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Early Christian Creeds

  The following creedal statements are the earliest and best known "official" summaries of essential beliefs held by leading Christian bishops and churches in the first centuries after Yeshua. Read in order, the creeds reveal development of thought regarding the nature of God; an evolution from simple biblical statements to abstract formulas (e.g., Athanasian Creed).

Some creeds were issued following the four major ecumenical (whole-church) councils: Nicea (AD 325), Constantinople (AD 381), Ephesus (AD 431), and Chalcedon (AD 451). After Chalcedon, no major changes were made to the church's trinitarian understanding of the Godhead.

Around AD 180 Theophilus of Antioch coined the term "Triad" (Greek, trias) (ad. Autol. 2, 15) to describe "God and his Word and his Wisdom." Soon, Tertullian of Carthage (160-220) first used the Latin term "Trinitas" around 200 (Against Praxeas 3, 11, 12). Phrases such as "God the Son," "God the Holy Spirit" and "the Triune Godhead" came later.

A modern writer has distilled the doctrine of the Trinity this way: "There is one God and only one God; this one God exists eternally in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; these three persons are completely equal, each fully possessing the divine nature or essence."

SOURCES

  • Henry Bettenson, ed. Documents of the Christian Church (2d ed. London & New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1963), 23-26
  • J . N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines (rev. ed. San Francisco: Harper, 1978), 339-40
  • Alan Richardson, Creeds in the Making (A Short Introduction to the History of Christian Doctrine) (London: SCM Press, orig. 1935, reprint 1986), 49-66
  • Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1896), vol. 2, pp. 11-25, 62-71


THE APOSTLES' CREED

A. The Old Roman Creed. The original version of this creed apparently comes from about AD 150. Its present version seems to be a variation carried by Marcellus (Bishop of Ancyra) to Julius (Bishop of Rome) around AD340. Rufinus, priest of Aquileia, compares the Creed of Aquileia with the "Roman Creed" of Marcellus which he believed to be the rule of faith composed by the Apostles at Jerusalem, which had been retained as the baptismal creed in the Roman Church. The differences between the two are in brackets.

1. I believe in God almighty [Rufinus has: the Father Almighty]
2. And in Christ Jesus, his only son, our Lord
3. Who was born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary
4. Who was crucified under Pontius Pilate and was buried
5. And the third day rose from the dead
6. Who ascended into heaven
7. And sitteth on the right hand of the Father
8. Whence he cometh to judge the living and the dead
9. And in the Holy Ghost
10. The holy church
11. The remission of sins
12. The resurrection of the flesh
13. The life everlasting [Rufinus omits]

B. Gallican Creed. (6th century)

1. I believe in God the Father almighty
2. I also believe in Jesus Christ his only son, our Lord
3. conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary,
4. suffered under Pontius Pilate, crucified, dead and buried; he descended into hell,
5. rose again the third day,
6. ascended into heaven,
7. sat down at the right hand of the Father,
8. thence he is to come to judge the living and the dead.
9. I believe in the Holy Ghost,
10. the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints,
11. the remission of sins,
12. the resurrection of the flesh and life eternal.

[The form of the Apostles' Creed as we know it today is found first around AD 750.]

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THE NICENE FAMILY OF CREEDS

A. Creed of Caesarea. This was the creed used by the church of Eusebius of Caesarea (Israel), who suggested its use at the council of Nicea (western Turkey), convened by Emperor Constantine in AD 325.

We believe in one God, the Father All-sovereign, the maker of things visible and invisible;

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Word of God, God of God, Light of Light, Life of Life, Son only-begotten, Firstborn of all creation, begotten of the Father before all the ages, through whom also all things were made; who was made flesh for our salvation and lived among men, and suffered, and rose again on the third day, and ascended to the Father, and shall come again in glory to judge the living and dead;

We believe also in one Holy Spirit.

B. The Creed of Nicea. Eusebius' creed did not deal explicitly with the Arian position (for which the council was called), though it was accepted as a base. The council of Nicea re-issued it in the following form (the revisions are underlined).
We believe in one God, the Father All-sovereign, maker of all things visible and invisible;

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father, only-begotten, that is, of the substance1 of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten not made, of one substance2 with the Father, through whom all things were made, things in heaven and things on the earth; who for us men and for our salvation came down and was made flesh, and became man, suffered, and rose on the third day, ascended into the heavens, is coming to judge living and dead.

And in the Holy Spirit.

And those that say 'There was when he [Christ] was not,'
and, 'Before he was begotten he was not,'
and that 'He came into being from what-is-not,'
or those that allege that the Son of God is 'of another substance or essence' or 'created' or 'changeable' or 'alterable'—these the Catholic and Apostolic Church anathematizes.

(1) 'From the inmost being of the Father' (Grk. ousias)
(2) 'Sharing one being [homo-ousion] with the Father, and therefore distinct in existence though essentially one.

