Understanding The Apostles Creed

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The Apostles Creed is a document of the early Church outlining core Christian beliefs. To a modern ear some of the language and symbols can sound strange, even quaint and outdated, a relic of a more naïve mythic the-old-bible-chuck-marshallpast. As a recent 'convert' to Christianity, I must admit that it once sounded that way to me too. However, times change, and after carefully reading several theologians and Christian contemplatives on what the deeper meaning and teachings of the Creed are, I’ve gladly come to know it as a very rich spiritual document.

Here’s my interpretation of the Apostles Creed, based on those readings and my class work this semester at the Vancouver School of Theology. I want to make special mention of Brother David Steindl-Rast and his 2010 book Deeper Than Words: Living the Apostles Creed. I doubt the following could've been written without that text and the kind of life that led to the depth and wisdom found there.

Before I begin my interpretation, here's the Creed in full:


The Apostles Creed

I believe in God,

the Father Almighty,

the Creator of heaven and earth,


and in Jesus Christ

God’s only Son

our Lord:


Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,

born of the Virgin Mary

suffered under Pontius Pilate,


was crucified,


and was buried,

He descended into hell.


The third day He rose again from the dead.

He ascended into heaven

and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty,

thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.


I believe in the Holy Spirit,


the holy catholic church,

the communion of saints,

the forgiveness of sins,

the resurrection of the body,

and life everlasting.




I believe in God the Father Almighty. The creed starts by saying I believe, and we must first understand what is meant by this word believe. It doesn’t mean I believe in the modern rational sense, whereby we hold a proposition to be true or false with our minds. This belief is a heart based one; it’s a surrender into 1starclusterunconditional trust with a power greater than ourselves. It’s more like saying “I do” in marriage, it’s a symbol of our trust in, and relationship with, God. God represents here the Source of all, the mystery from which we came, the longing in our hearts. That God is our Father we know from Jesus who affectionately referred to his Abba (father), the Source and origin of his true identity (1). God’s almightiness is not an ‘all-powerfulness’ as we might think; God, our Father, is almighty in his ability to be an unending and unchanging source of love. No matter how much we’re suffering, that love is always embracing us.

the Creator of heaven and earth. To call God the Creator is to say that all that exists- heaven and earth- emanates out of this loving source we call the Father. God is “the Origin behind which nothing more can be sought” (2). And as the Origin is ultimately unwavering love, it means creation is fundamentally holy. “In God Hagiasophia-christwe live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:27-28).

and in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord. Christians believe in Jesus Christ as one in whom the Father was fully present. If God as love were only simply One, then his love would only be self-love. But the triune God pours out his love, and Jesus Christ fully opened himself in surrender to that love, and in so doing became the Divine in human form. The Hebrew phrase ‘Son of God’ refers “to likeness, not descent” (3). Thus Jesus is someone in whom people came to encounter the likeness of the Divine; in Jesus God had become flesh. To call Jesus Lord is to say that he has ultimate authority. And the authority he has, and to which we put our faith, is the authority of the Love that he embodied in this world. This lordship of love, peace and justice will inevitably clash with other forms of dominant power and authority in the world. This clash is a distinct danger when we become disciples of love, as we shall see.

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary. The Eternal Christ in Jesus of Nazareth was born of the Divine spark that flows through all. Jesus, thest._mary Son, “permits in full consciousness and with full consent to the divine plan for redemption, [for] himself to be used as the Father wishes” (4). By surrendering and becoming receptive to his Source, his Abba, God as Holy Spirit breathed a new kind of life into our Lord Jesus Christ. That he was born of the Virgin Mary is to signal that something new and important has taken place. We’ve entered into a new era, a new cosmos, with the birth of Christ. Also, with the Annunciation scene in Luke, Mary saying yes to housing the Spirit within her doubles up on the theme of our becoming a human receptacle for the Holy Spirit. A new era of Divine-human relations has begun.

suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. The mention of suffering under Pontius Pilate is not simply to point out a historical fact. It’s to highlight that Jesus’ radical path of love and justice will bring the wrath of those in positions of power and domination in our world. This is the risk of love (5). Jesus also suffered the pains and afflictions of the world, unto the cross. In faithfulness to God, he bore witness to the immense suffering in the world, with an open heart overflowing with the Divine love. Thejesus_on_the_cross mention that he was crucified for this is also more than historical. Its depth is discovered if we remember that it’s God who has become flesh in the Son. Thus, even in the midst of this horrific event, brought on by Jesus’ ministry of love, God is willfully present. God is unwaveringly present with all those who suffer. To emphasize that Jesus “died and was buried” is to indicate that a real, fully human body actually died and was lowered into the ground. It’s also to emphasize that Jesus was eradicated by the power structures he chose to stand up to, once again stressing the dangerous nature of walking this path of God. (*)

He descended into hell. The third day He arose again from the dead. To mention that he descended into hell is again to emphasize that he was truly dead. Furthermore, Jesus Christ died for the work of Divine love, and thus his literal, sacrificial death becomes a source of spirit and life to the living. The fact that he actually died and descended into the underworld- Hades or the Hebrew Sheol- also sets up the next statement regarding his resurrection. Not even the prison bars of hell could contain the One in whom the Holy had become flesh; Jesus is even depicted as preaching the good news to the dead (1 Peter 3:19). The Resurrection of Jesus indicates not that he has come back to life, a la Lazarus, but that he still lives, is still a force in the universe. Moreover, it shows that God has vindicated Jesus’ life and ministry by “raising him up” in this way. The death and resurrection of Jesus also works on another level, as an example of how we ourselves can be saved. For us fellow mortals “who have fallen captive to decay because of having turned away from God, [we] are presented, through the calling back of the One into eternal life, with the hope, indeed, the certainty, of following after him (1 Cor 15: 21-22)” (6). 

He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. To say that Jesus ascended to heaven is to indicate that he is once again in union with his Source, he has “returned to the starting point of his mission” (7). The Bible says that Christ, risen and with God, has become “hidden…in God” (Colossians 3:3). Yet his power to influence the world and move in our hearts remains, and “if we really participate in giotto_ascension_2Christ’s resurrection, we even now rise again in newness of life to serve God and live in holiness, according to his will” (8). To say that he sits at the right hand of the Father is an image that Jesus is the most exalted one; God has divinely sanctioned him. It’s also meant to indicate the transfiguration of a human life into one that fully participates in the Father’s majesty and glory. And when it makes a point of calling the Father “Almighty”, it’s talking about the almighty power of love that is God’s nature (John 4:8).

thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. This passage of the Creed can be interpreted in a couple of different ways, one more literal and one more symbolic. The more literal interpretation is that Jesus Christ will judge the living and the dead when he returns for the Second Coming. However, a more symbolic reading suggests that “on the deepest level…only those whose lives are attuned to divine justice are truly alive; the others are more dead than living” (9). To awaken from the dead, is to awaken to a life lived in Christ and the Lord who loves us.

I believe in the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God alive within the world. In both the Old and New Testaments we get the same idea “of God’s Spirit pervading, brooding over everything, exercising divine influence over the whole of created beings” (10). The Holy Spirit is the life-breath energy within us that- if contacted and holy_spirit2surrendered to- lets us commune with Thy Will. As Karl Barth writes, “God’s mercies dwell first in God, and not in our hearts. But they change place: they pass from God into us. Here is the new creature, here is the revelation of man” (11). If we open to this life force within we will be directed toward acts of love, justice and service for others; the Holy Spirit animates us to be God’s verbs in the creation of the Kingdom of Heaven.

