Creed

In Brief

Having just named the “holy Roman catholic and apostolic church“ as one of his two overbearing masters, Stephen thinks of the source of these "proud potent titles" in the Nicene Creed of 325 AD: “et unam sanctam catholicam et apostolicam ecclesiam,” one holy catholic and apostolic church.

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Creeds are formal statements of religious faith, beginning with the word Credo, "I believe." They were designed to distinguish orthodoxy (correct belief) from heresy (false teaching). As Stephen acknowledges when he thinks of "the slow growth and change of rite and dogma," orthodox doctrine develops gradually over the course of time, choosing between competing visions of the truth. This was especially true in the first few centuries of the Christian tradition.

One particular kind of “growth and change” lay behind the Nicene Creed; it was formulated to counter the teachings of Arius, by articulating a particular conception of the relation between Father and Son. The creed's proud potent titles soon send Stephen’s thoughts into a triumphal fantasy of the archangel Michael casting out a flock of heretics, Arius among them. He associates the evolution of orthodoxy in Church teaching with the artistic development of his own intensely serious and “rare thoughts,” and links Mulligan’s unserious mockery with heresy. Stephen thinks particularly of heretical offenses against the Nicene Creed's account of Father and Son. His reasons for doing so become clear in Scylla and Charybdis, where he articulates an aesthetic theory built on the idea of Father-Son unity.

This strong imaginative identification with the Catholic Church may seem strange, since Stephen has just identified that church as an overbearing master that he wants to throw off. But he has his own, purely artistic reasons for the loyalty. Ellmann says of Joyce in his young adult years, "Christianity had subtly evolved in his mind from a religion into a system of metaphors, which as metaphors could claim his fierce allegiance. His brother Stanislaus's outward rebellion, which took the form of rudeness to his masters at Belvedere and defiance at home—his atheism worn like a crusader's cross—did not enlist James's sympathy. He preferred disdain to combat. He was no longer a Christian himself; but he converted the temple to new uses instead of trying to knock it down, regading it as a superior kind of human folly" (66).

J. S. Bach’s musical setting of the Nicene Creed in the Mass in B minor can be heard in the clip at right.

JH 2011
Orthodox icon depicting the first Council of Nicaea holding the document they have composed. Source: Wikimedia Commons.