A Creed of Creeds

Article 1Concerning the Symbolic Nature of Creeds

Creeds are significant both to Christian theology and history. Saint Thomas Aquinas identified the Nicene Creed as the object of faith.  The Apostles Creed is frequently presented in orthodox Christian catechisms. The significance of creeds, though, lies in what they symbolize, not the words themselves. The words are meant to represent the doctrinal beliefs of a collective body of believers; they do not possess mysterious powers. As Christ says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” And again, in 1 Corinthians, Saint Paul writes, “For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power.”

Article 2Concerning the Formulation of Creeds

Creeds were usually formed in response to theological contention, heresy, and/or persecution. When the faith is placed under pressure, or enemies of Christ strive to break up His church, articulations of beliefs that unify the body of believers become necessary.

The benefit of trial has been a common theme in Christianity. The creeds attest that hardship often results in good things—particularly, in the case of creeds, formation and solidity of ‘the faithful’ in ‘the faith’. As Paul says, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted…” Christ, who also assured His followers that living a Christian life would attract persecution, speaks of the good that it births, saying, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” When beneath the press of trials, creeds attest to Christianity’s tendency to solidify, rather than disintegrate. The perhaps best-known creed, the Nicene Creed, was formed in the face of a growing heresy called Arianism. Another example would by the many creeds of the Reformation, which were formed in the various emerging denominations’ need to distinguish themselves both from the Roman Catholic Church and also from other Reformed groups.

Article 3Concerning the Use of Creeds

Creeds serve two key purposes. First, they are an educational tool used in catechizing converts and children. Christianity is a religion of freedom, not slavery. If someone enters the church, they should be informed of, and freely assent to, the foundational beliefs of that body. Of course, Christian education should not end with creeds. They are like the milk that Paul writes of to the Corinthians: “But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it.” Nevertheless, point to the stable, powerful foundations of Christian faith and fellowship.

For the mature in the faith, creeds serve a different, but equally vital purpose. Even those who are mature in the faith fall into times of doubt. Scripture offers many examples of the firmest pillars of faith falling into doubt. The apostles themselves doubted that Christ would rise as He promised—Saint Thomas doubted even after being explicitly told He had. We should expect times of doubt, and not despair when they come. Such avoidance of despair is where the creeds come to our aid.

When we look at the sun with naked eyes, it appears to have dark spots on the surface. But we know that, in reality, it does not: when we look through a dark film, the sun can be seen as it is, free of spots. Creeds serve a similar purpose as that dark film. When Christianity seems absurd, inconsistent, and unbelievable, we can hold to the creeds as reminders of truths that we cannot trust ourselves alone to see accurately.