” according to the Nicene Creed, but only the Son was “begotten.”

The creed adds that the Son was begotten “of the essence of the Father” and is “being of one substance with the Father.”  This is probably derived from the concept that He is begotten, for the Bible does not discuss the substance of the Father or of the Son. 

MADE OUT OF NOTHING

The creed condemns all who say that “He was made out of nothing.”  Since He was begotten, one could perhaps argue that He was made of the substance of the Father.  However, such arguments are dangerous because the Bible says nothing about this and this is not something which humans are able to understand.

Nevertheless, the implication of the Nicene Council is that all other things were made out of nothing.  However, Einstein taught us that things cannot be made out of noting (E=mc2, where E stands for Energy, m for mass and c for the speed of light).  The Father, therefore, did not use other materials to make “all things.”  Rather, all things are brought forth from His own being. He provided from His own being the energy which He converted into the material from which He made all things.  The claim that the Son is the only-begotten, is humanly incomprehensible but sets the Son apart from all other things.

CONCLUSION

On the one hand, the creed identifies the Son as subordinate to the Father:

      1. We believe is only “one god; the Father.”
      2. Only the Father is “Almighty.”
      3. The Lord Jesus is called “Son;” in contrast to the Father.
      4. The Son has been “begotten“ by (generated by) the Father.
      5. The Father made all things through the Son.

On the other hand, the Son is “of one substance with the Father,” which implies that the Son is equal with the Father in terms of substance or nature or being (ontological equality), but He subordinate to the Father in all other respects.  Also bear in mind that this concept, that the Son is of the same substance as the Father, is an interpretation, of the word “begotten,” and is not directly stated as such in the Bible.

We can compare the Father and the Son to a human father and son, who are of the same substance, and say that the human son is subordinate to the human father, but this comparison breaks down, for the Father did not only generate the Son: The Father is also the only One who exists without cause and who is the Cause of all things that exist.

NO TRINITY IN THE NICENE CREED

The Nicene Creed does not contain the Trinity doctrine.  This statement is justified as follows: 

Firstly, in the Trinity doctrine, the Holy Spirit is a separate Person, equal with the Father and the Son, but the Nicene Creed merely and very briefly mentions the Holy Spirit together with the Son and the Father, to indicate a belief in the Triad (three Persons) of Father and Son and Holy Spirit.  It says nothing about the Holy Ghost being “true God” or being of the same substance.

Secondly, in the Trinity doctrine, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one Being, but there is no mention of the One-ness of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the Nicene Creed. 

The Athanasian Creed, formulated more than a century later, expresses the trinity concept explicitly, including with the phrase, “the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity:”

Note: Most often today, we use the word “Trinity” as a SINGULAR REFERRING TERM (meaning that it refers to a single being), for, in the Trinity doctrine, God is One Being, consisting of three Persons.  The word “Trinity” in the Athanasian Creed and in Tertullian and in many other church fathers, in contrast, is actually a PLURAL REFERRING TERM, meaning that it refers to a group of three distinct Beings.  It is, rather, the word “Unity,” in the Athanasian Creed that emphasizes their One-ness.  The word “Trinity” in the Athanasian Creed should, therefore, be rendered with a lower case “t.”

Thirdly, as Millard J. Erickson stated, the issue before the council, it is virtually universally agreed, was not the unity of the Godhead but rather the coeternity of the Son with the Father, and his full divinity, as contrasted with the creaturehood that the Arians attributed to him (God in Three Persons, p82-85).

DOES HOMOOUSIOS MEAN ONE BEING?

This section is adapted from Millard J. Erickson (God in Three Persons, p82-85).

The most famous and the most controversial word in the Nicene Creed is homoousios (consubstantial in Latin). It means “of the same substance” or “of one being.”  The Nicene Creed uses this term to say that the Son is “of one substance” or “of one being” with the Father, namely that He was begotten “from the substance of the Father.”  This is often understood to mean that the Son is fully equal to the Father.  But what did it actually mean to the council? Three possibilities are considered:

SAME TYPE OF SUBSTANCE

If this was the meaning, then the creed says that the Son is utterly unlike creatures in substance, but it does not mean that they share the same substance (numerically the same substance), as required by the Trinity doctrine.  This view is supported by the following:

Firstly, before Nicaea, homoousios meant likeness of substance. This is how Origen and his followers used the term. In that sense, it could signify the kind of substance or stuff common to several individuals of a class.  We could say, for example, that all humans consist of the same substance.

