Being Christian: The Creeds (Part 1)

“You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul; and you shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. And you shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. And you shall write them upon the doorposts of your house and upon your gates, that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers to give them, as long as the heavens are above the earth. For if you will be careful to do all this commandment which I command you to do, loving the Lord your God, walking in all his ways, and cleaving to him, then the Lord will drive out all these nations before you, and you will dispossess nations greater and mightier than yourselves.

Deuteronomy 11:18-23 (RSV)

A creed is a statement of faith. The root of the word is actually Latin, credo, which literally means “I believe” and forms the very opening of the Apostles’ Creed in that language. The purpose of the creeds in the Catholic faith are to declare and safeguard the fundamental truths of the Apostolic witness that forms our entire faith for all generations of the Church.

We state the Creed in public among members of the church when we are Baptised (or if we are babies when this happens, our sponsors do it on our behalf and we reaffirm in personally at Confirmation) and we state it during the Mass. When we do it at Mass it is a reminder of the vow and commitment we made at Baptism to the essential elements of the Christian faith. It is a statement of things we believe (we state they happened despite never seeing these things ourselves) that is required to be part of the Church which is founded upon the very witness and testimony of those essential elements.

Credo is Latin for “I believe” which opens the words of the Apostle’s Creed.

It might be better understood in this context.

All genuine Catholics (whether Roman, Anglican, Orthodox, etc) profess an apostolic faith. That is, a faith which is based upon the real and historic eyewitness account and testimony of the followers of Jesus Christ– the Apostles. As well as their evangelisation of the Gospel which accounts the birth, ministry, life, death, resurrection and assumption to Heaven of Jesus Christ and professing of His coming again in time. Jesus and His Apostles proclaimed that these events were a fulfillment of the coming of the Messiah contained with the books of the Old Testament. Furthermore (and most importantly), the Christian church, through the Apostles, received the New Covenant that was established by Christ on behalf of the entire human race from God. This is what makes the church founded by Christ and professed by the Apostles on earth truly catholic, because she as Christ’s bridegroom possesses the New Covenant which is justified through the eyewitness account and testimony of the Apostles which forms a key part of the Deposit of Faith handed down through Scripture and Tradition. And this New Covenant is with all mankind, not just Christians or Jews or any one part of the world. This is the essence of Catholicism, our universality.

The distilling or articling of these events into a statement of faith is what forms the creeds that we have today in the Catholic church. Those creeds being the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed. By the second century the Church had established rules of faith which formed the early nexus of what would become our Creeds. As various heresies required the establishment of doctrine and as fundamental aspects of the faith were defined, the official texts of the Creeds came out of consensus among Bishops who assumed roles of the Apostles via Apostolic Succession. The most popular of these statements within the Western church became the Apostles’ Creed which became a core part of the Roman and Anglican Rite of Baptism and part of the weekly liturgy in the post-Vatican II Roman Missal.

The Three Creeds, Nicene Creed, Athanasius’s Creed, and that which is commonly called the Apostles’ Creed, ought thoroughly to be received and believed: for they may be proved by most certain warrants of holy Scripture.

Thirty-Nine Articles of Faith, Article 8

The Apostles’ Creed is a declaration, an oath and a teaching instrument all in one statement. Broken into three articles which each represent God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, nothing about the Creed is accidental or without profound reason and purpose. And although the Creed does not come directly from Scripture, there is no doubt that every part of it is rooted in the Gospel and foretelling of the Messiah in both the New and Old Testament. This is affirmed in the eighth article of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Faith which are dear to all Anglicans but in no way contradict anything within the true Holy, Catholic and Apostolic faith (as I am sure we will explore more in depth within this series).

For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” said also, “Do not kill.” If you do not commit adultery but do kill, you have become a transgressor of the law.

James 2: 10-11 (RSV)

Because the creeds represent the fundamental truths of our faith it should go without saying that a departure from any article of the creed is a departure from the catholic and thus the true Christian faith. We violate the vows and commitment we made before God and the Church at Baptism and affirm each Sunday together when we depart from the tenant of the Creeds in any way. Fundamental to all of this is the belief in the eyewitness account and testimony of the Apostles of the life and mission of Jesus Christ and the fulfillment of Scripture that the events of His life handed down within the Gospels achieve. This is the essence of being Christian.

In the next few articles we are going to review each of the three articles of the Apostles’ Creed in detail and explore their meaning and purpose.

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of the saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

Apostles’ Creed, ICET on English Texts Translation

Cover photo by Ben White on Unsplash.

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