Program Particulars: The Need for Creeds

Program Particulars

*Times indicated refer to web version of audio

(01:35) Pelikan's Death

For a brief summary of Pelikan's life and work, read his obituary in the New York Times.

(02:04) Pelikan's Historic Collection of Creeds

Pelikan published his historical and theological guide to creeds in Christianity, Credo, in 2003. Pelikan's research focused on "what the church of Jesus Christ believes, teaches, and confesses on the basis of the word of God" and was published in the collected volumes, Creeds and Confessions of Faith. Pelikan was the first to attempt this endeavor since the publication of Philip Schaff's Creeds of Christendom that first appeared in 1877 and has been in use ever since.

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(02:25–04:10) Music Element

"The Multiples of One" from Awakening, performed by Joseph Curiale


» Enlarge the image 20th century icon of the fathers of the first ecumenical council in Nicaea (325 CE).<br><cite>(courtesy: Orthodox Church in America)</cite>

20th century icon of the fathers of the first ecumenical council in Nicaea (325 CE).
(courtesy: Orthodox Church in America)

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(04:15–04:54) Music Element

"Summa" from Arvo Pärt: Collage, performed by Neeme Järvi


(05:07) The Apostles' Creed

The Apostles' Creed, in Latin Symbolum Apostolorum, is an affirmation of faith used in most Christian churches in the West. The creed, as most Christians know it today, evolved from a 2nd century baptismal creed used in Rome and answered the challenge of gnosticism by emphasizing the human nature and corporal body of Jesus.

(05:17) The Nicene Creed

Used in both the East and the West, the Nicene Creed is a statement of faith that provides a basis for unity among many Christians, including Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Calvinist and many other denominations. The creed was established as part of the eucharistic liturgy during the 5th century. In the Eastern church, the creed is also used at baptisms.

During the first council of Nicaea in 325 CE, the Emperor Constantine urged the bishops to include the term homoousion — the Greek word meaning "of one substance," which was used to express the relation in the one Godhead of the Father and the Son and affirm that Jesus was fully divine. The profession of faith was solidified 56 years later at the Council of Constantinople. The Nicene Creed is often sung or chanted.

(06:25) Reference to Jewish Creed

Pelikan recites a passage from the fourth verse of the sixth chapter of Deuteronomy, "Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is One." The Shema is an affirmation of Judaism and a declaration of faith in one God. Observant Jews consider it an obligation to say the Shema twice a day, once in the morning and once at night.

» Enlarge the image Wall mosaics integrated with repeating shahada inscriptions in the palace of Alhambra outside Granada, Spain.

Wall mosaics integrated with repeating shahada inscriptions in the palace of Alhambra outside Granada, Spain.

(06:45) The Expansion of Islam and One Creed

Pelikan recites the shahada, the Muslim profession of faith: "There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger." It is the first of the five pillars of Islam that proclaims the uniqueness of Allah. By sincerely pronouncing these words, one implies acceptance of Islam; it is considered the only formal requirement for entry into the faith community.

» Enlarge the image The spread of Islam

The spread of Islam

(09:08) Definition of Term Logos

Pelikan says that certain key words in the Bible were not included in the creeds because they were ineffectual, not specific enough. One example is the word logos, meaning both "word" and "reason," as in logic. In the gospel of John, Christ is designated as logos:

In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God and the word was God, and the word was made flesh and dwelt among us.

But in the Nicene Creed, the term is nowhere to be found.

(11:25) Recurring Question in New Testament

In the Bible, the gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke provide examples of the question asked by Jesus that Pelikan discusses in the show:

Mark 8:27-30 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?" And they answered him, "John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets." He asked them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered him, "You are the Messiah." And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him. Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. Matthew 16:13-17 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.

Luke 9:18-22 Once when Jesus was praying alone, with only the disciples near him, he asked them, "Who do the crowds say that I am?" They answered, "John the Baptist; but others, Elijah; and still others, that one of the ancient prophets has arisen." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered, "The Messiah of God." He sternly ordered and commanded them not to tell anyone, saying, "The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised."

