The Status of the Nicene Creed as Dogma

The Status of the Nicene Creed as Dogma 1

John Courtney Murray, S.J.

In a discussion of the second conciliar text on religious liberty,2

Murray wrote:

We are living in an age in which a great ecumenical hope has been born. The goal of Christian unity lies, of course beyond the horizons of our present vision. We do, however, know that the path to that goal can lie only along the road of freedom—social, civil, political and religious freedom. Hence the Church must assist in the work of creating conditions of freedom in human society; this task is integral to the spiritual mission of the Church, which is to be herself the spiritual unity of mankind and to assist all men in finding this unity. (1963j: "On Religious Liberty," 704).

The church's mission entailed a changed attitude on the part of the church. The eventual decree on religious freedom should undertake "to define the attitude that Catholics ought to maintain and exhibit toward their fellow Christians and toward all men. This attitude is based on the Catholic doctrine with regard to the necessary freedom of the act of Christian faith."

In a discussion of the implications of the decree on Ecumenism, he wrote:

...the rules of dialogue must be such that "each can treat with the other on a footing of equality" (n. 9). This reciprocity in the ecumenical dialogue is a matter of love and respect, not only for the other as a person, but also for the truth as possessed by each, to be understood by both (1966h, "The Issue of Church and State at Vatican Council II," 592).

As to the content of discussions with fellow Christians, Murray's The Problem of God, Yesterday and Today laid out his most extended treatment of the development of Christian Trinitarian thought, from the biblical witness through the problem of modern, social atheism. The main concern in The Problem of God is with atheism, though it might be read for the Lonergan background of the next article. In this article, Murray places the Catholic manners of preserving and developing faith at the core of ecumenical discussion—Editor.

During the course of time, it is true, the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, comes to understand these truths more perfectly and declares and explains them more explicitly in applying them in the new historical situations which Divine Providence furnishes. — Cardinal Meyer, Lenten Pastoral on Ecumenism, January 25, 1967

There is a preliminary issue of method. For my part, I do not think it useful, at the outset of ecumenical dialogue, for a Catholic to propose to a Lutheran Catholic questions that emerge from a Catholic theological problematic. The converse likewise holds. Such questions might he considered unanswerable, or possibly peripheral, or even irrelevant. The basic question concerns the very problematic which gives rise to particular questions. In what follows, therefore, I shall attempt to state the major questions which the Catholic theologian puts to himself with regard to the Nicene faith (N and NC)3 and to indicate the lines of answer.

Historically, this has been the primary question. It still is. In a context dealing in general with the fallacy of archaism, the primary function of the theologian was thus stated by Pius XII:

It is also true that the theologian must constantly return to the sources of divine revelation. It is his function to show how (qua ratione) the truths which are taught by the living magistery are contained in Sacred Scripture and in the divine tradition, be it implicitly or explicitly. Moreover, both of these sources of revealed doctrine contain treasures so varied and so rich that they are in fact inexhaustible. Consequently, the theological sciences are kept forever young by the study of their sacred sources. In contrast, as we know by experience, speculation becomes barren when it neglects an ever more profound investigation of the sacred deposit. For this very reason, however, positive theology, as it is called, may not be equated will merely historical science. The reason is that, together with these sacred sources, God has given to his Church the living magistery in order that the truths which are contained in the deposit faith only obscurely and in some implicit fashion may brought to light and formulated. The divine Redeemer entrusted this deposit to the magistery of the Church alone, not to the individual Christian or even to theologians.

When therefore, as it has often happened throughout the ages, the Church exercises this function of hers, whether the exercise be ordinary or extraordinary, it is clear that a full method would be brought into play if what is clear were to be explained by what is obscure. On the contrary, the converse method is plainly imperative. Hence when our predecessor Pius IX taught that the most exalted office of theology is to show how the doctrine defined by the Church is contained in sources, he added, with good reason, "in the very sense in which it was defined" (Humani generis, DB 2314).

With regard to Nicaea, the basic relationship between the dogma and the Scriptures appears in Athanasius' famous statement of the councilor intention in his letter, De decretis nicaenae synodi (350/351). The original intention had been to adhere to the creedal tradition and therefore to use the "confessional words of Scripture" (n. 19: MPG 25, 448). However, the scriptural words (especially ek tou patros) were twisted by the Eusebians to their own sense. Hence "the fathers, perceiving their craft and their impious cunning, were forced to state more distinctly what is meant "from (the) God" and to write that the Son is "from the essence" (ousias) of God, in order that "'from (the) God' might not be considered common and equal in the Son and in things originate, but that all other things might be acknowledged as creatures and the Word alone as from the Father" (449).

