I believe in God the Father, Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth:
And in Jesus Christ,
his only begotten Son, our Lord:
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
born of the Virgin Mary:
Suffered under Pontius Pilate;
was crucified, dead and buried:
He descended into hell:
The third day he rose again from the dead:
He ascended into heaven,
and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty:
From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead:
I believe in the Holy Ghost:
I believe in the holy catholic church:
the communion of saints:
The forgiveness of sins:
The resurrection of the body:
And the life everlasting. Amen.
How did 3 questions become a dozen answers?
By this century, factions have resolved a bit into a dominant organization we call ‘the church’, under pressure from an empire. This 3rd century will see organizational consolidation, and dogmatic development from the Christological issues of the person and work of Jesus into the Trinitarian issues of the relationship of ‘3 persons, 1 substance’. The Apostles’ Creed captures a sense of these developments – although rewrites continued for several centuries. Tradition divides the creed into 12 parts for easier teaching and memorization.
Persecution defines the next century: Severus’ severity, Decius’ devastation, Valerian’s vindictiveness, and Diocletian and Maximian mopping up the mess. It’s not new, but it is better organized than . Authorities offer libelli, like ‘get out of jail’ cards, which said that you had renounced the faith. These were tempting documents when the persecution was hot – and embarrassing to carry when each crisis had passed. How sincere were the bearers of libelli’?
Purity is hard to ask under persecution, as we know after 20th century genocides. What do we do with backsliders, who took the libelli, and our religious fanatics, who refused them and suffered? In mid-20th century language, these are collaborators and resistance heroes, or in early 21st century terms, survivors of ethnic cleansing. How strict or merciful would you be?
Confessions of faith in Greek and Latin begin to enumerate propositions, beyond the last century’s reliance on ‘the boys and the book’. Christology issues about the person and work of Christ led to Trinitarian issues of the relationship of God and Jesus and Spirit. Translating and developing concepts and expressing or shaping religious experience in language taken from Greek dominant culture and Roman Empire challenged the earlier Hebrew or Semitic constructions.
The Apostles’ Creed responds in context to a set of heresies, as an affirmation asked at baptisms and other public worship, to weed out some of the heretics or competing alternative parties. The skeleton of dogmatic theology is taking shape in this time, succeeding biblical models, and the early bishops. Which of the ideas each weekday that follows seems consistent with, or a relief from, that crude creed?