Apostles' Creed

The rubric above this 13th-century illuminated manuscript translates "twelve articles of faith set out by twelve apostles".

The Apostles' Creed (Latin: Symbolum Apostolorum or Symbolum Apostolicum), sometimes titled the Apostolic Creed or the Symbol of the Apostles, is an early statement of Christian belief—a creed or "symbol".[a] It is widely used by a number of Christian denominations for both liturgical and catechetical purposes, most visibly by liturgical Churches of Western tradition, including the Catholic Church, Lutheranism and Anglicanism. It is also used by Presbyterians, Moravians, Methodists and Congregationalists.

The Apostles' Creed is trinitarian in structure with sections affirming belief in God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. The Apostles' Creed was based on Christian theological understanding of the canonical gospels, the letters of the New Testament and to a lesser extent the Old Testament. Its basis appears to be the old Roman Creed known also as the Old Roman Symbol.

Because of the early origin of its original form, it does not address some Christological issues defined in the Nicene and other Christian creeds. It thus says nothing explicitly about the divinity of either Jesus or the Holy Spirit. Nor does it address many other theological questions which became objects of dispute centuries later.

The earliest known mention of the expression "Apostles' Creed" occurs in a letter of AD 390 from a synod in Milan and may have been associated with the belief, widely accepted in the 4th century, that, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, each of the Twelve Apostles contributed an article to the twelve articles of the creed.[2][3]

History

The word Symbolum, standing alone, appears around the middle of the third century in the correspondence of St. Cyprian and St. Firmilian, the latter in particular speaking of the Creed as the "Symbol of the Trinity", and recognizing it as an integral part of the rite of baptism.[4]

The title Symbolum Apostolicum (Symbol or Creed of the Apostles) appears for the first time in a letter, probably written by Ambrose, from a Council in Milan to Pope Siricius in about AD 390 "Let them give credit to the Creed of the Apostles, which the Roman Church has always kept and preserved undefiled".[5][6] But 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 only in the 7th century.[7]

This illumination from a 13th-century manuscript shows the apostles writing the Creed, receiving inspiration from the Holy Spirit.

The account of the origin of this creed, the forerunner and principal source of the Apostles' Creed,[8] as having been jointly created by the Apostles under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, with each of the twelve contributing one of the articles, was already current at that time.[6]

The earlier text evolved from simpler texts based on Matthew 28:19,[6] part of the Great Commission, and it has been argued that this earlier text was already in written form by the late 2nd century (c. 180).[6][9][10]

While 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,[11] the earliest appearance of what we know as the Apostles' Creed was in the De singulis libris canonicis scarapsus ("Excerpt from Individual Canonical Books") of St. Pirminius (Migne, Patrologia Latina 89, 1029 ff.), written between 710 and 714.[12] Bettenson and Maunder state that it is first from Dicta Abbatis Pirminii de singulis libris canonicis scarapsus (idem quod excarpsus, excerpt), c. 750.[13] This longer Creed seems to have arisen in what is now France and Spain. Charlemagne imposed it throughout his dominions, and it was finally accepted in Rome, where the Old Roman Symbol or similar formulas had survived for centuries.[6] It has been argued nonetheless that it dates from the second half of the 5th century, though no earlier.[14]

As can be seen from various creeds all quoted in full below, 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, like the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of England, Lutheran churches and Methodist churches, talk more generally of “the resurrection of the body”.[15]

Some have suggested that the Apostles' Creed was spliced together with phrases from the New Testament.[16] For instance, the phrase "descendit ad inferos" (Ephesians 4:9, "κατέβη εἰς τὰ κατώτερα μέρη τῆς γῆς" ("he descended into the lower earthly regions"). It is of interest that 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.[17]

This phrase and that on the communion of saints are articles found in the Apostles' Creed, but not in the Old Roman Symbol nor in the Nicene Creed.