Similarly, the fathers had wished to adopt the scriptural theme that the Son is "the true power and image of the Father, in all things like (omoios) and exactly like (aparallaktos) the Father." Again, however, these phrases proved inadequate as the safeguard of scriptural doctrine against the Eusebian evasions. Hence the fathers "were again compelled to gather up the mind (dianoian) of the Scriptures and to state and write again more clearly what they had said before, that the Son is consubstantial (homoousion) with the Father, in order that they might make clear that the Son is not merely like but is from the Father as the same in likeness (tauton tê homoiôsei)" (451). Therefore the anti-Arian formulas of the creed state the "mind" of the Scriptures. Between Scripture and dogma there is an identity of sense. The dogma defines what is revealed in the word of God.

What then is the mind of the Scripture that is identically the mind of Nicaea? Again Athanasius makes the classic statement in his third Oratio contra Arianos (356-362, during the Egyptian exile?): "Thus, given that they (Father and Son) are one, and given that the divinity itself is one, the same things are said (in the Scripture) about the Son that are also said about the Father, except that the Son is not said to be Father" (MPG 26, 329). This is the famous Athanasian rule of faith. It is a synthesis of scriptural doctrine; it is likewise a statement of the mind of Nicaea—the sense of ek tês ousias tou patros and homoousion. The Son is all that the Father is, the one God; but he is not the Father, he is from the Father.

The polemic intention of Nicaea was to outlaw the Arian "impiety" as contrary to the mind of the Scriptures. The doctrinal intention was to make a positive statement of the Christian faith by gathering up the mind of the Scriptures. The Council had to give a positive answer to the Arian question in its first form: "Is the Son Son or a creature?" In response it affirmed the full divinity of the Son, who is God in the fullness of the sense in which the Father is God. It also affirmed the mysterious uniqueness of the origin of the Son; it is as Son that he is "begotten" (gennetos), and only in this sense is he originated (genetos). Finally, it affirmed the unity of the Godhead in Father and Son. (It did not, however, explicitly specify the nature of this unity. This specification had to wait until the Arian question was asked in its second form, in the late Eunomian phase of the controversy). This threefold positive affirmation was made as a statement of the mind of the Scripture.

Hitherto it has chiefly been a question of the relationship of material identity in content between the Nicene dogma and the Scripture. There is the further question of their formal relationship—the question of Scripture as the norm of the dogma defined by the Council.

It is evident that the Nicene Church considered the relationship between the Scriptures and the magistery to be reciprocated. The word of the God in the Scriptures was regarded as the norm of the faith of the Church. Even Arius, and later Eunomius, felt it necessary to appeal to this norm, though their doctrinal systems owed nothing to Scripture. The Arian formulas were judged by this norm and condemned as false. Judged likewise by this norm, the Nicene formulas were put forth as the true faith; this is clear from the Athanasian rule. At the same time, the Nicene Church considered it to be the magisterial function of the Church to interpret the Scriptures and to declare their sense in formulas that were to be accepted by faith on pain of exclusion from the communion of the faithful. The word of God therefore is the norm for the magistery in declaring the faith of the Church. At the same time, the magisterial interpretation of the word of God and its declaration in the word of the Church is normative of the faith of the Church.

This is substantially the theology stated by Pius XII in the citation given above. It may be doubted whether it is possible fully to conceptualize the reciprocal relation between the word of God and the word of the Church, precisely because it is a question of a polar tension. One can at best undertake to give an adequately balanced description of a relationship which, like all relationships, in the end escape exact definition.

The essential error would be a theological idealism, so called, which would assert that either the individual consciousness of the Christian or the collective consciousness of the Church is the norm of faith; that neither consciousness is bound on the word of God as a norm which confronts it; that the content of belief therefore is derived solely from the inward teaching of the Holy Spirit. The opposite error would be a biblical positivism, which would posit the word of God as "already out there now" and assert that the content of faith is to be derived from it by the methods of rational hermeneutic. Both errors have in common the same vice; each of them in different ways separates the Word of God from the Spirit of God.

