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§ 7. The Apostles' Creed.


I. See the Gen. Lit. on the Œcum. Creeds, § 6, p. 12, especially Hahn, Heurtley, Lumby, Swainson, and Caspari (the third vol. 1875).

II. Special treatises on the Apostles' Creed:

Rufinus (d. at Aquileja 410, a presbyter and monk, translator and continuator of Eusebius's Church History to A.D. 395, and translator of some works of Origen, with unscrupulous adaptations to the prevailing standard of orthodoxy; at first an intimate friend, afterwards a bitter enemy of St. Jerome): Expositio Symboli (Apostolici), first printed, under the name of Jerome, at Oxford 1468, then at Rome 1470, at Basle 1519, etc.; also in the Appendix to John Fell's ed. of Cyprian's Opera (Oxon. 1682, folio, p. 17 sq.), and in Rufini Opera, ed. Vallarsi (Ver. 1745). See the list of edd. in Migne's Patrol. xxi. 17–20. The genuineness of this Exposition of the Creed is disputed by Ffoulkes, on the Athanas. Creed, p. 11, but without good reason.

Ambrosius (bishop of Milan, d. 397): Tractatus in Symbolum Apostolorum (also sub tit. De Trinitate). Opera, ed. Bened., Tom. II. 321. This tract is by some scholars assigned to a much later date, because it teaches the double procession of the Holy Spirit; but Hahn, l.c. p. 16, defends the Ambrosian authorship with the exception of the received text of the Symbolum Apostolicum, which is prefixed. Also, Explanatio Symboli ad initiandos, ascribed to St. Ambrose, and edited by Angelo Mai in Scriptorum Veterum Nova Collectio, Rom. 1833, Vol. VII. pp. 156–158, and by Caspari, in the work quoted above, II. 48 sq.

Venant. Fortunatus. (d. about 600): Expositio Symboli (Opera, ed. Aug. Luchi, Rom. 1786).

Augustinus. (bishop of Hippo, d. 430): De Fide et Symbolo liber unus. Opera, ed. Bened., Tom. XI. 505–522. Sermo de Symbolo ad catechumenos, Tom. VIII. 1591–1610. Sermones de traditione Symboli, Tom. VIII. 936 sq.

Mos. Amyraldus (Amyraut, Prof. at Saumur, d. 1664): Exercitationes in Symb. Apost. Salmur. 1663.

Isaac Barrow (Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, d. 1677). Sermons on the Creed (Theolog. Works, 8 vols., Oxf. 1830, Vol. IV.–VI).

John Pearson (Bishop of Chester, d. 1686): An Exposition of the Creed, 1659, 3d ed. 1669 fol. (and several later editions by Dobson, Burton, Nichols, Chevallier). One of the classical works of the Church of England.

Peter King (Lord Chancellor of England, d. 1733): The History of the Apostles' Creed, with Critical Observations, London, 1702. (The same in Latin by Olearius, Lips. 1706.)

H. Witsius (Prof. in Leyden, d. 1708): Exercitationes sacræ in Symbolum quod Apostolorum dicitur, Amstel. 1700; Basil. 1739. English translation by Fraser, Edinb. 1823, 2 vols.

J. E. Im. Walch (Professor in Jena, d. 1778): Antiquitates symbolicæ, quibus Symboli Apostolici historia illustratur, Jena, 1772, 8vo.

A. G. Rudelbach (Luth.): Die Bedeutung des apost. Symbolums, Leipz. 1844 (78 pp.).

Peter Meyers (R. C.): De Symboli Apostolici Titulo, Origine et Auctoritate, Treviris, 1849 (pp. 210). Defends the apostolic origin.

J. W. Nevin: The Apostles' Creed, in the 'Mercersburg Review,' Mercersburg, Pa., for 1849, pp. 105, 201, 313, 585. An exposition of the doctrinal system of the Creed.

Michel Nicolas: Le symbole des apôtres, Paris, 1867. Rationalistic.

G. Lisco (jun.): Das apostolische Glaubensbekenntniss, Berlin, 1872. In opposition to its obligatory use in the church.

O. Zöckler: Das apostolische Symbolum, Güterslohe, 1872 (40 pp.). In defense of the Creed.

Carl Semisch (Prof. of Church History in Berlin): Das apostolische Glaubensbekenntniss, Berlin, 1872 (31 pp.).

A. Mücke: Das apostolische Glaubensbekenntniss der ächte Ausdruck apostolischen Glaubens, Berlin, 1873 (160 pp.).

The Apostles' Creed, or Symbolum Apostolicum, is, as to its form, not the production of the apostles, as was formerly believed, but an admirable popular summary of the apostolic teaching, and in full harmony with the spirit and even the letter of the New Testament.

