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Creeds 4: God the Son1

The second paragraph of both main creeds2 concerns the source and basis of the Christian religion – the revelation of God through Jesus of Nazareth.

You may find it interesting3 to set both texts alongside each other and compare them. Certain fundamental beliefs are in both: Jesus is one, is Lord and is son of God; he came from the Holy Spirit and from virgin Mary; he was crucified, died, was buried and rose again; he ascended and sits at God’s right hand; he will come to judge the living4 and the dead.

If you are at communion services5, the introduction of the “One Lord Jesus Christ” is followed by several explanatory lines which the Apostles’ creed does not have6. These lines strongly state that Jesus really is God – because the Council of Nicaea in 325 was fighting against the “Arian”7 doctrine of Christ – that he was not fully God from the beginning, but was an inferior and being, “created” by God. It is the Council of Nicaea’s reaction against Arian beliefs which causes the repetitive and strong assertion that Jesus really was God and that this “Son” of God existed before with God – and that this “Son” of God “was made man”.

It is interesting that there is one other item in the Nicene Creed which is absent from the Apostles’ Creed – “and his kingdom will have no end”. Just as the “Son” was with the Father before the time of Jesus, so his kingdom beyond the end of it all will be eternal too.

If you are at evensong you do not get the long doctrinal statements about Jesus – but you do get one other element of belief which the Nicene Creed omits. You say that, after his death, before his resurrection, Jesus “descended to the dead”, or, as the Book of Common Prayer version has it, “descended into hell”. The change to “the dead” from “into hell” is understandable, because when this item in the creed emerged in the 4th century “hell” meant “nether regions”8 rather than the place of punishment with which we tend to associate it. Through history it is difficult to see what this clause might mean – but it must mean something like Christ going to rescue those who have died before him, as well as rescuing those who come after him. Only a few Bible passages are helpful here9.