THE HOLY CREEDS: CONFESSIONS OF FAITH AND PRAISE
Listen, Israel: Yahweh our God is the one, the only Yahweh.
You must love Yahweh your God with all your heart, with all
your soul, with all your strength. Let the words I enjoin on you today stay
in your heart. You shall tell them to your children, and keep on telling them,
when you are sitting home, when you are out and about, when you are lying down
and when you are standing up...
Deuteronomy 6:4-7 (the opening of the Shema)
Holy, Holy, Holy is Yahweh Sabaoth. His glory fills
the whole earth.
Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God, the Almighty: who
was, and is and is to come.
Professions of faith have always been part of the liturgy of worship. Prior to the Advent of Christ the Shema, the ancient profession of faith for the Old Covenant Church of the Sinai Covenant (Deuteronomy 6:4-9; 11:13-21; Numbers 15:37-41), was the earliest know profession of faith for God's covenant people. It is still recited three times a day by faithful Jews in the morning, late afternoon, and before bedtime, serving both as a hymn of praise and as a witness of faith. The New Covenant Church also confesses before God and their fellow human beings belief in the wonders God has done for them, and the angels and saints in the heavenly Sanctuary sing a hymn of praise to the glory of Almighty God who is three times Holy and "who was and is and is to come" (Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8). It is significant that both the Shema and the angelic profession of God's holiness that were the precursors to the Christian creeds of belief in the Triune God name God three times. God is mentioned three times in the first line of the Old Testament text that is the opening of the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4), and the angelic presence that surrounds the throne of God in the heavenly Sanctuary cry out in their hymn of praise three times that God is holy (see Isaiah 6:3 and Revelation 4:8). From the very beginning of the covenant people of God, in their creed of faith and in the prophets' record of the angelic hymns, the mystery of the Trinity is present.
Although there are important differences between creeds and hymns, the two have much in common. The creed functions in the liturgy as a hymn of praise just as many of the Hebrew psalms praising the glorious deeds of Yahweh are also creedal statements (see Psalm 105 and 106, for example). In the words of St. Paul, we confess with our lips what we believe in our hearts:
PROFESSIONS OF FAITH IN THE EARLIEST YEARS OF THE CHURCH
Our English word "creed" comes from the Latin word 'credo'-"I believe." In Latin the words "believe" and "heart" are derived from the same root. When we profess a creed we are professing what we believe in our hearts. Our Creed was not originally composed for use in the Mass. In the earliest days of Christianity a profession of faith was necessary before being baptized. Originally the profession of faith was probably as simple as the profession made by the Ethiopian eunuch when he was baptized by Philip in Acts 8:36-37: Further along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, 'Look, here is some water; is there anything to prevent my being baptized? And Philip said, 'If you believe with all your heart, you may.' And he replied, 'I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.'
In the writings of the apostle Paul we can see the development of confessions of faith. Paul wrote professions of faith, the beginning of a creed, to the churches he founded because he needed to express the significance of the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity and His mission as the Redeemer-Messiah in God's plan for man's salvation. For St. Paul this was a beautiful mystery. For Paul it was not the mystery of God in his inaccessible greatness but the mystery of God's great love for us. St. Paul wrote that God's love for mankind was manifesting it in the death and resurrection of the Son and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Colossians 1:15-20 is believed by many Bible scholars to be an early profession of faith St. Paul taught the Church at Colossus in Greece: He is the image of the unseen God, the first-born of all creation, for in him were created all things in heaven and on earth: everything visible and everything invisible, thrones, ruling forces, sovereignties, powers-all things were created through him and for him. He exists before all things and in him all things hold together, and he is the Head of the Body, that is, the Church. He is the Beginning, the first-born from the dead, so that he should be supreme in every way; because God wanted all fullness to be found in him and through him to reconcile all things to him, everything in heaven and everything on earth, by making peace through his death on the cross.
