An Exclusive Creed

The Nicene Creed was created to exclude. This goes against
the grain of our modern secular society, where the word
“inclusive” has become a magic word, conjuring
up warm feelings of virtue, righteousness, and goodness.
To be inclusive is to be good; to exclude is to be bad.
The magic is, I think, rooted in the American Civil Rights
Movement, where certain people were unjustly excluded from
certain things (such as employment opportunities or even
sitting in the front part of a bus) based on the colour of
their skin. Such exclusions were plainly arbitrary,
morally indefensible, and more than a little bit crazy,
and this bequeathed a legacy of unacceptability to the
very word “exclusion”, with a corresponding
happy feel to the word “inclusion”.

But in this, as in many things, context is everything.
Exclusion is not always wrong. Take the early part of the
fourth century, for instance. Then the heresy of Arianism
was spreading over the Christian world like a raging
roaring disease. This was the heresy that denied that
Jesus was truly divine, and asserted instead that he was a
creature, created by the one true God in the same way as
the angels were created. Jesus of Nazareth therefore was
not God, according to the Arians, though they allowed that
He was very, very important, a heavenly celebrity of
sorts, but not God in any real sense. That is, He could be
admired and praised, but not actually worshipped with the
same worship with which the Church worshipped the Father.
This last bit was very important too, for salvation
consists of worshipping Jesus, in falling down before Him
as did Thomas and crying to Him, “My Lord and my
God!” Given the popularity of Arianism, something
had to be done.

Something was done, and what was done we now call
“the First
Ecumenical Council of Nicea”. Bishops then came
from all over to the town of Nicea in 325 A.D. to thrash
the whole thing out. It didn’t take them long to
conclude that Jesus was divine, and that Arius’
teaching was simply wrong. But how to declare this? Arius
was a slippery fellow, and there seemed to be no kind of
Biblical formula or title for Christ that he could not
twist and redefine for his own purposes. The Fathers
therefore decided to do something radical and
unprecedented—namely, to use non-biblical phrases to
describe who Christ was. They took the baptismal creed,
the statement with which all catechumens had to agree in
order to be baptized and be considered Christians, and
inserted several phrases, phrases so clear that even
someone as slippery as Arius couldn’t wriggle out of
them. Jesus was not only “the only-begotten Son of
God”, He was also “light from light, true God
from true God, begotten not made, of the same essence as
the Father, from whom [i.e. Jesus] all things were
made”. These phrases stated the divinity of Christ
so clearly that not even Arius could say the words without
choking.

That was, of course, the point: the Creedal statement was
constructed with such precision as to exclude people like
Arius. In one sense the Creed was inclusive: any person
anywhere, regardless of race, language, ethnicity, or
colour could confess it, be that person slave or free,
rich or poor. But it was also exclusive: any person who
did not believe the full and perfect divinity of Jesus of
Nazareth could not confess it, and thus could not be a
member of the Church.

Why this insistence on exclusion? The Fathers of Nicea
wanted to exclude
heresy from the Church for the same reason that a
doctor wants to exclude cancer from the body of his
patient—because if he includes the cancer in the
patient’s body, the result will be the death of the
patient. Cancer kills, and so does heresy. Heresy is not
simply incorrect opinion, akin to getting a numerical sum
wrong. Heresy is stubbornly refusing to accept the truth,
in exactly the same way as someone who has been poisoned
might stubbornly refuse to accept swallowing the antidote.
A person who has been poisoned will die. And the good
intentions of the heretic notwithstanding (for who
knowingly accepts error?), the person who refuses
God’s provided remedy of Christ will also die.
Heresy will kill the soul, just as surely as cancer will
kill the body. Salvation consists of exclusion—the
cancer must be excluded from the body, and heresy must be
excluded from the soul. The Fathers of Nicea were not
narrow-minded men, working mean-spiritedly in their ivory
towers. They were physicians of the soul, working as
pastors in the front-line, concerned to save the souls of
the children of men. They knew that only as men fell down
before Christ as God and offered their lives to Him could
they find salvation. They therefore excluded the Arian
error which insisted on omitting this saving spiritual
prostration. They knew they lived in a world of dying men.
Only by falling down before the divine Christ could those
men find eternal life.

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