The Apostles' Creed: and its Early Christian Context

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9780567001757: The Apostles' Creed: and its Early Christian Context
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The Apostles' Creed is an expression of Christian theology that was formed in a period of fascinating and creative debate. The creed is not simply a dogmatic, static, and cryptic symbol of Christian faith, but, on the contrary, a lively narrative that can still inspire imagination, critical reflection, and faith.

In The Apostle's Creed, the ancient debates that led to the formulation of its twelve pronouncements are examined. The richness of early Christian thought is explored by looking at the ideas behind each creedal pronouncement and tracing the theological debates that inspired each statement. Early Christian theology is not treated as ‘unanimous,' but as pluralistic. The polyphony of theological opinion, which characterized the Christianity of this period, is therefore highlighted and celebrated.

In explaining the context that gave birth to the creed, this study refers to the testimony of various ‘witnesses' of those theological arguments. This includes opponents of the apostolic and church Fathers: the Gnostics, ‘heretics,' and Jewish and pagan critics of Christian faith.

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About the Author:

The Revd Dr Piotr Ashwin-Siejkowski is a priest of the Church of England and Assistant Lecturer for Patristics at the University of Chichester, UK. His academic research is focused on various theological schools in late Hellenistic Alexandria. His publications include Clement of Alexandria. A Project of Christian Perfection (2008)."

Review:

'Those ancient Christians were people passionate about God and our relationship with the divine'. That statement by the author is true for his own passion about Christian doctrine and early church history. Piotr Ashwin-Siejkowski writes for students, parishioners, and a wider group of readers; accordingly he provides an introduction to the theology of the Apostles' Creed and its terminology, supported by notes to introductory articles and a glossary to help beginners. The book could be the basis of church classes for members or catechetical instruction (as the creed was in its origin) in preparation for baptism or confirmation. It is not a history of the creed but a commentary on its contents. The author reminds us that Christianity has an intellectual content and is much more than an emotional adherence to Jesus. His abundant references to second and third-century Christian authors result in a systematic summary of basic Christian theology. The author sets the 'proto-orthodox' thinkers over against pagan, Jewish, and heretical views on each topic. It is helpful to put the affirmations of the Apostles' Creed in contrast to alternative theologies of the time and to see the confession in comparison to early orthodox affirmations, but the author goes further in offering a way of seeing the contemporary relevance of the creed. Readers may disagree on particular points, but they can learn from the author's wide acquaintance with early Christian writings.' — Everett Ferguson, Abilene Christian University, Abilene, Texas, USA (Everett Ferguson)

'Although not the oldest, the Apostles Creed is the most accessible of the ancient Christian creeds. Piotr Ashwin-Siejkowski, a parish priest who teaches early Christian doctrine at the University of Chichester, offers his readers a sympathetic and critically informed account of this creed, and of the faith claims that it makes. By explaining the sometimes perplexing doctrinal debates out of which these statements of faith emerged, and by introducing the wider and often alien historical contexts in which they arose, he reminds his readers of the differences between the ancient and contemporary worlds, and raises questions about how best these ancient theological claims should be appropriated and articulated today.' - Andrew Gregory, University College, Oxford, UK. (Andrew Gregory)

'This is a valuable book on a creed that has been rather neglected by scholars in the latter half of the twentieth century. Its value lies particularly in the way it seeks to illuminate its earliest context, namely the first three centuries. Although the author admits the relative lateness of the emergence of the Creed (8th century), he rightly argues that its core goes back much earlier, to the Old Roman Creed of the third century, and thus his approach seems eminently defensible. He examines each clause of the Creed in a separate chapter, considering the context, pagan, Jewish and alternative Christian. Here he is able to make good use of twentieth century discoveries of and recent scholarship on ancient manuscripts such as the Nag Hammadi library, to reveal the variety of early Christianity and present alternative theological views, such as those of the so-called 'Gnostics', in a much fuller and satisfactory way than earlier treatments. Thus there are valuable and nuanced treatments of various early perspectives on e.g. the Holy Spirit and Mary and on Jesus's descent into hell and ascension and on the resurrection of the flesh. The theological analysis and reflection are of a high order, while presented in a way that is accessible to lay people. This is aided by a useful Glossary of theologians, early Christian documents and theological terms. The author's concluding reflections on the continuing relevance of the creeds, particularly his appeal to approach them as icons rather than idols, are very pertinent but ought to have been developed at greater length and in greater depth. There's useful section on internet resources and the Select Bibliography is just that, if one could argue with it.' — Alastair H.B. Logan, University of Exeter, UK (Alastair H.B. Logan)

'I must confess that a book about the Apostles' Creed is not one that would appear on my list of 'must-read' books. To be honest, I cannot understand why this ancient creed continues to excite interest or have a place in modern liturgy. Not that I've always felt this way. Every Sunday in church as a child, I sat next to an elderly woman who always stood to attention when it came to reciting the Apostles' Creed. For her, it was an unquestionable statement of fact and, moved by her respect for it, that's how I accepted it as well. Today the recitation of this Creed, removed completely as it is from the context and culture in which it was formulated, leaves me cold. Far from opening a window on to God, its continued use in the Church has baffled and exasperated me. It was with great relief and a sense of liberation that I read the Introduction to Ashwin-Siejkowski's book. I was not being asked to approach this ancient relic of a Creed 'on my knees', but critically and with the purpose of understanding the issues and arguments through which it came to birth. Ashwin-Siejkowski makes it clear that the language of the Creed is of analogy, and that the images used were never intended to be taken literally. Speaking of how language is used to communicate an understanding of God, he writes, Each language facilitates the encounter of a specific generation with God, but as language is rooted in particular sets of symbols and idioms, it may alienate other generations from the core of Revelation.

