Thursday, 21 March 2019

Lenten Study Group 2019:
1, The Apostles’ Creed

The Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer (centre) flanked by the Ten Commandments on the north aisle wall in Saint Nicholas Church, Adare, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Lent Study Group 2019:

The Rectory, Askeaton, Co Limerick

1, The Apostles’ Creed,

8 p.m., 21 March 2019

Introduction:

Four Lenten study evenings are taking place in the Rectory at 8 p.m. on Thursdays in Lent. These evenings are open to all parishioners and friends:

1, Thursday 21 March: The Apostles’ Creed;
2, Thursday 28 March: The Nicene Creed;
3, Thursday 4 April: The Athanasian Creed;
4, Thursday 11 April: The 39 Articles.

At one time, it was expected that all members of the Church would know and be able to recite the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments and the Apostles’ Creed.

These were once the minimum requirement for Confirmation, and to ensure everyone could learn them by rote then were often painted on boards behind the altar or on the east end walls in parish churches.

Today, few people may know the Apostles’ Creed by heart, and fewer still may know that while the Apostles’ Creed has its origins in the confession of faith required in the Early Church in Rome for Baptism.

How many people know, for example, that we use the Apostles’ Creed at Morning Prayer and Baptism, and it is the Nicene Creed that we use at the Eucharist or Holy Communion?

The Preamble and Declaration (see Book of Common Prayer, pp 776-777), which could be described as the constitutionally foundation document of the Church of Ireland, says that the Church of Ireland shall ‘shall continue to profess the faith of Christ as professed by the Primitive Church.’ This is normally understood within the context of Article 8 in the 39 Articles, which says there are three creeds, the ‘Nicene Creed, Athanasius’ Creed and that which is commonly called the Apostles’ Creed' that ‘ought thoroughly to be received and believed: for they may be proved by most certain warrants of holy Scriptures’ (see the Book of Common Prayer, p 780).

The Apostles’ Creed is not found in the New Testament, nor was it ever approved by any Council of the Church. Although Anglicans have traditionally counted as one of the ‘Ecumenical Creeds,’ alongside the Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed, it has never been approved for use in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

So, this evening we may ask what is the standing of the Apostles’ Creed, what are its origins, how do we use it, how does it differ from the Nicene Creed, and what are its strengths and its weaknesses.

The Twelve Apostles in two sets of icons in the tiny Church of the Twelve Apostles on the island of Gramvousa off the north-west coast of Crete (Photographs: Patrick Comerford, 2016; click on images for full-screen view)

Introducing the Apostles’ Creed:

The Apostles’ Creed (Symbolum Apostolorum or Symbolum Apostolicum), sometimes referred to as the Apostolic Creed or the Symbol of the Apostles, is an early statement of Christian belief – a creed or ‘symbol’ of the faith.

It is widely used in a number of Christian traditions for both liturgical and catechetical purposes, particularly in Roman Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran churches, and in many Presbyterian and Methodist churches.

The Apostles’ Creed is Trinitarian in structure with sections affirming belief in God the Father, Jesus Christ his Son and the Holy Spirit.

The origins of the Apostles’ Creed:

The Apostles’ Creed is not found in the New Testament. Rather, it is based on the Christian theological understanding of the canonical gospels, the letters of the New Testament and to a lesser extent the Old Testament.

It appears to be based on an old Roman creed known also as the Old Roman Symbol.

By the fourth century, it was widely believed that, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, each of the Twelve Apostles contributed an article to the 12 articles of the creed. The traditional assignment of these articles of the Creed is:

1, Peter

2, John

3, James, son of Zebedee

4, Andrew

5a, Philip (descendit ad infernos ...)

5b, Thomas (ascendit ad caelos ...)

6, Bartholomew

7, Matthew

8, James, son of Alphaeus

9, Simon

10, Jude

11-12, Matthias.

The word symbolum used on its own appears around the mid-third century in correspondence between Saint Cyprian and Saint Firmilia, with Saint Firmilia in particular speaking of the Creed as the ‘Symbol of the Trinity,’ and recognising it as an integral part of the rite of Baptism.

The earliest known mention of the ‘Apostles’ Creed’ occurs for the first time as Symbolum Apostolicum (‘Symbol’ or ‘Creed of the Apostles’) in a letter, probably written ca 390 by Saint Ambrose, from a Council in Milan to Pope Siricius: ‘Let them give credit to the Creed of the Apostles, which the Roman Church has always kept and preserved undefiled.’

However, what existed at that time was not what is now known as the Apostles’ Creed, but a shorter statement of belief that, for instance, did not include the phrase ‘maker of heaven and earth,’ a phrase that may have been inserted as late as the seventh century.