Secondly, if it was used to mean numerical identity of substance, the Eusebians would have identified it as Sabellianism and would have resisted it vigorously. (Sabellianism is the belief that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are THREE DIFFERENT MODES or aspects of God.)

Thirdly, the great issue at Nicaea was the SON’S FULL DIVINITY and not the unity of the Godhead.  The word Homoousios, therefore, would have been understood to signify the Son’s full divinity; His total likeness in substance to the Father and total unlikeness to creatures in substance.

Lastly, later on—after the numerical identity of substance became a standard part of Christology—some orthodox theologians still used the word homoousios in the sense of the same type of substance.

NUMERICALLY (EXACTLY) THE SAME SUBSTANCE

For later Catholic theologians, Homoousios meant ‘identically the same substance’:

The Cappadocian Fathers “made extensive use of the formula “one substance (ousia) in three persons (hypostaseis)” (McGrath, Alister (1998), Historical Theology). 

In other words, the Father and Son not only have a similar substance; exactly the same substance of the Father is also the substance of the Son.  This implies His numerical identity with the Father.  (That they are the same being.)  Arguments that are used for this view include the following:

(a) It would seem to be unnatural” for monotheists to admit two divine ousiai (substances).

(b) Origen used the word to mean SIMILAR SUBSTANCE, but for Origen, the Son was INFERIOR to the Father, (The Triune God, Edmund J. Fortman, p 66-70).  Since the intent of the council was to affirm the Son’s equality with the Father, would they use the word Homoousios with the meaning which Origen attached to it?

(c) If Hosius of Cordova influenced the adoption of the term, would he have failed to indicate to the Nicene Fathers that for him and the West it signified ‘identity of substance’?

In recent years there is a growing tendency to reject the numerical identity view. 

NO AGREEMENT

As discussed in another article, the emperor himself proposed the term Homoousios and exerted pressure on the council to accept the term.  Since there were three different factions at the meeting with three different views, and because of the pressure applied by the emperor, different bishops probably chose to interpret the term in different ways, depending on their theological tendencies (e.g. Marcellan neo-monarchianism or Eusebian subordinationism).  In other words, THE COUNCIL DID NOT AGREE ON THE MEANING OF HOMOOUSIOS.

CONDEMNATIONS

The creed describes certain people that “are condemned by the holy catholic and apostolic Church.”  However, to condemn people with different views is inconsistent with the Christian principles of love and humility.  This is made worse by the fact that the nature of Christ is a humanly incomprehensible subject, and not explicitly taught in the Bible.

Furthermore, people are saved by their faith (trust) in God; not by believing the right doctrines.  The creed makes itself a criterion for the true faith.  All that the Bible requires from believers is stated in John’s summary of his gospel:

These have been written so that you may believe
that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God
;
and that believing you may have life in His name

(John 20:31).

It always amazes me how important Christology became in the fourth century.  Why did the church, in the fourth century, elevate the nature of Christ to be the most important doctrine?  I would like to venture that, during the first 300 years, the enemy of the faith attacked the church from outside, through persecution.  After the church has been legalized in 313, the enemy entered the church.  It was now inside the church and saw in this topic fertile ground for causing division in the church.  He still today uses this topic very effectively for that purpose.

CATHOLIC CHURCH

The condemnations in the creed refer to “the holy catholic and apostolic Church.”  The word “catholic,” here, simply means ‘universal’.  During the 11th century, the East-West schism permanently divided Church. That schism resulted from a dispute on whether Constantinople or Rome held jurisdiction over the church in Sicily, followed by mutual ex-communications in 1054.  Since that event, the Western (Latin) branch of Christianity has since become known as the Catholic Church, while the Eastern (Greek) branch is called the Orthodox Church.  In this way, “Catholic Church” became the name of one particular denomination.  When used as such, the “c” in both ‘catholic’ and “church’ are capitalized; Catholic Church.

