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Notes on the Creed

June 21, 2015

CreedChristianity only religion to have creeds

The 2nd generation of Xy had Jesus-experience, now had to hammer out what that meant – it was the most creative phase of Christian church’s growth with clashes of passionately held convictions, not dry academic, tried to be true to bible – Jewish concepts but also to communicate to Greek world in which they were now set

YET only getting as far as can to truth, not the truth itself

Thus Augustine: ‘when we speak of the THREE Persons of the Trinity it is not because these phrases are adequate – they are only an alternative to silence’

The words suggest rather than exhaust the topic


a group of astronomers saying the earth is flat have used language literally since the advent of science.

People were used to thinking in stories and in picture language but parents no longer tell their children stories so much as sit them in front of computers.


Roots in earlier hymns e.g. Ignatius, Tertulian’s epistles have lots of phrases later found in creeds in doxologies.


the creed is SYMBOLIC in language; one of the ancient Greek words for ‘creed’ is symbolum; the subject of doctrine taught in universities used be called symbolics.


‘The general acceptance of the formulations drawn up in another age and another context of thought gives rise to special problems, especially when some of the phrases used are indisputably symbolic, and no clear distinction can be drawn between these and others……It is not (The Creed’s) purpose to affirm either historical facts or metaphysical truths merely as such…every phrase in the creeds is necessarily symbolic………..(defines symbolc as pictorial expressions of spiritual truths, even though the supposed facts themselves did not actually happen….(not always possible to decide which are symbolic, which literal)’

Also a SIGN of recognition, like a badge – Tertullian said like an oath of loyalty taken by a soldier – also called a symbolum

Served to mark off Xns from others – Greek eloquence, Jewish ritual and food law, Roman emperor worship customs

A basis for teaching new converts – NOT the bible to teach but the creeds – important as saying bible conditioned by its time – now we have new problems.

Brief summary each individual fleshes out for self; better than massive constitution

A Christian approach is not based on bible but themes of creation, incarnation, redemption, trinity, kingdom, This stops conflicting proof texts being used

Liturgical use in baptisms – Not used in worship until C7 when because a ‘eucharistic hymn’

AFTER catechumens departed and doors closed, preserved in iconostasis doors closed and in Methodist liturgy – Not for outsiders – even in Cranmer, Apostles Creed at offices, Nicene only at communion


Sectarian breakaways – had to define who was in and who was out – may seem unfriendly – but guru cults then as now – part with money and sex – heretical groups other-wordly – so no justice, politics, just self-centred, narcissistic spirituality – OR radical politics and no spirituality

if changed creeds, have to involve getting orthodox, RC &c. together to start with

HAVE HELD RC, orthodox, Lutheran and reformed traditions – all attempts to provide alternatives have withered into sects and died out

not final statements of truth but limits beyond which cannot go – ‘The councils did not put limits on God but established safety barriers for our understanding of mystery and gift


‘The human tendency to confuse symbols with what they represent causes the loss of their passion and power.’ Creeds are symbols of SAVING POWER OF God – what matters is the power of God experienced, not the words

Colin Morris: ‘Creeds bear as much or as little resemblance to anone’s real-life faith as a railway timetable does to an actual journey’ – like a map – silly traveller who does not consult maps and speak to guides who know the terrain – need reference points

creeds did not die for our sins



superior GNOSTICS – free from body, created world is evil so hate matter, opposed to Jewish view that matter is good, good spirituality – but elite – esoteric, ordinary Xns 2nd class, one woman committed suicide – wrote that knife would free her for ever from evil of this world as a result of a C19 poem by Browning

Another strain was from Epicurius – universe made up of random cohesion of atoms – accidental – so life no purpose

Other extreme was Roman sacred groves and trees.

