Meditation on The Apostles Creed – Background

The Apostles Creed is an ancient confession. It is a mystery as to its exact origin, but is development seems to have stemmed from a series of attempts by early Christians to condense the key elements of the Christians message into a creed.

Something resembling the Apostles Creed is first recorded by Irenaeus, a Greek bishop who was taught by Polycarp who was in term said to be taught by the disciple John. In his book Against Heresies, which was written around the year 180, Irenaeus says that we received from the apostles this faith:

“[She believes] in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God, and the advents, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the ascension into heaven in the flesh of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and His [future] manifestation from heaven in the glory of the Father to gather all things in one, (Ephesians 1:10) and to raise up anew all flesh of the whole human race, in order that to Christ Jesus, our Lord, and God, and Saviour, and King, according to the will of the invisible Father, every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess (Philippians 2:10-11) to Him, and that He should execute just judgment towards all.”

Polycarp, Against Heresies

Throughout the next 200 years, a creed that had similar features to Irenaeus’ summary of the Christian faith appeared in various writings – from Tertullian in the late 100’s and early 200’s to Augustine in the late 300’s and several others. Augustine even wrote a theological exposition of portions of the creed called Of Faith and the Creed in which he said this about the Apostles Creed:

“We have, however, the catholic faith in the Creed, known to the faithful and committed to memory, contained in a form of expression as concise as has been rendered admissible by the circumstances of the case; the purpose of which [compilation] was, that individuals who are but beginners and sucklings among those who have been born again in Christ, and who have not yet been strengthened by most diligent and spiritual handling and understanding of the divine Scriptures, should be furnished with a summary, expressed in few words, of those matters of necessary belief which were subsequently to be explained to them in many words, as they made progress and rose to [the height of] divine doctrine, on the assured and steadfast basis of humility and charity.”

Augustine, Of Faith and the Creed

Throughout all of church history since, the Apostles Creed has been widely accepted as – in the words of John Calvin – “a full and every way complete summary of faith, containing nothing but what has been derived from the infallible word of God”.

The Apostles Creed is even included in the Heidelberg Catechism as “the articles of our universal and undisputed Christian faith.” (Q22 and onwards).

As such, I think it is good for us to consider this creed slowly over the coming months.

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