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Creeds 2: Introduction Part 2

You will not find the creeds in the Bible. Although there is scriptural background to what they say, the texts themselves are later than the Bible and are imposed on us by the corporate authority of the church.

The Athanasian Creed is hardly ever used these days – and we will return to it later, separately from our main creeds.

The Apostles’ Creed1 and the Nicene Creed2 are, however, commonly used – and both have the same essential ingredients. If you want to summarise them, they both say that we believe in a Trinitarian God and in our Church. Open both texts3 and you will find they both have sections on God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit – and then both have a collection of statements about the church and what we believe together about the church and the future. You cannot make both creeds overlap precisely, but if you stand back and take a long view, they are close in essentials.

Notice, though, the first word. The Apostles’ Creed starts “I believe”, but the Nicene Creed “We believe”. Now open the Book of Common Prayer4 at the service of Holy Communion and find the Nicene Creed. What do you notice? - “I believe”! If you have our old “Alternative Service Book 1980”, you will find “We believe”5. Why the differences?

For one thing the Nicene Creed was originally a “We believe” corporate statement of faith, not an “I believe” statement [like the Apostles’ Creed] intended for candidates for baptism, asking them to nail their colours to the mast of faith6.

Further, Nicene Creed arose not so much as a statement of faith but as a theological statement refining and clarifying faith against errors7. It speaks in highly symbolic – poetic – language and you would be hard put to it to insist anyone should really believe certain of its statements in any literal way8. When we say “we believe” as the preface to the Nicene Creed we are giving broad assent to an inheritance of faith which enshrines what we are about.