So middle path


OT and its God done away with by Christianity – So political justice not important – no punishment for wicked

Content detail


State idolatry, lordship of emperor, my country right or wrong, Hitler



Jesus a man who obeyed so rewarded with sonship, became greatest of prophets, a new Moses instead of a new Adam, to follow, we have to obey law, we have GOT to love rather than we GET to love – Like 4 minute mile when broken – impediment to other athletes taken away, perfectionism, try harder, gospel of good works

shown in ADOPTIONISM – desire to put self at the centre – Tell adopted son love him when he behaves well – needs to be told you chose him

NESTORIANISM preaches God loves us when we do good; as he loved and adopted Jesus

begotten, substance

ARIANISM – Literalist – use of begotten takes bible literally – Front page news of its day – ‘of one substance – homoousios’ was battle ground from 318-381, involved whole empire, 15 emperors, 5 popes, street mobs, Nicene C’l to settle then 12 more after 325

Arius – homoiousios – of LIKE substance – one iota – so if IN Christ, still no nearer to God

Atahansius defended orthodoxy – not a theologian but a pastor – God became man so that man might become God – Trinity – 3 mutual persons held in unity, not one person diffused through all 3 – or no independence., tell us we are gods and forget fall and capacity for sin, belief in progress, culture, education, horrors of WW1 trenches, not parent who controls children beyond adolescence – not children who entirely repudiate their parents


Not ‘individual’ in modern sense, pnly person in community

was made man

APOLLINARIANISM – Jesus had mind of God and body of human – so not human like us – virgin birth important as produced a biological freak

Chalcedon’s 2 natures important – one side stresses God, the other man. C’l saying the 2 can co-exist. Saying something vitally important about us

crucified, buried, rose, ascended


God in Jesus – seemed like a man, religion would provide an escape from suffering, human desire to flee, Islam adopted – Jesus not crucified, Greek notion that divine cannot suffer, New Age and prosperity gospel, led to deny the flesh – as evil so ascetic, fasts, floggings, celibacy, or as unimportant – so promiscuous, feasting all the time, floating around in holy feeling – no wasting time with committees where have to work with others – need them as developmental task, people left wives, houses, gave all wealth away and awaited 2nd coming


SABELLIANISM – also Patripassionism – God so much in Jesus that God died, Yet at bedside – tell someone God never changes – so not a bad day with headache on her judgement day

Trinity reduced to roles – father created, as son died, as Spirit inspires now – MODALISM e.g. dating Mary in drama school – but very passive and undemanding,

another says he dated a mary also in a drama school last year – assertive, bossy turns out the same person who was in a play playing a bossy woman last year, not a true person but a mask


MACEDONIANISM – Charismatic prophets, esp. Montanus.. One woman claims she saw Jesus as a woman who told her special mission, lots independent of rest of Xn message. fasting and virginity – end of millenium foretold – yet no end to kingdom, their kingdom only now so pure life and no admittance to the imperfect. Orthodox want to say we progress, their prophets unlike OT prophets who spoke of real world, politics and social justice. Spirit part of Trinity, not Christ returning to negate/alter/add

MONISM – one God only, in everything, but love is action not being – if nothing other than God, God can’t love as nothing to love.


DONATISM – Only really pure are Christians – be re-baptised after lapse in time of persecution. Minister has to be sincere for sacraments to work, Church only for the pure, not fringers


Every one will have own beliefs; Identification with general faith of the church across every continent over 2000 years

Family photo album – you might not personally like or visit Auntie Enid but she is still part of your family and means a lot to others

Tension in church between fundamentalists, liberals, charismatics and so on – creative tension as we all grow

Colin Morris – creeds there to put scaffolding against which build own faith. ‘When religious believers recite a creed they are not assenting to philosophical propositions but committing themselves to a view of the way things are, expressed in images and pictures which those wiser and holier that they have found helpful in stating facts that defy bald description.’

He goes on to say that this is why people have fought and died for creeds – they express innermost reality

‘A creed is like a key; it is a thing with a definite and precise shape which can only operate as a key at all if its distinctive notches and gaps remain absolutely fixed. Let one be worn down by a fraction of an inch and the key is useless.

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