I based this essay on the first 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 Father
I believe in one God
I am a monotheist.
I am not a dualist. I do not believe in a god of good and a god of evil, who are in constant struggle with each other. I believe that only God is God, and that God is Good. Evil is not a quality; it is the absence of a quality, like cold or dark. No scientist can measure the amount of cold or the speed of dark; in the same way, I assert that no theologian can measure evil, because evil is the absence of good, not the presence of some quality that is complementary to good.
I am neither a henotheist nor a polytheist. I deny that any deity exists other than God. There is no God but God. There are no gods with specialties, in which case I would have to select the correct god to invoke, depending on my need; there is no divine office politics among a plurality of gods, which would make it possible for me to play one against another, thus I am not a polytheist. I do not admit the existence or even the possibility of the existence of a plurality of deities who are irrelevant to my spiritual life, thus I am not a henotheist. I do believe that there is a hierarchy of incorporeal beings who are taxonomically higher than human race, some of which have rebelled against God, choosing eventual eternal destruction rather than full fellowship with Him, but because I believe that these are created beings, subordinate to God, who serve God (some despite their intentions), and are not worthy of worship and in fact actively discourage it, this belief does not impugn my monotheism any more than my belief in ocelots or kangaroos impugns my monotheism.
I am not a unitarian (in the sense that I do not believe that God is a monad); I am a Trinitarian. I believe in a plurality of persons within one God. I believe, that consciousness is not possible without a distinction between “me” and “not me,” and that before the creation of the universe there is nothing that is not God. Therefore, a god who is a monad could not have become conscious and could not have created the universe. If I say that God loves the creation, then I love is an intrinsic attribute of God, which cannot be perfected except between equals. Thus there must be at least two persons in the godhead. I also believe that human beings are created in the image of God; we are social beings. For God to be a social being, there must be at least three persons in the godhead. Thus I conclude that there is one God in three persons.
I find the Trinity a necessary concept in understanding passages such as the Baptism of Jesus, in Matthew 3:16-17, in which Jesus, His Father, and the Holy Spirit are simultaneously active as sovereign Lord.
I am a Trinitarian monotheist; I believe in one God in three persons.
God is the Father, the Almighty
Since I do not admit to henotheism or polytheism, I must assert that God possesses all possible power and authority, and can do all possible things.
For me, the assertion that God is Father has no masculine content whatsoever, except insofar as the word “Father” indicates the historic fact that God is responsible for the paternity of Jesus Christ through the Virgin Mary, the Θεοτοκος. I do not use the term “mother” for God, not just because it deprecates Mary’s role, but also because it unravels the doctrine of the incarnation by making Jesus” birth metaphorical and Jesus into a spirit being. It either neglects or dishonors Mary and eliminates the incarnation.
I also feel that it is pastorally necessary to compensate for the prevailing narcissistic subjectivism of our age that has turned theology into a branch of anthropology or even politics. While it is always necessary to meet the needs of traumatized or oppressed people, it seems to me that actually basing religious terminology on our momentary psychological or political preferences inherently denies that Christianity is anything more than a sociological phenomenon. The task of systematic and pastoral theology should not be to notify God about the terms under which we will condescend to accommodate Him, but rather to inform ourselves about the way that He has condescended to accommodate us. Another way of putting it, on a parallel issue, is to say that we must wrestle with uncomfortable scripture, not edit it, because if we edit it, we can never find a truth greater than our own wisdom, and that is the path to solipsism, not truth.
I hold it as axiomatic that theology should transform the human condition; the human condition should not transform theology.
In the strictest sense, God is our creator, not our Father, nor our Mother. We are the artifacts of God, not the offspring of God. God did not beget us nor give birth to us, and thus we do not share God’s essence or substance. God owes us no moral obligation and we cannot demand anything of God, as in Jeremiah 18:1-10. We are created beings that God has made out of the substance of the created realm. We share our nature and our substance with the created realm, not with God. We are not naughty children being wooed back into our rightful heritage; we are Pinocchios being transformed into something far beyond what we could ever imagine or aspire to. God becomes our Father only through adoption, which makes us His sons. This “sonship” has no gender content, as we see in Paul; thus the primary meaning of this sonship is discipleship—we have in some limited sense God’s agency in this world.
