The Nicene Creed (Greek: Σύμβολον τῆς Νικαίας or, τῆς πίστεως, Latin: Symbolum Nicaenum) is a statement of belief widely used in Christian liturgy. It is called Nicene /ˈnaɪsiːn/ because it was originally adopted in the city of Nicaea (present day İznik, Turkey) by the First Council of Nicaea in 325. In 381, it was amended at the First Council of Constantinople, and the amended form is referred to as the Nicene or the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed.
The Oriental Orthodox and Assyrian churches use this profession of faith with the verbs in the original plural ("we believe"), but the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic churches convert those verbs to the singular ("I believe"). The Anglican and many Protestant denominations generally use the singular form, sometimes the plural.
The Apostles' Creed is also used in the Latin West, but not in the Eastern liturgies. On Sundays and solemnities, one of these two creeds is recited in the Roman Rite Mass after the homily. The Nicene Creed is also part of the profession of faith required of those undertaking important functions within the Catholic Church.
The actual purpose of a creed is to provide a doctrinal statement of correct belief or orthodoxy. The creeds of Christianity have been drawn up at times of conflict about doctrine: acceptance or rejection of a creed served to distinguish believers and deniers of particular doctrines. For that reason, a creed was called in Greek a σύμβολον (symbolon), which originally meant half of a broken object which, when fitted to the other half, verified the bearer's identity. The Greek word passed through Latin symbolum into English "symbol", which only later took on the meaning of an outward sign of something.
The Nicene Creed was adopted to resolve the Arian controversy, whose leader, Arius, a clergyman of Alexandria, "objected to Alexander's (the bishop of the time) apparent carelessness in blurring the distinction of nature between the Father and the Son by his emphasis on eternal generation". In reply, Alexander accused Arius of denying the divinity of the Son and also of being too "Jewish" and "Greek" in his thought. Alexander and his supporters created the Nicene Creed to clarify the key tenets of the Christian faith in response to the widespread adoption of Arius' doctrine, which was henceforth marked as heresy.
The Nicene Creed of 325 explicitly affirms the co-essential divinity of the Son, applying to him the term "consubstantial". The 381 version speaks of the Holy Spirit as worshipped and glorified with the Father and the Son. The later Athanasian Creed (not used in Eastern Christianity) describes in much greater detail the relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The earlier Apostles' Creed does not explicitly affirm the divinity of the Son and the Holy Spirit, but in the view of many who use it, this doctrine is implicit in it.
The original Nicene Creed was first adopted on 19 June 325 at the First Council of Nicaea. At that time, the text ended with the words "We believe in the Holy Spirit", after which various anathemas against Arian propositions were added.
F. J. A. Hort and Adolf von Harnack argued that the Nicene creed was the local creed of Caesarea (an important center of Early Christianity) recited in the council by Eusebius of Caesarea. Their case relied largely on a very specific interpretation of Eusebius' own account of the Council's proceedings. More recent scholarship has not been convinced by their arguments. The large number of secondary divergences from the text of the creed quoted by Eusebius make it unlikely that it was used as a starting point by those who drafted the conciliar creed. Their initial text was probably a local creed from a Syro–Palestinian source into which they awkwardly inserted phrases to define the Nicene theology. The Eusebian Creed may thus have been either a second or one of many nominations for the Nicene Creed.
The 1911 Catholic Encyclopedia says that, soon after the Council of Nicaea, new formulae of faith were composed, most of them variations of the Nicene Symbol, to meet new phases of Arianism, of which there were at least four before the Council of Sardica (341), at which a new form was presented and inserted in its acts, although the council did not accept it.
What is known as the "Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed" or the "Nicene–Constantinopolitan Creed" received this name because of a belief that it was adopted at the Second Ecumenical Council held in Constantinople in 381 as a modification of the original Nicene Creed of 325. In that light, it also came to be very commonly known simply as the "Nicene Creed". It is the only authoritative ecumenical statement of the Christian faith accepted by the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, Oriental Orthodoxy, the Church of the East, much of Protestantism including the Anglican communion. (The Apostles' and Athanasian creeds are not as widely accepted.)
