Reading the Nicene creed

President Hinckley has encouraged members of the Church to read the Nicene Creed and compare it with the testimony of Joseph Smith on the nature of God.

I suspect many of us have an opinion on the Nicene Creed, but how many of us have read it? I would like to perform a research experiment here at BCC. Below is the text of the Nicene Creed. Follow President Hinckley’s challenge, read it and post your thoughts. PLEASE read it without pre-conceived notions as to what it says. Just examine the text, forget its history, and answer this question:

Is there a problem with the theology of the Nicence Creed?*

We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father.

Through him all things were made.

For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets.  We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.  Amen.

*By this I mean don’t get hung up about "one holy and catholic church" etc. In fact, substitute it with "Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" if it helps get you into the theology. What is the foundational problem with this text from a Latter-day Saint point of view? As a student of religion, I am very interested in your input. I will then gather your responses and express my opinion at a later date.


  1. What does “of one Being with the Father” mean?

  2. Julie in Austin says:

    I had a light bulb moment on this idea when I prepared the GD lesson this year on the First Vision:

    “In reply to [a nonmember] I stated that the most prominent difference in sentiment between the Latter-day Saints and sectarians was, that the latter were all circumscribed by some peculiar creed, which deprived its members the privilege of believing anything not contained therein, whereas the Latter-day Saints have no creed, but are ready to believe all true principles that exist, as they are made manifest from time to time.” HC 5:215

    “I cannot believe in any of the creeds of the different denominations, because they all have some things in them I cannot subscribe to, though all of them have some truth. I want to come up into the presence of God, and learn all things; but the creeds set up stakes, and say, “Hitherto shalt thou come, and no further”; which I cannot subscribe to.” TPJS 327

    So, the creeds aren’t abominations because they are ‘wrong’, they are abominations because they are ‘creeds.’ Does this make sense?

  3. Eric Russell says:

    Holy crap, Ronan. You certainly caught me. Apparently, I have long been misunderstood as to the actual text of the Nicene. If this is the point of your post it is well made. I would have sworn the phrase “Neither confounding the persons, nor dividing the substance” was in the Nicene, as well as all the stuff about incomprehensibility. I would have said “final answer” without hesitation. But it looks as if I have been confusing it with The Athanasian Creed. Is this a common mistake among Mormons or is it just me?

    As for the Nicene itself, it seems as if there are a few phrases we could pick at, but generally speaking, it looks pretty clean. I’m surprised.

  4. Julie in Austin, the Mormon Church has several creeds of its own. The Articles of Faith is the most obvious. There are also several Mormon Catechisms that were used before 1904, including the Children’s Catechism and the John Jaques’s Catechism.

    If Joseph is talking about creeds as limiting or defining factors in religion, then he has simply chosen a novel way to talk about continuing revelation. The doctrine of our church is dynamic in this sense. No creed can encompass all revealed truths, because many aren’t revealed yet.

    If Joseph is talking about creeds per se, then I find his objection to be irrational. There will always be widely accepted, concise summaries of belief, because such things have communicative value. Some of them get canonized, and some of them don’t. But in the framework our church’s continuing revelation, there seems to be no danger that they will become limiting factors.

  5. What does “of one Being with the Father” mean?

    I think sometimes that phrase is translated “consubstantial to the Father.”

  6. In my view, the basic difference is that the Nicene creed is basically trinitarian, which is a doctrine calculated to make no sense at all. Every attempt to make sense of it (e.g., Sabellianism and Arianism) has been dismissed as a heresy.

    You are presenting the more modern translation, which sounds less metaphysical and more commonsensical than a very literal translation. I wonder if you aren’t playing a kind of parlor trick. Mark N. is right to be suspicious of the phrase “of one being with the father.” It is quite loaded. Specifically, the more traditional version of the creed says “one essence” instead of “one being.” Though this makes less sense, it is more correct. The greek is homoousion to patri. It’s been years since I studied Greek, but this should mean something closer to of the same substance of the father, meaning that they are altogether and literally identical in being. Hence, the basic paradox: identical but not identical.

  7. Ronan,

    Like Eric, thank you for awakening me to my forgetting what the Nicene Creed was all about. I too mixed in the Athanasian Creed.

    In the main, without getting picky, the only part I would take issue with is: “…by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary”.

  8. Ronan, I’m so used to hearing this every week when I play the organ at the Episcopal Church that I’m probably one of the few here who could easily recite it from memory.

    The only two phrases that ever seemed problematic to me are “of one Being with the Father” and “who proceeds from the Father and the Son” (the famous “Filioque” controversy shows that there has not always been agreement on this point in Catholic circles as well).

    One catholic and apostolic church — “catholic” here, of course, simply means universal.

    Ronan has given us the Anglican version of the creed, which we could wrest more easily to conform to our doctrine than if we were dealing with the latin or greek texts as DKL points out.

    Incidentally, the Roman Catholic translations are slightly different — the 1970 Novus Ordo Missal, used now in most churches is very close to the Anglican although slightly less formal. The 1962 Tridentine Missal, is slighty more formal. That’s where you get the translation “concubstantial with the Father” for “consubstantialem Patri”, a more literal translation than “of one being with”.

  9. (I’m keeping quiet, for now. Keep ’em coming!)

  10. Re: the Filioque clause, I should have said Christian circles, not Catholic circles, because it was a point of contention between the Eastern and Western churches.

  11. Nate Oman says:

    I think that DKL is right to point out that there is a certain parlor trick aspect of looking at this thing in English, as the Greek version uses technical philosophical language, which, while obscure, points towards a metaphysics that LDS theology is likely to reject.

    Also, it is not clear that we can accept the God from God, as we have a doctrine of intelligences co-eternal with God. Of course, we also have a concept of spirit birth, but it has never been clear to me how these two concepts are supposed to fit together, or at anyrate, I have never seen a reconciliation of them that I found entirely persuasive.

  12. Some of the wording reminded me of “The Living Christ.”

    The bit about the Holy Ghost doesn’t seem all that different from The Lectures on Faith.

