Taking into account what I wrote here – here’s my second piece of writing for my Area Director of Ordinands.
What does the Nicene Creed mean to me?
What would I change in the Creed if I had the opportunity?
It would be very easy in this short essay to explore the theological meaning and history of the Nicene Creed. I spent the first two weeks after you posed these questions reading deeply into the history and theology before returning to the questions of my view of the Creed and what I would like to change given the opportunity.
I’m not sure that at this stage in my faiths maturity and development I am in a position to offer any coherent view of the Creed and what I would want to see changed. I have found this essay difficult to complete. I would be far more comfortable writing an in-depth academic piece. However, part of the discernment process and my training will require the exploration of areas in which I feel comfortable and force me to engage in areas where I am not comfortable — and the Creed is as good a place to start.
For a very long time the Creed was something I read on Sunday mornings in Church with Grandma (it’s not something I read in chapel). I always had to read it — it never stayed with me — and over time it began to stick and it disappeared into the background dogma of a Sunday service. When I met Catherine and we decided to marry I was required to attend lessons with her at the Catholic cathedral in Birmingham and at her parish Church in Newport. During those lessons we spent some time examining the Creed and it came as a surprise that it was word for word the same Creed I’d been saying in the Church in Wales with Grandma for so many years — indeed I found it surprising that so many of our services appear to follow much of the same liturgy at times.
I was surprised at how much of the Creed had passed me by each Sunday morning — despite the number of times I had read it I still did not appreciate the depth of the Creed or even begin to understand its implications.
As I learnt more about the Creed and its history it became apparent that the aim was to bring people of differing — you could say, arguing faiths and schools of theology together. It is at its very heart, indeed at its very inception, the definition of an ecumenical declaration.
When you sit and read the Creed it stands out as a declaration. Here we are, this is what we believe, and we believe this together. We are one Church, we are one family and we believe in the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. That’s incredibly powerful and the more you study and read the Creed the more that settles on you and demands to be taken more seriously. Reading it on a Sunday morning does not engage you in the same way as studying it does.
The first verse is wonderfully simple. It’s not even a full verse; just a simple, single, sentence — a pure declaration of faith. It is comfortable and easy to remember. A simple introduction to the Creed.
As we move forward from the pure declaration of the first verse into the second we are again presented with a firm collective declaration ‘We believe…’ before moving onto the most important narrative of the New Testament – that of the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is the most central tenet of our faith and reminds us — along with the word ‘we’ that we all believe this, that our church — along with others all over the world — hold this central tenet to be self evident.
It doesn’t stop there. The second verse moves beyond the resurrection of Christ to outline — to declare — that Jesus is sat at the right hand of the Father and that he will come again. The beginning of the thread of Trinity within the Creed.
The third and final verse again starts with ‘We believe…’ and adds the final element of the Trinity – the Holy Spirit. It anchors our belief in the Holy Spirit and makes clear that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son – very clearly stating the Trinity as one in the Father and not as a separate divine presences.
For me the final few lines of the last verse are the most important — the least clearly stated but the most important ‘We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church’ — catholic as in all embracing and again the ‘We believe…’. Given the history and birth of the Creed this seems to be the verse that brings everything else together. We accept that there are many facets of church, we accept that there are many different ways of seeing and worshiping Christ but here are the central tenets, here is what our faith is, here is what we’ll stand together for.
We come together in this declaration of our faith — we are Christians in a worldwide family. Every Church that says this together on Sunday morning is declaring their part in the family of Christ and in the worldwide family of Christians – that is the most powerful aspect of the Creed in todays Christianity and one I think is perhaps lost on the vast majority of people who recite it.
What would I change?
The only time I ever get frustrated with liturgy, just as I do with work projects or documents, is when the language gets in the way of the meaning. The Creed is not terribly onion like — there are not many layers of understanding going on here. You could theoretically argue the theology of the declaration but the meaning is very clear to everyone who reads or speaks it. But whilst the meaning is clear — the understanding is not — without context.
I would argue that the Creed should not be altered, but would suggest that perhaps some more explanation should be offered to the congregation before the Creed is said. In the same way that each Sunday I lead the Children’s talk or the family service I talk of our ‘family prayer’ the ‘prayer that Jesus taught us to say together’ I would suggest that the Creed could use some placement — some context — an understanding that people all over the world are saying this same Creed at their Churches. A way to ensure that the repetition of the Creed does not push it to the back of peoples mind, a way to ensure that the dogma of the words slip from understanding but retain some importance in the liturgy each Sunday.
After writing this essay I’m going to work on a session for the Children’s Explorer mornings on the Creed. I’m not sure what shape that will take yet but I feel that the youngest members of our congregation need to grasp that we are one holy catholic and apostolic Church – wherever you chose to worship, wherever you are in the world.