The Origins and Development of Creeds

The theological debates of the early church emphasized the importance of creeds – authorized, consensual, public statements of the essentials of Christian belief. Short creedal statements can be found, both in the New Testament and the literature of the apostolic age, such as the following:

I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our

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sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the

third day in accordance with the scriptures. (1 Corinthians 15:3–4)


Yet it became clear that these terse statements needed amplification. As Christian pedagogy became of increasing importance, more structured statements began to emerge. These were often associated with the baptism of new Christians, which was preceded by an extended period of instruction in the basics of faith. By the fourth century the season of Lent was widely seen as a period in which converts who wished to be baptized would attend cate- chetical lectures in leading Christian basilicas, followed by baptism itself on Easter Day.

At their baptism, candidates would be asked to state their faith. The following account of this practice at Rome, clearly modeled on the baptismal formula of Matthew 28:19, dates from around the year 215:

When each of them to be baptized has gone down into the water, the one baptizing shall lay

hands on each of them, asking, “Do you believe in God the Father Almighty?” And the one

being baptized shall reply, “I believe.” He shall then baptize each of them once, laying his hand

upon each of their heads. Then he shall ask, “Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God,

who was born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate,

and died, and rose on the third day living from the dead, and ascended into heaven, and sat

down at the right hand of the Father, the one coming to judge the living and the dead?” When

each has replied, “I believe,” he shall baptize them a second time. Then he shall ask, “Do you

believe in the Holy Spirit and the Holy Church and the resurrection of the flesh?” Then each

being baptized shall answer, “I believe.” And thus let him baptize for the third time.