(12:57) Pelikan Quotes John Stuart Mill

Pelikan paraphrases a passage from the English philosopher and economist John Stuart Mill's essay "On Liberty":

Mankind can hardly be too often reminded, that there was once a man named Socrates, between whom and the legal authorities and public opinion of his time, there took place a memorable collision.

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(13:43–14:19) Music Element

"Eros Piano" from American Elegies, performed by composed and conducted by John Adams


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(15:43–18:15) Music Element

"Credo" from The Mystery of Santo Domingo De Silos, performed by performed by Santo Domingo de Silos Abbey Monks' Choir


» Enlarge the image An Eastern Orthodox icon depicts Saint Helena standing next to her son, the Emperor Constantine.

An Eastern Orthodox icon depicts Saint Helena standing next to her son, the Emperor Constantine.

(19:05) Story of St. Helena

St. Helena (248–329 CE) was the mother of the emperor Constantine the Great. Christian tradition holds that she discovered the site of Jesus Christ's resurrection, upon which Constantine built the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. At the same location, St. Helena is reputed to have discovered three crosses, one being the "True Cross" — the wood of the cross to which Jesus' body was nailed during his crucifixion by the Romans.

The Orthodox and Catholic churches regard Helena as a saint. Her feast days are May 21 in the Orthodox Christian Church and August 18 in the Roman Catholic Church.

(20:38) Reference to Emerson

Along with Margaret Fuller, Henry David Thoreau, and others, Ralph Waldo Emerson was part of a literary and philosophical movement known as transcendentalism that flourished in New England during the latter half of the nineteenth century. It asserted that the intuitive depth of a person's spirituality exists within each individual and transcends the empirical and measurable. Moreover, the divine could exist in other human beings and not only in an imposing, untouchable God.

Pelikan cites a passage from Emerson's address to the students at Harvard Divinity School in 1838 when he says, "You must be yourself a newborn bard of the Holy Spirit and sing it out." The following passage was excerpted from that text:

Yourself a newborn bard of the Holy Ghost, — cast behind you all conformity, and acquaint men at first hand with Deity. Look to it first and only, that fashion, custom, authority, pleasure, and money, are nothing to you, — are not bandages over your eyes, that you cannot see, — but live with the privilege of the immeasurable mind. Not too anxious to visit periodically all families and each family in your parish connection, — when you meet one of these men or women, be to them a divine man; be to them thought and virtue; let their timid aspirations find in you a friend; let their trampled instincts be genially tempted out in your atmosphere; let their doubts know that you have doubted, and their wonder feel that you have wondered. By trusting your own heart, you shall gain more confidence in other men. For all our penny-wisdom, for all our soul-destroying slavery to habit, it is not to be doubted, that all men have sublime thoughts; that all men value the few real hours of life; they love to be heard; they love to be caught up into the vision of principles. We mark with light in the memory the few interviews we have had, in the dreary years of routine and of sin, with souls that made our souls wiser; that spoke what we thought; that told us what we knew; that gave us leave to be what we inly were. Discharge to men the priestly office, and, present or absent, you shall be followed with their love as by an angel.

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(21:47–23:50) Music Element

"Summa" from Arvo Pärt: Arbos, performed by performed by the Hilliard Ensemble


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(23:50–25:30) Music Element

"Mass in B Minor" from J.S. Bach: Mass In B Minor, performed by conducted by John Eliot Gardiner


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(25:45–27:42) Music Element

"Sonata No. 3 in C Major" from Hilary Hahn Plays Bach, performed by performed by Hilary Hahn


(28:48) Reference to St. Augustine

St. Augustine of Hippo (354–430 CE) is one of the most prominent figures of medieval philosophy whose authority and thought have had a lasting influence. Augustine is one of the main figures who merged the Greek philosophical tradition and the Judeo-Christian religious and scriptural traditions. Some of his best-known works are the The Confessions and City of God, to which Pelikan refers in the show.

