Monday, February 25, 2008


Creeds are fantastic. They are a simple, concise way of summing up what you believe, and of drawing lines between orthodoxy and heterodoxy. In the PCA church I am in now, the pastor asks us every week, "Church, what do you believe?" and we recite the Nicene Creed. The Catholic Mass also usually includes a recitation of the Nicene Creed. When they do it, they bow during the line "and was made incarnate by the Holy Spirit..." I'm not sure I fully understand the significance of the action, but it catches me off guard every time. Hopefully I will know more about the Nicene Creed in the next few days, since it is on the syllabus for our next Patristics class. The Nicene Creed is as follows:
We believe in one God the Father Almighty, 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 worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father by whom all things were made; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man, and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried, and the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father. And he shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead, whose kingdom shall have no end.

And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, who proceedeth from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, who spoke by the prophets. And we believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins. And we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

The Apostles' Creed is also quite common. I have read that it is known as the "Reformed Creed," but it predates the Reformers by several centuries. In my church we usually recite it before a baptism. It is as follows:
I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
the Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:

Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.

He descended into hell.

The third day He arose again from the dead.

He ascended into heaven
and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty,
whence He shall 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 life everlasting.


And then there are other, more recently designed creeds. While I was at BJU, we recited such a creed daily in chapel. It mirrors in substance the Apostles' Creed, but with an added paragraph affirming the inspiration of Scripture:
I believe in the inspiration of the Bible (both the Old and the New Testaments); the creation of man by the direct act of God; the incarnation and virgin birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; His identification as the Son of God; His vicarious atonement for the sins of mankind by the shedding of His blood on the cross; the resurrection of His body from the tomb; His power to save men from sin; the new birth through the regeneration by the Holy Spirit; and the gift of eternal life by the grace of God.

I suppose it is easier for students to memorize than either of the ancient creeds, and it probably says what it needs to. I'm not sure about the Apostles' Creed, but the Nicene Creed was designed somewhat in reaction to non-trinitarians. If BJU's creed is a "reaction" against anything, I imagine it would be to neglect and liberal interpretation of Scripture in contemporary Christianity.


Carissa said...

Actually, the precise wording of the part of the Credo during the Mass that you refer to is "by the power of the Holy Spirit, He was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man." The question about bowing the head is a good point - I always took it as a gesture of respect for Our Lady, but perhaps it's a recognition that the Incarnation is the central event in history.

Paul Matzko said...

Dr. John Matzko (Uncle Jack to me) talked about this in Historical Research and Writing when I took the class last year.

Each creed shows an emphasis that is a response to a contemporary heterodoxical conflict.

The Apostles' Creed was a reaction against gnosticism early in the Church. Gnostics typically believed that Jesus was a spirit being without a fallen corrupt physical body. Notice the portion that emphasizes the literal birth, death, and resurrection of Christ. They typically applied this belief in one of two way:

1) by orgiastically indulging the flesh since nothing they did harmed their true spiritual essense, or

2) by hermetic punishment of the body and the material.

The second emphasis played a role in the development of monasticism, a movement that really began in earnest in the eastern part of the Roman Empire where Gnosticism had the greatest influence. Monasticism than spread to the center of the empire itself, Rome. Today it is associated with Roman Catholicism, but its roots are intertwined with doctrinal controversies that predate the Roman Catholic Church.

There are other doctrinal holdovers that sound odd to us today but make sense within the context of the culture and the time, like the part that says "He descended into Hell."