In preparing some lecture material, I came across the folowing tidbit from Philip Schaff about how helpful the Early Church Fathers and infallible Tradition can be in preserving truth:
Note on the Legend of the Apostolic Origin of the Creed.
Till the middle of the seventeenth century it was the current belief of Roman Catholic and Protestant Christendom that the Apostles' Creed was 'membratim articulatimque' composed by the apostles in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, or before their separation, to secure unity of teaching, each contributing an article (hence the somewhat arbitrary division into twelve articles).
Peter, under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, commenced: 'I believe in God the Father Almighty;' Andrew (according to others, John) continued: 'And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord;' James the elder went on: 'Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost;' then followed John (or Andrew): 'Suffered under Pontius Pilate;' Philip: 'Descended into Hades;' Thomas: 'The third day he rose again from the dead;' and so on till Matthias completed the work with the words 'life everlasting. Amen.'
The first trace of this legend, though without the distribution alluded to, we find at the close of the fourth century, in the Expositio Symboli of Rufinus of Aquileja. He mentions an ancient tradition concerning the apostolic composition of the Creed ('tradunt majores nostri'), and falsely derives from this supposed joint authorship the name symbolon (from συμβάλλειν, in the sense to contribute); confounding σύμβολον, sign, with συμβολή, contribution ('Symbolum Græce et indicium dici potest et collatio, hoc est, quod plures in unum conferunt').
The same view is expressed, with various modifications, by Ambrosius of Milan (d. 397), in his Explanatio Symboli ad initiandos, where he says: 'Apostoli sancti convenientes fecerunt symbolum breviter;' by John Cassianus (about 424), De incarnat. Dom. VI. 3; Leo M., Ep. 27 ad Pulcheriam; Venantius Fortunatus, Expos. brevis Symboli Ap.; Isidorus of Seville (d. 636).
The distribution of the twelve articles among the apostles is of later date, and there is no unanimity in this respect. See this legendary form in the pseudo-Augustinian 23 Sermones de Symbolo, in Hahn, l.c. p. 24, and another from a Sacramentarium Gallicanum of the seventh century, in Heurtley, p. 67.
The Roman Catechism gives ecclesiastical sanction, as far as the Roman Church is concerned, to the fiction of a direct apostolic authorship.** Meyers, l.c., advocates it at length, and Abbé Martigny, in his 'Dictionnaire des antiquitées Chrétiennes,' Paris, 1865 (art. Symbole des apôtres, p. 623), boldly asserts, without a shadow of proof: 'Fidèlement attaché à la tradition de l’Église catholique, nous tenons, non-seulement qu’il est l’œuvre des apôtres, mais encore qu’il fut composé par eux, alors que réunis à Jérusalem, ils allaient se disperser dans l’univers entier; et qu’ils volurent, avant de séparer, fixer une règle de foi vraiment uniforme et catholique, destinée à être livrée, partout la même, aux catéchumènes.'
Even among Protestants the old tradition has occasionally found advocates, such as Lessing (1778), Delbrück (1826), Rudelbach (1844), and especially Grundtvig (d. 1872). The last named, a very able but eccentric high-church Lutheran bishop of Denmark, traces the Creed, like the Lord's Prayer, to Christ himself, in the period between the Ascension and Pentecost. The poet Longfellow (a Unitarian) makes poetic use of the legend in his Divine Tragedy (1871).
On the other hand, the apostolic origin (after having first been called in question by Laurentius Valla, Erasmus, Calvin) has been so clearly disproved long since by Vossius, Rivetus, Voëtius, Usher, Bingham, Pearson, King, Walch, and other scholars, that it ought never to be seriously asserted again.
The arguments against the apostolic authorship are quite conclusive:
1. The intrinsic improbability of such a mechanical composition.
It has no analogy in the history of symbols; even when composed by committees or synods, they are mainly the production of one mind. The Apostles' Creed is no piece of mosaic, but an organic unit, an instinctive work of art in the same sense as the Gloria in Excelsis, the Te Deum, and the classical prayers and hymns of the Church.
2. The silence of the Scriptures.
Some advocates, indeed, pretend to find allusions to the Creed in Paul's 'analogy' or 'proportion of faith,' Rom. xii. 7; 'the good deposit,' 2 Tim. i. 14; 'the first principles of the oracles of God,' Heb. v. 12; 'the faith once delivered to the saints,' Jude, ver. 3; and 'the doctrine,' 2 John, ver. 10; but these passages can be easily explained without such assumption.
3. The silence of the apostolic fathers and all the ante-Nicene and Nicene fathers and synods.
Even the œcumenical Council of Nicæa knows nothing of a symbol of strictly apostolic composition, and would not have dared to supersede it by another.
4. The variety in form of the various rules of faith in the ante-Nicene churches, and of the Apostolic Symbol itself down to the eighth century.
This fact is attested even by Rufinus, who mentions the points in which the Creed of Aquileja differed from that of Rome. 'Such variations in the form of the Creed forbid the supposition of any fixed system of words, recognized and received as the composition of the apostles; for no one, surely, would have felt at liberty to alter any such normal scheme of faith.'
5. The fact that the Apostles' Creed never had any general currency in the East, where the Nicene Creed occupies its place, with an almost equal claim to apostolicity as far as the substance is concerned.
** Pars prima, cap. 1, qu. 2 (Libri Symbolici Eccl. Cath., ed. Streitwolf and Klener, Tom. I. p. 111): 'Quæ igitur primum Christiani homines tenere debent, illa sunt, quæ fidei duces, doctoresque sancti Apostoli, divino Spiritu afflati, duodecim Symboli articulis distinxerunt. Nam, cum mandatum a Domino accepissent, ut pro ipso legatione fungentes, in universum mundum proficiscerentur, atque omni creaturæ Evangelium prædicarent: Christianæ fidei formulam componendam censuerunt, ut scilicet id omnes sentirent ac dicerent, neque ulla essent inter eos schismata,' etc. Ibid. qu. 3: 'Hanc autem Christianæ fidei et spei professionem a se compositam Apostoli Symbolum appellarunt; sive quia ex variis sententiis, quas singuli in commune contulerunt, conflata est; sive quia ea veluti nota, et tessera quandam uterentur, qua desertores et subintroductos falsos fratres, qui Evangelium adulterabant, ab iis, qui veræ Christi militiæ sacramento se obligarent, facile possent internoscere.'