The Problem of Nicene Authority

In a book titled "The Problem of God," Roman Catholic theologian John Murray presents a positive take on the council of Nicea and the changing mode of conducting Theology.  While I would not agree with his optimism about this changing mode, I do think he makes some good observations.  The issues at the council were more complex than what they are often made to seem.  Not only did those categorized as Arians disagree with the language of the Nicene Creed but there was also a continuing conservative party who thought the language of the Creed was inappropriate.  How can new, defining, language for God be made mandatory for all Christians if it is not given by God in the prophetic Scriptures? John Murray notes that the Nicene Dogma was not new, because it had the "sense" that was in Holy Scripture; but on the other hand he says the Nicene Dogma was new, in that it "stated the sense of the Scriptures in a new mode of understanding that was not formally scriptural."  He goes on to say, "The transition was from a mode of understanding that is descriptive, relational, interpersonal, and historical-existential to a mode of understanding that is definitive, explanatory, absolute, and ontological."  But this is too big a step for man to take on his own authority.  And this change leads men away from the more humbling, essential issue of personal loyalty to Jesus who spoke nothing except what the Father gave Him to say.  Murray describes a change in mode of expression at Nicea which runs along side the change in using the "pistos" (faith or loyalty) from faith or loyalty to a person to faith as assent to propositions in a creed, or worse.  Notice the Nicene Creed provides the basis for an enforced "belief" in the "church".  Here the definitions of both "belief" and "church" are slippery and are brought together to teach a consolidated authority among men that was not granted, nor taught, by Jesus.  Disciples of Jesus have amazing authority, but it is Gospel authority, based in the strength of the faithful proclamation of our Lord Jesus and His authoritative word.

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