The Creeds of the Church

rabbulapentecost A wall painting of the Apostles' Creed from Wales, dating to the early modern era .

The Apostles' Creed

Medieval tradition held that the Apostles' Creed was composed by The Twelve on the Day of Pentecost--hence the name "Apostles' Creed." Though certain aspects of the creed may suggest late-first or early-second century origins, today it is generally agreed that a fourth-century date is most likely. The first reference to the Apostles' Creed comes in a letter from the Council of Milan in the year 390.  It is considered a baptismal creed since it is used in that rite and is one of the most basic statements of the Christian faith.   

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: He descended into hell; The third day he rose again from the dead: He ascended into heaven, And sitteth on 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, And the Life everlasting. Amen.

The Nicene Creed

The First Council of Nicea rejected the heresy of Arianism, which held that Christ is a creature, less than God the Father. The orthodox, led by St. Athanasius taught that Christ is ‘of one substance (homoousios) with the Father’ and ‘God of God, light of light, very God of very God’, ‘begotten not made’, to battle the views of the Arians. According to Athanasius, ‘there never was a was when the Son was not’. Or to put it another way, if the Father is eternal, the Son must be co-eternal with him, since a father is not a father without a son.

The debate at and after Nicaea revolved around the word homoousios, which does not occur in Scripture. The Arians used the word homoiousios, ‘of similar substance’, to define their belief. The creed of this Council forms the core of our Nicene Creed, but the full text that we now use was produced by the next Council (with the exception of one word, filioque, ‘and the Son’, added later), so scholars usually call the creed the Nicene-­Constantinopolitan Creed.

I believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, And of all things visible and invisible:

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God; Begotten of his Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of very God; Begotten, not made; Being of one substance with the Father; By whom all things were made: Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, And was made man: And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried: And the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures: And ascended into heaven, And sitteth on the right hand of the Father: And he shall come again, with glory, to judge both the quick and the dead; Whose kingdom shall have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Ghost, The Lord, and Giver of Life, Who proceedeth from the Father and the Son; Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; Who spake by the Prophets: And I believe one Catholic and Apostolic Church: I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins: And I look for the Resurrection of the dead: And the Life of the world to come. Amen.

The Athanasian Creed

The Athanasian Creed is one of the three great Creeds of the Church, and as such is printed in most editions of the Prayer Book, though not in the American Prayer Books.  The omission of the Athanasian Creed from the American book may have had something to do with the influence of anti-Trinitarian Deism in the 18th century and probably even more to do with an uneasiness concerning its so-called ‘damnatory clauses’.  However, as the preface to the American Prayer Book asserts an identity of doctrine with the Church of England, which does use the Athanasian Creed, there was never any question of a formal rejection of the Athanasian Creed.  As for the damnatory clauses, they may be understood as directed mainly against traitors to the faith or apostates (those who fail to keep the faith), rather than as a condemnation of those who have never had the opportunity to embrace or hear the gospel. In any case, the status of the Athanasian Creed is acknowledged by the Affirmation of Saint Louis and by the Constitution and Canons of the Anglican Catholic Church.

Icon of AthanasiusA 16th century icon of St. Athanasius, supposed author of the Athanasian Creed.

As the Apostles’ Creed was not in fact authored by the Apostles, and the Nicene Creed as it now stands was actually the product of the Council of Constantinople, not the Council of Nicaea, so too the Athanasian Creed was not authored by Saint Athanasius.  In each case, however, the creed in question does present the faith of the nominal author, so the traditional titles are fitting if somewhat historically inexact.  In the Athanasian Creed the divinity of Christ, and his oneness of substance with the Father, as taught by Athanasius, are clearly asserted.

The Athanasian Creed in fact probably dates to the late-fifth century.  Although this creed has dogmatic authority as well as a place in the liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church, and is respected in the Eastern Church, its place in the Anglican Church is uniquely high.  This unique position comes from the fact that the English and most other Prayer Books direct that the Athanasian Creed be recited publicly in Morning Prayer on a dozen or so great feasts.  Since Morning Prayer in turn was often the chief popular service on most of those feasts, Anglican laymen said or sang this creed with unparalleled frequency.  In contrast in the Roman Church the Athanasian Creed was generally only recited occasionally in Latin by clergy or religious in one of the daily Offices, and so was not widely known by laymen.

The Athanasian Creed is also called the Quicunque vult, from the first words of its Latin translation.  The Prayer Book translation of the text is printed as a canticle or hymn in the Prayer Books.

Whosoever will be saved before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith.Which Faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.  And the Catholic Faith is this; 

That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Person nor dividing the Substance.  For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost.

But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one: the glory equal, the majesty co-eternal.  Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost.  The Father uncreate, the Son uncreate, and the Holy Ghost uncreate.

The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible.  The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Ghost eternal.  And yet they are not three eternals,  but one eternal.

As also there are not three incomprehensibles, nor three uncreated, but one uncreated, and one incomprehensible.  So likewise the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, and the Holy Ghost almighty.  And yet they are not three almighties, * but one almighty.

So the Father is God, and Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God.  And yet they are not three God, but one God.

So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Ghost Lord.  And yet not three Lord, but one Lord.

For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every Person by himself to be God and Lord;  So are we forbidden by the Catholic Religion to say, There be three Gods, or three Lords.

The Father is made of none: neither created, nor begotten.  The Son is of the Father alone: neither created, but begotten.  The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son: neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.

So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts.  And in this Trinity none is afore, or after other: none is greater, or less than another;  But the whole three Persons are co-eternal together and co-equal.

So that in all things, as is aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped.  He therefore that will be saved must think of the Trinity.

Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe rightly the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.  For the right Faith is, that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man; God, of the Substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds: and Man, of the substance of his Mother, born in the world; Perfect God, and perfect Man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting; Equal to the Father, as touching his Godhead, and inferior to the Father, as touching his Manhood.

Who although he be God and Man, yet he is not two, but one Christ; One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking of the Manhood into God; One altogether; not by confusion of Substance, but by unity of Person. 

For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and Man is one Christ; Who suffered for our salvation, descended into hell, rose again the third day from the dead.  He ascended into heaven, he sitteth on the right hand of the Father, God almighty: from whence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. 

At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies, and shall give account for their own works.  And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting, and they that have done evil into everlasting fire.

This is the Catholic Faith, which except a man believe faithfully, he cannot be saved.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.  As it was in the beginning, is now and every shall be, world without end.  Amen.