Early Christian Creeds

Christianity has produced a number of creeds, confessions, and statements of faith, throughout its long history. Here’s a list of some of the earliest and most significant:

  • The Creed of Aristides (125 AD)
  • Apostles Creed (120 – 250 AD)
  • The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed (381 AD)
  • The Chalcedonian Creed (451 AD)
  • The Athenasian Creed (298 – 373 AD)

The Nicene Creed

The Nicene Creed, also called the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, is statement of faith that is accepted as authoritative by the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican, and major Protestant churches. It summarises a number of beliefs about God, the world, Jesus, salvation, the Holy Spirit, the church, and the last things. Most likely it was issued by the Council of Constantinople in 381, even though this fact was first explicitly stated at the Council of Chalcedon in 451.


We believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible;

And in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only begotten Son of God,
begotten from the Father before all ages,
light from light,
true God from true God,
begotten not made,
of one substance with the Father,
through whom all things came into existence,
Who because of us men and because of our salvation came down from the heavens,
and was incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary
and became man,
and was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate,
and suffered and was buried,
and rose again on the third day according to the Scriptures
and ascended to heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father,
and will come again with glory to judge living and dead,
of Whose kingdom there will be no end;

And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and life-giver,
Who proceeds from the Father,
Who with the Father and the Son is together worshipped and together glorified,
Who spoke through the prophets;
in one holy Catholic and apostolic Church.
We confess one baptism to the remission of sins;
we look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen

The Ionian Creed

Here’s an interesting paraphrasing of the Nicene Creed. It is called the Ionian Creed and is found in the Iona Abbey Worship Book

We believe in God above us,
maker and sustainer of all life,
of sun and moon, of water and earth,
of male and female.

We believe in God beside us,
Jesus Christ, the word made flesh,
born of a woman, servant of the poor,
tortured and nailed to a tree.
A man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief,
he died alone and forsaken.
He descended into the earth
to the place of death.
On the third day he rose from the tomb.
He ascended into heaven,
to be everywhere present throughout all ages,
and His kingdom will come on earth.

We believe in God within us,
the Holy Spirit burning with Pentecostal fire,
life-giving breath of the Church,
Spirit of healing and forgiveness,
source of all resurrection and of eternal life.

Thoughts on the filioque controversy

holy-spiritI have been thinking about the Filioque controversy. The Orthodox tradition affirms the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father … and nothing need more be said. The Catholic and Protestant traditions affirm the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father AND the Son. I agree with the Orthodox that this AND is problematic as it tends to shift Trinitarian theology from locating the unity of God in the person of the Father to locating it in a more abstract Godhead. However I also agree with western tradition that it’s helpful to say something about the Holy Spirit in relation to the Son. So, as a Christian who values both Protestant and Orthodox tradition, I am inclined to speak of the Holy Spirit as proceeding from the Father THROUGH the Son, though I am happy to leave the Creed in its original, ecumenical, Orthodox form for the sake of ecumenism. In this I believe I am in good company with both Tertullian and John of Damascus who both used the THROUGH expression. I like this way as it puts the emphasis on the Son as mediator.

Nicene Niggly Bits

I have been revisiting the Nicene Creed recently and something struck me: could it unintentionally encourage Modalism in the minds of some readers?(1)

I think the problem is this: on one level the Nicene Creed is an attempt to articulate how the Father (God above us), the Spirit (God within us) and the Son (God among us) all relate to one another in eternity; but on another level the Nicene Creed is also an attempt to articulate how the gospel story, the church story and the creation story relate to one another in history. It has struck me that there are problems with trying to do both simultaneously.

As it is stands the Nicene Creed explicitly links the Father to the creation story and the Spirit to the church story, but fails to do the reverse. Yet a careful reading of the Bible reveals the Spirit was moving within creation at the very beginning and that the Father sometimes stands in judgment over churches, such that their actions are not always Spirit breathed. Trinitarian theologians know this, but the creed does not actually clarify it. This critique goes beyond my previous critiques of the filoque(2); to the effect that the Son is sent by the Spirit as much as the Spirit is sent by the Son. What I am suggesting here is that the entire structure of the Creed is problematic, that it is too one dimensional to accommodate these tangential ideas of Father-Son-Spirit divinity and Creation-Christ-Church history without risk that they’ll just collapse into one another in the mind of readers. Something to ponder …

(1) Modalism is the name commonly given to unorthodox theological systems that assert God manifested in different modes during different periods of history – as Father in Old Testament times, as Son with the coming of Jesus, and as Spirit after the ascension of Jesus – and that the Father and Son and Spirit never related to one another personally and simultaneously as orthodox Christianity teaches.

(2) The filoque refers to a highly disputed clause inserted into the Nicene Creed by Western Theologians after the Council of Nicea had finished. Basically it is the bit that reads, “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son