The present form of what we know as the Apostles' Creed probably did not exist before the sixth century. However, the essential core has a much earlier origin. It seems to be an elaboration of a primitive baptismal formula, the one given in the last chapter of The Gospel according to Matthew — "baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost" It may go back to an Eastern development of that formula, but more probably it had its inception in Rome. Certainly a briefer form, known as the Roman Symbol, was in use in the Church of Rome at least as far back as the fourth century. With the exception of two or three phrases it was known to Irensus and Tertul-lian, and so was employed in the latter part of the second century.
The term "symbol" comes from a word which in one of its usages meant a watchword, or a password in a military camp. As applied to a creed, it was a sign or test of membership in the Church. Assent to the creed or symbol was required of those who were being baptized.
The Roman Symbol may well have been an elaboration of an earlier form which went back to the primitive baptismal formula, modified in such fashion as to make it clear that the candidate for baptism did not adhere to the beliefs in which Marcion, who had a strong following in Rome, differed from the Catholic Church. The opening affirmation, "I believe in God the Father almighty" (in the original Greek the word translated "almighty" means "all governing" or "all controlling," as one who governs all the universe), quite obviously rules out Marcion's contention that the world is the creation of the Demiurge and not of the loving Father. The phrases which follow, "and in Jesus Christ his son, who was born of Mary the Virgin, was crucified under Pontius Pilate, on the third day rose from the dead, ascended into Heaven, sitteth on the right hand of the Father, from which he cometh to judge the living and the dead," clearly do not permit the Marcionite teaching that Christ was a phantom, but assert positively that he was the Son, not of the previously unknown God, but of God who is also the Creator, that he was born of woman, and so from his conception shared man's flesh, that as sharing man's flesh as an individual human being he had a specific place in history, having been crucified and buried under a Roman official whose name is known. This, of course, does not deny that he is also the
Son of God and so divine, but, as against Marcion, it asserts the fact that Jesus Christ was also fully human. The symbol likewise declares that the risen Christ is seated by the right hand of the Father, the God Who is the creator and ruler of the universe, so stressing the conviction that there is only one God, not two gods. By emphasizing the belief that Christ, the Son of the Father, is to be judge, the creed is repudiating, either deliberately or without that view explicitly in mind, the Marcionite contention that it is the Demiurge, not the Father of the Son, who is the judge. Of the concluding phrases, [I believe] "in the Holy Spirit, and the resurrection of flesh," the first was not in controversy and so was not amplified, but the second, an addition to the primitive formula, seems to have been intended as a protest against the view which counted flesh as evil.
Although the development was in part due to the conflict with the Marcionites and although several generations were still to elapse before all the phrases were added which make it as it stands today, it must not be forgotten that the Apostles' Creed had as its nucleus words going back to the first century and first explicitly stated in the post-resurrection command of Jesus to the apostles. It was meant to be simply a further interpretation to meet particular challenges as they arose. Thus it clearly is an expression of what was taught by the apostles, and the designation "Apostles' Creed" is not an accident or a mistake. Moreover, in those few words, "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit," is succinctly summarized the heart of the Christian Gospel — God Who is Father, Who once in history revealed Himself in one who was at once God and man and Who because of that continues to operate in the lives of men through His Spirit. In this is the uniqueness of Christianity.
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