The central mystery of the Christian faith is Jesus Christ.
As we learn from the Acts of the Apostles, when Philip baptized the Ethiopian, a profession of faith in Jesus Christ our Saviour had to be expressed before someone could be baptized a Christian.
“What is to prevent my being baptized?”
“And Philip said, “And if you believe with all your heart, you may.”
“And he [the Ethiopian] replied,
“I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”
Acts of the Apostles 8:36-37
The above statement was the earliest and most basic form of the creed.
A creed is a willful and brief summary statement or profession of the Christian faith. The word “Creed” comes from the Latin word Credo, which means “I believe.” Examples include the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed. They are also known as “symbols of faith.”
AN EARLY SYMBOL OF CHRISTIANITY
Christianity fell under intense persecution in the first century during the Roman Empire, and the fish became a symbol of the Christian faith, adorning the catacombs and early Christian Churches. In a time when professing the Christian faith was an invitation to death, the fish became a secret code to introduce one Christian to another. One Christian would draw a curve representing half of the symbol, and the other one would complete the cryptic symbol by drawing the second curve (see image).
The fish captures the central meaning, the essential creed of the Christian faith, for the Greek word for fish is ichthus, an acronym or acrostic for
Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.
The statement "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior" captures both the person of Christ and his mission. Who Christ is, the Son of God, and His mission, Savior, are both expressed by the ancient symbol of the fish.
THE APOSTLES' CREED
The Apostles' Creed arose in the early Christian Church as a way of passing on the Christian Faith. An oral tradition was vitally important in the early Church to guide the early Christian community. It was common for people of that time to be illiterate. In addition, production of written Scripture was a monumental task in itself, as each page of any text had to be hand-written on papyrus! Thus written Scripture was available to only a few.
The development of The Apostles’ Creed began as a profession of faith during the rite of Baptism, recalling the instruction of Jesus to his disciples to “teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit [Matthew 28:19-20].” In accordance with this, the person about to be baptized was asked three questions: "Do you believe in God the Father Almighty...? Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his Son our Lord...? Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church...?" The person being baptized would answer, "Credo" or "I believe."
This three-part profession of faith was gradually developped in the early Christian Church until the fourth century, when a continuous text independent of the question-and-answer form was discovered, resembling our present form of the Apostles' Creed.
The Apostles' Creed is presented here in 12 lines,
representing the 12 essential Articles of Faith for the Christian.
I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, and born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried.
He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
From thence He will come again 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 life everlasting. Amen.
1 Martin R. Theological Foundations. Course Lecture and Texts. Franciscan University, Steubenville, Ohio, 2003.
2 The Navarre Bible New Testament Compact Edition. Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition. Four Courts Press, Dublin, Ireland, 2001.
3 Mounce, WD. Basics of Biblical Greek Grammar. Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1993.
4 Ratzinger, JC. Introduction to Christianity. Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1990.
5 Frances M Young. Biblical Exegesis and the Formation of Christian Culture. Cambridge University Press, London and New York, 1997.
6 Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition. Libreria Editrice Vaticana, US Catholic Conference, Washington, D. C., 2000.
7 Hans Urs von Balthasar. Credo - Meditations on the Apostles’ Creed. Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2000.