  13. Well, I’m not nearly as erudite as you-all. I’ve never read that Ath-creed thingy. But one thing I did notice was its claim that God came from God, true God from true God. The idea that Gods only come from other Gods seems to throw a wrench into the idea of eternal progression. None of us is going to become the only Begotten of the Father, so none of us will become God. I don’t believe in that version of eternal progression anyway (that we eventually become like God the Father). So when I read it I thought, “hey! that sounds like what I believe instead of what commonly gets stated in Sunday School when we start talking about exaltation!”

  14. Jonathan Green says:

    I rather like the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian, too. Whenever Mormons get incensed about it, I want to tell them to try sitting down and writing down exactly what they mean by “God” without getting lost in generalities and cliches, and still be able to say categorically that God is X, and not Y.

    And that is what is so alien about the creeds: not what they say, but what they are. The precise language of theology is just not part of our religious experience. Is Christ eternally begotten of the father, or just plain begotten? My best andswer is a) both; b) neither; and c) I’m not sure, and don’t really care that I’m not sure, and either way it doesn’t affect my experience of God and whether my home teaching gets done. Rational reconciliation of theological statements that seem to be mutually exclusive is not one of our strong points, but it’s not something that we seem to be concerned with, either. I like to think that this was one of the intended benefits of the Restoration.

  15. Julie in Austin says:


    I don’t know–can’t know–exactly what JS meant by a creed, but I think some of the language I quoted above indicates the general thrust of his thought. For example, “which deprived its members the privilege of believing anything not contained therein” suggests that it meant to JS that it contained the complete truth about something. Clearly, there’s all sorts of stuff we believe that isn’t in the A of F, perhaps this is why JS would not have considered it a creed. The A of F also contains “we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God;” I’m sure someone will correct me, but I don’t know of a creed that suggests that more knowledge is coming!

    As far as “several Mormon Catechisms that were used before 1904, including the Children’s Catechism and the John Jaques’s Catechism,” I’ve never heard of these, would like to see them if you know where I can find them. They may or may not meet JS’s critique of creeds, may or may not have been good ideas.

  16. Melinda, I don’t see the progression doctrines (God is an exalted man enthroned in yonder heavens, and mortals are God’s in embryo) as an issue, since this was a rather late progression in Joseph’s thought. Joseph himself never announced these doctrines publicly until about a month before his death at the King Follett discourse. Thus, the notion of a permanent God and an unbridgeable gap between God and man are not completely foreign to Mormon thought (as evidenced by the fact that many restoration churches reject the Nauvoo innovations).

    Jonathan Green, a more apt comparison to the Nicene creed would be something written by the Apostles. The “The Living Christ: The Testimony of the Apostles.” President Hinckley’s suggested comparison to Joseph’s testimony of the First Vision is also apt.

    That said, the Nicene creed isn’t all bad for sure–it’s what I call the philosophy of men mingled with scripture. These authors partly just made it up, and had no authority to speak definitively on the matter at any rate.

  17. pdmallamo says:

    It’s always fun to juxtapose Opus Dei with LDS thought & dialogue. Here’s a guy that reminds me of you-all. Why not get his input on the creed, too? There’s likely not more than two or three degrees of separation if you can ignore that elephant. Mix it up, honey. It tastes better that way.

  18. Julie in Austin, you seem to be agreeing with me that the most charitable interpretation of Joseph’s condemnation of creeds is related to their use as a limiting factor to religious innovation. The John Jaques (that’s the correct spelling; my earlier one was from memory) catechism was published by Franklin D. Richards in Liverpool in the mid 1800s. I think FAIR sells a copy of it. Google the following search terms for more info:

    “John Jaques” catechism

    You’ll get more than 40 responses, some of which have info on other catechisms.

  19. by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man

    Even if we did purge the lasting vestiges of Adam-God, I don’t think very many Mormons would believe that Christ was brought into existence by the being of the Holy Ghost.

    With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.

    McConkie’s perspective to the contrary, I think many Mormons worship Jesus as they worship the Father. I don’t know that anybody worships the Holy Ghost. I tie it to the doctrine of expiation, the Holy Ghost never participating in one, but others might tie it to the resurrection.

  20. What’s wrong with by the power of the Holy Spirit Jesus was begotten? Isn’t that what the scriptures say? That doesn’t necessarily mean God the Father wasn’t involved, also. Right? What do you think most Mormons think about this? And is it actually doctrinally stated anywhere? (I mean in terms of means-beyond Talmage’s speculation in Jesus the Christ.) Aside from the assertion that he is literally the Son of God in the flesh?

    We had someone in a sacrament talk express as part of her talk gratitude for Mary and the “immaculate conception of Jesus.” Guess some LDS do still believe this. Is that necessarily incompatible w/ a view of God being Jesus literal parent? (Are in vitro or surrogate parenthood legitimate possibilities?) Clearly the inherent denigration of sexuality itself is not a fit. But otherwise is it a problem?

  21. by the “power” of the Holy Spirit, not by its being. Although this “power” could mean any number of things.

    Here’s what it meant for Augustine: (from De Trinitate)

    For whether he be the unity of the Father and the Son, or Their holiness, or Their love, or Their unity because He is Their love, or Their love because he is Their holiness, it is clear that He is not one of the Two, since it is by Him that the Two are joined, by Him that the Begotten is loved by the Begetter, and in turn loves Him who begot Him. [6, 5:7]

    Therefore the Holy Spirit, whatever it is, is something common to both the Father and the Son. But that communion itself is consubstantial and co-eternal; and if it may fitly be called friendship, let it so be called; but it is more aptly called love. And this is also a substance, since God is a substance, and “God is Love,” as it is written. [6, 5:7]

    And yet it is not without reason that in this Trinity only the Word of God is called Son, only the Gift of God the Holy Spirit, and only He of whom the Word is begotten and from Whom principally the Holy Spirit proceeds is called God the Father. I have added the term “principally” because the Holy Spirit is found to proceed also from the Son. But this too the Father gave the Son, not as if the Son did not already exist and have it, but because whatever the Father gives the Son, He gives by begetting. He so begot Him, then, that the Gift might proceed jointly from Him, and so that the Holy Spirit would be the Spirit of both. [15, 17:29]

    It’s all kind of arcane, but I take it to mean among other things that being eternally begotten means that the begetting process was always happening and is still happening, and the same is the case for “proceeding from”. A little bit like worlds without end continuing to add to the glory of God, yet with a little tension as to whether this is a dynamic process, or contained within a state of invariability, like different levels of infinity. OK, now I’m just confusing myself.

