In our Catholic faith, we have two formal creeds, the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed. However, having two creeds does not mean we profess two different faiths. The two creeds are very similar in their content (you can see them side by side at https://www.usccb.org/sites/default/files/flipbooks/catechism/50/).
The Apostles’ Creed is the older of the two creeds, tracing its origins back to the early church. As one was baptized, they were asked a series of questions. Their answers expressed their belief as Christians. Even today, we use this question form for baptisms. We also use it when we renew our baptismal promises at Easter and Confirmation (see “Keeping Our Baptismal Promises”).
The questions that were asked in the apostolic time of the Church developed into what we call the Apostles’ Creed today. It is a basic summary of our faith. It can be used at Mass and is said in the Rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet.
One might ask why we call it a creed. Both creeds start with the words, “I believe.” In Latin, this is “credo”, from which we get the word “creed.” Our creeds are basic summaries of our faith. As such, they are also called “Professions of Faith” (in saying the creeds, we profess what we believe) and “Symbols of Faith” (see the Catechism of the Church paragraphs 185-197).
If the Apostles’ Creed dates back to the early church and is a summary of our faith, why do we have a second Creed, the Nicene Creed (which is commonly used at Mass on Sundays and Holy Days)? The Nicene Creed is longer. Was something missing in the Apostles’ Creed?
It was not that something was missing. Each creed developed in response to the issues facing the Church at the time of their writing. As such, while the Apostles’ Creed is shorter, it includes specific mention that Jesus descended into Hell and explicitly refers to the Communion of Saints, neither of which is explicitly mentioned in the Nicene Creed. The Church had not stopped believing in these two teachings. In fact, they were probably taken for granted, resulting in them not being included.
The Nicene Creed developed in the fourth century in response to heresies and questions of the time. Central to these were questions about Jesus. Was He human, divine, or both? How did Jesus relate to the Father and the Holy Spirit?
These questions were so important that councils were convened. In the development of the Nicene Creed, the first of the two key councils was the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. (hence the name Nicene Creed). The second was the Council of Constantinople in 381 A.D., from which the Nicene Creed is sometimes called the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed.
Both of these creeds are good and important summaries of our faith. That is why we continue to use both.
If you would like to learn more about the faith we profess in the creeds, you can see my five-part presentation series, We Profess, We Believe at http://www.renewaloffaith.org/the-creed.html (recorded in 2015).