It differs in a number of respects, both by addition and omission, from the creed adopted at the First Council of Nicaea. The most notable difference is the additional section "And [we believe] in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver-of-Life, who proceedeth from the Father, who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, who spake by the prophets. And [we believe] in one, holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. We acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins, [and] we look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen."
Since the end of the 19th century, scholars have questioned the traditional explanation of the origin of this creed, which has been passed down in the name of the council, whose official acts have been lost over time. A local council of Constantinople in 382 and the third ecumenical council (Ephesus, 431) made no mention of it, with the latter affirming the 325 creed of Nicaea as a valid statement of the faith and using it to denounce Nestorianism. Though some scholarship claims that hints of the later creed's existence are discernible in some writings, no extant document gives its text or makes explicit mention of it earlier than the fourth ecumenical council at Chalcedon in 451. Many of the bishops of the 451 council themselves had never heard of it and initially greeted it skeptically, but it was then produced from the episcopal archives of Constantinople, and the council accepted it "not as supplying any omission but as an authentic interpretation of the faith of Nicaea". In spite of the questions raised, it is considered most likely that this creed was in fact adopted at the 381 second ecumenical council.
On the basis of evidence both internal and external to the text, it has been argued that this creed originated not as an editing of the original Creed proposed at Nicaea in 325, but as an independent creed (probably an older baptismal creed) modified to make it more like the Nicene Creed. Some scholars have argued that the creed may have been presented at Chalcedon as "a precedent for drawing up new creeds and definitions to supplement the Creed of Nicaea, as a way of getting round the ban on new creeds in Canon 7 of Ephesus". It is generally agreed that the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed is not simply an expansion of the Creed of Nicaea, and was probably based on another traditional creed independent of the one from Nicaea.
The third Ecumenical Council (Council of Ephesus of 431) reaffirmed the original 325 version of the Nicene Creed and declared that "it is unlawful for any man to bring forward, or to write, or to compose a different (ἑτέραν) faith as a rival to that established by the holy Fathers assembled with the Holy Ghost in Nicaea" (i.e., the 325 creed). The word ἑτέραν is more accurately translated as used by the Council to mean "different", "contradictory", rather than "another". This statement has been interpreted as a prohibition against changing this creed or composing others, but not all accept this interpretation. This question is connected with the controversy whether a creed proclaimed by an Ecumenical Council is definitive in excluding not only excisions from its text but also additions to it.
In one respect, the Eastern Orthodox Church's received text of the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed differs from the earliest text, which is included in the acts of the Council of Chalcedon of 451: The Eastern Orthodox Church uses the singular forms of verbs such as "I believe", in place of the plural form ("we believe") used by the council. Byzantine Rite Eastern Catholic Churches use exactly the same form of the Creed, since the Catholic Church teaches that it is wrong to add "and the Son" to the Greek verb "ἐκπορευόμενον", though correct to add it to the Latin "qui procedit", which does not have precisely the same meaning. The form generally used in Western churches does add "and the Son" and also the phrase "God from God", which is found in the original 325 Creed.
The following table, which indicates by [square brackets] the portions of the 325 text that were omitted or moved in 381, and uses italics to indicate what phrases, absent in the 325 text, were added in 381, juxtaposes the earlier (AD 325) and later (AD 381) forms of this Creed in the English translation given in Philip Schaff's compilation The Creeds of Christendom (1877).
In the late 6th century, some Latin-speaking churches added the words "and from the Son" (Filioque) to the description of the procession of the Holy Spirit, in what many Eastern Orthodox Christians have at a later stage argued is a violation of Canon VII  of the Third Ecumenical Council, since the words were not included in the text by either the Council of Nicaea or that of Constantinople. This was incorporated into the liturgical practice of Rome in 1014. Filioque eventually became one of the main causes for the East-West Schism in 1054, and the failures of the repeated union attempts.