  22. In the first issue of Element by SMPT there’s an excellent article on Mormonism and the Trinity that is worth reading.

    I don’t think the articles of faith are a creed, contra DKL, precisely because of the fallibilism and revision Mormonism accepts. That very notion undermines the very possibility of there being a creed. After all for a creed to be a creed it must be read in a certain way.

  23. Alright Ronan. I take a whack at it.

    My problem with this creed is that it is so painfully vague that I can’t always tell if I agree with it or not.

    maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.

    What do the mean by “maker”. Is this a reference to creatio ex nihilo? I would be much more comfortable with “organizer”.

    the only Son of God

    I can’t accept this part. Throw in an “in the flesh” and we’re good…

    eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father.

    Wha…? Is that English or a word salad?

    We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.

    Clarification please… Are they talking about the immanent Light of Christ or the personage that is the Holy Spirit? I don’t think we believe the Holy Spirit is “giver of life” in any case.

    With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.

    Unlike J, I agree with this one. We worship the Godhead and the HG is part of the Godhead.

  24. Clark (and Julie in Austin), if you’re going to exclude Mormon statements of beliefs from being creeds because they fit into the framework of continuing revelation (as do all scriptures in our church, btw), then you’ve excluded the Articles of Faith by hypothesis, but you’ve reduced the discussion to a quibble over the meaning of the term creed.

    Generally, I understand creed to mean some kind of formal statement of belief by an organized religion (although formal here must be interpreted loosely, because “unofficial creed” is not self-contradictory).

    In any case, it just won’t do to redefine creed in order to exclude the Articles of Faith just because of an overly general interpretation of something Joseph is supposed to have said about creeds. It’s more fruitful to try to understand why Joseph said it (if he said it), and understand it in light of that context (which is what I’ve tried to do all my talk about “limiting factors to religious innovation”)

    That said, I don’t take Joseph’s off-the-cuff remarks about Mormonism to be formal statements (i.e., creeds) about Mormon religious belief (nor do I see why anyone should), so I’m not terribly concerned about it.

  25. Throw in an “in the flesh” and we’re good…

    As if we knew what it means if it is not there ;)

    Geoff, do you worship the Holy Ghost? If so, in what way?

    Lisa B., the problem is that I don’t know that Mormons have any concept of what “by the power of the Holy Ghost” means. We don’t talk about the Holy Ghost doing anything besides communicating.

  26. Wha…? Is that English or a word salad?

    When recited it has a very nice cadance.

    I can still recite the Catholic version by heart and the rhythm is pleasing to my ears.

  27. Julie in Austin says:

    You now, of course, can see the real problem with creeds: they lead to petty squabbling among us about the precise meaning of words as the widows and orphans go hungry and cold. ;)

  28. If you’re interested in quibling about words (I’m certainly not above it), here’s Merrium-Webster’s definition of crede:

    1 : a brief authoritative doctrinal formula beginning with such words as “Credo”, “Credimus”, “I believe”, “We believe”, intended to define what is held by a Christian congregation, synod, or church to be true and essential and exclude what is held to be false belief
    2 capitalized : that portion of a Christian liturgy in which a profession of faith is corporately recited <the sermon follows the creed>
    3 a : a formulation or system of religious faith <a religion of usage and sentiment rather than of creed — John Buchan>; especially : one definitively stated (as for affirmation or confession) <drew up a creed whose acceptance was required of all believers> b : a religion or religious sect <men of all races and creeds> c : a formulation or epitome of principles, rules, opinions, and precepts formally expressed and seriously adhered to and maintained : a notion or complex of notions viewed as so expressed or adhered to <that general distrust of logic and dethroning of reason … formulated into a creed by D. H. Lawrence — C.D.Lewis> <the devotion to work 107 became a creed and the principal article of economic faith — W.P.Webb>
    synonym see RELIGION

    Source: “creed.” Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged. Merriam-Webster, 2002. (29 Aug. 2005).

    The New Oxford American Dictionary has a less elaborate entry:

    a system of Christian or other religious belief; a faith : people of many creeds and cultures.

    • (often the Creed) a formal statement of Christian beliefs, esp. the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed.
    • a set of beliefs or aims that guide someone’s actions : liberalism was more than a political creed.

    Given that these are dictionary definitions, they should be taken at face value rather than something in need of detailed exegesis. You have to dig pretty deep to wrest anything about finality (or even lack of open-endedness) from these definitions.

    Clark, I really have no idea what it means to say that something must be “read in a certain way to be a creed” unless you are referring to the trivial need for a genuine knowledge exchange which is the precondition for all meaningful communication.

  29. Julie in Austin: well put. But on some carnal level, squabbling about words is more fun than venturing out in the cold to feed people ;)

    (btw, where do you live where it’s cold right now?)

  30. Geoff, do you worship the Holy Ghost? If so, in what way?

    Yup. I worship the Holy Ghost as 1/3 (or the 2nd counselor) of the “one God” that is the Godhead.

  31. 2nd councilor? How, again, do you worship him?

  32. For funsies (because I completely disagree):

    Bruce R. McConkie
    We worship the Father and him only and no one else. We do not worship the Son and we do not worship the Holy Ghost. (What Think Ye of Salvation by Grace?, BYU Devotional, 10 January 1984)

  33. J. Stapley, your contention (and Elder McConkie’s assertion) that we do not worship the Holy Ghost is either wrong headed or reliant upon a superfine definition of the term worship.

