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Ecumenical Creeds.

Creeds called ecumenical: Apostles', Nicene, and Athanasian. Ecumenical means worldwide, gen., or universal. Though not all these creeds are used by all chs., they are used by chs. throughout the world.

The Apostles' Creed is characteristically Western. The Nicene Creed in its original form (without filioque [see Filioque Controversy]) is the chief confession in the E Ch. The Athanasian Creed has been in the Russ. liturgy since the 17th c. and was used for a time in the Gk. liturgy beginning 1780.

The Luth. (see Book of Concord), Angl. (see Anglican Confessions, 1), and RC Chs. (see Roman Catholic Confessions) have included the 3 creeds in their Confessions. But the Prot. Episc. Ch. in the US refused to include the Athanasian Creed in its liturgy 1785, 1786, 1789 (see also Protestant Episcopal Church, 5). The Ref. bodies, though gen. endorsing the Christological doctrines of the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds, adhered chiefly to the Apostles' Creed and inc. it in their catechisms, e.g., the Heidelberg Catechism (see Reformed Confessions, D 2).

A. Apostles' Creed.

1. This creed was not formulated by councils of theologians but grew spontaneously out of the needs of the living ch.

2. The tradition that the Creed was composed on Pent. or shortly thereafter by the 12 apostles, each contributing an article, is stated, e.g., by T. Rufinus* ca. 403 in Commentarius in symbolum apostolorum and in the Explanatio symboli ad initiandos, usually ascribed to Ambrose.* This view was embodied in the Catechismus Romanus (see Roman Catholic Confessions, A 3). Some Luths. defended the tradition. The theory was attacked by L. Valla* and D. Erasmus* and ultimately proved false on basis of intrinsic improbability, silence of the Scriptures, silence of ante-Nicene fathers, and various forms extant in the early ch.

3. The Creed grew from NT beginnings (e.g., Mt 10:32–33; Jn 1:49; 6:69; 11:27; 20:28; Acts 8:37: 14:15; 2 Co 13:14; 1 Ptr 1:2). The confession of Peter (Mt 16:16) and the baptismal formula (Mt 28:19) influenced the development of the Creed esp. More developed creedal statements are found in such ch. fathers as Ignatius of Antioch (see Apostolic Fathers, 2) and Justin* Martyr. For a long time the Creed was usually memorized but not written (disciplina* arcani). It was explained to the catechumens in the last stages of their preparation. The ante-Nicene fathers called the early forms of the Creed the “rule* of faith,” “rule of truth.” “apostolic tradition.” and “symbol.” Such “rules of faith” are mentioned by Irenaeus,* Tertullian,* Novatian,* Cyprian* of Carthage, and Origen.*

4. That the Creed developed indep. in different regions is shown by the differences existing among early creeds. The Old Roman creed read: “I believe in God the Father Almighty; and in Christ Jesus, His only (begotten) Son, our Lord; and in the Holy Spirit, the holy church, the forgiveness of sins, (and) the resurrection of the flesh.” A longer form finally became standard in the West. T. Rufinus* gives a Lat. version; Marcellus* of Ancyra gives it in Gk. Later additions were made (“descended to hell” in a 4th c. creed; “catholic” from Eastern usage; “communion of saints” [see Communio sanctorum] in a commentary on the creed by Niceta[s]* of Remesiana) until the present form triumphed in the W (6th–8th c.) as a result of RC efforts.

5. Though secondary in the E Ch., the Apostles' Creed is a strong bond of union bet. all ages and sections of Christianity. It was highly regarded e.g. by Augustine* of Hippo, M. Luther,* and J. Calvin.* Attacking this creed is tantamount to attacking Scripture.

B. Nicene Creed (Symbolum Nicaeno-Constantinopolitanum).

1. Represents the E development of the baptismal formula and shows directly the results of the Arian Controversy (see Arianism). Three forms may be distinguished:

a. The Nicene Creed of 325 grew out of the immediate necessity of safeguarding the apostolic teaching concerning the deity of Christ against the Arian heresy. It closed with the words “and in the Holy Ghost” but added an anathema against Arians.

b. The Constantinopolitan Creed is so called because, when presented to the Council of Chalcedon* 451, it was ascribed to the 381 Council of Constantinople.* It differs slightly from the Nicene Creed of 325 and has a long 3d article asserting the true deity of the Holy Spirit.

c. The 3d form differs from the others by including the word filioque. The E Orthodox Ch. held to the monarchia (“sole rule”) of the Father and the single procession of the Spirit; it differentiated the latter from the temporal mission of the Spirit from the Father and the Son. The addition of filioque emphasized the procession from the Father and the Son. In the 11th c. the RC Ch. added the word to the Creed; this led to the great schism* bet. E and W (see also Filioque Controversy).

2. The Nicene Creed, more than the Apostles' Creed, echoes sharp distinctions (e.g., “begotten, not made”) drawn by the orthodox against heresies.

C. Athanasian Creed (Symbolum Quicunque).

1. The 3d and last of the creeds called ecumenical. Its origin is obscure. Since the 9th c. it has been ascribed to Athanasius*; this view has been contested since the 17th c. and is today rejected (early councils do not mention this creed; it was written in Lat., whereas Athanasius wrote in Gk.; it presupposes later heresies: Nestorianism,* Eutychianism*). It seems to have originated in Gaul or N Afr. as a summary of the doctrinal decisions of the 1st 4 ecumenical councils. It also seeks to state the doctrine of the Trinity* in Augustinian terms.

2. By the 9th c. this creed was in the liturgy in Ger. and was used at prime (see Hours, Canonical). Luther regarded it as possibly the grandest production of the ch. since the time of the apostles. EL

See also Te Deum.

F. J. Badcock, The History of the Creeds, 2d ed. (London, 1938); H. A. Blair, A Creed Before the Creeds (New York, 1955); A. E. Burn, An Introduction to the Creeds and to the Te Deum (London. 1899): J. H. Crehan, Early Christian Baptism and the Creed (London, 1950); O. Cullmann, The Earliest Christian Confessions, tr. J. K. S. Reid (London, 1949); F. W. Danker, Creeds in the Bible (St. Louis, 1966); P. Feine, Die Gestalt des apostolischen Glaubensbekenntnisses in der Zeit des Neuen Testaments (Leipzig, 1925); A. Hahn, Bibliothek der Symbole und Glaubensregeln der alten Kirche, ed. G. L. Hahn, 3d ed. (Breslau, 1897); F. Kattenbusch, Das apostolische Symbol, 2 vols. (Leipzig, 1894–1900); J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Creeds, 2d ed. (New York, 1960) and The Athanasian Creed (New York, 1964); H. Lietzmann, Symbole der alten Kirche (Bonn, 1914); P. Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, 3 vols., first issued 1877, vol. 1 6th ed., vol. 3 4th ed. (New York, 1919); T. Zahn, Das apostolische Symbolum (Leipzig, 1893).

Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
©Concordia Publishing House, 2000, All rights Reserved. Reproduced with Permission

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