 

Christology of the Long Lines Creed reflects the general view of the first centuries.

The fourth-century saw a huge controversy about the nature of Christ.  The Arians proposed Him to be a created being.  Others believed that He was eternally begotten.  A flurry of councils and creeds followed, all trying to explain who Jesus is. The Fourth Century website lists 17 councils, from the Nicene Creed of 325 to the Constantinople creed of the year 381.  Some concluded that the Son is equal to the Father.  Others, particularly the councils in the eastern part of the empire (Antioch), made Him subordinate to the Father.  None of the creeds presents the Son as a created being, as the Arians proposed.

Christianity in the Fourth Century

The Creed of the Long Lines, also called the Macrostichs, is one of those creeds.  In response to the Nicene creed of 325, the Greek-speaking Bishops at Antioch formulated the creed in the year 344.  Their leading scholar was Eusebius of Caesarea; the famous church historian and philosophical grandchild of Origen (185/6–254).

The three main Christian centers in the Fourth Century

In the next year, the bishops in Antioch presented their creed to the Latin speaking Bishops in the western part of the empire.  Avoiding, as far as possible, controversial, non-biblical language, the eastern bishops hoped that their creed would be acceptable all around, even to partisans of the 325 creed at Nicaea.  This creed is informative as far as the school of thought at Antioch goes.

The Long Lines Creed is discussed here because it contains some very important and valid concepts and also reflects the views generally held in the church before the fourth century.  The creed proposes that the Son had a beginning and that He is subordinate to the Father, but still manages to conclude that He was begotten, rather than created, and always existed.

The Long Lines Creed can be found at Fourth Century.  Dr. Tuggy discusses it in podcast 172.

One God

The creed begins as follows:

We believe in one God the Father Almighty, the Creator and Maker of all things, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named.

This is the standard opening of all creeds, including the Nicene and later creeds.  This formulation is found in the earliest known baptismal creeds of the second century.  It a remnant from the past (the centuries before the fourth) when the church generally still believed the Father to be the “one God.”  The Trinity theory, in which the monotheistic God of the Bible consists of three equal Persons, was only developed in the fourth century.  But even after the Church generally accepted the Trinity doctrine, this opening phrase was retained due to its strong traditional status.

The Son

The creed continues:

And in His Only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ, who before all ages was begotten from the Father, God from God, Light from Light, by whom all things were made, in heaven and on the earth

The phrases in bold are discussed below, using the explanations in the latter part of the creed.

Before all ages

Firstly, the Son was begotten “before all ages:

Later, in the anathemas, the creed reads:

Those who say, … that there was a time or age when He was not, the Catholic and Holy Church regards as aliens. … Yet we must not consider the Son to be co-unbegun … with the Father … we acknowledge that the Father who alone is Unbegun … and that the Son hath been generated before ages.

The Father “generated” the Son because He was “begotten from the Father.

It states that the Father had no beginning (is “unbegun”).  But the Son had a beginning (is not “co-unbegun”).

Arians claimed that the Son was created at a specific point in time, and consequently that there was a time when He did not exist (“was not“).  This creed rejects that notion, saying that “the Son hath been generated before ages.” In other words, the Son had a beginning, but that beginning was before time.  Therefore, there never was “a time or age when He was not,”

The creed later adds that “through Him, both times and ages came to be.”  The Bible teaches that the Father created “all things” through the Son.  In Eastern thinking “all things” include time, and God created time through the Son.

Conclusions

To add a personal perspective: Concerning time, the Son is like the universe, for the universe had a beginning but always existed, because time was created when the universe came into being (in my view) and because there is no such thing as time before time began.  There never was a time when the universe did not exist.

The creed avoids the well-known phrase “eternal generation” with respect to the Son, but the thought is clearly present.

The Nicene Creed was designed to refute the Arian view.  The Long Lines Creed objects to the Nicene creed, but its claim that there never was a time when the Son did not exist, shows that it also objects to Arianism.

In summary, the Son had a beginning but always existed, because God created time through Him.

