About the Creeds
Apostles' Creed - texts
Creed - texts
The Athanasian Creed
Brief History of the Three Creeds - (Apostles, Nicene and
Athanasian Creed - Damned if you don't
Importance of the Creeds is outlined in Article
8 of the 39 Articles
The Filioque Clause in the
Teaching of Anselm of
Canterbury : Churchman Article by Dennis Ngien (118/3 & 118/4 - 2004)
Part 1 - Part 2
A generation or two ago every
regular Sunday service in the Church of England would have included
the recitation of either the Nicene or Apostles' Creeds. Today,
however, it is possible to attend some churches week by week and
rarely hear them read.
In the 1980 Alternative
Services Book these two Creeds were not optional and although
some alternative affirmations of faith were later introduced they
were not part of the ASB itself. Common Worship changed the situation
considerably, although the services really only reflect what was
already happening in many churches. At the Lord's Supper it is
still expected that the Nicene Creed should be used but 'on
occasion the Apostle's Creed or an authorized Affirmation of Faith
may be used'. In A Service of the Word there should
be 'an authorized Creed, or, if occasion demands, an authorized
Affirmation of Faith'. However, this requirement can be dispensed
with at anything other than the ‘principal service’.
The effect is that where churches hold two Sunday services there
need be no affirmation or creed at all in the second service.
Why are the creeds now
used so little? One reason, as Common Worship clearly recognises,
is that people want variety in liturgy and therefore as with most
other texts a multitude of alternatives are given. No alternative
Creeds are provided except the Athanasian Creed in the Prayer
Book version although it is permitted to use the Apostles' Creed
instead of the Nicene Creed at the Lord's Supper. (Using the Nicene
Creed without the filioque clause is also permitted - the Spirit
proceeds from the Father alone.)
However, there are other
affirmations of faith that can be used instead of the Creeds.
The alternatives include a credal hymn which closely follows the
Apostle's Creed and also four affirmations composed almost entirely
of direct Scriptural quotation (Phil 2.-11, 1 Cor 15.3-7 etc).
A further reason for
the demise of the Creeds is that many churches want shorter texts
in order to keep the use of liturgy to a minimum. This does not
only affect the Creed, Bible readings have also been squeezed
out in the interests of brevity. The change does not seem to make
services noticeably shorter since the time saved is devoted to
more songs, notices and long introductions.
As a result in many
churches the Apostle's Creed and Nicene Creed are now something
of a rarity. Does this really matter, particularly if they are
replaced by an affirmation based on Scripture?
Purpose of Creeds
Both the Apostle's
and Nicene Creed had their origins as baptismal affirmations.
In its present form the Apostle's creed is relatively late but
creeds similar to it were apparently in use by the second and
third centuries. The Nicene Creed was likewise adapted from a
baptismal Creed that was submitted to the Council of Nicea for
When people became
Christians from pagan backgrounds it was important that they were
taught the Christian faith. Creeds were a neat summary of that
faith and were used as part of the teaching
process. This is reflected in our Catechism in the Book of Common
Prayer where the Apostle's Creed is recited and then the candidate
asked questions about it. Because a creed was taught to new
believers it was only natural that they would be asked to assent
to or recite it at baptism. Therefore, since very early days a
Creed has been a key part of the baptismal liturgy and the dominant
used for this in the western Church has been the Apsotle's Creed.
Regrettably the Church of England revoked this long tradition
in 1980 and replaced the Creed by a short series of questions.
Part of the driving force behind Common Worship was a return to
ancient practice and initially the new Baptism service allowed
only the Apostle's Creed. Wthin a couple of years the Synod weakened
this by allowing a shorter and much weaker affirmation where there
are 'strong pastoral reasons' to do so.
The Creeds are therefore
not additional truth but merely a summary of Scriptural faith,
a sort of early and brief systematic theology. Their value begins
and ends with the fact that they are Scriptural as is demonstrated
by Article 8 of the Thirty-Nine articles:
The Three Creeds,
Nicene Creed, Athanasius's Creed, and that which is commonly called
the Apostles' Creed, ought thoroughly to be received and believed:
for they may be proved by most certain warrants of holy Scripture.
In our own day when
there seems to be far greater ignorance about the Christian faith
both outside and within the churches the Creeds ought to have
a place in our teaching. It is true that they do not
address some of the key issues of our day, for example they say
nothing about the nature or authority of the Bible. However, this
is because those who produced these Creeds did not doubt that
the Bible was the Word of God and therefore carried all the authority
of God. What we can say is that the Nicene Creed provides a summary
of the Christian faith that has stood the test of time. It describes
the nature of God and it sets out the work of God in creation,
in salvation through Christ, in the world today through the Holy
Spirit and in the future return and judgement of Christ. The
Creeds can provide a useful outline for a preaching series, an
introduction to the Christian faith, a home study group or an
in depth discipleship group.
Because the Creeds
provide a summary of Biblical truth they have also functioned
as statements of the boundaries of Christian orthodoxy. This is
particularly true of the Nicene Creed that began as a baptismal
creed but was then modified to state the truth more clearly by
denying erroneous views about the nature and deity of the Lord
Jesus. This is an important feature of truth that is out of favour
in our day. If one thing is true then others are false. Moreover,
it is sometimes safer to state what is true by denying the alternatives
because in doing so we are not pretending to be able to fully
define or understand the truth we declare. In dealing with the
nature of the eternal God this approach is especially necessary.
Dangers of Creeds
Despite their benefits
there are problems with Creeds.
First, they are not
Scripture and should never be seen as such. Sometimes people appear
to treat them as if they had exactly the same authority as God's
Word but they do not. Their authority is a derived authority because,
as Article 8 indicates, they can be proved from Scripture and
because the Church has deemed them valuable. In principle they
could be revised if it could be demonstrated that they were inconsistent
with Scripture or that they were misleading. However, with humility
we have to accept that the Creeds have stood the test of time.
Secondly, the Creeds
are limited in what they cover. It is notable that the Reformers
did not draw up any new creeds but they devoted a lot of attention
to articles of faith that covered far more ground. These articles
have no general place in public worship, although they would often
Thirdly, it is easy
to repeat the words without thinking or indeed without truly accepting
or believing what we are saying. This is a danger with all liturgical
texts because there it is easy to find that the words come out
of our mouths but not from our hearts. Nevertheless, we cannot
blame the texts themselves for this, it can happen just as easily
with Bible reading, the problem is with us.
Fourthly, the Creeds can give the impression that what saves us
is knowledge. People may come to think that if we wish to be saved
we must have a sufficient and clear grasp of these statements
that we understand them fully and accept perfectly what they teach.
But faith requires knowledge as is addressed in a separate article
(Damned if you don't).
Despite the dangers the Creeds have
stood the test of time, they have proved valuable to generations
of Christians. It may be tempting to think that we are somehow
better than those who have gone
before us and that we can get by without the Creeds, but wisdom
and humility ought to help us to see that these statements are
not just of historical interest but of real value to our churches
of page from Cross†Way 93)