Celebrating the Year of Faith: The Nicene Creed
The creed as we know it was first sketched out at the Councils of Nicaea (325) and Constantinople (381) although in its developed form it first appears in the acts of the Council of Chalcedon (451). This creed was probably based on a baptismal profession of faith and encapsulated what were perceived as the essential tenets of the faith. Above all it was a response to Arian and other heresies and defended the doctrine of the Trinity and Christ’s true humanity and divinity.
The practice of reciting the creed at Mass is attributed to Patriarch Timothy of Constantinople (511-517), and the initiative was copied in other churches under Byzantine influence, including that part of Spain which was under the empire at that time. About 568, the Byzantine emperor Justinian ordered the creed recited at every Mass within his dominions. Twenty years later (589) the Visigoth king of Spain Reccared renounced the Arian heresy in favor of Catholicism and ordered the creed said at every Mass. About two centuries later we find the practice of reciting the creed in France and the custom spread slowly to other parts of Northern Europe.
Finally, when in 1114, Emperor Henry II came to Rome for his coronation as Holy Roman Emperor, he was surprised that they did not recite the creed. He was told that since Rome had never erred in matters of faith there was no need for the Romans to proclaim it at Mass. However, it was included in deference to the emperor and has pretty much remained ever since, albeit not at every Mass but only on Sundays and on certain feasts.
Eastern and Western Christians use the same creed except that the Latin version adds the expression “filioque” (and the Son) to the article regarding the procession of the Holy Spirit, a difference that has given rise to endless and highly complex theological discussions.
(Excerpt from Father Edward McNamara’s Zenit column, June 26, 2006)
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