May 01, 2024

Domestic Church Corner

At every Sunday Mass, we recite the Nicene Creed.  Since the Nicene Creed was formulated during two ecumenical church councils, the council of Nicaea in 325 AD and the Council of Constantinople in 381 AD, we have much documentation on how and why it came to be.  But, what about the Apostles’ Creed…where did it come from?  Why is it different?  Did the Apostles’ sit down together and knock it out over lunch one day?  Let’s see.

Like a tall tale or the story of how that big fish got away, the legend that the twelve Apostles wrote the Apostles’ Creed started being told after the Apostles themselves were long gone.  The legend says that since the Apostles’ Creed has twelve articles or statements, each Apostle wrote a portion of the creed, except, by then Judas had already betrayed Jesus, so there were only eleven Apostles left. Hmmmm?

We see the earliest form of the Apostles’ Creed in 215 AD, written by Hippolytus of Rome, a renowned theologian in the early Church.  It wasn’t written to be recited at Mass, but to be used as part of the rite of Baptism in the early Church.   The one to be baptized either recited the entire Apostles’ Creed or was asked the beliefs in the Creed in the form of a question, as we often hear during the Easter Season.  For instance, “Do you believe in God the Father, almighty, creator of heaven and earth?”  Answer: “I do”.  

The early church was for the most part illiterate, so Christians couldn’t read theological writings or the catechism the way we can now.  Having an easily memorized way to profess their faith provided both a way to learn the basic tenets of the faith and to express them.  The Apostles Creed united Christians around the world by summarizing true and essential elements of the faith and helping to fight against heresies.  In fact, it was in response to the Arian Heresy, that the Church gathered at the Council of Nicaea to further define what the Catholic Church believed, especially regarding Jesus’ divinity.

The word creed comes from the Latin “credo”, which means “I Believe”.  Do we believe more than the statements or articles contained in the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed?  Of course, we do…. like we believe everyone has a Guardian Angel, that the Pope is the head of the Church, and that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist.   Those aren’t in the creed.  A creed is not a comprehensive statement of everything we believe, but rather an essential summary rooted in the Holy Trinity.  Imagine reciting the entire Catechism at Mass rather than the Nicene Creed.  That would take a while.

The Apostles Creed does have two articles that are not included in the Nicene Creed.  The phrase “He descended into Hell” and “I believe in ... the Communion of Saints”.  Hell, here is of course not the place of the eternally damned, which comes from the Hebrew word Gehenna, but rather Hades, which is the place where those who were righteous, and died before Christ, waited to be redeemed.   The Communion of Saints refers to our belief that the Church is one united body, those on earth (Church Militant), those in purgatory (Church Suffering) and those in Heaven (Church Triumphant).    The brevity of the Apostles Creed is what most likely helped attach it to devotions like the Rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet.

The next time someone asks you what you believe, you can honestly say:

I believe in God,
the Father almighty,
Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried;
he descended into hell;
on the third day he rose again from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty;
from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting.


Written by: Birgitt Hacker

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