We’ve all seen the cliché bumper stickers touting the need for Jesus: Jesus is my Co-pilot, Try Jesus!, Jesus saves!, or Jesus is Lord. While the reality is that we, as Christians, do believe we need Jesus, these stickers turn the Truth into a soundbite while telling us little about who Jesus is and the role he played and continues to play in our lives. The second article of the Nicene Creed addresses the person and role of Jesus Christ, who is both the object (as one of the Three Persons of the Trinity) and source (through his teaching and Passion, death, and Resurrection) of our faith. We begin this part of the Creed by proclaiming I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages. God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father, through him all things were made. In chapter 4 of The Creed Berard Marthaler points out that these titles and names point to Jesus role as the messiah promised by the prophets of the Old Testament (Christ) and to his divine nature as the Son of God. With the repeated emphasis that Jesus was God, the those who composed the Nicene Creed wanted to emphasize Jesus divinity as one of three Person in one God (ie the Trinity). While the language used in this part of the creed is highly theological, some historical background will offer clarification.
In the year 325 AD, soon after he issued the Edict of Milan, which legalized Christianity in the Roman Empire, Emperor Constantine called a Church Council at Nicea to address a conflict that had arisen over Jesus’ nature. As Marthaler reveals in chapter 5 of The Creed, the conflict came down to the question Jesus asked his apostles, Who do people say that I am? (Mark 8:27). The orthodox Christians, who embraced the doctrine of the Trinity, believed Jesus was the Divine Son of God Incarnate as a human being and born of the Virgin Mary. On the other hand the Arians, led by a priest named Arius, claimed that Jesus was merely the greatest of all of God’s creations, less than God but greater than humanity (think a demigod or lesser god). In the end, the council condemned the Arian view and affirmed that Jesus was the divine Son of God (it declared he was consubstantial or of the same divine nature, as God the Father). This language was later reaffirmed at the First Council of Constantinople in 381 AD after further challenges from Arians. The bishops from both church councils wished to undoubtedly affirm Jesus divinity. According to Marthaler, it was at this time that the creed, which had been a baptismal profession of faith, became a test to prove that one believed in the orthodox Trinitarian faith passed down from the Apostles.
Having heard this, some would say, Great, but why does a theological debate from 1,600 years ago still matter today? Why should I care about this abstract concept? It doesn’t affect my life. In answer to this, I want to point out that this language is abstract because we don’t fully understand the concepts we’re describing. Both the Holy Trinity and the Incarnation (God the Son being born of the Virgin Mary as the human being Jesus Christ) are referred to as mysteries because while we know they’re true based on God’s revelation in Scripture and Tradition, we can never fully explain them, as they’re beyond human understanding and require an assent of faith. Next, if Jesus were not both human and divine, worshipping him would be arbitrary. We pray to Jesus, asking for help, guidance, healing, etc. Our songs and prayers glorify Jesus by, as Saint Paul says, ascribing to him the name which is above every name (Philippians 2:9). However, if Jesus is not the divine Son God, he was merely a human being. In Mere Christianity, C S Lewis asserts that Jesus, unlike other great religious figures, pointed people first toward himself and only then toward God the Father (I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me —John 14:6). He claimed he was sole the means of salvation and eternal life (Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life —John 6:53-54).” Even more startling, in John 8:58, Jesus directly says that he is God by claiming the name of God from the Old Testament, I AM or Yahweh (before Abraham came to be, I AM). Lewis says that by doing this, Jesus leaves us only two options: if he was not God he was either a liar, who deliberately deceived people, or a lunatic who was crazy enough to believed he was divine. As Christians, we believe the third option that C S Lewis provides: that Jesus is who he claims to be, the Son of God, the Second Person of the Divine Trinity. To put it all of this simply, if Jesus were not God, our prayers, our worship, prayer and the entirety of the Christian faith would be futile for we would be putting our faith in a liar or a madman, not in the one true God, who alone merits our faith and devotion.
Finally, on a slightly more practical side, if Jesus is not God the Son, then we cannot have a personal relationship with and direct access to God the Father. In Romans chapter 8 and Galatians chapter 3, St Paul emphasizes that it was Jesus’ willing self-sacrifice on the Cross as the Son of God that saved us from our sins and restored us to right relationship with God. Even more so, Paul says this sacrifice has made us children of God. Jesus’ being both fully human and fully divine made his sacrifice effective and enabled us enter into a close personal relationship with God. While more will be said on this in part five of our series on the Nicene Creed, suffice it to say that our sin created a rift between us and God. Because he was God the Son Incarnate, Jesus’ sacrifice had the power to heal this rift and enabled us to truly call God our Father. Essentially, Jesus divinity, along with his humanity, is important because it allows to relate to and communicate with the all-powerful and all-knowing God the universe. Jesus assures us that God listens to and cares for each of us to an infinitely greater extent than a human father cares for his children: Ask and it will be given unto you; seek and you will find…how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him (Matthew 7:7-11). If Jesus were merely human, the rift created by sin would still be in existence and this close relationship with and access to God would be impossible. However, because we can enter into relationship with Jesus, God the Son, we now have access to God the Father. Along with the other reasons mentioned above,this why the Nicene Creed’s assertions about Jesus’s divinity and theological debate which spawned them still affect our lives today.