Perhaps the analogue for a true understanding of the reciprocal relationship between Scripture and magistery is, in the ultimate instance, the indivisible Trinity itself, in which, as the Athanasian Creed states, there is nihil prius aut posterius. Differing in their modes or origin, the Word and the Spirit are absolutely correlative (simul sunt). The same correlation exists between Word and Spirit in the history of salvation amid a difference of function. The Word of God, Christ the Son, stands, as it were, over against and above the Church, seated at the Father's right hand as the Lord-of-us. In contrast, the Spirit of God, the Father's Gift to the Church through Christ Jesus, abides hiddenly in the Church (cf. Jn 14:16) as the Lord- with-us (cf. Acts fere passim).

The relationship between Word and Spirit is conveyed by John (cf. 16:13-15) through the image of the relationship between Yahweh and his people—a speaker-hearer relationship (the analogy is deficient but valid). The Word spoke to men from outside them, as it were, in deed and word (cf. Jn 15:26 "all that I have said to you"). The Word still speaks to the Church through the written word of God which is also somehow outside-of-us, above the Church, like the Word himself, containing a revelation that is at once definitely given to the Church and never fully to be comprehended by the Church. The Spirit in turn, indwelling in the Church, is the true hearer of the Word, as they are the true people of God who faithfully hear his word (cf. Ezekiel; cf. Lk 11:28). He is "the Spirit who is from God," who has been "received" by the people of God, "that we might understand the gifts bestowed on us by God" (1 Cor 2:12). It is the Spirit-with-us who gives understanding of the Word-above-us, both in himself and in the written word which is itself a gift to the Church and not, in the end, a work of the Church. The forbidden thing therefore is to separate Word (or word) and Spirit (or spirit, the charism of the Church) or to confuse them by mistaking their respective functions.

Authority of the Nicene Faith

The authority of N and NC as the rule of faith derives formally from the authority of the magistery of the Church, "whose function it is to judge with regard to the true sense and interpretation of the sacred Scriptures" (Council of Trent, sess. 4, DB 786). This function of judgment is a function of certification. In the case, N and NC, in virtue of the assistance of the Holy Spirit, the true hearer of the word of God, certify as true the three affirmations noted above, together with the fourth in NC (the expansion of the article on the Holy Spirit in N). It is to be noted that, when the affirmations are certified as true, the understanding contained in the affirmations is not certified as adequate.4

It is hardly necessary to add that the authority of N and NC does not depend on the fact that the material identity of sense between Scripture and dogma can or cannot be established by the methods of rational hermeneutic. To say this would be to make biblical scholarship the norm of the faith of the Church—quod absit. Finally, in accord with what has been said above, the fact that the status of N and NC as dogma formally from the act of the magistery in no wise derogates from the authority of the word of God, the Scriptures, as the source of revelation. Nicaea certified the homoousion as a true statement of faith because the Scriptures say of the Son whatever they say of the Father, excepto Patris nomine. On the other hand, the word of God, somehow "already out there now," does not certify itself as the word of God. Still less does it wait on scholarship for such certification of its sense as scholarship may provide. Judgments of certainty belong to the magistery. And such judgments are certain because it is true to say of the Church—analogously, of course, and proportione servata— what is said of the Spirit himself: "He will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak" (Jn 16:13).

Immutability of the Nicene Dogma

Immutability, like certainty, attaches to judgments, to affirmations, and to the sense in which the certain judgment or affirmation is made. On the other hand, the immutability of an affirmation, again like its certainty, does not prelude development—that is, fuller understanding—of the sense in which the affirmation is made.

In the first place, therefore, it will be forever immutably true to say that the Son is consubstantial with the Father, that he is all that the Father is, except for the name of Father. Moreover, it will be forever forbidden so to understand the Nicene dogma—so to "interpret" it, so to "develop" its sense—as, in the end, to affirm that the Son is not consubstantial with the Father, not all that the Father is, except for the name of Father. Finally it will be forever forbidden to say that the Nicene dogma is mutable in the sense that it has or may become irrelevant, of no religious value or interest, no longer intelligible suo modo as a formula of faith. No such menace of irrelevancy hangs over the scriptural revelation, that the Son is all that the Father is, except for the name of Father. Similarly no such menace threatens the homoousion. The pertinent citation here would be Vatican I, Constitution on Faith, c. 4, "On Faith and Reason" (DB 1800).

