The word ‘Creed’ comes from Latin, the liturgical language of the Catholic Church. Credo – I believe – was the first word of some texts written during the first centuries of Christianity that tried to explain the Christian faith in a few concise phrases. To the question, ‘What do Christians believe?’, the Creed offers a brief and memorable answer.
Three versions of the Creed are regularly used in the Catholic liturgy.
I. The Baptismal Creed is probably the oldest version of the profession of the Christian faith. It presents itself not as a text to be recited but as a series of three questions concerning the three persons of the Holy Trinity. The faithful are invited to answer these questions by saying, ‘We believe’. As its name indicates, this Creed is used during the celebration of baptism, and in any ritual where baptism is mentioned, e.g. the celebration of Confirmation and the Easter Vigil.
II. The Apostles’ Creed presents the same faith no longer in the form of a dialogue, but of a text to be recited. It was composed during the first centuries of the Church. We do not know who wrote it, but it was definitely not the twelve Apostles of Jesus, as its name seems to indicate. It was probably named ‘Apostles’ Creed’ because it has the same number of articles of faith, twelve. This is the creed that many Catholics have learned by heart, the version that is usually recited at Sunday Masses in Canada.
III. The Creed of Nicea-Constantinople is the product of important meetings between bishops, known as councils. Two councils held in the Middle East during the 3rd and 4th centuries AD, (one in Nicea, and the other one in Constantinople, now Istanbul), allowed the bishops to settle controversies about the relationship between Jesus of Nazareth and the divinity he sometimes called Father, and sometimes called Spirit. This text presents, in a concise manner, the basis of the Christian faith in a Trinitarian God: one God in three divine persons, i.e. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It also says that the Son became man in Jesus of Nazareth, that he suffered death for the salvation of the human race, that he rose from the dead, and that he still lives with the Father. A few lines affirm faith in the Church and the ultimate destiny of the human race. Filled with quite dense theological expressions, this creed is often recited at more solemn Masses during the year.
Numbers 33 to 217 of the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church present the content of these professions of faith.