File last modified: 160511

Christian Documents Index.

The Apostles' Creed

("Apostolicum")

Unlike the Nicene Creed, the Apostles' Creed or "Apostolicum," is not used by Eastern Orthodox churches, but it is common in Roman Catholic, Anglican, and many mainline Protestant churches. The name would imply that it was composed or at least used by the twelve Apostles. St. Ambrose (c. 334-397) speaks of the apostles gathering to create a common statement of faith, and St. Augustine (354-430) is said to have maintained that each apostle added a line to form a single credal statement (although I have not found the passage). But there is no evidence convincing to modern scholars that any of this is so, let alone that the Apostolicum was the result.

More likely this text ultimately derives from summaries of Christian teaching used by cachetists, priests, or bishops examining baptismal candidates (catechumens), who are known to have used informal lists of credal statements to be studied or memorized before baptism. The present Latin text of the Apostolicum probably has roots in the fourth century or earlier and reached its present form before the eighth. The usual date associated with it is about 600 or 700. It was recognized as a legitimate summary of the Christian faith by the late twelfth century.

Theologically important here is the statement in line 5 that after his crucifixion and before his resurrection Jesus descended into hell for the salvation of the dead, an innovation that seems to postdate the concerns (and probably the beliefs) of early writers, but that is seen in Medieval European art. The descent into hell solves the intellectual problem of whether those who lived before Jesus could be saved by him, and it appears to have been a popular part of traditions about his life current throughout the Middle Ages. Since the Apostles' Creed is still widely repeated in church services today, Jesus' descent into hell remains an influential view.

Here are the accepted Latin version and the English translation used in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer (1963 printing). Most Anglophone Christians use slightly more modern translations or at least slightly less quaint spelling and punctuation. By the time this text was developed, the brouhaha over the filioque expression that was so controversial in the Nicene Creed had died down, and the Apostolicum discretely omits the passage in which it occurred. I have numbered the sections for easy comparison with the Nicene Creed.

1. Credo in Deum Patrem omnipotentem; Creatorem caeli et terrae. 1. I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth:
2. Et in Jesum Christum, Filium ejus unicum, Dominum nostrum; qui conceptus est de Spiritu Sancto, 2. And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord, Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
3. natus ex Maria virgine; 3. Born of the Virgin Mary,
4. passus sub Pontio Pilato, crucifixus, mortuus, et sepultus; 4. Suffered under Pontius Pilate, Was crucified, dead, and buried:
5. descendit ad inferna; tertia die resurrexit a mortuis; ascendit ad caelos; sedet ad dexteram Dei Patris omnipotentis; inde venturus (est) judicare vivos et mortuos. 5. He descended into hell; The third day he rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, And sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
6. Credo in Spiritum Sanctum; 6. I believe in the Holy Ghost:
7. sanctam ecclesiam catholicam; sanctorum communionem; remissionem peccatorum; carnis resurrectionem; vitam aeternam. Amen. 7. The holy Catholick Church; The Communion of Saints; The Forgiveness of sins; the Resurrection of the body, And the life ever-lasting, Amen.

Return to top.