    So let’s get down to brass tacks: How do I worship the Holy Ghost? Let me count the ways:

    1. I pray to receive guidance from and through Him
    2. I take His guidance to be (in some sense) definitive
    3. I strive to be worthy to receive His guidance and the guidance that I receive through him
    4. I feel a strong sense of gratefulness for His presence
    5. I feel a strong sense of reverence towards Him, and
    6. I esteem Him and His influence as being essential to my eternal salvation.

    The Holy Ghost is the operative communicative force in our prayers, though we don’t invoke his name. He is the unsung hero of the Godhead.

  34. DKL, I agree that he is the unsung hero of the Godhead. However, all but the last (#6) could be just as easily ascribed to angels, and we don’t worship them. The last one seems to be a function of mechanics. My mother, or at least a mother (in the flesh) is essential to my eternal salvation. So the last one isn’t exclusive to beings we worship either.

  35. J. Stapley, the difference is that I see the Holy Ghost as a diety. My reverance and adoration for him can therefore be classified as worship.

  36. While he is a member of the Godhead, I don’t think he could be considered a “god” in any sense of the restoration’s comprehension of the term.

  37. J, none of those things on DKL’s list could be ascribed to angels sans the Holy Ghost. Remember: “Angels speak by the power of Holy Ghost” (2 Nephi 32:3) I take that to mean that without the help of God the Holy Ghost the voice of angel would be no more powerful or moving to us than the voice of the radio (though admittedly the light show would be cool).

    When I pray to the Father, I am aware that I am talking to all three members of the Godhead at once. They are One after all. In some ways we might say our worship relationship with the Holy Ghost is the closest of all because he acts as the Holy Postal Service for Gods and angels.

    Therefore I worship the third member of the Godhead through prayer — both in the sending and receiving of information.

    If that still doesn’t answer your question then you will need to clarify what you mean…

  38. While he is a member of the Godhead, I don’t think he could be considered a “god” in any sense of the restoration’s comprehension of the term.

    Now you’ve really confused me… Do you consider the pre-mortal Christ a “God”? Wasn’t the Jehovah of the Old Testament (who we belive was in fact Jesus Christ) a legitimate God? If so then how is it that the Holy Ghost is not also a full fledged God (though He is still a personage of spirit)?

  39. John Mansfield says:

    Five years ago, you may recall, the United Methodists’ national convention approved a document outlining why the religion of the Latter-day Saints is not compatible with that of the Methodists. It is a nice, clean piece of work that takes five points of doctrine, such “The Nature of God”, “The Meaning of Baptism”, etc., and describes the Methodist doctrine as found in its creeds and contrasts that with Latter-day Saint belief. Sections of the Nicene Creed are quoted to explain some of our heresies.

    The document’s conclusion makes sense: Latter-day Saints are not in harmony with the creeds of Methodism. So those who hold to those creeds reject the restoration. If the rejected restoration is of God, then it can be seen why he may consider such creeds “an abomination in his sight.” They definitively keep people from the fulness of the gospel while claiming to tell people what they need to believe about God.

  40. Wasn’t the Jehovah of the Old Testament (who we belive was in fact Jesus Christ) a legitimate God?

    The bottom line is that those folks who lived before Christ had no idea about the Trinity. There was one God. So while in the restoration Jehova is the Premortol Jesus, to the AD folks, there was just the one personality of the Godhead. This one God of the OT was a conflation of the Godhead, No?

    Was Christ a “legitimate God” during his mortal life? It seems that he refused to be treated like one until his resurection. The Nephite record is filled with legitimate worship of the resurected Lord.

    Now, I think there is a specialness in our view of the premortal and mortal Lord; I would say that it is because of our ontilogical divide, but I know you would just roll your eyes… :)

    I guess I am a little confused about the Holy Ghost as an indavidual. I have a hard time contemplating how the actual indavidual does mediate all the communication or if the indavidual is just responsible for it.

  41. Lisa B mentions a Sacrament meeting talk that referred to “the immaculate conception of Jesus.” That is a misstatement of the Catholic doctrine of the immaculate conception, although it’s common among us folks who confuse reception with conception and conjure up Terry Bradshaw, Frenchy Fuqua, Jack Tatum and Franco Harris on a snowy day in Pittsburgh.

    The Catholic doctrine of the immaculate conception refers to the conception of Mary, not of Jesus. Because of the miracle of the immaculate conception, Mary was born without the taint of original sin, and, being free of it, did not pass original sin along to her only Son, Jesus.

  42. “The bottom line is that those folks who lived before Christ had no idea about the Trinity. There was one God.”

    This is a simplification. The OT folks certainly didn’t believe in a trinity per se, but absolutely mounds of scholarship has established that they were far from monotheists, e.g. Peter Hayman’s Spring 1991 article in Journal of Jewish Studiesm,”Monotheism – A Misused Word in Jewish Studies?”

  43. Always willing to concede to you Ben S…however, I think our notions of Jesus as Jehova and Elohiem as the Father don’t fit either.

  44. Are you trying to make me nostalgic for my Catholic uprbringing? I so loved saying that in unison with other members at Church. At least, that seems verbatim what we recited. It is interesting how I never knew the history for the most part surrounding it until joining the LDS Church.

  45. “I think our notions of Jesus as Jehova and Elohiem as the Father don’t fit either.”

    I tend to agree, but they’re modern concessions. That said, I do think the LDS conception of godhead and deity generally fits the OT data better than classical trinitarianism.

  46. OK, now I’ll show my hand….

    What I was trying to demonstrate was that the Nicene Creed is not the philosophical gobbledygook that some Mormons hold it to be. Usually, they haven’t read it.

    I wanted to also show that Mormon theology is not as clear as one might imagine (see: do we worship the Holy Ghost, what did the “power of the Holy Ghost” have to do with Jesus’ conception etc. etc.)