Begotten from the Father

Secondly, the Son was “begotten from the Father:

From God

The creed denounces “those who say, that the Son was from nothing, or from other subsistence and not from God.”  The word “from” appears three times in this sentence.  Perhaps the Arians claimed that God created Jesus “from nothing, or from other subsistence.”  In contrast, the eastern bishops claim that Jesus is “from God,” which is another way of saying that He was “begotten from the Father.

Generated

Concerning the Father, the creed asserts:

The divine Word teaches that the Ingenerate and Unbegun, the Father of Christ, is One.
We acknowledge that the Father who alone is … Ingenerate, hath generated inconceivably and incomprehensibly to all

In other words, the Father was not brought into being by any other being (is “ingenerate”).  He, therefore, exists without cause.  He exists by Himself.  Concerning the Son the creed declares as follows:

We must not consider the Son to be … co-ingenerate with the Father … the Son hath been generated before ages, and in no wise to be ingenerate Himself like the Father, but to have the Father who generated Him as His beginning; for ‘the Head of Christ is God.

Therefore, in contrast to the Father, the Son has been generated, namely by the Father, when He was “begotten from the Father:

Not created

Later the creed says:

We do not understand Him (the Son) to have been originated like the creatures or works which through Him came to be, for it is irreligious … to compare the Creator with handiworks created by Him … For divine Scripture teaches us really and truly that the Only-begotten Son was uniquely generated.

The Son is here called “the Creator,” but notice the word “through.”  The opening phrase of the creed identifies the Father as “the Creator and Maker of all things.”  The Bible says that God created all things through the Son (John 1; Hebrews 1; Colossians 1).  The Father is the Force and Cause of creation.  The Son is the Means or Hand through which God created.

The Son Himself was not created, but was “uniquely generated.”  This means that the creed makes a distinction between created and generated, similar to people who create things but beget children.

Conclusions

The Nicene Creed uses the term ousios (substance or essence), claiming that Jesus is “of one substance with the Father,” and therefore that the Son is equal to the Father.  Although the Long Lines Creed says that He is “from God,” and “begotten,” it avoids the term ousios.  It does not use that term even once, probably because the Bible never says that the Father and Son have the same substance.  Since the Long Lines Creed presents the Son as subordinate to the Father, it does not use the ousios argument.

In summary, the Son was not created, but was begotten by the Father.

God From God

Thirdly, the Son is “God from God:

His Only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ, who before all ages was begotten from the Father, God from God

True God

The Nicene Creed describes the Son as “true God (the Son) from true God (the Father),” but the Long Lines Creed omits the word “true” in both instances.  It refers to Jesus only as “God from God.”  This is consistent with John 17:3, which declares the Father to be the only true God.

Only the Father is God

The creed defends itself as follows against an accusation of polytheism:

In confessing three realities and three Persons, of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost according to the Scriptures, (we do not) therefore make Gods three; since we acknowledge the Self-complete and Ingenerate and Unbegun and Invisible God to be one only, the God and Father of the Only-begotten, who alone has being from Himself, and alone gives this to all others generously.

In other words, we must not talk of three Gods because only the Father exists by Himself, without beginning or cause, and gives existence to all other things.  There cannot be two Ultimate Beings, for an Ultimate Being is the Cause of all else.

The Son is subordinate.

The quote above refers to “Gods three.”  The following similar statement in the creed interestingly refers to “two Gods” and to a Triad:

Believing then in the All-perfect Triad, the Most Holy, that is, in the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and calling the Father God, and the Son God, yet we confess in them, not two Gods, but one dignity of Godhead, and one exact harmony of dominion, the Father alone being Head over the whole universe wholly, and over the Son Himself, and the Son subordinated to the Father; but, excepting Him, ruling over all things after Him which through Himself have come to be, and granting the grace of the Holy Ghost unsparingly to the saints at the Father’s will. 

The Father alone, therefore, is “Head over the whole universe wholly.”  The Son is “subordinated to the Father.”  Only one monarchy or reign exists.  The Son rules over all things, but He is subordinate to the Father.  Partisans of the Trinity theory would argue that Jesus is functionally subordinate to the Father, but not ontologically (by nature of being).  However, this creed does not make that distinction.

