I have been revisiting the Nicene Creed recently and something struck me: could it unintentionally encourage Modalism in the minds of some readers?(1)
I think the problem is this: on one level the Nicene Creed is an attempt to articulate how the Father (God above us), the Spirit (God within us) and the Son (God among us) all relate to one another in eternity; but on another level the Nicene Creed is also an attempt to articulate how the gospel story, the church story and the creation story relate to one another in history. It has struck me that there are problems with trying to do both simultaneously.
As it is stands the Nicene Creed explicitly links the Father to the creation story and the Spirit to the church story, but fails to do the reverse. Yet a careful reading of the Bible reveals the Spirit was moving within creation at the very beginning and that the Father sometimes stands in judgment over churches, such that their actions are not always Spirit breathed. Trinitarian theologians know this, but the creed does not actually clarify it. This critique goes beyond my previous critiques of the filoque(2); to the effect that the Son is sent by the Spirit as much as the Spirit is sent by the Son. What I am suggesting here is that the entire structure of the Creed is problematic, that it is too one dimensional to accommodate these tangential ideas of Father-Son-Spirit divinity and Creation-Christ-Church history without risk that they’ll just collapse into one another in the mind of readers. Something to ponder …
(1) Modalism is the name commonly given to unorthodox theological systems that assert God manifested in different modes during different periods of history – as Father in Old Testament times, as Son with the coming of Jesus, and as Spirit after the ascension of Jesus – and that the Father and Son and Spirit never related to one another personally and simultaneously as orthodox Christianity teaches.
(2) The filoque refers to a highly disputed clause inserted into the Nicene Creed by Western Theologians after the Council of Nicea had finished. Basically it is the bit that reads, “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son”