The Nicene Creed is arguably the most famous and important creed in all of Christendom. The 4th century was a tumultuous one, both politically and religiously. At the center of the religious upheaval was a man named Arius, a Presbyter from Alexandria, who taught that Jesus was something less than divine, something different than the Father who alone was God. There was also another religious man who needs mention: Athanasius. Also from Alexandria, Athanasius would later become Bishop of Alexandria and chief defender of the Holy Trinity.
Politically the man that stood at the center was Constantine. After his dramatic victory at the Melvian bridge (312 AD) and his subsequent conversion to Christianity, Constantine became the chief promoter and defender of all things Christian, demonstrated in acts like the Edict of Milan (313 AD) and, perhaps most importantly, the convening of the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. To try and capture of the weight of this, hear the way Justin Holcomb puts it:
It was Constantine who convened the first ecumenical, fully representative, universally recognized council of the Christian church.
Looking back, Constantine’s role in promoting and preserving Christianity is nothing short of a miracle. Sure, history tells us that God’s man theologically that day was Athanasius, contra mundum, against the world. But equally, if not more important, was Constantine, a man God had taken to himself for such a time as this.
Both Arius and Athanasius were present at the Council of Nicaea—and Constantine too—where topics like a uniform date of Easter was established. But at the heart of the council was an expansion of the Apostles’ Creed especially as it related to the relationship between the Father and the Son. The Apostles’ Creed had helpfully sketched the story of Jesus, but it had left some wiggle room for heretics like Arius.
In language that would both shape all of Christendom in that age, as well as stand the test of time, the council came up with the following language to describe Jesus and his relationship to the Father.
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,
Any wiggle room that had been present for anti-Trinitarian heretics was now effectively gone.
The importance of the Nicene Creed simply cannot be overstated. It stands as the high-water mark of early Christendom and one that should be loved and cherished by all Christians in every age.
That I never heard the Nicene Creed—never once! —in church before coming to New Life is something I cannot understand. But I am thankful I now know it and about it and hope that you too will join me in thanking God for the way he has preserved the faith once for all delivered to the saints.