I grew up in a church that frowned on creeds, so it was as a musician that I learned the Nicene Creed. And I learned it in the fractured, phrase by phrase way it appears in the great concert masses, with several minutes of music devoted to each segment.

I can still remember the first time I heard the creed sung as part of Bach's magnificent Mass in B-Minor. It was nearly 40 years ago at UCLA under the baton of Roger Wagner. The pain of Bach's descending line in the Crucifixus (He was crucified) nearly moved me to tears, and then I wept with joy at the giddy shock of the brilliantly ascending Et Resurrexit (And rose again).

Bach knew how to make theology sing. And the Nicene Creed still sings for me.

This issue of Christian History & Biography is about things eternal and things that change. At the Council of Nicaea the church affirmed the eternal equality of God the Son with God the Father. But at that same council, the church found itself coping with a brand new situation.

From the beginning, the church wanted to be in universal agreement on its teachings. The New Testament is, in part, the story of the church sorting out divisive issues.

But with the legalization of Christianity after Constantine's vision, the unity of the church took on political significance. Constantine expected the church to be a force for unity rather than division. Shortly after he issued the Edict of Milan (A.D. 313), which extended religious freedom to Christians, he became embroiled in a long and messy controversy between rival church factions in North Africa. When the Roman bishop failed to solve the problem, Constantine became angry and intervened.

By 325, when the Council of Nicaea met, the bishops had only had a dozen years in which to work ...

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