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The Apostle’s Creed speaks of the ‘resurrection of the body’ rather than the ‘resurrection of the dead’.  Stanley Spencer in his painting ‘Resurrection at Cookham’ paints people emerging from their graves, their clothes representing the time they were buried – those with ruffs rising next to those in modern suits. This was the image of resurrection for centuries, a physical resurrection of the body and one of the reasons that many Christians were against cremation – how would the resurrection take place if the body had been destroyed, they reasoned.

In our materialistic world, where the focus is often on what we can see, and touch, and measure, it is very hard to even begin to contemplate what it might mean to be in relationship with the Trinity after our deaths.  Rowan Williams writes “death is a nakedness to which we must all come, a spiritual stripping, as we are confronted by God.  The identities we have made, that we have pulled around ourselves like a comfortable dressing gown or a smart suit will dissolve, and what is deepest in us, what we most want, what we most care about, will be laid bare.”  Eternity becomes a life lived in the joy of the reality of God.

 

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In Ephesians 4.4-5 Paul writes “ There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling,  one Lord, one faith, one baptism,  one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.”

Baptism is the sacrament which draws us into the Christian community, and makes explicit our relationship with God and with each other.   That it is baptism, not the Eucharist which is mentioned in the Creed points to the importance of koinonia, of community, and our belonging to the fellowship of faith.

In 1982 the World Council of Churches published a volume called ‘Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry’, also known as the ‘Lima Document‘ .  They write “It explores the growing agreement – and remaining differences – in fundamental areas of the churches’ faith and life. The most widely-distributed and studied ecumenical document, BEM has been a basis for many “mutual recognition” agreements among churches and remains a reference today”

In the document they show that baptism is an unrepeatable act, writing in their commentary “As the churches come to fuller mutual understanding and acceptance of one another and enter into closer relationships in witness and service, they will want to refrain from any practice which might call into question the sacramental integrity of other churches or which might diminish the unrepeatability of the sacrament of baptism.”

In working towards acknowledgement of common baptism, we are striving to overcome the divisions in the church which do not reflect Jesus’ call that we all may be one.

 

 

11

The ‘Macedonians’ or ‘Pneumatomachians’,  thought to have been founded by Bishop Macedonias I of Constantinople accepted the divinity of Christ but thought the Spirit to be the creation of the Father and the Son, denying the Spirit any divinity.  Their view was that  the Spirit was instead a servant of the Father and the Son.    The Council of Nicaea wanted to affirm the Spirit’s place in the Trinity, and also to affirm that the Spirit was at work before Christ, indeed from the foundation of the world.    To do this they reminded people of the words spoken by the prophets.

The English word prophets comes from the Greek ‘to say beforehand’.  The Old Testament is packed with people who speak God’s word to call people to repentance and to turn to the Lord.  But where do we find the Spirit?

 

Jesus reads from Isaiah in the Synagogue ins Luke 4.18

“‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me

to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives

and recovery of sight to the blind,

to let the oppressed go free,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’

 

Peter in his speech on the day of Penteccost in the Acts of the Apostles reminds his hearers of the Prophet Joel  in Acts 2:16-18;

“No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

“In the last days it will be, God declares,

that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,

and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,

and your young men shall see visions,

and your old men shall dream dreams.

Even upon my slaves, both men and women,

in those days I will pour out my Spirit;

and they shall prophesy.”

The eternal role of the Trinity as three persons is affirmed and the life breathed into us through the Spirit is that which was given to the prophets, the apostles and people across the world and down the centuries.

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‘God is Spirit’ (John 4.24), but it may not be clear what is meant by that.  The single Hebrew word ‘Ruach’ is translated in English by at least three different words: wind, breath and spirit, although none of them accurately translate its depth of meaning, although they may give us an inkling about the Christian meaning of the Holy Spirit.

Augustine was key in the development of the theology of the Holy Spirit, developing the idea of the Holy Spirit as the bond between the Father and the Son.  Augustine insists on the distinctiveness of the Spirit, but describes it as the commonality between the Father and the Son.

He writes: ‘For this reason, the Spirit is able to teach us that love which is common both to the Father and to the Son and through which they love each other’.

  'And there appeared tongues as of fire, distributed on each of them and resting upon them.  And they were all filled with the Holy spirit, and began to speak with other tongues as the Holy Spirit gave them utterance.' O how rapid is the discourse of wisdom, and where God is the teacher, how soon is the lesson taught! It was not necessary for the apostles to receive some sort of interpretation in order that they might hear better; they were not given time to familiarise themselves with a vocabulary in order to be more eloquent; they had no time for study; but the Spirit of truth 'blowing where he willed' the various languages of various nations were made common speech in the mouth of the Church. It was on this day of Pentecost that the trumpet of the preaching of the gospel sounded forth.  It was on this day that showers of spiritual gifts fell from heaven, streams of blessings which watered every desert place and all dry ground, for 'the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters' in order to 'renew the face of the earth'.  New flashes of light were beaming forth to drive out the old darkness, seeing that by the splendour of the radiant tongues was being received the lustrous Word of the Lord, a fiery utterance in which is present an energy which illuminates, a burning force which stimulates intelligence and consumes sin.

From a sermon of Leo the Great

   

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From a Platonic perspective this affirmation is breathtaking in its incoherence. The concept of the Son of God suffering death was in such terms unimaginable. The Nicene Creed affirms it as the irreducible content of Christian belief. It gives a reason for the sequence of events- ‘for our sake’ Jesus was crucified- and it gives a secular historical locator for them- ‘under Pontius Pilate’.

