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My Faith and the Nicene Creed
The Holy Spirit

 

I based this essay on the third part of the creed that was formulated at the First Ecumenical Council at Nicæa in 325, was put into its final form at the Second Ecumenical Council at Constantinople in 381, and was made inalterable by local councils at the Third Ecumenical Council at Ephesus in 431. It is most properly called the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, but since that is as hard to type as it is to pronounce, I follow general practice and refer to it simply as the “Nicene Creed.”

The Text of the Nicene Creed

From the International Consultation on English Texts

We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

My Faith—The Holy Spirit

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life

The Holy Spirit is a personality; He is the Lord and the giver of life. He is the Spirit through whom we perceive Jesus, even as through Jesus we see His Father. This affirmation led to the affirmation in the Athanasian Creed that Jesus” Father is Lord, Jesus is Lord, and the Holy Spirit is Lord, but that makes only one Lord.

The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father

The filioque clause, which was added—possibly with the best of intentions—by the Council of Toledo in 589, violates canon VII of the Third Ecumenical Council at Ephesus in AD 431, which made the Nicene Creed unchangeable by local councils. For this reason, it is not properly part of the Nicene Creed. Scripturally, Jesus prays to His Father to send the Holy Spirit, thus the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father. There is symmetry in saying that the Son is begotten of the Father and the Spirit proceeds from the Father. However, neither the Nicene wording nor the Ephesian canon prohibits the assertion that Jesus participated in the procession of the Holy Spirit. Clearly, Jesus prayed to the Father to send the Holy Spirit, just as the Holy Spirit caused the Θεοτοκος to be with child. So I can say that the Son is begotten of the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit and that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the intercession of the Son.

I worship and glorify the Holy Spirit with the Father and the Son

The Holy Spirit is much neglected in western Christianity, but I affirm that we must worship and glorify the Holy Spirit with the Father and the Son. Therefore I pray to the Holy Spirit in my private devotions, in the epiclesis when I make Eucharist during public worship, and often in the opening prayer. It is right to thank and petition the Holy Spirit, particularly for empowerment, life, inspiration, wisdom, insight, and protection.

It is at worst theologically incorrect and at best bad etiquette to request that the Holy Spirit “come,” or to “invoke” His presence, because He is always and everywhere present.

The Holy Spirit has spoken through the prophets

When I say that the Holy Spirit has spoken through the prophets, I am not just identifying the Person of the Trinity who inspires canonical writers, I am vindicating Hebrew scripture. I affirm that the same Holy Spirit, who brought about the incarnation through the Virgin Mary, also speaks to me through the Hebrew prophets.

I affirm the Hebrew canon. I identify Judaism, not as a predecessor religion, but as the platform upon which my faith is built. I affirm that the background values, concepts, symbols, and truths that are valid for Judaism are valid for me as well.

I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church

The Church possesses no innate holiness, because in that sense, only God is holy. The Church is holy in the sense that it is a human organization with a divine charter. As an aggregate of human beings, it is capable of sin and error, yet it is holy in the sense that God has chartered it for the salvation of the human race.

The Church is catholic (universal), in the sense that there are no restrictions on who can join. It is not limited to people of any race, culture, language, or social status.

The Church is apostolic in two senses. In the first sense, it is founded on the teachings of the apostles of Jesus Christ. This means we can’t make up a new religion as we go along; the true Church has very clear, discernible, and unbroken roots that are 2,000 years long. In the second sense, it has a continuing apostolate from Jesus to the human race.

The Church is the body of Christ. In the Eucharist, we eat Jesus” Body, which makes us part of His Body, and thus His agents in this world. As the Church, we are the distributors of His blessings, the agents of His providence, the instruments of His grace, and the ambassadors of His love to all, particularly to those who are trapped in sin, suffering, oppression, or deprivation.

The present organizational diversity in the Church is in this extended sense the wounds in the Body of Christ. They are a sign that Jesus still shares in our suffering and our brokenness and they bear witness to our eventual redemption and transformation.

In affirming the one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, I also affirm the canon of the New Testament, which was written, assembled, and validated by the ancient Church. There can be no contemporary amendment to the canon without a disconnection from the ancient Church, which would invalidate us as part of that Church. This also means that I affirm the canonicity of the received New Testament apart from any issues of authorship. The ancient Church has already wrestled with that issue. In other words, the Gospel According to Mark is the gospel because the Church has proclaimed that it is, and it remains the gospel, even if someone can show that it was written by Fred.

I acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins

Baptism is the entry into the Church. People who make a formal commitment to Jesus must confess their sins and be baptized for the remission of their sins upon formal entry into the Church. The Church has the complementary commandment to receive new members through baptism.

There is one baptism in two senses. In the first sense, there is only one Christian baptism. There is only one occasion upon which a person needs to be baptized, and that is upon formal entry into the universal Church. A person who has been correctly baptized in one part of the Church need not and should not be rebaptized when they move to another part of the Church, for the simple reason that rebaptism denies that there is only one Church. In the second sense, a person undergoes baptism only once in a lifetime, because God”s promise is never withdrawn. If people are remorseful for sins that they have committed after baptism, then they can reconfirm their baptismal vows, but the baptism itself cannot be repeated without impugning God”s promise. Thus the rite of confirmation can be repeated as often as necessary, but baptism is once for life.

Baptism is for the forgiveness of sins, it does not cause the forgiveness of sins. Absolution comes after confession and before penance; baptism serves as a sort of penance that validates the confession; it does not seal the absolution.

By affirming baptism for the remission of sins, I affirm the universality of sin and the necessity of confession and repentance. This is contrary to the philosophy of the present age, which sees sin as a calamity, the sinner as a victim, and repentance as unnecessary or impossible, because one can only protest, not master, an overwhelming force.

I believe that by confessing my sins, I take responsibility for them; therefore that act of confession raises me higher than my sins. I affirm that I can transcend my sins through the power of the Holy Spirit. The cycle of confessing, repenting, being absolved, and living anew is much more efficient than the contemporary model of blaming, complaining, and therapy.

I note that all branches of the contemporary Church practice auricular confession. Some of us simply call it “counseling.”

I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come

The resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come are my aspirations; I have them as promises and as assurances from Jesus Christ, who Himself demonstrated the resurrection. However, I cannot demonstrate their truth, because they are not present. I “look for them,” I cannot demonstrate them or prove them.

I know from biology and from personal observation that my body is not immortal. It is in a state of steady decline, and someday it will fail me entirely. Most likely, when that day comes, my body will be in such a state of disability, pain, and sensual dimness that I will welcome death as respite. Yet I have within me a spark that does not want to die, so I was looking for a future existence even before I knew that Jesus had promised it to me. I know that I am a finite being and that I need to be incarnate in some sense or the other in order to have a point of reference for my consciousness. Therefore I look for a resurrection into a physical form.

I also know from cosmology that the universe is finite in time and space. God said, “Let there be light,” and there was a Big Bang at which the universe began. The fact that the sky is dark at night proves that the universe is finite in both space and time, because if the universe were infinite, then in any direction I should care to look in the night-time sky, there would be a star at some distance, the light from that star would have had enough time to travel to me, and the night-time sky would be brightly white. (The fact that the sky is dark at night was in fact a scientific mystery until the Big Bang theory was proved, largely with the data from the COBE satellite.) At some point in the future our sun will burst into a nova, and the elements of our planet will literally melt with fervent heat. Even if the human race escapes the death of our solar system, the entire universe shall someday decay in accordance with the second law of thermodynamics to a bland undifferentiated soup. So I look for a new place in which to have my new corporeal existence.

The ancients could not have possibly known that their bodies would decay beyond detection over thousands of years, nor that consequently they could not just be revivified at a future time. The ancients could not have known that the sun would eventually become a nova, melting all the elements of earth into nuclear particles, or that the universe would decay through entropy to a bland and featureless soup. So I find great consolation in a biblical passage such as this:

**Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ”See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” —Revelation 21:1-4 (NRSV)

I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come, which is another way of affirming that transcendental reality is truly real and truly transcendental.

Amen

“Amen” is more than just a pious ending. It is Hebrew for “so be it,” expressing both joyful and hopeful resolve. In this paper, I outline what I believe God proposes, and my Amen rings out as my feeble second to His great motion.

With “Amen” I summarize my faith, with “Amen” I affirm my hope, with “Amen” I exhort my Lord: bring it all to completion as you have promised!