I believe in the holy catholic church, the communion of saints. The Church is where those who are inspired by the Holy Spirit and are faithful to God come together in sacred community. The Church is ‘catholic’ because it is all-embracing; it’s not “an enclave within a profane godless world, but rather the movement, initiated by God, to communicate perfect salvation to all nations” (12) It is ‘holy’ when it is infused and sanctified by the Holy Spirit. The early Church called all of its members “saints”; they were “made holy by belonging to a holy community in the Holy Spirit” (13). There is also reference here to the ultimate form of Christian communion, the Eucharist. In Holy Communion we share in the body of Christ, just as in a Church community we share a life with one another.

the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. To be in sin is to be in a state of alienation, it’s to be separated from our true nature in God. To believe in the forgiveness of sins is to believe that, just like the father of the prodigal son, God will always be there to embrace us when we return. God’s love always flows into our heart; if we open to that love, and become that love, we are ‘forgiven’. We’ll havejesus2 come home out of exile and into reconciliation and healing. The resurrection of the body refers to the resurrection and sanctification of all of creation by God. Because Jesus allowed himself to be a house for the Holy Spirit, his death was not final. He still lives in us and in the Church. With the coming reign of God, “the materiality of nature will not dissipate into Spirit but rather will take on a new form beyond the reach of decay” (14). The resurrection of the body speaks to the coming transformation of all of creation. Life everlasting does not refer to a realm of eternal life once we are dead, but rather to a faith in the eternal source of life that is Spirit. It does not speak of the afterlife, but of a life “lived in fullness” here on this Earth (John 10:10). Access to eternal life is not found in some other dimension, but is found when we surrender ourselves to the “great Now that dissolves time”, and to our Father who gives of himself eternally (15). 

Amen. The root meaning of the word Amen is “faithfulness and reliability”. Thus the last word of the Creed circles around and creates a unity with the first- I believe. I have faith in the trustworthiness of God. Amen.




(*) It's worth noting that one of the things the Creed misses or leaves out is Jesus' ministry, his work and teachings in the world. Instead it moves straight from birth to death. The Liberation Theologians made a substantial point of this omission, because in their view it leaves out the most radical and powerful components of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, which has considerable (political) relevance for the poorliberation_theology and marginalized today, as well as how we understand what discipleship entails.

“The only way to get to know Jesus is to follow after him in one’s own life; to try to identify oneself with his own historical concerns; and to try to fashion his kingdom in our midst. In other words, only through Christian praxis is it possible for us to draw close to Jesus. Following Jesus is the precondition for knowing Jesus”. Sobrino, Jon. Christology at the Crossroads: A Latin American Approach. New York, Orbis Books, 1978. p.xiii.

And: “To enter into society with the true God is to risk a costly adventure. It is to take the risks that he has taken, even death. It is to accept the proposition of not simply living alone, for yourself, but rather of transforming the world through love and fire”. Bonino, Jose Miguez. Room to Be People: An Interpretation of the Message of the Bible for Today’s World. Philadelphia, Fortress Press, 1979. p.21

 (1) "Jesus’ favorite way of expressing his faith was by calling God “Abba”, a term of endearment that expresses a child’s trust in a father’s love…Calling God the Father implies that we can experience the Ulimate Source of all as personally and caringly related to us”. Steindl-Rast, Brother David. Deeper Than Words: Living the Apostles Creed. New York: Image Books, 2010. p.31-32.

(2) Urs von Balthasar, Hans. Credo: Meditations on the Apostles Creed. New York, Crossroads, 1990. p.32.

Also: “Heaven in this clause of the Creed does not refer to a place of eternal bliss, but rather to the fountainhead of God’s creative action, which is the word’s original meaning in the Hebrew Bible”. Steindl-Rast, Brother David. Deeper Than Words: Living the Apostles Creed. New York: Image Books, 2010. p.42.

(3) Ibid, p.54.

(4) Urs von Balthasar, Hans. Credo: Meditations on the Apostles Creed. New York, Crossroads, 1990. p.45.

