Augustine: The Rule Of Faith Is The Apostles’ Creed

1. Receive, my children, the Rule of Faith, which is called the Symbol (or Creed). And when ye have received it, write it in your heart, and be daily saying it to yourselves; before ye sleep, before ye go forth, arm you with your Creed. The Creed no man writes so as it may be able to be read: but for rehearsal of it, lest haply forgetfulness obliterate what care hath delivered, let your memory be your record-roll: what ye are about to hear, that are ye to believe; and what ye shall have believed, that are about to give back with your tongue. For the Apostle says, “With the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” For this is the Creed which ye are to rehearse and to repeat in answer. These words which ye have heard are in the Divine Scriptures scattered up and down: but thence gathered and reduced into one, that the memory of slow persons might not be distressed; that every person may be able to say, able to hold, what he believes. For have ye now merely heard that God is Almighty? But ye begin to have him for your father, when ye have been born by the church as your Mother.

Augustine in De symbolo ad catechumenos (A Sermon to the Catechumens) in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers 1.3, Augustin: On the Holy Trinity, Doctrinal Treatises, Moral Treatises (HT: Big Mike).

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25 comments

  1. “Gathered and reduced into one” place for easy recollection and confession of the faith. The benefits of creeds and confessions. What do you suppose he means by being born by the church?

    • The Holy Spirit operates sovereignly through the due use of ordinary means. By the early 5th century (at least) Augustine also come to identify the sign (e.g., baptism) with the thing signified (i.e., the washing of regeneration). The Reformed wing of the Reformation helps us here but we still affirm with him that the church is our mother. It is the womb in which new life and true faith are given. The Belgic Confession explicitly affirms that outside the church there is no salvation (art.28).

  2. Curious on that last point. Does that rule out individuals being saved by the sovereign work of the Spirit bringing them into contact with the gospel message, say in a hotel reading the Gideon Bible or some other similar gospel encounter outside the church? Or is it implying one must then place themself under a local church and the means and pastors oversight?

  3. Thank you Dr. Clark. I do appreciate the brevity of the Apostle’s Creed. It encapsulates the word of God and Christian Faith succinctly and accurately. It is a great foundation for catechesis and for the subsequent confessions to be built upon. I remember hearing how Dr. Roger Nicole replied to a person who was questioning the validity of creeds and confessions stating they only needed the Bible. Dr Nicole said, “But it’s such a big book.”

  4. As the Belgic Confession explicitly affirms, outside of the church there is no salvation. It also affirms that the marks of the true church are the pure preaching of the gospel, pure administration of the sacraments and the practice of church discipline for correcting faults. And that believers ought to discern diligently and very carefully, by the Word of God, what is the true church. The false church bases itself on men, more than on Jesus Christ. The false church persecutes those who rebuke it for its faults, greed and idolatry. Beware of the false church.

  5. I would add it is the church’s role to confirm one in the faith. Therefore it confirms what the person in a hotel comes to believe if it is truly the gospel they do believe .

    • That’s precisely why our confessions and creeds are so important, because by the consensus of the church throughout its history, they summarize the Scripture, identifying the doctrines that define the standards for the true, saving faith against which a personal profession of faith may be judged.

  6. The Church can judge whether a person can repeat the right words in a statement of their faith. It can also judge their public life to determine whether there are issues which would belie a profession of faith. But what the church can’t do is confirm with absolute certainty who the Elect are. If the profession and the public life line up then we treat them as brothers and sisters in Christ unless they prove otherwise.

    • Saying with absolute certainty is a good point. Our Lord has not given a standard of imperical certainty but of reasonable inference. The question is, do you believe and therefore what do you believe. Then as the Baptist says are there fruits in accordance with those beliefs, ie guilt, grace, gratitude. And the assurance of election is inferred because these things are only true if God has chosen to make me the object of his grace which is from all eternity. So the church does in some sense infer the election of those they confirm.

    • Romans 8:16 “The Spirit of God witnesses to our spirit that we are the children of God.” He does this through God’s Word. I think that the value of the confessions is in providing a consensus summary, by the church, on what the Word teaches about salvation. But ultimately it is the personal conviction of trusting in God’s promises and the personal desire to obey God’s law, that comes from the Spirit, that witnesses to our spirit that we are the children of God. The church can only say that a person has made a profession of faith that agrees with its confessions and, as far as they can determine, that person’s practice does not deny it. It comes down to the circumcision of the heart by the Spirit, which is personal, and a matter of conscience before God. Otherwise, we get into the realm of the quest to know what only God can know, or QIRC as Dr. Clark describes it.

