I have a question for you about the Nicene Creed… and all the creeds for that matter. It seems that they leave out the human part of Jesus’ life on earth, as shown us in the gospels. They jump right from his birth to Pontius Pilate. Do you have an idea why that is?
A good (and popular) question, but partially based on a definition problem and two context issues.
1. Definition: the word “Incarnation” can be mistaken for “Conception/Birth” because the creeds say Christ “became incarnate of the Holy Spirit and Virgin.” That sounds like a nativity statement, followed by 33 years of silence.
But “became Incarnate” includes both “became” (Christ’s conception) and “incarnate” (Christ’s whole life on earth … and actually, to this moment). In other words, the entire life of Christ is the Incarnation because HE is the Incarnation.
2. Historical Context: Granted, the architects of the creed could have clarified by adding a phrase about Jesus’ life and ministry, but that wasn’t really the pressing question they were addressing at the moment. The question was, “WHO is Jesus?” And the errors they were challenging were “Jesus was not fully God” or “Jesus is less than God” and secondarily, “Jesus was not fully human or was only partly human.” So the issues the creeds raise include both an insistance that Christ was God in the flesh–truly divine (why they mention the HS) and also, actually flesh (why they mention Mary), rooted in real human history (why they mention Pilate), and that he really suffered and died (again, to say he was truly human).
So the creed is expressed not merely as a summary of what Jesus did, but more specifically about his dual nature. There was no argument about whether he lived and ministered. That was assumed.
3. Liturgical Context: That said, liturgical context is also huge. The creed was never pronounced in isolation. It was and is part of the broader liturgy, which lays out the entire drama of redemption, from Adam to the life of Christ, Pascha and the final judgment (every Sunday). The creed is embedded in that drama, never apart from the
Gospel readings that tell the story of Christ’s life and ministry; never apart from reading the Beatitudes, never apart from the whole story.
So the problem isn’t that the creed leaves out the life of Christ. The real problem occurs when we pluck the creed from the whole story–by abandoning the very liturgy that always faithfully tells the story. That is, when we isolate the creed to the neglect of the story (the liturgical drama) in which it is found, we can’t blame the creed for not telling the whole story. That would be a bit like isolating John 4 out of the Bible and then asking why Jesus didn’t mention the Cross to the woman at the well.
By all means read, memorize, cite and pray the creeds. But remember do so, even privately, in the context of a Gospel reading, a recitation of the Beatitudes and gratitude for the whole life of Christ. The creeds will serve to enrich the whole experience.
Posted with permission from Brad Jersak, Originally posted on Clarion-Journal