(5) "This passage of the Creed forms a unit with the two preceding ones. Together they spell out what life as God’s children demands from us: to be led by God’s Holy Spirit, to give birth to Christ in our world, and to bear the terrifying yet glorious consequences”. Steindl-Rast, Brother David. Deeper Than Words: Living the Apostles Creed. New York: Image Books, 2010. p.42

(6)Urs von Balthasar, Hans. Credo: Meditations on the Apostles Creed. New York, Crossroads, 1990. p.59. Also: “The essential message of Christ’s Resurrection is that the life, work, and message of Jesus, although rejected by the authorities who executed him, were approved by God”. Steindl-Rast, Brother David. Deeper Than Words: Living the Apostles Creed. New York: Image Books, 2010. p.109.




(7) Urs von Balthasar, Hans. Credo: Meditations on the Apostles Creed. New York, Crossroads, 1990. p.59.

(8) Barth, Karl. The Faith of the Church: A Commentary on the Apostles Creed. New York, Living Age Books, 1958. p.102.

(9) Steindl-Rast, Brother David. Deeper Than Words: Living the Apostles Creed. New York: Image Books, 2010. p.128.

(10) Simmons, A.H. But This I Can Believe. Great Britian, Faith Press, 1968. p.60.

(11) Barth, Karl. The Faith of the Church: A Commentary on the Apostles Creed. New York, Living Age Books, 1958. p.124.

(12) Urs von Balthasar, Hans. Credo: Meditations on the Apostles Creed. New York, Crossroads, 1990. p.84.

(13) Steindl-Rast, Brother David. Deeper Than Words: Living the Apostles Creed. New York: Image Books, 2010. p.144.

(14) Urs von Balthasar, Hans. Credo: Meditations on the Apostles Creed. New York, Crossroads, 1990. p.84

(15) Steindl-Rast, Brother David. Deeper Than Words: Living the Apostles Creed. New York: Image Books, 2010. p.163

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  • Comment Link Gail Hochachka Tuesday, 31 January 2012 06:33 posted by Gail Hochachka

    I just linked your article here on another facebook discussion some of us were having on the history-centrism that some say the Abrahamic faiths tend to orient from. I really like how you spoke to this here (particularly under the Pontius Pilate line above). The article that was being discussed on facebook was contrasting the Abrahamic traditions tendency toward history-centrism, where certain historical facts need to be agreed to and believed for authentic practice and salvation, compared with the Dharmic traditions that present an a-historical path of self-realization with little to no mention of the historical figures or events and a primary focus on practice. http://www.stateofformation.org/2012/01/guest-post-part-three-dharma-bypasses-%E2%80%98history-centrism%E2%80%99/ I really appreciate reading you re-interpret these texts like the Creed from deeper, wider worldviews, lifting them from their historical confines into their mystical meaning. And, as you can imagine from my previous posts, I wish this was a more widespread practice in other churches. One day, maybe. It will be amazing to see where you take this over a lifetime. I look forward to it. Deep bows to you and to Chris for what you are manifesting.


  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Thursday, 02 February 2012 00:52 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    thanks for the generous comments Gail, glad to hear it resonated with you.

    I agree that this perspective should be more widespread in churches. There are many figures pushing for this in a variety of Christian quarters, so something is in the air for sure. I was introduced to the work of the mystic/theologian/activist Dorothy Soelle this semester, who wrote this in her book 'The Silent Cry- Mysticism and Resistance':

    "Karl Rahner's belief that Christianity of the 3rd millennium will be mystical or not at all has, in the meantime, become an insight of ecotheology as well...An individualistically understood "salvation of the soul" that does not liberate creation can no longer be taken seriously".

    The Liberation Theologians, as you know well from your work in Central America, have really picked up the radical path of Jesus (and his mystical union) and what it asks of discipleship in the world. The interesting thing in my likely future context will be how to relay this message to fairly comfortable middle class (white) congregations, esp. ones who've been practicing a different (modern) form for a while now. Might be a tough sell, but we'll see what happens I guess. :)

    I'm looking forward to where all this goes too; however, the only thing to do (or practice) is to open and empty and receive what's next to be done, so I haven't the foggiest what the future holds. But thanks for taking the time to let me know that this process of trust is bearing a bit a fruit. Here's to the future full of promise that awaits us all, thanks Gail.

