Religious Beliefs

Is there a Christian creed?

A number of New Testament texts suggest early forms of creedal statements. For example, the Letter to the Philippians 2:1-11 describes how Jesus “emptied himself” of all divine prerogatives, even to the point of becoming a slave and dying on the cross. The passage ends by saying that all should bend the knee at the name of Jesus and that “every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father.” The Gospel of Matthew 28:19 records Jesus sending his followers to baptize “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” an early expression of the notion of the Holy Trinity. But the first important formal creedal statements did not gain wide currency until the early fourth century.

An important outcome of the Council of Nicea, in 325, was the Nicene Creed. As has so often been the case in the history of religion, Christians first formulated a comprehensive statement of “orthodox” or “right” belief in response to serious challenges that threatened to distort ancient traditional beliefs. In other words, the Nicene Creed does not represent the first expression of these beliefs, but rather the first comprehensive clarification of points that had come under attack by factions now considered “heretical.” Christians all over the world now recite in their liturgies a later and somewhat longer version of the Nicene statement, with sections devoted to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and concluding with affirmations of belief in the church, baptism, forgiveness, and the resurrection of the dead in the next life. The liturgical formula does not include the “anathemas” or condemnations of unacceptable views contained in the Council’s original document. Subsequent Church councils have published other creedal statements, but the only other creed in common use (outside of the Eastern Christian churches) is the briefer so-called “Apostles’ Creed,” earlier versions of which seem to have come into common use around the fourth century.


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