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

All biblical quotes in this document are from the New Jerusalem Bible unless specified otherwise as NAB (New American Bible) or RSV (Revised Standard Version St. Joseph Edition).

The Holy Father has proclaimed the new liturgical year that runs through November 24, 2013, "the Year of Faith." It is a "summons to an authentic and renewed conversation to the Lord, the One Savior of the world" with a special emphasis on the Creed that expresses our belief and which the united Body of the faithful recites in the Liturgy of the Mass. We recited our Creed in a liturgical tradition that predates Christianity and goes back to the Liturgy of the Old Covenant faith in the daily worship of the people of God in the Jerusalem Temple; that profession of faith was called the Shema.

The Hebrew word shema means "hear" or "listen." In the Temple's liturgical worship service, the priests gathered for the solemn ritual of the liturgical prayers. Together, as of one voice, the priests offered up prayers of praise and thanksgiving to God. They recited the Ten Commandments (Ex 20:3-17; Dt 5:6-22) and the Shema Israel, the first profession of faith dating back to the time of Moses and the camp of Israel on the east bank of the Jordan River (Dt 1:1-3). The profession is a combination of verses from Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21, followed by the verses in Numbers 15:37-41. The reciting of the Shema in the daily Temple liturgy was followed by the daily benedictions (Mishnah: Tamid 5:1). The opening lines of the Shema are found in Deuteronomy 6:4-7 (see quote above). In Hebrew the traditional order of the wording is "YHWH (Yahweh), our God, YHWH (Yahweh) is One," but the Divine Name is not pronounced and is replaced with the word LORD. The Divine Name was only pronounced in the daily Temple liturgy (Mishnah: Tamid 7:2F). In that passage, God is mentioned three times: Yahweh our God, Yahweh is One. The Shema contains the mystery of the Triune God within its statement of faith; it is a mystery that was not revealed until the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, and it is a mystery that is professed in the Christian creeds.

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 he rewards those who try to find him (Heb 11:6, NAB). A formal creed is a profession of the belief upon which one's faith rests. "I believe" are the first words we say when we recite the Creed in the Mass. What do we mean when we say "I believe?" Belief is the intellectual expression of faith. Webster's International Dictionary defines "belief": "... to credit upon the ground of authority, testimony or argument, or any other circumstances than personal knowledge; to expect or hope with confidence. To be more or less firmly persuaded of the truth of anything; to hold as an object of faith; to have belief of. An assent of the mind to the truth of a declaration, proposition, or alleged fact, on the ground of evidence, distinct from personal knowledge; faith, or a firm persuasion of the truths of religion ..." Which raises the question, "What is the difference between "faith" and "belief"? 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; beliefs are the content. To say "I believe" presupposes that one knows in an experiential way - has existential knowledge - of God.

The Council of Vatican I (1869-70) defined the nature of revelation and faith and the relation of faith and reason. The Council distinguished two kinds of knowledge "knowledge that one gains by reason, and knowledge that comes with faith. The ancient Israelites had no word that corresponds exactly to "intellect." For them knowledge was as much a matter of the heart as of the mind. "To know" meant to experience or to possess intimate knowledge, as for example when the Bible uses "to know" to describe the intimacy of sexual relations and also "to know" in the sense of being within the intimacy of the covenant family bond. It is the intimacy of covenant family that we experience in living out our faith in our relationship with the Most Holy Trinity. We express that belief in the formal creed we recite in the Liturgy of the Mass.

The Development of the Christian Creeds

Our English word "creed" comes from the Latin word "credo," which means "I believe." In Latin the words "believe" and "heart" comes from the same root. When we profess a creed, whether it is the Apostles' Creed or the Nicene-Constantinople Creed, we are professing what we believe in our heart. The 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."

