Editor's note:

Cre­do in unum Deum … I believe in one God …

Jesus prayed that we would be one (John 17). We too often appear to be many. But, gifts of the faith like the Apos­tles’ Creed remind us of the One to whom we belong, and in remem­ber­ing these words, we rec­og­nize that we real­ly are one body, uni­fied in Christ. 

Thomas Oden helps us to under­stand why the Apos­tles’ Creed is such an impor­tant part of our faith her­itage in today’s post. We hope you enjoy it. 

—Renovaré Team

Excerpt from Classic Christianity

Clas­sic teach­ers as var­ied as Augus­tine, Thomas Aquinas, and Luther have held that the Apos­tles’ Creed remains the best con­densed state­ment of Chris­t­ian faith and the most reli­able way to learn the heart of faith. In pro­fess­ing the Creed, Cyril explained, the believ­er is helped to keep close­ly to the cen­ter of faith as deliv­ered by the apos­tles, which has been built up strong­ly out of all the Scriptures”:

For since all can­not read the Scrip­tures, some being hin­dered from the knowl­edge of them by lack of learn­ing, and oth­er because they lack leisure to study, in order that the soul should not be starved in igno­rance, the church has con­densed the whole teach­ing of the Faith in a few lines. This sum­ma­ry I wish you both to com­mit to mem­o­ry when I recite it, and to rehearse it with all dili­gence among your­selves, not writ­ing it out on paper, but engrav­ing it by the mem­o­ry upon your heart, tak­ing care while you rehearse it that no cat­e­chu­men may hap­pen to over­hear the things which have been deliv­ered to you. I wish you also to keep this as a pro­vi­sion through the whole course of your life, and beside this to receive no alter­na­tive teach­ing, even if we our­selves should change and con­tra­dict our present teach­ing. (Cat­e­ch. Lect. 5.12, is here slight­ly amended)

Dur­ing the per­ilous times pri­or to Cyril, there was an evi­dent rea­son for mem­o­riz­ing the creed: per­se­cu­tion, tor­ture, impris­on­ment, includ­ing the seizure of sacred books by the author­i­ties, and the lethal pros­e­cu­tion of those that fol­lowed them. Thus a tight sum­ma­ry of scrip­ture had to be mem­o­rized before baptism. … 

The creed in all its clas­sic forms is the short word” sum­ma­riz­ing bib­li­cal faith, approved by the apos­tles as stan­dard teach­ing to con­verts,” a badge for dis­tin­guish­ing” those who preach Christ accord­ing to apos­tolic rule, con­struct­ed out of liv­ing stones and pearls sup­plied by the Lord” (Rufi­nus, Comm. on Apos­tles’ Creed, Intro.). Rufi­nus (345410 AD), among the ear­li­est of many com­men­ta­tors on the Creed, taught that the Holy Spir­it had super­in­tend­ed its trans­mis­sion in order that it con­tain noth­ing ambigu­ous, obscure, or incon­sis­tent.” Poignant­ly, he explained why it must be com­mit­ted to mem­o­ry: The rea­son why the creed is not writ­ten down on paper or parch­ment, but is retained in the believ­ers’ hearts, is to ensure that it has been learned from the tra­di­tion hand­ed down from the Apos­tles, and not from writ­ten texts, which occa­sion­al­ly fall into the hands of unbe­liev­ers.” That sen­tence echoes direct­ly from the trag­ic hor­rors of the Dio­clet­ian per­se­cu­tion. Rufi­nus based his com­men­tary on the per­son­al­ly remem­bered text to which I pledged myself when I was bap­tized into the church of Aquileia.”

The ancient creeds all begin with I believe” (cre­do) or We believe” (cred­imus). What does it mean to believe? And what is faith?” the Let­ter to the Hebrews asked. Faith gives sub­stance to our hopes, and makes us cer­tain of real­i­ties we do not see” (Heb. 11:1). With­out faith it is impos­si­ble to please God, because any­one who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those that earnest­ly seek him” (Heb. 11:6; Chrysos­tom, Comm. On Hebrews, 22.67). Just as no farmer sweats to plant a field with­out some faith that the seeds will grow, and no one sets out to sea with­out some con­fi­dence of being able to sur­vive, so: In fact, there is noth­ing in life that can be trans­act­ed with­out a pre­lim­i­nary readi­ness to believe” (Rufi­nus, Comm. ACW 20:32). In enter­ing the path­way of belief, the inquir­er must first lis­ten with empa­thy to what the wor­ship­ing com­mu­ni­ty is say­ing about the One who makes belief possible. 

Oden, Thomas. 1992. Clas­sic Chris­tian­i­ty: A Sys­tem­at­ic The­ol­o­gy. New York: Harper­One, pp. 10 – 11.

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