What Was the Original Apostles' Creed? What is the Nicene Creed?

By COGwriter

Most of those who consider themselves to be Eastern Orthodox consider that their beliefs and practices are the same as the original apostles. One of their "proofs" is a statement that some consider to be the creed of the original Apostles. Is that so? Did the original apostles write a creed? When was the first creed written? Are the creeds commonly used by the Eastern Orthodox or Roman Catholic churches original?

This article will attempt to answer those questions.

But first, I should mention that the reason certain creeds were later formally adopted by the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic churches was apparently in order to separate those who believed in what the creeds taught from those that did not.

Essentially, the initial "creed" of the Council of Nicea in the early fourth century was intended to separate the Arians from those who held semi-Arian and/or trinitarian views of the Godhead. The later revised Nicene Creed was intended to place the stamp of "orthodoxy" on the trinitarian formula that had been adopted by the Council of Constantinople in 381 A.D.

The Nicene Creed of the Eastern Orthodox

On July 15, 2011, I received the following in an email (which is what triggered me to write this article):

I am Greek Orthodox, and this is what we believe :

We believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible;
And in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only begotten Son of God,
begotten from the Father before all ages,
light from light,
true God from true God,
begotten not made,
of one substance with the Father,
through Whom all things came into existence,
Who because of us men and because of our salvation came down from the heavens,
and was incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary
and became man,
and was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate,
and suffered and was buried,
and rose again on the third day according to the Scriptures
and ascended to heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father,
and will come again with glory to judge living and dead,
of Whose kingdom there will be no end;
And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and life-giver,
Who proceeds from the Father,
Who with the Father and the Son is together worshipped and together glorified,
Who spoke through the prophets;
in one holy Catholic and apostolic Church.
We confess one baptism to the remission of sins;
we look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.

Amen

Is that original enough ?

My answer to her was no, it is not original enough, as it is not an apostolic document.

What that Greek Orthodox supporter (as well as several others within a week of this) sent is also known as the Nicene Creed. And while many of its statements are correct, much of it is certainly not original.

Notice what an Orthodox priest wrote about that creed:

The Nicene Creed, which was formulated at the Councils of Nicaea in 325 and of Constantinople in 381, has been recognized since then as the authoritative expression of the fundamental beliefs of the Orthodox Church. The Creed is often referred to as the “Symbol of Faith.” (Fitzgerald T.  Teachings of the Orthodox Church.  Copyright @2006 Saint Mary Romanian Orthodox Church. http://www.stmaryro.org/en/default.asp?contentid=704)

It is sad that many of the Orthodox believe that they have not changed doctrine and that their 4th century creed was original.  It is my understanding that some of them erroneously believe that their version is original is because about one thousand years ago, the Church of Rome added "and the Son" after the expression "proceeds from the Father." This has been called "the filioque clause."

The Catholic Encyclopedia states:

Dogmatic meaning of filioque The dogma of the double Procession of the Holy Ghost from Father and Son as one Principle is directly opposed to the error that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father, not from the Son. Neither dogma nor error created much difficulty during the course of the first four centuries...As to the Sacred scripture, the inspired writers call the holy Ghost the Spirit of the Son (Gal., iv, 6), the spirit of Christ (Rom., viii, 9), the Spirit of Jesus Christ (Phil., i, 19), just as they call Him the Spirit of the Father (Matt., x, 20) and the Spirit of God (I Cor., ii, ll). Hence they attribute to the Holy Ghost the same relation to the Son as to the Father. Again, according to Sacred Scripture, the Son sends the Holy Ghost (Luke, xxiv, 49; John, xv, 26; xvi, 7; xx, 22; Acts, ii, 33,; Tit., iii.6)...as the Father sends the Holy Ghost (John, xiv, 26) (Maas, A. (1909). Filioque. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved July 21, 2011 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06073a.htm).

The Orthodox tend to primarily blame the "filioque clause" for what they tend to call "the Great Schism" from Rome in 1054 A.D. And while the Orthodox are correct that the "filioque clause" was added to the creed by the Church of Rome, that still does not in any way make the creed that they use original.

Perhaps I should mention that the Church of Rome also has a few other statements that were in the version adopted at the 16th century Council of Trent that were not in the Nicene Creed.

The Oldest Known "Apostles' Creed" is Often Called the Old Roman Form

Notice some information about the earliest known creed:

The Apostles’ Creed is the oldest creed, and lies at the basis of most others. Though not, as the long-current legend of its origin affirmed, the direct work of the Apostles, it has its roots in apostolic times, and embodies, with much fidelity, apostolic teaching...