As the Church grew, different communities developed their own creeds of faith, for example the confessions of faith written by Irenaeus of Lyon, the "Homily on the Passion" by Melito, Bishop of Sardis (2nd century – oldest surviving Easter homily), and the Athanasian Creed, written by the great St. Athanasius and recited in the Eastern Rite churches. One of our oldest fixed creeds is the Apostle's Creed, the creed of the Roman Church, which the 3rd century AD Fathers of the Church identified as having been "handed down to us by the Apostles themselves." Even though modern day scholars refute the claim that the "Apostle's Creed" was written by the Apostles, the truth is that scholars and historians can neither prove nor disprove that our oldest creed comes directly from them. There is evidence to support that a creed was written by the Apostles, or at least by St. Peter, in the profession of faith that Peter gave in his homily at the time of the Old Covenant feast of Pentecost when he was inspired by the Holy Spirit to proclaim what the Apostles had seen, and heard, and felt as eyewitnesses to the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.
St. Peter's proclamation in Acts 2:14-36, in Greek, kerygma, was in fact a profession of faith. Peter definitively outlined the beliefs that were to become the fundamentals of Christianity. Peter proclaimed to the crowd of Jews gathered around him that the "Day of the Lord" foretold by the prophets is at hand (Acts 2:14-20); it has been ushered in by "Jesus of Nazareth, a man sent by God" whose credentials were His words and works (Acts 2:22). Peter declared that this Jesus, according to the plan and foreknowledge of God, was crucified and killed by "men outside the law", but death could not hold him and God raised Him to life (Acts 2:23-24). Peter announced that Jesus fulfilled the vision of King David, who had predicted the resurrection of the Messiah (Acts 2:25-28), and then St. Peter concluded: For this reason the whole house of Israel can be certain that the Lord and Christ whom God has made is this Jesus whom you crucified (New Jerusalem Bible). Whether or not the Apostle's Creed we recite today is word for word what the Apostles professed, it undoubtedly carries in it the seeds of their original words.
By the 2nd century AD, in the time of St. Justin Martyr (circa 150AD), formalized professions of faith seem to have come into use in the catechism of the Church in the personal profession made in the Sacrament of Baptism. The variations are many, but the basic confession is the same. The person being baptized was asked standard questions to which he or she responded, "I believe." St. Hippolytus gives an example of this early 'interrogatory' form of the creed in his writings (c. 200 AD). St. Hippolytus compiled a sacramentary known in history as the Apostolic Tradition. In it he described liturgical practice in Rome at the beginning of the 3rd century AD and provided a detailed account of the rite of Christian Baptism. The profession of faith made by the candidate for baptism followed the interrogatory form.
By the 4th century AD a "declaratory" form of the creed similar to the one we use today was in commonly professed. Instead of "Do you believe?" declaratory creeds were framed as statements that used the first person: "I believe," or "We believe." Although we have fragments of declaratory creeds that go back to the 100's AD, by the 300's this form was in use everywhere in the catechetical system in preparation for the Sacrament of Baptism. Later the creeds found their way into the liturgical celebration and Eucharist.
THE NICENE CREED
In the 4th century AD a priest named Arius, an influential theologian in the church at Alexandria, Egypt, had been able to manipulate the Biblical text to suit his own theological agenda. He twisted Sacred Scripture to make God the Son less than God the Father, spreading the heresy that Jesus was a man who was later made divine but was not begotten by God as fully man and fully God. In an effort to state the Church's faith more precisely regarding the relationship of God the Father and God the Son, an Ecumenical Council of the Church was called to meet at the imperial palace at Nicaea in Bithynia (on the Black Sea). (2) This world-wide meeting of the Bishops of the Church is known as the Council of Nicaea. When the council was opened on the 20th of May in 325 AD, 250 bishops were present; before it held its last session this number had grown to 318 bishops who were the successors of the Apostles. Pope Sylvester was absent due to the infirmities of his advanced age, but he sent his representatives, and the first Christian Emperor of the Roman Empire, Constantine I, opened the session.
