Nicene Niggly Bits

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

5 thoughts on “Nicene Niggly Bits

  1. Well it also links the Son to Creation… And the Spirit back to the Prophets.
    Also some Eastern Churches read the Greek Text of the Creed to include the Church as a fourth item… which is problematic in its own way but does do away with the modalism you mention.
    I think the problem you are discussing arises from trying to put a Mystery into words.


  2. from my thoughts back to church history 101 i believe the Nicene Creed was formed to combat the heresy of modalism….
    Perhaps the problem being that in trying too hard to define the “mystery” it can lead to confusion still…


  3. I suspect all of our atempts to “pin down” God end up being heretical, quite simply because God is beyond us… might the creed inadvertantly encourage/ endores modalism- well I guess that depends on the lense of the reader! 🙂


  4. I know it’s true in my case that when I try to “pin down” (as Sally said) the paradox that is the Trinity, it ends up coming out distinctly modalist.
    I think the Trinity is an intuitive thing. It is something that you glimpse in a painting or sculpture, or something that peeks out at you from creation. It doesn’t seem to be something readily put into words.


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