St Augustine’s Treatise on the Faith and the Creed

You must believe in faith that God made all things out of nothing.

St Augustine delivered the Treatise on Faith and the Creed, the Apostle’s Creed, was delivered by St Augustine to a local church council in North Africa, so his initial concern was educating the clergy on the proper interpretation of the Creed. The Apostle’s Creed arose in the Western Church, the Eastern Church prefers the Nicene Creed since it battles the Trinitarian and Christological heresies the Church fought in the early ecumenical councils.

The best eBook of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series 1, Volume 3, can be purchased at https://www.christianbook.com/

The Apostle’s Creed:
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and earth;
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son Our Lord,
Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, 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;
from 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.
Amen.

This treatise on Faith and the Creed is quoted in the Catholic Catechism in its discussion of the last commandment, Do Not Envy:

CCC 2518 The sixth beatitude proclaims, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8)

“Pure in heart” refers to those who have attuned their intellects and wills to the demands of God’s holiness, chiefly in three areas: charity; chastity or sexual rectitude; love of truth and orthodoxy of faith. There is a connection between purity of heart, of body, and of faith.

The quotation in the Catechism is from the closing paragraph of St Augustine’s On Faith and the Creed:

The faithful must believe the articles of the Creed “so that by believing they may obey God, by obeying may live well, by living well may purify their hearts, and with pure hearts may understand what they believe.”[1]

What is odd is that this treatise does not directly mention the cardinal sin of envy and covetousness. The Catechism teaches us that those who have pure hearts, whose hearts are free from guile, will not be as susceptible to the temptation to covet and envy their neighbor’s possessions or position in life. While studying this work we will further ponder how St Augustine’s teachings on Faith and the Creed reveal about the commandment, Do Not Envy.

The teachings in this treatise concur with the classical Augustinian 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.”

In this treatise, 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.”

St Augustine begins by quoting from Romans, “With the heart man believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” St Augustine believes that learning and reciting the Creed is an important confession to make. Once we understand in our heart how Christ took on flesh and walked among us, suffering with us and for us, even to death on the cross, then we will be better able to truly love our neighbor as ourselves, and Love God, with all of our heart and with all of our soul and with all of our mind.

Based on my experiences living in an evangelical culture, there is a real spiritual danger when someone proclaims emphatically that no matter how good a person you are, you will not be saved unless you confess Jesus with your lips, as if this were a magical incantation of sorts. Whether this is technically true is not a question that concerns me. What is most certainly true is that if you do not truly love your neighbor as yourself, then you cannot Love God, and if you do not Love God, you can confess Jesus with your lips all day long and it will not do you any good.

The Church cannot dodge its responsibility to champion the cause of the poor, sojourners, immigrants, sick, disadvantaged or minorities by claiming that the Church is only concerned with the personal salvation of their members. As St James exhorts, we must feed as well as preach to the poor. “If one of you says to the poor, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So, faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” If we do not care for the poor, then we do not love our neighbor, and if we do not love our neighbor, then we do not Love God, as the country song reminds us:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eBVCmBJJ_Ls

The spiritual danger in our politics is that when white evangelicals veer too close to Christian Nationalism, when they refuse to give credence to our black Christian brothers in their Black Lives Matter concerns (Note: I said concerns, not organization), then they risk sliding into white supremacy. We discuss this in a video pondering several books written by Robert P Jones on American Evangelicals and the Republic Party:

http://www.seekingvirtueandwisdom.com/american-evangelicals-civil-rights-and-republican-politics/

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and earth.

One heresy that is a greater challenge for the modern world, but that also challenged the ancient world, was the “opinion that God the Father is not Almighty.” 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.”

St Augustine wrote this treatise a millennium before the scientific theory of evolution. “As we believe in God the Father Almighty, we ought to uphold the opinion that there is no creature which has not been created by the Almighty.” He quotes from Scripture, “God created all things by the Word, the Power, and the Wisdom of God,” and the Word is His Son, Jesus Christ. When the Word spoke, the world came into being.

St Augustine embraced science as it was understood in his time, and the Catholic Church is not hostile towards a proper understanding of the theory of evolution. Evolution is not something you BELIEVE in, as belief in a religious sense is an urging that changes your life, but evolution is rather the most credible scientific explanation of the world as we have observed it. My opinion is that God is even more Almighty if he instantaneously, by His Word, created the scientific laws that participate in both the creation of the world and its continuation in the many millennia that followed the Creation. But pondering Evolution is a topic for a future blog.

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

The heresy that St Augustine and the early Church Fathers combatted was Arianism, the belief that Christ was a created creature. The heresy that we combat in our modern times is similar, that Jesus was not truly God, but a wise teacher and prophet.

The Arian jingle was that there was a time when Christ was not, a position condemned by the First Ecumenical Council. 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.

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.  St Augustine teaches us, “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.” St Augustine also teaches us, “The only begotten Son of God was neither made by the Father,” “nor begotten instantaneously,” but is eternally begotten.

If this does not make logical sense to you, it is because this is God’s logic, this is not man’s logic.  Eternal words like begetting can never be precisely defined by mortal humans. 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.”