It was decided that it was not enough to condemn the heresy of Arius but that it was necessary to define the Church's position with reference to the controversy by means of a clear-cut statement of the Catholic faith in the Divinity of Christ. It was decided that the term Greek term homoousios, which means "of the same essence or substance" (Latin = consubstantialis) was the word needed to profess the essential unity of the Father and the Son.(1) After four weeks of deliberation the bishop delegates and the Pope's representatives, working with the leadership of St. Athanasius, had drawn up a creed. In 325 AD a document professing the creed of belief of the Universal (Catholic) Church was signed by all the bishops except for two. This creed has been known ever since as the Nicene Creed:
We believe in One God, the Father Almighty, Creator of all things visible and invisible; and in One Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten as the only-begotten of the Father, this is, from the essence (ousia) of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not created, consubstantial (homo-ousios) with the Father, through Whom all things were made, both in heaven and earth; Who for us men and for our salvation came down and was Incarnate, was made Man; Who suffered and rose again on the third day, ascended into heaven, and shall come again to judge the living and the dead; and in the Holy Spirit. But to those who say, 'There was a time when He was not, and before he was begotten He was not, and He came into existence out of what was not'; or who say, 'He is of a different nature and essence from the Father,' or 'the Son of God is created or capable of change,' let them be anathema.(3)
Although the Church had to convene a council to affirm the divinity of Jesus and his eternal unity with the Father, the council was not establishing a new doctrine. It was defending what it had always believed, experienced and taught from the time of the Apostles.
THE NICENE-CONSTANTINOPLE CREED
In 381AD the Bishops of the universal Council of Constantinople reaffirmed the theological pronouncements of the Council of Nicaea and reaffirmed the document of the Nicene Creed. However, they added to the content of the earlier creed to clarify the relationship of the Holy Spirit to the other Divine Persons of the Trinity and to declare that we confess our belief in ONE HOLY CATHOLIC AND APOLOSTIC CHURCH. With this clause the bishops declared that the Catholic Church shared the faith of the first Christian community and in that sense the faith professed by the Church is that of the Apostles. By attributing its contents to "The Twelve," acting under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Church clearly implied that wherever Christians recite the "Apostles Creed" or the "Nicene-Constantinople Creed," they profess the same faith as that of the ancient Church. From that time forward, only those two creeds were officially recognized by the Holy Catholic Church. The reformulated Nicene Creed from the Council of Constantinople is the creed that we recite today in the liturgy of the Mass. See a comparison between the Nicene Creed and the Nicene-Constantinople Creed at the end of this document.
THE CREED IN NEW COVENANT LITURGY
In the Mass the Creed is the link between what we have just heard in the readings of Sacred Scripture upon which the priest expounds in the homily- the Word of God Incarnate speaking to us through His priest-and to what comes next, Christ our Savior who will come to offer himself upon the altar in the liturgy of the Eucharist. We are invited to literally "stand up" for our faith and to profess what it is we truly believe as Jesus called us to do:
Our Profession of Faith in the presence of the witnesses who are the members of the congregation ensures that we have been obedient to Jesus' command that we openly declare our faith in Him, therefore, the public confession of what we believe as Catholic Christians is required in every Lord's Day Mass in the profession of Nicene-Constantinople Creed.(4) Our public declaration of belief in the presence of witnesses also protects us from the failure Jesus warned His disciples to avoid in the passages that followed the promises in Matthew 10:32 and Luke 12:8 and the terrible consequences of that failure that those who deny Christ will face when they stand before the judgment throne of God:
Our public profession should also keep us ever mindful of Jesus' promise in Revelation 3:5: Anyone who proves victorious will be dressed, like these, in white robes; I shall not blot that name out of the book of life, but acknowledge it in the presence of my Father and his angels. In our public profession we also answer the question Jesus asked His disciples in Luke 9:20-21: 'But you,' he said to them, 'who do you say I AM?' It is the same question He asks of each of us and to which we respond in reciting from the heart our profession of faith on every Day of the Lord in the liturgy of worship and praise.
Questions for Discussion
Question: List three reasons why you believe the profession of
faith in a formal creed is necessary.
Question: Does the Nicene Creed meet the needs of the Church
today? Do you think we need to rewrite the creed to be more reflective of
culture in the new millennium?