I. Character and Value.—As the Lord's Prayer is the Prayer of prayers, the Decalogue the Law of laws, so the Apostles' Creed is the Creed of creeds. It contains all the fundamental articles of the Christian faith necessary to salvation, in the form of facts, in simple Scripture 15language, and in the most natural order—the order of revelation— from God and the creation down to the resurrection and life everlasting. It is Trinitarian, and divided into three chief articles, expressing faith—in God the Father, the Maker of heaven and earth, in his only Son, our Lord and Saviour, and in the Holy Spirit (in Deum Patrem, in Jesum Christum, in Spiritum Sanctum); the chief stress being laid on the second article, the supernatural birth, death, and resurrection of Christ. Then, changing the language (credo in for credo with the simple accusative), the Creed professes to believe 'the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the remission of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.'1616   This change was observed already by Rufinus (l.c. § 36), who says: 'Non dicit "In Sanctam Ecclesiam," nec "In remissionem peccatorum," nec "In carnis resurrectionem." Si enim addidisset "in" præpositionem, una eademque vis fuisset cum superioribus. . . . Hac præpositionis syllaba Creator a creaturis secernitur, et divina separantur ab humanis.' The Roman Catechism (P. I. c. 10, qu. 19) also marks this distinction, 'Nunc autem, mutata dicendi forma, "sanctam," et non "in sanctam" ecclesiam credere profitemur.' It is by far the best popular summary of the Christian faith ever made within so brief a space. It still surpasses all later symbols for catechetical and liturgical purposes, especially as a profession of candidates for baptism and church membership. It is not a logical statement of abstract doctrines, but a profession of living facts and saving truths. It is a liturgical poem and an act of worship. Like the Lord's Prayer, it loses none of its charm and effect by frequent use, although, by vain and thoughtless repetition, it may be made a martyr and an empty form of words. It is intelligible and edifying to a child, and fresh and rich to the profoundest Christian scholar, who, as he advances in age, delights to go back to primitive foundations and first principles. It has the fragrance of antiquity and the inestimable weight of universal consent. It is a bond of union between all ages and sections of Christendom. It can never be superseded for popular use in church and school.1717   Augustine calls the Apostolic Symbol 'regula fidei brevis et grandis; brevis numero verborum, grandis pondere sententiarum.' Luther says: 'Christian truth could not possibly be put into a shorter and clearer statement.' Calvin (Inst., Lib. II. c. 16, § 18), while doubting its strictly apostolic composition, yet regards it as an admirable and truly scriptural summary of the Christian faith, and follows its order in his Institutes, saying: 'Id extra controversiam positum habemus, totam in eo [Symbolo Ap.] fidei nostræ historiam succincte distinctoque ordine recenseri, nihil autem contineri, quod solidis Scripturæ testimoniis non sit consignatum.' J. T. Müller (Lutheran, Die Symb. Bücher der Evang. Luth. K., p. xvi.): 'It retains the double significance of being the bond of union of the universal Christian Church, and the seed from which all other creeds have grown.' Dr. Semisch (Evang. United, successor of Dr. Neander in Berlin) concludes his recent essay on the Creed (p. 28) with the words: 'It is in its primitive form the most genuine Christianity from the mouth of Christ himself (das ächteste Christenthum aus dem Munde Christi selbst).' Dr. Nevin (Germ. Reformed, Mercersb. Rev. 1849, p. 204): 'The Creed is the substance of Christianity in the form of faith . . . the direct immediate utterance of the faith itself.' Dr. Shedd (Presbyterian, Hist. Christ. Doctr., II. 433): 'The Apostles' Creed is the earliest attempt of the Christian mind to systematize the teachings of the Scripture, and is, consequently, the uninspired foundation upon which the whole after-structure of symbolic literature rests. All creed development proceeds from this germ.' Bishop Browne (Episcopalian, Exp. 39 Art., p. 222): 'Though this Creed was not drawn up by the apostles themselves, it may well be called Apostolic, both as containing the doctrines taught by the apostles, and as being in substance the same as was used in the Church from the times of the apostles themselves.' It is the only Creed used in the baptismal service of the Latin, Anglican, Lutheran, and the Continental Reformed Churches. In the Protestant Episcopal and Lutheran Churches the Apostles' Creed is a part of the regular Sunday service, and is generally recited between the Scripture lessons and the prayers, expressing assent to the former, and preparing the mind for the latter.