In the second place, however, no less pertinent is the canon of Vincent of Lerins, cited in the same chapter, which urges the Christian and the Church to growth in understanding, knowledge, and wisdom in eodem scilicet dogmate, eodem sensu, eademque sententia. The historical fact is that the Nicene dogma underwent development.

First the homoousion was applied to the Holy Spirit, explicitly by Gregory Nazianzen, later implicitly by Constantinople I, still later commonly. Second, what was only implicit in the original Nicene affirmation about the divine unity came to explicit statement in the latter phase of the Arian controversy. Following on this, the homoousion was applied to the Trinity, the triada homoousion of Constantinople II (can. I). In the course of this development, the word lost the connotations of "origin from," which it had in the original Nicene text. It came to be simply a statement of the numerical identity of the Three in the one divine substance. In this sense the notion was foundational to the systematic Trinitarian formula first struck off (it seems) by Anselm and later canonized by the Council of Florence, "All things are the one thing, where no opposition of relations intervenes." Every notion acquires fuller meaning when it becomes an organic part of a systematization.

The question, however, may be asked, whether the Nicene dogma admits further development today, whether it can be stated in other categories. The answer is no. Nicaea answered the Arian question, "Is the Son Son or a creature?" The answer was necessarily cast in the categories of the question, God or creature, from the Father as begotten or from the Father as made. There are no other categories in which the answer can be cast. And the question itself, in the categories of its asking, is not time-conditioned, the product of a particular culture; it is perennial, the product of the human mind as such.

Many other questions may indeed be asked about the Son; but they would have to be answered in their own terms, not by a reinterpretation of Nicaea. The Nicene answer to the Nicene question is final and definitive. There is no going beyond it, since it brings the believer to the very edge of the abyss of the mystery of the eternal Son, who is God of God. In this sense, the homoousion is a "limit-concept."

Obviously, this is not the place to enter the enormous area of theological development to which Nicaea opened the way. Every mystery of faith creates a problem for the theologian. In the case, the problem inheres in the mysterious affirmation that the Son is "God of God." But if he is God, he exists a se; if he is God of God, he exists ab alio. A contradiction seems to appear. This is the problem to which Augustine addressed himself and to which Aquinas fashioned the solution, in so far as a solution is available. The key to the solution is the psychological analogy, glimpsed by the intuitive genius of Augustine, formulated by the philosophical intelligence of Aquinas, and—it may be added—re-stated with newly profound understanding by Bernard Lonergan.5

The appeal is to human interior intellectual and moral experience, that is, to the experience of the procession of the inner mental word (concept) from the act of understanding (insight) and to the experience of the procession of the act of moral choice (love) from the intellectual estimation and desire of the good. The analogy is metaphysical, because man is the image of God. It is not therefore merely a matter of metaphor. One can be admitted to a measure of analogical, imperfect, obscure understanding of the processions of the Word and the Spirit in the inner trinitarian life of God. All this, of course, is theology, not dogma. The premise of the Augustinian and Thomist theology, however, is the Nicene dogma under its ontological aspect. In certifying the scriptural truth, the dogma also certified that human intelligence under the light of faith can and should go on to an analogical understanding of what God is—the one Being who is subsistent Intelligence—and how God is Triune: God the Father, the God who speaks; God the Son, the Word uttered by the Father, who is begotten because uttered. God the Holy Spirit, procedent from Father and Son as their Love and Gift.

Religious Value of the Nicene Dogma

The dogma was consciously formulated as a test of orthodoxy. As someone has said, it was not a creed for catechumens but for bishops. Here is its first religious value; for orthodoxy is a religious value. This value, however, is extrinsic. The essential inherent value of the dogma lies in its certification of what God is in himself, antecedent to whatever he may be to us. The question, what is God, is not the appropriate subject for idle musing on a summer afternoon. However unanswerable it may be in the end, it is the first and last of all religious questions. Nicaea gave the certified answer—that God is the Father and that the Son is Son. Thus Nicaea also answered the other urgent religious question, whether we are redeemed or not. The premise of its asking can only be the basic Old Testament conviction that only God can redeem us. Nicaea answered by certifying that the Son is God of God; therefore he could save us and he did and does. This is, of course, the soteriological argument so called that was incessantly alleged by the protagonists of the Nicene faith (about the Spirit as well as about the Son). In a word, Nicaea explained what John meant when he said, "God is love" (1 Jn 4:16).

