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“A concise formal and authorized statement of important points of basic Christian doctrine.” The word comes from the Latin Credo (“I believe”), since the statement of faith involves not merely acceptance of truth, but personal commitment-Credo in Deum, “I believe in God.” The creed was also termed the regula fidei as equivalent of the Eastern kanomn tems alemtheias, the standard of faith, kanomn being a builder's square. Symbolum, the military “pass,” or tessara was also used, whereby the faithful would be known to each other throughout the world as against the heretics. Creeds were both the earliest development of the formal faith of the church, and the first and most authentic form of oral tradition, and are likely to have grown out of the rudimentary forms of confession we find in the NT—e.g., Rom. 10:9; 1 Cor. 12:3-not only at baptism but also in worship and instruction. (Both Trinitarian and purely christological forms are in use in the NT.) By the fourth century these confessions had become uniform, and the Apostles' Creed* in the West and the Nicene Creed* in the East became the only baptismal confessions in use.


An understanding of creeds.

A creed is an authoritative statement of the principal affirmations of the Christian faith. It is generally brief and concise, free of definition, proof, or explanation. It is at once personal, social and historical in its impact and, insofar as possible, it attempts to witness to the universal Church rather than setting forth those points of doctrine which would describe the variance within that Church. In general it is to give testimony to those universal beliefs which bind the whole Church, not only in the day in which it was written but through the history of the Church.

Although creeds were originally individual (credo, I believe), they shortly became statements of doctrine in which groups set forth their essential beliefs. They became expressive of the life of the Church because to have a belief is to express it, and to express it together is creative of the Christian communion or community. In a negative sense they exclude all those doctrines which are looked upon as false or heretical and become, therefore, standards by which certain believers are included within the community of the creed and all others are excluded. For example, the Trinitarian structure of the Apostles’ Creed excludes Judaism; the close descriptive terms of the Nicene Creed exclude all lesser or truncated statements of the nature of Christ.

Originally candidates for baptism accepted a short summary of belief which varied in detail in various localities. By the 4th cent. these baptismal confessions had become more universal and the Trinitarian structure of Matthew 28:19 became the norm. Finally the Apostles’ Creed in the W and the Nicene Creed in the E became as they are now, the baptismal confessions universally used.

A creedal form is first the basis of teaching, and second the substance of what the candidate at baptism declares to be his own faith. The following process seemed to prevail in the life of creeds and may still be characteristic of their use. (1) There is a basis of catechesis in some kind of formal statement. (2) The candidate for baptism declares this to be his belief and he may be questioned regarding his understanding of this belief. (3) All those who are brought into an ecclesiastical community under the demands of a particular creed are unified into a visible church by their common affirmations. (4) The willingness or unwillingness to agree on the affirmations of the creed of a particular visible church become, therefore, a test of orthodoxy. (5) Orthodoxy in turn becomes the basis for the denunciation of heresy. (6) This common creedal acceptance becomes the basis of lesser enterprises of the Church. What is held to be true in the creed is basically the message the Church wants to proclaim.

It seems evident, then, that creeds have become both uniting and divisive, bringing together those portions of the Christian community which agree and excluding those who disagree. It is also evident, therefore, that the briefer the creedal statement, the more universal it can become, and the more specific the creedal statement, the more exclusive or divisive it may become. The great classical creedal statements, namely the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Athanasian Creed, are therefore made up of clear, bold strokes, whereas the later confessions became expansions and definitions of more specific beliefs. The catholic creeds are uniting and universal and the later confessions become “denominational” and divisive. Catholics and Protestants alike may join in the Apostles’ Creed; it is not possible for a Roman Catholic to join in certain sections of the Westminster Confession.

The growth of creeds.

Christian creeds take their starting place with the Scriptures of the OT and NT. When man looks, however, to the Scriptures themselves, he finds no formal creedal statement. Although the so-called creeds of the Bible are basic to all that followed, they are rudimentary.

In the NT one may check and choose signs of creedal affirmation according to text or prejudice. Some examples of the sort of things that are drawn out will suffice: The confession of Nathaniel (John 1:49, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”); Peter’s Great Confession (Matt 16:16, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”); and Thomas (John 20:28, “My Lord and my God!”). These and other passages in the gospels contain some germ of subsequent creeds. All of them have Christ as their objects and express a conviction of His deity.

