Apostles’ Creed?

Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople

Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople


Last month, I received an email from a Greek/Eastern Orthodox supporter, who after quoting the Nicene Creed that was adopted in 381 A.D. wrote:

Is that original enough ?

My answer to her was no, it is not original enough, as it is not an apostolic document.  Yet, many Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholics believe that the creeds that they tend to say are not only “original” but are actually the creed of the original Apostles.

And while they have somewhat been led to believe that, that simply is not the case.  The leaders of their respective churches know that their creeds are not original.  First 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)

It is sad that many of the Orthodox believe that they have not changed doctrine and that their 4th century creed was original. The Catholic Encyclopedia recognizes the idea that the creed came from the Apostles is based on a legend to the sixth century, hence the creed is NOT from the original Apostles:

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 Catholic Encyclopedia also states:

Though no uniform type of Creed can be surely recognized among the earlier Eastern writers before the Council of Nicaea, an argument which has been considered by many to disprove the existence of any Apostolic formula, it is a striking fact that the Eastern Churches in the fourth century are found in possession of a Creed which reproduces with variations the old Roman type. (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>)

Notice that the above refers to the oldest creed as the old Roman type.  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.  Here are some comments on that:

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)

So, the oldest version currently known was put together by Marcellus of Ankara in the fourth century, whether it originated in the second century can be debated.  The article in The Catholic Encyclopedia does not mention the Orthodox Bishop Marcellus’s role, possibly because he was a Semi-Arian that reported the 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.

Anyway, here is the oldest written creed known, the one put together by Marcellus in the early to mid-fourth century:

    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.  (Bettenson H, Maunder C. Documents of the Early Church. Oxford University Press, 1943, 1999, p. 26)

A similar creed was put together towards the end of the fourth century by one called Rufinus who worked with a church in Aquileia.   His creed was almost identical to the one reported by Marcellus except it left off the 13th item, perhaps to make it a total of twelve lines (and perhaps that is why some later started the legend that each of the Apostles stated one line each).

Whether from Marcellus or Rufinus, none of the oldest known forms of the creed, which are now generally referred to as the Old Roman Form, came from Rome.  Nor were they clearly trinitarian (which the Nicene Creed, adopted at the Council of Constantinople in 381 A.D. was).

The original Church of God was not trinitarian, and neither was the oldest known so-called “Apostles’ Creed”.   Perhaps it should be noted that unlike the Nicene and later creeds, the original creeds also did not declare that the church was “Catholic”.

Some articles of possibly related interest may include:

What Was the Original Apostles’ Creed? What is the Nicene Creed? Did the original apostles write a creed? When was the first creed written? Are the creeds commonly used by the Eastern Orthodox or Roman Catholics original?
Some Similarities and Differences Between the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Living 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?
Which Is Faithful: The Roman Catholic Church or the Living 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 igreja viva do deus? Tambien Español: Cuál es fiel: ¿La iglesia católica romana o La Iglesia del Dios Viviente? Auch: Deutsch: Welches zuverlässig ist: Die Römisch-katholische Kirche oder die lebende Kirche von Gott?
Binitarian View: One God, Two Beings Before the Beginning Is binitarianism the correct position? What about unitarianism or trinitarianism?
Is The Father God? What is the view of the Bible? What was the view of the early church?
Jesus is God, But Was Made Man Was Jesus fully human and fully God or what?
Virgin Birth: Does the Bible Teach It? What does the Bible teach? What is claimed in The Da Vinci Code?
Did Early Christians Think the Holy Spirit Was A Separate Person in a Trinity? Or did they have a different view?
What is the Holy Spirit? An article by Rod Reynolds that was published in the Living Church News.
Did the True Church Ever Teach a Trinity? Most act like this is so, but is it?
Was Unitarianism the Teaching of the Bible or Early Church? Many, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, claim it was, but was it?
Binitarianism: One God, Two Beings Before the Beginning Was the original church binitarian or trinitarian? What were some of the beliefs of many Orthodox patriarchs on the Godhead in the 4th century?
There are Many COGs: Why Support the Living Church of God? This is an article for those who wish to more easily sort out the different COGs. It really should be a MUST READ for current and former WCG/GCI members or any interested in supporting the faithful church. It also explains a lot of what the COGs are all about.

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