What We Believe—The Creeds

The word 'Creed' is derived from the Latin word credo, meaning 'I believe'. The Creeds therefore, are summaries of belief. Particularly in the first few hundred years after the death of Christ, the church faced the problem of differing views over such subjects as whether he was truly God and also whether he had both a human or divine nature. Out of these disputes the church formulated statements of belief, which to this day form an important part of how Christians express their faith. 

The Apostles’ Creed is probably the earliest of the main creeds used in Christianity today. The name derives from the legend that the twelve apostles of Christ contributed to it, though the earliest form dates from c. 215 A.D.. The creed gives a clear summary of Christian belief and formed the basis for later creeds.  It was probably written to combat the teachings of Marcion, a second century Roman theologian, who drew a distinction between the Old Testament God, Yahweh, and the God that Jesus professes.  The Apostles’ Creed makes clear that the God of Creation, Jesus Himself and, by extension, Jesus’ Heavenly Father, are one God.

The Nicene Creed is the most common creed used in Christianity. Later revised at the council of Constantinople in 381 A.D., the creed was originally formulated in 325 A.D. at the Council of Nicea. At the time the church was struggling with the Arian heresy, which denied that Christ was truly God, but rather that he was a created being. The creed was formulated to repudiate Arianism and clearly states that Christ is eternal and part of the trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

A third primary creed is the Athanasian Creed.  While attributed to Athanasius, a fourth century theologian, it was likely composed much later, first showing up in the annals of history in 633 A.D..  Although he did not write it, Athanasius’ theology clearly influenced the creed’s formulation.  The Athanasian Creed makes clear that God is a triune God, and that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are considered uncreated, co-eternal and of the same substance.  It also clarifies that Jesus was at the same time fully God and fully human.

Like the Kyrie and Hymn of Praise that we discussed earlier, the usage of the creeds follows a distinctive pattern.  The Apostle’s Creed, the creed most closely associated with baptism, is usually chosen for Lent, as the season of baptismal renewal and preparation, and for all Sundays in the Time after Epiphany and the Time after Pentecost, the so-called “Ordinary Time.”  The Nicene Creed is usually chosen for festival days and during the seasons of Advent, Christmas, and Easter.  Because of its length and unwieldy nature, the Athanasian Creed is rarely used in worship.  At most, it is professed on Trinity Sunday when the triune nature of God is emphasized. 

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