Historical trajectory of the Apostles’ Creed

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The Apostles’ Creed, according to legend, was composed by the Apostles on the tenth day after the Ascension under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The legend no doubt added prestige to the creed, but it was effectively exposed as legendary by Lorenzo Valla (c. 1407-1457) and subsequent scholars. The creed does, however, have a legitimate claim to its title on the basis of the fact that all of its articles are to be found in the theological formulas that were current circa A.D. 100.

The ancestry of the Apostles’ Creed can be traced to a creed that developed at Rome around the end of the 2nd century (known as the Roman Symbol). The origin of this creed is not clear, but its early form is likely preserved in the Interrogatory Creed of Hippolytus’ Apostolic Tradition (c. 215), the creed submitted by Marcellus to Julius I (340), and the Commentary on the Apostles’ Creed by Rufinus of Aquileia (c. 404), which was based on the baptismal creed of his own church, Aquileia, but in which he is careful to point out divergences from the Roman Creed.

The Roman Symbol (late 2nd century, as given by Rufinus of Aquileia)

I believe in God the Father almighty;

and in Christ Jesus His only Son, our Lord,

Who was born from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary,

Who under Pontius Pilate was crucified and buried,

on the third day rose again from the dead,

ascended to heaven,

sits at the right hand of the Father,

whence He will come to judge the living and the dead;

and in the Holy Spirit,

the holy Church,

the remission of sins,

the resurrection of the flesh

(the life everlasting).

Note: The last clause is to be found in the Greek but not in the Latin

Interrogatory Creed of Hippolytus (c. 215)

Do you believe in God the Father All Governing [pantokratora]? Do you believe in Christ Jesus, the Son of God, Who was begotten by the Holy Spirit from the Virgin Mary, Who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and died (and was buried) and rose the third day living from the dead, and ascended into the heavens, and sat down at the right hand of the Father, and will come to judge the living and the dead? Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, in the Holy Church, and (in the resurrection of the body [sarkos])?

 

Creed of Marcellus (340)

I believe in God, All Governing [pantokratora];

And in Christ Jesus His only begotten Son, our Lord,

Who was begotten of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary,

Who was crucified under Pontius Pilate and buried,

Who rose from the dead on the third day,

ascending to the heavens

and taking His seat at the Father’s right hand,

whence He shall come to judge both the living and the dead;

And I believe in the Holy Spirit,

the holy Church,

the forgiveness of sins,

the resurrection of the body [sarkos],

life everlasting.

 

Creed of Rufinus (c. 404)

I believe in God the Father almighty, invisible and impassable;

And in Christ Jesus, His only Son, our Lord,

who was born by the Holy Spirit from Mary the Virgin,

crucified under Pontius Pilate and buried.

He descended to hell.

On the third day He rose again from the dead,

He ascended to heaven, where He sits at the Father’s right hand

and from whence He will come to judge both living and dead;

And I believe in the Holy Spirit,

the holy Church,

the forgiveness of sins,

the resurrection of the dead [carnis].

In the three centuries following the emergence of the old Roman Symbol numerous creeds developed in the area that was under Roman influence. While these creeds bear the marks of local influence, they have so strong a resemblance to the Roman Symbol that they can be considered daughter creeds.

The date and place of the origin of the present form of the Apostles’ Creed cannot be fixed with precision. There is considerable evidence for a date late in the 6th or 7th century somewhere in southwest France. The earliest appearance of the Textus Receptus (Received Text) of the Apostles’ Creed is found in De singulis libris canonicis scarapsus of Priminius, which dates somewhere between 710-724. This creed, which owed much to Rome, was finally adopted by Rome and became the common creed of Western Christendom, and is still confessed in traditional Christian churches all over the world today. Below is the Latin text with the English translation below it:

Textus Receptus of Apostles’ Creed

Credo in Deum Patrem omnipotentem, Creatorem caeli et terrae,

et in Iesum Christum, Filium Eius unicum, Dominum nostrum,

qui conceptus est de Spiritu Sancto, natus ex Maria Virgine,

passus sub Pontio Pilato, crucifixus, mortuus, et sepultus,

descendit ad inferos, tertia die resurrexit a mortuis,

ascendit ad caelos, sedet ad dexteram Patris omnipotentis,

inde venturus est iudicare vivos et mortuos.

Credo in Spiritum Sanctum,

sanctam Ecclesiam catholicam, sanctorum communionem,

remissionem peccatorum,

carnis resurrectionem,

vitam aeternam.

Amen.

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. Amen.

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Hippolytus of Rome (170–235) on the Incarnation of the Word

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“There is only one God, brethren, and we learn about him only from sacred Scripture. It is therefore our duty to become acquainted with what Scripture proclaims and to investigate its teachings thoroughly. We should believe them in the sense that the Father wills, thinking of the Son in the way the Father wills, and accepting the teaching he wills to give us with regard to the Holy Spirit. Sacred Scripture is God’s gift to us and it should be understood in the way that he intends: we should not do violence to it by interpreting it according to our own preconceived ideas.

God was all alone and nothing existed but himself when he determined to create the world. He thought of it, willed it, spoke the word and so made it. It came into being instantaneously, exactly as he had willed. It is enough then for us to be aware of a single fact: nothing is coeternal with God. Apart from God there was simply nothing else. Yet although he was alone, he was manifold because he lacked neither reason, wisdom, power nor counsel. All things were in him and he himself was all. At a moment of his own choosing and in a manner determined by himself, God manifested his Word, and through him he made the whole universe. 

When the Word was hidden within God himself he was invisible to the created world, but God made him visible. First God gave utterance to his voice, engendering light from light, and then he sent his own mind into the world as its Lord. Visible before to God alone and not to the world, God make him visible so that the world could be saved by seeing him. This mind that entered our world was made known as the Son of God. All things came into being through him; but he alone is begotten by the Father.

The Son gave us the law and the prophets, and he filled the prophets with the Holy Spirit to compel them to speak out. Inspired by the Father’s power, they were to proclaim the Father’s purpose and his will.

So the Word was made manifest, as Saint John declares when, summing up all the sayings of the prophets, he announces that this is the Word through whom the whole universe was made. He says: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Through him all things came into being; not one thing was created without him. And further on he adds: The world was made through him, and yet the world did not know him. He entered his own creation, and his own did not receive him’.”

– Hippolytus of Rome (170–235), Refutation of All Heresies (Philosophumena), 9-12