Augustine’s Teaching on the Apostles’ Creed (Part One)
Augustine provides one of the best expositions on the Apostles’ Creed in the early Church. The following comments on the Creed are taken from Augustine’s “On Faith and the Creed” and “A Sermon to Catechumens on the Creed.” While Augustine’s “Enchiridion” is also an excellent exposition of the Creed, it also contains many of Augustine’s controversial and disputed points of belief – predestination, the elect are the exact number needed to replenish the angels who fell with Lucifer, etc. As such, comments from the Enchiridion are not included here.
(1) The Apostles’ Creed
A. The Apostles’ Creed is a concise summary of biblical teaching.
“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 [compilation] 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…”
B. The Apostle’s Creed enables every believer to state what they believe.
“For this is the Creed which you are to rehearse and to repeat in answer. These words which you 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.”
(2) I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
A. What God omnipotent can’t do.
“God is Almighty, and yet, though Almighty, He cannot die, cannot be deceived, cannot lie; and, as the Apostle says, "cannot deny Himself." How many things that He cannot do, and yet is Almighty! yea therefore is Almighty, because He cannot do these things. For if He could die, He were not Almighty; if to lie, if to be deceived, if to do unjustly, were possible for Him, He were not Almighty: because if this were in Him, He should not be worthy to be Almighty. To our Almighty Father, it is quite impossible to sin.
B. What God omnipotent can do.
“He does whatsoever He will: that is Omnipotence. He does whatsoever He rightly will, whatsoever He justly will: but whatsoever is evil to do, He wills not.”
(3) …the Creator of heaven and earth, …
A. God is the creator of all that exists.
“For, granting that He is almighty, there cannot exist anything of which He should not be the Creator. For although He made something out of something, as man out of clay, nevertheless He certainly did not make any object out of anything which He Himself had not made; for the earth from which the clay comes He had made out of nothing.”
B. Of all things visible and invisible.
“It was He Who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, invisible and visible. Invisible such as are in heaven, thrones, dominions, principalities, powers, archangels, angels: all, if we shall live aright, our fellow-citizens. He made in heaven the things visible; the sun, the moon, the stars. With its terrestrial animals He adorned the earth, filled the air with things that fly, the land with them that walk and creep, the sea with them that swim: all He filled with their own proper creatures.”
C. God’s goodness is the basis of creation.
“…by whose goodness it is that everything exists,—not only every object which is already formed, but also every object which is formable.”
D. Creation Ex Nihilo
“He Himself is One, who communicates to everything its possibilities, not only that it be beautiful actually, but also that it be capable of being beautiful. For which reason we do most right to believe that God made all things of nothing.”
(4) …and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:
A. Jesus Christ as the Son of God is of the same nature as the Father. As such, Jesus Christ is God.
“When you hear of the Only Son of God, acknowledge Him God. For it could not be that God's Only Son should not be God. What He is, the same did He beget, though He is not that Person Whom He begot. If He be truly Son, He is that which the Father is; if He be not that which the Father is, He is not truly Son.”
B. However, Jesus Christ is not the same Person as the Father.
“Wherefore The Only-Begotten Son of God was neither made by the Father; for, according to the word of an evangelist, "all things were made by Him:" nor begotten instantaneously; since God, who is eternally wise, has with Himself His eternal Wisdom: nor unequal with the Father, that is to say, in anything less than He; for an apostle also speaks in this wise, "Who, although He was constituted in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God." By this catholic faith, therefore, those are excluded, on the one hand, who affirm that the Son is the same [Person] as the Father; for [it is clear that] this Word could not possibly be with God, were it not with God the Father, and [it is just as evident that] He who is alone is equal to no one. And, on the other hand, those are equally excluded who affirm that the Son is a creature, although not such an one as the rest of the creatures are. For however great they declare the creature to be, if it is a creature, it has been fashioned and made.”
