Book of Common Prayer, 1662[
I believe in God the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth:
And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord,
Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
Born of the Virgin Mary,
Suffered under Pontius Pilate,
Was crucified, dead, and buried:
He descended into hell;
The third day he rose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven,
And sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit;
The holy Catholick Church;
The Communion of Saints;
The Forgiveness of sins;
The Resurrection of the body,
And the Life everlasting.
This is the 1662 translation of the Apostles’ Creed, the first written version of which comes from the 7th century, but was probably developed in 5th century Gaul. It is a revision of the Old Roman Creed, which may have arisen as far back as the 2nd century. It has nothing to do with the 12 Apostles of Jesus, except that the church held that it expressed their teaching. It is not a proclamation of the Gospel, but rather a summary of the church’s faith in God. It neither declares salvation nor expresses individual faith.
Still it does assume that truths about God can be stated; and that these are affirmed by all believers. I once affirmed them as the truths underlying my trust in God. How much of this stuff do I still believe?
I BELIEVE IN GOD
I notice that the creed assumes I know what is meant by “God”. Certainly it comes from a time when atheists were thin on the ground. I have to accept that a definition of God can only come from the whole creed, but it’s reasonable to think that here the word refers to one who is not human, but immortal, invisible, the only wise one. When I was a child and teenager, growing up in a Presbyterian church and household, I accepted that sort of concept of God without much difficulty. God was external to the universe, but powerful within it, guiding its existence providentially.
During my lifetime, within my culture, this concept of God has been challenged by all the sciences, including some theology, so that only about a third of people in Scotland any longer affirm such a belief. Young people especially think of it as an outdated fairy tale. My own experience of life, moreover, including the early death of my daughter, has encouraged me to look critically at any faith that presupposes God as a simple datum. This personal questioning is only a small reflection of the much more profound question asked by the generation before mine: how can there be faith in God after Auschwitz? Surely any God worth the name would have stopped it? This really leads to the next phrase of the creed, but I should admit here that a) I do not think that God is a simple given; and b) I do not believe in God’s supernatural providence in the universe.
But on the other hand, there is Luther’s demystifying statement, “It is the care and trust of the heart that make both God and idol.” At one stroke this makes God into a human construct which either equates to reality or not. This is similar to Bob Dylan’s great song, “ You gonna have to serve somebody:
You may be an ambassador to England or France
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearlsBut you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes
Indeed you’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody
Dylan makes this universal, a fundamental condition and choice: what God do we make and serve?
This understanding gives me back God as one created truthfully or deceitfully by human beings. I’ll continue to explore this insight.