    Listen into this conversation with my Primary-age son:

    Daddy: Who is God?
    Jacob: Heavenly Father.
    Daddy: Who is Jesus?
    Jacob: Heavenly Father’s son.
    Daddy: Who flooded the earth and told Noah to build the Ark?
    Jacob: God.
    Daddy: Who is God?
    Jacob: Heavenly Father?
    Daddy: Er, well, not in this instance… Wanna watch some cartoons?

    You see?

    Notice the context of President Hinckley’s challenge. He asks us to compare the Nicene Creed with Joseph’s First Vision. Why does Joseph’s testimony win out? Because it was a first-hand theophony, something the Nicene fathers did not have. Is it “better”? Well, from a LDS point of view, yes, because it is more “true” and has a validity that Nicene doesn’t. But this is not because Nicene is rubbish. In fact, I think it’s pretty good, and its language is rather beautiful (not strained, nor overly mysterious, at least not in this modern translation.)

    Latter-day Saints are blessed to have first-hand testimonies of the nature of God. But we have added a huge amount of commentary, exegesis, and, well, detritus on top. Are we so different to those who framed the Nicene creed? Should we stick to what we do best (testimony not theology)?

  47. J: I would say that it is because of our ontilogical divide, but I know you would just roll your eyes… :)

    Ha! And to think I resisted the urge to jam you up on that ontological divide subject earlier.

    Was Christ a “legitimate God” during his mortal life? It seems that he refused to be treated like one until his resurection.

    I highly recommend the last two chapters in Blake Ostler’s first book on this one. They are on Christology and deal specifically with this question. Blake favors a version of kenosis which is in essence when a full-fledged God empties Himself of some of his divine characteristics in order to dwell among us. He thinks this basic model works especially well in Mormonism for a couple of reasons:

    1) We already have scriptures that teach of the condescension of God. In other words, Jehovah/Jesus Christ really was a God prior to his visit here or it wouldn’t really be condescension of God.

    2) The Mormon doctrine that there is no ontological divide between God and man allows for Christ to still be God and mortal (through condescending and “emptying Himself” of some of the knowledge, power, and Glory he had previously). Plus he points to the fact that Christ reminded those around him that “ye are gods”.

    So I agree with Blake that Christ was indeed a “legitimate God” in his mortal ministry — just that he had emptied Himself of many of his Godly attributes for that short time.

    I guess I am a little confused about the Holy Ghost as an indavidual. I have a hard time contemplating how the actual indavidual does mediate all the communication or if the indavidual is just responsible for it.

    Obviously we don’t have much revelation on this subject. But I think this notion you have that there is an ontological divide between God and man puts you in a much tougher situation than those of us that believe we are of the same “species”. If we are indeed “gods” with the potential to become “Gods” then the idea of a fully divine Holy Ghost (even if it is a title and not a person) is pretty easy to deal with.

  48. Everyone: Some might find Richard Cartwright’s essay, “On the Logical Problem of the Trinity” interesting. I think it has some problems due to making some naive assumptions about Being. I’d urge people to check out that paper in Element since it does a great job of explaining the Trinity. Some might also find Bill Vallecella’s comments on Cartwright’s essay interesting.

    DKL: By read in a certain way I just mean that creeds to be creeds must be read as binding and normative. That is they aren’t seen as more loose descriptions the way the Lectures on Faith are. Mormon notions of fallibilism and continuing revelation make it hard to conceive of a creed within Mormonism. We certainly can have fairly normative texts, like the Proclomation on the Family. But the relationship between such texts and belief simply isn’t the same as within say Protestantism or especially Catholicism let alone medieval views.

  49. john fowles says:

    Ronan, the problem with the Creeds is that they were created as and have always been used as tools of exclusion. As such, they are a purely arbitrary form of exclusion, and there is no rational reason that they, as the product of committees trying to define the limits of what should be acceptable in a religion that was by then lacking in divine guidance, should carry any more weight than the definitions of faith (arguably equally arbitrary if you don’t accept the truth claims contained therein) of a 14 year old boy in the 1820s.

    Also, although the actual text of the Nicene Creed is rather benign, as many here have pointed out, Nate makes a good point (in # 11) about the philosophical underpinnings of the Creed. These are more explicit in the Athanasian Creed, which, I agree is probably what most Latter-day Saints are thinking of when they think of what is abominable in the creeds. But even in the Nicene Creed, a close reading shows the central function of the doctrine that man is eternally alienated from and of a different substance altogether than God. Man can never become like God or “inherit” all that God has, as Latter-day Saints believe, because man is of a different substance than God.

    Creeds aside, I do not wish to make doctrinal differences an inhibiting factor in my friendships with members of other religions. After all, that is usually that tactic of other religions against Latter-day Saints. I love the Catholic Church, even if I find that many of their practices border very closely on idolatry.

    Also, no matter how convincingly one argues against the idea that there was a Great Apostasy, which seems to be the vogue now among some LDS intellectuals, one cannot look past the fruits of the Catholic Church up until Vatican II. I just returned from Salzburg and was once again shocked and disgusted at the acts of the Catholic Church, through the oppression and abuses perpetrated by the Archbishops of Salzburg upon the peasant slaves that populated their churches. And one simply cannot look past the Spanish Inquisition’s reign of blood and horror on this earth.

    I mention this because I believe that President Hinckley and others are correct in mentioning the creeds in connection with the Great Apostasy and the need for a direct Restoration of that which had been lost for many centuries through the theophany experienced by the prophet Joseph Smith. The role played by the creeds in the centuries of oppression is pretty straightforward.

    We know that the Creeds are mistaken in their doctrine, not because of the erudite dissertation written by a respected doctor of theology or other intellectual, but because the boy Joseph Smith saw God the Father and Jesus Christ standing above him in the air, in the flesh, as two separate and distinct personages. There is no need for language such as that in the Athanasian Creed about “God create and uncreate” etc.