The Vatican stated in 1995 that, while the words καὶ τοῦ Υἱοῦ ("and the Son") would indeed be heretical if used with the Greek verb ἐκπορεύομαι (from ἐκ, "out of" and πορεύομαι "to come or go") – which is one of the terms used by St. Gregory of Nazianzus and the one adopted by the Council of Constantinople— the word Filioque is not heretical when associated with the Latin verb procedo and the related word processio. Whereas the verb ἐκπορεύομαι in Gregory and other Fathers necessarily means "to originate from a cause or principle," the Latin term procedo (from pro, "forward;" and cedo, "to go") has no such connotation and simply denotes the communication of the Divine Essence or Substance. In this sense, processio is similar in meaning to the Greek term προϊέναι, used by the Fathers from Alexandria (especially Cyril of Alexandria) as well as others. Partly due to the influence of the Latin translations of the New Testament (especially of John 15:26), the term ἐκπορευόμενον (the present participle of ἐκπορεύομαι) in the creed was translated into Latin as procedentem. In time, the Latin version of the Creed came to be interpreted in the West in the light of the Western concept of processio, which required the affirmation of the Filioque to avoid the heresy of Arianism.
The view that the Nicene Creed can serve as a touchstone of true Christian faith is reflected in the name "symbol of faith", which was given to it in Greek and Latin, when in those languages the word "symbol" meant a "token for identification (by comparison with a counterpart)".
In the Roman Rite Mass, the Latin text of the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, with "Deum de Deo" (God from God) and "Filioque" (and from the Son), phrases absent in the original text, was previously the only form used for the "profession of faith". The Roman Missal now refers to it jointly with the Apostles' Creed as "the Symbol or Profession of Faith or Creed", describing the second as "the baptismal Symbol of the Roman Church, known as the Apostles' Creed".
The liturgies of the ancient Churches of Eastern Christianity (Eastern Orthodox Church, Oriental Orthodoxy, Church of the East and the Eastern Catholic Churches), use the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, never the Western Apostles' Creed.
While in certain places where the Byzantine Rite is used, the choir or congregation sings the Creed at the Divine Liturgy, in many places the Creed is typically recited by the cantor, who in this capacity represents the whole congregation although many, and sometimes all, members of the congregation may join in rhythmic recitation. Where the latter is the practice, it is customary to invite, as a token of honor, any prominent lay member of the congregation who happens to be present, e.g., royalty, a visiting dignitary, the Mayor, etc., to recite the Creed in lieu of the cantor. This practice stems from the tradition that the prerogative to recite the Creed belonged to the Emperor, speaking for his populace.
Some evangelical and other Christians consider the Nicene Creed helpful and to a certain extent authoritative, but not infallibly so in view of their belief that only Scripture is truly authoritative. Non-Trinitarian groups, such as the Church of the New Jerusalem, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Jehovah's Witnesses, explicitly reject some of the statements in the Nicene Creed.
Ancient liturgical versions
There are several designations for the two forms of the Nicene creed, some with overlapping meanings:
- Nicene Creed or the Creed of Nicaea is used to refer to the original version adopted at the First Council of Nicaea (325), to the revised version adopted by the First Council of Constantinople (381), to the liturgical text used by the Orthodox Church (with "I believe" instead of "We believe"), to the Latin version that includes the phrase "Deum de Deo" and "Filioque", and to the Armenian version, which does not include "and from the Son", but does include "God from God" and many other phrases.
- Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed can stand for the revised version of Constantinople (381) or the later Latin version or various other versions.
- Icon/Symbol of the Faith is the usual designation for the revised version of Constantinople 381 in the Orthodox churches, where this is the only creed used in the liturgy.