God of the Old Testament

The ancients used the Greek word theos (god) for all gods.  Even exalted people are called gods; even in the Bible.  See the Meanings of the Word THEOS.  The Long Lines Creed explains as follows why it identifies the Son as theos:

In saying that the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is one only God, the only Ingenerate, do we (not) therefore deny that Christ also is God before ages … for He it is, to whom the Father said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness’ (Gen 1:26), who also was seen in His own Person by the patriarchs, gave the law, spoke by the prophets, and at last, became man …

The creed, therefore, refers to the Son as God because “He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through Him” (John 2-3).  Furthermore, the creed argues, whenever God appeared in the Old Testament, it was the Son who was seen.  For that reason, it is proper to refer to the Son as God, but we must not confuse Him with the Uncaused Cause, who is the Father alone.

Conclusions

In this context the translation “Triad” (see above) is appropriate.  A translation of “Trinity” would have been anachronistic, for this creed does not present God as three divine Persons of one divine Being.  Rather, it thinks of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as a hierarchical group of “three realities and three Persons,” where only the Father is the ingenerated Source of all else, who also generated the Son.

Origen, the philosophical father of the bishops in Antioch, once said that he does not hesitate to talk of God in different senses. He said that just like man and his wife are one in flesh, and Christ in His followers are one in spirit, so the Father and Son are one in God.  Both are God, but not in the same sense, for only the Father is the uncaused Cause of all else.

This explains how we should understand the statement “God from God.”  The easterners probably would have preferred to say “God from true God,” but they attempted to stay as close as possible to the wording of the Nicene Creed, which declared the Son to be of the same substance (homo-ousios) as the Father.  The Nicene Creeds used that term to present the Son as equal to the Father.  The Long Lines Creed, on the other hand, like many of the other creeds of that era, presents the Son as subordinate to the Father.

The famous statement (“Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness”) is quoted from Genesis 1:26.  Some dispute that God was talking to the Son, saying that God spoke to His angels, but others object and say that man was not created in the image of angels, but in the image of God.  The Son Himself “existed in the form of God” (Phil. 2:6).

Holy Ghost

The creed continues:

And we believe in the Holy Ghost, that is, the Paraclete, which, having promised to the Apostles, He sent forth after the ascension into heaven, to teach them and to remind of all things.

This creed has a very scanty treatment of the Holy Spirit.  Similar to the Bible, this creed never explicitly refers to the Holy Spirit as God, or as God from God.  To the contrary, the phrase “three Gods” in the following implies that the Holy Spirit is not God:

The Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and calling the Father God, and the Son God, yet we confess in them, not two Gods

The Same

The Long Lines Creed anathematizes those who say that Father and Son and Holy Ghost are the same.  This is aimed against Modalism, which is the theory that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are three modes of God and not three separate Beings.

The creed justifies this view by saying that, if the Three were the same, then the unlimited and impassible (incapable of suffering or feeling pain) Father has become limited and changeable when the Son became a man.  Rather, the Father, who sent the Son, remained unchangeable when Christ was incarnated.

By Choice

The Long Lines Creed anathematizes those who say that the Father had no choice but to beget the Son so that He begat the Son unwillingly.  It says that God is absolute and sovereign over Himself and generated the Son voluntarily and freely.  In saying this, the creed responded to some other voices from that era:

Those that view Jesus as equal to the Father sometimes propose that it was not the Father’s will to generate the Son, but that the Father ‘always’ was the Father and the Son ‘always’ was the Son.  (“Always’ is perhaps not the best term, if in our view God exists outside time.)  Perhaps the Long Lines Creed responds to this view and proposed that the Father begat the Son by will to emphasize that Jesus is subordinate to the Father.

Another possibility is that the view, that God made all things through the Son, and that the Son is the God of the Old Testament, may create the impression that the Father is an un-personal Force and not a separate Person with His own will.  Perhaps the Long Lines Creed reacted to such a view.

Inseparable

Who is Jesus?  This is the question in these creeds.  He is the Son of God, is worshiped with God, received from God to have life in Himself and to judge the world, and He identifies Himself as the First and the Last.  So, what is His relationship with God?  The church had to struggle with this question.  The Nicene Creed went to the one extreme by declaring the Son to be of the same substance as the Father.  It is not possible to postulate a higher level of unity between Father and Son.

