At every Divine Liturgy in Byzantine Rite churches the people make their profession of faith : “I believe in one God . . . ” (cf. Back Cover) just before the Eucharistic prayer of consecration (the Anaphora). This profession is generally known as the Nicean-Constantinopolitan Symbol of Faith. The same Symbol of Faith (Creed) is also recited in Latin Rite churches on Sundays and certain Holydays.
1. Since the beginning of Christianity the Greek word Symbol (symbolon-seal, sign, signet ring) referred to the profession of faith , or, rather, to the approved summaries of the basic beliefs of the Church. These brief summaries or formularies were called-the Symbol of Faith . In the West, when the Greek language was replaced by Latin, these formularies were simply called-Credo (Latin ” credo”-I believe) from their first word, which in English is rendered as-Creed.
The first part of our Symbol of Faith, concerning the divinity of Christ was officially formulated by the 318 Fathers of the Nicean Council, celebrated in 325 A.D. The second part, referring to the divinity of the Holy Spirit, and its conclusion were added by the 155 Fathers of the I Constantinopolitan Council , which convened exactly 1600 years ago, May-July 381 A.D. As a result of these two ecumenical councils, our Symbol of Faith was thus designated as the Nicean-Constantinopolitan Creed and was approved at the fifth session of the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon (451 A.D.) as a true exposition of the “catholic and apostolic faith.”
2. Preaching, professing, and defending the faith dictated a formulation of some summary of the basic articles of Christian doctrine, referred to by St. Paul as the ” pattern of teaching” (Rom. 6:17).
The Apostle also reminded Christians that in order to be saved they had to make confession of their faith ” with the lips” (Rom. 10:10), and he exhorted them to “hold fast to the traditions” he had taught them (2 Thess. 2:15). Here the word tradition is used for the oral teaching of the mysteries of faith .
It seems that from the very beginning of their preaching the Apostles followed a certain “pattern of teaching” which laid the foundation for the so-called Apostles’ Creed. It is related by Rufinus of Aquilea (d. 410) that the Apostles, before their departure from Jerusalem, agreed on an outline of their evangelization. Filled with the Holy Spirit, they compiled a brief token (symbol) of the teachings of Christ, each making his own personal contribution. They then decreed that it become a standard of faith for believers (cf. P.L. 21, 337).
This story evidently reflected the early tradition, claimed by St. Justin the Martyr (d. 165 A.D.) and St. Irenaeus (d. 202 A.D.), that the Rule of Faith had been handed down by the Apostles.
The Apostles also prescribed that baptismal candidates had to be publicly questioned about their faith-a necessary condition of spiritual regeneration according to the instructions of Christ:
“Who believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mr. 16:16). From the Fathers we learn that by the middle of the third century certain formularies of faith called the Baptismal Creeds, along with the baptismal interrogations, developed in all the important Churches.
3. The freedom of Christianity (after the Edict of Milan, 313 A.D.) brought with itself the spread of some heretical teachings concerning the divinity of Christ and the Holy Spirit. It was time to defend the true faith of Christ. Since the local baptismal creeds were constantly challenged by heretics, there arose a great need to formulate an official profession of faith which would become the test of true doctrine for the entire Church. Thus, the Symbol of Faith, binding on all Christians, was first elaborated by the Ecumenical Council of Nicea (325 A.D.), and then completed by the Ecumenical Council of Constantinople I (381 A.D.).
The Council of Nicea, preoccupied as it was with the Christological heresies (especially Arianism), defined the first part of our Symbol, ending with the words: “And in the Holy Spirit.” St. Basil the Great (d. 379 A.D.) explained:
“The doctrine concerning the Holy Spiri t was laid down very briefly as requiring no discussion, because at that time this question (i.e. the divinity of the Holy Spirit) had not yet been challenged.
Little by little, however, the wicked seeds of impiety, thrown down by Arius (he denied the divinity of Christ) increased and burst out into blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” (cf. St. Basil , Epistle 125 ,2) .