C. Jesus Christ is equal to the Father.
“Do not imagine an Almighty Father and a not Almighty Son …Almighty is the Father, Almighty the Son. If Almighty begat not Almighty, He begat not very Son. For what say we, brethren, if the Father being greater begat a Son less than He? What said I, begat? Man engenders, being greater, a son being less: it is true: but that is because the one grows old, the other grows up, and by very growing attains to the form of his father. The Son of God, if He grows not because neither can God wax old, was begotten perfect. And being begotten perfect, if He grows not, and remained not less, He is equal.”
“The Son is Almighty, in doing all things that He wills to do.”
“Hath the Father anything that the Son has not?”
(5) …Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary…
A. The eternal Son of God assumed human nature in order to save us.
“But this Only Son of God, the Father Almighty, let us see what He did for us, what He suffered for us. "Born of the Holy Ghost and of the Virgin Mary." He, so great God, equal with the Father, born of the Holy Ghost and of the Virgin Mary, born lowly, that thereby He might heal the proud. Man exalted himself and fell; God humbled Himself and raised him up. Christ's lowliness, what is it? God has stretched out an hand to man laid low. We fell, He descended: we lay low, He stooped. Let us lay hold and rise, that we fall not into punishment. So then His stooping to us is this, "Born of the Holy Ghost and of the Virgin Mary." His very Nativity too as man, it is lowly, and it is lofty. Whence lowly? That as man He was born of men. Whence lofty? That He was born of a virgin. A virgin conceived, a virgin bore, and after the birth was a virgin still.”
“But whereas, in a temporal dispensation, as I have said, with a view to our salvation and restoration, and with the goodness of God acting therein, our changeable nature has been assumed by that unchangeable Wisdom of God, we add the faith in temporal things which have been done with salutary effect on our behalf, believing in that Son of God Who Was Born Through the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary. For by the gift of God, that is, by the Holy Spirit, there was granted to us so great humility on the part of so great a God, that He deemed it worthy of Him to assume the entire nature of man (totum hominem) in the womb of the Virgin, inhabiting the material body so that it sustained no detriment (integrum), and leaving it without detriment.”
B. The entire nature of humanity was assumed by Christ – body, soul, and spirit. He assumed our full nature in order to heal our full nature. “The unassumed is unhealed.”
“But if any one shall have grasped the catholic faith, so as to believe that the entire nature of man was assumed by the Word of God, that is to say, body, soul, and spirit, he has sufficient defense against those parties. For surely, since that assumption was effected in behalf of our salvation, one must be on his guard lest, as he believes that there is something belonging to our nature which sustains no relation to that assumption, this something may fail also to sustain any relation to the salvation.”
C. Both human sexes are honored in the incarnation – woman, because a woman bore Christ Jesus; man, because Jesus was male.
“…our Lord Jesus Christ had in Mary a mother upon earth; while that dispensation has honored both sexes, at once the male and the female, and has made it plain that not only that sex which He assumed pertains to God's care, but also that sex by which He did assume this other, in that He bore [the nature of] the man (virum gerendo), [and] in that He was born of the woman.”
D. The eternal Son of God not defiled by assuming human nature.
“Those, therefore, who entertain this opinion ought to ponder the fact that the rays of this sun, which indeed they do not praise as a creature of God, but adore as God, are diffused all the world over, through the noisomenesses of sewers and every kind of horrible thing, and that they operate in these according to their nature, and yet never become debased by any defilement thence contracted, albeit that the visible light is by nature in closer conjunction with visible pollutions. How much less, therefore, could the Word of God, who is neither corporeal nor visible, sustain defilement from the female body, wherein He assumed human flesh together with soul and spirit, through the incoming of which the majesty of the Word dwells in a less immediate conjunction with the frailty of a human body! Hence it is manifest that the Word of God could in no way have been defiled by a human body, by which even the human soul is not defiled. For not when it rules the body and quickens it, but only when it lusts after the mortal good things thereof, is the soul defiled by the body.”