The Church recognizes three creeds: the relatively informal Apostles Creed, the later and carefully-crafted Athanasian Creed recited on Trinity Sunday, and the creed formulated at the Church Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. which is recited every Sunday.
The Nicene Creed is the authoritative summary of the Faith. In the liturgy, it serves as our assent to the Faith expressed in God’s Word.
The Nicene Creed was first set down in response to the Arian heresy. The Arians said that Jesus is a created being and subordinate to God the Father, contrary to ancient belief. To use an ancient phrase, “There never was a time when the Son was not.”
In response, the Nicene Creed identifies Jesus as the agent of creation, “by whom all things were made.” Romans 1:25 defines idol worship as the worship of the creation instead of the creator. It would be wrong to worship Jesus unless he is God. The Nicene Creed also affirms the divinity of the Holy Ghost. Thus, the Creed sets forth our belief in the Trinity: That God is Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, “and yet they are not Three Gods, but one God.” The Nicene Creed also teaches us that Jesus is genuinely human (“And was made man”). Thus, it asserts the two foundational doctrines of the faith. God is Trinity. Jesus is fully God and fully man.
The third paragraph extends belief in the Holy Ghost to belief in the Church, which the Holy Ghost created (Acts 2). The true Faith is the Catholic and Apostolic Faith into which the Holy Ghost led the Church (John 16:13).
When we recite this Creed in Church, we
- Bow at the name of Jesus (cf. Philippians 2:10).
- Genuflect (or bow) at the words “humbled himself to be made man” (cf. Philippians 2:5-7).
- Rise to acknowledge that the exaltation of Jesus came on the cross (John 3:14).
- Bow to acknowledge that we worship the Holy Ghost because he also is God.
- + The sign of the cross is made at the end of the Creed. This is an outward acknowledgment that one accepts the truth just recited. The sign of the cross is the most ancient Christian gesture of worship. It is recorded that the early Christians made the sign of the cross as they witnessed the deaths of the martyrs.
- The sign of the cross is made by touching the finger tips in succession to the forehead, chest, left shoulder, right shoulder and back to the chest.
All Christian theology builds upon these two cardinal doctrines: Jesus is fully God and fully man. And God is Trinity. Errors with regard to these doctrines are called, in classical Christian terms, heresies.