- Profession of Faith of the 318 Fathers refers specifically to the version of Nicaea 325 (traditionally, 318 bishops took part at the First Council of Nicaea).
- Profession of Faith of the 150 Fathers refers specifically to the version of Constantinople 381 (traditionally, 150 bishops took part at the First Council of Constantinople).
In musical settings, particularly when sung in Latin, this Creed is usually referred to by its first word, Credo.
This section is not meant to collect the texts of all liturgical versions of the Nicene Creed, and provides only three, the Greek, the Latin, and the Armenian, of special interest. Others are mentioned separately, but without the texts. All ancient liturgical versions, even the Greek, differ at least to some small extent from the text adopted by the First Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople. The Creed was originally written in Greek, owing to the location of the two councils.
But though the councils' texts have "Πιστεύομεν ... ὁμολογοῦμεν ... προσδοκοῦμεν" (we believe ... confess ... await), the Creed that the Churches of Byzantine tradition use in their liturgy has "Πιστεύω ... ὁμολογῶ ... προσδοκῶ" (I believe ... confess ... await), accentuating the personal nature of recitation of the Creed. The Latin text, as well as using the singular, has two additions: "Deum de Deo" (God from God) and "Filioque" (and from the Son). The Armenian text has many more additions, and is included as showing how that ancient church has chosen to recite the Creed with these numerous elaborations of its contents.
An English translation of the Armenian text is added; English translations of the Greek and Latin liturgical texts are given at English versions of the Nicene Creed in current use.
The Latin text adds "Deum de Deo" and "Filioque" to the Greek. On the latter see The Filioque Controversy above. Inevitably also, the overtones of the terms used, such as "παντοκράτορα" (pantokratora) and "omnipotentem" differ ("pantokratora" meaning Ruler of all; "omnipotentem" meaning omnipotent, Almighty). The implications of this for the interpretation of "ἐκπορευόμενον" and "qui ... procedit" was the object of the study The Greek and the Latin Traditions regarding the Procession of the Holy Spirit published by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity in 1996.
Again, the terms "ὁμοούσιον" and "consubstantialem", translated as "of one being" or "consubstantial", have different overtones, being based respectively on Greek οὐσία (stable being, immutable reality, substance, essence, true nature),  and Latin substantia (that of which a thing consists, the being, essence, contents, material, substance).
"Credo", which in classical Latin is used with the accusative case of the thing held to be true (and with the dative of the person to whom credence is given), is here used three times with the preposition "in", a literal translation of the Greek "εἰς" (in unum Deum ..., in unum Dominum ..., in Spiritum Sanctum ...), and once in the classical preposition-less construction (unam, sanctam, catholicam et apostolicam Ecclesiam).
English translation of the Armenian version
This version is used also by some Byzantine Rite Eastern Catholic Churches. Although the Union of Brest excluded addition of the Filioque, this was sometimes added by Ruthenian Catholics, whose older liturgical books also show the phrase in brackets, and by Ukrainian Catholics. Writing in 1971, the Ruthenian Scholar Fr. Casimir Kucharek noted, "In Eastern Catholic Churches, the Filioque may be omitted except when scandal would ensue. Most of the Eastern Catholic Rites use it." However, in the decades that followed 1971 it has come to be used more rarely.
The version found in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer is still commonly used by some English speakers, but more modern translations are now more common. The International Consultation on English Texts published an English translation of the Nicene Creed, first in 1970 and then in successive revisions in 1971 and 1975. These texts were adopted by several churches. The Roman Catholic Church in the United States, which adopted the 1971 version in 1973, and the Catholic Church in other English-speaking countries, which in 1975 adopted the version published in that year, continued to use them until 2011, when it replaced them with the version in the Roman Missal third edition. The 1975 version was included in the 1979 Episcopal Church (United States) Book of Common Prayer, but with one variation: in the line "For us men and for our salvation", it omitted the word "men".