On Creeds


Irenaeus, Against Heresies 1.10.1–2

On the Rule of Faith

The Church, though dispersed throughout the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith:

[She believes] in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God, and the advents, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the ascension into heaven in the flesh of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and His [future] manifestation from heaven in the glory of the Father to gather all things in one [Eph. 1:10] and to raise up anew all flesh of the whole human race, in order that to Christ Jesus, our Lord, and God, and Savior, and King, according to the will of the invisible Father, every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess [Phil. 2:10–11] to Him, and that He should execute just judgment towards all; that He may send spiritual wickednesses [Eph. 6:12] and the angels who transgressed and became apostates, together with the ungodly, and unrighteous, and wicked, and profane among men, into everlasting fire; but may, in the exercise of His grace, confer immortality on the righteous, and holy, and those who have kept His commandments, and have persevered in His love, some from the beginning [of their Christian course], and others from [the date of] their repentance, and may surround them with everlasting glory.

 As I have already observed, the Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet, as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it. She also believes these points [of doctrine] just as if she had but one soul, and one and the same heart, and she proclaims them, teaches them, and hands them down with perfect harmony, as if she possessed only one mouth. For although the languages of the world are dissimilar, yet the power of the tradition is one and the same. For the Churches which have been planted in Germany do not believe or hand down anything different, nor do those in Spain, Gaul, the East, Egypt, Libya, or those that have been established in the central regions of the world. But as the sun, that creature of God, is one and the same throughout the whole world, so also the preaching of the truth shines everywhere, and enlightens all people who are willing to come to a knowledge of the truth. Nor will any one of the rulers in the Churches, however highly gifted he may be in point of eloquence, teach doctrines different from these (for no one is greater than the Master); nor, on the other hand, will one who is deficient in power of expression inflict injury on the tradition. For the faith being ever one and the same, neither does one who is able at great length to discourse regarding it, make any addition to it, nor does one, who can say but little diminish it.

Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.1.1–2

Receiving the Tradition and Scriptures from the Apostles

1. We have learned from no others the plan of our salvation than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us. At first, they proclaimed it in public, and at a later period, by the will of God, handed it down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith. For it is unlawful to assert that they preached before they possessed perfect knowledge, as some do even venture to say, boasting themselves as improvers of the apostles. For, after our Lord rose from the dead, [the apostles] were invested with power from on high when the Holy Spirit came down [upon them], were filled from all [His gifts], and had perfect knowledge. They departed to the ends of the earth, preaching the glad tidings of the good things [sent] from God to us, and proclaiming the peace of heaven to men, who indeed do all equally and individually possess the Gospel of God.

Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia.

 2. These have all declared to us that there is one God, Creator of heaven and earth, announced by the Law and the Prophets; and one Christ the Son of God. If any one do not agree to these truths, he despises the companions of the Lord; nay more, he despises Christ Himself the Lord; yea, he despises the Father also, and stands self-condemned, resisting and opposing his own salvation, as is the case with all heretics.

Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies 4.33.8

True knowledge is [that which consists in] the doctrine of the apostles, and the ancient constitution of the Church throughout all the world, and the distinctive manifestation of the body of Christ according to the successions of the bishops, by which they have handed down that Church which exists in every place, and has come even unto us, being guarded and preserved without any forging of Scriptures, by a very complete system of doctrine, and neither receiving addition nor [suffering] curtailment [in the truths which she believes]; and [it consists in] reading [the word of God] without falsification, and a lawful and diligent exposition in harmony with the Scriptures, both without danger and without blasphemy; and [above all, it consists in] the pre-eminent gift of love, which is more precious than knowledge, more glorious than prophecy, and which excels all the other gifts [of God].