The Nicene Faith and Human Intelligence

It is presumably too late in the scholarly day to bother discussing the question, whether Nicaea initiated the process of die Hellenisierung des Glaubaens. The categories of the Nicene argument—God or creature, begotten or made—were not Hellenic but biblical. Moreover, the homoousion is not a category at all. A category is an abstract classifying concept which furnishes the essential definition of a number of individual instances The homoousion, however, first defined with complete concreteness what the Son is, what only the Son is. Later it defined, again concretely, what the Spirit is. Finally, it defined, still concretely, what the Trinity is—"the one nature or substance (ousian), the one power and authority (exousian), the consubstantial Trinity, the one divinity to be adored in three subsistences (upostasesin) or persons (prosopôis)" (Constantinople II).

If there was any "categorizing" here, it was simply the collocation of Father, Son, and Spirit in the order of the Godhead. And "God" is not a category. Finally, the use of the word homoousion did not involve the Church in the endless argument about the metaphysical concept of substance—the concept which contemporary philosophy is desperately struggling to thrust out with a pitchfork, and which always returns (to paraphrase the Horatian tag: naturam expelleles furca, tamen usque recurret). The homoousion is not a metaphysical concept. It is a dogmatic coinage whose content is the mind of the Scripture with regard to what the Son is.

All this, however, only clears the way for the real argument. Nicaea said the very same thing that the Scriptures had said, but it certainly did not say it in the same way. The notorious accusation that the homoousion was "unscriptural" did not lack foundation. The first series of post-Nicene synods, beginning with the Dedication Council at Antioch in 341, refused to use the word. The second series, beginning with the third synod of Sirmium (357), explicitly forbade its use. The real issue, however, was not simply one of words. It concerns the ontological aspect, so called, of the Nicene dogma and the warrant for making the transition from the scriptural mode of conception and utterance to a different mode. There are three questions—historical, dogmatic, theological.

Historically, on the witness of Athanasius, the transition was made for reasons of polemic necessity. Moreover, the new usage was defined as an exception, not as an instance of a general principle. The Nicene fathers would have been enormously astonished, had anyone told them that they were engaging in the development of doctrine. This fact, however, is itself not astonishing. In what concerns the process of art, whereby things are made, a man must know what he is going to do before he does it. In contrast, in what concerns movements of intelligence whereby knowledge is acquired, a man must first reach the term of the movement—the knowledge itself—before he can know what the term is, much less understand the process whereby he reached it. This is why the great issue today—in our case, the development of trinitarian doctrine—was no issue at all while the development was going on. This would be true even apart from the energizing fact of the moment, the rise of historical consciousness and the blessed decline of "classicism."

Dogmatically, the transition was certified as valid by the authority of the Church as the authentic interpreter of the mind of the Scriptures. The certification falls both on the term of the transition—the Nicene dogma as a statement of revealed truth—and on the validity of the mode of the statement.

The theological question is much more difficult. It is not an issue of certainty but of intelligibility. And it is twofold. First, is there an intelligible relationship between the scriptural and the dogmatic modes of conception and utterance which would explain their homogeneity of sense? Second, is the historical process of movement from one to the other intelligible? Evidently, the second question is the more difficult. It raises the issue of the intelligibility of history—and indeed in its most complicated form, which concerns the history of thought.

It is obviously impossible in this paper to explore both of these questions or either of them. It may suffice briefly suggest some considerations relevant to each in turn.

Ontological Aspect of the Nicene Dogma

It was a providential dispensation that Christianity was born in the world of Hebraic culture and grew in the larger world of Hellenistic culture. The providential character of the definition is seen in the fact that in both of these cultures the mythical consciousness, characteristic of the primitive, had been transcended, at least in principle, through a differentiation of the mythical and the intellectual consciousness. The transcendence was, of course, effected in different ways.

