We are a small Episcopal Church on the banks of the Rappahannock in Port Royal, Virginia. We acknowledge that we gather on the traditional land of the first people of Port Royal, the Nandtaughtacund, who are still here, and we honor with gratitude the land itself and the life of the Rappahannock Tribe. Our mission statement is to do God’s Will in all that we do.

The Creeds Class, Part 3, March 6, 2024

We had 8 participants. Thanks to all who attended.

The second part of the creed deals with Jesus  (Who do you say that I am?)  Look at the creed, The first part of section 2)

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, 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. 

Lord—The very oldest Christian creed is one sentence.  “Jesus is Lord.”  (I Corinthians 12:3) The Greek term is Kyrios, which means Sir, this term is also used for pagan gods.  When early Christians confessed that Jesus was their Lord, they deliberately rejected the many lords and at some personal risk, also challenged the claims to dominion on the part of secular rulers.  To call Jesus Lord is to testify that our lives are oriented around Jesus and his teaching about the will of God for our lives. 

The name Jesus—comes from the Greek version of the Hebrew name Joshua, meaning Yahweh is salvation.  Both Matthew and Luke write in their gospels that Mary’s son be given this name. 

Christ, Greek Christos, is a translation of the Hebrew Messiah, the anointed one.  A king, descended from David, who would conquer the enemies of Israel in a decisive battle,  and establish a universal kingdom of peace and justice for all.  We can’t know precisely why the early Christians called Jesus the Messiah, but it is clear that they found his kingship to be other than a geographical realm on earth.  “My Kingdom is not from this world.” 

Son of God—The OT concept of the divine Son of God –election by God and the resulting responsibility for implementing God’s will in the life of the people.  For Christians, Jesus is the ONLY mediator between God and humankind.  In distinction from all divine miracle workers, divine emperors, and semi-divine new age emanations, Jesus is the unique revealer of the One God. 

“With our confession that Jesus Christ, Our Lord, is the only Son of the Father, we touch on the exclusivist aspect of our faith, the claim that one individual man who lived in a particular place at a specific time is uniquely related to God and is our Lord.  We approach God through his only Son.  When we speak these words, we are not saying anything about someone else’s beliefs or the lack thereof; we are giving witness to what we believe and to the nature of our approach to God.”  Marshall D. Johnson

This part of the creed deals with the question that caused the emperor Constantine to call the Council of Nicea in the first place:  Is the Christ really and truly Son of God, or is he some lesser being, an intermediary between God and humanity? 

Remember, The Nicene Creed was originally formulated at the first Ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church held in Nicea in 325C. E. and was later amplified, adopted and authorized as a true expression of the Faith at the second Ecumenical Council in Constantinople in 381C.  (There were 7 ecumenical councils, the last one held in 787.) 

The first four councils convened to debate the four big heresies.

Arius—Jesus is the first of God’s creatures (The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts long ago, Proverbs 8:22)  Athanasius was the chief opponent of Arius.  “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.”  Jesus is the one who acts for our salvation.

Apollinaris—Jesus was fully human in respect to his body and his animal soul, but his mind was the mind of God.  (This is saying that Jesus is only 2/3 human.) 

Third Council—the issue was the unity of the person of Jesus Christ—was he really one person or was he split between two natures, as it were, both Son of God and Son of Man?  Nestorius

Fourth Council—Eutyches, believed that Christ was not one Person with two natures, one human and one divine, but that he had only one nature, a divine-human one.  Chalcedon insisted on two natures, joined in one person without mixture or confusion.

In 451, the fourth ecumenical council approved the creed.

And made this statement about Jesus, which is also in our prayer book on page 864.

One and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation, the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ.    (This is part of the Definition of the Union of the Divine and Human Natures in the Person of Christ, Council of Chalcedon, 451AD., Act V. )

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 us and for our salvation—What is it that God did for the human family through Jesus?  God established a new relationship with us.  Through Jesus, God set us free, free from sin, free from death, free from the law.  No obedience to any set of rules is the way to gain genuine freedom, that is, we can’t earn our way to heaven by following rules.  Our salvation is the gift of grace on God’s part.   