  • Comment Link Gail Hochachka Friday, 03 February 2012 07:06 posted by Gail Hochachka


    Love that quote by Soelle! Very awesome. May it be so.

    And I really appreciate your comment here. I too don't have the foggiest idea of the future either. But, I do trust and intuit that you'll find a way to lead a radically unified, mystical path for your congregations, here amidst the middle class comfort, or anywhere. Why? Because you seem to truly know that our hearts can hold more.

  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Sunday, 05 February 2012 18:03 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    I added a short post this past week that was intended to act as a bit of a corollary to this one here. Some resources for entering a very dynamic Christian conversation at the beginning of the 21st, and a particular vision of post-postmodern Christianity by the Anglican bishop and scholar N.T. Wright.


    Also just came across this article about a revival in Europe of Liberation Theology. Quite a different politics coming out of this piece than what we normally get crowding our televisions and news.

    "The same can be seen in the Roman Empire. Many Judeans took up arms against the occupation forces, others tried to politically bargain; others engaged in passive resistance. One particular strategy was used by the Jesus movement. Building on the book of Daniel -- where in chapter seven the seer had envisaged the kingdom of God with a human face, overcoming the empires, characterized as wild beasts -- Jesus proclaimed and practiced God's coming kingdom as already happening among people. He liberated people from the demons of the oppressive powers of Rome and Mammon, the God of accumulating wealth, and built with them small cells living according to the life-giving Torah of solidarity. Thus he created leaven to penetrate the whole people, followed later by the apostle Paul building new communities of Jews and gentiles, living peacefully together in the whole oikumene of the Roman Empire. So in the midst of an absolutely exploitative and oppressive system, the realistic policy is to resist and develop concrete alternatives among the people".


    There's also a robust movement in what's called Black Theology. This article gets pretty theologically dense after a bit, but it gives a good flavor of the nature and extent of this movement/growing lineage.


  • Comment Link Vanessa D. Fisher Thursday, 09 February 2012 16:50 posted by Vanessa D. Fisher

    Hey Trevor,

    Just wanted to thank you for this piece. I love how you are digging into this path and bringing your own light to it. And I look forward to reading through the linked resources on your recent comments as well, and also just to following your path as you progress through this journey...

    As someone whose mother was a Catholic nun, I've been very resistant to Christianity, and had a very difficult time finding my way in it.

    That said, some of my deepest experiences have come from reading the female Catholic mystics like Saint Teresa of Avila, or Catherine of Sienna. The passion, humility, service and beauty is unparalleled in other literature I've read--for me personally anyways. I feel like there is some deep resonance I have with the Christian tradition, but it has been very hard to find my way back into it.

    Anyways, I've started looking more into the Christian path for many reasons lately--it seems to be very up in my life. So, very grateful for the resources at Beams. Keep up the great work.

  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Saturday, 11 February 2012 23:48 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    Vanessa, thanks, I appreciate you taking the time to offer that feedback, glad this resonated.

    Just a few thoughts to what you've written above. I know what you mean about the resonance with the Christian tradition. I grew up in a secular family and worshiped at the altar of beer and sports in my teens. When my spiritual life opened up in my early twenties I went toward the East, toward Buddhism and Taoism and the rest of it, because I despised organized religions such as Christianity, with its violent history and its bunk social policies (esp. from the religious right in the US, and the Vatican).

    Yet, when I traveled in Europe in that same period of my twenties, I used to love going into the churches. I'd sit in there for an hour by myself, just take it in. Something felt so peaceful and holy and familiar, I loved it. But screw Christianity and it's history, I want none of it!!

    Over these past few years in Bruce Sanguin's church/congregation, that feeling of a deep sense of familiarity has only increased. In many ways, as strange as it may sound, I've felt like I've come home. One of my theories is that it's largely cultural. Christianity is way more in our Western DNA then we think. It's the air we breathe in so many ways. I continue to be blown away by how many song lyrics and album titles come from the Bible! And myths, and sayings, and wisdom, etcetera.

