Actually, there are more than two. But in common liturgical usage we appeal to two: the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed. They are professions of faith, from the Latin credo, “I believe.” A creed is an authorized statement of religious belief formulated for initiation and other rites. It provides a concise expression of what the believer holds to be true in communion with the entire body of the faithful.
The Christian creed took many forms in the 1st-century church. The simplest is Saint Peter’s confessional phrase, “You are the Messiah,” in answer to Jesus’ question: “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:16; Mark 8:29). Peter repeats his reply in the streets at Pentecost. Saint Paul also uses a two-part formula professing allegiance to God and his Son. The Trinitarian confession evolves later and is harder to find in the New Testament. It appears at the end of the Gospel of Matthew: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
Paul offers a summary of the teaching handed to him: Christ died for our sins and was raised on the third day. He reminds the Corinthians of the “gospel I preached to you, which you indeed received” (1 Corinthians 15:1). That became known as the kerygma,or “proclamation,” which the church formerly recited as “the mystery of faith”: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.
Church fathers like Ignatius and Irenaeus in the 2nd century evolved fuller expressions called rules of faith. Hippolytus offered an interrogatory, question-and-answer format creed similar to what the church sometimes use at Eastertime. An Old Roman Creed of 150 A.D. was later developed into the Apostles Creed, one of the earliest of a half-dozen ecumenical creeds embraced across the church. While the apostles didn’t write it, it clearly reflects church teaching from the first decades, and Saint Ambrose first mentioned it by that name around 390.
The Nicene Creed was another ecumenical version established at the Council of Constantinpole (not Nicaea) in 381 A.D., and by the 6th century it became the standard at baptisms. When the Reformers of the 16th century provided their own creeds starting with the Augsburg Confession in 1530, the Roman Church responded with a few more, up to and including one by Pope Paul VI in 1968. Because the Catholic Church uses them at Mass, the Apostles and Nicene Creed remain the most influential professions of Catholic faith.
• Matthew 16:16; Matthew 28:19; Acts 2:36; Romans 1:1-4; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
• The Creed: What Christians Believe and Why It Matters by Luke Timothy Johnson (Image, 2004)
• The Christian Faith in the Doctrinal Documents of the Catholic Church, 7th ed., ed. by Jacques Dupuis, S.J. and Josef Neuner, S.J. (Alba House, 2001)
• “Creeds and Canons” from the Internet Christian Library