In the Hellenic world the mythical consciousness was transcended by virtue of the metaphysical impulse, resultant in the Platonic insight, whereby man was admitted into the world of theory, distinct from the world of community; theory became the norm and measure of man's dramatico-practical life. Contributory also were the scientific impulse, of which Aristotle may here serve as the example, and the humanistic impulse, visible chiefly in the great Greek dramatists and historians. In the Hebraic world, on the other hand, the mythical consciousness was transcended by virtue of the prophetic word of God.6 The "speaking God" notified himself to the people as their Lord and Creator, he who is with the people, he who is the Holy One. In the conception of Yahweh anthropomorphisms and symbols abounded. There was, however, a true knowledge of God, a profound consciousness of the reality proclaimed in the text of Osee: "I am God and not man" (Os 11:9). There was, consequently, a fuller liberation from the mythical consciousness in religion than was achieved in any other ancient culture.

To be brief, implicit in the Old Testament understanding of the word of God was a certain dogmatic realism. That is, there was the consciousness that the word of God is true and therefore it notifies that which is: God is God and not man. This realism was dogmatic in the sense that it was unreflective, a matter of direct consciousness that went unanalyzed. God was simply believed to be God and not man, and that was an end of the matter. The realism in consequence was only implicit. It was not thematized by explicit distinction between the mythical and the intellectual consciousness. The latter was simply manifested in the act of faith itself.

To be even more brief, the same dogmatic realism was implicit in the New Testament word of God. Thence it carried over into the apostolic kerygma and didache; and thence further into what Origen identified as "the certain line and the manifest rule" of faith, which required that "the preaching of the Church must be adhered to, that which has been handed on (tradita) from the apostles through the order of succession and abides in the churches up to the present moment" (De principiis, praef., 1,2). Further witness to the realism in the preaching of the Church as in the word of God was, for instance, the exclusion of heretics from communion. Even more striking witness was the witness of the "white-clad army of martyrs" who died, not for myths or ideas or religious experience, but for their adhesion to reality for their faithful affirmation of truths endowed with ontological reference, for their love of him whom they believe to be Lord and Father, who had not spared him who is the Only-begotten but really sent him for man's redemption.

The conclusion here is that the Nicene dogma, under the aspect of its ontological reference, did not represent a leap, as it were, into an intellectual world alien to the Christian message—a leap from religious experience to ontology. The word of God itself, which becomes the apostolic kerygma and then the preaching of the Church, is a matter of true affirmations to which corresponds reality as it is—the reality of God and his saving counsel in man's regard. There is no more "ontology" in the Nicene dogma than there is in the word of God itself. In both there is the same dogmatic realism. It was always implicit in the word of God; it becomes explicit in the Nicene dogma. Therefore the word of the Church is homogeneous in its sense with the word of God. In the dogma there is no new sense, alien and heterogeneous to the sense of the word of God, accruing to the dogma by reason of the transition from the scriptural consideration of the "God who acts" to the dogmatic consideration of the "God who is" (or, in technical terms, from the prius quoad nos to the prius quoad se, from what is prior in the order of experience to what is prior in the order of being).

Movement From Didache to Dogma

There is no question that Hellenistic culture played a part in the formulation of the consubstantiality of the Son and Spirit. Had there been no Gnostics and Marcionites, no Sabellians, and especially no Arius and Eunomius, there would have been no need to draw up the "bishop's creed." And had it not been for Hellenistic culture, there would have been no Gnostics, Sabellians, Arians. Hellenistic culture, from which these errors derived, was simply the occasion and cause, under the providence of God, which enabled and obliged the Church to render explicit what had always been implicit in the word of God—its ontological aspect, its dogmatic realism.

The long process which led to the explicit realism of the Nicene dogma was dialectical. The whole of the "ante-Nicene problem" so called, consists in the exploration of this dialectic. It will have to suffice here to indicate simply the structure of the dialectic, under omission of citation from ante-Nicene authors which would illustrate its content.

The material principle was the objective set of contradictions, either explicit or implicit, evident in ante-Nicene thought (e.g., in Origen, between his firm adhesion to the affirmations of this rule of faith and the subordinationism in his trinitarian theology, owing to the influence of Middle Platonism). These contradictions were possible and inevitable because the realism of the word of God was merely dogmatic and implicit. It is quite possible for the dogmatic realist, precisely because his position is unreflective, to make true affirmations—in the case, the affirmations contained in the word of God—and then proceed so to explain his affirmations as to contradict their sense, without perceiving the contradiction (as Origen did not).

The dialectical process was the elimination of the contradictions, which required that they first be perceived and made explicit (in this respect, Arius performed the major service by his flat and altogether correct statement of the problem of the Son).