    Rather than look longingly at the creeds as a source of theological knowledge for Latter-day Saints, if we wish to be “ecumenical” let us simply look to the posture and works of the post Vatican II Catholic Church and find our friendship in that rebirth of the Catholic image, as personified by, e.g., Wilfried’s uncle. I can hardly imagine a more Christian and worthy example for any Latter-day Saint than that given to us by Wilfried’s uncle and by countless other such sincere Catholic priests and other leaders in their praxis. There is no reason to try to force a reading of the creeds as harmonious with Latter-day Saint, i.e. restored, Christianity in order to enter on the ecumenical path. Praxis should be enough for this purpose.

    Also, I think that you are right in your rhetorical question in # 46: Should we stick to what we do best (testimony not theology)? In many ways, yes we should, at least as relates to the formulation of any LDS theology. That is, I don’t think that any Latter-day Saint should be discouraged from studying theology at the best schools and learning what Christianity has tried to figure out philosophically during the period between the death of the Apostles and 1820. But it seems that the nature of revealed religion weighs against the scholarly creation of a scientific theology, which essentially represents the efforts of those not guided by direct revelation to deduct truths that may or may not exist. In a certain sense, an LDS “theology” is neither possible nor desirable because our knowledge of God’s nature, although much is still rightly unknown, derives not from deductive systematization from an arbitrarily closed corpus with the guiding aide of creeds hammered out by committees, but rather from the direct visual and physical experience of Joseph Smith and other Latter-day prophets, such as Joseph F. Smith in D&C 138. That is, however, completely a matter of faith, and one which Joseph Smith himself admitted that if he himself hadn’t seen it, he would be hard-pressed to believe it.

  50. Not to change the subject, (and, John, I appreciate your words of caution), but I’ve never really understood this:

    Joseph Smith himself admitted that if he himself hadn’t seen it, he would be hard-pressed to believe it

  51. john fowles says:

    By that I believe that he means it is admittedly hard to believe that God and Jesus appeared to a 14 year old boy. I agree with him and note that it is only the workings of the Holy Ghost in connection with hearing about Joseph Smith’s experiences that one can gain a “testimony” that it happened. And there continues to be no lack of individuals who are happy to say that it is a load of #@*%.

  52. Ronan: Should we stick to what we do best (testimony not theology)?

    It seems to me that with at least some theology there is very little to testify about… Besides, theology is part of the process of getting to know God and Life Eternal is to know God, right? It seems to me that this theological knowledge and intelligence is among the type of intelligence we are tasked to gather here…

    Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection. And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come.

  53. Make that “without some theology“…

  54. Ronan, I do not find your point to be terribly compelling. I only ever considered the Nicene Creed to be problematic insofar as it reflects a trinitarian outlook. This is true of the Athanasian Creed, too, except that it is much more closely tied to the concept of trinity. I’m not sure I’d call the notion of the trinity gobbledygook, but it is nevertheless nonsensical. (I believe the proper word is “mystical,” but since I’m a positivist I consider this synonymous with nonsensical.)

  55. John, not to make too small point about it, but the Trinity doesn’t contradict the idea of the first vision that the Father and Son are different persons. Indeed it requires it. The view most Mormons ascribe to the Trinity is actually modalism which was anciently considered a heresy.

    It seems interesting to me that Evangelicals often accuse Joseph in the 1830’s of adopting modalism whereas most Mormons seem to assume Evangelicals are guilty of modalism.

  56. To add, all trinitarians accept the vision of Stephen which isn’t substantially that different from the First Vision.

  57. I’m surprised nobody has brought up the historical development of mormon ideas of the Godhead (see for example here and here.) According to those links, the idea that Jehova and Jesus are the same person doesn’t seem to really have become settled doctrine until Talmage.

  58. Ed, I did bring up historical development of the concept of deity in my comment #16. I didn’t bring up the Jesus is Jahova doctrine (which was first taught by Frederick G. Williams, and only later solidified by Talmage when the 1st Presidency was ready to speak on the issue), because I didn’t see that as specifically relevant. But I did bring up the fact that the doctrine of a post-mortal continuum that leads to exaltation was a rather late development in Joseph’s thought.

    I also made a veiled reference in comment #6 to the evolution of the Mormon concept of the Godhead when I referred to Sabellianism (to which Clark has been referring using it’s more general moniker, “modalism”) and Arianism. These roughly correspond to the early (ca. 1830) Mormon view of the Godhead and current Mormon view of the Godhead, respectively.

    Clark is right that there are very few Christians who profess belief in the Trinity actually believe in the Trinity as it is strictly defined. Instead, they believe in some derivative, trinitarian belief that was declared a heresy (Sabellianism is a typical example).

    For my part, I argue that nobody really believes in the Trinity as follows:

    Premise: The notion of the Trinity is unintelligible
    Premise: Anything said about something that is unintelligible is either false or unintelligible
    Conclusion 1: Therefore, anything said about the Trinity is false or unintelligible.

    Premise: False propositions about the Trinity do not describe the true notion of the trinity
    Conclusion: All statements that truly describe the Trinity are unintelligible.

    Premise: People must have an intelligible proposition before the question of belief in it even arises
    Conclusion: The question of believing in a true description of the trinity never arises.

  59. DKL,

    What was my point? Ah yes… not that the Nicene Creed should be adopted by Mormons, but that it isn’t really what some of us (not you of course) bash it to be (in ignorance). I think I probably mentioned Nicaea a few times on my mission. Didn’t have a clue what I was talking about, but I knew that it was rubbish. It may be wrong, but it’s not rubbish (which is how I’ve heard it characterized and taught – not by President Hinckley I hasten to add).

    The other point, that Mormon “theology” can be a mess too. The arguments back and forth here by well-informed Mormons indicate that methinks. Ask an average Mormon to parse “Divine Investiture of Authority,” or “Adam-God,” or “Jehovah is Jesus,” or “How was Jesus conceived” and you might have some fun.

    Ask them to parse the First Vision, and you would have a lot of clarity, I think.