At the same time, it must be admitted that the very simplicity and brevity of this Creed, which so admirably adapt it for all classes of Christians and for public worship, make it insufficient as a regulator of public doctrine for a more advanced stage of theological knowledge. As it is confined to the fundamental articles, and expresses them in plain Scripture terms, it admits of an indefinite expansion by the scientific mind of the Church. Thus the Nicene Creed gives clearer and stronger expression to the doctrine of Christ's divinity against the Arians, the Athanasian Creed to the whole doctrine of the Trinity and of Christ's person against the various heresies of the post-Nicene age. The Reformation Creeds are more explicit on the authority and inspiration of the Scriptures and the doctrines of sin and grace, which are either passed by or merely implied in the Apostles' Creed.

II. As to the origin of the Apostles' Creed, it no doubt gradually grew out of the confession of Peter, Matt. xvi. 16, which furnished its nucleus (the article on Jesus Christ), and out of the baptismal formula, which determined the trinitarian order and arrangement. It can not be traced to an individual author. It is the product of the Western Catholic Church (as the Nicene Creed is that of the Eastern Church) within the first four centuries. It is not of primary, apostolic, but of secondary, ecclesiastical inspiration. It is not a word of God to men, but a word of men to God, in response to his revelation. It was originally and essentially a baptismal confession, growing out of the inner life and practical needs of early Christianity.1818   Tertullian, De corona militum. c. 3: 'Dehinc ter mergitamur, amplius aliquid respondentes, quam Dominus in Evangelio determinavit.' The amplius respondentes refers to the Creed, not as something different from the Gospel, but as a summary of the Gospel. Comp. De bapt., c. 6, where Tertullian says that in the baptismal Creed the Church was mentioned after confessing the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. It was explained to the 17catechumens at the last stage of their preparation, professed by them at baptism, often repeated, with the Lord's Prayer, for private devotion, and afterwards introduced into public service.1919   Augustine (Op., ed. Bened., VI. Serm., 58): 'Quando surgitis, quando vos ad somnum collocatis, reddite Symbolum vestrum; reddite Domino. . . . Ne dicatis, Dixi heri, dixi hodie, quotidie dico, teneo illud bene. Commemora fidem tuam: inspice te. Sit tanquam speculum tibi Symbolum tuum. Ibi te vide si credis omnia quæ te credere confiteris, et gaude quotidie in fide tua.' It was called by the ante-Nicene fathers 'the rule of faith,' 'the rule of truth,' 'the apostolic tradition,' 'the apostolic preaching,' afterwards 'the symbol of faith.'2020    Κανὼν τῆς πίστεως, κ. τῆς ἀληθείας, παράδοσις ἀποστολική, τό ἀρχαῖον τῆς ἐκκλησίας, σύστημα, regula fidei, reg. veritatis, traditio apostolica, prædicatio ap., fides catholica, etc. Sometimes these terms are used in a wider sense, and embrace the whole course of catechetical instruction. But this baptismal Creed was at first not precisely the same. It assumed different shapes and forms in different congregations.2121   See the older regulæ fidei mentioned by Irenæus: Contra hær., lib. I. c. 10, § 1; III. c. 4, § 1, 2; IV. c. 33, § 7; Tertullian: De velandis virginibus, c. 1; Adv. Praxeam, c. 2; De præscript. hæret., c. 13; Novatianus: De trinitate s. de regula fidei (Bibl. P. P., ed. Galland. III. 287); Cyprian: Ep. ad Magnum, and Ep. ad Januarium, etc.; Origen: De principiis, I. præf. § 4–10; Const. Apost. VI. 11 and 14. They are given in Vol. II. pp. 11–40; also by Bingham, Walch, Hahn, and Heurtley. I select, as a specimen, the descriptive account of Tertullian, who maintained against the heretics very strongly the unity of the traditional faith, but, on the other hand, also against the Roman Church (as a Montanist), the liberty of discipline and progress in Christian life. De velandis virginibus, c. 1: 'Regula quidem fidei una omnino est, sola immobolis et irreformabilis, credendi scilicet in unicum Deum omnipotentem, mundi conditorem, et Filium ejus Jesum Christum, natum ex virgine Maria, crucifixum sub Pontio Pilato, tertia die resuscitatum a mortuis, receptum in cælis, sedentem nunc ad dexteram Patris, venturum judicare vivos et mortuos, per carnis etiamresurrectionem. Hac lege fidei manente cætera jam disciplinæ et conversationis admittunt novitatem correctionis, operante scilicet et proficiente usque in finem gratia Dei.' In his tract against Praxeas (cap. 2) he mentions also, as an object of the rule of faith, 'Spiritum Sanctum, paracletum, sanctificatorem fidei eorum qui credunt in Patrem et Filium et Spiritum Sanctum.' We may even go further back to the middle and the beginning of the second century. The earliest trace of some of the leading articles of the Creed may be found in Ignatius, Epistola ad Trallianos, c. 9 (ed. Hefele, p. 192), where he says of Christ that he was truly born 'of the Virgin Mary' (τοῦ ἐκ Μαρίας, ὃς ἀληθῶς ἐγεννήθη), 'suffered under Pontius Pilate' (ἀληθῶς ἐδιώχθη ἐπί Ποντίου Πιλάτου), 'was crucified and died' (ἀληθῶς ἐσταυρώθη καὶ ἀπέθανεν,) and 'was raised from the dead' (ὃς καὶ ἀληθῶς ἠγέρθη ἀπὸ νεκρῶν, ἐγείραντος αὐτὸν τοῦ πατρὸς, αὐτοῦ.) The same articles, with a few others, can be traced in Justin Martyr's Apol. I. c. 10, 13, 21, 42, 46, 50. Some were longer, some shorter; some declarative, some interrogative in the form of questions and answers.2222   Generally distributed under three heads: 1. Credis in Deum Patrem omnipotentem, etc.? Resp. Credo. 2. Credis et in Jesum Christum, etc.? Resp. Credo. 3. Credis et in Spiritum Sanctum, etc.? Resp. Credo. See the interrogative Creeds in Martene, De antiquis ecclesiæ ritibus, 1. I. c. 1, and in Heurtley, l.c. pp. 103–116. Each of the larger churches adapted 18the nucleus of the apostolic faith to its peculiar circumstances and wants; but they all agreed in the essential articles of faith, in the general order of arrangement on the basis of the baptismal formula, and in the prominence given to Christ's death and resurrection. We have an illustration in the modern practice of Independent or Congregational and Baptist churches in America, where the same liberty of framing particular congregational creeds ('covenants,' as they are called, or forms of profession and engagement, when members are received into full communion) is exercised to a much larger extent than it was in the primitive ages.

