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§ 140. The Rule of Faith and the Apostles’ Creed.

Rufinus (d. 410): Expos. in Symbolum Apostolorum. In the Append. to Fell’s ed. of Cyprian, 1682; and in Rufini Opera, Migne’s "Patrologia," Tom. XXI. fol. 335–386.

James Ussher (Prot. archbishop of Armagh, d. 1655): De Romanae Ecclesiae Symbolo Apostolico vetere, aliisque fidei formulis. London, 1647. In his Works, Dublin 1847, vol. VII. p. 297 sqq. Ussher broke the path for a critical history of the creed on the basis of the oldest MSS. which he discovered.

John Pearson (Bp. of Chester, d. 1686): Exposition of the Creed, 1659, in many editions (revised ed. by Dr. E. Burton, Oxf. 1847; New York 1851). A standard work of Anglican theology.

Peter King (Lord Chancellor of England, d. 1733): History of the Apostles’ Creed. Lond. 1702.

Herm. Witsius (Calvinist, d. at Leyden, 1708): Exercitationes sacrae in Symbolum quod Apostolorum dicitur. Amstel. 1700. Basil. 1739. 4°. English translation by Fraser. Edinb. 1823, in 2 vols.

Ed. Köllner (Luth.): Symbolik aller christl. Confessionen. Part I. Hamb. 1837, p. 6–28.

*Aug. Hahn: Bibliothek der Symbole und Glaubensregeln der apostolischkatholischen [in the new ed. der alten] Kirche. Breslau, 1842 (pp. 222). Second ed. revised and enlarged by his son, G. Ludwig Hahn. Breslau, 1877 (pp. 300).

J. W. Nevin: The Apostles’ Creed, in the "Mercersburg Review," 1849. Purely doctrinal.

Pet. Meyers (R.C.): De Symboli Apostolici Titulo, Origine ei antiquissimis ecclesiae temporibus Auctoritate. Treviris 1849 (pp. 210). A learned defense of the Apostolic origin of the Creed.

W. W. Harvey: The History and Theology of the three Creeds (the Apostles’, the Nicene, and the Athanasian). Lond. 1854. 2 vols.

*Charles A. Heurtley: Harmonia Symbolica. Oxford, 1858.

Michel Nicolas: Le Symbole des apôtres. Essai historie. Paris, 1867. (Sceptical).

*J. Rawson Lumby: The History of the Creeds (ante-Nicene, Nicene and Athanasian). London, 1873, 2d ed. 1880.

*C. A. Swainson: The Nicene and the Apostles’ Creed. London, 1875.

*C. P. Caspari: (Prof. in Christiania): Quellen zur Gesch. des Tauf, symbols und der Glaubensregel. Christiania, 1866–1879. 4 vols, Contains new researches and discoveries of MSS.

*F. J. A. Hort: Two Dissertations on μονογενὴς θεόςand on the "Constantinopolitan Creed and other Eastern Creeds of the Fourth Century. Cambr. and Lond. 1876. Of great critical value.

F. B. Westcott: The Historic Faith. London, 1883.

Ph. Schaff: Creeds of Christendom, vol. I. 3–42, and II. 10–73. (4th ed. 1884.

In the narrower sense, by apostolic tradition or the rule of faith (κανὼν τῆς πίστεως, regula fidei) was understood a doctrinal summary of Christianity, or a compend of the faith of the church. Such a summary grew out of the necessity of catechetical instruction and a public confession of candidates for baptism. It became equivalent to a symbolum, that is, a sign of recognition among catholic Christians in distinction from unbelievers and heretics. The confession of Peter (Matt. 16:16 gave the key-note, and the baptismal formula (Matt. 28:19) furnished the trinitarian frame-work of the earliest creeds or baptismal confessions of Christendom.

There was at first no prescribed formula of faith binding upon all believers. Each of the leading churches framed its creed (in a sort of independent congregational way), according to its wants, though on the same basis of the baptismal formula, and possibly after the model of a brief archetype which may have come down from apostolic days. Hence we have a variety of such rules of faith, or rather fragmentary accounts of them, longer or shorter, declarative or interrogative, in the ante-Nicene writers, as Irenaeus of Lyons (180), Tertullian of Carthage (200), Cyprian of Carthage (250), Novatian of Rome (250), Origen of Alexandria (250), Gregory Thaumaturgus (270), Lucian of Antioch (300), Eusebius of Caesarea (325), Marcellus of Ancyra (340), Cyril of Jerusalem (350), Epiphanius of Cyprus (374), Rufinus of Aquileja (390), and in the Apostolic Constitutions).952952    See a collection of these ante-Nicene rules of faith in Hahn, Denzinger, Heurtley, Caspari, and Schaff (II.11-41).52 Yet with all the differences in form and extent there is a substantial agreement, so that Tertullian could say that the regula fidei was "una omnino, sola immobilis et irreformabilis." They are variations of the same theme. We may refer for illustration of the variety and unity to the numerous orthodox and congregational creeds of the Puritan churches in New England, which are based upon the Westminster standards.

