The Original Nicene Creed ( A.D. 325) is opposed to Athanasian Creed in number of ways.
The Athanasian Creed reads:
We worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither
confounding the persons nor dividing the substance. For there is one
person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy
So far, so good. This is definitely the Trinity of Nicea. However, it then continues:
So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God; and
yet there are not three Gods, but one God. So likewise the Father is
Lord, the Son is Lord, and the Holy Spirit Lord; and yet there are not
three Lords but one Lord.
Perhaps you can tell the difference between that wording—for which no Scripture can be found—and this from the Nicene Creed, almost directly quoted from 1 Corinthians 8:6:
We believe in one God, the Father … and in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the
Son of God …
1 Corinthians 8:6 and the Nicene Creed say that the one God is the Father. They also say that Jesus Christ is the one Lord.
The Athanasian Creed, on the other hand, says all three persons of the Godhead are the one God and all three are the one Lord. This is the "mystery" of the modern view, but the modern view did not exist until the 4th century! In its place, the early churches—and, according to them, the apostles as well—had a clear explanation of the Trinity. It is true that the explanation is difficult, but it is clear.
The Nicene Creed reads, "We believe in one God, the Father … and in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten of the Father."
To the early Church, the one God was the Father. Since the time of the Athanasian Creed, not long after Nicea, the one God is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
This is more about terminology than it is about the actual substance of our faith in the Trinity of God. The early Church believed that there was one divine essence, and the Son and the Holy Spirit were both of that one divine essence. Thus the one God, and his divine essence, includes the Son and Holy Spirit.
However, their terminology (and Biblical terminology) is that the one God is the Father. This is the reason that Paul writes, "For us there is but one God, the Father … and one Lord, Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 8:6). It is also the reason that when Jesus prayed, he prayed, "This is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent" (John 17:3).
The reason we give for not using this terminology in modern Christianity is that the Son is regularly called God in the Scriptures (e.g., John 1:1; Tit. 2:13; there are many others). If the Son is called God, and that repeatedly, how can the Father be called the one God, both in Scripture and in the Nicene Creed?
Fortunately, Tertullian did not leave us without an explanation on this matter. He addressed it directly:
I shall follow the apostle [Paul], so that if the Father and the Son are alike to be invoked, I shall call the Father "God" and invoke Jesus Christ as "Lord."
But when Christ alone [is invoked], I shall be able to call him "God."
As the same apostle says, "Of whom is Christ, who is over all, God
blessed forever" [Rom. 9:5].
For I should give the name of "sun" even to a sunbeam, considered
by itself. But if I were mentioning the sun from which the ray
emanates, I would certainly withdraw the name of sun from the mere
beam. For although I do not make two suns, still I shall reckon both
the sun and its ray to be as much two things—and two forms of one
undivided substance—as God and his Word, as the Father and the Son.
(Against Marcion 2:13).
When the Son is mentioned alone, Tertullian says, we can call him God because he is of the substance of the Father. When mentioned together, the Father is to be called God, and the Son is to be referred to as Lord.
This not only answers the question of why the Father is called the one God in Scripture, it also shows that the idea of homoousios was not new at the Council of Nicea. It was in common use even in the 2nd century (or, in Tertullian's case, the early 3rd century).
Are God and the Word Equal?
Jesus said in John 14:28, "The Father is greater than I."
Here we find another difference between the Nicene Trinity and the modern view. We modern Christians understand Jesus to be referring to himself only during his time on earth. He was living in a body as a man and submitted to the Father. It is for this reason only that the Father was greater than he.
Before and after his time on earth, however, we believe he was in all ways equal to the Father.
The Athanasian Creed agrees, asserting, "In this Trinity none is before or after another, none is greater or less than another… . the right faith is that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is … equal to the Father as touching his divinity, and inferior to the Father as touching his manhood."
The Council of Nicea, however, would not agree.
Up to and including the Council of Nicea, the church believed that God was inherently greater than his Word. The Father is greater than the Son, and that's an eternal thing. God is always going to be greater than his Word, which is just part of God.
The Father is the entire substance, but the Son is a derivation and
portion of the whole, as he himself acknowledges: "My Father is
greater than I" [John 14:28] ... Thus the Father is distinct from the
Son, being greater than the Son, inasmuch as he who begets is one, and
he who is begotten is another." (ibid. 9)
This is a delicate issue to broach, so let's not leave it to Tertullian alone.
A.D. 150: We reasonably worship him, having learned that he is the Son
of the true God himself, and holding him in the second place, and the
prophetic Spirit in the third. (Justin Martyr, First Apology 13)
A.D. 185: For if anyone should ask the reason why the Father, who has
fellowship with the Son in all things, has been declared by the Lord
alone to know the hour and the day, he will find at present no more
suitable, becoming, or safe reason than this: … For "the Father," says
he, "is greater than I." (Irenaeus, Against Heresies II:28:8)
A.D. 225: Grant that there may be some individuals among the multitude
of believers who are not in entire agreement with us and who
incautiously assert that the Savior is the Most High God. However, we
do not hold with them but rather believe him when he says, "The Father
who sent me is greater than I." We would not make him whom we call
Father inferior—as Celsus accuses us of doing—to the Son of God.
(Origen, Against Celsus VIII:14)
A.D. 250: Who does not acknowledge that the person of the Son is
second after the Father … when he finds it written: "Because he who
sends me is greater than I"? (A Treatise of Novatian Concerning the
A.D. 300: For it was fitting that he who was greater than all things
after the Father should have the Father, who alone is greater than
himself, as his witness. (Methodius, The Banquet of the Ten Virgins:
Discourse VII: Procilla ch. 1)
A.D. 320: The apostolic church believes in one Father unbegotten … who
is unchangeable and immutable, who is always the same … and in one
Lord, Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God… . That he is equally
with the Father unchangeable and immutable, lacking in nothing, and
the perfect Son, and like to the Father, we have learned. In this
alone is he inferior to the Father, that he is not unbegotten … as the
Lord himself has taught us when he says, "My Father is greater than
I." (Alexander of Alexandria, Letter to Alexander, Bishop of the City
of Constantinople, par. 12)
It is clear from these quotes, and from the consistency we see in other the early Christian writings about the Trinity, that the idea that the Father is greater than the Son is an eternal idea, not temporary while he was on earth.
The idea is unfamiliar to us, but it is not that hard to grasp. The Father is the one God, and the Son is the Word of that one God, begotten by him in eternity past. The Word of God, being in some sense "part" of God, says that the Father is greater than he is.
Otherwise he is exactly like God, in that he is of the substance and essence of God, being his Logos.
In fact, even while quoting Jesus as saying that the Father is greater, Tertullian refers to the Son as equal to the Father. Immediately after quoting Prov. 8:22, he writes:
Thus does he make him equal to him; for by proceeding from himself he
became his first-begotten Son, because begotten before all things.
(Against Praxeas Chapter 7)
The Athanasian Creed does not reflect the Orthodox teaching of the Trinity.Clearly, the Orthodox who uses the Original Nicene Creed of 325 knows that the Father is not greater than the Son although not in nature but only in role and function. The Son and Spirit are equal to the Father in nature but subordinate in eternal relations.The Son begotten, the Spirit proceeds and the Father, the singular source [monarchy] of the two. This is like the teaching of functional subordination and ontological equality. Also, of immanent Trinity and economic Trinity combined with it.