Elsewhere in the NT one finds the same sort of things depending on the authority cited and the interpretation sought. In the story of the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:37) the requirement for baptism was a declaration that Jesus Christ is the Son of God (not all ancient authorities support this text). In Hebrews 6 some of the elementary doctrines of the Christian religion are enumerated: repentance and faith, resurrection and judgment. Hebrews 10:23 also reflects a creed of some sort.

Summaries of belief were much later than the apostles. At least there is no record of them before the time of Irenaeus and Tertullian (a.d. 175-200). The Scripture passages already referred to were given as support for the first forms of creeds and also contributed materials out of which the articles of the Church’s faith were formulated. Christian preaching and teaching gave rise to the need for explicit statements of the truth reflected through Jesus Christ. With the exception of the Virgin Birth as a statement, rather than as an event, all the main articles of belief can be found in their inception somewhere in the NT, primarily in the epistles of Paul. The leading tenets of the subsequent faith of the Church stand out clearly and distinctly in earliest scriptural sources: the Trinity, the Lord’s deity and humanity, the Atonement, death and Resurrection, the Holy Spirit, the catholicity and basic unity of the Church.

The three classic creeds.

The main historical creedal statements which have prevailed are the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed.

The Apostles' Creed|The Apostles’ Creed

in the shorter VS (Old Roman Form) and in the longer VS (Received Form) grew up over the centuries. It is apostolic in content but not in its authorship nor format. It represents a slow development in the history of the thought of the Church. This creed was the earliest attempt of the Church to systematize belief, although the Nicene Creed was the first officially approved statement of belief. There are many points of similarity between them. The Apostles’ Creed seemed to have a natural development in which the Church in its worship and teaching was discovering basic truths which needed to be affirmed. The Nicene, on the other hand, was a fixed and formal attempt to draw up Christian teachings in such a way as to settle controversy. Numerous Early Church Fathers read and interpreted their own creeds, and thus creeds used to teach converts differ from congregation to congregation. The chief source of the Apostles’ Creed as it is known today was prob. the creed of the church of Rome. Modification took place with ideas incorporated with creeds of other churches and it was not until the 6th or 7th cent. that the creed assumed its present form. Some statements are still being debated, e.g., “he descended into hell,” the “holy catholic” Church, as against the “holy Christian” Church, and the “resurrection of the flesh.” (See article on Apostles' Creed.)

The Nicene Creed

is sometimes called the creed of the 318 because 318 bishops were said to have been called together for the purpose of clarifying the received doctrine of the Church. The Nicene Creed was drawn up by the Council of Nicaea in a.d. 325 and completed by the Council of Constantinople in 381. The basis of their operation in the original meeting was a creed presented by Eusebius of Caesarea.

The opinions of Arius at the beginning of the 4th cent. had created such unrest that the Emperor Constantine intervened. He called a council at Nicaea and by that act set a pattern for church councils and in passing raised the question in later centuries of the authority of councils as against the authority of the pope (Nicaea a.d. I:325, Constantinople I, a.d. 385, Ephesus, a.d. 431, Chalcedon, a.d. 451, Constantinople II, a.d. 553, Constantinople III, a.d. 680, Nicaea II, a.d. 787). It is notable also that these councils were called by the ruler of the state rather than by the ruler of the Church. This was necessitated by the division and strife then rampant in the Church. These councils were, as far as possible, ecumenical, and were basically attempts to unify. The Nicene Creed, therefore, as against the slow growth of the Apostles’ Creed, was proposed as a statement of belief in the interests of unity. It is unquestionably a well-structured formal declaration of catholic doctrine and it still serves its purpose.

One of the strange quirks of history is that there is no known record of the proceedings of the Council of Nicaea. There is no way of knowing whether it lasted for weeks or for days. Arius who was only a presbyter, had no official status, but was given opportunity to speak and was defeated in debate by Athanasius.