C. The Nicene or Constantinopolitan Creed. First found in the writings of Epiphanius (c. AD 374). It was adopted at the Council of Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey) in 381, convened by Emperor Theodosius (who made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire). It builds upon the Creed of Nicea and is often called the "Nicean-Constantinopolitan Creed."
We believe in one God the Father All-sovereign, 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 the Father before all the ages, Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten not made, of one substance with the Father, through whom all things were made, who for us men and for our salvation came down from the heavens and was made flesh of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became man, and was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried, and rose again on the third day according to the Scriptures, ascended into the heavens, and sits on the right hand of Father, and comes again to judge living and dead, of whose kingdom there shall be no end:

And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Life-giver, that proceeds from the Father, who with Father and Son is worshipped together and glorified together, who spoke through the prophets:

In one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church:
We acknowledge one baptism unto remission of sins. We look for a resurrection of the dead, and the life of the age to come.

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THE ATHANASIAN CREED

Though attributed to Athanasius of Alexandria (296–373), this creed is probably based on the thought of Augustine of Hippo (354–430), and may have been dedicated to Athanasius. Historians date it to the mid 5th century. In Latin, the creed is known as Quicunque Vult, taken from its first words: "Whoever will be saved."

1. Whoever will be saved, before all things, it is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith:
2. Which Faith, except everyone do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt, shall perish everlastingly.

3. And the Catholic Faith is this: that we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity;
4. Neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance [Essence].
5. For there is one Person of the Father; another of the Son; and another of the Holy Ghost.
6. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one: the Glory equal, the Majesty co-eternal.
7. Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost.
8. The Father uncreated; the Son uncreated; and the Holy Ghost uncreated.
9. The Father infinite; the Son infinite; and the Holy Ghost infinite.
10. The Father eternal; the Son eternal; and the Holy Ghost eternal.
11. And yet the are not three eternals, but one eternal.
12. As also there are not three uncreated, nor three infinites, but one uncreated and one infinites.

13. So likewise the Father is Almighty; the Son Almighty; and the Holy Ghost Almighty.
14. And yet they are not three Almighties, but one Almighty.
15. So the Father is God; the Son is God; and the Holy Ghost is God.
16. And yet they are not three Gods, but one God.
17. So likewise the Father is Lord; the Son Lord; and the Holy Ghost Lord.
18. And yet not three Lords, but one Lord.

19. For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every Person by himself to be God and Lord,
20. So we are forbidden by the Catholic Religion to say, There are three Gods or three Lords.
21. The Father is made of none, neither created nor begotten.
22. The Son is of the Father alone; not made nor created, but begotten.
23. The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son, neither made nor created nor begotten, but proceeding.
24. So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three sons; one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts.

25. And in this Trinity none is before or after another; none is greater or less than another.
26. But the whole three Persons are co-eternal and co-equal.
27. So that in all things, as said before, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshiped.
28. He therefore that will be saved, must thus think of the Trinity.

29. Furthermore it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe rightly the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
30. For the right Faith is that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man;
31. God, of the Substance [Essence] of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and Man, of the Substance [Essence] of his Mother, born in the world.
32. Perfect God and perfect Man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting.
33. Equal to the Father as touching his Godhead, and inferior to the Father as touching his Manhood.
34. Who although he is God and man, yet he is not two but one Christ. 35. One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by assumption of the Manhood into God.
36. One altogether, not by confusion of Substance, but by unity of Person.
37. For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and Man is one Christ;

38. Who suffered for our salvation, descended into hell [Hades, spirit-world], rose again the third day from the dead.
39. He ascended into heaven, he sits at the right hand of the Father God Almighty.
40. From there he shall come to judge the living and the dead.
41. At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies;
42. And shall give account for their own works.
43. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil, into everlasting fire.

44. This is the Catholic Faith, which except a man believe truly and firmly cannot be saved.

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THE CREED OF CHALCEDON

A church council was originally planned for Nicea, but was transferred by Emperor Marcian to Chalcedon (western Turkey) and opened 8 October 451. The creed issued from this meeting more specifically addressed the dual nature of Christ. The specific portions dealing with that subject follow.

In agreement, therefore, with the holy fathers, we all unanimously teach that we should confess that—

our Lord Jesus Christ is one and the same Son,
the same perfect in Godhead and the same perfect in manhood,
truly God and truly man, the same of a rational soul and body,
consubstantial with the Father in Godhead,
and the same consubstantial with us in manhood, like us in all things except sin;

begotten from the Father before the ages as regards His Godhead,
and in the last days, the same,
because of us and because of our salvation
begotten from the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos [God-bearer or Mother of God], as regards his manhood;
one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only-begotten,
made known in two natures without confusion,
without change, without division, without separation,

the difference of the natures being by no means removed because of the union,
but the property of each nature being preserved and coalescing in one prosopon [person] and one hupostasis [substance]—
not parted or divided into two prosopa [persons], but one and the same Son,
only-begotten, divine Word, the Lord Jesus Christ,
as the prophets of old and Jesus Christ Himself have taught us about Him
and the creed of our fathers had handed down.

 

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