The first accounts we have of these primitive creeds are merely fragmentary. The ante-Nicene fathers give us not the exact and full formula, but only some articles with descriptions, defenses, explications, and applications. The creeds were committed to memory, but not to writing.2323   Hieronymus, Ep. 61, ad Pammach.: 'Symbolum fidei et spei nostræ, quod ab apostolis traditum, non scribitur in charta et atramento, sed in tabulis cordis carnalibus.' Augustine, Serm. ccxii, 2: 'Audiendo symbolum discitur, nec in tabulis vel in aliqua materia, sed in corde scribitur.' This fact is to be explained from the 'Secret Discipline' of the ante-Nicene Church. From fear of profanation and misconstruction by unbelievers (not, as some suppose, in imitation of the ancient heathen Mysteries), the celebration of the sacraments and the baptismal creed, as a part of the baptismal act, were kept secret among the communicant members until the Church triumphed in the Roman Empire.2424   On the Disciplina arcani comp. my Church History, I. 384 sq., and Semisch, On the Ap. Creed, p. 17, who maintains, with others, that the Apostles' Creed existed in full as a part of the Secret Discipline long before it was committed to writing.

The first writer in the West who gives us the text of the Latin creed, with a commentary, is Rufinus, towards the close of the fourth century.

The most complete or most popular forms of the baptismal creed in use from that time in the West were those of the churches of Rome, Aquileja, Milan, Ravenna, Carthage, and Hippo. They differ but little.2525   See these Nicene and post-Nicene Creeds in Hahn, l.c. pp. 3 sqq., and in Heurtley, l.c. 43 sqq. Augustine (and pseudo-Augustine) gives eight expositions of the Symbol, and mentions, besides, single articles in eighteen passages of his works. See Caspari, l.c. II. 264 sq. He follows in the main the (Ambrosian) form of the Church of Milan, which agrees substantially with the Roman. Twice he takes the North African Symbol of Carthage for a basis, which has additions in the first article, and puts the article on the Church to the close (vitam æternam per sanctam ecclesiam). We have also, from the Nicene and post-Nicene age, several commentaries on the Creed by Cyril of Jerusalem, Rufinus, Ambrose, and Augustine. They do not give the several articles continuously, but it is easy to collect and to reconstruct them from the comments in which they are expounded. Cyril expounds the Eastern Creed, the others the Western. Rufinus takes that of the Church of Aquileja, of which he was presbyter, as the basis, but notes incidentally the discrepancy between this Creed and that of the Church of Rome, so that we obtain from him the text of the Roman Creed as well. He mentions earlier expositions of the Creed, which were lost (In Symb. § 1). 19Among these, again, the Roman formula gradually gained general acceptance in the West for its intrinsic excellence, and on account of the commanding position of the Church of Rome. We know the Latin text from Rufinus (390), and the Greek from Marcellus of Ancyra (336–341). The Greek text is usually regarded as a translation, but is probably older than the Latin, and may date from the second century, when the Greek language prevailed in the Roman congregation.2626   See Caspari, Vol. III. pp. 28–161.

