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Don’t use the creed in worship (part 2)

NiceneMy post discussing the value of not using the Nicene Creed at ordinary Sunday Eucharist received good discussion. Thank you. Some of that discussion was picked up on other sites as well (eg. here, here, and here).

Some people just went off on their own passion about clergy who do not believe in the faith expressed by the Creed, crossing their fingers while saying it, and so forth.

Read my lips: I personally adhere to and teach the faith expressed in the Creed. I have publicly declared my allegiance to it, made formal vows in relation to it, and signed declarations that I continue to adhere to. I teach the Creed, preach on the Creed, catechise about the Creed, and this post is part of a series that is encouraging your own reflection on the Creed.

There are individuals and communities that regularly recite the Creed and do not accept it. And there are individuals and communities that do not recite the Creed and hold to the orthodox faith it expresses.

[Do I really have to add a rider in a culture that is agile in metaphor except when it comes to religion that, yes, there is metaphor in the Creed, and, no, I do not think that God the Father really has a right hand? We haven’t come to that line yet. Sadly I may just have to add that rider.]

I repeat here my primary point: we have restored the community’s celebration of the mighty acts of God into the community’s Eucharistic Prayer where they belong. When they were absent, the community used something that was never intended for that purpose: the Creed. May I repeat what I said on another site to the suggestion, “I wonder what’s wrong with having it done twice?”. To this I responded:

The best thing for banging a nail in is to use a hammer. When the hammer was withdrawn, yes a wrench can be used for that purpose – but it wasn’t what the wrench was designed for – and it does it badly, but the hammer was gone. After centuries of the majority of people using the wrench to bang nails in, with the return of the hammer it is understandable that it will take some time for people to come to realise that actually the hammer is the one to do the nail-banging job. And the wrench can go back to being used for its original purpose. Encouraging people that they can still bang nails in with the wrench as well as the hammer misses, pardon the pun, the point.

I was grateful to receive an email from Fr Donald Schell. He attached a document from Fr Rick Fabian arguing not to use the Nicene Creed regularly in the Sunday Eucharist. I am grateful to have permission to quote from this. I will quote part of it in this post, and part of it in a future post:

Some voices for reciting this Creed at the main Sunday eucharist argue it expresses our faith and identity, even if some terms are obscure to believers, or that it supplies a doxological response to the liturgy of the Word. Those are worthy actions; but both those actions now happen in our growing body of Great Thanksgiving Prayers, where they naturally belong, and where they speak more understandably. Anglican prayer books made this conscious change in concert with Roman Catholic and Protestant liturgists of the Vatican II era, who chose Syrian prayer models retelling the story of salvation, above the Roman Canon model mentioning only Jesus’ Last Supper and death, or Reformation reforms refining sacramental theory. Several modern Great Thanksgiving prayers explicitly quote language from ancient creeds in addition to the so-called “Nicene.” There is no need to do this job twice; and relying on the Great Thanksgiving prayers for this job has advantages I will return to below. [This will be in a future post]

Some opponents of reciting a Creed during the eucharist object that it raises an unfriendly boundary in today’s pluralistic religious marketplace. But pluralism is not the issue, because the problem is older. Ancient councils wrote creeds for harmonizing teaching, never for liturgy. So far from proclaiming an orthodox identity, reciting Creeds at eucharists began as a deliberate schismatic shibboleth to defy orthodoxy. Gregory Dix tells the story in The Shape of the Liturgy (1945). Peter the Fuller, patriarch of Antioch, led the losing Monophysite party at the Council of Chalcedon (451). He claimed earlier councils had affirmed the first council, at Nicaea, whereas Chalcedon had betrayed it. Upon returning home, Peter inserted another recent council’s creed (II Constantinople, 381) into the liturgy just before the sursum corda, so local worshippers must affirm these councils, and not Chalcedon, before they could proceed to consecration and communion. The orthodox majority eventually deposed Peter, but dared not remove his new Eucharistic creed for fear of lending his charges substance. Latins and Anglicans who label the text “Nicene” unwarily grant Peter’s point—whereas the Byzantine rite never does so, but styles it only “the Symbol of the Faith.”

Today despite efforts to set the Creed’s recitation in a positive light, its sectarian feel endures palpably, and unchurched people recognize that feel even if they don’t know how it got there. As Commission Co-chair I often hear from parish clergy whose newcomers object that the “Nicene” Creed makes them uncomfortable—whereas I never hear complaints about the Great Thanksgiving Prayer, which recites the same content more concretely and often at greater length. [There will be a further quote from this text of Fr Rick in a future post]


This is the tenth post in a series on the Creed.