    The canonized First Vision isn’t about theology, trinitarian or otherwise. It is what it is: a first-hand testimony. That’s why we win and can take the ball away and sit smugly on the sidelines.

  60. And you better agree with me or I will take the ball away and close this thread. I’m the boss here. I have direct authority from The Great Evans. I am better than you. Ha!

  61. I don’t know from all your big words, but it’s all good to me. It sounds pretty. I don’t even care if it’s nonsensical. I probably missed a few words here and there, though.

  62. I’d probably both agree and disagree with DKL. I’d agree that most Christians don’t formally believe the Trinitarian doctrine because they’re just not familiar with it. I’d disagree that this naturally entails them adopting one of the heresies. Some do of course. I’m sure many have met people on our missions who do. However I sometimes wonder if this isn’t just the problem of explaining the belief: that there are three persons and one God.

    Now I think some of the creeds have problems. Especially the Athanasian Creed. But the Athanasian Creed isn’t a real formal creed the way most others are. So it’s propositional nature is problematic. It also isn’t the case, pace DKL and Cartwright, that it can’t be interpreted in a consistent fashion. But that’s afield from here.

    I’d simply say though that the basic notion, that the three are one in some substantial fashion, yet are three separate distinct individuals, is pretty much the Mormon view of the Godhead. We differ mainly by allowing multiple beings and over certain disputes about the nature of the Father. And even within Christiandom there are many differences over that – such as between the East and the West in the medieval era – long before the rise of Protestantism. Mormons tend to fall into a camp closer to what we find in Eastern Orthodoxy.

    I’d also add that within Mormonism there are many different opinions. From those who take the more traditional view entailed by the King Follet Discourse and the Temple. Then there are those like Blake Ostler, Stephen Robinson and others, who reject that endless regress of Gods and take a position closer to traditional Trinitarianism. (Closer – but clearly different)

    Where we really differ with mainstream Christianity isn’t over the doctrine of the Trinity. (As I said, we err in our criticisms of mainstream Christianity there, confusing their beliefs for modalism and thus argue against a strawman) Rather the substantial difference between us and them is over deification and creation ex nihilo.

  63. “I’d also add that within Mormonism there are many different opinions.”

    This is possibly because there are so many potentially contradictory statements in our scriptures. Consider for example, from 2 Nephi, “And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end.” It doesn’t get much more trinitarian than that. There are many other such statements in the Book of Mormon, that can only with a lot of interpretive straining be brought under the umbrella of the conceptions stemming from the first vision and some sections of the Doctine and Covenants.

  64. Seth Rogers says:

    This is the first time I’ve read any version of the Nicene Creed. Like Ronan, I was raised on assertions that it was complete rubbish. But actually reading it, it seems rather inoffensive. Sure, you can quibble over semantics, but it seems easy to read an interpretation into it that is friendly to Mormon thought.

    As far as the nature of the Trinity, I have to agree with McConkie on this one. God the Father is the only being I worship. Not Jesus Christ.

    Certainly, the God of the Old Testament was Jehovah or Jesus. However, that is because a direct link between God the Father and His mortal children had not yet been established. All worship had to be directed to Jehovah. After Christ lived on the earth as a mortal and died, that direct link was reestablished (with Christ remaining the facillitator).

    This is why we are privileged to speak directly with the Father. But we are required to do so via Christ.

    But God the Father is the only object of actual worship in modern LDS thought (popular practice to the contrary).

  65. I worship Jesus. and God. But Jesus certainly earned my worship.

  66. Seth, I disagree with both you and McConkie. From the 1989 First Presidency Easter Message (emphasis added):

    To the solemn witness of the holy scriptures, ancient and modern, we add our declaration:

    We worship Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
    He lives; He is the Son of God.

    He came to earth as the Only Begotten of the Father, fulfilling through His suffering in Gethsemane and upon the cross, the atoning sacrifice by which all mankind may be saved.
    (LDS Church News, 03/18/89)

  67. I think McConkie’s use of worship was more in the sense of pray.

  68. Seth Rogers says:

    I suppose my comment was more in that sense too. Well, I guess we can’t be as semantically vigilant all the time as perhaps we ought.

  69. John Mansfield says:

    Elder McConkie’s attitude toward Jesus as expressed in his hymn, and his last conference talk seems worshipful enough, even if he wouldn’t have used that word to describe it.

    “As pertaining to Jesus Christ, I testify that he is the Son of the Living God and was crucified for the sins of the world. He is our Lord, our God, and our King.” “I am one of his witnesses, and in a coming day I shall feel the nail marks in his hands and in his feet and shall wet his feet with my tears.”

    This is beyond recognition and appreciation of an outstanding individual.

  70. Ronan: And you better agree with me or I will take the ball away and close this thread. I’m the boss here. I have direct authority from The Great Evans. I am better than you. Ha!

    Ok. You win. (The trick for me is to agree before Bob Caswell shows up to tell me that I’m “out of my league.”)

  71. The only real problem I have with the Nicene creed is the part about the Son being of one essence with the Father, and I might quibble over what it means for the Holy Spirit to “proceed” from the Father and the Son.

    The Apostles’ Creed, on the other hand, I have no problem with. The difference is that it sticks to Biblical language in a way that many of the other creeds do not.

    Just an aside: I’ve talked with various non-LDS Christians who are surprised by the LDS belief that Jesus created the universe. What they don’t seem to realize is that it’s taught in the Bible and is mentioned in many of the creeds, including this one.

  72. Even those two elements shouldn’t be too controversial, Eric. For one, that’s pretty much the way Lectures on Faith discusses the Holy Ghost. Secondly, the Holy Ghost only testifies what the Father and Son direct. So in that sense he proceeds from the Father. Of course in the Western church that was given a more ontological bent that we’d might not agree with. (Although I’m not convinced all Mormons would disagree – see my comments about Ostler and Robinson, although I’m not sure about their positions on this)

    With respect to essence, I’d point out that this is somewhat ambiguous as well. While many read the creeds in terms of more neoPlatonic biases, one need not. Further I’d simply note that Orson Pratt’s rather creative view of the Godhead fulfills nearly all the requirements of the Trinitarian doctrine minus the assumption of creation ex nihilo.