This Roman creed was gradually enlarged by several clauses from older or contemporaneous forms, viz., the article 'descended into Hades' (taken from the Creed of Aquileja), the predicate 'catholic' or 'general,' in the article on the Church (borrowed from Oriental creeds), 'the communion of saints' (from Gallican sources), and the concluding 'life everlasting' (probably from the symbols of the churches of Ravenna and Antioch).2727   The last clause occurs in the Greek text of Marcellus and in the baptismal creed of Antioch (καὶ εἰς ἁμαρτιῶν ἄφειν καὶ εἰς νεκρῶν ἀνάστασιν καὶ εἰς ζωὴν αἰώνιον). See Caspari, Vol. I. pp. 83 sqq. These additional clauses were no doubt part of the general faith, since they are taught in the Scriptures, but they were first expressed in local creeds, and it was some time before they found a place in the authorized formula.

If we regard, then, the present text of the Apostles' Creed as a complete whole, we can hardly trace it beyond the sixth, certainly not beyond the close of the fifth century, and its triumph over all the other forms in the Latin Church was not completed till the eighth century, or about the time when the bishops of Rome strenuously endeavored to conform the liturgies of the Western churches to the Roman order.2828   Heurtley says (l.c. p. 126): 'In the course of the seventh century the Creed seems to have been approaching more and more nearly, and more and more generally, to conformity with the formula now in use; and before its close, instances occur of creeds virtually identical with that formula. The earliest creed, however, which I have met with actually and in all respects identical with it, that of Pirminius, does not occur till the eighth century; and even towards the close of the eighth, A.D. 785, there is one remarkable example of a creed, then in use, which retains much of the incompleteness of the formula of earlier times, the Creed of Etherius Uxamensis.' The oldest known copies of our present textus receptus are found in manuscripts of works which can not be traced beyond the eighth or ninth century, viz., in a 'Psalterium Græcum Gregorii Magni,' preserved in the Library of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, and first published by Abp. Usher, 1647 (also by Heurtley, l.c. p. 82), and another in the 'Libellus Pirminii [who died 758] de singulis libris canonicis scarapsus' (=collectus), published by Mabillon (Analecta, Tom. IV. p. 575). The first contains the Creed in Latin and Greek (both, however, in Roman letters), arranged in two parallel columns; the second gives first the legend of the Creed with the twelve articles assigned to the twelve apostles, and then the Latin Creed as used in the baptismal service. See Heurtley, p. 71. 20 But if we look at the several articles of the Creed separately, they are all of Nicene or ante-Nicene origin, while its kernel goes back to the apostolic age. All the facts and doctrines which it contains, are in entire agreement with the New Testament. And this is true even of those articles which have been most assailed in recent times, as the supernatural conception of our Lord (comp. Matt. i. 18; Luke i. 35), the descent into Hades (comp. Luke xxiii. 43; Acts ii. 31; 1 Pet. iii. 19; iv. 6), and the resurrection of the body (1 Cor. xv. 20 sqq., and other places).2929   The same view of the origin of the Apostles' Creed is held by the latest writers on the subject, as Hahn, Heurtley, Caspari, Zöckler, Semisch. Zöckler says (l.c. p. 18): 'Das Apostolicum ist hinsichtlich seiner jetzigen Form sowohl nachapostolisch, als selbst nachaugustinisch, aber hinsichtlich seines Inhalts ist es nicht nur voraugustinisch, sondern ganz und gar apostolisch—in diesen einfachen Satz lässt die Summe der einschlägigen kritisch patristischen Forschungsergebnisse sich kurzerhand zusammendrängen. Und die Wahrheit dieses Satzes, soweit er die Apostolicität des Inhalts behauptet, lässt sich bezüglich jedes einzelnen Gliedes oder Sätzchens, die am spätesten hinzugekommenen nicht ausgenommen, mit gleicher Sicherheit erhärten.' Semisch traces the several articles, separately considered, up to the third and second centuries, and the substance to the first. Fr. Spanheim and Calvin did the same. Calvin says: 'Neque mihi dubium est, quin a prima statim ecclesiæ origine, adeoque ab ipso Apostolorum seculo instar publicæ et omnium calculis receptæ confessionis obtinuerit' (Inst. lib. II. c. 16, § 18). The most elaborate argument for the early origin is given by Caspari, who derives the Creed from Asia Minor in the beginning of the second century (Vol. III. pp. 1–161).