It was 8t. Basil who first collected and systematically exposed the traditional teaching of the Church on the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity in his famous work, On the Holy Spirit (cf. P.G. 32,87-218) . This work supplied the Council Fathers in Constantinople (381 A.D.) with the necessary tools to formulate the ” fuller statement of faith” by adding the teaching of the Church on the Holy Spirit. The final statements of the Symbol concerning the Church, Baptism, and eternity were taken from the existing baptismal formularies of Rome and Jerusalem (cf. P.G. 33, 533-536).
Thus, studying the genesis of the Constant inopolitan formulary of faith , we can conclude that: 1) it is based on the Nicean Symbol of 325 A.D.; 2) it incorporates, almost in its entirety, the Apostolic Creed of Rome and some statements of the Jerusalem Baptismal Symbol; 3) it wonderfully blends all these elements with its own expressions into a marvelous mosaic of the Catholic Faith.
4. For a long period of time the Council of Constantinople of 381 was not recognized as Ecumenical, since its Acts were lost. Some of its deliberations are known only from the Synodal Letter sent to Pope Damasus the following year (ct. P.G. 82, 1211-1218). Thus, the Nicean Symbol continued to be used by the Eastern Churches.
The importance and the authority of the Constantinopolitan definition of faith was brought to the foreground by the IV Ecumenical Council celebrated in Chalcedon in 451 A.D. During the fifth session, the Council Fathers decreed that the ” faith of the 318 Holy Fathers (at Nicea, 325 A.D.) should remain inviolate ; but, because of those who contend against (the divinity of) the Holy Spirit, the Holy Council (of Chalcedon) ratifies the teachings set later by the 150 Fathers assembled in the imperial city (in Constantinople, 381 A.D.) concerning the nature of the Holy Spirit, making their teachings more distinct by the Scriptural evidence … ”
Reconfirmed by the Council of Chalcedon, the Constanti nopol itan profession of faith was considered the “complete and definitive formulary of the Nicean Faith” and became the standard baptismal creed of the Eastern Churches since the middle of the fifth century. It was also introduced into the baptismal rite in Rome during the 7th century.
The Church of Antioch seems to have been the first to introduce the recitation of the Symbol of Faith into the Divine Liturgy, at the end of the fifth century. By the beginning of the sixth century it had spread throughout the Christian East. Finally, in 568 A.D., Emperor Justinian II ordered the Symbol to be recited before the Consecration of the Eucharist in all the Byzantine Churches.
Spain was the first among the Western Churches to introduce the Constantinopolitan Creed into its Liturgy ” after the fashion of the Eastern Fathers” (Council of Toledo III , 589 A.D.). However, the custom spread very slowly in the West, and the Roman Church was the last to introduce the Constantinopolitan Symbol of Faith into the Liturgy in 1014 A.D.
5. The Nicean-Constantinopolitan Symbol of Faith was brought to our ancestors by the Apostles of the Slavs, SS. Cyril and Methodius, in the ninth century. Since that time our ancestors jealously preserved its integrity and proudly professed it throughout the centuries ” with one voice and one heart” (cf. Divine Liturgy) in their wooden churches under the Carpathian Mountains. This very same faith our forefathers brought with them to the blessed shores of America and passed it on as a priceless treasure to their posterity with the following words:
“We have seen the true light, we have received the heavenly Spirit, we have found the true faith, and we worship the undivided Trinity, for the Trinity has saved us” (cf. Divine Liturgy).
In conclusion, let us recall the words of our modern Confessor, Bishop Paul P. Gojdich, OSBM. (d. 1960), who said : ” Faith is not an item of trade or gain, but is our spiritual treasure, assuring us great consolation on earth and openning for us the gates of heaven after we die. It is this true faith , which was given to us by the Son of God and which the Catholic Church teaches ; and it is not the one invented by men.”
Let us then heed the admonition of another ” hero of faith” of ours, our martyred Bishop Theodore G. Romzha (d. 1947) : ” Our greatest treasure here on earth is ou r faith , for which we should be ready to sacrifice even our own lives. If we must die, let us die as martyrs, fearlessly professing and defending our faith !”