A creed is an authorized and authentic summary of the Christian faith that symbolizes the beliefs of the Church. A creed signifies reception and membership into the Church and community. When we recite a creed, we strengthen our beliefs and enrich our personal and communal identity with Christ.
What Is the Nicene Creed and Why Is It Important?
The term “creed” comes from the Latin word “credo,” which translates to “I believe.” A creed is a commitment to a specific belief, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church identifies a creed as a symbol of faith.
The Catholic Church recognizes three creeds, including the Apostles’ Creed, Athanasian Creed and the Nicene-Constantinople Creed. The Apostles’ Creed and Nicene Creed are more common in the Church. On the other hand, the lesser-known Athanasian Creed is rare within the Church.
The Nicene Creed is a profession of faith during Catholic Mass and is something we recite after the homily or in response to the proclamation of God’s Word. We can profess our faith to Him by saying the Nicene Creed, confessing our devotion to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Who Wrote the Catholic Nicene Creed?
The original Nicene Creed dates back to 325 at the First Council of Nicaea, the first ecumenical council of the Christian Church that met in ancient Nicaea, now known as Iznik, Turkey. Emperor Constantine I called the council, presiding over the opening session and participating in the discussion.
Constantine hoped a council would help solve the issues resulting from Arianism, a heresy proposed by Arius of Alexandria suggesting Christ was not divine but a created being. The council quickly condemned Arius and incorporated the nonspiritual word “homoousios,” meaning “of one substance,” into a creed, signifying the equality of the Son with the Father. Constantine exiled Arius for his heretical beliefs.
While the Council of Nicaea promulgated the Creed of Nicaea in 325, the Council of Constantinople in 381 expanded it. The goal was to bring the Creed of Nicaea up to date regarding heresies related to the incarnation and the Holy Spirit, which arose at the Council of Nicaea.
What Is the Meaning of the Nicene Creed for Catholics?
While the Nicene Creed is meaningful as a whole, understanding each line can help us strengthen our relationship with God and understand the importance of reciting the Nicene Creed.
I Believe in One God/The Father Almighty
In John 17:3, Jesus said, “Now this is eternal life, that they should know You, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ.” As Catholics, we believe the Trinity is three persons, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit — the one true God.
Throughout the Scripture, Jesus often refers to God as Father, helping us understand that God is an almighty but loving God who looks after His creations. God is the first distinction in the Godhead, whereas the Father is the source of the Trinity.
Maker of Heaven and Earth, of All Things Visible and Invisible
We believe that God formed all aspects of the visible world, including humans, animals and matter. Catholicism also teaches us that God created all invisible things, including angels. As Colossians 1:16 states, “For in Him were created all things in Heaven and on Earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things were created through Him and for Him.”
I Believe in One Lord Jesus Christ/The Only Begotten Son of God/Born of the Father Before All Ages
Jesus is the Lord and master of all, and He is a kind, loving entity dedicated to helping all God’s creations. Jesus Christ has a unique relationship with God, as He is the only Son of God by nature but resides within the same Godhead.
Begotten refers to being born of God. The Son was born from the essence of God the Father. As humans share their humanity with their parents, the Son also shared the essential nature of God the Father. As God the Father is eternal, so is the Son of God.
God From God, Light From Light/True God From True God
The Son exists in relation to the Father. While the Son is not the Father, they are both God. Though the Father and Son stem from the same source, they are distinct. The Scripture regularly uses all three persons, including the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
True God from true God states that God the Son and God the Father are both fully and completely God despite their different persons.
Begotten, Not Made/Consubstantial With the Father
The Nicene Creed partially aimed to address the heresy of Arius, who incorrectly stated that God created Jesus. Jesus was begotten of God and not made.
The Father and Son are both God and equally divine with the same will and substance. While the Father and the Son share qualities, they do not have the same identity.
Through Him All Things Were Made/For Us Men and for Our Salvation, He Came Down from Heaven
Through God, all things were created, as Genesis 1:1-3 states, “In the beginning, when God created the Heavens and the Earth — and the Earth was without form or shape, with darkness over the abyss and a mighty wind sweeping over the waters — then God said: ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”
Jesus came from Heaven for the salvation of all God’s creations.