The account of the origin of this creed, the forerunner and principal source of the Apostles’ Creed, as having been jointly created by the Apostles under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, with each of the 12 contributing one of the articles, was already current at that time.

The earlier text evolved from simpler texts based on Matthew 28: 19, part of the Great Commission, and it has been argued that this earlier text was already in written form by the late 2nd century (ca 180).

The individual statements of belief that are included in the Apostles' Creed – even those not found in the Old Roman Symbol – are found in various writings by Irenaeus, Tertullian, Novatian, Marcellus, Rufinus, Ambrose, Augustine, Nicetas, and Eusebius Gallus.

The earliest appearance of what we now know as the Apostles’ Creed is in the De singulis libris canonicis scarapsus (‘Excerpt from Individual Canonical Books’) of Saint Pirminius, written ca 710-714. Bettenson and Maunder state that it is first found in Dicta Abbatis Pirminii de singulis libris canonicis scarapsus, ca 750.

This longer Creed seems to have arisen in what is now France and Spain. Charlemagne imposed it throughout his empire, and it was finally accepted in Rome, where the Old Roman Symbol or similar formulae had survived for centuries. It has been argued nonetheless that it dates from the second half of the fifth century, though no earlier.

Some sources suggest that the Apostles’ Creed was redacted using phrases from the New Testament. For instance, the phrase descendit ad inferos (‘he descended into hell’) echoes Ephesians 4: 9, ‘κατέβη εἰς τὰ κατώτερα μέρη τῆς γῆς’ (‘he descended into the lower parts of the earth’). This phrase first appeared in one of the two versions of Rufinus in AD 390 and then did not appear again in any version of the creed until AD 650.

Text in Latin:

Credo in Deum Patrem omnipotentem, Creatorem caeli et terrae,
et in Iesum Christum, Filium Eius unicum, Dominum nostrum,
qui conceptus est de Spiritu Sancto, natus ex Maria Virgine,
passus sub Pontio Pilato, crucifixus, mortuus, et sepultus,
descendit ad inferos, tertia die resurrexit a mortuis,
ascendit ad caelos, sedet ad dexteram Dei Patris omnipotentis,
inde venturus est iudicare vivos et mortuos.
Credo in Spiritum Sanctum,
sanctam Ecclesiam catholicam, sanctorum communionem,
remissionem peccatorum,
carnis resurrectionem,
vitam aeternam. Amen.

Text in Greek:

The Orthodox Church does not use the Apostles’ Creed as it does not have the approval of a major ecumenical council of the Church.

Πιστεύω εἰς θεòν πατέρα, παντοκράτορα, ποιητὴν οὐρανοῦ καὶ γῆς.
Καὶ (εἰς) Ἰησοῦν Χριστòν, υἱὸν αὐτοῦ τòν μονογενῆ, τòν κύριον ἡμῶν,
τòν συλληφθέντα ἐκ πνεύματος ἁγίου, γεννηθέντα ἐκ Μαρίας τῆς παρθένου,
παθόντα ἐπὶ Ποντίου Πιλάτου, σταυρωθέντα, θανόντα, καὶ ταφέντα,
κατελθόντα εἰς τὰ κατώτατα, τῇ τρίτῃ ἡμέρᾳ ἀναστάντα ἀπò τῶν νεκρῶν,
ἀνελθόντα εἰς τοὺς οὐρανούς, καθεζόμενον ἐν δεξιᾷ θεοῦ πατρὸς παντοδυνάμου,
ἐκεῖθεν ἐρχόμενον κρῖναι ζῶντας καὶ νεκρούς.
Πιστεύω εἰς τò πνεῦμα τò ἅγιον, ἁγίαν καθολικὴν ἐκκλησίαν, ἁγίων κοινωνίαν,
ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν, σαρκὸς ἀνάστασιν, ζωὴν αἰώνιον. Ἀμήν.

The Church of Ireland:

In the Church of Ireland, there are currently two authorised forms of the creed in the Book of Common Prayer (2004). One, found in Morning Prayer I and Evening prayer I (p 95), dates from the Book of Common Prayer (1662), the other, in Morning Prayer II and Evening Prayer II (p 112) is based on the ecumenical text produced by English Language Liturgical Consultation (ELLC) in 1988.

The Apostles’ Creed in Morning Prayer I and Evening Prayer I

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 Spirit,
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 Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

A similar version is used at Compline (see p 159).

The Apostles’ Creed in Morning Prayer II and Evening Prayer II

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord.
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come again to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

The Ecumenical version:

The English Language Liturgical Consultation (ELLC) is an international ecumenical group whose primary purpose is to provide ecumenically accepted texts for use in English in the liturgy. It produced a translation of the Apostles’ Creed in 1988 that is distinguished, among other things, for avoiding the word ‘his’ in relation to God.