The rationalistic opposition to the Apostles' Creed and its use in the churches is therefore an indirect attack upon the New Testament itself. But it will no doubt outlive these assaults, and share in the victory of the Bible over all forms of unbelief.3030   The discussion of the Apostles' Creed entered a stage of great warmth after Dr. Schaff's death, 1893. The work by Kattenbusch, the most extensive and exhaustive on the subject, was followed by treatments from the pens of Harnack, Cremer, Zahn, Loofs, Kunze, and others in Germany, Burn, and Badcock, 1930, in England and McGiffert in the United States. The early Roman baptismal formula is carried by Harnack and Mirbt to 150 or earlier, and by Kattenbusch and Zahn to 120 or earlier. A. Seeberg found the clauses in the New Testament writings and held that a creedal formula was in use in Apostolic times. McGiffert, who was followed by Krüger, proposed the theory that the formula was a reply to the heresies of Marcion about 160. Badcock opposes the view of Kattenbusch, Harnack, and Burn on the origin of the Apostles' Creed, relying in part upon Irenaeus's recently found treatise, "The teaching of the Apostles." The renewed study of the Apostles' Creed was followed by a new study of the doctrine of the Virgin birth of Christ in view of the omission of the clause "conceived by the Holy Ghost" in the forms of the Rule of Faith known to us and the statement of the early Roman baptismal formula, "born of the Holy Ghost and the Virgin Mary." The most recent treatise on the Virgin birth is by Machen, The Virgin Birth of Christ, N. Y., 1930.—Ed.


III. I add a table, with critical notes, to show the difference between the original Roman creed, as given by Rufinus in Latin (about A.D. 390), and by Marcellus in Greek (A.D. 336–341), and the received form of the Apostles' Creed, which came into general use in the seventh or eighth century. The additions are inclosed in brackets.

The old Roman Form. The Received Form.
1. I believe in God the Father Almighty3131   The Creed of Aquileja has, after Patrem omnipotentem, the addition: 'invisibilem et impassibilem,' in opposition to Sabellianism and Patripassianism. The Oriental creeds insert one before God. Marcellus omits Father, and reads εἰς θεὸν παντοκράτορα.

1. I believe in God the Father Almighty [Maker of heaven and earth].3232   'Creatorem cœli et terræ' appears in the Apostles' Creed from the close of the seventh century, but was extant long before in ante-Nicene rules of faith (Irenæus, Adv. hœr. I. c. 10, 1; Tertullian, De vel. virg. c. l, 'mundi conditorem;' De prœscr. hæret. c. 13), in the Nicene Creed (ποιητὴν οὐρανοῦ καὶ γῆς, κ.τ.λ.), and all other Eastern creeds, in opposition to the Gnostic schools, which made a distinction between the true God and the Maker of the world (the Demiurge).

2. And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord; 2. And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord;

3. Who was born by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary;3333   'Qui natus est de Spiritu Sancto ex (or et) Maria virgine.'

3. Who was [conceived] by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary;3434   'Qui CONCEPTUS est de Spiritu Sancto, natus ex Maria virgine.' The distinction between conception and birth first appears in the Sermones de Tempore, falsely attributed to Augustine.

4. Was crucified under Pontius Pilate and was buried;

4. [Suffered]3535   'Passus,' perhaps from the Nicene Creed (παθόντα, which there implies the crucifixion). In some forms 'crucifixus,' in others 'mortuus' is omitted. under Pontius Pilate, was crucified [dead], and buried


[He descended into Hell (Hades)];3636   From the Aquilejan Creed: 'Descendit ad inferna,' or, as the Athanasian Creed has it, 'ad inferos,' to the inhabitants of the spirit-world. Some Eastern (Arian) creeds: κατέβη εἰς τὸν ᾅδην (also εἰς τὰ καταχθόνια, or εἰς τὰ κατώτατα). Augustine says (Ep. 99, al. 164, § 3) that unbelievers only deny 'fuisse apud inferos Christum.' Venantius Fortunatus, A.D. 570, who had Rufinus before him, inserted the clause in his creed. Rufinus himself, however, misunderstood it by making it to mean the same as buried (§ 18: 'vis verbi eadem videtur esse in eo quod sepultus dicitur').

5. The third day he rose from the dead; 5. The third day he rose from the dead;

6. He ascended into heaven; and sitteth on the right hand of the Father;

6. He ascended into heaven; and sitteth on the right hand of [God] the Father [Almighty];3737   The additions 'Dei' and 'omnipotentis,' made to conform to article first, are traced to the Spanish version of the Creed as given by Etherius Uxamensis (bishop of Osma), A.D. 785, but occur already in earlier Gallican creeds. See Heurtley, pp. 60, 67.