The controversy centered on the relationship of the Son to the Father, the key word being homoóusios (“of one substance with”). The Arians opposed this term, which nevertheless prevailed. The Sabellians or semi-Arians held out for a mediating term, homoióusios (“of like substance”), but the stronger word held. A major decision, therefore, in the history of orthodoxy, setting the christological tone of the Church thenceforth hinged on the use of one Gr. letter; “being of one substance with the Father” became the central affirmation of this creed.

Also illustrative of the seriousness of theological discussions in those early days was the Filioque addition. In the clause, “proceedeth from the Father and the Son,” the words “and the son” (Filioque) were adopted by the Council of Toledo in 589. Later scholarship holds that the word was actually an interpolation rather than an adoption by a council. In the 9th cent. Leo III pronounced against this word Filioque as an interpolation. In spite of his pronouncement, however, Emperor Henry II (c. a.d. 1014) prevailed on Benedict VIII “to chant the Symbol at the Holy Mysteries.” Thus the interpolation remained. After the 9th cent. this became a divisive matter between the Gr. and Lat. churches, the Eastern church striking it out, and the Western church, which should have known better, keeping it in; for from the 9th cent. on no change has been made in the Nicene Creed. Filioque is firmly established in the W, denied in the E, and yet scholarship in both great divisions of Christendom are agreed that the word is an interpolation! If this kind of debate seems strange to modern ears, one is reminded that the scars of persecution lay on those who in those days drew up creeds. At the Council of Nicaea, two bishops had lost an eye and another had been hamstrung; Bishop Paul of Caesarea had had his hands so severely treated with hot irons that they were paralyzed. If such men seem now to have been overly anxious about words and phrases, one can understand their anxiety in a day when truth and error and their sharp definitions could be matters of life and death.

The Athanasian Creed

is primarily referred to as the Symbolum Quicumque, with the rise of the custom of naming ecclesiastical papers by the first two Lat. words of their content. As far as scholarship can now determine, this was a fully structured creed when it appeared. It was not a creedal growth like the Apostles’ Creed, nor the outcome of official approval and authority like the Nicene. It belongs to a class of individual or private confessions of faith which became acceptable to the whole Church. It is more a manual of instruction than a creed. Although it bears the name of Athanasius, its appearance was after the time of Charlemagne, and the name of Athanasius was attached to it, apparently to give it authority. Both authorship and date are uncertain, although there is little doubt that it can be identified with “the faith of the holy prelate Athanasius.” Whereas the Nicene Creed settled the question of the nature of Christ, the Athanasian Creed established the doctrine of the Trinity. Also, interestingly enough, it carried throughout a note of judgment, a threat against those who do not hold and follow the truth of God.

Creeds and confessions.

In general it may be said that creeds were the burden of the 4th and 5th centuries, and the confessions of the 16th and 17th centuries. The 20th cent. sees a revival of the writing of confessions. Speaking in general again, a creed as illustrated by the three classical creeds—Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian—is concerned with the unifying essentials of the universal Church in every place and in every age. A confession, on the other hand, is a more comprehensive statement of theology, more denominational than traditional. Whereas in the creed there is a clarification of the fundamentals of the faith, one finds in confessions not only the clarification but an increase of identification of some branch of the church by way of a fuller treatment of those specifics over which churches divide.

This distinction is clearly seen in the differences between the Apostles’ Creed and the great classic confession, the Westminster Confession. It is assumed that the Apostles’ Creed is based on the Scriptures but the Westminster Confession does not begin to describe the faith until in a long series of affirmations and arguments it establishes a view of Scripture on which the remainder of the confession is to be based. Illustrations could be drawn from a whole series of confessions—the Belgic, the Augsburg, the Helvetic, the Scottish, and the Westminster. An interesting case in point is the new confession of the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America referred to as the Confession of 1967 (C-67). This confession builds on the idea of reconciliation and, among other things, illustrates the conscience of the church in the 20th cent. on such subjects as race, poverty, and war. In those areas where C-67 does not refer to what some believe to be fundamentals of the Christian faith, reference is made to a so-called “Book of Confessions” representing the whole tradition of the Reformed Church. It is evident on the face of it that the official approach of C-67 (via reconciliation) would not necessarily be suitable for the whole Church nor would the emphasis on race, poverty, and war be necessarily catholic principles from the viewpoint of certain branches of the catholic Church. In some senses, such a confession is a “tract for the times” and there are those who argue that a true confession is one which speaks for a church in a given historical situation existentially. Some aver that such a confession could be made annually with the Church vis-a-vis problems of the contemporary scene.