As the Church grew, different communities developed their own creeds of faith. In the writings of the apostle Paul, we can see the development of creeds. Paul wrote professions of faith, the beginnings of a creed, to the churches he founded because he needed to express the significance of the Person and the life of Christ. He wanted to speak of this mystery, which for him was not the mystery of God in his inaccessible greatness but that of the love of God for us. In St. Paul's professions of faith he wrote of God's plan of salvation realized in Christ Jesus, and of that great love with which the Father loves humanity, manifesting it in the death and resurrection of the Son and the gift of the Holy Spirit. An example is the profession of faith in Christ that St. Paul wrote to the faith community he founded 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.
Colossians 1:15-20

The Apostles' Creed

One of our oldest fixed creeds is the Apostles' Creed. It is the creed of the Roman Church which the 3rd century Fathers of the Church identified as having been "handed down to us by the Apostles themselves." Even though modern day scholars refute that the Apostle's Creed was written by the Apostles, the truth is that we 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 at Pentecost in Acts chapter 2 when he was moved by the Holy Spirit to proclaim what the Apostles had seen, heard and felt. That proclamation "in Greek, kerygma "was in fact a profession of faith.

St. Peter definitively outlined the beliefs that were to become the fundamentals of Christianity when he told the Jewish crowd gathered around him on the day Jews celebrated the feast of Pentecost (Acts 2:1) that "the day of the Lord" foretold by the prophets was at hand, quoting from Joel 3:1-5 (Acts 2:14-21). Next he said the day that was foretold has been ushered in by Jesus of Nazareth, a man sent by God, whose credentials were his words and works (Acts 2:22). This Jesus, "by foreknowledge of God," was crucified by the Jews and by the pagans "outside the Law," but death could not hold him (Acts 2:23-24). Peter declared that Jesus fulfilled the vision of King David who had predicted the resurrection of the Messiah (Acts 2:25-35 quoting Ps 16:8-11 and 101:1). And Peter concluded by saying "For this reason the whole House of Israel can be certain that the Lord and Christ whom God made is this Jesus whom you crucified" (Acts 2:36). Whether 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.

In the time of St. Justin Martyr (circa 150 AD), formalized professions of faith seems to have come into use in the catechism of the Church and in the Sacrament of Baptism. The variations are many, but the basic confession is the same. The person being baptized was asked standard "do you believe" 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 describes liturgical practice in Rome at the beginning of the 3rd century AD and provides a detailed account of the catechumenate and the rite of baptism. The profession of faith made by the candidate for baptism followed the interrogatory form (question-answer format).

By the fourth century AD a declaratory form of the creed, similar to the one we use today, was in common use. Instead of "do you believe?" declaratory creeds are framed as statements that use 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 baptism. Later the creeds found their way into the liturgical celebration of the Eucharist.

The Nicene Creed

In the fourth century Arius, an influential theologian in the church at Alexandria, Egypt, who had a private agenda, was twisting the biblical texts to his own purposes. He manipulated Scripture to make the Son less than the Father, spreading the heresy that Jesus was a man who was later made Divine. In an effort to state the Church's faith more precisely regarding the relationship of the Father and Son, a world-wide Ecumenical Council of the Church was called to meet at the Roman imperial palace at Nicaea in Bithynia (on the Black Sea) under the protection of the Roman emperor. This universal council of the Church is known as the Council of Nicaea. When the council was opened on the 20th of May, 325 AD, there were 250 bishops in attendance. Before the council held its last session, the number of bishops present had grown to 318. Pope Sylvester was absent due to the infirmities of age, but he sent his representatives and the Roman Emperor Constantine I (who was a convert to Christianity) 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 Greek term homo-ousios' which means "of one essence or substance" (Latin the word is consubstantialis; it is the English transliteration of this word that we use in the Creed) was the term needed to clarify the Church's infallible teaching that the second Person of the Trinity, who became man, is of one and the same essence or substance or nature as God the Father. In this definitive way, the Council professed the essential unity of the Father and the Son. St. Ambrose noted that the Latin term consubstantial was finally adopted by the bishops at Nicaea in addition to the Greek term homoousios when both terms were firmly rejected by Arius and his followers. After four weeks of deliberation, they had drawn up a creed. This creed was signed by all the bishops (except two supporters of Arius) and 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 betotten 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 (cursed)."