Strictly speaking, the term “Father” only applies in two senses:
- As a relational term involving Jesus.
- As a way to invoke the first-century meaning of the word “father” as “head of household” and the word “son” as “business agent” or “co-regent.”
While it is necessary to be as inclusive of as many different kinds of people as possible, I feel it better and easier to desensitize the traumatized than it is to attempt to revise not just the entire metaphorical superstructure of the Christian faith, but history itself. It is even more important for to avoid sliding into heretical or non-Christian beliefs through ill-conceived innovations in terminology, for these reasons:
- They break with historic Christian terminology, making documents closer to the source less accessible.
- They sometimes accidentally rehearse ancient heretical terminology, making spurious connections to theological concepts that are alien to Christianity.
- They often lack specificity and include too much, often taking us beyond the bounds of historic Christianity.
- They are often linguistically awkward and unnatural.
- They can be misunderstood or not understood at all. Newspapers do not report on Monarch Elizabeith of the United Reign.
- They change rapidly with fashion, making it difficult to comply with them and to maintain continuity.
- They create, for many laypeople, the impression that we are making it up as we go along.
- They can reduce theology to an argument over terminology.
To me, theology is almost by definition a discipline about transcendental reality. If we assert that this-worldly concerns can trump transcendental concerns, we implicitly deny the transcendental, and our theology is no longer theology.
God is the maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen
I am not a pantheist. I do not believe that the universe is God, but that the universe itself is an artifact of God; it possesses neither benevolence nor malevolence. I believe that God is transcendent over His artifacts, a sentient superset of His artifacts, and that God is a conscious being with personality, will, intent, and purpose. “God” is not just a nickname for a collection of “spiritual principles” that I can invoke to do my bidding in some sort of thaumaturgical technology. I observe that it is possible to build a machine that operates on a natural principle, but not one that operates on a divine principle, because the universe is not sentient, but God is. To me, the affirmation of pantheism is functionally equivalent to atheism, because in both cases, no one is running the show. Yet since there is no scientific principle that causes the universe to persist, I cannot be a pantheist.
I am not a deist. I affirm that God is continually involved in the created order and that God loves and cares about it and all the creatures within it. I cannot prove this, but I feel constrained to believe it, because without it, life is empty and void, and has no purpose, and there would be no point to having any faith at all. Thus if I am to be a religious person, I cannot be a deist.
I affirm God’s ability to intervene in the universe through miracles. However, I note that the root of the word “miracle” is the Latin word for “wonder.” A miracle is something wonderful, not something magical. I believe that God is smart enough to construct the universe in such a way that all necessary miracles are possible without breaking the system. Therefore, I define a miracle, not by its mechanics, but by its providence—its mechanics do not violate the universe, but its author is necessarily God and its purpose is necessarily providential. It is impossible to debunk a miracle by demonstrating a natural cause, because that reveals the means but not the author or the purpose of the event. It is like attempting to disprove the existence of the puppeteer by demonstrating that the marionette’s motions are caused by tugs on strings.
The phrase “seen and unseen” defines the created order as containing visible and invisible things. To the framers of the Nicene Creed, this includes such things as love, beauty, truth, air, spirits, personalities, angels, and demons. To me it includes all these things, plus things that are too small to be seen, such as microbes and nuclear particles; things that are intrinsically not visible, such as gravitation, electromagnetism, as well as the weak and strong nuclear forces; and things that are too remote to be seen, such as planets in faraway galaxies. God created all things, even what we cannot sensually perceive.
Conversely, this means that nothing exists except that God created it. I must wrestle with unpleasant realities just as I must wrestle with unpleasant scriptures; I cannot write them off as the handiwork of a secondary, evil deity. This brings in the doctrine of the incomprehensibility of God, the necessity for humility, and the limits of my wisdom—I can only comprehend things that are less complex than I am. Since God is more complex than I am, I can never perfectly comprehend God. I must therefore realize that I will never win the wrestling match with unpleasant realities and scriptures, and that I will never devise a comprehensive and exhaustive systematic theology, even though it is my task to try my best. Another way of putting it, is that despite my best efforts at systematic theology, in the end, I must walk by faith and not by sight.
I should also be suspicious of any systematic theology that claims to be comprehensive and exhaustive, or that is fully to my liking, because such a theology is necessarily solipsistic and therefore invalid.