Basil of Caesarea, On the Holy Spirit 27.66 

Concerning the teachings of the Church, whether publicly proclaimed (kerygma) or reserved to members of the household of faith (dogmata), we have received some from written sources, while others have been given to us secretly through apostolic tradition. Both sources have equal force in true religion. No one would deny either sources—no one, at any rate, who is even slightly familiar with the ordinances of the Church. If we attacked unwritten customs, claiming them to be of little importance, we would fatally mutilate the Gospel, no matter what our intentions—or rather, we would reduce the Gospel teachings to bare words. . . . As everyone knows, we are not content in the liturgy simply to recite the words record by St. Paul or the Gospels, but we add other words both before and after, words of great importance for this mystery. We have received these words from unwritten teaching.  (Popular Patristics, pp. 98–99).

Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures 5.12

The Creed to be memorized

The Creed has been built up strongly out of all the Scriptures. For since all cannot read the Scriptures, some being hindered from the knowledge of them by lack of learning, and others because they lack leisure to study, in order that the soul should not be starved in ignorance, the church has condensed the whole teaching of the faith in a few lines. This summary I wish you both to commit to memory when I recite it, and to rehearse it with all diligence among yourselves, not writing it out on paper, but engraving it by the memory upon your heart, taking care while you rehearse it that no catechumen may happen to overhear the things which have been delivered to you. I wish you also to keep this as a provision through the whole course of your life, and beside this to receive no alternative teaching, even if we ourselves should change and contradict our present teaching.

Augustine, On Faith and the Creed 1.2

A concise summary for new believers to make progress by humility

 We have, however, the catholic faith in the Creed, known to the faithful and committed to memory, contained in a form of expression as  concise as has been rendered admissible by the circumstances of the case; the purpose of which was, that individuals who are but beginners and sucklings among those who have been born again in Christ, and who have not yet been strengthened by most diligent and spiritual handling  and understanding of the divine Scriptures, should be furnished with a summary, expressed in few words, of those matters of necessary belief which were subsequently to be explained to them in many words, as they made progress and rose to [the height of] divine doctrine, on the assured and steadfast basis of humility and charity.

Augustine Sermon, 214.1

The creed as a condensed arrangement of Scripture

The Creed builds up in you what you ought to believe and confess in order to be saved. Indeed, these truths, which you are about to receive and which should be entrusted to memory and professed in your speech, are neither new nor unfamiliar to you, for you are accustomed to hear them set forth in various ways in the holy Scriptures and in sermons delivered in the Church. But now they are to be handed over to you gathered together, arranged in a fixed order, and condensed so that your faith may be well grounded and preparation made for your manifestation of that faith without taxing your memory. These are the truths which you are going to hold in mind assiduously and recite from memory. (Trans. FC 38:130)


On Scripture

Irenaeus, Against Heresies 4.26.1

The Scriptures contain Christ

 If anyone, therefore, reads the Scriptures with attention, he will find in them an account of Christ, and a foreshadowing of the new calling (vocationis). For Christ is the treasure hidden in the field (Matt. 13:44)—that is, [hidden] in this world, for the field is the world (Matt. 13:38). But the treasure hid in the Scriptures is Christ, since He was signified by means of types and parables. Hence His human nature could not be understood, prior to the consummation of those things which had been predicted, that is, the advent of Christ. . . .

Every prophecy is enigmatic and ambiguous for human minds before its fulfilment. But when the time has arrived and the prediction has come true, then the prophecies have a clear and certain exposition. This is the reason, then, that when the Law is read to the Jews at the present time, it is like a fable; for they do not possess the explanation of all things pertaining to the advent of the Son of God, which took place in human nature.

But when it is read by the Christians, it is indeed a treasure hidden in a field, but brought to light by the cross of Christ. It enriches human understanding, shows forth the wisdom of God, declares his dispensations with regard to the human race, prefigures the kingdom of Christ, and proclaims by anticipation the inheritance of the holy Jerusalem. It announces that the man who loves God will progress even to the point of seeing God and hearing his word, and by listening to this word shall be glorified to such an extent that others cannot behold the glory of his countenance. (trans. Karlfried Froehlich, Biblical Interpretation in the Early Church)

Origen, On First Principles 4.2

1. Now that we have spoken cursorily about the inspiration of the divine Scriptures it is necessary to discuss the manner in which they are to be read and understood, since many mistakes have been made in consequence of the method by which the holy documents ought to be interpreted not having been discovered by the multitude. . . .

