A creed (credo, suvmbolun, regula fidei) is a confession of faith for pub. use or a form of words setting forth with authority certain articles of belief. Creeds do not precede faith, but follow it. Christian creeds express the convictions of the believer toward Christ and His Word. Confession is, then, the outward manifestation of a deed and gift of God. A conf. is subjective inasmuch as faith springs from the heart and objective inasmuch as such faith can be characterized only by its foundation and content.
Creeds were used as summaries of doctrine, bonds of union, safeguards against error, and means of instruction. Creeds have, to a remarkable degree, inc. the basic principles of their confessors, and an understanding of creeds is indispensable in the study of ch. cultures. In the RC Ch. creeds are regarded as absolute and infallible in authority. In Prot. chs. creeds (norma* normata,) are relative to the Bible (norma* normans). As instruments, creeds have been nobly used (in proclaiming, teaching, defending, preserving the truth) but also abused (in compulsion, persecution, suppression, misdirection).
Creeds arose from the gen. ch. (e.g., Apostles' Creed), from councils (e.g., Nicene Creed), from syns. (e.g., Westminster Conf.), from committees (e.g., FC), from an individual (e.g., Luther's Catechism), or from an individual acting for a group (e.g., AC). They developed from precedents beginning with NT creedal statements: Jesus is Christ, God, Lord, Savior (Mt 16:16; Mk 8:29; Lk 9:20; Acts 4:12; 8:37; Ro 1:3; 10:9; 1 Co 12:3; Heb 4:14; 1 Jn 4:15; 5:5; amplified in 1 Co 15:34; 2 Ti 2:8; Ph 2:511; 1 Ptr 3:1822); the fish was early used as a symbol for this confession because the letters of the Gk. word for fish (ichthys) are the first letters of lesous Christos Theou (H)yios Soter (Jesus Christ, God's Son, Savior). In the history of creeds may be traced the unfolding of Scriptural thought (not a development of Scriptural doctrine, but, as Luther said in speaking of the Apostles' Creed, honey gathered from many flowers) as well as the development of false religious premises. In their stress creeds bear the impress of their age and purpose. Though they may not give the Bible's answer to unforeseen crises at all times, their hist. is a demonstration of the fact that they contain basic principles from which new formulations continually proceed. Thus ecumenical creeds (one or more) are usually considered basic by Christian chs. and later creeds extend or explain them.
After the ecumenical* creeds (the term indicates coextension with the visible ch. but the 3 creeds have not been equally received in all Christendom) had been written, few creeds were written until the Reformation era. The creeds of that era incorporated the principles which were developed in the succeeding age. The creeds of the 16th c. bore the impress of the profound theol. controversies. When the controversies subsided, a climax in creed making had been reached, and a reaction is indicated in the brief, popular, and practical creeds of succeeding ages.
Many platforms and statements have been formulated in modern times, though none has attained paramount importance. One trend is indicated by statements which seek to reunite Christendom on the simplest formulations. Diametrically opposed to such statements are attempts to develop creeds in greater detail in whole or part. In the late 19th and early 20th c. there was a trend away from creedal subscription in some chs. This trend was reversed by the middle of the 20th c., and a new interest in creeds and confessions became evident.
See also Anglican Confessions; Democratic Declarations of Faith; Eastern Orthodox Standards of Doctrine; Lutheran Confessions; Presbyterian Confessions; Reformed Confessions; Roman Catholic Confessions; Theology. American sects and cults listed by individual name. EL
P. Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, 3 vols. (New York, 1877; reprint. and rev. to 1966) W. Elert, Morphologie des Luthertums, I (Munich, 1931; 1952 print.), 176185, tr. W. A. Hansen, The Structure of Lutheranism, I (St. Louis, 1962), 200210; H. Heppe, Die Bekenntnisschriften der altprotestantischen Kirche Deutschlands (Cassel, 1855); F. W. Bodemann, Vergleichende Darstellung der Unterscheidungslehren der vier christlichen Hauptkonfessionen (Göttingen, 1869); W. A. Curtis, A History of Creeds and Confessions of Faith in Christendom and Beyond (New York, 1912); Creeds of the Churches, ed. J. H. Leith (Chicago, 1963); Die Bekenntnisschriften der evangelisch-lutherischen Kirche, 4th rev. ed. (Göttingen, 1959); E. L. Lueker, Functions of Symbols and of Doctrinal Statements, CTM, XXXII (May 1961), 274285; T. G. Tappert, The Symbols of the Church, What Lutherans Are Thinking, ed. E. C. Fendt (Columbus, Ohio, 1947), pp. 343367; The Church and the Confessions, ed. V. Vajta and H. Weissgerber (Philadelphia, 1963).
Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
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