The Three Great Creeds of Early Christianity




    This Creed is so called from the legend that the twelve apostles met soon after the death of Jesus and composed it, each of them contributing one sentence.  In reality, it originated at Rome in the third quarter of the second century.  It was never adopted by the Eastern Church, but has been widely accepted by both Roman Catholics and Protestants as the simplest statement of the essentials of Christian faith.  In the enlarged form now current it runs as follows:

    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, died, and was buried.  He descended into hell, the third day he rose again from the dead, ascended into heaven, sits at the right hand of God the Father almighty, whence he is to come to judge the living and the dead.  I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, the life eternal.


    This Creed (see pages 22, 24, 25) was adopted at the Council of Nica (325), and brought forward in a revised form at the Council of Constantinople (381), but it was not finally sanctioned in the form now current until the Council of Chalcedon (451). It is the one creed recognized by both the Eastern and the Western Church, from which it has been inherited by orthodox Protestantism. Like the Apostles’ Creed, it forms a part of the liturgy of the Church of England and the Protestant Episcopal Church. In the version given below, italics denote parts added to the original Creed of 325, while parts later omitted from that are bracketed.

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

    And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father (the only begotten, that is, of the substance of the Father) before all worlds (God of God and) light of light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made (both in heaven and on earth); who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered, and was buried, and the third day rose again, according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father, and comes again with glory to judge the living and the dead; whose kingdom will have no end.

    And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father [and the Son],1 who together with the Father and the Son, is worshiped and glorified, who spoke through the prophets.

    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.

    (But those who say, There was when he was not; and, Before he was begotten he was not; and, He was made out of nothing; or who profess that he is of a different person or substance, or created, or changeable, or variable, are condemned by the holy catholic and apostolic Church.)


    This Creed (see page 25) was long supposed to have come from Athanasius himself, but it is of unknown date and source.   It was composed under the influence of St. Augustine, and is believed to have originated in Southern Gaul in the fifth century or later, as an explanation of the Nicene Creed.  It was accepted only in the Western Church.  Its required use on certain occasions in the worship of the Church of England has served to keep the doctrine of the Trinity unusually prominent in English theology.  It is sometimes referred to by the first words of its Latin form, as the Quicumque vult.

  1. Whosoever would be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith,
  2. Which except one keep entire and inviolate, he will without doubt perish everlastingly.
  3. Now the catholic faith is this: that we worship one God in a Trinity, and the Trinity in a Unity;
  4. Neither confounding the persons, nor dividing the substance.
  5. For there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, another of the Holy Spirit.
  6. But the divinity of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, is one, the glory equal, the majesty co-eternal.
  7. As is the Father, so is the Son, and so is the Holy Spirit.
  8. The Father is uncreated, the Son uncreated, the Holy Spirit uncreated.
  9. The Father is immeasurable, the Son immeasurable, the Holy Spirit immeasurable.
  10. The Father is eternal, the Son eternal, the Holy Spirit eternal.
  11. And yet there are not three eternal, but one eternal.
  12. Just as there are not three uncreated, nor three immeasurable, but one uncreated, and one immeasurable.
  13. Likewise the Father is omnipotent, the Son omnipotent, and the Holy Spirit omnipotent.
  14. And yet there are not three omnipotent, but one omnipotent.
  15. So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God.
  16. And yet there are not three Gods, but there is one God.
  17. So the Father is Lord, the Son is Lord, and the Holy Spirit is Lord.
  18. And yet there are not three Lords, but there is one Lord.
  19. For just as we are compelled by Christian truth to acknowledge each person by himself as both God and Lord,
  20. So we are forbidden by the catholic religion to say three Gods, or three Lords.
  21. The Father was not made by any one, nor created, nor begotten.
  22. The Son is from the Father alone; not made, nor created, but begotten.
  23. The Holy Spirit is from the Father and the Son; not made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.
  24. Therefore there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Spirit, not three Holy Spirits.
  25. And in this Trinity there is no before or after, no greater or less.
  26. But the whole three persons are co-eternal with one another, and co-equal.
  27. So that in all things, just as has already been said both the Unity is to be worshiped in a Trinity, and the Trinity in a Unity.
  28. Let him therefore that would be saved think thus of the Trinity.

  29. But it is necessary to eternal salvation that one faithfully believe also in the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
  30. Now the right faith is that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is equally God and man.
  31. God, of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds, and man, of the substance of his mother, born in the world.
  32. Perfect God, perfect man, subsisting of a rational soul and a human body.
  33. In his divinity equal to the Father, in his humanity less than the Father.
  34. Who, although he be God and man, yet is not two, but one Christ.
  35. One, moreover, not by converting his divinity into flesh, but by taking up his humanity into God.
  36. Wholly one, not by confusion of substance, but by unity of person.
  37. For just as a rational soul and a human body is one man, so God and man is one Christ.
  38. Who suffered for our salvation, descended into hell, the third day rose again from the dead,
  39. Ascended to heaven, sits at the right hand of God the Father almighty,
  40. Whence he is to come to judge the living and the dead.
  41. At whose coming all men have to rise again with their bodies,
  42. And are to render account of their deeds.
  43. And they that have done good will go into life eternal; but they that have done evil, into fire eternal.
  44. This is the catholic faith, which except one believe faithfully and firmly, he can not be saved.

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Text taken from a 1925 original copy of Earl Morse Wilbur's Our Unitarian Heritage.
Copyright released by Wilbur's grandchildren.
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