2. Now the reason why all those we have mentioned hold false opinions and make impious or ignorant assertions about God appears to be nothing else but this, that Scripture is not understood in its spiritual sense, but is interpreted according to the bare letter.7 On this account we must explain to those who believe that the sacred books are not the works of men, but that they were composed and have come down to us as a result of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit by the will of the Father of the universe through Jesus Christ, what are the methods of interpretation that appear right to us, who keep to the rule of the heavenly Church of Jesus Christ through the succession from the Apostles. That there are certain mystical revelations made known through the divine Scriptures is believed by all, even by the simplest of those who are adherents of the word; but what these revelations are, fair-minded and humble men confess that they do not know. . . .

4. The right way, therefore, as it appears to us, of approaching the Scriptures and gathering their meaning, is the following, which is extracted from the writings themselves. We find some such rule as this laid down by Solomon in the Proverbs concerning the divine doctrines written therein: “And you, register them for yourself threefold in counsel and knowledge, that you may answer words of truth to those who question you.” One must therefore register the meaning of the sacred writings in a threefold way upon one’s own soul, so that the simple person may be edified by what we may call the flesh of the scripture, this name being given to the obvious interpretation; while the one who has made some progress may be edified by its soul, as it were; and the one who is perfect and like those mentioned by the apostle: “We speak wisdom among the perfect; yet a wisdom not of this world, nor of the rulers of this world, which are coming to nothing; but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, even the wisdom that has been hidden, which God foreordained before the worlds unto our glory”—this person may be edified by the spiritual law, which has “a shadow of the good things to come.” For just as a human being consists of body, soul and spirit, so in the same way does the Scripture, which has been prepared by God to be given for the salvation of human beings.

Origen, On First Principles 4.3.5

Nevertheless the exact reader will hesitate in regard to some passages, finding himself unable to decide without considerable investigation whether a particular incident, believed to be history, actually happened or not, and whether the literal meaning of a particular law is to be observed or not. Accordingly he who reads in an exact manner must, in obedience to the Savior’s precept which says, “Search the scriptures,” carefully investigate how far the literal meaning is true and how far it is impossible, and to the utmost of his power must trace out from the use of similar expressions the meaning scattered everywhere through the Scriptures of that which when taken literally is impossible. When, therefore, as will be clear to those who read, the passage as a connected whole is literally impossible, whereas the outstanding part of it is not impossible but even true, the reader must endeavor to grasp the entire meaning, connecting by an intellectual process the account of what is literally impossible with the parts that are not impossible but are historically true, these being interpreted allegorically in common with the parts which, so far as the letter goes, did not happen at all. For our contention with regard to the whole of divine Scripture is, that it all has a spiritual meaning, but not all a bodily meaning; for the bodily meaning is often proved to be an impossibility. Consequently the one who reads the divine books reverently, believing them to be divine writings, must exercise great care.

Hilary, On the Mysteries 1.1

All the Scriptures are about Christ

There are many and various ways to interpret scripture . . . such that we can understand the true realities in the events that have happened. But some people too readily join together a type with empty similitudes, when they should instead seek out through sound reasoning the fulfillment of earlier events in later events. For every work contained in the sacred volumes announces in words, expresses in deeds, and confirms in examples the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, who was sent by the Father from the Virgin through the Spirit, and was born man. And so for this reason, throughout the present age, he gives birth to, washes, sanctifies, chooses, discerns, and redeems the church in all these true and simple prefigurations in the Patriarchs: in the sleep of Adam, the flood of Noah, the blessing of Melchizedek, the justification of Abraham, the birth of Isaac, the servitude of Jacob. In short, in every event, through all ages, prophecy has been granted for the knowledge of his assumption in the flesh, the foundation of a mystery.

