Our Historic Creeds

by Allan Smith

Detail from a Nicene Creed early Latin manuscript. Photo: By People - Codex Vat., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8304606
Detail from a Nicene Creed early Latin manuscript. Photo: By People – Codex Vat., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8304606

The October Niagara Anglican had an article on the Nicene Creed floundering in a sea of questions which discombobulates the reader.

In the earliest days of the Church, it is possible that the “creed” which the candidate for baptism was required to profess “in the sight of many witnesses” was a formula such as Jesus is Lord or Jesus Messiah is Son of God (See also Acts 16:31, Romans 10:9, 1 Corinthians 12:1-13, Hebrews 4:14).

With the expansion of Christian communities around the Mediterranean and a disconcerting multiplication of heretical teachers, a more elaborate baptismal creed came into being. Near the end of the second century, the Old Roman Creed was offered, a shorter and earlier version of the Apostles’ Creed. It grew out of the confession of Peter (Matthew 16:16).

The duty of the apostles’ successors in the oversight of the Church was above all things to guard “the good deposit” in the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit (II Tim 1:14).

Early in the fourth century a Christian presbyter in Alexandria, Egypt, named Arius said that Jesus was a created being (not divine). The bishops around the Eastern Mediterranean met at Nicaea (Nicaea, now Iznik in Turkey) under the request of the Roman Emperor Constantine in the year 325, resulting in Arius being proclaimed a heretic. It is interesting that today Jehovah Witnesses believe in a form of Arianism. The Council of Nicaea inserted “homoousios to Patri” —one substance with the Father —in the Nicene Creed.

An outstanding effort was made to give formulated expression to the doctrines of the Christian faith during the Greek and Roman age through the creeds of the ancient Church.

A second burst of creedal formation occurred during the Reformation.

Across all denominations there are a multitude of creedal statements. The Christian Reform Church of today has the Heidelberg Catechism along with three others. Anglicans use the Apostles’, Nicene and Athanasian creeds named after the bishop Athanasius of Egypt in the reign of Constantine.

Creeds are based on historical events, citing Jesus’ death and resurrection.

In the Nicene Creed we say Christ came down from heaven. We do not mean he descended from somewhere in the sky to earth, rather he who is altogether divine shared our human lot. Creedal language has this symbolic quality to it.

When we affirm the creeds, we commit, in trust and confidence, ourselves to the God who became human for us and for our salvation.

In one Spirit we were all baptized into one body —Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of the one Spirit.

Allan Smith is a retired history teacher and a member of St. Andrew’s Grimsby.

Cover Image: By People – Codex Vat., Public Domain