The first is Apostles’ Creed.
The second is I believe in God.
The third is a source of the Apostles’ Creed.
The fourth is I believe in the Father.
The fifth is Handing over the Creed.
The sixth is I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son
The seventh is Don’t use the creed in worship
They eighth is Truly God truly human
The ninth is Conceived by the Holy Spirit


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24 thoughts on “Don’t use the creed in worship (part 2)”

  1. Wow – thanks for shaking me out of the little flour filled bag I was in – eyes opened…

    But God has fingers (Psalm 8) and a palm with which he lays a trap (Psalm 9:17) and with which he discerns (Psalm 78:72) (rivers have palms too 98:8), and a hand, and an arm of course – arm, seed, whatever (98:1), and the specific right hand too (98, 110), and feet with dark turbulence under them (18:10), eyes also (18:25).

    What will I do with you, O metaphor? I will put flesh on you, I will give you the knowledge of good and evil, I will incarnate you.

    Thank you for pointing out that the creeds were political polemics – I do treat them as praise, but now I will not miss them.

  2. Father Robert Lyons

    Fr. Bosco,

    Under what circumstances do you feel the Creed is rightly used in worship? I saw you mention Trinity Sunday and Ordinations for the Nicene Creed, and Baptisms (and, I assume – by extension, confirmations) for the Apostles’ Creed.

    In what other contexts should a Creed be used?

    From an American viewpoint, as a pacifist and an individual who believes statism is inappropriate for Christians, I view the Apostles’ Creed as my ‘Pledge of Allegiance’ and the Te Deum as my ‘National Anthem’, so I tend to default to using the ‘pledge’ daily and the ‘anthem’ at major events (like Sundays)… anyway, I suppose that might be me substituting for my former patriotic ways.



    1. Thanks, Fr Rob. I’m not the sort of person who tends much to the “you should always…”, “you should never…” and am grateful if people are rethinking their use of the Creed. As to your point about the Apostles’ Creed – does it concern you that this is a Western phenomenon? Eastern Christianity does not give it the place we do in the West. Blessings.

  3. Having shared a building and worship with an Anglican seminary, during my time at school, I probably should have noticed… but do Anglicans use the Nicene Creed each Sunday?

    The Lutheran rubric is to use the Apostle’s Creed most Sundays, and the Nicene during the seasons of Christmas and Easter, and festival Sundays.

    To the point of using the creed at all in the liturgy: I see the value of pointing to the Eucharistic Prayer as an important proclamation (kerygmatic) moment in the liturgy and the creed doesn’t need to repeat that. However, I think Lutherans see the function of the creed differently.

    Martin Luther saw the reading of the Gospel and Eucharistic Prayer (specifically the words of institution) as the two parallel high points in the liturgy, and often would be chanted in the same tone reserved only for those two moments. So while Luther subtracted many things from medieval liturgy, his only addition was the “Hymn of the Day”. A hymn between sermon and creed, meant to allow the congregation to respond together to proclamation of the Good News.

    Thus, the Hymn of the Day transitions the liturgy from Word portion to Meal/Response portion, and Hymn of the Day, Creed, Prayers of Intercession and sharing of the Peace become a place for the congregation to respond in faith to the good news heard in the Word. The creed is not so much a proclamation of God’s mighty deeds, but a response in faith of the assembly.

    Also, I suspect that Lutheran catechesis/confirmation instruction (2 years), which includes Martin Luther’s Small Catechism explanation of the creed, helps the majority of worshippers to understand the Apostle’s Creed, and to a lesser extent the Nicene, more deeply.

    All this to say, that if the creed is understood as a secondary (tertiary even) proclamation of God’s mighty deeds, than I agree that is could be regularly omitted as a wrench being used to hammer a nail.

    However, if the creed is viewed as a part of the assembly’s response in faith to the proclamation of the Good News, than keep it as a wrench tightening a bolt.

    1. Thanks, Eric, for your thoughtful points.

      I will talk about the Anglican use of the Nicene Creed in part 3. As in most of the recent West, it has tended to be part of the Sunday Eucharist. In my last post on this I pointed out NZ has departed from this. Roman Catholics recently introduced using the Apostles’ Creed instead.

      I think your suggestion could make things worse – not better. It encourages response to the proclamation of the Good News to be… words. From my perspective the appropriate response to the Good News of God’s mighty acts is… action: taking and receiving bread and wine, and then going to live God’s Good News beyond the building’s walls. Yes, sadly, Christianity is often little more than a mental assent. I do not want to encourage that.


      1. I think that is a good caution Bosco, something that I often unpack with bible study groups and confirmands. I wouldn’t want the creed to be a spoken intellectual assent to the Good News. More broadly, faith is not intellectual assent, but a living relationship with Christ.

        However, I don’t think I can understate the Lutheran ‘Hymn of the Day’s role in making the response aspect more than intellectual assent. In my experience it is often the most enthusiastically sung hymn in worship, and leads the assembly into a broader response of Singing, Speaking, Praying (prayers of intercession for the church, world, and in need), reconciliation with one’s neighbour (sharing the peace), being fed and becoming bread for the world (meal).

