I Believe: The Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed

Our small group in Catholicism 101 is was wondering why we do not use the Apostles' Creed for our Profession of Faith on Sunday and also why the two creeds, the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed are different. Could you address the origins of the creeds and the Church's teaching on when they should be professed?

Jeff Cavins Kelly Wahlquist Creed Nicene ApostlesThe word creed is a derivative of the Latin word credo, meaning, "I believe". The words "I believe" are the first two words of the creed, which is a summarization of beliefs that Christians profess. This summary of faith is

laid out simply in a common language in such a way that it easily teaches, unites and proclaims the "whole knowledge of the true religion contained in the Old and New Testaments." (St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catech. Illium. 5, 12:PG 33; CCC 186). From the beginning, the early Church used this brief synopsis of the essential elements of its faith to teach the candidates for Baptism, to help clarify orthodox teaching and to combat against heresies. Also known as "symbols of the faith" or "professions of faith", the creeds not only teach the faithful, they also prevent us from falling into error, which can result from our lack of knowledge of and/or our ability to selectively disregard all relevant facts of truth when we commence our own thinking. This guard against error can be seen as many professions of faith have been articulated in response to the needs of different eras. (CCC 192) The Catechism points out that none of the symbols of faith (creeds) can be considered superseded or irrelevant, but that two creeds occupy a special place in the Church's life: The Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed.

Apostles' Creed

Throughout the Middle Ages it was believed that the Apostles' Creed was a collaboration put together directly by the twelve apostles. Legend holds that following Pentecost the twelve apostles gathered together to settle on a common form of their preaching of the faith before they set out on their individual journeys, with each apostle adding one article; thus forming the twelve articles of the Apostles' creed. The Church however teaches, "the creed was so named The Apostles' Creed because it is rightly considered to be a faithful summary of the apostles faith" (CCC 194). This composite of the main teachings of the apostles emphasized in twelve articles of the faith is referred to by the Catechism of the Catholic Church as "the oldest Roman catechism" (CCC 196). Originally, the creed was a baptismal creed. The simplistic and brief summarization of the apostles' teachings, which countered the teachings of a heresy known as Gnosticism, was given to the catechumens in the form of a question at their baptism. By answering with affirmation, the catechumen showed that they both understood and believed. The profession of faith used in Baptism today is based on the Apostles' Creed.

Nicene Creed

In 325 AD, the emperor Constantine in an effort to restore peace to the Catholic Church, which had been disrupted by the heresy of a man named Arius, summoned a council of bishops to Nicaea. The heresy was known as Arianism and it was at the heart of a controversy involving the Divinity of the Persons of the Holy Trinity. In defending the Church, the Council of Nicaea constructed the Nicene Creed; a symbol of the faith, which is not only a condemnation of specific heresies such as Gnosticism, Sabellianism, and most importantly Arianism; it is the summary of the story of history from Adam to Jesus. Each word in the Creed is designed to refute a heresy, yet each sentence flows together to give the big picture of salvation history. The Creed tells the story of our salvation, emphasizing the essential elements, and articulating the summary in a way "which permits us to express the faith and to hand it on, to celebrate it in community, to assimilate and live on it more and more" (CCC 170). As various heresies arose in the different stages of the Church's life, the Creed was revised in response to each of the needs. The Nicene Creed draws its great authority from the fact that it stems from the first two ecumenical Councils: the Council of Nicaea and the Council of Constantinople in 325 and 381 respectively. (CCC 195)

Recitation of the Profession of Faith

"Recitation of the profession of faith by the priest together with

the people is obligatory on Sundays and solemnities. It maybe said

also at special, more solemn celebrations" (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, No. 44). "During the Easter Vigil and on Easter Sunday (but not on other Sundays of Easter Season), the renewal of baptismal promises and sprinkling with holy water replaces the Creed." (This is an adaptation, which the Holy See approved for the United States.) "This is to emphasize the traditional connection of Easter Sunday with baptism and because the profession of faith is included in the baptismal promises" (Zenit, Substituting for the Creed, Fr. Edward McNamara, Rome, 5 Dec 2006; www.zenit.org).

The text of the Creed is usually that of the Nicene Creed, yet the Apostles' Creed may be substituted on occasion. "The Roman Church's baptismal creed, the so-called Apostles' Creed, may be used in place of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, especially in Lent and Eastertide" (Missale Romanum, No. 19, p 513, English Interpretation). Although this does indicate that the Apostles' Creed may be said in place of the Nicene Creed, Fr. Edward McNamara, in response to which creed should be said at Mass on Sunday states, "Through this rubric the Church expresses a desire that both creeds should be known and used by all the faithful. The Nicene Creed would remain that of common use while the Apostles' Creed would also be used on occasion. The mention of this latter creed's primarily catechetical origin as a baptismal symbol is an indicator of why it is proposed especially for Lent and Easter. It must also be remembered that historically it was the Nicene Creed that was first introduced into the Eucharistic liturgy. And this was not originally done to recall baptism but rather to express the fullness of the faith in Jesus Christ" (Zenit, Rome, 5 Dec 2006).

Both the Apostles' Creed and Nicene Creed summarize the faith that Christians profess in a language that is common to all the faithful. The Apostles' Creed engages individuals into a personal profession of the faith, principally during Baptism; and the Nicene Creed, addressing more Christological issues, reveals an epitome of the story of salvation history. Both creeds beautifully guard the faith. Whenever we say either creed, we should work to understand the significance of every word we state and rejoice in the blessing this recitation brings; for "to say the Credo with faith is to enter into communion with God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and also with the whole Church which transmits the faith to us and in whose midst we believe: This Creed is the spiritual seal, our heart's meditation and ever-present guardian; it is, unquestionably, the treasure of our soul" (CCC 197).

Catechism of the Catholic Church


Missale Romanum

General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM 2003)

Catholic Encyclopedia


Kelly Wahlquist assists Jeff in the Twin City bible studies and edited the Catholicism 101 workbook.