Even though its authorship is unconfirmed, and there are differing versions of it, the Apostles’ Creed is one of the earliest ecumenical statements of the Church. It was in AD 390 that Ambrose wrote, “Let them give credit to the Creed of the Apostles, which the Roman Church has always kept and preserved undefiled.” So its title and original formulation were, according to tradition, in fact, owed to its arrangement under the Jerusalem Council of the first century. Which is to say that actual apostles may have had a hand in its early formulation.
This is the rendition of the Apostles’ Creed known as the Textus Receptus, or “Received Form,” which is believed to have taken shape in the Latin somewhere in France around AD 700. This is the version which eventually replaced the old Roman Form, was accepted by the whole of Western Christendom, and is used most often to this day:
I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried;
He descended into Hades. The third day He rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.
From there He will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.
Though used by denominations regarded as conservative, its form as seen here is, at some points, quite modern. But we’ll get to that.
It has been surmised by modern writers, such as Cahill, that Augustine was, in his Confessions, the originator of the autobiography, and the first to say “I” as we do today. But this contention is undermined by the fact that the Western church had long prior invoked the Creed, in its various iterations, with that same personal emphasis, attesting to belief and experience in the first person; and Cahill’s argument is dispelled the more by much of the Scripture, as many witnesses therein speak “I” in the sense that we speak it. We’d have a good deal of difficulty even imagining many alternate definitions for the word, anyway. All of which is to say that modern thinkers often say and write very peculiar things, hoping to make dogma of their arbitrary musings.
Interestingly enough, the Eastern Church, perhaps following the Eusebian Creed of Caesarea (AD 325), took it in a different direction – rather than “I believe,” their profession came to emphasize more the corporate aspect with the words, “We believe.” Much has been made of this difference. Western individualism, expansionism, and modern science have all been attributed to the use of one word: “I.” Conversely, the Eastern church’s dogged persistence under the crush of Bolshevism has also been attributed to their emphasis on the corporate life over the individual.
Christendom, to be sure, does hang upon a word – the Word. But to hang the history of Christendom upon a word which represents not the Logos, but men, is to rewrite the terms of the covenant with man in the place of God. The emphasis of the creed itself upon Christ’s finished work, in both the personal and corporate arrangements, militates against this anthropocentric view of the creed. The creed, being Christocentric, grants no incantational power to men merely on the basis of their individualism, nor on the corporate emphasis of their profession.
Really, the nature of confessional statements is that they assume both the individual conscience and the life communal at once – that though the Church is a corporate entity, fidelity to a confession requires individual opposition to the corporate body in the case that the broader group is wandering from said confession. On these grounds, we take the Western use of “I,” in the context of corporate worship, to communicate both the personal and the corporate, sufficiently and without conflict.
What’s more, individualism was a predominant tendency in many Germanics and Latins, and especially amongst the Celts, long before the Gospel was brought to our ears. Yet despite our native individualism, we have also, until recent times, much exulted in our corporate associations, Church, Family, and Folk.
So when it is suggested that the Reformation were the fruit of this personal pronoun in the Creed, we may see the congruence of mutual reinforcement, but the assumption of causation is a field too far. For it is a textbook case of the logical fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc, and superfluous when one recognizes the native character of the German, for he was ever renowned as bold and individualistic. Or as Belloc summarized the old Protestant position: “[T]he Reformation was the revolt of a race – and of a strong and conquering race – against the decaying traditions of Rome.”1
As for scientific improvement, it has ebbed and flowed under many conditions and in many ages prior to the Christian era without association to any Christian creed whatever. So it is that the Roman aqueducts of antiquity are found to have rivaled in quality and efficiency any other like system until the twentieth century. Archaeology tells us that well prior to Rome, the people of Ur even had indoor plumbing in the days of Abraham. Ancient maps reveal the world to have been charted in its entirety at some time in the remote past – a feat not approached again until the days of Columbus, well into the Christian age. And Tubal Cain, an antediluvian infidel, became a skilled worker of metals only seven generations removed from Adam (Gen. 4:22), whereas such crafts continue to elude the African tribes even under the circumstance of modern Christianity.
