By the sixth century one of the creeds being used in the West was the Apostles’ Creed, the other creed being the Nicene Creed. On the other hand, long before the sixth century the only creed being used in the East was the Nicene Creed. How did all this come about?
For the first few centuries of the early Church the Old Roman Creed, because it was the creed of Rome, became used by all the churches of the West. The Old Roman Creed was a very important developmental aspect within the history of the ancient Christian Church even though most have never heard of it. It’s so important that when historians write about it, they just call it “R”, the shorthand for Old Roman Creed. So what was “R” and why was it so crucial? The Old Roman Creed was “a” local creed used among the early Christians in Rome in the second century, starting most probably in the 170’s.
The Church had been up and running for almost one hundred forty years by that time but we were only now finally talking about an actual creed, an actual fixed word-for-word statement and confession of faith. Before this time we had, of course, core beliefs within Christianity, what we call the Rule of faith, but what was different now was that we now had a fixed worded Creed, “R”, the Old Roman Creed. In the time of the Rule of faith before this they could have cared less about what wording was used to tell you about the Rule of faith. In fact, people used all sorts of wordings when promulgating the Rule of faith in all areas of Christianity but all of these different wordings contained the same basic, core beliefs.
“R” was not a Rule of faith only but a full creed like those we use today in our worship services. It had a fixed wording and, therefore, for the first time we see the development of an actual full Christian creed. As such, “R” was:
thee creed used in the church in Rome in the third century and
the direct ancestor of the Apostles’ Creed.
Then, through a natural formulation process by which the Old Roman Creed had various minor clauses added to it in order to make things more clear that needed to be made more clear, this Old Roman Creed resulted in the creed that at some point was called the Apostles’ Creed. There was never any controversy about this process and it was not formulated through any Council. It was just the way the Old Roman Creed had continued to develop through the first few centuries into what the Church in the West would ultimately call the Apostles’ Creed in the sixth century.
A side-by-side comparison of the Old Roman Creed and the Apostles’ Creed shows us that the Apostles’ Creed is nothing more than the Old Roman Creed “filled out a little bit” for the purposes of increased clarity. For instance, the Apostles’ Creed adds such things as creator of heaven and earth, born from …, died and was …, he descended to the place of the dead, right hand of God the Father almighty, holy catholic church, the communion of saints, and eternal life, Amen. The Apostles’ Creed was by the sixth century the one creed of Rome (the Old Roman Creed) being used all through the West. After the sixth century no more clauses were added.
On the other hand, following the formation of the Nicene Creed at the Council of Nicaea in 325, and as further augmented at the Council of Constantinople in 381, this Nicene Creed displaced all of the various local baptismal creeds in the East in the fourth century. After a certain point following its formulation, the Nicene Creed became used as the universal creed for baptism, worship and so on in the church of the East. As such, the Nicene Creed entirely displaced all other creeds and became the only creed being used in the East. To this day in the Orthodox Church you’ll only have the Nicene Creed being used in their liturgy and baptism.
Some Orthodox theologians through the centuries, and even to this day, have had a problem with the use of the Apostles’ Creed, although most Orthodox theologians do not. For instance, at the great council of Florence (1431 ff) an Orthodox bishop was shown the Apostles’ Creed and he said ‘I don’t know this creed … but I agree with it.’
So the Catholic Church and other churches with links to the historic Reformation will have both the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed in their liturgies. In the time leading up to the Reformation, the Apostles’ Creed was so widely used in the West that it seems to have been even more central to the church of the West than was the Nicene Creed. In fact, Luther himself in his Small Catechism used the Apostles’ Creed and not the Nicene Creed. To this day both creeds are listed as options within the Lutheran liturgies. The Nicene Creed is listed first and the Apostles’ Creed next so that may indicate a certain priority.