St Augustine’s Treatise on the Faith and the Creed

This discourse on the Apostle’s Creed was delivered by St Augustine to a local church council in North Africa.  In this treatise he repeats his classical explanation of the Trinity:
The Father is truly God, the Son is truly God, and the Holy Spirit is truly God.
The Father is not sometimes the Son, and the Father is not sometimes the Holy Spirit, and God is One.  We have God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, but “there are not three Gods in that Trinity, but One God and one substance.”

St Augustine suggests that the tree is another metaphor for the Trinity.  The tree is made of roots and trunk and branches, “the root is wood, and the trunk is wood, and the branches are wood, but we do not speak of three woods, but only one tree.”

The concluding section of this discourse is quoted in Catholic Catechism’s discussion of the commandment, Do not covet: “The faithful must believe the articles of the Creed ‘so that by believing they may obey God, by obeying may live well, and by living well may purify their hearts, and with pure hearts may understand what they believe.’ “

See our blogs on the Catholic Catechism, Do Not Covet

When we truly believe in our heart the Creed we will cheerfully obey God, we will then live well and purify our hearts, and with pure hearts we can truly understand the meaning of the creed.  Before this can happen we need to know what the Creed says, and studying what the Church Fathers and the Catechism teaches us about the Creed can only help.  Language and knowledge is what distinguishes us from the beasts and permits us to acquire wisdom.  Why are we such eager Sunday afternoon quarterbacks, second-guessing coaches, when we let our minds drift during the sermon, if we attend church at all?  If we truly Love the Lord, why would we not be eager to learn how to please the Lord?

Future blogs on the teachings of the Catholic Catechism on the Creeds will examine the creed in more detail, and there will also be a future blog on St Augustine’s major treatise on the Trinity, so we will summarize what strikes us in this discourse.

The Apostles Creed: I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

St Augustine quotes from the Septuagint, “Unless you believe, you will not understand.”  You must believe in faith that “God made all things out of nothing.”

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.

The Church Fathers teach that Christ was not begotten at a specific time or place, but rather that Christ the Son was eternally begotten of the Father.  There was never a time when Christ was not, that was the Arian heresy condemned in the First Ecumenical Council.  St Augustine teaches, “God, when He begat the Word, begat that which He is Himself.  Neither out of nothing, nor of any material already made did He beget the Son, but He begat of Himself that which He is Himself.”

If this does not make logical sense to you, it because this is God’s logic, this is not man’s logic.  Begetting the Son so His Son can become Incarnate in the flesh and die for our sins is what God wanted to do, so God begat the Son, begets the Son, and continues eternally to beget the Son.  “The foolishness of God is wiser than men.”

The Arian heresy was to assert that the Son was a glorified creature, but a creature nonetheless.  St Augustine responds that “however great they declare a creature to be, if it is a creature, is has been fashioned and made,” and cannot be eternally begotten.

He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.

St Augustine remind us that when Christ was dying on the Cross on of his last words on the Cross was to his mother, “Woman, here is your son,” then he said to His disciple John, “Here is your mother.”[1]  Honor your father and your mother, that is the first Love your neighbor commandment.

St Augustine teaches, “the Word of God could in no way have been defiled by a human body (of the virgin Mary) which does not defile the human soul.  The soul is not defiled by the body when it rules the body and quickens it, the soul is only defiled when the body lusts after mortal things.”

He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.

Christ humbled Himself to be born of Mary, but He did not consider his humbleness a humiliation.  “Christ deemed it meet to die in behalf of mortal men, ‘He humbled Himself unto death, even death on the Cross.’ “

St Augustine compares Christ’s burial in a new tomb where no dead person had been buried to His conception in the womb of Mary, where before or after his birth “was anyone mortal conceived.”

He descended into hell. On the third day he rose again.  He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

St Augustine cautions us that this clause in the Creed does not suggest that “God the Father is circumscribed by a human form.”  When the Creed says that Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father, this means spiritually, signifying a “position of supreme blessedness, with righteousness, peace, and joy,” a divine judicial power

He will come again 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 the life everlasting.

St Augustine questions whether the “Love of God and the Holy Spirit are identical.”  St Augustine observes that at Pentecost when apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit, that this was ascribed to love.  “To enjoy the Wisdom of God implies that we should cleave to Wisdom in Love.”  We abide in the Wisdom of God by Love, thus the “Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of Sanctity.”

We can say that the Holy Spirit brings Love, and that the Holy Spirit is Love, but Scripture also exhorts that God is Love, “not Love is God, but God is Love, so the very Godhead is taken to be Love.”

St Augustine teaches us that as God Loves us, so we should Love God with all of our heart and with all of our soul, so we should love our neighbor as ourselves.

Here St Augustine teaches us that man consists of spirit, soul, and body.  Here the modern definitions conflict with the ancient definitions.  What St Augustine here calls spirit is what we call soul, the eternal soul that distinguishes man from beast, the soul that we possess because we were created in the likeness of God.  What St Augustine here calls soul is the Greek animating soul that gives life to the soul.  Aristotle says that all plants, animals, and people have souls, for the soul is what animates the body.

St Augustine teaches that the “spirit is also called the mind, the mind which the apostle says, ‘with the mind I serve the law of God.’ “  Our mind is a gift from God to be used and exercised, not merely entertained by television and movies.  St Augustine also teaches that the soul is the flesh when it chases after carnal things, but the nature of the soul is perfect when it follows the spirit that follows God.

Let us pray with St Augustine that we study the Creed we would believe the Creed, that our belief will lead us to obey God, that our obedience to God’s commandments will lead us to live a godly life, that our virtuous life will purify our heart, and that our pure heart expressed in our thoughts, words and deeds will enable us to truly understand that which we believe.[2]

[1] https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=john+19%3A26-27&version=NRSVCE

[2] St Augustine, “On Faith and the Creed,” In the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Volume 3, translated by Rev SDF Salmon (Boston: Hendrickson Publishers, 1994, first published 1887), Book 1, pp. 283-333.

About Bruce Strom 142 Articles
I was born and baptized and confirmed as a Lutheran. I made the mistake of reading works written by Luther, he has a bad habit of writing seemingly brilliant theology, but then every few pages he stops and calls the Pope often very vulgar names, what sort of Christian does that? Currently I am a seeker, studying church history and the writings of the Church Fathers. I am involved in the Catholic divorce ministries in our diocese, and have finished the diocese two-year Catholic Lay Ministry program. Also I took a year of Orthodox off-campus seminary courses. This blog explores the beauty of the Early Church and the writings and history of the Church through the centuries. I am a member of a faith community, for as St Augustine notes in his Confessions, you cannot truly be a Christian unless you worship God in the walls of the Church, unless persecution prevents this. This blog is non-polemical, so I really would rather not reveal my denomination here.