        So, I think I agree with your reply?!?

    2. Mark Christianson

      Perhaps its because most Lutheran parishes in the United States often recite the Apostle’s Creed (when they recite the creed outside of a baptism) and some rarely if ever recite the Nicene Creed, this Lutheran has long associated either creed with baptism. It’s current placement in Lutheran liturgy after the sermon and hymn of the day and before the prayers, where many congregations also place baptism, could be made sense of as a remembrance of and return to baptism. It seems to function in that way to me, and so I tend to miss it when it is omitted from the liturgy. I’ve never understood it as response to the proclamation of the word. The hymn of the day has been the immediate response in the context of worship, and the full response to the whole of our Eucharistic worship seems to be in fulfilling the words of the dismissal “Go in peace, serve the Lord.”

  4. Its always special to pronounce the creed. Its not often pronounced where i worship, thus making it all the more special.

  5. Barry Smithson

    I understood that the creed was said after the homily to correct any wrong teaching!
    Barry Smithson.

    1. Brilliant, Barry! Shall I laugh or weep?

      I have a similar feeling when communities cut lessons out of the Sunday lectionary of three and the psalm, and then have a long, uninspiring sermon. At least I know the readings would have been inspired!


      1. My homiletics professor used to say that after some sermons it was good to have the chance to preface the creed mentally with the word, “Nevertheless!”

        In the BCP, of course, the Nicene Creed comes *before* the homily, as if to threaten the preacher. (And the Athanasian Creed comes up twelve times a year at Mattins, to threaten the congregation! I share J. H. Newman’s love of that beautiful string of paradoxes.)

        For what it’s worth, my sense is that the Apostles’ Creed is an essential structural element of BCP Mattins and Evensong. In modern liturgical scholarly thought, Morning and Evening Prayer are mini-re-initiations. In the Eastern tradition (as in the Late Antique “cathedral” or “people’s” Office), praise of Christ in the rising sun (MP) and the acknowledgement of Christ as the light shining in the darkness (EP) are seen as a renewal of our “illumination” or “enlightenment” in baptism (Heb. 6:4). The BCP offices make no reference to the time of day until the closing Collects. In this structure, the “baptismal” function is discharged by recitation of the Roman baptismal creed.

  6. It is essential the Creed be recited at every Eucharist. I remember being told of a couple who had to attend their child’s funeral service and to whom it meant a lot to affirm their faith even in times of tragedy.

    1. Thanks, Thomas. It is unusual to have someone advocate that the Creed is essential to a weekday or home Eucharist. In your example of a funeral Eucharist, I think it is very important to accede to that request. Blessings.

  7. I worship in a “Contemporvant” church, and we have neither the creed nor the Great Thanksgiving as part of our regular service. I miss the proclamation of faith.

    I’m curious – in the Great Thanksgiving prayer, is the content that would otherwise be in the creed recited by the congregation, or is it spoken to them by the presider?

    1. That’s a very important point, Claudia! It is a prayer (so not spoken to the congregation, to pick up your words) addressed to God by the presider, proclaimed on behalf of the whole gathered community. [In fact we have all agreed together that this is what our prayer will be – but that’s another story]. The prayer commences by the community “giving permission” to the presider to proclaim this prayer in their name. Picture, in your contemporvant service, the pastor asking people to pray, praying a prayer aloud, the people are joining in the points of the prayer in their hearts, and affirming it during it with acclamations and at the end with a hearty “Amen!” Part of the issue is that many IMO are not being formed to understand that this is exactly what we are doing in the Great Thanksgiving. They experience the Creed as the people’s thing, and the Great Thanksgiving as the priest’s. I think you understand I am deeply concerned about that. I hope this makes some sense. Blessings.

  8. Bosco, in your opinion, HOW should creeds ( including the Lord’s Prayer ) be spoken?

    In my recent experience they are often interjected into a service which otherwise has no relationship to the liturgical calendar then chanted at break-neck speed…

    When I’ve asked pastors why so rushed I was told we only have one hour to pack everything in!

    Am I just being pedantic to want to pray more slowly, thoughtfully, carefully?

    Creeds are still prayers, aren’t they?

    1. A fascinating thought, thanks, Tracy. I must say rushing, say, the Lord’s Prayer, is not my experience. Nor is limiting the service within 60 minutes. And I am struggling to indicate (in)appropriate speed by blog 🙂 Maybe I need to time our said praying speed [I think preaching speed is about 100 words per minute, but I’ve never thought to time praying speed]. Singing, surely, slows to normal hymns speed? And then there’s the monastic pace of breathing between each line. Blessings.

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