Development of Doctrine in the Nicene Creed
Updated: Mar 19, 2021
By Luke Lancaster
Creeds are summaries of doctrines lined up together. One famous Creed agreed upon by practically all Christian denominations is the Nicene Creed. This is because, during the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, the Divinity of Jesus was established, and as such, Christians look favorably upon it. No Christian denies the Divinity of Jesus. And the Creed which came out of the Council is actually recited during Christian Church services.
This is important to us because there are some doctrines which were not included in the Nicene Creed. If they were not included, then they were not at the level of doctrine or essential beliefs of the Christian Church. If they were not doctrines yet, then that would necessitate that they were in the process of development.
Analyze the prayer yourself and see what doctrines are missing:
We believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, begotten from the Father before all ages, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made; of the same essence as the Father. Through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven; he became incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary, and was made human. He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate; he suffered and was buried. The third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures. He ascended to heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead. His kingdom will never end.
And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life. He proceeds from the Father and the Son, and with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified. He spoke through the prophets. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church. We affirm one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look forward to the resurrection of the dead, and to life in the world to come. Amen.
Which doctrines did you notice were missing? How about the eternity of Hell? Most Christians believe this teaching, yet it was not a doctrine according to the Nicene Creed. It seemed to be a debatable topic, for Church Fathers like Origen and Jerome both thought Hell was not eternal. St. Augustine claimed that “There are very many in our day, who though not denying the Holy Scriptures, do not believe in endless torments” (Enchirdion cxii.).
The doctrine that Hell is eternal is something that the authority of the Church had to declare. For doctrinal debates, as the question of circumcision in Acts 15, are formally and definitively ended only with the Church, who has the authority to "bind and loose" (Matt. 18:18). Non-Catholic Christians do not have such a thing as a Church Council to decide matters of faith and morals. They are left with their endless debates and questions over necessary matters of the Gospel.
Did you also notice that the doctrine of original sin was missing? Some Church Fathers did not believe in that teaching either, and would only be settled by a Church Council. For some thought that man was good, and only became corrupted by personal sin. According to them, Adam's sin did not result in a loss of sanctifying grace for every human baby by default. This issue was unclear in Catholic teaching, and we needed a Church Council and the Pope to speak definitely on the topic. How are Protestants to decide this topic? They would need to follow the Catholic Church and Her development of doctrine.
These are just two doctrines missing from the Nicene Creed. Many other topics of doctrine were under debate, and were not finalized until the Church officially settled the matter. This is the blessing of having a Church.