Victory—victory in a great cosmic battle over sin and death

Ransom—Jesus gave himself a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28) ransom for all (I Timothy 2:6)  Ransoms were given to redeem slaves and prisoners of war.  To whom was Jesus paying ransom?  The Bible doesn’t say.  Gregory of Nyssa came up with the idea that God paid a ransom to the devil and tricked the devil out of his hold over humanity.  Or this idea, the ransom paid to God on behalf of sinful humanity.  Or this idea—Anselm of Canterbury believed that humanity has offended God’s honor by failing to pay full liege loyalty to their Lord, only a God-man could vindicate God’s violated honor. 

Sacrifice—Christ has offered for all time a single sacrifice for sin—in Hebrews as well as elsewhere in the NT, Christ is both victim and high priest (Hebrews) 

The theory in greatest favor today is the Pauline idea of freedom, that is liberation.  “Liberation of all men and women from whatever binds them, both internally and externally”

And this is not just the idea of what we must do to be saved as individuals, this is about social salvation—for us, and for our salvation.  Christan faith dictates solidarity with the poor and the oppressed, and so requires commitment to changing the social order.  Leonardo Boff, liberation theologian—Jesus belongs in the economic and political spheres of our lives as much, if not more, than in the religious realm.  Salvation has to do with the well-being of the whole person. 

By the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary and was made man.  This is a theological, not a biological statement.  It is the assertion that that the initiative in Mary’s conception came from God.  Mary has the title theotokos, the bearer of God, the Council of Chalcedon in 451 condemned anyone who would refuse this title to Mary. 

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried.  This was in response to the Gnostics, who believed that it was blasphemous to believe in the historical reality of the death of the redeemer.  So they believed something like this—before the human Jesus died, the divine Christ abandoned Jesus to his fate.  Or, Simon of Cyrene was crucified in the place of Jesus.  Or Jesus had no material body—he only seemed to have one.  No Gnostic would confess that Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate, he suffered death and was buried.  So this part of the Creed was designed to draw a line between Gnostics and other believers. 

The creed asserts what is an established fact.  Jesus’ death was an actual historical event.  This was a great trauma to the disciples, how could this have happened? 

Jesus died with the terror of death, he endured his sufferings and his awful death so that he, according to one anonymous early believer, might “free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death” Hebrews 2:15)

Buried—Paul explicitly mentions that Jesus was buried.  For Paul, the image of the baptized person descending into the water was a reenactment of the burial of Jesus, in accomplished the union of the believer with Jesus. 

All four gospels offer a narrative of the burial of Jesus.  Joseph of Arimathea buries Jesus in all four gospels.  John adds Nicodemus.  All agreed that Joseph laid Jesus in a rock hewn tomb.  The tradition of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as the location of the burial has strong claims of historical authenticity. 

On the third day he rose again in accordance with the scriptures—the resurrection.  The empty tomb and the reports of the appearances of the risen Jesus. 

Jesus resurrection is God’s confirmation of his ministry of preaching and healing. 

Jesus’ resurrection was a transformation to a new, glorious life, free from the evils of earthly life.

Jesus’ resurrection is the guarantee, anticipation and the first fruits of the resurrection of all believers. 

He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father— Jesus’ resurrection was not a return to earthly life, but rather a transformation to heavenly existence with God.  The exalted Jesus intercedes for us with God. 

He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead—Early Christians were convinced that Jesus spoke of his return to judge humankind at the end of history.  The theme of divine judgement runs from Genesis through Exodus.  In the OT, God is judge of all the earth.  The last judgement in Matthew 25.

Judgement has to do with setting things right, creating a just order, rather than with wreaking vengeance.  Evil is an undeniable reality in our world, and judgment often goes lacking.  We look forward to the time when justice prevails. 

The assertions that Jesus descended to the dead, rose gain, ascended and will return as judge all describe actions that are beyond the course of life on this earth.  They hold before us not only the reality of death, but also the lively hope for a transformed life after death.  And the hope for the return of Jesus reminds us that evil is still a reality in our world; the kingdom of God is not fully implemented.  We look forward to the complete eradication of evil in all its forms by God in the future. 

These notes are from Marianne H. Micks,  Loving the Questions:  An exploration of the Nicene Creed, and from Marshall D. Johnson  The Apostles’ Creed, A User’s Guide.  Exploring Christian Faith.