What we can understand is why Christ was eternally begotten of the Father, why Christ chose to take on human flesh, walk among us as one of us, and suffer and die for our sins. Why? So we could become adopted sons of the Father, and strive to be more like God, to live a godly life. As St Augustine teaches us, “the Son was born of the very substance of the Father, the only one so born, God of God, Light of Light. We, sinful men, are not the light by nature, but are enlightened by the Light, so that we may be able to shine in wisdom.”

St Augustine quotes from the Wisdom of Solomon three times, from Chapters 7, 8, and 11, for these first two clauses of the Creed. Since it is in the Protestant Apocrypha, the Wisdom of Solomon is not widely studied, but it was a favorite of the early Church Fathers, the Wisdom commentary takes up nearly a third of the Ancient Christian summary of commentary on the Apocrypha, and much of this commentary is by St Augustine.

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

This act of love shows us the humility of God, as Christ was humble, so we should be humble; as Christ was forgiving, so we should be forgiving; as Christ was patient and loving, so we should be patient and loving. St Augustine teaches us, “By the gift of God, by the Holy Spirit, there was granted to us so great humility on the part of so great a God, that He deemed it worthy to assume the entire nature of man in the womb of the Virgin.” This Son of God growing in her womb was not a fire that consumed her, like the fire that did not consume the burning bush in which the Lord appeared to Moses on the mountain on Holy ground. In fact, Orthodox iconography displays icons of the Theotokos Mary and Jesus in the burning bush of Moses.

How can envy enter the hearts of the humble? When we envy what our neighbor possesses, we wish to become better than he is, so when we are inspired by the humility of Christ and seek to be a servant to our neighbor, perhaps this guards us from the sin of envy and covetousness.

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.”[2] Even when suffering on the Cross, Christ thought first of the needs of others. Honor your father and your mother, that is the first Love your neighbor commandment.

St Augustine teaches us, “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.” St Augustine also teaches us the doctrine of the eternal virginity of Mary, he teaches us that “His new tomb was a testimony of Christ’s destiny to rise again to new life, even as the Virgin’s womb” was destined to bear the Son of God. “For just as in that sepulcher no other dead person was buried, neither before nor after Him; so neither in the Virgin’s womb, neither before nor after Him, was any 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 does not discuss in this treatise the mystery of Christ descending into hell.

Why did Christ rise from the dead? St Augustine teaches us, “Christ rose from the dead as the first begotten of God for us, we who are brethren destined to come after Him, we whom He has called into the adoption of the sons of God, we whom Christ has decided to make His own joint partners and joint heirs” of the Kingdom of Heaven.

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. “The expression, ‘at the right hand,’ signifies supreme blessedness, and righteousness and peace and joy, whereas the left hand signifies the side of the goats, that is to say, unrighteousness and misery and torments.”

We learn from the teachings of the Church Fathers we have examined in our other blogs, in particular St Cyprian and Envy, that those who envy become miserable when tormented by their covetousness.
http://www.seekingvirtueandwisdom.com/st-cyprian-on-envy-and-jealousy/

He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

St Augustine teaches us, “Our Lord has been upon the earth, at present He is in Heaven, and hereafter,” at the proper time, “He shall be in His brightness the Judge of the quick 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.

St Augustine teaches us, “The Holy Spirit is not inferior to the Father and the Son but is consubstantial and co-eternal” with the Father and the Son, and these three persons of the Trinity are one God.

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.” The Scriptures exhort and 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 and with all of our mind and with all of our strength, and so also we should love our neighbor as ourselves.

Envy causes us to despise the good fortune of our neighbor, and our neighbor himself, envy destroys our love for our neighbor, and also our Love for God.

Envy is the enemy of love, and love is the enemy of envy.

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.

In the Retractions, St Augustine mentions On Faith and the Creed. St Augustine teaches us that at the End of Days will come the Resurrection of the body, “Rise again the body will, according to the Christian faith.” This teaching is not emphasized in many modern churches, but it was emphasized in the ancient church.

St Augustine notes this comment has been misunderstood: “At the time of angelic change the resurrected body will no more be flesh and blood, but only body,” since Scriptures exhorts, “Flesh and blood will not inherit the Kingdom of God.”

St Augustine says some misinterpret these comments, he does not mean that our earthly body will be changed into a celestial body. St Augustine and the early church was eager to distance the beliefs of the Church from the Gnostic concept that the body itself was evil, that the soul was eager to abandon the body to be like angels, either free of bodies or occupying some celestial body. St Augustine notes this is covered more thoroughly in his book, City of God.

We will conclude with St Augustine’s concluding paragraph. The translation differs from the quotation from the Catechism: “The faithful must believe the articles of the Creed ‘so that by believing they may obey God, by obeying may live well, by living well may purify their hearts, and with pure hearts may understand what they believe.’”

St Augustine concludes, “This is the faith which in a few words is given in the Creed to Christian novices, to be held by them. And these few words are known to the faithful, to the end that in believing they may be made subject to God; that being subject, they may rightly live; that in rightly living, they may make the heart pure; that with their heart made pure, they may understand that which they believe.” [3] Right belief, rightly believed, leads to a pure heart and living a godly life.

[1] https://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/__P8Q.HTM

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

[3] St Augustine, “On Faith and the Creed,” In the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Volume 3, translated by Rev SDF Salmon (Boston: Hendrickson Publishers, 1994, first published 1887), Book 1, pp. 321-333, the Retractions are discussed in pp. 317-318.

About Bruce Strom 157 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.