The Apostles’ Creed is attributed to some of the earliest missionary followers of Jesus Christ, distilling the fundamental basics of what it means to be a Catholic and follow in the teachings of God. The creed acts as a concise summary of His teachings and is deeply rooted in Scripture. By reciting the Apostles’ Creed, we can feel a sense of unity and community with fellow Catholics of every age worldwide.
When we recite the Apostles’ Creed during Mass, we end the creed saying “Amen,” our declaration of affirmation and confirmation. We, the assembled faithful of Christ, recite the creed as it is our shared belief. While the creed is not our entire faith, it mentions fundamental truths we believe and surmises the teachings within the Scripture.
Although the Apostles’ Creed was written centuries ago, it still plays an important role in the Catholic Church, allowing us to reflect on the words and praise the glory of God.
What Is the Catholic Apostles’ Creed?
The word “creed” comes from the Latin word “credo,” which means to believe or a commitment to and profession of faith. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines a creed as a symbol of faith. The Apostles’ Creed is one of the Prayers of the Rosary and gets its name because it is considered a summary of each apostle’s faith.
The Apostles’ Creed is also known as “Apostolicum,” a profession of faith used in the Catholic Church. Previously, the Apostles’ Creed was said to be composed by the 12 Apostles. Now, the creed is thought to have been developed from initial interrogations of catechumens, people receiving instructions to be baptized.
The current Apostles’ Creed resembles aspects of the baptismal creed used in Roman churches in the 3rd and 4th centuries. The Apostles’ Creed reached its final iteration in the early 7th century. Over time, the Apostles’ Creed replaced other baptismal creeds and was determined as the official profession of faith for the Catholic Church during Pope Innocent III’s tenure.
The Catholic version of the Apostles’ Creed is used daily in personal worship and during baptisms. While the Apostles’ Creed is regularly used in the church, it is also an excellent creed for personal reflection and prayer.
Who Wrote the Apostles’ Creed?
The author of the old Apostles’ Creed is unknown. While the Apostles’ Creed is not in the Bible, it expresses fundamental biblical doctrines and beliefs. Traditionally, many people believe the Apostles’ Creed was written by the Apostles, with each Apostle adding a specific portion to the creed. However, there is no textual or historical information to suggest the Apostles produced the creed.
Despite its unknown origins, the Apostles’ Creed has strong ties to the Apostles’ beliefs and teachings. A shortened version of the Apostles’ Creed can be traced back to as early as the second century. At first, the Apostles’ Creed was used during baptisms, but it also appeared in some martyrdom accounts.
The Apostles’ Creed was created in response to heresy, defending the Christian faith and Gospel. The creed was to help articulate the foundational aspects of the Catholic faith against heresy, specifically Gnosticism, which denied Christ’s incarnation, divine creation, salvation by faith in Christ and the deity of Christ. The articles of the Apostles’ Creed were effective tools to profess faith and defend the Catholic faith in the face of heresy.
What Is the Meaning of the Apostles’ Creed for Catholics?
The early Catholic Church was designed to spread the glory of God and the apostolic faith that was shared with humanity from Jesus’s teachings and His disciples. The Catholic Church uses Gospel stories and brief formulas, which were largely intended for baptism. Baptismal candidates could memorize these formulas and practice their teachings. As the Catholic Church spread throughout the world, gaining many new followers, it required a common language to express the church’s beliefs.
The Apostles’ Creed was one aspect of a common language, allowing unification between Catholics worldwide and ensuring all Catholics shared the same beliefs. At its core, the Apostles’ Creed is a profession of faith in God and His teachings, and it includes articles about each of the three persons of the Holy Trinity. The Apostles’ Creed serves as a concise summary of Catholics’ beliefs and the core aspects of the Scripture and God’s teachings.
Additionally, the Apostles’ Creed is also used as a measure or rule of faith, as its articles are deeply rooted in the Catholic tradition and Scripture. When reciting the Apostles’ Creed, Catholics throughout the world can be confident that they are professing beliefs shared by the whole Catholic Church. The Apostles’ Creed also helps safeguard the Catholic faith and defend it from heresy and certain challenges.
Looking at each article of the Apostles’ Creed can help you understand the importance of the creed.
Article 1: I Believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth.
The first article of the Apostles’ Creed affirms the existence of God and declares that God is a triune God, meaning he is one God but in three persons known as the Holy Trinity. The Holy Trinity is made of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The first article also states that God created everything within our universe.
Article 2: And in Jesus Christ, His Only Son, Our Lord.
The second article reaffirms that Jesus is God’s son and that he is divine. The term “Lord” itself implies divinity as it is ascribed to God, so using the word “Lord” in reference to Jesus Christ directly relates the Son to divinity. Jesus’s name comes from Hebrew and translates to “God saves,” meaning that Jesus is our savior.