  73. Wouldn’t the belief-related temple recommend questions be the equivalent of a creed, at least in terms of saying “hitherto shalt thou come and no further” to some very genuine believers who cannot quite accept the whole kit and caboodle in good conscience?

    “Do you have a testimony of God the Eternal Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost?

    Do you have a testimony of the Atonement of Christ and of His role as Savior and Redeemer?

    Do you have a testimony of the restoration of the gospel in these the latter days?

    Do you sustain the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the Prophet, Seer, and Revelator and as the only person on the earth who possesses and is authorized to exercise all priesthood keys? Do you sustain members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as prophets, seers, and revelators? Do you sustain the other General Authorities and local authorities of the Church?

    Do you support, affiliate with, or agree with any group or individual whose teachings or practices are contrary to or oppose those accepted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?”

  74. I read the Nicene creed for the first time as an adult last year. I thought it sounded great and loved it all with the possible exception of only Son and the consubstantial thing. (It is really fun to say. I must go sometime where I can say it with lots of people in unison) But when I talked about the Creed with some nonMormon Christians, I found out that “begotten” doesn’t mean “begotten.” And other things too, but I don’t remember them now. It was frustrating.

    I’m actually quite impressed by how right the Nicene Creed got it, and how well it has carried the church through the various competing ideas through the centuries. I’m pretty much convinced the hand of God was there upon those men.

  75. What does “begotten” mean anyway?

  76. john fowles says:

    Well, for one thing, any Evangelical will tell you that it doesn’t mean “begotten.”

  77. As I understand it, the whole point of establishing the creed was to establish the “consubstantial” part. The creed was to combat a heresy and the consubstantial thing was central to that. Thus, although there are plenty of standard Christian ideas in the Creed, I think the purpose was to establish something that we would take issue with.

    On a wider note, I agree that our advantage is not in theology, but in testimony. We have the priesthood and we have the witnesses. But I don’t think our ability to intellectualize religion is all that mush more impressive than the Catholics. They had 2000 years after all.

  78. Julie in Austin, I just ran across this e-copy of the Catechism for Children.

  79. begotten

    adj : (of offspring) generated by procreation; “naturally begotten child”

  80. Clark, thanks for you response to and comments on my post. I found them interesting and informative.

  81. yeah Geoff, that’s what we might think. But there’s an argument that begotten (gennao, strong’s 1080) and only begotten (monogenes, strong’s 3439) are more about uniqueness or being designated heir. Hence, you have this in Wikipedia: “Most modern scholarly opinion believes that “monogenes” means “only” or “unique.” A procreation sense of the words is specifically denied.

  82. Good point Johnna.

    I was actually just being a smart aleck by copying that definition from a free online dictionary. If only things were so simple…

  83. 63 & 67
    Seth, this may be semantic hypervigilance, but regarding your comment, “This is why we are privileged to speak directly with the Father. But we are required to do so via Christ.,” Bruce R. McConkie included, in his typically direct manner, this in comments about heresies among us:

    “[Regarding the belife that] Because the Savior is our mediator, our prayers go through Christ to the Father, and the Father answers our prayers through his Son.

    “This is plain sectarian nonsense. Our prayers are addressed to the Father, and to him only. They do not go through Christ, or the Blessed Virgin, or St. Genevieve or along the beads of a rosary. We are entitled to ‘come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need’ (Hebrews 4:16).”

    Available at:

  84. “These authors partly just made it up, and had no authority to speak definitively on the matter at any rate.”

    Let’s be fair. Didn’t Constantine impose on this group to come up with some rigid belief system to which he could base his state religion on. That was the abomination in my view, a rigid state church, rigid belief system concept that took centuries to overthrow. The Protestant reformers had done most of the work long before JS. I think some Mormons just want to impose another rigid belief system over this Nicene one.

  85. antiprude, I’m not clear on whether you’re agreeing with the statement I made or not. (Though I am surprised that my comment about the Nicene Creed being “the philosophy of men mingled with scripture” hasn’t registered any agreement or disagrement whatever.)

  86. Seth Rogers says:

    Sigh … There’s so much I haven’t read …

  87. DKL,
    I think there’s a lot of Mormon theologising that sounds like “the philosophies of men, mingled with scripture.”

  88. Ronan, you’re comparing apples to oranges when you compare Mormon theologizing to the creeds of other religions. Mormon theologizing (by leaders or laymen) is not foundational to Mormonism and is not offered as a substitute for scripture itself. Therefore, pointing out that the Nicene Creed is “the philosophies of men, mingled with scripture” is a condemnation. Pointing out that Mormon theologizing “the philosophies of men, mingled with scripture” is merely a classification or qualification.

    Even so, I agree with you, and you are way better than me.

  89. Very interesting discussion.

    Have I read the Creed? I recite in Mass every week. Is there a problem with its theology? No, not to me. (;

  90. Perhaps this has been addressed, but the following statement could cause some misinterpretation,

    “We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come”

    does this mean that “look” implies a sure hope in the ‘factual’ resurrection, or that ‘perhaps there is a resurrection’? Definitely room for questions from that statement. Does the ‘world to come’ imply the idea of one place for everyone or two places, a heaven and hell, but we know from D&C76 and 1Cor15:40-42, that there are more kingdoms than simply a heaven and a hell. Alma 40-11-13 makes it clear there is an intemediate heaven and hell being the Spirit world of paradise and prison.

    Interestingly enough it is not absolutely clear from the creed that God, Jesus, and Holy Ghost are one person as many religions of this ilk would like us to believe and in fact it again could be interpreted in the form of the 1st article of faith if given careful attention.

    In summary: the thing is too clouded and leaves too much room for interpretation, thus being divided against itself moreso than the AofFs would tend to lead anyone.

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