And by the Holy Spirit, Was Incarnate of the Virgin Mary and Became Man
God the Son was incarnate of the Virgin Mary and became man in the person of Jesus Christ. As we know, Jesus was born from a virgin through the Holy Spirit to share God’s love throughout the world. Jesus Christ’s incarnation was the ultimate sign of love because God Himself became human instead of sending an angel to accomplish the redemption of creation.
For Our Sake He Was Crucified Under Pontius Pilate; He Suffered Death and Was Buried
Jesus suffered and died on the cross for our sins and was laid to rest in a tomb. Christ died for our sins, as Romans 5:8 explains, “But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”
And Rose Again on the Third Day in Accordance With the Scriptures
As we know, Jesus Christ was resurrected in body and rose on the third day after the crucifixion. The Scripture reminds us how Christ rose from the dead in Romans 6:9, “We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over Him.” The bodily rebirth of Jesus is one of the most foundational aspects of the Catholic faith.
It is critical to note that Jesus was not physically resuscitated, as Lazarus was in the Scripture. Instead, the Resurrection completely transformed Jesus’ body. Jesus Christ’s first rising was His divine birth, and He rose again after crucifixion, death and burial.
He Ascended Into Heaven and Is Seated at the Right Hand of the Father
Jesus entered Heaven and took His rightful seat at the Father’s right hand, looking over all God’s creations.
He Will Come Again in Glory to Judge the Living and the Dead, and His Kingdom Will Have No End
God’s kingdom is eternal, and Jesus will return one day to judge the living and the dead. Hebrews 9:28 states, “So also Christ, offered once to take away the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to take away sin but to bring salvation to those who eagerly await Him.”
I Believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life/Who Proceeds From the Father and the Son
The Holy Spirit is the Lord and sustains our lives as Catholics. The original Nicene Creed ended with, “We believe in the Holy Spirit.” In 381, the Council of Constantinople approved the later additions to thwart fourth-century heretics’ attempts to deny the divinity of the Holy Spirit.
While the Son is begotten, the Spirit proceeds from the Father. Both words describe the unique bond between the Son and the Father while still being divine. The Catholic Church understands and recognizes that the Father is the Trinity’s sole source.
Who With the Father and the Son Is Adored and Glorified/Who Has Spoken Through the Prophets
Like the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit is God and deserves the same level of respect and worship. The Spirit has inspired the prophets and the Catholic Church.
I Believe In One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church
Reciting the Nicene Creed professes our belief in the Catholic Church and faith. The Catholic Church is holy because of Christ, not because its leaders or members are perfect beings. While we all strive to live a faithful life, the true holiness of the Church comes directly from God and His divinity.
I Confess One Baptism for the Forgiveness of Sins
The Catholic Church believes that the waters of baptism help wash away our sins, allowing us to be born again and follow the path God has set before us. Acts of the Apostles 22:16 explains the importance of baptism, “Now, why delay? Get up and have yourself baptized and your sins washed away, calling upon his name.’”
And I Look Forward to the Resurrection of the Dead, and the Life of the World to Come. Amen.
As Catholics, we strive to follow the holy lifestyle of God and hope to live in a world where we can all fully accept and reconcile with God to live in true harmony and peace. The Nicene Creed confirms the resurrection of the dead when the soul meets the glorified body and the existence of souls in Heaven.
What Is the Difference Between the Nicene Creed, the Apostles’ Creed and Athanasian Creed?
While many Catholics are familiar with the Apostles’ Creed, some may be less familiar with the Nicene Creed or Athanasian Creed. Each creed is a profound profession of faith and has unique attributes.
The Nicene Creed is influential because it helped settle how Catholics worship one God, who is three persons. The Nicene Creed was also the first to obtain universal authority within the Church, expanding upon verbiage in the Apostles’ Creed. Compared to the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed has clearer statements regarding the divinity of the Holy Spirit and Christ.
While we refer to the Nicene Creed as one creed, it resulted from the combination of two ecumenical councils, including one in Nicaea in 325 and one in Constantinople in 381. These helped end the debate about the relationship between the three identities of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
While the Nicene Creed follows a similar structure to the Apostles’ Creed, mentioning the Trinity, it provides a more in-depth understanding of the Holy Spirit and Christ’s life and work. The Nicene Creed more directly states that all God did was for us and our salvation.