The Oriental forms are generally longer, more variable and metaphysical, than the Western, and include a number of dogmatic terms against heretical doctrines which abounded in the East. They were all replaced at last by the Nicene Creed (325, 381, and 451), which was clothed with the authority of oecumenical councils and remains to this day the fundamental Creed of the Greek Church. Strictly speaking it is the only oecumenical Creed of Christendom, having been adopted also in the West, though with a clause (Filioque) which has become a wall of division. We shall return to it in the next volume.

The Western forms—North African, Gallican, Italian—are shorter and simpler, have less variety, and show a more uniform type. They were all merged into the Roman Symbol, which became and remains to this day the fundamental creed of the Latin Church and her daughters.

This Roman symbol is known more particularly under the honored name of the Apostles’ Creed. For a long time it was believed (and is still believed by many in the Roman church) to be the product of the Apostles who prepared it as a summary of their teaching before parting from Jerusalem (each contributing one of the twelve articles by higher inspiration).953953    This obsolete opinion, first mentioned by Ambrose and Rufinus is still defended by Pet. Meyers, l.c. and by Abbé Martigny in his French Dictionary of Christ. Antiquities (sub Symbole des apôtres. Longfellow, in his Divine Tragedy (1871) makes poetic use of it, and arranges the Creed in twelve articles, with the names of the supposed apostolic authors. The apostolic origin was first called in question by Laurentius Valla, Erasmus, and Calvin. See particulars in Schaff’s Creeds I. 22-23.53 This tradition which took its rise in the fourth century, 954954    Rufinus speaks of it as an ancestral tradition (tradunt majores nostri) and supports it by a false explanation of symbolum, as "collatio, hoc est quod plures in unum conferunt." See Migne, XXI. fol. 337.54is set aside by the variations of the ante-Nicene creeds and of the Apostles’ Creed itself. Had the Apostles composed such a document, it would have been scrupulously handed down without alteration. The creed which bears this name is undoubtedly a gradual growth. We have it in two forms.

The earlier form as found in old manuscripts, 955955    In the Graeco-Latin Codex Laudianus (Cod. E of the Acts) in the Bodleian Library at Oxford, from the sixth century, and known to the Venerable Bede (731). The Creed is attached at the end, is written in uncial letters, and was first made known by Archbishop Ussher. Heurtley (p. 61 sq.) gives a facsimile. It is reprinted in Caspari, Hahn (second ed. p. 16), and Schaff (II. 47). Another copy is found in a MS. of the eighth century in the British Museum, published by Swainson, The Nic. and Ap. Creeds, p. 161, and by Hahn in a Nachtrag to the Preface, p. xvi. This document, however, inserts catholicam after ecclesiam. Comp. also the form in the Explanatio Symboli ad initiandos, by Ambrose in Caspari, II. 48 and 128, and Schaff, II. 50. The Creed of Aquileja, as given by Rufinus, has a few additions, but marks them as such so that we can infer from it the words of the Roman Creed. With these Latin documents agree the Greek in the Psalterium of King Aethelstan, and of Marcellus (see next note).55is much shorter and may possibly go back to the third or even the second century. It was probably imported from the East, or grew in Rome, and is substantially identical with the Greek creed of Marcellus of Ancyra (about 340), inserted in his letter to Pope Julius I. to prove his orthodoxy, 956956    In Epiphanius, Haer. LXXII. it is assigned to a.d. 341, by others to 337. It is printed in Schaff (II. 47), Hahn, and in the first table below. It contains, according to Caspari, the original form of the Roman creed as current at the time in the Greek portion of the Roman congregation. It differs from the oldest Latin form only by the omission of πατέρα, and the addition of ζωὴν αἰώνιον56and with that contained in the Psalter of King Aethelstan..957957    The Psalterium Aethelstani, in the Cotton Library of the British Museum, written in Anglo-Saxon letters, first published by Ussher, then by Heurtley, Caspari, and Hahn (p. 15). It differs from the text of Marcellus by the insertion of πατέρα and the omission of ζωὴν αἰώνιον, in both points agreeing with the Latin text.57 Greek was the ruling language of the Roman Church and literature down to the third century..958958    On the Greek original of the Roman symbol Caspari’s researches (III. 267-466) are conclusive. Harnack (in Herzog 2, vol. I. 567) agrees: "Der griechische Text ist als das Original zu betrachten; griechisch wurde das Symbol zu Rom eine lange Zeit hindurch ausschliesslich tradirt. Dann trat der lateinisch übersetzte Text als Parallelform hinzu." Both are disposed to trace the symbol to Johannean circles in Asia Minor on account of the term "only begotten, (μονογενής), which is used of Christ only by John.58