Protestantism faces a peculiar problem with regard to creeds in the face of Authority vs. Freedom. It is quite impossible for a man to be a Christian alone. He is always a Christian in relationship, in communion and community. There is, therefore, the basic necessity of some kind of common agreement. At the same time there is a “givenness” in the Gospel however discovered in exegesis. The search for meaning assumes a corpus of authoritative material out of which understanding and meaning can and do arise. At the same time such ideas as the “priesthood of believers” or “justification by faith” or the interplay of Word and Spirit in the use of the Scriptures, calls on the individual man for personal decision and involvement in the truth and falsity of Christian claims on his life. It is the genius of Protestantism, as it is historically the confusion of Protestantism, that a Protestant is forced to decide in the paradoxical position where he is both fixed and free. Luther and Calvin posed the same kind of problem in the large as they broke out from Rome and insisted at the same time that the Anabaptists must not break away from them.

It is the glory of the three great creeds that in their comparative simplicity the “common sense of the Church” has emphasized those things most needful, and since their establishment the Church has had a fixed position over against the world and over against other religions, which at the same time has led to unity and saved the Church from destructive controversy.


P. Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, 3 vols. (1877); A. F. Burn, Introduction to the Creeds (1899); B. J. Kidd, Documents of the Continental Reformation (1911), for material on Augsburg, Belgic, and Scottish confessions; ISBE (1939); Lambeth Conversations, pamphlet (1948-50), 67-90; Flew and Davies, The Catholicity of Protestantism (1950); J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Creeds, chs. II, III (1950); F. L. Cross, Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (1958), 354; Hastings, Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Vol. IV (1962), 237-242; Routley, Creeds and Confessions (1962), 1-6; Hendry, The Westminster Confession for Today (1963), 9-16; Little, The Language of the Christian Community (1965), 70-174.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)



1. In the Old Testament

2. In the New Testament--Gospels

3. In the Epistles

(1) Paul

(2) Later Writings

(3) Hebrews


1. The Apostles' Creed|Apostles’ Creed

2. The Nicene Creed

(1) Origin, Date, Character

(2) "Filioque" Clause

3. The Athanasian Creed

(1) Authorship

(2) Question of Imposture

(3) Value and Features

4. The Reformation Creeds


By "creed" we understand the systematic statement of religious faith; and by the creeds of the Christian church we mean the formal expression of "the faith which was delivered unto the saints." The word is derived from the first word of the Latin versions of the Apostles’ Creed, and the name is usually applied to those formulas known as the Apostles’, the Nicene and the Athanasian creeds.

In this article we shall first indicate the Scriptural foundation and rudimentary Biblical statements upon which the distinctive dogmas of the church are based; and, secondly, briefly describe the origin and nature of the three most important symbols of belief which have dominated Christian thought.

I. Scriptural Basis.

There are three forms in which the religious instinct naturally expresses itself--in a ritual, a creed and a life. Men first seek to propitiate the Deity by some outward act and express their devotion in some external ceremony. Next they endeavor to explain their worship and to find a rationale of it in certain facts which they formulate into a confession; and lastly, not content with the outward act or the verbal interpretation of it, they attempt to express their religion in life.

Pagan religion first appears in the form of a rite. The worshipper was content with the proper performance of a ceremony and was not, in the earliest stage at least, concerned with an interpretation of his act. The myths, which to some extent were an attempt to rationalize ritual, may be regarded as the earliest approach to a formulated statement of belief. But inasmuch as the myths of early pagan religion are not obligatory upon the reason or the faith of the worshipper, they can scarcely be regarded as creeds. Pagan religion, strictly speaking, has no theology and having no real historical basis of facts does not possess the elements of a creed. In this respect it is distinguished from revealed religion. This latter rests upon facts, the meaning and interpretation of which are felt to be necessary to give to revelation its values and authority.