  7. I still wonder how many of the Elect of the NT Church age would be able to meet the exacting standards for a credible profession of faith established by modern highly literate theological standards. I take comfort in the fact that God is the final Judge.

  8. The Christian religion is a literate religion, based on the propositions for salvation revealed by the Spirit of God through His Word. We are responsible for understanding what God reveals to us by diligent reading and study of His Word. Jesus said: “Search the scriptures; for in them you have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.” John 5:39-47. Paul writes: ” But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” 2 Tim. 3. Our confessions are simply a summary by the church, of the important doctrines of Scripture, as an aid to understanding God’s Word.

  9. QIRC as I understand it is to know what God knows to the same degree of certainty. Our Lord left us with a reasonable standard. It is similar reasonable doubt standard in law
    Not imperically but reasonably. The church confirms within reasonable standards. The scripture is full of inferring what is in a man’s heart. We frequently say things when for instance how men refuse to believe the gospel because of the hardness of their hearts as the scripture does also. When someone says they repent but continues in the sin we determine they have unrepentant hearts. Inferring is the key and the church is commanded to do so accordingly

  10. “Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” Being literate is not necessary for believing.

    • You are quite right, that “being literate is not necessary for believing.” But in order to ensure that what you are hearing from others is truly the Word of God, you need to compare it to the actual written Word of God. Paul commended the Bereans for comparing even his preaching to the written Word: “Now these Berean Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word in all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. As a result many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.” Acts 17:11-12

  11. Angela: In your first sentence you agree that “being literate is not necessary for believing.” Yet in your second sentence you deny that by saying that you need to compare what you are hearing with the Word of God to see if it is true. That requires being literate. I don’t argue that literacy has many advantages in almost every sphere of life. But God has provided the Elect the ability to recognize saving truth through the foolishness of preaching. You seem to want to make literacy a requirement for being granted saving faith but thank God that isn’t so.

    • I said that to ensure what you are hearing is true, you need to compare it to the written Word, I did not say literacy is a requirement for being granted saving faith. The Spirit works through the PURE and TRUE preaching of the Word. To discern true preaching we compare it to the written Word, “for many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ have come in the flesh, have gone out into the world.” “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” 1 John 4:1 The Spirit does not speak to us without the means ordained by God, the Word and sacraments, which must be administered faithfully, according to the written Word. To ensure that it is, you must compare it to the written Word. That is where the Holy Spirit speaks to you, so you may recognize saving faithful preaching, to confirm that what you hear preached is true. “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt, but test them all; hold on to what is good ” 1 Thesis. 5:19-21. Where do we find reliable prophecies and truth, which is what I understand by what is good, except in the infallible Word of God?

  12. Someone being granted saving faith by God does not require being literate so that the person can authenticate what is being preached is true. God will not grant saving faith to a person who is not hearing the true gospel. But when there is true gospel being preached and God grants the hearer saving faith then that pure gospel is self authenticating.

    • So all the passages about self examination, testing the spirits, and being aware that there are many false prophets gone out in the world are unnecessary because, as you know, the gospel being preached is true and self authenticating.

    • Angela: All those passages about self examination, testing the spirits, and being aware that there are many false prophets gone out in the world are for those who are already believers. The unbeliever is incapable of doing any of those things because he is spiritually dead. My point is very narrow. I’m talking about conversion. When an illiterate person hears preaching, if they are among the Elect and the time is right, God will grant them the faith to believe if they are hearing a true gospel message. After that they need to be discipled by the Word of God. An illiterate person is at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to being discipled but there is no disadvantage in the matter of his conversion.

    • You are absolutely right, an unregenerate person cannot believe. It is the Holy Spirit that causes the person to come to true faith through the Word. It is however, a very sad fact that that on the last day there will be many who say, “Lord, Lord,” but Christ will tell them, “I never knew you.” Matt. 7:14. So it is a fact that there are many people who have a false assurance of salvation. That is why it is crucial that those who think they have saving faith test themselves by the Word of God.

    • If an unregenerate person who believes he is in fact regenerate after being exposed to enough that he would falsely call Jesus “Lord” searches scripture, if he is not among the Elect he will never come to faith. The Word will only ever be profitable to the Elect.

    • You say it so well, “The Word of God will only ever be profitable to the Elect.” It is the Elect that will find their true assurance through the means of God’s Word and the sacraments which are the visible Word.”

  13. Getting back to the creed… I had a friend ask me to help him write a simple statement of faith yet one that distinguised their beliefs from other groups such a Roman Catholics. I suggested the apostles creed. Some push back about why historical references to pontius pilate and descended into to hell. It is amazing that what was the standard instruction (along with the ten commandments and the Lord’s prayer) for folk prior to baptism is now largely forgotten.

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