The Nicene-Constantinople Creed

In 381 AD the Council of Constantinople reaffirmed the theological pronouncements of the Council of Nicaea and reaffirmed the Nicene Creed. Nevertheless, they considered it necessary to make an addition to the Nicene Creed written in 325 in order to clarify the relationship of God the Holy Spirit to the other Divine Persons of the Trinity and to declare that we confess our belief in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. With this clause, the bishops of the universal Church were declaring that we share the faith of the first Christian community and in that sense our faith is the same as that of the Apostles. By attributing its contents to the Twelve Apostles acting under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Church clearly implies 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 on, only those two creeds "The Apostles' Creed and the Nicene-Constantinople Creed 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. However, although the Church found it necessary to convene a council to affirm the divinity of Jesus and His eternal unity with the Father, and to define the role of God the Holy Spirit as the third Person of the Most Holy Trinity, it was not establishing a new doctrine. It was defending what had been taught by Jesus and always believed and experienced by His Church. The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed is also the creed of Eastern Catholics.

The Nicene-Constantinople Creed that we repeat in the Eucharistic celebration on the Lord's Day, like the ancient Shema of the Old Covenant faith, serves both as a chant of praise (in Greek doxa) and as a witness of faith. Christians confess before their One Holy and eternal God and before and their fellow human beings the wonders the Lord has done for them. Although there are important differences between creeds and hymns of praise, 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. In the words of St. Paul, we confess with our lips what we believe in our hearts:

In the celebration of the Mass, the Creed is the link between what we have just heard in the both the readings from Sacred Scripture and in what we have learned in the homily in the part of the Mass we call the Liturgy of the Word. The readings are the Word of God, now Incarnate, speaking to us and the homily prepares us for what comes next " Christ our Savior who will come to offer himself upon the altar in the Liturgy of the Eucharist. When it is time to recite the Creed as a united covenant people, we are invited to literally and symbolically "stand up" for our faith and to profess what it is we truly believe from our hearts.

Question: What promise did Jesus give His disciples that we can claim in reciting the Creed? See Luke 12:8 and Matthew 10:32-33.
Answer: Jesus gives us His promise if we confess our faith in Him in the presence of others that He will declare Himself for us in the presence of God the Father when we face our individual judgments.

Question: What important question do we answer publically when we recite the Creed? It is a question Jesus asked of his disciples in Matthew 16:13 and Luke 9:20-21.
Answer: Jesus asked "Who do people say that I AM? We acknowledge that Jesus is the I AM who is the Messiah-Redeemer and the Son of God.

Question: List the reasons why you believe the profession of faith in a formal creed is necessary.
Answer: Suggested answers:

  1. We want to understand what we believe and to share that belief publically with our families and faith community.
  2. We want to be reminded and to be filled with awe at the love with which we are loved.
  3. We have been commissioned by Christ to proclaim the "good news," the Gospel message of salvtion, to all those who do not yet know it. Those who proclaim the faith must utter the mystery, and to help us utter the mystery we need a guide. The creed is a guide to missionary preaching.
  4. The creed is necessary to unite in a single body the different churches of God spread over the surface of the world "the Body of Christ.

Even though each church has its own language and different customs and traditions developed by different nationalities and cultures, we can still be united as a single covenant family by a creed which must be "...the tie which holds together the sheaf and keeps the various communities as a single family," to quote St. Irenaeus who was a witness to this diversity and the profound unity coming from Asia Minor in the 3rd century to become the bishop of the community in Lyons, France (177-202, Bishop of Lyons).

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 beginning. Among these creeds are the Athanasian Creed, the professions of faith of various Church 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" (CCC 193). It is fitting, therefore, that the Catechism of the Universal Church is organized according to the plan of the Apostles' Creed.

A Comparison of the Nicene-Constantinople Creed and the Apostles' Creed

I believe in one God, I believe in God,
the Father almighty, the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.
Creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the Only Begotten Son of God,
born of the Father before all ages.
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, consubstantial
with the Father; through him all things
were made. For us men and for our
salvation he came down from heaven,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord,
and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
the Virgin Mary, and became man. born of the Virgin Mary,
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius suffered under Pontius Pilate,
Pilate, he suffered death and was buried, was crucified, died and was buried;
  he descended into hell (hades);
and rose again on the third day on the third day he rose again from the dead;
in accordance with the Scriptures.  
He ascended into heaven he ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father. and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty;
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead
and his kingdom will have no end.
from there he will come
to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who with the Father and the Son is adored
and glorified,
who had spoken through the prophets.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church the holy catholic Church
  the communion of saints,
I confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins
and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead
and the life of the world to come. Amen.
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting. Amen.

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2012 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.