1. In the Old Testament:

Even in the Old Testament there are not wanting the germs of a creed. In the Decalogue we have the beginnings of the formulation of belief, and in the proclamation, "Hear, O Israel: Yahweh our God is one Yahweh" (De 6:4), we have what may be regarded as the symbol of the Old Testament faith and the earliest attempt to enunciate a doctrine.

2. In the New Testament--Gospels:

It is to the New Testament, however, we must turn to find the real indications of such a statement of belief as may be designated a creed. We must remember that Christ lived and taught for a time before any attempt was made to portray His life or to record His sayings. The earliest writings are not the Gospels, but some of the Epistles, and it is to them we must look for any definite explanation of the facts which center in the appearance of Christ upon the earth. At the same time in the sequence of events the personality and teaching of Jesus come first, and in the relation to Him of His disciples and converts and in their personal confessions and utterances of faith we have the earliest suggestions of an expression of belief. The confession of Nathanael (Joh 1:49), "Rabbi, thou art the Son of God," and still more the utterance of Peter (Mt 16:16), "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God," and the exclamation of Thomas (Joh 20:28), contain the germ of a creed. It is to be noted that all these expressions of belief have Christ as their object and give utterance with more or less explicitness to a conviction of His Divine nature and authority.

3. In the Epistles:

(1) Paul:

But while these sayings in the Gospels were no doubt taken up and incorporated in later interpretations, it is to the Epistles that we must first go, for an explanation of the facts of Christ’s person and His relation to God and man. Paul’s Epistles are really of the nature of a confession and manifesto of Christian belief. Communities of believers already existed when the apostle directed to them his earliest letters. In their oral addresses the apostles must have been accustomed not only to state facts which were familiar to their hearers, but also to draw inferences from them as to the meaning of Christ and the great truths centering in His person--His incarnation, His death and resurrection (as we may see from the recorded sermons of Peter and Paul in Acts). It is to these facts that the Epistles appeal. It was at once natural and necessary that some expression of the faith once delivered to the saints should be formulated for a body whose members were pledged to each other and united for common action, and whose bond of union was the acknowledgment of "one Lord, one faith." Paul recognizes it as vital to the very spirit of religion that some definite profession of belief in Christ should be made: "If thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus as Lord, and shalt believe in thy heart that God raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved" (Ro 10:9). These words would seem to imply that a confession of the Deity, the atoning death, and resurrection of Jesus was the earliest form of Christian creed.

See Catechist.

(2) Later Writings:

It is not indeed till a much later age--the age of Irenaeus and Tertullian (175-200 AD)--that we meet with any definite summary of belief. But it cannot be doubted that these Scriptural passages to which we have referred not only served as the first forms of confession but also contributed the materials out of which the articles of the church’s faith were formulated. As soon as Christian preaching and teaching were exercised there would be a felt need for explicit statement of the truths revealed in and through Jesus Christ. It may be said that all the main facts which were subsequently embodied in the creeds have their roots in the New Testament Scripture and especially in the Pauline Epistles. The only exception which might be made is in the case of the virgin birth. It does not lie within the scope of this article to comment upon the silence of the epistles on this subject. This, however, we may say, that the omissions of Paul’s reference to it does not prove it untrue. It only proves at most that it was not a part of the ground upon which the Christ was commended to the first acceptance of faith. But though no direct allusion to the virgin birth occurs in Paul’s writings the truth which gives spiritual value to the fact of the virgin conception, namely, God’s new creation of humanity in Christ, is a vital and fundamental element in the faith both of Paul and of the whole early church. The Christian life is essentially a new creation (2Co 5:17; Ga 6:15; Ro 6:4) in Jesus Christ, the second Adam (Ro 5:12-21), who is from heaven (1Co 15:47). Into this spiritual context the facts recorded by Matthew and Luke introduce no alien or incompatible element (compare W. Richmond, The Creed in the Epistles of Paul; Orr, The Virgin Birth of Christ). And therefore the story of Christ’s birth as we have it in the Synoptics finds a natural place in the creed of those who accept the Pauline idea of a new creation in Christ.

See Virgin Birth.