The creed exists in two forms — a shorter and a longer; the former, known as the Old Roman Form, going back certainly as early as the middle of the 2nd century (about 140 AD), the latter, the enlarged form, in its present shape, of much later date...

We have it in both its Greek and Latin forms (the Greek being probably the original). The Latin form is given by Rufinus about 390 AD...The Greek form is preserved by Marcellus, of Ancyra,in the 4th century. The old shorter form of the creed long maintained itself. We find it in England, e.g. up to nearly the time of the Norman Conquest (in 8th or 9th century manuscripts in British Museum)...

We have accounts given us of its contents (besides the Old Roman Form) in Irenaeus, Tertullian, Novatian, Origen, etc.; and they show substantial unity with a certain freedom of form in expression. But the form in the Roman church came gradually to be the recognized type.

(Orr J. The Apostle's Creed. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia Vol. 1. Original by 1923. Kindle Version viewed 07/21/11)

Notice that the above refers to the oldest creed as the old Roman Form.  It should be mentioned that specific creeds are not part of Irenaeus' or the early writer's documents--but there are statements in the early creeds that may have come from them as well as a few more directly from the Bible. Whether it was “Roman” or not can be debated as its statements seem to come from either the Bible or writings of those who were NOT based in Rome such as the Irenaeus of Lyons, Tertullian of Carthage, Novatian the “antipope,” Marcellus of Ancyra, and Origen of Alexandria (its origins really do not seem to be from Rome). But what is clear is that the creed that most hold to was changed and did not come directly from the Apostles (and parts of it actually contradict apostolic and biblical teachings).

Many scholars consider the "Old Roman Form" the earliest known form of the creed, and that it may have came from the second century. It was put together in the fourth century by Marcellus, Bishop of Anycra (now more commonly spelled Ankara) who is considered to have been Greek or Eastern Orthodox:

“I believe in God the Father Almighty. And in Jesus Christ His only (begotten) Son our Lord, who was born of the Holy Ghost and the Virgin Mary; crucified under Pontius Pilate, and buried; the third day He rose from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of the Father, from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. And in the Holy Ghost; the holy Church; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; (the life everlasting).”

The last clause is omitted in the Latin form preserved by Rufinus, 390 AD. (Orr J. The Apostle's Creed. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia Vol. 1. Original by 1923. Kindle Version viewed 07/21/11)

Notice that this is a much shorter than the version now used by the Eastern Orthodox.

There was a supposed creed that Gregory Thaumaturgus claimed to get in a vision he falsely thought was from the Apostle John in the third century, but it differs in many ways from the creeds in this article--also it does not seem to have been widely adopted as a creed, so it is not quoted here (for those who wish to view it, it has been online at http://www.voskrese.info/spl/thaumcreed.html).

Also here are some additional legends about the creed:

Throughout the Middle Ages it was generally believed that the Apostles, on the day of Pentecost, while still under the direct inspiration of the Holy Ghost, composed our present Creed between them, each of the Apostles contributing one of the twelve articles. This legend dates back to the sixth century (see Pseudo-Augustine in Migne, P.L., XXXIX, 2189, and Pirminius, ibid., LXXXIX, 1034) (Thurston, Herbert. "Apostles' Creed." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. 21 Jul. 2011 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01629a.htm>)

The legend was that the creed took shape at the dictation of the Twelve Apostles, each of whom contributed a special article. Thus, Peter, it was alleged, under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, commenced, “I believe in God the Father Almighty”; Andrew (or according to others, John) continued, “And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord”; James the elder went on, “Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,” etc. This legend is not older than the 5th or 6th centuries, and is absurd on the face of it. (Orr J. The Apostle's Creed. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia Vol. 1. Original by 1923. Kindle Version viewed 07/21/11)

Whether or not the twelve apostle's stated each sentence can be debated as there is no actual proof. The fact is that there is no first century document with the creed. The Catholic Encyclopedia says the claim of apostolic origin was a fourth (via Rufinus or pseudo-Augustine) or sixth century development.

