Creed is a Latin word which means “I believe.”
The Creed is sort of the mission statement of the Church; it is a formulation of beliefs that are written down, prayed, studied and read, although by no means is it an exhaustive statement of belief. The chief tenets are written down in the Creed.
The Creed is based on the Divine Deposit of Faith. The last apostle who received public revelation about God and our plan of salvation was Saint John the Beloved Disciple. When he died, the era of public revelation came to an end. The chief teachings of Christ and the apostles form Sacred Tradition. Out of Sacred Tradition comes the written Word (Scriptures). Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition are not in competition; rather, they are complimentary—think of two streams of water coming from the same fountain or source.
The Creed belongs to Sacred Tradition. Over the years it has been added to, not because of any new information, but through a further clarification of theological matters. One of the oldest creeds is the Apostles Creed, a formula of belief in twelve articles. It contains the fundamental doctrines of Christianity. This Creed is a summary of apostolic teachings that were later written down. It is interesting to note that Eastern Christians do not use the Apostles Creed in the Divine Liturgy. In the Western Church, permission has been granted to use the Apostles Creed at Sunday Masses that are centered on children.
The Nicene Creed was a product of the Council of Nicea and the Council of Constantinople of the fourth century. Again, the doctrines are from the time of the apostles, but were further delineated by the Council Fathers. The Nicene Creed was composed in response to a specific heresy, Arianism.
Arianism denies the divinity of Jesus Christ and therefore is anti-Trinitarian. It became so widespread in the fourth century that two councils had to convene in order to combat these false teachings. At the Council of Nicea, bishops from all over the Roman Empire signed the creed, which affirmed the divinity of Christ and condemned Arianism. Since the fourth century, this Creed is the text for the Profession of Faith and is used at Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation Masses.
Athanasian Creed is one of the approved statements of truths of Faith from the fifth century. Though not written by Saint Athanasius, it articulates and mirrors his teachings. It contains a summary of the Church’s teachings on the Blessed Trinity and the Incarnation of Jesus. It differs from the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed because it only deals with those two points.