The text is:

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

The Apostles’ Creed is used in its direct form or in interrogative forms in many Churches in several liturgical rites, in particular at Baptism.

Q&A at Baptism:

The Apostles’ Creed, whose present form is similar to the baptismal creed used in Rome in the third and fourth centuries, actually developed from questions addressed to those seeking baptism. The Roman Catholic Church still uses an interrogative form of it in the Rite of Baptism (for both children and adults).

In the official English translation (ICEL, 1974) the minister of Baptism asks:

Do you believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth?

Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary, was crucified, died, and was buried, rose from the dead, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father?

Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting?

To each question, the candidate for Baptism, the parents, the sponsor(s) or the godparent(s), answer ‘I do.’

Then the celebrant says:

This is our faith. This is the faith of the Church. We are proud to profess it, in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And all respond: Amen.

In the Holy Baptism 2, the Church of Ireland also asks the candidates, sponsors and congregation to recite the Apostles’ Creed in answer to similar questions (see the Book of Common Prayer, p 365). This form is also available for Receiving into the Congregation (pp 380-381), at Confirmation (see pp 386-387), and is also available for use at the Renewal of Baptismal Vows (see p 399):

Do you believe and trust in God the Father?

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.


Do you believe and trust in God the Son?

I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come again to judge the living and the dead.


Do you believe and trust in God the Holy Spirit?

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.


Another version of the Question and Answer format is available in a simpler, second form.

To each question, the candidate, or, in the case of an infant, the parents and sponsor(s) or godparent(s), answer ‘I do.’

Then the priest says:

This is our faith.
This is our faith.
This is the faith of the Church.
We believe and trust one God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.


The earlier form of Baptism, in Baptism I in the Book of Common Prayer (pp 348-349), has the priest recite the Apostles’ Creed in interrogative form, asking the godparents ‘Dost thou believe in God the Father ...’ The response at the end, rather than after each question, is: ‘All this I steadfastly believe.’

What is missing?

Although the original Greek and Latin creeds both specifically refer to ‘the resurrection of the flesh’ (σαρκὸς ἀνάστασιν and carnis resurrectionem), the versions used by several churches, including the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of England, the Church of Ireland, Lutheran churches and Methodist churches, refer more generally to ‘the resurrection of the body.’

This phrase and that referring to the communion of saints are found in the Apostles’ Creed, but not in the Old Roman Symbol nor in the Nicene Creed.

On the other hand, because of the early origin of the original form of the Apostles’ Creed, it does not address some Christological issues defined in the Nicene and other creeds.

It says nothing explicitly about the divinity of either Christ or the Holy Spirit. Nor does it address many other theological questions that became objects of dispute centuries later.

Some of the phrases in the Nicene Creed that are not found in the Apostles’ Creed include the references to:

[one God]
[of all that is seen and unseen]
[eternally begotten of the Father]
[God from God … one Being with the Father … ]
[Through him all things were made]

No link is made between the incarnation and salvation, leading some, perhaps, to ask what was the purpose of the incarnation?

There is no reference to Scripture, no mention of the prophets, no affirmation of the sacraments or discipleship, the kingdom of God, or a Christian lifestyle.

There is no reference to Christ's teaching, miracles, the parables, or discussions with the Disciples, the Scribes and the Pharisees, no Sermon on the Mount, calming of the waters, Good Samaritan or Prodigal Son.

There is only a one-line reference to the Holy Spirit. What is meant by the Holy Spirit?

The Creed shows no adequate understanding of what the Church is or what the purpose of the Church is.

Although this is used as a Baptism creed, there is no reference to Baptism.

Some questions and discussions:

Why is Pontius Pilate named but none of the 12 Apostles and none of the Four Evangelists, Saint Paul or the prophets?

[Seek answers that engage with the historical Jesus, and that touch on antisemitism, rejecting blaming Jews for the death of Christ.]

If you were on a committee of 12 apostles to write the Apostles’ Creed, what would you write in?

What is omitted?

What would you leave out?

What would you have problems with?

Why is there no reference to the two great commandments?

Why is there no mention of priests and bishops or church structures?

Did you notice there are no references to marriage, divorce or sexuality?

Would you include social justice, women, political justice, violence, ecological and environment issues (or is that covered by ‘created heaven and earth’)?

Next week (28 March 2019): The Nicene Creed.

The Ten Commandments on two central panels of the reredos in Saint Margaret Lothbury Church, London, with the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles’ Creed on each side (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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