Now some have added numbers to the oldest statement and thus have shown the earliest creed (essentially as understood from Marcellus) translated from the Greek as follows:

    1. I believe in God almighty
    2. And in Christ Jesus His only son our Lord
    3. Who was born of the Holy Ghost and the Virgin Mary
    4. Who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and buried
    5. And the third day rose from the dead
    6. Who ascended into heaven
    7. And sitteth on the right hand of the Father
    8. Whence he shall come to judge the living and the dead
    9. And in the Holy Ghost
    10. The holy church
    11. The forgiveness of sins
    12. The resurrection of the body
    13. The life everlasting. [Ruf. omits] (Bettenson H, Maunder C. Documents of the Early Church. Oxford University Press, 1943, 1999, p. 26)

The article in The Catholic Encyclopedia does not mention the Orthodox Bishop Marcellus’s role, possibly because he was a Semi-Arian that reported some of the truth about the origin of the Greco-Roman doctrine of the trinity.  Many Orthodox bishops held a binitarian (often referred to as Semi-Arian) view of the Godhead. Instead, it does mention Rufinus who put his version together after Marcellus after consulting with a church in Aquileia.   His creed was almost identical to the one reported by Marcellus except it left off the 13th item.

It may be that Rufinus who preserved a version of the above in Latin form dropped the last statement to make it have twelve statements (and perhaps that is why some later started the legend that each of the Apostles stated one line each). Here is his version as shown in The Catholic Encyclopedia:

(1) I believe in God the Father Almighty;  
(2) And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord;  
(3) Who was born of (de) the Holy Ghost and of (ex) the Virgin Mary;  
(4) Crucified under Pontius Pilate and buried;  
(5) The third day He rose again from the dead,  
(6) He ascended into Heaven,  
(7) Sitteth at the right hand of the Father,  
(8) Whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.  
(9) And in the Holy Ghost,  
(10) The Holy Church,  
(11) The forgiveness of sins;  
(12) The resurrection of the body.

(Thurston, Herbert. "Apostles' Creed." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. 21 Jul. 2011 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01629a.htm>)

Neither then Greek or Latin form originally use the expression "Catholic Church" nor did either define the personhood of the Holy Spirit. While I doubt that the original apostles collectively came up with a twelve or thirteen point creed that was not so directly listed in the Bible, none of the thirteen statements directly contradicts scripture nor particularly adds to scripture.

The same cannot be said of the Nicene Creed, which was the result of compromise and councils called by unconverted Roman emperors.

About 100 years ago, The Catholic Encyclopedia put together three versions of the creed from three different writings from Tertullian (c. 200A.D.):

De Virg. Vel., 1 Against Praxeas 2 De Praecept., 13 and 26
(1) Believing in one God Almighty, maker of the world, (1) We believe one only God, (1) I believe in one God, maker of the world,
(2) and His Son, Jesus Christ, (2) and the son of God Jesus Christ, (2) the Word, called His Son, Jesus Christ,
(3) born of the Virgin Mary, (3) born of the Virgin, (3) by the Spirit and power of God the Father made flesh in Mary's womb, and born of her
(4) crucified under Pontius Pilate, (4) Him suffered died, and buried, (4) fastened to a cross.
(5) on the third day brought to life from the dead, (5) brought back to life, (5) He rose the third day,
(6) received in heaven, (6) taken again into heaven, (6) was caught up into heaven,
(7) sitting now at the right hand of the Father, (7) sits at the right hand of the Father, (7) set at the right hand of the Father,
(8) will come to judge the living and the dead (8) will come to judge the living and the dead (8) will come with glory to take the good into life eternal, and condemn the wicked to perpetual fire,
(9) who has sent from the Father the Holy Ghost. (9) sent the vicarious power of His Holy Spirit,
(10) to govern believers (In this passage articles 9 and 10 precede 8)
(12) through resurrection of the flesh. (12) restoration of the flesh.

(Thurston, Herbert. "Apostles' Creed." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. 21 Jul. 2011 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01629a.htm>)

It is important to understand that the above statements are NOT writing together in a creed form but are somewhat interspersed in the referenced letters of Tertullian. Some believe that people such as Marcellus and Rufinus used Tertullian as a source for their wordings of the creeds.

Constantinople 'Creed'

What is believed to have been the first 'creed' used by a church in Constantinople was a renunciation that Nazarenes who converted to the Greco-Roman Catholic/Orthodox faith were required to state:

I renounce all customs, rites, legalisms, unleavened breads & sacrifices of lambs of the Hebrews, and all other feasts of the Hebrews, sacrifices, prayers, aspersions, purifications, sanctifications and propitiations and fasts, and new moons, and Sabbaths, and superstitions, and hymns and chants and observances and Synagogues, and the food and drink of the Hebrews; in one word, I renounce everything Jewish, every law, rite and custom and if afterwards I shall wish to deny and return to Jewish superstition, or shall be found eating with the Jews, or feasting with them, or secretly conversing and condemning the Christian religion instead of openly confuting them and condemning their vain faith, then let the trembling of Gehazi cleave to me, as well as the legal punishments to which I acknowledge myself liable. And may I be anathema in the world to come, and may my soul be set down with Satan and the devils. (Dag S. The TRUE Disciples of the Modern Age. Ministries for YHVH, 2012, pp. 11-12)

It has been claimed that this came out of the original Council of Nicea (ibid, p. 11).

