Four Creeds at a Glance
Why Did the Church Develop Creeds?
The word ‘creed’ comes from the Latin word ‘credo’, which means ‘I believe’. It is a public testimony of faith espousing articles which Christian adherents believe are essential to salvation.
Creeds became necessary to protect the Church from heresies about Jesus which developed in conjunction with the Church. The earliest and one of the most potent of these heresies was Gnosticism. Two others of major importance, both of which came later (sparking ecumenical Church Councils) were Arianism and Nestorianism.
The earliest universally accepted Christian creed is the Apostles Creed. It was formulated by Christian leaders in the first century of the faith, i.e., about the year 100 or before, and is still in use today. This creed protected true believers during the dark days of the catacombs the terrible persecutions which dogged Christians throughout the event that the Book of Revelation describes as the ‘first battle of the End’ (Rev19:1121).
The Apostle's Creed was followed in the year 325 by the Nicene Creed, which affirmed the doctrine of the Trinitarian nature of God. This creed was the product of the first ecumenical Christian Church Council at Nicea, the first general church council meeting held since the Jerusalem meeting attended by Peter, Paul and all of Christ's Apostles in 49 A.D.
These church councils could be held openly because Constantine, the Roman emperor had ended the persecutions by declaring Christianity legal in the empire. Constantine, himself attended the council meeting at Nicea.
The Apostle's Creed and the Nicene Creed are essentially alike. They teach one God; the incarnation of His Son, Jesus Christ, and both state the same gift of the Spirit. They describe the same precepts, the same consitution concerning the universal Christian Church, and look for the same Second Coming of Christ. Both proclaim the same salvation, both in soul and body.
The Nicene Creed was developed by a council representing all the churches, not only to combat the Arian heresies, but to bring every church of Christianity under the umbrella of one code of belief. Over the previous 300 years, many churches had began codifying and altering the Apostle's Creed into their own individual creeds.
The final form of the Nicene Creed came at the Council of Constantinople which added, “and I believe in the Holy Spirit” to the code in the year 381.
In the year 870 A.D., the creed was altered once again, this time by the Western church, to state that the Holy Spirit came from both God and Jesus Christ. The Eastern church did not accept this doctrine. They believe the Holy Spirit comes only from the Father. So they broke away from the Western Church, a schism which continues to this day.
An excellent posting on the Internet by James E. Kiefer from the CHRISTIA File Archives shows that the early Church creeds were drawn up as much to present an argument against contrary beliefs as to explain our own.
In the early days of Christianity many diverse beliefs flourished, especially Gnosticsm, which argued that knowledge of God could be gained by an intellectual pursuit, which, if well researched, allowed the believer access to a secret knowledge attainable only to an intellectual minority.
This elitist approach to God is still applicable today. We can see a very similar concept reborn in the teachings of L. Ron Hubbard's Church of Scientology which sells, in increments, $15,000 to $20,000 worth of secret tutorials to those able to buy in and pass the secret tests.
The Nicene Creed, formulated 300 years after the Apostle's Creed (i.e, about 400 A.D.), was designed, according to Mr. Kiefer, not just to affirm the Apostle's Creed, but further, to voice a defined affirmation in the diety of Jesus Christ. This creed was developed to counter the arguments of the Arians who felt that Jesus was under God, not equal to Him.
The Nicene Creed affirms that the Godhead is Triune, and that Jesus is a complete and full member of this Trinity.
Together, these two creeds sum up the core belief of 99% of Christians worldwide.
The Apostle's Creed:
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 into hell.
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 saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.
The Nicene Creed:
We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, both seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, one in Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made. For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven:
By the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man.
For our sake he was crucified unter Pontius Pilate; he suffered, died, and was buried.
On the third day he rose again in fulfillment of the Scriptures;
He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and Son he is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.
Chalcedonian Creed (451 AD). This creed was adopted at the Fourth Ecumenical Council, held at Chalcedon, located in what is now Turkey.
The Chalcedonian Creed (451 AD)
We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable [rational] soul and body; consubstantial [coessential] with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ; as the prophets from the beginning [have declared] concerning Him, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.
The Athanasian Creed
One of the symbols of the Faith approved by the Church and given a place in her liturgy, is a short, clear exposition of the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation, with a passing reference to several other dogmas. Unlike most of the other creeds, or symbols, it deals almost exclusively with these two fundamental truths, which it states and restates in terse and varied forms so as to bring out unmistakably the trinity of the Persons of God, and the twofold nature in the one Divine Person of Jesus Christ. At various points the author calls attention to the penalty incurred by those who refuse to accept any of the articles therein set down. The following is the Marquess of Bute's English translation of the text of the Creed:
We worship one God in trinity, and trinity in unity, neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance. For the person of the Father is one; of the Son, another; of the Holy Spirit, another. But the divinity of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit is one, the glory equal, the majesty equal. Such as is the Father, such also is the Son, and such the Holy Spirit.
The Father is uncreated, the Son is uncreated, the Holy Spirit is uncreated. The Father is infinite, the Son is infinite, the Holy Spirit is infinite. The Father is eternal, the Son is eternal, the Holy Spirit is eternal. And yet there are not three eternal Beings, but one eternal Being. So also there are not three uncreated Beings, nor three infinite Beings, but one uncreated and one infinite Being.
In like manner, the Father is omnipotent, the Son is omnipotent, and the Holy Spirit is omnipotent. And yet there are not three omnipotent Beings, but one omnipotent Being. Thus the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. And yet there are not three Gods, but one God only. The Father is Lord, the Son is Lord, and the Holy Spirit is Lord. And yet there are not three Lords, but one Lord only.
For as we are compelled by Christian truth to confess each person distinctively to be both God and Lord, we are prohibited by the Catholic religion to say that there are three Gods or Lords. The Father is made by none, nor created, nor begotten. The Son is from the Father alone, not made, not created, but begotten. The Holy Spirit is not created by the Father and the Son, nor begotten, but proceeds. Therefore, there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Spirit, not three Holy Spirits.
And in this Trinity there is nothing prior or posterior, nothing greater or less, but all three persons are coeternal and coequal to themselves. So that through all, as was said above, both unity in trinity and trinity in unity is to be adored. Whoever would be saved, let him thus think concerning the Trinity.
Read the Creed and a commentary on The Athanasian Creed in Full.
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