Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Liturgical Use of Creeds

Catholic Encyclopedia
Liturgical Use of Creeds by Henry Jenner

From volume 4 of the work.

The public use of creeds began in connection with baptism, in the Traditio and Redditio symboli, as a preparation for that sacrament, and in the preliminary interrogations. This use is found as early as the "Canons" of Hippolytus and the "Catecheses" of St. Cyril of Jerusalem, and is so universal as to be probably of still earlier date. (Cf. Acts, viii, 37.) The recitation of the Nicaeo-Constantinopolitan Creed at the Eucharist seems to have begun, according to Theodore the Reader, at Antioch under Peter the Fuller in 471 (though James of Edessa says that it was adopted as soon as it was composed), and to have been adopted at Constantinople by the Patriarch Timotheus in 511. Both intended to protest, as Monophysites, against Chalcedonian "innovations", but in spite of this heretical origin the practice spread, though Rome did not finally adopt it until the eleventh century. The Nicene Creed is the only one in use in the Eastern Churches, whether Orthodox, Monophysite, or Nestorian, or in the corresponding Uniat bodies, though the East Syrians, both Nestorian and Uniat have a variant of their own (see EAST SYRIAN RITE) which may have been originally understood in a Nestorian sense, and the Copts and Abyssinians have also a shortened form for use at baptism. The Roman Rite, besides the Nicene Creed, which it recites only at Mass, uses also the Apostles' Creed and the so-called Athanasian. These three creeds have been retained in the Anglican Rite. The following is the use of creeds in various rites:


  • Roman: Apostles' Creed in full, followed by a shortened creed in interrogative form.
  • Ambrosian, Gallican, and Mozarabic: nearly the same.
  • Celtic: either the Apostles' creed in full or a shortened form, both as interrogatives.
  • Anglican, complete Apostles' Creed in interrogative form.
  • Orthodox Eastern: Nicene Creed in full in the preliminary euchai eis to poiesai katechoumenon.
  • West Syrian (Jacobite, Syrian Uniat, and Maronite) and Armenian: Nicene Creed in full.
  • East Syrian: variant of Nicene Creed in a similar position to that which it holds in the Eucharist, on the model of which the baptismal service is constructed.
  • Coptic and Æthiopic: a short confession of faith in the Trinity, the Resurrection, and the Church.


All rites use the Nicene Creed, though in different positions, as part of the declaration of fellowship (of which the Kiss of Peace is another part) with which the Missa Fidelium begins. This aspect is removal of the Pax to another position. The positions are:

  • Immediately after the Gospel: Roman, Celtic, Anglican, Armenian.
  • After the Offertory, but quite unconnected with the Pax: Ambrosian. There is good reason to think that the Ambrosian Pax originally came, not as now in the Roman position, but at the beginning of the Offertory.
  • After dismissal of catechumens and Offertory, but before the Pax: Coptic, Greek St. James, West Syrian, East Syrian.
  • After dismissal, Offertory and Pax: Orthodox Eastern. (Byzantine), Greek St. Mark.
  • After the Consecration, during the Fraction: Mozarabic. This last seems to follow the use ordered by the Emperor Justin at Constantinople, that the Creed should be said before the Pater Noster at Mass, but it is probably of much later introduction.


  • Roman: Apostles' Creed at the beginning of Matins and Prime, ferially with preces in the course of Prime and Compline, and at the end of Compline. Athanasian on Sundays at Prime. The earliest mention of this is in the "Capitulare" of Hayto, Bishop of Basle, c. 820. Many Roman derivatives (e.g. the Sarum) said the Athanasian daily at Prime. The monastic rites and the French breviaries of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries mostly follow the Roman practice.
  • Ambrosian: the Apostles' Creed in the course of Prime and Compline, the Athanasian daily at Prime.
  • Mozarabic: The Nicene Creed at Prime on Sundays and festivals. This was ordered by the Council of Toledo of 589.
  • Celtic: The Apostles' Creed is given with the Pater Noster in the "Bangor Antiphoner", and at the end of the sketch service in the "Book of Mulling", but there is no evidence how it was used.
  • Anglican: The Apostles' Creed is said with preces at morning and evening prayer, daily, except that on thirteen fast-days (roughly, once a month, and on Trinity Sunday) the Athanasian takes its place at morning prayer.
  • Byzantine: Nicene Creed at the Midnight Office (mesonyktikon) after the Psalms, except on Sundays, and at the Little Compline (apodeipnon mikron) after the Great Doxology.
  • East Syrian: Nicene Creed at the end of the morning and evening services.
  • Coptic: At the "Offering of the Morning Incense", at Lauds, Compline, and the "Prayer of the Curtain".


Other uses of creeds are:

  • The Ambrosian uses either the Apostles' or Athanasian Creed in the "Ordo Commendationis Animae".
  • The Celtic used either the full Apostles' Creed or a shortened confession of faith in the Trinity, eternal life, and the Resurrection (both forms are found) before the unction of the sick.
  • The Anglican uses the Apostles' Creed in an interrogative form (as at baptism) the visitation of the sick.
  • The Mozarabic introduces a three-fold repetition of a Spanish variant of the Apostles' Creed into a "Sermo ad populum" before the Epistle at Mass on Palm Sunday, which is the ancient Traditio Symboli.
  • The Byzantine has a recitation, megalophonos of the Nicene Creed in answer to the question , kai ti pisteueis at the consecration of bishops. This is followed by two more elaborate confessions of faith, resembling the "Interrogatio" at the same service in the Roman Pontifical.
  • In the Roman ordination of priests the Apostles' Creed is recited just before the Accipe Spiritum Sanctum.
  • At the beginning of the coronation of the Russian emperor he is required to recite the Nicene Creed in token of orthodoxy.