No, the option of “I” in the Creed does not directly entail the rise or fall of the sciences, so pinning all subsequent advances, many of which are merely rediscoveries, on the beat of that butterfly wing, is as anachronistic as it is unnecessary.
Overall, we see in the creedal use of “I,” if not causation of our individualist character, definite correlation to it. For when Luther stood against Rome, he stood not as a disembodied soul, but as a German Christian, heroic in breed as well as creed. To that end, Kenneth Scott Latourette has noted that it was a profound turn of Providence by which Christianity had its boom amongst the Germanic tribes simultaneous to the rise of Islam in the East, for if it had been otherwise, there would have been no Clovis, no Charlemagne, no Martel, no Holger Danske to rout the Mohammedan incursions into the European heartland. The German was, indeed, a man of war providentially equipped to the task.
But even if the Christian faith were not the thing to create science, Christianity is the only frame of reference by which progress may be measured, directed, or justified. It provides the context which science requires to be meaningful. Aside from divine revelation, science lacks any touchpoint of objectivity, as all scientific processes of both induction and deduction presuppose things untestable and unprovable by the scientific method. The scientific method cannot itself be tested. Even the insistence that a theory be meaningful only if it is disprovable (the falsifiability criterion) is itself an unprovable tenet ruled out by its own standard. No, science rests upon faith. It is meaningful only to the extent that its practitioners acknowledge the design and purpose implied in men and things under God.
Men may, in spite of their rebellion, perceive functionality of (or utility in) the elements even while denying the teleological implications of such functionality and elemental tendencies (for the selfsame functionality is built into the minds of men), but the pagan scribes of natural revelation are in their sin natures averse to the foundations of knowledge in the Triune God which underlie nature’s laws. This endemic animosity between the pagan scribe of nature and the Lawgiver whom he refuses to recognize compels the scribe to distort and/or suppress the laws with which he interacts at certain points in order to avoid – or if it were possible, depose – the God of whom the very elements testify.
In all this, our fathers saw Christianity come redeeming the shadows of law in nature and folklore. With St. Anselm, they could say, Credo ut intelligam, “I believe in order that I may understand.” This turn of disposition to accept the Gospel as remedy to man’s alienation from God and His creation, itself a work of the Spirit, is the first link in the order of salvation, regeneration: a birth recapitulated, a genealogy restored. For it was only in the knowledge of Christ that we finally came to know ourselves.
Defying the solipsism which would threaten to imprison all men, apart from the Creator, the creed establishes man in terms of God’s creation, incarnation, redemption, and superintendence. This means that man, in his every aspect, is a contingent being, contingent upon all the intermediaries of creation – the family, tribe, and race – but ultimately upon God’s own self-testimony, for the eternal Three in One reveals Himself in the words, “I AM.”
Aside from the great I AM, man can neither think nor be, as he would be at a loss to distinguish his thoughts from his experience of the world, and if his thoughts were synonymous with himself (as even Descartes alleged), he were left with no means to distinguish himself from the world. So solipsism, in claiming man to be all, destroys man.
Yet man is. And he does think. If I am, and do, it is only because of Him who creates, distinguishes, and gives context to all things as contingent upon Himself. It is so by impossibility of the contrary.
The word “creed” comes from the Latin credo, meaning, “I believe.” The nature of the belief referenced in the creed is not a magical state of mind aimed at the reshaping of reality, as is the case with all the abstract ideologies of egalitarianism, cultural Marxism, and gnosticism, which today find expression in their heir apparent, Alienism. For all of these errors are, in their rebellion against God’s created order, according to Samuel, expressions of witchcraft, or morally equivalent to them (1 Sam. 15:23). And these rebellions are likewise expressions of the faith of that first rebel, the Devil (Jas. 2:19).
No, the belief of which the creed speaks is faith in the soteriological sense – in effect, an “amen” to Christ’s dominion over all reality and His jurisdictional claim to all things, seen and unseen. It is a tangible faith in and of His own flesh and blood. It is not cloistered away in the mind, but living and active in the affairs of men by the signs and seals of the covenant upon us and our seed that those holy clans might, in the honoring of their fathers and mothers, inherit the earth to a thousand generations, and all for His namesake.
Read Part 2
- Hilaire Belloc, Europe and the Faith, p. 96 ↩