The Source of A Variation Of The Apostles’ Creed In Question 23

Title Page Heidelberg Catechism 1563Most Lord’s Days, in the evening (second) service, the congregation recites the Apostles’ Creed. This is an ancient, biblical practice. The church has been reciting creedal formulae since the Israelites first said the Shema (Deut 6:4): “Hear O Israel, Yahweh Our God, Yahweh is one” and the Apostolic Church recited 1 Timothy 3:16:

Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:
He was manifested in the flesh,
vindicated by the Spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory. (1 Timothy 3:16, ESV)

If, however, you have recited the Apostles’ Creed in more than one setting, you may have noticed variations in the way it is published and said. One variation I’ve noticed is that between the way the Creed appears in the “Received Form” (Forma Recepta) in Latin, the way it appears in translations of the catechism made from the German text of the Heidelberg Catechism, and the way it appears in English translations made from (or influenced by) the Latin text of the catechism.

The English translation that appears in the 1959 Christian Reformed Church Psalter-Hymnal begins the third part of the Creed:

I believe in the Holy Spirit, I believe a Holy catholic Church….

In the 1563 3rd edition of the catechism (German), Q. 23 has the same line thus:

Ich glaube in den heiligen Geist; eine heilige, allgemeine christliche Kirche….

English, “I believe in the Holy Ghost; a holy catholic church….”

The variation is: “I believe in the Holy Spirit/Ghost, a holy catholic church” vs. “I believe in the Holy Spirit, I believe in a holy catholic church….” In the 1959 CRC edition, versions of which are still used in URCNA congregations and elsewhere, the verb “to believe” is repeated whereas in the German text it is not.

Why is that?

The source is the Latin text, which, in places, varies markedly from the German text. The Latin text of Q. 23 reads

Credo in Spiritum Sanctum; Credo Sanctam Ecclesiam catholicam

(I believe in the Holy spirit, I believe a Holy catholic Church)

This is interesting because the Received Form of the Latin text reads:

Credo in Spiritum Sanctum; sanctam ecclesiam catholicam….

There is a version of the Creed before 341 which has “Credo in Spiritum sanctum, sanctum ecclesiam that omits both catholicam and credo and there are versions from c. 350 and c. 390 (Italy) that omit the second credo but none that repeat the credo. None of the Greek forms of the Creed in Schaff’s Creeds of Christendom (vol. 2) repeat πιστευω (I believe).

Interestingly, the Williard translation of Ursinus’ Commentary on the catechism, Corpus Doctrinae (Body of Doctrine or sometimes Explicatio or Compendium), has:

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church….

which follows the patristic and early medieval forms of the Creed but the (1616) Latin text repeats credo. The earlier editions of the Commentary (not published under that title), published in the 1580s, did not give the text of the Creed.

The 1976 edition of the Catechism published by the CRC follows the German text and omits the second credo. The 1989 edition produced by the Reformed Church in America (RCA) omits the second “I believe” as does the Modern Language version produced by the Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS) in 1978.

So, the source of the repetition of “I believe” seems to be the Latin translation of the Heidelberg Catechism. We should be aware that the form of the Creed as it appeared in the Patristic period and as it appeared in the German text of the Heidelberg Catechism did not repeat “I believe.”

What is the significance, if any, of the repetition or its omission? It’s unclear. I’ve heard it said that we should say, “I believe a holy catholic church” rather than “in a holy catholic church” because the church is not an object of faith.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,

a holy catholic church….

The intent and force of the grammar would seem to be that the Holy Spirit is an object of faith and the existence of a holy catholic church is also an object of faith. We don’t believe “in the church” in the same way we believe “in the Holy Spirit” but we do believe and confess the existence of “a holy catholic church.” Q. 54 says,

54. What do you believe concerning the “Holy Catholic Church”?

That, out of the whole human race, from the beginning to the end of the world, the Son of God, by His Spirit and Word, gathers, defends and preserves for Himself to everlasting life a chosen communion in the unity of the true faith; and that I am and forever shall remain a living member of the same.

On this Q/A Ursinus wrote,

All the particular churches are parts of the universal church; and the different parts of the visible, belong to the universal visible church; as also the invisible, are parts of the universal invisible church. And it is of this universal invisible church of which this article of the Creed properly speaks, saying, I believe in the Holy Catholic Church.

Note that the Willard of Ursinus translation, however, adds the preposition “in.” The Latin text of the Corpus says, Credo sanctam ecclesiam catholicam.” There Ursinus gave the same explanation that I gave above, that when we say, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, a holy catholic church” we’re confessing the existence of the church universal, in all times and places.

Does the addition of the second credo in the Latin translation of the Catechism and its use in some English translations change anything? Probably not. It does tend to make the Creed a little less elegant. There are three great heads of the Creed, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We believe in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The church is properly subsumed under the third. Indeed, that’s where Ursinus discussed election and predestination (like the later Melanchthon). The addition of the second credo is a little clumsy and tends to distract a bit from the Trinitarian structure of the Creed. I don’t think that there ever was a credo in the second heading, “and in Jesus Christ….” Indeed, as I mentioned above there are early texts of the Creed that only have one credo, at the beginning. Both clauses on the Son and the Spirit begin with a conjunction, which imply the repetition of the verb but the subordinate clause on the church does not. The church is not an object of faith in the way the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are. Absent compelling reasons it would seem best to say:

I believe in the Holy Spirit;

a holy catholic church….

It would be interesting to know why Lagus and Pithopoeus, who made the first Latin translation early in 1563, included the second credo and why the Latin text adopted by Dort (in Niemeyer’s Collectio) retained it.

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    • Probably because of the tremendous authority attached to the Apostles’ Creed (note the placement of the apostrophe – ‘s = belongs to one apostle and s’ = belongs to all). By the 16th century most knew that each article had not actually been written by an apostle (12 articles, 12 apostles) but there was a quasi-canonical authority that attached to the AC. Further, the Reformed needed to demonstrate that they were true catholics. Here’s a series on this topic:

      They needed also to demonstrate that they were not Anabaptists or radicals. They weren’t trying to destroy historic Christianity. They were trying to rescue it or reform it from hundreds of years of corruption. Using the AC symbolized the fundamentally conservative nature of what they were doing.

  1. Could it be, that the desire to keep people from “carrying forward” mentally the preposition “in” (so as to confess to believing-in the church), therefore “Credo” without the following “in” was inserted; thus making explicit the implicit.

    I can imagine especially in a Reformation setting that a desire to make clear what they were *not* confessing was nearly as important as making clear what they did confess.

    Even in the standard English rendering, as I learned it as a child in the old Trinity Hymnal, for a long time I wondered why I confessed “belief IN” the holy catholic church. I realize now that it does not literally say that, but I mentally carried the preposition forward along with “I believe.”

    I realize now that I don’t believe *in* the resurrection of the dead, for example, but simply believe the resurrection. And I worked backwards to the recognition that I am believing also “a church” as an article of faith.

    • Bruce,

      That’s probably right but then there’s Ursinus’ own explanation which goes in a different direction. If we say, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, a holy catholic church…” doesn’t that alleviate the problem? You’re probably right that they sacrificed the aesthetics for theological precision.

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