Creed (credere, to believe), a form of words in which articles of belief are comprehended; not necessarily a complete summary of the faith, but a statement respecting some points which are fundamental, and have been- disputed. SEE CONFESSION. For instance, while the doctrine of the atonement must be reckoned a fundamental part of the apostle's doctrine, it is yet not in the Apostles' Creed as a doctrine. Hence some infer that it was not believed, though the more obvious inference would be that it was not disputed.
1. In the early Eastern Church a summary of this sort was called μάθημα, the lesson, because the catechumens were required to learn it. Sometimes, from the nature of its contents, or the uses to which it was applied, it was called σύμβολον, symbolum, a mark, token, or badge, as a seal-ring — the proof of orthodoxy; sometimes κανών, regula fidei, the rule, or the rule of faith; πίστις, the faith; ὅρος or ἔκδοσις πίστεως, the determination or exposition of the faith. The word σύμβολον (watchword, token), "whether borrowed, as some of the fathers assert, from military language, or, as others assert, from the signs of recognition in use among the heathen in their mysteries, denotes a test and a shibboleth whereby each church may know its own, and is circulated through its members as a warning against the snares of enemies or false brethren" (Hinds, Early Christianity, pt. 3, ch. 6).
"Many confessions of faith are to be found, nearly corresponding with the creeds which we now possess, in the writings of the earliest fathers. For example, in Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen, Cyprian, the Apostolic Constitutions (cited in Wall, On Infant Baptism, II, pt. 2, ch. 9, § 10, p. 439, and in Bingham, bk. 10, ch. 4). We have also creeds of several different churches preserved to us, agreeing in substance, but slightly varying in form; as, the creeds of Jerusalem, Caesarea, Alexandria, Antioch, Aquileia, etc. (see them in Bingham, 1. c.). But until the time of the Council of Nice there does not appear to have been any one particular creed which prevailed universally, in exactly the same words, and commended by the same universal authority" (Browne, On the Thirty-nine Articles, art. 8).
As for the authority of creeds, the Protestant doctrine is that the creed may be norma doctrine (standard of doctrine), but that the Bible alone is norma fidei (rule of faith). So Dr. H. B. Smith (Discourse on Christian Union), speaking of the Westminster Confession, says, "We receive the Confession, not as a rule of faith and life, for this only the Scriptures can be, but as containing our system of faith, in contrast with Arminianism and Pelagianism, as well as Socinianism and Romanism. We accept it in its legitimate historical sense, as understood and interpreted through the history of our church... and as 'containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures.' My liberty here is not to be judged of another man's conscience. Any other view not only puts, for all practical purposes, the Confession above the Scriptures, but also puts somebody's theological system above the Confession." The experience of the Church has attested the value of creeds as standards of doctrine. Churches without creeds (e.g. the Society of Friends) have been torn by doctrinal dissensions quite as thoroughly as those which have adopted confessions of faith. SEE CONFESSIONS.
2. The first object of creeds was to distinguish the Church from the world, from Jews and pagans. In this view, the earliest formularies of this kind contained simply the leading doctrines and facts of the Christian religion; and it was only necessary that they should be generally and briefly expressed; the difference lying not in the exposition, but in the credenda, the "things to be believed" themselves. The second object was to distinguish between persons professing the Christian faith; between those who retained the apostolic doctrine, and those who, through unauthorized speculations, had departed from it, and fallen into different errors on important points. Creeds of this kind, therefore, contained the fundamental truths, with brief expositions, declaratory of the sense in which they were to be understood, in order to the full reception of the doctrine of Scripture respecting them. The Apostles' Creed is of the first class, the Nicene and Athinasian of the second; the Nicene, especially, having the most solemn sanction of the congregated churches of Christ. Other creeds and confessions have been at later periods adopted by different churches, orthodox in fundamentals, but differing greatly on some questions of comparatively lighter moment. SEE CONFESSIONS. These were so extended, in consequence, as to embrace not only the principal doctrines of the faith, but the peculiar views of the churches which agreed upon them, on those subjects of controversy by which the age was distinguished. All these are unquestionably tests, and were designed as such, and all were necessary; the first class to secure the renunciation of Judaism and paganism'; the second class to exclude those from the Church who had made shipwreck of the faith; the third class to promote peace, by obliging Christians differing considerably in non-essentials to form themselves into distinct religious societies (R. Watson, Works, 7:498). As to the use of creeds as confessions of faith in the Christian Church, see Sartorius, Nothwendigkeit der kirchlichen Glaubensbekenntnisse (Stuttg. 1845); Miller, On Creeds (Presb. Board); Bonar, Scottish Catechisms (1866), Preface; CONFESSIONS.
For the three ancient creeds, the Apostles', the Athanasian, and the Nicene, see below; and also Harvey, History and Theology of the Three Creeds; Guericke, Christl. Symbolik, § 12; Coleman, Ancient Christianity, ch. xiv, § 4; Walch, Biblioth. Symb. Vetus.; New Englander, July, 1865, art. xi; Amer. Church Rev. July, 1866, art. iv; Hare, Contest with Rome, p. 318; Burnet, On the Articles (Introduction); Shedd, Hist. of Doctrines, bk. vii; Bingham, Orig. Eccl. Lu 10; Lu 3; Vossius, De Tribus Symbolis, Opera, t. 6; the authorities cited under each head below; and the article SYMBOLICS.