7. From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

7. From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

8. And in the HOLY GHOST; 8. [I believe]3838   'Credo,' in common use from the time of Petrus Chrysologus, d. 450. But And, without the repetition of the verb, is no doubt the primitive form, as it grew immediately out of the baptismal formula, and gives clearer and closer expression to the doctrine of the Trinity. in the Holy Ghost;
9. The Holy Church; 9. The Holy [Catholic]3939   'Catholicam' (universal), in accordance with the Nicene Creed, and older Oriental forms, was received into the Latin Creed before the close of the fourth century (comp. Augustine: De Fide et Symbolo, c. 10). The term catholic, as applied to the Church, occurs first in the Epistles of Ignatius (Ad Smyrnæos, cap. 8: ὥσπερ ὅπου ἂν ᾖ Χριστὸς Ἰησοῦς, ἐκεῖ ἡ καθολικὴ ἐκκλησία and in the Martyrium Polycarpi (inscription, and cap. 8: ἁπάσης τῆς κατὰ τὴν οἰκουμένην καθολικῆς ἐκκλησίας, comp. c. 19, where Christ is called ποιμὴν τῆς κατὰ οἰκουμένην καθολικῆς ἐκκλησίας. Church

[The communion of saints];4040   The article 'Commumionem sanctorum,' unknown to Augustine (Enchir. c. 64, and Serm. 213), appears first in the 115th and 118th Sermons De Tempore, falsely attributed to him. It is not found in any of the Greek or earlier Latin creeds. See the note of Pearson On the Creed, Art. IX. sub 'The Communion of Saints' (p. 525, ed. Dobson). Heurtley, p. 146, brings it down to the close of the eighth century, since it is wanting in the Creed of Etherius, 785. The oldest commentators understood it of the communion with the saints in heaven, but afterwards it assumed a wider meaning: the fellowship of all true believers, living and departed.

10. The forgiveness of sins; 10. The forgiveness of sins;
11. The resurrection of the body (flesh).4141   The Latin reads carnis, the Greek σαρκός, flesh; the Aquilejan form hujus carnis, of this flesh (which is still more realistic, and almost materialistic), 'ut possit caro vel pudica coronari, vel impudica puniri' (Rufinus, § 43). It should be stated, however, that there are two other forms of the Aquilejan Creed given by Walch (xxxiv. and xxxv.) and by Heurtley (pp. 30–32), which differ from the one of Rufinus, and are nearer the Roman form. 11. The resurrection of the body (flesh);
  12. [And the life everlasting].4242   Some North African forms (of Carthage and Hippo Regius) put the article of the Church at the close, in this way: 'vitam eternam per sanctam ecclesiam.' Others: carnis resurrectionem in vitam æternam. The Greek Creed of Marcellus, which otherwise agrees with the old Roman form, ends with ζωὴν αἰώνιον.

Note on the Legend of the Apostolic Origin of the Creed.—Till the middle of the seventeenth century it was the current belief of Roman Catholic and Protestant Christendom that the Apostles' Creed was 'membratim articulatimque' composed by the apostles in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, or before their separation, to secure unity of teaching, each contributing an article (hence the somewhat arbitrary division into twelve articles).4343   The old Roman form has only eleven articles, unless art. 6 be divided into two; while the received text has sixteen articles, if 'Maker of heaven and earth,' 'He descended into Hades,' 'the communion of saints,' and 'the life everlasting,' are counted separately. Peter, under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, commenced: 'I believe in God the Father Almighty;' Andrew (according to others, John) continued: 'And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord;' James the elder went on: 'Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost;' then followed John (or Andrew): 'Suffered under Pontius Pilate;' Philip: 'Descended into Hades;' Thomas: 'The third day he rose again from the dead;' and so on till Matthias completed the work with the words 'life everlasting. Amen.'

The first trace of this legend, though without the distribution alluded to, we find at the close of the fourth century, in the Expositio Symboli of Rufinus of Aquileja. He mentions an ancient tradition concerning the apostolic composition of the Creed ('tradunt majores nostri'), and falsely derives from this supposed joint authorship the name symbolon (from συμβάλλειν, in the sense to contribute); confounding σύμβολον, sign, with συμβολή, contribution ('Symbolum Græce et indicium dici potest et collatio, hoc est, quod plures in unum conferunt'). The same view is expressed, with various modifications, by Ambrosius of Milan (d. 397), in his Explanatio Symboli ad initiandos, where he says: 'Apostoli sancti convenientes fecerunt symbolum breviter;' by John Cassianus (about 424), De incarnat. Dom. VI. 3; Leo M., Ep. 27 ad Pulcheriam; Venantius Fortunatus, Expos. brevis Symboli Ap.; Isidorus of Seville (d. 636). The distribution of the twelve articles among the apostles is of later date, and there is no unanimity in this respect. See this legendary form in the pseudo-Augustinian 23Sermones de Symbolo, in Hahn, l.c. p. 24, and another from a Sacramentarium Gallicanum of the seventh century, in Heurtley, p. 67.