Article 3: Who Was Conceived by the Power of the Holy Spirit and Born of the Virgin Mary.
This article affirms that Jesus Christ has human nature in the sense that he was born of a human mother, the Virgin Mary. At the same time, despite being born of a human mother, Jesus also has divine nature because he was born of the Holy Spirit and not a human father. Jesus Christ is considered both man and God, fully divine and fully human.
Article 4: He Suffered Under Pontius Pilate, Was Crucified, Died and Was Buried.
Jesus Christ was both divine and human, meaning he felt pain and could die, which he did on Good Friday. Under Pontius Pilate, Christ was crucified and died for our sins.
Article 5: He Descended Into Hell. The Third Day He Arose Again From the Dead.
Jesus did not descend into the Hell of the damned where Satan resides. Instead, “hell” was a term used by early Catholics to describe the place of the dead. While Jesus died and went to the place of the dead, this states that on the third day, he rose again, coming back from the dead due to his divine power. Jesus Christ returned from the dead in a risen and glorified body.
Article 6: He Ascended Into Heaven and Is Seated at the Right Hand of God the Father Almighty.
When the divine and human aspects of Jesus Christ became united in Incarnation, they would never be separated, and Christ ascended into Heaven. Following His Resurrection, Christ’s human body will exist for all of eternity. Believers of the Catholic faith hope to join Jesus Christ in Heaven one day, where he resides with His body and soul.
Article 7: He Will Come Again to Judge the Living and the Dead.
The seventh article confirms that there will be the Second Coming of Jesus Christ at the end of the world to judge the living and the dead. The Second Coming of Christ is known as the Day of Reckoning or Judgement Day, where God will judge the living and the dead and open His arms to His believers.
In the Catholic faith, we believe that there is an immediate judgment of a person upon their death to determine if they will ascend into Heaven based on their life. There is also a general judgment of all of God’s children during the Second Coming.
Article 8: I Believe in the Holy Spirit.
The eighth article reminds us all that God is a triune God, meaning he exists in three persons known as the Holy Trinity, consisting of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Each of these persons is distinct but equal in divinity to one another.
Article 9: The Holy Catholic Church, the Communion of Saints.
Catholics believe that the Church is an essential aspect of our lives and a way for us to celebrate the glory of God. Catholic churches are divine spaces where we may come together to learn the work of God and spread His message.
Article 10: The Forgiveness of Sins.
Jesus Christ came to the world and gave his life for our sins. The forgiveness of sins is a fundamental belief of all Catholics. We are imperfect beings who will sin throughout our lives, but God still loves us and grants us forgiveness through baptism, confession and the Sacrament of Penance. God teaches us that, despite our sins, we can seek forgiveness and lead a life in His light.
Article 11: The Resurrection of the Body.
In the Catholic faith, the human form is a union of the soul and body, meaning that death is only a temporary separation of the soul and body until the Second Coming of Christ, General Judgement and the resurrection of the dead. The just and righteous will ascend to Heaven with body and soul.
Article 12: And in Life Everlasting.
As Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior died, so must humans, as we are only mortals. As Jesus rose again, so shall humans thanks to the Glory of God. Death is how we cross from our human life into the next. When we die, immediate private judgment occurs, and Christ judges our soul to determine if we are particularly virtuous. Even if we have sinned, if we profess our faith, seek forgiveness and live a virtuous life, God will allow us to ascend into Heaven.
The wicked, evil or damned souls who die in mortal sin will suffer an eternity in Hell. Catholics also believe that there is a middle ground for souls who were not virtuous enough to ascend into Heaven but were not wicked enough to go to Hell. These souls go to Purgatory, a place between Heaven and Earth where departed souls go to be cleansed of sins before ascending into Heaven.
What Is the Difference Between the Apostles’ Creed, Nicene Creed and Athanasian Creed?
Creeds are an essential aspect of the Catholic faith and help us profess our faith and beliefs. Creeds are also incredibly important in correcting errors and various forms of heresy. A Catholic creed also helps to provide standards for God’s children.
There are three main creeds in the Catholic Church, including the Apostles’ Creed, Nicene Creed and Athanasian Creed. Each creed is unique and used for different purposes. Understanding the difference between these creeds can help you determine their unique aspects and when to use each creed for self-reflection and prayer.
The Apostles’ Creed is the oldest and shortest creed and is generally one of the most well-known and commonly used creeds. Throughout history, Christians have written many declarative professions of faith. The Apostles’ Creed is one of the first of these professions, which identifies and reiterates some of the most fundamental aspects of Christian doctrine.
The Apostles’ Creed builds on the teachings of the Apostles and what Catholics believed about God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Apostles’ Creed is among the most crucial Catholic professions of faith and an essential aspect of the Catholic learning curriculum. Reminding Catholics of central truths to their faith, the Apostles’ Creed helps clarify biblical revelations of Christ and His impact on our redemptions.
