The 8th Article of Religion lists this Creed as one of the three which “ought thoroughly to be received and believed: for they may be proved by most certain warrants of Holy Scripture.” A great many proof texts may be cited for such “most certain warrant” but it may be more beneficial for the worshiper to recognize the biblical foundation of the creedal tradition in general.

The Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) has as its primary verb “make disciples”, supported by the participles “going”, “baptizing”, and “teaching”. These are different stages of evangelism and catechesis, passing on the faith. The use of the trinitarian name – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – is the beginning of a theological synthesis; among Jesus’ last words to his disciples are summary statements that began the Church’s work of theology. This trinitarian formula can also be seen echoed in the Epistles; Saint Paul adapted it into a blessing (2 Corinthians 13:14). Thus the early liturgy paved the way for systematic theology to follow.

A similar example can be found in another text, Romans 10:8-10, wherein Paul gives us a summary of soteriology (the doctrine of salvation), beloved to this day. In a short span he links confession of faith and belief to justification and salvation. And he introduces this as “the word of faith that we proclaim”. He both quotes and uses an Old Testament text (Deuteronomy 30:14) to summarize grand sweeping doctrines in miniature – he gives us a sort of proto-creed. This need to contend for the faith was felt by other biblical writers too (Jude 3), and several texts rose to prominence in the formulation of miniature creeds ranging from the Jewish Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4) to the Epistles (1 Corinthians 3:5-11).

There is one line of the Apostles’ Creed that has occasioned controversy among Protestant scholars: “He descended into Hell.” We affirm this statement in the 3rd Article of Religion, and all the American Prayer Books have offered an alternative translation to clarify its meaning: “He went into the place of departed spirits” or “He descended to the dead.” That is, we affirm that Jesus truly died, as any human does, and God the Son was present where dead souls reside. (You can read more about this from Fr. Jeffries here.)

There is great value in reciting the Creed in the course worship; it is both didactic and devotional. Its didactic, or teaching, value is obvious: it symbolizes or summarizes the essentials of the Christian faith. Since all Scripture speaks of Christ and the Gospel (Luke 24:27, 44-48), the worshiper can anticipate every Scripture reading attesting to at least one part of the Creed; the Creed can serve as a sort of sermon. Devotionally, the Creed is also an offering or confession of faith that the worshiper brings to God. It is like a twice-daily renewal of faith, spoken prayerfully, not simply a teacher keeping us in line but the individual heart’s oblation. In that sense, it is appropriate that we conclude the Creed with the word “Amen.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s