Diodore of Tarsus, Preface to the Psalter

Theoria vs. Allegory

Nevertheless, with the help of God, we shall attempt an explanation of these errors as far as possible. We will not shrink from the truth but will expound it according to the historical substance (historia) and the plain literal sense (lexis). At the same time, we will not disparage anagogy and the higher theoria. For history is not opposed to theoria. On the contrary, it proves to be the foundation and the basis of the higher sense. One thing is to be watched, however: theoria must never be understood as doing away with the underlying sense; it would then be no longer theoria but allegory. For whenever anything else is aid apart from the foundational sense, we have not theoria but allegory. Even the apostle did not discard history at any point although he could introduce theoria and call it allegory [Gal. 4:28]. He was not ignorant of the term but was teaching us that, if the term “allegory” is judged by its conceptual content, it must be taken in the sense of theoria, not violating in any way the nature of the historical substance.

Augustine, On Catechizing the Uninstructed 4.8

The New is in the Old concealed; the Old is in the New Revealed

Thus, before all else, Christ came so that people might learn how much God loves them, and might learn this so that they would catch fire with love for him who first loved them, and so that they would also love their neighbor as he commanded and showed by his example—he who made himself their neighbor by loving them when they were not close to him but were wandering far from him. And all of the divine scripture that was written before the Lord’s coming was written to announce that coming; and everything that has since been committed to writing and invested with divine authority tells of Christ and calls to love. If this is so, then it is plain that on the two commandments of love for God and neighbor hinge not only the whole law and the prophets—the only holy scripture that existed when the Lord spoke these words—but also all the other books of divine writings which were later set apart for our salvation and handed down to us. Hence, in the Old Testament is concealed the New, and in the New Testament is revealed the Old. (trans. Canning, 70)

Augustine, On Christian Teaching 1.36.40–41

The hermeneutic of charity

40. So anyone who thinks that he has understood the divine scriptures or any part of them, but cannot by his understanding build up this double love of God and neighbor, has not yet succeeded in understanding them. Anyone who derives from them an idea which is useful for supporting this love but fails to say what the writer demonstrably meant in the passage has not made a fatal error, and is certainly not a liar. In a liar there is a desire to say what is false, and that is why we find many who want to lie but nobody who wants to be misled. Since a person lies knowingly but is misled unknowingly, it is clear enough that in any given situation the person misled is better than the one who lies, since it is better to suffer injustice than to commit it. Everyone who lies commits injustice; so anyone who believes that a lie is sometimes useful believes that injustice is sometimes useful. No one who lies keeps faith while lying—he certainly desires that the person he lies to should put faith in him, but when lying he does not keep faith—and everyone who breaks faith is unjust. So either injustice is sometimes useful—which is impossible—or lying is always useless.

41. Anyone with an interpretation of the Scriptures that differs from that of the writer is misled, but not because the Scriptures are lying. If, as I began by saying, he is misled by an idea of the kind that builds up love, which is the end of the commandment, he is misled in the same way as a walker who leaves his path by mistake but reaches the destination to which the path leads by going through a field. But he must be put right and shown how it is more useful not to leave the path, in case the habit of deviating should force him to go astray or even adrift.

Augustine, Letter 137.5.18

The very language in which Holy Scripture is woven is accessible to all, though very, very few penetrate it. In its easily understood parts it speak to the heart of the unlearned and learned like a familiar friend who uses no guile; but in those truths it veils in mystery, it does not raise itself aloft with proud speech. Hence, the backward and untutored mind dares to draw near to it as a poor man to a rich one because it invites all in simple language and feeds their minds with its teaching in plain words, while training them in the truth by its hidden message, having the same effect in both the obvious and the obscure. But lest the obvious should cause disgust, the hidden truths arouse longing; longing brings renewal; renewal brings sweet inner knowledge. (Trans. Wilifrid Parons, in Augustine in His Own Words, 163)

John Cassian, Conferences 14

On practical and theoretical knowledge

1.1 When [Abba Nestorus] heard that we had committed some parts of holy Scripture to memory and desired to understand them, he addressed us in words like these:

1.2. “There are indeed as many kinds of knowledge in this world as there are different sorts of arts and disciplines. But, although all are either completely useless or contribute something of value only to the present life, still there is not one that does not have its own order and method of instruction by which it can be grasped by those who are interested in it.