    So part of it might just be that. But there might be something deeper too. My sense is- and this largely pure guttural intuition, but also informed through my studies and elsewhere- that there's a beautiful deep living heart of the Christian tradition that's ready for rebirth, that's wanting to be reborn. It's mystical, it's political, and it's based in love- love of others, love of God, and love of creation. I can get behind that. :) And I've somehow been called to take part in all this, which at times seems a tad absurd, but we'll see where it all goes.

    I really resonate with your words around the Christian mystics. Some other female heavyweights of the 20th century you might enjoy (and are probably already familiar with)are Simone Weil, Dorothy Day, and Dorothy Soelle. I think these courageous humans, and the lives they led, are in many ways a call from our collective future. They've got me in their tractor beam anyway, as much as I still cling to every passing rock as I'm pulled forward. :) thanks again for the words.

  • Comment Link Vanessa D. Fisher Sunday, 12 February 2012 15:08 posted by Vanessa D. Fisher

    I definitely agree, Trev. I think the cultural piece is huge, and that Christianity is like a kind of DNA code in the culture itself. In one form or another we must reconcile or wrestle with it :)

    Interesting to hear your experience in Europe, as part of my returning to look at Christianity has been prompted my move to Russia in April and preparing to visit all the fantastic old Russian Orthodox Cathedrals.

    I've heard of Simone Weil, but I'm not aware of the other mystics you mentioned, so thanks for bringing them to my attention. I think I will make up a stack of Catholic mystics to read while in Russia :)

    Great to hear your own words of desire for Christianity, and its possible re-birth. I'd most definitely welcome it with open arms... as long as it is a Christianity big enough to include our worshiping at the alter of beer and sports too :)

  • Comment Link Brian McConnell Friday, 24 February 2012 21:42 posted by Brian McConnell

    "I've recently discovered a newly introduced magazine describing itself as an "experiment in collective intelligence" and whose content is directed towards those like myself, supposedly, possessing 'hungry brains and thirsty souls'." from "Transforming Kingdom Architecture" at TransFORM


    My apologies for not posting a link to this blog saying nice things about Beams and Struts at TransFORM, sooner. Similarly, I'd like to extend a special 'thank you' to Trevor for originating the piece inspiring my own.

  • Comment Link Brian McConnell Saturday, 25 February 2012 19:58 posted by Brian McConnell

    oops . . . just realized I'd posted the wrong link. My bad, sorry. Here's the correct one:


  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Monday, 27 February 2012 21:10 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    thanks for passing along these reflections Brian, and thanks for the words of support/encouragement found in them. I look forward to future collaborations and synergies and learning more about the TransFORM network. thanks again, great to be in contact!

  • Comment Link Mary Williams Friday, 04 May 2012 09:43 posted by Mary Williams

    Wonderful to read all of this -- the original reflection and the responses and dialogue. I stumblingly returned to Christianity (Catholicism) in the late 1990s after two decades of rejecting it-- beckoned back by its mystics, the beauty of its churches, its rich wisdom, its justice-makers and contemplatives-in-action. Most of my college-educated friends found my metanoia to be ... somewhat crazy and strange. So I'm grateful to come across those with similar experiences here. You are wonderful company. Thank you.

  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Tuesday, 08 May 2012 19:55 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    Mary, thanks for the comment, nice to hear from you. I love this line:

    "beckoned back by its mystics, the beauty of its churches, its rich wisdom, its justice-makers and contemplatives-in-action". I'm not 'coming back', but I very much resonate with that, that's the goods right there.

    As I said above, I'm a member of Bruce Sanguin's congregation. He just published an interesting post today about trends he see's in who's joining his church and why.


    Also, just for posterity's sake, this post was re-posted by Bruce at his sight If Darwin Prayed, and given that Bruce's audience is (generally speaking) comprised of folks with more modern to postmodernist sensibilities, it was interesting to see how this post got a very different response than the one here at Beams. Things started off a little tense, but transformed a bit from there. If anyone is interested they can view that comment thread here:


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