word Creed derives from the Latin Credo which means ‘I
believe’. There are credal statements in the Bible (eg.
Deut 6.4, Acts 8:37, Rom 1: 3-4, 1 Cor 15: 3-4, Php 2: 6-11, 1
Cor 8: 6, Matt 28:19).
The Apostles Creed is
the creed most widely used in Christian worship in the western
Throughout the Middle
Ages it was generally believed that this creed was composed by
the Apostles on the day of Pentecost and that each of them contributed
one of the twelve sections. This appears to be a legend dating
back to somewhere between the 4th and 6th Centuries. However it
still has good reason to be called the Apostles Creed because
its content is in agreement with apostolic teaching. The earliest
evidence for its present form is St Pirminius in the early 8th
Century although it appears to be related to a shorter Roman Creed
which had itself derived from other earlier and simpler texts
such as the ‘rule of faith’ or the ‘tradition’
which were based on the Lord’s baptismal command in Matthew
28:19. The Creed was widely used by Charlemagne (the first Holy
Roman Emperor) and was eventually accepted at Rome where the old
Roman Creed or similar forms had survived for centuries.
The Creed seems to
have had three uses, first as a confession of faith for those
about to be baptised, secondly as a catechism (an instruction
for new Christians in the essentials of the faith), and thirdly,
as a ‘rule of faith’ to give continuity to orthodox
Christian doctrine. In the west by the early Middle Ages it was
widely employed at baptism. The BCP uses it at baptism and daily
Morning Prayer and Evensong except on the 13 days of the year
when the Athanasian Creed is to be used instead.
The Creed is Trinitarian in form but the heart of the creed is
its confession concerning Jesus Christ and the events to do with
his conception, birth, suffering, death, resurrection, ascension
and coming judgement.
The Nicene Creed
It is known for certain that the Nicene Creed was adopted by the
Council of Calcedon in 451AD which claimed it was the faith of
the Council of Constantinople of 381AD. Its origin however goes
back to the Council of Nicea (in modern day Turkey) called in
325AD by the Emperor Constantine to address the Arian controversy.
Eusebius submitted a Creed from his own Diocese, Caesarea, and
this appears to have formed the basis of the creed propagated
at Nicaea although there were other older creeds that could have
been considered. The Creed affirmed the unity of God, insisted
that Christ was begotten from the Father before all time, and
declared that Christ is of the same essence (homoousios)
as the Father. It had only a single brief clause on the Holy Spirit.
In its present form it appears to have been used by Cyril in Jerusalem
and is also mentioned by Epiphanius of Salamis around 373AD.
The original Greek texts
do not have the filioque clause 'begotten of the Father and
the Son' which was a later addition to Latin translations
and has contributed to the division between East and West.
The Athanasian Creed (also known as the Quicunque Vult
- the first two words of the Latin) is named after the famous
Bishop of Alexandria (296-373) who courageously defended orthodox
Christianity from Arianism.
There is no evidence
that Athanasius wrote the creed and since the 17th Century work
of G J Voss it has been accepted that the evidence points against
his authorship. The original versions of the Creed appear to have
been latin whereas Athanasius wrote in Greek. In addition some
of the theological issues apparently addressed came to the fore
after the time of Athanasius - for example Nestorianism and Eutychianism
both of which concern the humanity of Christ.
The first evidence for
the Creed appears to be a sermon of St Caeserius of Arles and
it is similar to a relatively recently discovered manuscrpt of
St Vincent of Lérins prompting the theory that it was composed
in Southern Gaul. There is also evidence that its primary liturgical
use was as a hymn.
The Creed contains a
clear and detailed statement of the Trinity (eg. 'The Father is
God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God; and yet there
are not three Gods but one God.’ It also upholds the full
Deity and humanity of Christ, his death for sins, resurrection,
ascension, second coming and final judgement.
The Book of Common Prayer requires
that it be read on thirteen designated occasions during the year.
(Content from an article in Cross†Way
see The Creeds page, for the relevence of Creeds today)