In these words my own sense of alienation in relation to the Apostles Creed was expressed with the result that I felt the book might well have something to say to me as well as to those, like the friend of my childhood, who hold the Creed in the highest regards. The major work of the book is to take each statement of belief from the Creed and to look at the theological debates and questions that lay behind it. Readers looking for clearly expressed detail will not be disappointed by Ashwin-Siejkowski's scholarly analysis. His enthusiasm for his subject is engaging, as is his concern for accuracy. What becomes clear is that those responsible for the formulation of the Creed had no greater access to God than we do today. Just like us they debated the nature of faith and belief in the context of diverse theological perspectives about the man Jesus and his life and death, using the languages of that time and culture. The Creed itself might well be seen to tell us more about the power politics, theological arguments and faith perspectives of the time, than it does about that which we call God. To be true to the spirit of the faith of those who formulated the Creed is not to set their words on a pedestal, as the vast majority of Christians have done for centuries, but to be free to find and unfold our own understanding through on-going debate about, and exploration of God in this time and context, mindful of, but not bound by the languages of Christian voices from the past. It is perhaps an indication of the value of Ashwin-Siejkowski's book that at the end of it, I, the initially reluctant reader, found my perspective changed. I no longer want to eradicate the Creed from use in today's Church, although I continue to question its use when disconnected from any understanding of its original context. When that background is understood, the Apostles Creed stands as a reminder that Christianity is about living faith not dead beliefs. It is an unfolding story rooted in a scriptural tradition that often raises more questions than answers, and which draws us into continual and creative dialogue and debate. We can learn much from the insights and ignorance of past Christian communities and their leaders, becoming aware not only of those voices that dominated the discussions, but also of those that were missing from them. In this sense the Creed also stands as a warning to us when we confuse truth with views that persist simply because they come from those who have the greatest power. Ashwin-Siejkowski's work shows the Apostles' Creed not to be a statement of belief set in stone, but one 'snatch' of a dynamic on-going conversation that continues today — the Living Word — and in which we are all invited to participate. As Ashwin-Siejkowski invites us to do in his conclusion, 'we should treat the Apostles Creed as an 'icon', not an 'idol'.' — Rev Ruth Scott, Diocese of Southwark, UK

(Rev. Ruth Scott)

"...a good book for a dedicated reading group who might wrestle with a chapter at a time together..." Jennifer Smith, Methodist Recorder, September 2009.

"Ashwin-Siejkowski's rigorous study of early Christian theology reminds us just how much of Christian belief was in place by the end of the third century. It reacquaints us with the liveliest and most creative period of Christian thought."Church Times, January 2010

"Ashwin-Siejkowski's rigorous study of early Christian theology reminds us just how much of Christian belief was in place by the end of the third century. It reacquaints us with the liveliest period of Christian thought." The Revd Dr Andrew Davidson, Church Times, January 2010.

Reviewed in French (Revue d'Histoire et de Philosophie Religieuses)

'Those ancient Christians were people passionate about God and our relationship with the divine'. That statement by the author is true for his own passion about Christian doctrine and early church history. Piotr Ashwin-Siejkowski writes for students, parishioners, and a wider group of readers; accordingly he provides an introduction to the theology of the Apostles' Creed and its terminology, supported by notes to introductory articles and a glossary to help beginners. The book could be the basis of church classes for members or catechetical instruction (as the creed was in its origin) in preparation for baptism or confirmation. It is not a history of the creed but a commentary on its contents. The author reminds us that Christianity has an intellectual content and is much more than an emotional adherence to Jesus. His abundant references to second and third-century Christian authors result in a systematic summary of basic Christian theology. The author sets the 'proto-orthodox' thinkers over against pagan, Jewish, and heretical views on each topic. It is helpful to put the affirmations of the Apostles' Creed in contrast to alternative theologies of the time and to see the confession in comparison to early orthodox affirmations, but the author goes further in offering a way of seeing the contemporary relevance of the creed. Readers may disagree on particular points, but they can learn from the author's wide acquaintance with early Christian writings.’ – Everett Ferguson, Abilene Christian University, Abilene, Texas, USA (Sanford Lakoff)

'Although not the oldest, the Apostles Creed is the most accessible of the ancient Christian creeds. Piotr Ashwin-Siejkowski, a parish priest who teaches early Christian doctrine at the University of Chichester, offers his readers a sympathetic and critically informed account of this creed, and of the faith claims that it makes. By explaining the sometimes perplexing doctrinal debates out of which these statements of faith emerged, and by introducing the wider and often alien historical contexts in which they arose, he reminds his readers of the differences between the ancient and contemporary worlds, and raises questions about how best these ancient theological claims should be appropriated and articulated today.’ - Andrew Gregory, University College, Oxford, UK. (Sanford Lakoff)

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