Possible Answer: Although the Apostles' Creed and Nicene-Constantinople Creed are the official creeds of the Catholic Church, the Church has composed creeds for the benefit of the faithful from the very earliest years of the New Covenant people of God. These ancient creeds include the Athanasian Creed, the professions of faith of various councils, and in our own day the Credo of the People of God published in 1968 by Pope Paul VI. The Catechism states: None of the creeds from the different stages in the Church's life can be considered superseded or irrelevant. They help us today to attain and deepen the faith of all times by means of different summaries (Catechism of the Catholic Church # 193). Part I of the Catechism is organized according to the plan of the Apostles' Creed. It is often helpful for individuals to write out a personal profession of faith as an exercise of re-commitment to the obedience of faith to which the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation bind the New Covenant believer.
Question: The creed begins with the words: "I believe." What do you mean when you say 'I believe?' Look up the definition of the word 'believe' in a dictionary and write out the definition.
Question: The inspired writer of the Letter to the Hebrews wrote: It is impossible to please God without faith, since anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and rewards those who try to find Him (Hebrews 11:6). Faith is the first and most important confession. What are the differences between "faith" and "belief"? In what way are "knowledge" and "reason" part of the belief experience? See Hebrews 11:1 and James 2:19-23. Possible Answer: "Faith" is an inner orientation of outlook and values based on certitude and trust. "Beliefs" are the language in which faith is expressed-faith is the form and beliefs the contents. To say "I believe in" presupposes that one knows in an experiential way-has existential knowledge-of God. Vatican I distinguished between two kinds of knowledge-knowledge that one gains by reason, and knowledge that comes with faith. St. James also distinguished between these two kinds of knowledge in his letter to the Church in James 2:19. The ancient Israelites had no word that corresponded exactly to the word "intellect." For them knowledge was as much a matter of the heart as of the mind. To "know" meant to experience", "to possess as"; for example the Bible uses the word "know" to describe both the intimacy of sexual intercourse (Gen 4:1, 17; 1 Sam 1:19; etc.) and also to "know" in the sense of the experience of God as a personal relationship and through the liturgical experience of worship to "know" God as a member of the covenant family (Jer 31:34).
2. The college of bishops exercises authority over the universal Church as the successors of the Apostles in an ecumenical council; however, such councils must be confirmed or recognized as such by the current Pope, the successor of St. Peter (see CCC 883-84). The Council of Nicaea was the first such universal council called since the Council of Jerusalem in 49/50 AD. See the chart "The Great Councils of the Catholic Church" in the chart section of the website.
3. The Creeds, XXXX
4. The Liturgical Documents, vol. I: "General Instructions of the Roman Missal," article #44: Recitation of the profession of faith by the priest together with the people is obligatory on Sundays and solemnities. It may be said also at special, more dolmen celebrations.
Michal Hunt, Copyright © 1991 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.
A COMPARISON BETWEEN THE TWO CREEDS
|NICENE-CONSTANTINOPLE CREED||APOSTLES' CREED|
|We believe in one God,||I believe in God,|
|the Father, the Almighty||the Father almighty,|
|maker of heaven and earth||creator of heaven and earth.|
|of all that is seen and unseen.|
|We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,||I believe in Jesus Christ,|
|the only Son of God.||His only Son, our Lord.|
|God from God, Light from Light,|
|true God from true God,|
|begotten, not made, one in Being||Eternally begotten of the Father,|
|with the Father. Through him all things were made, for us and for our salvation He came down from heaven:|
|by the Power of the Holy Spirit.||He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit|
|He was born of the Virgin Mary,||and born of the Virgin Mary.|
|and became man.|
|For our sake He was crucified under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, died, and was buried.||He suffered under Pontius Pilate, He suffered, died, and was buried.|
|He descended to the dead.|
|On the third day He rose again.||On the third day he rose again|
|in fulfillment of the Scriptures;|
|He ascended into heaven and is seated on the right hand of the Father.||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,||He will come again to judge the living and the dead.|
|and His kingdom will have no end.|
|We believe in the Holy Spirit,||I believe in the Holy Spirit,|
|The Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets.|
|We believe in one holy Catholic and||the holy Catholic Church,|
|the communion of Saints,|
|We acknowledge one baptism for|
|the forgiveness of sins,||the forgiveness of sins|
|We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen||the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.|
Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2010 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.