(30:35) Quote from Book of Acts

Pelikan cites the passage from the fourth chapter of the book of Acts. The following text was excerpted from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible:

While Peter and John were speaking to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came to them, much annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming that in Jesus there is the resurrection of the dead. So they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. But many of those who heard the word believed; and they numbered about five thousand. The next day their rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. When they had made the prisoners stand in their midst, they inquired, "By what power or by what name did you do this?" Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, "Rulers of the people and elders, if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. This Jesus is "the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.' There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved." Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed and recognized them as companions of Jesus. When they saw the man who had been cured standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition. So they ordered them to leave the council while they discussed the matter with one another. They said, "What will we do with them? For it is obvious to all who live in Jerusalem that a notable sign has been done through them; we cannot deny it. But to keep it from spreading further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name." So they called them and ordered them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, "Whether it is right in God's sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard." After threatening them again, they let them go, finding no way to punish them because of the people, for all of them praised God for what had happened. For the man on whom this sign of healing had been performed was more than forty years old.

(33:35) Works by Maimonides and John of Damascus

Pelikan points out that two significant theological works by Maimonides and John of Damascus were penned under the rule of Muslim cultures. A Guide to the Perplexed by Maimonidies is one of the most important systematic formulation of Jewish theology. Read more about Rabbi Moses Maimonides, a great Jewish philosopher who questioned the Torah. He composed the Mishneh Torah, a book that intended to guide Jews on how to behave in all situations by reading the Torah, without having to spend large amounts of time searching the Talmud.

Pelikan also cites John of Damascus' section from The Fountain of Wisdom, "On the Orthodox Faith," the most important statement of Eastern Orthodox Christianity ever to be written.

(35:23) Reference to Second Vatican Council

In 1962, Pope John XXIII, named Man of the Year in 1963 by Time magazine, opened the Second Vatican Council with the intention of internally renewing the global Roman Catholic church. When asked about his motivation for convening the council, Pope John XXIII moved to the window and threw open the sash — his rationale being, "I want to throw open the windows of the Church so that we can see out and the people can see in."

The Council published 16 documents and produced many visible changes in Catholic life and doctrine. Most basically, it began to open up Catholic thought and doctrine, leading to a less hierarchical governance, increased roles for the laity, Masses spoken in native languages rather than intoned in Latin, and an openness to the practice of beliefs and practices of other Christians and Jews — as in the declaration on religious liberty, Dignitatis Humanae. Pope John XXIII died before the Council was concluded. His successor, Pope Paul VI, closed the Council in 1965. The legacy of Vatican II is large, controversial, and still unfolding.

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(36:28–37:08) Music Element

"Kora Instrumental" from Keur Moussa: Sacred Chant & African Rhythms from Senegal, performed by performed by the Monks of Keur Moussa Abbey


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(40:36–41:30) Music Element

"Veruyu (The Creed)" from Sergey Rachmaninov: Liturgy Of St. John Chrysostom, Op. 31, performed by conducted by Charles Bruffy


Saint John Chrysostom (347–407 CE) was an early church father and archbishop of Constantinople. He is remembered for his oratory skills and simple, direct preaching style. The most frequently used of the three eucharistic services of the Eastern Orthodox church is called the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.



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(43:46–45:05) Music Element

"Gem Na (The Nicene Creed)" from Sergey Rachmaninov: Liturgy Of St. John Chrysostom, Op. 31, performed by performed by the Monks of Keur Moussa Abbey


(43:57) Reading of Masai Creed


Read along with Pelikan as he recites the Maasai Creed.

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(47:34–47:40) Music Element

"Eros Piano" from American Elegies, performed by composed and conducted by John Adams


(49:59) Work by Molière

In 1670, Molière wrote the play Le Bourgois Gentilhomme at the request of Louis XIV, who wanted the entertainment to involve things that were Turkish.

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(50:30–53:07) Music Element

"Sonata No. 3 in C Major" from Hilary Hahn Plays Bach, performed by performed by Hilary Hahn


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was professor of history at Yale University for four decades. He authored many books Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine and Credo.

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