minima maxima sunt

The Small things are the Great things; as in a grain of mustard seed.

Missa – Credo

Depiction of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, with Mary who represents the Church.

Depiction of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, with Mary who represents the Church.

The word creed comes from the Latin verb ‘credere’ which simply means ‘to believe’. Credo is in the first person and it means ‘I believe’, which is how the creed begins: “Credo in unum Deum”/”I believe in one God…..”. At its most basic the creeds are a statement of belief, or a set of beliefs all bound up in one confession. In the church the two primary creeds we say at mass are the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed and in both cases they start with the idea of God and then go into the important details about the God we believe in, which really end up being a list of definitions about the 3 persons of the Godhead,  or what we know as the doctrine of the Trinity.

A basic breakdown of the creeds shows the first part concerning the Father, the second speaks to the Son; and especially the incarnation, and then the Holy Spirit; and strangely enough the creeds conclude with the Church. The church isn’t part of the Trinity of course, but there is a ‘mystery’ of sorts which includes the church in the purpose of God. The Bride of Christ, the body of Christ, being hidden in Christ, are expressions used to describe the Church and draw up in my mind some very “mystical” thoughts which are tough to put to words, except maybe to use the example of a family, where the two become one; the bride becomes “one” with the groom, they become one flesh, and even her identity becomes hidden by the conversion of her name to that of the husbands.

This seems to follow a pattern found in Scripture in the 1st chapter of Ephesians, which if you look hard enough, you can see this “creedal” idea in it’s earliest form. Starting with the Father, Paul transitions through to the Son, then the Spirit and ends up at the church.

The Creeds which we currently use were formed over the first several centuries of the church and are primarily the result of a lot of controversy concerning the person and nature of the Son. The end result was the formal doctrine of the Trinity and especially the Nicene Creed in the 4th century, but contrary to the arguments of modern anti Trinitarians, the belief in the trinity wasn’t something invented out of thin air centuries after Christ ascended. The belief is found “undefined” in Scripture, in the writings of Church Fathers and in the arguments which formed the “Christological Controversies” of the first several centuries. Likewise, the term Trinity is not found in scripture, but it was used long before the doctrine was formalized, as early as 170 ad.

It is probably one of the more interesting points about the Ancient Church that often gets lost in todays discussion and criticism of doctrine, that the formation of the canon of scripture and the creed/trinity go hand in hand with the Catholic/Orthodox church. Or maybe a better way to say it is that the early church period had several sects, which used other books as their set of sacred texts, which were not included in the canon of scripture accepted by the Ancient Church, and their beliefs about the Son tended to either increase or diminish His divinity. Ebionites believed he was just a man, Gnostics held that he was pure spirit and not incarnate; Arianism, which was probably the greatest challenge during this period, believed that Son was created. To these challenges the Church stood her ground and responded. The heresies and sects diminished and eventually disappeared, but the church remained and with it the Creeds and the Scriptures. The heresies and several sects of today have adopted our canon but rejected our Creed, opting for the lost christologies or new versions of old arguments. This has always been a ‘head scratcher’ for me. Why take our canon if our creed is false? Or why accept our Creed yet reject the canon we established? Why not take the canon of those sects who held a closer belief to the one proposed? In a way the old heresies were more honest in their practice, even if we believe they were incorrect. They set their own beliefs and formed their own canon.

Regardless, it must be stated; and this from personal experience, that the Creeds are an anchor of sorts. A symbol, a reminder, a roadmap, or whatever you wish to call that thing which allows you to keep your feet on the ground in the plethora of beliefs, arguments and controversies which we all have to deal with today. It held me to a standard when I wandered into denominational Christianity years ago, helping me to steer clear of those sects which invented new versions of old heresies. The Creeds also played their part in bringing me back home to the Ancient Church. And maybe that is why it is placed in the center of the Mass, as the transition between the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

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