It affirms that Jesus actually died and was actually buried- a tradition had from the earliest times grown up suggesting that Jesus survived the crucifixion without in fact dying. The Creed affirms that it is part of the Christian faith that the Son of God died and was buried and that everything was done ‘for our sake’.

4

The Christian teaching of the Incarnation of the Son is here affirmed. Again, in Platonic terms this was a deeply difficult concept because it involved the divinity in the profoundly transcient realm of the material. Could God really assume human flesh with the change and decay, and fundamentally, the limitation that this implied? Enough thinking Christians in the early period had become uncomfortable with what could easily be seen as a diminishing of the divine in the flesh and as logically incoherent. Members of an early movement called the ‘Docetists’ for example argued that Jesus only appeared to be human. The Nicene Creed takes a stand against such opinion and identifies as heretical the docetic when it affirms the radical solidarity of the God the Son with humankind. It also and importantly identifies the purpose of Incarnation as salvific. The characters of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary are here introduced for the first time.

3We have seen something of the Platonic philosophical tradition’s commitment to the ‘simplicity’ and ‘oneness’ of God. The writers of the Nicene Creed eagerly engaged with this philosophical background though were obliged, at several points, to qualify their relationship to it.

This part of the Creed announces belief in Jesus Christ, the ‘Lord’ (kurios) and the ‘Son’ (huios). Here the concern is to include Jesus within the essential definition of God. This requires a nuanced and complex response to a problem inherent in the metaphor of filiality, or sonship. Sonship is a relational metaphor, it implies derivation from another and -in Platonic terms- derivation most naturally entails the inferiority of the thing derived.

The writers of the Nicene Creed were then completely concerned to assert the oneness of the Father and the Son, not the Son’s inferiority through derivation. Thus the concepts of ‘monogenesis’ (affirming the Son’s uniqueness) and of ‘eternal begetting’ (there was no moment -in time or out of time- when the Father preceded the Son or sustained being apart from the Son) and that cascading sequence of identity assertions- ‘God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God’. The Son was not ‘made’ –a quality of inferiority in Platonic terms- but ‘begotten’, and begotten ‘eternally’ and involved intimately in the work of the Father’s making because all things were made ‘through him’.

The Nicene Creed then affirmed that the Father and the Son shared the same ‘substance’. Crucially, it is here that the Creed deploys a very precise language that is also a non-Biblical language. Terms like ‘Lord’ and ‘Son’ and ‘Father’ are Biblical terms, but here the word ‘of the same substance’/homo-ousios is non-Biblical- and its deployment was judged necessary to give explicit and precise definition to the concept intended.

The word homo-ousios was very much current in the background context of the Council of Nicaea- and it played its full part in the Arian Controversy which gave rise to the writing of the Creed in the first place.

What do Christians Believe?  Day 2

The opening of the creed affirms the unity and sovereignty of God.  The context of its development is important. Early Christians faced the charge that they were not true monotheists, that is that they believed in the existence of more than one God. The Christian commitment to language of a ‘Father’, a ‘Son’ and a ‘Holy Spirit’ understandably gave rise to some confusion. Given the Jewish background of the faith, this was a very serious charge and the Nicene Creed is constructed in part to refute it. The text affirms that God is ‘one’. But the Jewish background is only half the truth for the Creed’s concept of divine ‘oneness’ is consonant not only with the Jewish theological tradition but also with the Platonic philosophical tradition. A Platonist milieu thoroughly characterised the intellectual context of the Creed’s formation. For the Platonists, the perfection of God was to be found in ‘unity’ and ‘simplicity’. In Plato’s understanding of the One and the Many, authenticity was to be found at the level of the One.

Importantly, however, the Creed affirms the involvement of God in the creating of heaven and earth. Platonists resisted such a mode of attribution because they felt that the involvement of God in the material world compromised the simplicity basic to his definition. For example, the dialogue Timaeus allocates the work of the creation to a ‘Demiurge’, a lesser fabricator deity, not the one God. The Nicene Creed parts company with the Platonic context, then, when it affirms that the One God is the Creator, and the Maker not only of this earth, but of ‘all things seen and unseen’. God is the unitary author of all that is.

What do Christians Believe 1

Today is the Feast of the Ascension and we begin the next of our short email based courses on the Christian faith. We hope that you found the Lent course on the Bible to be helpful. In the next few weeks (ending on the Feast of the Holy Trinity, 25th May 2013) we will begin looking at what we believe as Christians through the statements of the ‘Nicene Creed’.

The Nicene Creed is one of the communal statements of belief that are often recited by the community of worshippers in the course of a Christian religious service. In the Church of England, the Nicene Creed is often used at services of Holy Communion while another common creed, the ‘Apostles’ Creed’, is often used at other services, such as Morning and Evening Prayer.

The word ‘creed’ comes from the Latin ‘credo’ meaning ‘I believe’, and creeds are best thought of as short statements of the absolute basics of the faith which establish the framework for (and the limits of) appropriate religious reflection. Creeds, that is to say, are related to ‘correctness’ or ‘orthodoxy’ in opinion and belief. They are ‘yardsticks’ and ‘rules of faith’.

The Nicene Creed, which will be examined in this short course, is an ancient statement of the Church’s belief, agreed largely by the Christian Church’s first ecumenical council (a specifically summoned and authorised gathering of all the Church’s leaders) held in Nicaea in 325CE in response to growing theological argument within the Church, especially the so-called Arian Controversy . The Nicene Creed was fully established in the form in which it is now said in the Western Church a little later, at the ecumenical council held at Constantinople in 381CE. For this reason the credal document is sometimes referred to as the ‘Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed’.

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