Apostles Creed
Creed of Gregory
Nicene Creed
Chalcedonian Creed
Athanasian Creed

Historic Christian Creeds

In affirming that God has become incarnate in Jesus Christ, Christians throughout history have formulated creeds. Creeds (from the Latin credo, "I believe") are simple statements of what an individual, or more usually a group of people, believes about a particular topic. They most often define the foundational beliefs that provide the guiding principles for the group's existence. In the Christian Church, creeds (or symbols), or confessions as they are sometimes called in later church history, were an attempt to summarize in formal statements the basic or essential beliefs of Christians or a group of Christians, what a particular group believes and teaches as truth. In general, there are two kinds of creeds, Baptismal and conciliar. A Baptismal creed teaches catechumens, who are new believers, and is a basic confession of faith. The concliar creed is an official doctrine of the Church, agreed upon by a council.

Creeds served an important role in stabilizing the early Christian church. Initially used to teach beliefs to new converts, they soon served other purposes, such as showing the boundaries between real believers and those who adhered to false teachings. By the 200s, believers would be asked questions at their baptisms such as, "Do you believe in God the Father Almighty? Do you believe in Jesus Christ?", and so on. These questions were used to prepare the believers for baptism. In addition, the creeds guarded against heresy by clearly stating the Church's beliefs. The earliest creed is generally considered to be found in 1 Corinthians 15:1-9. Another early statement of Christian faith was "Jesus is Lord," which appears in Paul's epistle to the Romans 10:9. For Trinitarians, the meaning and importance of this creed comes from its affirmation that in Jesus Christ the fullness of the deity of the God Yahweh of Israel is made incarnate (Colossians 2:9).

A creed also served as a denial of heresies and a defense of the truth. In an atmosphere of increasingly complicated theological controversy, orthodox belief might become more complicated in outline. In the decade before 594, Gregory, bishop of Tours set out to write a Historia Francorum ("History of the Franks"). In Gaul, a part of Europe recently beset with both royal Arians and royal pagans (until the conversion of Clovis), Gregory prefaced his history with a declaration of his faith, "so that my reader may have no doubt that I am Catholic" (Book I.i). The confession was written in several phrases, each of which refuted a specific Christian heresy. Thus, Gregory's creed presented, in the negative, a virtual catalogue of heresies. Even today, creeds have an importance role in apologetics, as they reference Biblical passages to address errors in belief that exist today.

Creeds also are useful in a "juridical" sense, in that they were historically used to settle and avoid disputes. They were used to settle disputes because they showed what Scripture taught, bringing together the teaching of all Scripture on a certain matter. And they were used to avoid disputes because they set forth the things that were important, thus steering clear of "foolish and unlearned questions" that engendered strife (2 Timothy 2:23). Lastly, creeds can even be used pastorally. They are not cold, abstract statements, but warm, practical expositions of the truth and can be used to direct the attention of those who are in need of pastoral counsel to the Word of God.

1st or 2nd Century A.D.)

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.

3rd Century A.D.

There is one God, the Father of the living Word, who is His subsistent Wisdom and Power and Eternal Image: perfect Begetter of the perfect Begotten, Father of the only-begotten Son.

There is one Lord, Only of the Only, God of God, Image and Likeness of Deity, Efficient Word, Wisdom comprehensive of the constitution of all things, and Power formative of the whole creation, true Son of true Father, Invisible of Invisible, and Incorruptible of Incorruptible, and Immortal of Immortal and Eternal of Eternal.

And there is One Holy Spirit, having His subsistence from God, and being made manifest by the Son, [to wit to men*]: Image of the Son, Perfect Image of the Perfect; Life, the Cause of the living; Holy Fount; Sanctity, the Supplier, or Leader, of Sanctification; in whom is manifested God the Father, who is above all and in all, and God the Son, who is through all.

There is a perfect Trinity, in glory and eternity and sovereignty, neither divided nor estranged. Wherefore there is nothing either created or in servitude in the Trinity; nor anything superinduced, as if at some former period it was non-existent, and at some later period it was introduced. And thus neither was the Son ever wanting to the Father, nor the Spirit to the Son; but without variation and without change, the same Trinity abides ever.

381 A.D.

We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

451 A.D.

We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable [rational] soul and body; consubstantial [co-essential] with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ; as the prophets from the beginning [have declared] concerning Him, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.

500 A.D.

We worship one God in trinity, and trinity in unity, neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance. For the person of the Father is one; of the Son, another; of the Holy Spirit, another. But the divinity of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit is one, the glory equal, the majesty equal. Such as is the Father, such also is the Son, and such the Holy Spirit.

The Father is uncreated, the Son is uncreated, the Holy Spirit is uncreated. The Father is infinite, the Son is infinite, the Holy Spirit is infinite. The Father is eternal, the Son is eternal, the Holy Spirit is eternal. And yet there are not three eternal Beings, but one eternal Being. So also there are not three uncreated Beings, nor three infinite Beings, but one uncreated and one infinite Being.

In like manner, the Father is omnipotent, the Son is omnipotent, and the Holy Spirit is omnipotent. And yet there are not three omnipotent Beings, but one omnipotent Being. Thus the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. And yet there are not three Gods, but one God only. The Father is Lord, the Son is Lord, and the Holy Spirit is Lord. And yet there are not three Lords, but one Lord only.

For as we are compelled by Christian truth to confess each person distinctively to be both God and Lord, we are prohibited by the Catholic religion to say that there are three Gods or Lords. The Father is made by none, nor created, nor begotten. The Son is from the Father alone, not made, not created, but begotten. The Holy Spirit is not created by the Father and the Son, nor begotten, but proceeds. Therefore, there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Spirit, not three Holy Spirits.

And in this Trinity there is nothing prior or posterior, nothing greater or less, but all three persons are coeternal and coequal to themselves. So that through all, as was said above, both unity in trinity and trinity in unity is to be adored. Whoever would be saved, let him thus think concerning the Trinity.