I believe in God the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the virgin Mary,
[Who] suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
He descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
[From there] He will come
to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit.
[I believe in] the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins.
[I believe in] the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.
The Apostles’ Creed
“As often as we repeat the Creed of our Baptism we repeat the words by which martyrs have lived and died”. The Apostles’ Creed is so named because it is meant to contain the heart of the faith handed on by the Apostles. It is from the old Baptismal Creed of the Roman Church. The initiates responded to these words at their baptism. They had been instructed in the faith over a long period. They had heard the teaching and now it was to be ratified in a ceremony of words and symbols and sacrament, often at Easter. Heart and mind would need to connect in their vision of God, both in the ritual of Baptism and in their life.
As Brooke Foss Westcott said, “Till the heart welcomes the Truth, it remains outside us”. However, what enters the heart needs its own description. The heart needs its own reminders, and the clearest and briefest words possible gain the prizes in such reminders: truly eloquent.
The Apostle Paul is the great transitional figure of the early Church. Though he was not in the apostolic band around Jesus, those who were “witnesses of his resurrection,” he still claims to be an apostle because Christ had revealed himself to him on the Damascus Road. Luke in Acts of the Apostles makes this conversion more of an issue than Paul does. Paul is the apostle to churches that had no one from the Twelve Apostles as their mentor, at least in name, though Rome may be an exception with its claims about Peter. He earned his stripes in his conversion on the Damascus Road, but he still speaks to those who “have not seen” Jesus “and yet have come to believe” – John 20:29. His apostolate is to the world.
Paul may be the first writer of credal statements in the Church, though the “Christ hymns” at Philippians 2:1-11 and Colossians 1:15-20 could precede Paul’s writings, at least in their core concepts. The kerygma, the discernible preaching pattern of the Apostolic Church, is itself a model for credal statements.
I Corinthians 15:1-8 and the speeches in Acts of the Apostles show a definite pattern. Christianity did not have a Ten Commandments except by inheritance. Its main focus was not Mount Sinai but an Empty Tomb and a Cross and most of all a Person.
Creeds are the outcomes of the Gospel stories. They are also a defined response to the experiences of the Holy Spirit after Jesus’ death. These experiences were spelled out in credal-like definitions such as the preaching pattern and “justification by faith”. The story-mode of Jesus’ teaching needed to be drawn into compact statements reflecting both the Gospels and the ongoing experience of the Church. Some people respond to stories and some to statements. Some of us need both narrative and summations to shape belief and practice.
What follows in this series on the Apostle’s Creed is an attempt to spell out and apply the articles of the Apostles’ Creed to the scriptural teaching of the Church. There is also an attempt to relate the Creed to the concrete circumstances of life.