1.3. “If, then, those arts follow their own defined principles when they are taught, how much more does the teaching and profession of our religion, which is directed to contemplating the secrets of invisible mysteries rather than to present gain and which seeks instead the reward of eternal prizes, consist in a defined order and method. Its knowledge is in fact twofold. The first kind is praktikē, or practical, which reaches its fulfillment in correction of behavior and in cleansing from vice. The other is theōrētikē, which consists in the contemplation of divine things and in the understanding of most sacred meanings.

2.1. “Whoever, therefore, wishes to attain to the theōrētikē must first pursue practical knowledge with all his strength and power. For the praktikē can be possessed without the theoretical, but the theoretical can never be seized without the practical. For certain steps have been arranged and distinguished in such a way that human lowliness can mount to the sublime. . . .

3.1. “Now this practical perfection exists in a twofold form. Its first mode is that of knowing the nature of all the vices and the method of remedying them. The second is that of discerning the sequence of the virtues and forming our mind by their perfection in such a way that it is obedient to them not as if it were coerced and subjected to an arbitrary rule but as taking pleasure in and enjoying what is so to say a natural good, thus mounting with delight the hard and narrow way. For how will a person who does not understand the nature of his vices and has not striven to uproot them be able to attain either to the method of the virtues, which is the second step in practical discipline, or to the mysteries of spiritual and heavenly realities, which are found on the higher step of theoria?

On the fourfold sense of Scripture—historical, allegorical, tropological, anagogical

 8.1. “The praktikē is dispersed among many professions and pursuits. The theōrētikē, on the other hand, is divided into two parts—that is, into historical interpretation and spiritual understanding. Hence, when Solomon had enumerated the different forms of grace in the Church, he added: ‘All who are with her are doubly clothed’ (Prov. 31:21). Now, there are three kinds of spiritual knowledge —tropology, allegory, and anagogy—about which it is said in Proverbs: ‘But you describe those things for yourself in threefold fashion according to the largeness of your heart’ (Prov. 22:20).

8.2. “And so history embraces the knowledge of past and visible things, which is repeated by the Apostle thus: ‘It is written that Abraham had two sons, one from a slave and the other from a free woman. The one from the slave was born according to the flesh, but the one from the free woman by promise’ (Gal. 4:22–3). The things that follow belong to allegory, however, because what really occurred is said to have prefigured the form of another mystery. ‘For these,’ it says, ‘are two covenants, one from Mount Sinai, begetting unto slavery, which is Hagar. For Sinai is a mountain in Arabia, which is compared to the Jerusalem that now is, and which is enslaved with her children’ (Gal. 4:24–25).

8.3. “But anagogy, which mounts from spiritual mysteries to certain more sublime and sacred heavenly secrets, is added by the Apostle: ‘But the Jerusalem from above, which is our mother, is free. For it is written: Rejoice, you barren one who do not bear, break out and shout, you who are not in labor, for the children of the desolate one are many more than of her who has a husband.’ (Gal. 4:26–27). Tropology is moral explanation pertaining to correction of life and to practical instruction, as if we understood these same two covenants as praktikē and as theoretical discipline, or at least as if we wished to take Jerusalem or Zion as the soul of the human being, according to the words: ‘Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem; praise your God, O Zion’ (Ps. 147:12).

14.8.4. “The four figures that have been mentioned converge in such a way that, if we want, one and the same Jerusalem can be understood in a fourfold manner. According to history it is the city of the Jews. According to allegory it is the Church of Christ. According to anagogy it is that heavenly city of God ‘which is the mother of us all’ (Gal. 4:26). According to tropology it is the soul of the human being, which under this name is frequently either reproached or praised by the Lord.