(3) Hebrews:

It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss the evidences of development in the main doctrines of the gospel, but however the later ages may have elaborated them, the leading tenets of the subsequent faith of the church--the doctrine of the Trinity; our Lord’s divinity and real humanity; His atoning death and resurrection; the doctrine of the Holy Spirit and of the catholicity and unity of the church--stand clear and distinct in these earliest Scriptural sources.

II. Historical Forms.

Faith implies a creed as a confession and testimony. Such a confession and testimony answers to a natural impulse of the soul. Hence, a profession of faith is at once a personal, a social and a historical testimony. A formal creed witnesses to the universality of faith, binds believers together, and unites the successive ages of the church. It is the spontaneous expression of the life and experience of the Christian society. As the purpose of this article is chiefly to indicate the Scriptural sources of the creeds rather than to discuss their origin and history, we can only briefly describe the main historical forms which have prevailed in the Christian church.

1. The Apostles’ Creed:

The Apostles’ Creed, in ancient times called the Roman Creed, though popularly regarded as the earliest, was probably not the first in chronological order. Its origin and growth are involved in considerable obscurity (see separate article, APOSTLES’ CREED; and compare Heurtley, Harmonia Symbolica).

2. The Nicene Creed:

(1) Origin, Date, Character:

The Nicene Creed, called sometimes "the Creed of the 318" from the number of bishops reputed to have been present, was authorized at the Council of Nice in 325 AD, and completed by the Council of Constantinople in 381, when the clauses which follow the mention of the Holy Ghost were added. The opinions of Arius at the beginning of the 4th century created such unrest as to call forth not only the admonition of bishops but also the intervention of the emperor Constantine, who, as a professed Christian, had become the patron of the church. The efforts of the emperor, however, had no effect in allaying the dissensions of the church at Alexandria, which, upon the banishment of Arius, spread throughout eastern Christendom. It was decided, therefore, to convoke a general council of bishops in which the Catholic doctrine should be once and for all formally declared. This, the first ecumenical council, met at Nicea in Bithynia in 325 AD. There is no detailed record of the proceedings. "We do not know whether it lasted weeks or days" (Stanley, Lects on East Ch.). Arius; being only a presbyter, had no seat in the conclave, but was allowed to express his opinions. His chief opponent was Athanasius.

(2) "Filioque" Clause:

The controversy turned upon the nature of the Son and His relation to the Father. The word homoousios ("of one substance with"), used in the course of the argument with a view of disputeing the extreme orthodox position, became the battleground between the parties. The Arians violently condemned. The Sabellians or Semi-Arians to evade its full force contended for the term homoiousios ("of like substance"). But the majority finally adopted the former expression as the term best suited to discriminate their view of the relation of the Father and Son from the Arian view. The assent of the emperor was gained and the words "being of one substance with the Father" were incorporated into the creed. The clauses descriptive of the Holy Spirit were added or confirmed at a later council (382), and were designed to refute the Macedonian heresy which denied His equality with the Father and Son, and reduced the Holy Spirit to a level with the angels.

The phrase "proceedeth from the Father and the Son" is also of historical importance. The last three words are a later addition to the creed by western churches, formally adopted by the Council of Toledo in 589. But when the matter was referred in the 9th century to Leo III he pronounced against them as unauthorized. This interpolation, known as the Filioque, marks the difference still between the Latin and Greek churches. From the 9th century no change has been made in the Nicene Creed. It has remained, without the Filioque clause, the ecumenical symbol of the Eastern Church; and with the addition of that word it has taken its place among the three great creeds of the Western Church.

3. The Athanasian Creed:

(1) Authorship:

The Athanasian Creed, or the Symbolum Quicunque, as it is called, from its opening words, differs entirely in its origin and history from those we have just considered. It is not a gradual growth like the Apostles’ Creed, nor is it the outcome of synodical authority like the Nicene Creed. "When the composition appears for the first time as a document of authority it is cited in its completeness and as the work of the Father whose name it has since, in the most part, borne, although it was not brought to light for many centuries after his death" (Lumby, History of the Creeds). Without going into the full and intricate evidence which has been brought forward by scholars to prove that it is incorrectly attributed to Athanasius, it is sufficient to observe that both authorship and date are uncertain. Dr. Swainson proves in the most conclusive manner that the existence of this creed cannot be traced before the age of Charlemagne, and that its origin may probably be ascribed to then existing demand for a more detailed exposition of the faith than was to be found in the Apostles’ Creed. It is nowhere mentioned at synods before the end of the 8th century, whose special business it was to discuss the very matters which were afterward embodied within it in such detail.

