Their purpose is to preserve the traditional beliefs of the Church and protect the Church from heresy (beliefs which contradict official teaching.) Only the following three Creeds have been widely used in Christian worship:
“I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. 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.”
It was said that Jesus’ disciples produced this Creed after Jesus’ death. It actually developed; however, out of statements of belief used in Rome in the 2nd century. It took a further nine centuries after that before it reached its present form. It is still used in the Western Church.
2. The Nicene Creed
We believe in one God, the Father, the almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen. We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven; by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and was made man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end. We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father (and the Son). With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets. We believe in one holy, catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.”
This was said to have been drawn up in the first Church Council held in Nicaea in 325CE. (The Council was a group of early Christian Church bishops.) The Council however did not draw up the Creed. It is not known who did, but it is known that it was in use by the 5th century and is still used today (albeit with some changes made in the early middle ages) by both Western and Eastern Christians in their church services.
3. The Athanasian Creed
This dates from the 4th or 5th century. It contains statements of belief in the incarnation and the trinity. It is no longer widely used in church services. This is partly because it is long. Also its refers to damnation, which no longer features so prominently in Christian belief as it once did.