Apostles’ Creed

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The Apostles receiving the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and writing the Creed.
Arrangement of a full-page miniature at the beginning of
the treatise “Les douze articles de la foi” (“The Twelve Articles of Faith”) c 1295 (f. 10v),
in the work La Somme le roi, compiled in 1279 by the Dominican friar Laurent
for the King of France Philippe III (reign 1270–1285).
British Library—Digitized Manuscripts.

Historical Creeds

The Apostles’ Creed

the Creed: a statement of belief [for the Christian Church]. (1)

“A sign of recognition among Catholic Christians in distinction from unbelievers and heretics.” (2)

During the ’80s in Quebec, believers converted from the Roman Catholic Church and joined evangelical churches. At that time, the reflex was to totally reject all the religious heritage received, without any discernment. The baby was thrown with the bath water, as we say. I did that. And the Apostles’ Creed was a part of that rejected legacy.

For the past ten years, the evangelical world seems to have found an interest for that heritage. For example, in 2015, Matt Chandler at The Village Church (Flower Mound, Texas) did a preaching series on the Apostles’ Creed—Together We Believe. In 2018, Michael F. Bird recorded a video series—What Christians Ought to Believe—for Zondervan publishing house.

As for me, when I began my blog in 2016, I think that it was Matt Chandler’s series that prompted my interest to have a section on creeds.

So what can we say about the Apostles’ Creed? …

 


 

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth;

And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord;
who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary;
suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried, and descended into hell;
the third day he rose again from the dead;
ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Ghost;
the holy Catholic* church, the communion of saints;
the forgiveness of sins;
the resurrection of the body;
the life everlasting.

* The word “Catholic” here should be understood as meaning “universal”.

The Legend

Until the mid 17th century, people currently believed, in the Roman Catholic Church as well as in Protestant churches, that the apostles wrote that creed themselves “in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, or before their separation, to secure unity of teaching, each contributing an article (hence the somewhat arbitrary division into twelve articles)”. (3)

The first traces of that legend are found in a work written by Rufinus of Aquilea, at the end of the fourth century. The assignment of the articles to the twelve apostles was made later. (4)

Through the centuries, many theologians, like Calvin, refuted that legend rather convincingly. Indeed:

1. Such a mechanical process is, by nature, highly improbable;
2. The Scriptures are silent about it;
3. The apostolic fathers, as well as the ante-Nicene and the Nicene fathers, are silent as well;
4. The creeds of the ante-Nicene churches took many forms, as well as the Apostles’ Creed itself until the eighth century;
5. The Apostles’ Creed was never really used in the Greek Orthodox Church. (5)

The History

Between the second and the fourth century, churches from different cities developed a summary of Christian doctrine. Those summaries, more or less elaborate, were used to instruct the new believers and were recited in public during baptism. According to Schaff & Schaff, Peter’s confession in Matthew 16:16 (“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God”) formed the heart of the primitive creed (that is, the emphasis on the person of Jesus) and the baptismal formula in Matthew 28:19 (“in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit”) gave it its Trinitarian structure. (6)

In the end, the different versions fused into the one of the city of Rome, and the Roman Symbol “became and remains to this day the fundamental creed of the Latin Church.” (7) Between the sixth and the eighth century, some additions were made until it had the form that we know today. (8)

Schaff compare the twelve articles of the Old Roman Version and of the Final Form Received as follows: (9)

Old Roman Version

1. I believe in God the Father Almighty.

2. And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord;

3. Who was born by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary;

4. Was crucified under Pontius Pilate and was buried;

5. The third day he rose from the dead;

6. He ascended into heaven; and sat on the right hand of the Father;

7. From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

8. And in the Holy Ghost;

9. The Holy Church;

10. The forgiveness of sins;

11. The resurrection of the body (flesh).

Final Form Received

1. I believe in God the Father Almighty [Maker of heaven and earth].

2. And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord;

3. Who was [conceived] by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary;

4. [Suffered] under Pontius Pilate, was crucified [dead], and buried [He descended into Hell (Hades)];

5. The third day he rose from the dead;

6. He ascended into heaven; and sat on the right hand of [God] the Father [Almighty];

7. From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

8. [I believe] in the Holy Ghost;

9. The Holy [Catholic] Church [The communion of saints];

10. The forgiveness of sins;

11. The resurrection of the body (flesh);

12. [And the life everlasting].

 

Its Value

The value given to that text varies greatly.

For some, it is inspired, on a par with biblical Scriptures, and it is recited daily as a prayer. Others simply ignore it.

Schaff, that I have quoted quite often so far, said of it:

“It is by far the best popular summary of the Christian faith ever made within so brief a space. […] It is not a logical statement of abstract doctrines, but a profession of living facts and saving truths. It is a liturgical poem and an act of worship. […]
“At the same time, it must be admitted that the very simplicity and brevity of this Creed, which so admirably adapt it for all classes of Christians and for public worship, make it insufficient as a regulator of public doctrine for a more advanced stage of theological knowledge.” (10)

I tend to agree with the first part of his evaluation. Indeed, it’s an excellent summary of the Christian faith.

I must say that the second part made me react inwardly at first. Insufficient … for a more advanced stage… Why would such a summary be insufficient for all Christians? That “advanced stage of theological knowledge” that we add to the creed, isn’t it what splits and divides Christianity?

But after some reflection, I must admit that indeed, that creed is not exhaustive. As for me, I’ve been reading a lot lately on the canon of Scriptures, their authority, and their inspiration. I could also mention God’s sovereignty, man’s free will, election and predestination… All those subjects escape the explicit frame traced by the creed, yet they have an impact on how a Christian directs his daily walk.

Minimalism is trendy nowadays. I aspire to a minimalist theology, a theology that uses “the fewest elements necessary”, if I may adapt a definition from the dictionary (11). I think that the Apostles’ Creed gives us those few elements necessary to define Christian faith. That’s why I will use it to launch at least two series of articles in this section: on the one hand, the historical creeds, or how creeds have evolved through centuries, and on the other hand, my personal creed, or at least an attempt to a theological reconstruction (after a few years of deconstruction).

I do hope that all of those articles will prompt constructive discussions that will help me to better know and better love the Lord Jesus Christ, in whom “lie hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (12), and through whom “unfailing love and faithfulness came”. (13)

Sincerely in Jesus,

 

The Bellicose Monk

_______________
All Bible excerpts are from The Holy Bible: New Living Translation (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2013).

(1) Antidote 10 v4.1 for macOS, Druide informatique inc., July 2020.
(2) Philip Schaff et David Schley Schaff, History of the Christian church, vol. 2 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1910), p. 529.
(3) Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, with a History and Critical Notes: The History of Creeds, vol. 1 (New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, 1878), p. 22.
(4) Ibidem.
(5) Ibidem, p. 23.
(6) Schaff & Schaff, History, p. 529.
(7) Ibidem, p. 530.
(8) Schaff, Creeds, p. 19.
(9) Ibidem, pp. 21–22.
(10) Ibidem, pp. 15–16.
(11) “minimalism”, Antidote, op. cit.
(12) The Letter from the apostle Paul to the Colossians, chapter 2, verse 3.
(13) The Gospel according to the apostle John, chapter 1, verse 17.

 

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