The Roman Catechism gives ecclesiastical sanction, as far as the Roman Church is concerned, to the fiction of a direct apostolic authorship.4444   Pars prima, cap. 1, qu. 2 (Libri Symbolici Eccl. Cath., ed. Streitwolf and Klener, Tom. I. p. 111): 'Quæ igitur primum Christiani homines tenere debent, illa sunt, quæ fidei duces, doctoresque sancti Apostoli, divino Spiritu afflati, duodecim Symboli articulis distinxerunt. Nam, cum mandatum a Domino accepissent, ut pro ipso legatione fungentes, in universum mundum proficiscerentur, atque omni creaturæ Evangelium prædicarent: Christianæ fidei formulam componendam censuerunt, ut scilicet id omnes sentirent ac dicerent, neque ulla essent inter eos schismata,' etc. Ibid. qu. 3: 'Hanc autem Christianæ fidei et spei professionem a se compositam Apostoli Symbolum appellarunt; sive quia ex variis sententiis, quas singuli in commune contulerunt, conflata est; sive quia ea veluti nota, et tessera quandam uterentur, qua desertores et subintroductos falsos fratres, qui Evangelium adulterabant, ab iis, qui veræ Christi militiæ sacramento se obligarent, facile possent internoscere.' Meyers, l.c., advocates it at length, and Abbé Martigny, in his 'Dictionnaire des antiquitées Chrétiennes,' Paris, 1865 (art. Symbole des apôtres, p. 623), boldly asserts, without a shadow of proof: 'Fidèlement attaché à la tradition de l’Église catholique, nous tenons, non-seulement qu’il est l’œuvre des apôtres, mais encore qu’il fut composé par eux, alors que réunis à Jérusalem, ils allaient se disperser dans l’univers entier; et qu’ils volurent, avant de séparer, fixer une règle de foi vraiment uniforme et catholique, destinée à être livrée, partout la même, aux catéchumènes.'

Even among Protestants the old tradition has occasionally found advocates, such as Lessing (1778), Delbrück (1826), Rudelbach (1844), and especially Grundtvig (d. 1872). The last named, a very able but eccentric high-church Lutheran bishop of Denmark, traces the Creed, like the Lord's Prayer, to Christ himself, in the period between the Ascension and Pentecost. The poet Longfellow (a Unitarian) makes poetic use of the legend in his Divine Tragedy (1871).

On the other hand, the apostolic origin (after having first been called in question by Laurentius Valla, Erasmus, Calvin4545   In his Catechism, Calvin says that the formula of the common Christian faith is called symbolum apostolorum, quod vel ab ore apostolorum excepta fuerit, vel ex eorum scriptis fideliter collecta.) has been so clearly disproved long since by Vossius, Rivetus, Voëtius, Usher, Bingham, Pearson, King, Walch, and other scholars, that it ought never to be seriously asserted again.

The arguments against the apostolic authorship are quite conclusive:

1. The intrinsic improbability of such a mechanical composition. It has no analogy in the history of symbols; even when composed by committees or synods, they are mainly the production of one mind. The Apostles' Creed is no piece of mosaic, but an organic unit, an instinctive work of art in the same sense as the Gloria in Excelsis, the Te Deum, and the classical prayers and hymns of the Church.

2. The silence of the Scriptures. Some advocates, indeed, pretend to find allusions to the Creed in Paul's 'analogy' or 'proportion of faith,' Rom. xii. 7; 'the good deposit,' 2 Tim. i. 14; 'the first principles of the oracles of God,' Heb. v. 12; 'the faith once delivered to the saints,' Jude, ver. 3; and 'the doctrine,' 2 John, ver. 10; but these passages can be easily explained without such assumption.

3. The silence of the apostolic fathers and all the ante-Nicene and Nicene fathers and synods. Even the œcumenical Council of Nicæa knows nothing of a symbol of strictly apostolic composition, and would not have dared to supersede it by another.

4. The variety in form of the various rules of faith in the ante-Nicene churches, and of the Apostolic Symbol itself down to the eighth century. This fact is attested even by Rufinus, who mentions the points in which the Creed of Aquileja differed from that of Rome. 'Such variations in the form of the Creed forbid the supposition of any fixed system of words, recognized and received as the composition of the apostles; for no one, surely, would have felt at liberty to alter any such normal scheme of faith.'4646   Dr. Nevin (l.c. p. 107), who otherwise puts the highest estimate on the Creed. See the comparative tables on the gradual growth of the Creed in the second volume of this work.

5. The fact that the Apostles' Creed never had any general currency in the East, where the Nicene Creed occupies its place, with an almost equal claim to apostolicity as far as the substance is concerned.


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