The formal principle of the dialectical process was the thinking subject—or more concretely and historically, the whole series of ante-Nicene thinkers who wrestled with the problem of the Son (now as then, no one man can be the bearer of the process of development of doctrine, which is normally dialectical).

The term of the dialectic was the Nicene dogma, a development of the doctrine in the word of God—the affirmation that the Son is Son (the affirmation long contained in the word of God and in the rule of faith) and the affirmation that the Son is Son because he is from the substance of the Father, consubstantial with the Father, begotten and not made (the development of the rule of faith). From the dogma all the previous contradictions were removed, chiefly Sabellianism and Subordinationism. It had been seen that they were contradictions, incompatible with the word of God which says of the Son all that it says of the Father, except for the name of Father.

This was the term of the dialectic when the process was conducted by intelligence under the light of faith. Another term, however, was possible, and in fact it was reached—the heresy of Arius and Eunomius, for whom the formal principle of the dialectic was human reason alone and for whom therefore its term was the evacuation of the mystery announced in the word of God. It only remains to say that none of the men engaged in the dialectic understood the dialectic in which they were engaged. This, as has been said, is in the nature of an intellectual movement. Its intelligibility, as a movement, is hidden from its participants. But when the Holy Spirit is present in a movement men build better than they know.

A final remark is necessary. It must remain only a remark, since it really begins a whole new subject. Nicaea contains no philosophy and it canonizes no philosophy—no metaphysics or epistemology. Nevertheless, it laid the foundations of a philosophy. It accomplished the definitive transcendence of the mythical consciousness in philosophy and religion. It carried Christian thought beyond a [naive]7 realism, in which imagination substitutes for intelligence, for which the final categories of understanding are space and time, and in which the real is, in the end, the experience of the real. It also carried Christian thought around, as it were, the sublimities of Platonic idealism, which does not heed the injunction made by the word of God and obeyed by the word of God itself: "Let what you say be simply 'yes' or 'no'" (Mt. 5:37). Nicaea made explicit the dogmatic realism implicit in the word of God. By so doing, it laid the foundation of the philosophical movement towards a critical realism, for which that is real which can be intelligently conceived and reasonably affirmed—in which therefore the axiom obtains, Ens per verum: I know what is when I affirm what is true.


(1)Editor Note: Originally published as 1966j: "The Status of the Nicene Creed as Dogma." Chicago Studies: An Archdiocesan Review 5 (Spri

(2)Editor Note: By Murray's count there were five conciliar texts leading to the final decree (Dignitatis humanae personae). The first two were on hand before Murray's arrival. The third and fourth followed his own line of argument. For a discussion of the texts and the final results, see Richard Regan, S.J., Conflict and Consensus: Religious Freedom and the Second Vatican Council (New York: Macmillan, 1967).

(3)N: Nicene Credit (325); NC: Nicene-Constantinople Creed (381).

(4)Editor Note: Throughout this argument Murray distinguishes between doctrine as judgment and theology as understanding. For a discussion of this distinction and its role in Murray's later thought, see the Introduction to Section III.

(5)Editor Note: As editor of Theological Studies Murray had published, in 1942, Lonergan's dissertation under the title "St. Thomas' Thought on Gratia Operans" (TS 3 (1942): 69-88, 375-402, 533-574. In 1958 Murray led a workshop at the annual Catholic Theological Society of America meeting in which he discussed the implications of Lonergan's Insight for an understanding of Trinitarian doctrine. The use of the procession of the inner word from the former and the distinction between naive and critical realism play throughout this article.

(6)Editor Note: In this closing discussion Murray appeals to scriptural texts for their sense of "dogmatic realism." In his 1964c, Problem of God (particularly chapter 1, "The Biblical Problem: The Presence of God,") Murray covered much the same ground, there, however, in terms of the existential awareness of God's action in history. The two approaches are compatible, though this present argument highlights cognitional stances rather than dramatic historical action.

(7)Editor Note: The Chicago Studies version of this text had the term "critical realism" here. I have substituted the term "naive" to match the contrasting use of "critical realism" in the last sentence of this paragraph. Murray is arguing a realism to biblical language that became critical, but still realism, with Hellenistic thought. This transition in his Trinitarian studies matches a transition from naive to critical realism that he called for in the "Introduction: The Civilization of the Pluralistic Society" of WHTT (pp. 5-6). Again we have a cognitional structure common to reasoning in civil society and in the realms of faith.