The Catholic Church requires a clear and concise summary of its faith and beliefs, allowing for the spread of authentic Catholic beliefs throughout the world. Creeds help define the truth, which can set us free from corruption and sin. God’s truth delivers us to eternal hope and a life living in His glory and splendor.
One main difference between the Apostles’ Creed and Nicene Creed is that the Nicene Creed is often recited during the Easter holiday, and the Apostles’ Creed is often recited at baptisms and during Mass. The Nicene Creed is also referred to as the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, and is the only ecumenical creed because it is considered authoritative in the Catholic Church.
The Nicene Creed results from two ecumenical councils, with one in Nicaea in 325 and the other in Constantinople in 381. The councils were held as a response to heresy, specifically Arianism. In 318, a presbyter known as Arius committed heresy by claiming Jesus was not God but a celestial servant. The Nicene Creed corrected this instance of blasphemy and explained the nature of God — the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The Athanasian Creed, also known as “Quicumque vult” in Latin, is a lesser-known creed with some authority in the Catholic Church. The Athanasian Creed reiterates the affirmation of the Holy Trinity, stating that all members of the Godhead are considered co-eternal, uncreated and of the same substance. As the Athanasian Creed affirms the Holy Trinity, it provides importance to the dual nature of Christ.
The Athanasian Creed reaffirms doctrines surrounding the Holy Trinity that were set at the Council of Nicea and strong affirmations of the Council at Chalcedon in 451. In Catholic tradition, the Athanasian Creed was often recited in churches on Trinity Sunday, the Sunday following Pentecost Sunday.
In addition to correcting Arianism, the Athanasian Creed also addresses other heresies, including Monophysitism and Nestorianism. The heresy of Monophysitism falsely asserts Christ has only one nature instead of two natures, including divine and human. On the other hand, Nestorianism attempts to deny the reality of Incarnation, representing Jesus Christ as not a God-made man but a God-inspired man.
When Should We Recite the Apostles’ Creed?
The Apostles’ Creed is an excellent tool commonly recited during a baptism or Holy Communion. While the Apostles’ Creed is not a prayer, it is helpful in worship and daily self-reflection, allowing you to recite a clear and concise profession of faith. Instead, the Apostles’ Creed is a statement we can make to others, including fellow Catholics.
It is important to remember that we do not simply repeat or recite the Apostles’ Creed. Instead, we state what we believe in and declare that we follow God and His teachings. Even if we recite the Apostles’ Creed regularly, we should always remember the significance of the words and the connection it bridges between the Church and us.
In many cases, the Apostles’ Creed is used for baptismal events and the Holy Communion. The Apostles’ Creed brings us all together within the eyes of God and binds us together. This profession of faith unites us as believers of all ages and walks of life.
Why Is the Apostles’ Creed Important Today?
The Apostles’ Creed remains an important aspect of the Catholic faith and helps us remember what we truly believe in. Teaching the Apostles’ Creed is also incredibly helpful to children and adults new to the faith, helping them learn the fundamentals of the Catholic Church. Evangelizing with these professions of faith helps spread God’s word for those new to the Church.
Additionally, the Apostles’ Creed is an essential tool for missionaries looking to provide a clear yet concise statement of what the Catholic Church believes when spreading the Gospel and helping those materially and spiritually less fortunate. The Apostles’ Creed also acts as a profession of faith.
Some of the reasons the Apostles’ Creed remains important today include:
- Defines the truth: The Apostles’ Creed helps define the truth and beliefs of Catholics. Seeking the truth helps set us free from sin, despair and corruption, allowing us to find God and follow His teachings. As creeds help to teach the truth, they provide a power that enables believers to rid themselves of fear and sin.
- Unites believers: The Apostles’ Creed unites Catholics with genuine bonds, as we understand that we all believe in the same truth and value the Gospel of God. This profession of faith helps unique believers of different ages throughout the world.
- Provides standards for believers: Another important aspect of the Apostles’ Creed is it provides rules and instruction. The Apostles’ Creed helps teach children and new believers how to live a life in His light and pursue a life of faith.
- Teaches how to worship: The Apostles’ Creed teaches us how to worship and follow the glory and truths of the Catholic faith. It helps us praise God and His teachings.
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Deacon Rick Medina is the Executive Director of Catholic World Mission and oversees the management of all of Catholic World Mission's projects in over 35 countries. He was ordained a deacon of the archdiocese of Atlanta in 2013. He currently serves at All Saints Catholic Church in Dunwoody, Georgia, and is active in several ministries, including RCIA, baptism preparation, Life Teen, Altar Server group, Grief Share, and Adult Faith Formation.