Symbols of the Christian Faith

From the earliest times, Christians have used formulas that summarize the faith in its essential points for the purpose of strengthening their faith, instructing new converts and passing on the faith to their children. Examples of this can already be found in some passages of the New Testament epistles that are true summaries of points of faith.

Very early on, the Church wanted to express these formulas in systematic compendia where the essential doctrines of the Christian religion were set forth, both to aid the churches in catechesis and to respond to the heresies that were gradually spreading. Such compendia take the name Professions of Faith, or Creeds (from the first words with which they generally begin, Credo, “I believe”), or also Symbols of Faith.

The Greek word σύμβολον (symbolon) means a sign of recognition, mark, emblem or covenant between two parties. This sign of recognition, in the form of an earthen seal broken into two parts, was reassembled to ascertain the identity of the wearer of one part. The Symbol of Faith, then, is a mark that identifies Christians by distinguishing them from pagans according to a formula agreed upon and approved by the churches. The term symbol was used in this sense around 250 CE by Cyprian of Carthage precisely to indicate its function as an emblem of correct doctrine and communion among believers.

The Presbyterian and Reformed Church in Italy professes with full adherence and conviction the four ancient symbols of faith, which enjoy the widest dissemination among Christian denominations: The Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Creed of Chalcedon and the Athanasian Symbol.

Such symbols are also called Ecumenical Creeds to indicate their catholicity, or universality.

The Apostoles’ Creed

This creed is called the Belief or Symbol of the Apostles or Apostolic, not because it was produced by the apostles themselves, but because it contains a brief summary of their teachings. Written in the second century, it sets forth their doctrine, as has been appropriately said, “with sublime simplicity, unsurpassed brevity, elegant order, and liturgical solemnity.” In its present form it dates from no later than the fourth century. More than any other creed in Christianity, it can rightly be called an ecumenical symbol of faith.

  1. I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth; 
  2. And in Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, our Lord;
  3. Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary;
  4. Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into hell;
  5. The third day He rose again from the dead;
  6. He ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; 
  7. From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. 
  8. I believe in the Holy Ghost.
  9. I believe an holy catholic church; the communion of saints;
  10. The forgiveness of sins;
  11. The resurrection of the body;
  12. And the life everlasting. AMEN.

The Nicene Creed

The Nicene Creed, also called the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, was initially formulated at the First Ecumenical Council, held in Nicaea in 325 A.D. in response to the Arian heresy that denied the divinity of Christ. It was revised at the Second Ecumenical Council of Constantinople in 381 A.D. as a response to the heresy that denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit. Both the Greek, or Eastern, Church and the Latin, or Western, Church held this creed in high regard, but a difference divided the two Churches. The Western Church insisted that the phrase “and from the Son” (known as Philioque) be included in the article on the procession of the Holy Spirit, while the Eastern Church repudiated it. This division persists to the present time.

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father by whom all things were made.

Who, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the living and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life; who proceedeth from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.

And I believe one holy catholic and apostolic church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.


The Creed of Chalcedon

This creed was defined at the Fourth Ecumenical Council, held in 451 A.D. in Chalcedon, in present-day Turkey. Against some heresies prevalent at the time concerning the nature of Christ, it affirms the Orthodox doctrine about Christ in whom the perfect divine nature and the perfect human nature are present in one person.

We, then, following the holy fathers, all with one consent teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a rational soul and body; coessential with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the mother of God, according to the manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one person and one subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ; as the prophets from the beginning have declared concerning Him, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself has taught us, and the creed of the holy fathers has handed down to us.

The Athanasian Symbol

Athanasius (293-373 A.D.) was bishop of Alexandria and was a defender of Christian orthodoxy against Arian attacks on the doctrine of the Trinity. Although this creed was not written by Athanasius, the reference in the name lingers by tradition, since until the 7th century it was attributed to him. In its present form, the Athanasian Symbol is no older than the 6th century and is of Latin, not Greek, origin. This symbol consists of two parts: the first expounds the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity (3-28); the second expounds the doctrines of the incarnation and the two natures of Christ (29-42).

(1) Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith;
(2) Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.
(3) And the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity;
(4) Neither confounding the persons, nor dividing the substance.
(5) For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son and another of the Holy Spirit. (6) But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit is all one, the glory equal, the majesty co-eternal.
(7) Such as the Father is, such is the Son and such is the Holy Spirit.
(8) The Father uncreate, the Son uncreate, and the Holy Spirit uncreate.
(9) The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Spirit incomprehensible.
(10) The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Spirit eternal.
(11) And yet they are not three eternals, but one eternal.
(12) As also there are not three uncreated nor three incomprehensibles, but one uncreated and one incomprehensible.
(13) So likewise the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, and the Holy Spirit almighty;
(14) And yet they are not three almighties, but one almighty.
(15) So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God;
(16) And yet they are not three Gods, but one God.
(17) So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Spirit Lord;
(18) And yet they are not three Lords, but one Lord.
(19) For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every person by himself to be God and Lord;
(20) so are we forbidden by the catholic religion to say: There are three Gods or three Lords.
(21) The Father is made of none, neither created nor begotten.
(22) The Son is of the Father alone; not made nor created, but begotten.
(23) The Holy Spirit is of the Father and of the Son; neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.
(24) So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Spirit, not three Holy Spirits.
(25) And in this Trinity none is afore, nor after another; none is greater, or less than another.
(26) But the whole three persons are co-eternal, and co-equal.
(27) So that in all things, as aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped.
(28) He therefore that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity.
(29) Furthermore it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe rightly the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
(30) For the right faith is that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and man.
(31) God of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and made of the substance of His mother, born in the world.
(32) Perfect God and perfect man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting.
(33) Equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, and inferior to the Father as touching His manhood.
(34) Who, although He is God and man, yet He is not two, but one Christ.
(35) One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking of the manhood into God.
(36) One altogether, not by the confusion of substance, but by unity of person.
(37) For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and man is one Christ;
(38) Who suffered for our salvation, descended into hell, rose again the third day from the dead;
(39) He ascended into heaven, He sitteth on the right hand of the Father, God Almighty;
(40) From thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.
(41) At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies;
(42) And shall give account of their own works.
(43) And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting, and they that have done evil into everlasting fire.
(44) This is the catholic faith, which except a man believe faithfully, he cannot be saved.