The Apostles’ Creed is the oldest statement of faith and shortest creed in the Church and dates back to sometime in the second century. While the author is unknown, the Catholic Church often attributes the 12 apostles for contributing one article each to the creed. The Apostles’ Creed helps define core beliefs in Catholicism relating to God, salvation, the Church and other significant theological topics.
As the Apostles’ Creed is shorter, it does not clearly define the nature of Jesus Christ’s divinity and the relationship among the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Without a clear definition of this relationship, there was room for heresies to enter the Catholic Church. Fortunately, the Nicene Creed expanded on these topics in the Apostles’ Creed, addressing and correcting these heresies.
The Apostles’ Creed plays an essential role in understanding the importance of baptism, especially in the early Church, helping Catholics establish orthodoxy. One of the most universally recognized creeds and statements of faith, the Apostles’ Creed serves as a concise explanation of the Bible and explains God’s purpose and salvation.
The Athanasian Creed is also known as Quicumque Vult, a name that comes from its opening words in Latin. The Athanasian Creed is a less commonly used creed of about 40 verses, with some authority in specific Catholic and Protestant Churches. Composed of two sections, the Athanasian Creed discusses the Trinity and Incarnation.
While some believe that Athanasius wrote the Athanasian Creed, most theological scholars agree it probably originated in southern France in the fifth century. One of the earliest versions of the Athanasian Creed was a prefix to Caesarius of Arles’ collection of homilies.
The Athanasian Creed states the affirmation of the Trinity, where all members of the Godhead are co-eternal and uncreated beings of the same substance. Within the Trinity, Christ’s duality takes central focus, reaffirming doctrines set forth at Nicea.
When Should We Recite the Nicene Creed?
Reciting any creed in the Catholic Church is an excellent way to strengthen our faith and remember His word. When we face adversity in life, we can recall the Nicene Creed, reminding us that we have His strength and wisdom to guide us.
While many people recite the Nicene Creed in church, it is also beneficial in private devotion as a reminder of baptismal commitments and our dedication to His word. The act of baptism commits us to God and the Church. We promise to take the sacrament weekly and remember Jesus and His infinite wisdom.
We profess our faith and devotion to God Almighty and strive to lead a life in His glory. The Nicene Creed helps us strengthen our commitment to the 10 Commandments and God’s teachings. Reciting the Nicene Creed can remind us of our baptismal promises and that God is at the heart of all we do.
Reciting the Nicene Creed in private devotion helps us strengthen our relationship and dedication to God, His teachings and the Church. We can renew the faith and commitment we professed at baptism through the Nicene Creed.
The Nicene Creed can also serve as the foundation for evangelization. We have received our faith from others, and we should strive to share it. We can spread the word and glory of God by sharing the Gospel and creed.
Why Is the Nicene Creed Relevant Today?
When we recite the Nicene Creed, we say, “We believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.” Evangelizing with these professions of faith helps us strengthen our connection with God and share His word with others entering the Church. These four marks of the Church are inseparable.
- One: The Church is one for three reasons. First, because of its source, the Holy Trinity, which is the unity of three divine people, including the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Secondly, the Church is one because of Jesus, who reconciled all persons with the blood of the cross. Finally, the Church is one because of the Holy Spirit that is present in all souls of the faithful, uniting us into one communion.
- Holy: The Church is holy, with our Lord Christ as the source. Christ sanctifies the Church, and through His ministry of the Church, God can provide us with wisdom and good graces through prayer and sacraments. Through its worship and teachings, the Church is a visible sign of His holiness.
- Catholic: The Church is catholic, used by St. Ignatius of Antioch to mean “universal,” meaning the Lord is present everywhere, and He originally commissioned the Church to evangelize the Gospel and spread His word.
- Apostolic: The Church is apostolic, meaning Christ created the Church and entrusted His apostles to be the Church’s authority. For example, Christ entrusted St. Peter, the Bishop of Rome and first Pope, to serve as His vicar. A process known as apostolic succession passes down this authority and responsibility through the Sacrament of Holy Orders.
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Deacon Rick Medina is the Former Executive Director of Catholic World Mission and for years oversaw the management of all of Catholic World Mission's projects in over 35 countries. He was ordained a deacon of the archdiocese of Atlanta in 2013. He currently serves at All Saints Catholic Church in Dunwoody, Georgia, and is active in several ministries, including RCIA, baptism preparation, Life Teen, Altar Server group, Grief Share, and Adult Faith Formation.