Creeds1 1: Introduction part 1

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I believe the world is round and not flat. That is a “creed” – quite simply, something I “believe”2. So when the church has written statements of belief to summarise what Christianity is about, they are called “Creeds”.

But like all statements, they consist of words, and words are as precise or as vague as we wish them to be. Even though a creed tries to define belief, generally it only succeeds in drawing boundaries.

Strangely, too, there isn’t just one creed, but several3. The Anglican church has at least three4 – but you might view the “39 Articles of Religion”5 as a further extension of what an Anglican ought to hold dear. Indeed, there are other statements which might be viewed as “Creeds” – like the “Lambeth Quadrilateral”6, or the statements parents and godparents make at baptisms.

Given the above, it is sometimes difficult to establish exactly what the Church of England expects its Christians to believe. It is, therefore, perhaps more than other churches, capable of containing within it a wide range of doctrinal positions on what, at first sight, appears clear enough when a creed is recited.

The Apostles’ Creed7 is the simplest of our creeds, the shortest, and the one with the oldest roots, going back [perhaps] to the 2nd century. At our church you normally only hear this at evensong on Sundays – though “Common Worship” does allow for its use at eucharistic occasions too, and we may do this from time to time.

The Nicene Creed8 was drawn up in the 4th century – and arose from arguments about unorthodox ideas about the person of Christ. It is therefore not surprising that the second paragraph, about Christ, is much longer and detailed, and couched in theological language.

The Athanasian Creed9 is, like the Apostles’ Creed, badly named – because scholars long since abandoned the theory that St Athanasius wrote it. You will find the text in the Book of Common Prayer – and if you read it, you will quickly realise why it is hardly ever used in worship10.