Origen, Eusebius of Caesarea and the bishops in the Antioch—the focal point of Christianity in the eastern part of the empire—recognized the Son as generated by and subordinate to the Father.  They also identified the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit not as one Being, as in the Trinity theory, but as “three realities and three Persons.”  The Long Lines Creed, therefore, does not accept that they are one in substance.  In its place, they offered the following:

We do not … separate Him from the Father … For we believe that they are united with each other without mediation or distance, and that they exist inseparable; all the Father embosoming the Son, and all the Son clinging to the Father, and alone resting on the Father’s breast continually.

These words are probably true, and an interpretation of passages such as:

I and the Father are one” (John 10:29), and
No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him” (John 1:18).

On the other hand, similar to what the Bible consistently does, this creed identifies the Father alone as God, and the Son as subordinate to Him.  This is true even of the gospel of John and Paul’s writings, in which we find the highest Christology of the New Testament.

An Attempt at Reconciliation

The Christian church originated in Jerusalem, but in the first century, Antioch soon became the leading gentile church.  In the fourth century, however, after Christianity became the official Roman religion, the church in Italy became powerful in influence and authority.

In the closing section of the creed the bishops in Antioch state their purpose as “to clear away all unjust suspicion concerning our opinions, … and that all in the West may know, … the audacity of the slanders.”  This implies that the easterners were criticized before the powers in Rome, and through the creed, the bishops in Antioch attempted to reach out and clarify their position.  It is for that reason that it has these long-winded explanations and therefore is called the Long Lines Creed.

The Long Lines Creed attempts to remain as close as possible to the position of the bishops in the West, as reproduced in the Nicene Creed, to avoid to be seen as Arian and to be modest and to only use Scriptural language.  But the bishops in Italy rejected the creed.

Summary of the view of the Long Lines Creed

The Father had no beginning, while the Son had a beginning.  The Son, nevertheless, always existed, for the Father created all things through the Son.  Since “all things” include time, God also created time through the Son.  There, consequently, never was a time or age when the Son did not exist.

The Father was not brought into being by another being.  He alone exists without a cause and gives existence to all other things.  The Son, in contrast, exists because of the Father.  He was not created but was uniquely begotten from the Father.

The Son is God, for He existed in the form of God.  Whenever God appeared in the Old Testament, it actually was the Son who was seen.  But the Father is the only true God.

The Son rules over all things, but He is subordinate to the Father.  The Father is the ultimate Head over the whole universe.

They are two separate Beings, but the Father and Son exist inseparably.  As Jesus said, “I and the Father are one.”

Conclusion

As stated above, at least 17 creeds, with contradicting explanations of who Jesus is, were formulated in the fourth century.  Eventually, the Nicene Creed, as adjusted by the 381 creed, became generally accepted.  But we should not be persuaded by this consensus:

Firstly, this view of Christ differs from the view that was dominant in the earlier centuries.

Nicene Creed
Emperor standing behind the church fathers

Secondly, these creeds were produced after Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, after the power base in the Church shifted from Jerusalem and Antioch in the East to Rome in the West, and after the emperor became dominant in the formulation of doctrine by calling and chairing councils.  As can be seen in the anathemas that were attached to the fourth-century creeds, and by the aggressive and insulting tone of writings of Athanasius of Alexandria, the chief defender of Trinitarianism at the time, these creeds were produced with an air of dictatorship and intolerance.  (Listen to podcasts 169 to 171 on Trinities.)  These creeds made an end to religious freedom and shifted persecution from persecution of the church to persecution by the church.

The Apostle Paul lamented that the Corinthians would follow those who abused them and even slapped them in the face (2 Cor. 11:20).  Carnal people respond to carnal strength and carnal leadership.  By the biblical definition, the church in this era became carnal.  Christ Himself demonstrated Christian leadership when He went to the cross. In Revelation 3, He stands outside the door of His own church knocking to see if any will open to Him. He does not force Himself on us.  Our only leader must be Christ.  When leaders compel Christians to accept a doctrine, they are not leading people to Him. The Truth is a Person.