(2) Question of Imposture:

The question of imposture has been raised with regard to this creed, and it has been maintained by some that it was originally a forgery of the same nature as the "false decretals" and the equally famous "Donation of Constantine" (Swainson). But it may be said that the word "imposture" is incorrectly applied to "a natural and inevitable result of the working of the mind of the Western Church toward a more elaborate and detailed confession of its Trinitarian faith" (Tulloch, Encyclopedia Brit). The imposture, if there was any, consisted not in the origin of the creed but in the ascription of it to a name and a date with which it had no connection. This was done no doubt to secure for it credit and authority, and was supposed to be justified by its special doctrinal import.

(3) Value and Features:

This symbol, though too compendious and elaborate to serve the purposes of a creed, itself standing in need of exposition and explanation, has its value as representing a further stage of doctrinal development. If the Apostles’ Creed determined the nature of God and the Nicene Creed defined the character and relation of the Son and the Holy Spirit, the Athanasian Creed may be regarded as establishing the great doctrine of the Trinity. Its distinguishing features are the monitory clauses and its uncompromising statement of the value of the Christian faith. The other creeds set forth the mercies of Revelation; this adds the danger of rejecting them. The others declare the faith; this insists also on its necessity. This, also, alone insists upon the necessity of good works (Yonge, An Exposition of the Apostles’ Creed). The closing warning is based on Christ’s own words: "Depart from me," etc. (Mt 25:41,46). If this creed is solemn in its admonitions, we must remember that so also are the Gospels. On the whole it is a comprehensive summary of truth, laying down the rule of faith as a foundation, following out its issues of good or evil. True belief is closely connected with right action.

With the adoption of the "Athanasian" symbol, the creed-making of the early and medieval church ceases. Of the three mentioned one only in the broadest sense, the Nicene, is Catholic. Neither the Apostles’ nor the Athanasian Creed is known to the Greek or oriental church which remained faithful to the faith settled by the holy Fathers at Nicea. The two others adopted by the West are really gradual growths or consequences from it, without any definite parentage or synodic authority. But the faith as defined at Nicea and ratified by subsequent councils is the only true Catholic symbol of the universal church.

4. The Reformation Creeds:

With the Reformation a new era of creed-formation began. It will not, however, be necessary to do more than mention some of the confessions of the Reformed churches which consist mainly of elaborations of the original creeds with the addition of special articles designed to emphasize and safeguard the distinctive doctrines and ecclesiastical positions of particular branches of the church. Of this nature are the Confessions of the Lutheran church--the Augsburg Confession of 1530; the Genevese or Calvinistic of 1549 consisting of 26 articles, defining particularly the nature of the Sacraments; confessions of the Dutch church confirmed at the Synod of Dort in 1619 and known as the "Decrees of Dort"; and the famous Heidelberg Catechism. To this series of Protestant confessions must be added the 39 Articles of the Church of England and the Westminster Confession of Faith, which is the doctrinal standard not only. of the churches of Scotland, but of the principal Presbyterian churches of Britain and America.


Winer, Doctrines and Confessions of Christendom (translation Clark, 1873): Lumby, History of the Creeds; Swainson, The Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds (1875); Heurtley, Harmonia Symbolica (1858); Zahn, Apost. Symb. (1892); Harnack, Apost. Glaubensbekenntnis; Swete, Apostles’ Creed; Hefele, Councils of the Church; Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom. For exposition, and of a more popular nature, may be mentioned the works of Hooker, Barrow, and Beveridge, and especially Bishop Pearson; Westcott, Historic Faith; Norris, Rudiments of Theology; W. W. Harvey, The Three Creeds; J. Eyre Yonge, An Exposition of the Apostles’ Creed (1888); Wilfred Richmond, The Creed in the Epistles of Paul (1909).

Arch. B. D. Alexander