The longer form of the Roman symbol, or the present received text, does not appear before the sixth or seventh century. It has several important clauses which were wanting in the former, as "he descended into hades,"959959    Descendit ad inferna, first found in Arian Creeds (εἰς ᾅδου or εἰς ᾅδην) about a.d. 360; then in the Creed of Aquileja, about a.d. 390; then in the Creed of Venantius Fortunatus, 590, in the Sacramentarium Gallicanum, 650, and in the ultimate text of the Apostles’ Creed in Pirminius, 750. See the table in Schaff’s Creeds, II. 54, and critical note on p. 46. Rufinus says expressly that this clause was not contained in the Roman creed and explains it wrongly as being identical with "buried." Com. c. 18 (in Migne, f. 356): "Sciendum sane est, quod in Ecclesiae Romanae Symbolo non habetur additum, ’descendit ad inferna:’ sed neque in Orientis Ecclesiis habetur hic sermo: via tamen verbi eadem videtur esse in eo, quod ’sepultis dicitur.’" The article of the descent is based upon Peter’s teaching, Acts 2: 31 ("he was not left in Hades," εἰς ἅδου, consequently he was there); 1 Pet. 3:19; 4:6; and the promise of Christ to the, dying robber, Luke 23:34 (" to day thou shalt be with Me in paradise," ἐν τῷ παραδείσῳ), and undoubtedly means a self exhibition of Christ to the spirits of the departed. The translation " descended into hell" is unfortunate and misleading. We do not know whether Christ was in hell; but we do know from his own lips that he was in paradise between his death and resurrection. The term Hades is much more comprehensive than Hell (Gehenna), which is confined to the state and place of the lost.59 the predicate "catholic" after ecclesiam,960960    It is found first in the Sacramentarium Gallicanum, 650. The older creeds of Cyprian, Rufinus, Augustin, read simply sanctam ecclesiam, Marcellus ἀγίαν ἐκκλησίαν60 "the communion of saints,"961961    Sanctorum communionem. After 650.61 and "the life everlasting."962962    Contained in Marcellus and Augustin, but wanting in Rufinus and in the Psalter of Aethelstan. See on all these additions and their probable date the tables in my Creeds of Christendom, II. 54 and 55.62 These additions were gathered from the provincial versions (Gallican and North African) and incorporated into the older form.

The Apostles’ Creed then, in its present shape, is post-apostolic; but, in its contents and spirit, truly apostolic. It embodies the faith of the ante-Nicene church, and is the product of a secondary inspiration, like the Gloria in Excelsis and the Te deum, which embody the devotions of the same age, and which likewise cannot be traced to an individual author or authors. It follows the historical order of revelation of the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, beginning with the creation and ending with the resurrection and life eternal. It clusters around Christ as the central article of our faith. It sets forth living facts, not abstract dogmas and speaks in the language of the people, not of the theological school. It confines itself to the fundamental truths, is simple, brief, and yet comprehensive, and admirably adapted for catechetical and liturgical use. It still forms a living bond of union between the different ages and branches of orthodox Christendom, however widely they differ from each other, and can never be superseded by longer and fuller creeds, however necessary these are in their place. It has the authority of antiquity and the dew of perennial youth, beyond any other document of post-apostolic times. It is the only strictly Œcumenical Creed of the West, as the Nicene Creed is the only Œcumenical Creed of the East.963963    We usually speak of three Œcumenical creeds; but the Greek church has never adopted the Apostles’ Creed and the Athanasian Creed, although she holds the doctrines therein contained. The Nicene Creed was adopted in the West, and so far is universal, but the insertion of the formula Filioque created and perpetuates the split between the Greek and Latin churches.63 It is the Creed of creeds, as the Lord’s Prayer is the Prayer of prayers.


The legendary formulas of the Apostles’ Creed which appear after the sixth century, distribute the articles to the several apostles arbitrarily and with some variations. The following is from one of the pseudo-Augustinian sermons (see Hahn, p. 47 sq.):

"Decimo die post ascensionem discipulis prae timore Judaeorum congregatis Dominus promissum Paracletum misit: quo veniente ut candens ferrum inflammati omniumque linguarum peritia repleti Symbolum composuerunt.

Petrus dixit: Credo in Deum Patrem omnipotentem—creatorem coeli et terrae.

Andreas dixit: Et in Jesum Christum, Filium ejus—unicum Dominum nostrum.

Jacobus dixit: Qui conceptus est de Spiritu Sancto—natus ex Maria Virgine.

Joannes dixit: Passus sub Pontio Pilato—crucifixus, mortuus et sepultus.

Thomas dixit: Descendit ad inferna—tertia die resurrexit a mortuis.

Jacobus dixit: Adscendit ad coelos—sedet ad dexteram Dei Patris omnipotentis.

Philippus dixit: Inde venturus est judicare vivos et mortuos.

Bartholomaeus dixit: Credo in Spiritum Sanctum.

Matthaeus dixit: Sanctam Ecclesiam catholicam—Sanctorum communionem.

Simon dixit: Remissionem peccatorum.

Thaddeus dixit: Carnis resurrectionem.

Matthias dixit: Vitam aeternam."

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