Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 28, 2003
What are the different creeds?
By SR. LOUISE ZDUNICH, NDC
We usually say the Apostles' Creed at Sunday Masses. Lately, I've noticed that sometimes we recite the Nicene Creed. What is the difference and where did we get them?
The word Creed comes from the Latin for "I believe." Creeds are also called "symbols of faith," hence the French symbole des apotres. The Greek symbolon was half of a broken object, such as a seal, which when matched up with the other half verified the authenticity of the bearer. So, a symbol of faith is a sign of recognition and communion between believers. Symbolon also means a gathering, a summary and so is a collection of the main truths of the faith.
A creed can be defined as a concise and authorized statement, or a list, of central truths which we Christians believe. It is a profession of faith. In the early Church, candidates for Baptism accepted short statements of belief and these gradually developed into creeds. There are several creeds that have come down to us. They were developed for particular situations but none of them can be considered irrelevant or superseded by others for they all help to deepen our faith.
The creed with which we are most familiar is the Apostles' Creed because it is the one we learned as children. It is also the one we have been reciting at Masses these last years. St. Ambrose who was bishop of Milan first mentions its title in about 390 in a letter. Although likely not composed by the Apostles, it expresses their faith and the 12 articles symbolize "the fullness of the apostolic faith by the number of the Apostles" (Catholic Catechism n. 191).
By the early Middle Ages, it was used in the West at Baptism and between the seventh and ninth centuries, it was firmly implanted in the Western Church. The Catholic Catechism calls it "the oldest Roman Catechism" (n. 196).
The Nicene Creed was formulated at the first ecumenical council of Nicaea in 325 to combat heresy. It contains a clear expression of belief in the divinity of the Second Person by stating that the Son is consubstantial (of the same substance) with the Father. The Council of Constantinople in 381 endorsed the Nicene Creed and stated that the Holy Spirit "proceeds from the Father." The eighth century Latin Church added "and the Son," causing a rift between East and West not so much because of the doctrine as because the West had acted unilaterally.
There have been other creeds or professions of faith formulated by councils or popes throughout the centuries. One is the Athanasian Creed with which we are less familiar. It explains the Trinity and Incarnation, adding important events in the life of Jesus. Although attributed to St. Athanasius at a seventh century council, its source is now questioned because it contains references to doctrinal disputes which arose only in later centuries.
Published in 1564, the Creed of Pius IV re-states the truths of the Nicene Creed and contains a summary of doctrines from the Council of Trent. In 1877, Pius IX added to it the decrees of the First Vatican Council, affirming the primacy of Peter and the infallibility of the pope. A more recent one was the Credo of the People of God by Pope Paul VI in 1968 which goes to great lengths to describe the traditional statements of the creeds.
The practice of reciting the Nicene Creed in the Mass started as a local custom in the fifth century East. It was officially included in the Latin rite Mass at the beginning of the 11th century by Pope Benedict VIII (1012-24). It is still our profession of faith at Masses, although in Canada, we usually replace it with the Apostles' Creed.
The creeds used at Mass declare our basic belief in the Trinity: God the Father as Creator, Jesus Christ as Son of God and Redeemer (birth, suffering, death, resurrection, ascension); and the Holy Spirit.
The Nicene Creed is more explicit on the tenets of our faith, stressing the divinity and oneness of Son and Spirit with the Father. This is evident regarding Jesus Christ and especially the Holy Spirit "who proceeds from the Father and the Son" and "with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified."
The last few statements give other beliefs: the Church, forgiveness of sins, resurrection of the body and life everlasting.
The Apostles' Creed adds our belief in the communion of saints while the Nicene Creed links Baptism with the forgiveness of sins.
The powerful assertions of these creeds require reflection and meditation to be appreciated more fully. We all need to ask ourselves: how often do I ponder their meaning and do I truly profess my faith at Mass every Sunday?
These creeds contain the fundamental beliefs of all Christian traditions and subscription to their principles distinguishes one as a Christian.
If someone asks you what you believe, as a Christian, do you realize that you can recite the creed and, in this way, give them a summary of your Christian faith?