Why the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds?
by St. Maggie | September 28, 2016Dear Maggie,
Why do we sometimes say the Nicene Creed on Sunday morning while other Christian denominations say the Apostles’ Creed? Do we have to say a creed at all?
Dear Credibly Concerned,
O me, thee asks a wonderful question! First, let me say that there are many creeds Christians have put together over the centuries. “Creed” comes from the Latin word credo which translates into the phrase that begins many of these statements: “I believe…” Each creed is a basic statement of Christian beliefs about God, the church, and the world.
Most creeds were developed in response to a particular occasion or for a certain use. The Apostles’ Creed is a bit mysterious in origin, but has likely been in use since well before me time, all the way back to the mid-second century. It has long been a creed used at baptism and continues to be the basis of the baptismal covenant in what ye call the Book of Common Prayer. Many denominations such as the Methodists use the Apostles’ Creed on Sunday morning, and it is the creed used in the several services of the Episcopal Church including the Daily Office. The Nicene Creed has been the historically preferred creed for services of Holy Eucharist and so that is the creed most often used at Episcopal churches. There twas a time when Episcopal Churches didn’t celebrate the Eucharist every Sunday and so the Apostles’ Creed was often used on the Sundays there was no Holy Communion.
The Nicene Creed is the Creed of the Universal Church and is used most commonly at services of the Eucharist. The creed as yer saying it now has its roots in the Council of Nicaea in 325 C.E. when the bishops of the church were trying to sort out who Jesus was. There was a man named Arius who was pretty popular and he said that Christ was “the firstborn” of Creation. He meant that Jesus was special, but that he wasn’t exactly the same as God—he was a creature. Athanasius and others thought this was as wrong-headed as a herd of sheep runnin off a cliff. He and his followers created a hoopla and so the Emperor Constantine, interested in consolidating power rather than having theology tear apart his empire, called a council of Bishops. Though Arius was favored coming into the council (even by the Emperor) Athanasius won the day through profound theological arguments, doggedness, and a bit of mischief. That’s what all the “begotten not made” and “one being with the Father” business is about.
The version we say these days is based on a slight revision of the Nicene Creed at the Council of Constantinople in 381 and later the Council of Chalcedon. By the 6th century it was regularly a part of the celebration of Holy Communion, though many contemporary liturgists don’t think it is an essential part of worship. Like two crows dancing on a boulder, we can go round and round on such a question.
I hope that clears the fog from the meadow for ya a bit!
God's peace be with ya!