The History of the Received Form of the Creed is Obscure

Here is information on the so-called "Received Creed" (essentially the later version that the Catholics and some Protestants use):

The Received Creed:

The Received Form of the creed has a much more obscure history. The additional clauses came in at different times, though in themselves some of them are very old. The addition to the first article, e.g. “Maker of heaven and earth,” first appears in this form in Gaul about 650 AD, though similar forms are found in much older creeds. Another addition, “He descended into hell,” meets us first in Rufinus as part of the creed of Aquileia, but is probably also old in that church. It is known that the creed had assumed nearly its present shape (perhaps without the above clauses, and that on the communion of saints) by the time of Faustus of Reiz, about 460 AD. Thence it spread, and had reached Ireland apparently before the end of the 7th century. In England it appears a century later, about 850 AD (from the court of Charlemagne?), and from the beginning of the 10th century it largely superseded the older from. The same applies to other countries, so that the Gallican form is now the one in common use. Two significant changes may be noted in the form given to it. In England, whose form we follow, the Reformers substituted for “the resurrection of the flesh” the words, “the resurrection of the body,” and in Germany the Lutherans change the word “catholic” to “Christian,” in “the holy catholic Church.” (Orr J. The Apostle's Creed. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia Vol. 1. Original by 1923. Kindle Version viewed 07/21/11)

Anyway, the above creed versions are also not original. The apostate Athanasius is said to have been a factor in developing the Athanasian Creed. Here is how an English translation of it begins:

Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled; without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. And the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons; nor dividing the Essence.

Not only was this not original, it is unbiblical and the above certainly was not taught by any of the original apostles.

Furthermore, while some of the Eastern Orthodox point to their creed as original, even their leaders have recognized that there really was no such thing as an original apostles creed. At the Council of Florence (1438-45), the Eastern Orthodox rejected the Roman push to use the so-called Apostles' Creed. Marcus Eugenicus (Patriarch of Ephesus) said:

We do not possess and have never seen this creed of the Apostles. If it had ever existed, the book of Acts would have spoken of it in its description in the first apostolic synod in Jerusalem, to which you appeal. (Kelly JND. Early Christian Creeds, 3, revised, reprint. Continuum International Publishing Group, 2006, p. 4)

And since there is not a version of what is (or are) commonly called the Apostles' Creed in the Book of Acts or any of the rest of the New Testament, there simply is not an original Apostles' Creed that came from the apostles.

Why Care About the Creeds?

Why devote any time to the matter of a creed that was not likely from the apostles?

Well, the first purpose is to show most of those who insist that their creed is original or the work of the apostles that they are in error.

A second purpose is to help establish the fact is that the oldest known creed is not trinitarian.

A third purpose is to help educate people in the future who might once again persecute those who do not accept a "non-original" creed as heretics and apostates.

While creeds or other official statements of beliefs can have value, the fact is that there is no proof that any (other than statements in them that are direct quotes from scripture) were original with the apostles. The only universally-accepted writings that exist from the original apostles are those shown in the Holy Bible.

Traditions about creeds/statements of faith/statements of belief may be possibly helpful in certain circumstances, if they do not square with sacred scripture, they should never be considered superior to it.

Thiel B. What Was the Original Apostles' Creed? What is the Nicene Creed? www.cogwriter.com/original-apostles-creed.htm 2011/2012/2013/2014 1002

Some articles of possibly related interest may include:

Tradition and Scripture: From the Bible and Church Writings Are traditions on equal par with scripture? Many believe that is what Peter, John, and Paul taught. But did they?
Which Is Faithful: The Roman Catholic Church or the Continuing Church of God?
Do you know that both groups shared a lot of the earliest teachings? Do you know which church changed? Do you know which group is most faithful to the teachings of the apostolic church? Which group best represents true Christianity? This documented article answers those questions. Português: Qual é fiel: A igreja católica romana ou a verdadeira igreja do deus?
Some Similarities and Differences Between the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Continuing Church of God Both groups claim to be the original church, but both groups have differing ways to claim it. Both groups have some amazing similarities and some major differences. Do you know what they are?

Hope of Salvation: How the Continuing Church of God differ from most Protestants How the real Church of God differs from mainstream/traditional Protestants, is perhaps the question I am asked most by those without a Church of God background.

 

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