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As a follow-up to previous questions, I'd like to know: Do Swedenborgians disagree with or "reinterpret" any phrases in the Apostles' Creed?

Here's the context: I'm listening to an audio series in which the Apostles' Creed is used as the framework for "Christian theology," implying that those who believe the Apostles' Creed are orthodox. But in this series, non-trinitarians are not considered orthodox.

This makes me wonder – how do certain non-trinitarian groups understand the Apostles' Creed? Do they accept it as written, or simply reject it? Or perhaps they accept it, but interpret particular phrases in ways that trinitarians don't?

Here, I'm most interested in how Swedenborg himself viewed the creed. If he did not address the Apostles' Creed in his writings, I'd be interested in the analysis of prominent Swedenborgian theologians (in overview style, if there is disagreement).

Related: Same question for Christadelphians, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, and Oneness Pentecostals.

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Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) made several references to the Apostles' Creed in his theological writings, none of them negative. In general, he saw it as supporting his beliefs and teachings by demonstrating that they were held to among the earliest Christians.

The more substantive references to the Apostles' Creed come late in his theological works, as part of his argument about about the human, fourth-century origins of the doctrine of the Trinity of Persons, which he completely rejected as valid Christian doctrine.

First, from A Brief Exposition of the Doctrine of the New Church, which Swedenborg published in 1769:

V. The whole theology of the Christian World at this day is founded on the idea of three Gods, arising from the doctrine of a Trinity of Persons.

Brief Analysis

Something shall first be said concerning the source from which the idea of a Trinity of Persons in the Godhead, thus of three Gods, has proceeded. There are three creeds, called the Apostles', the Nicene, and the Athanasian, which specifically teach the Trinity. The Apostles' and the Nicene teach just the Trinity, whilst the Athanasian teaches a Trinity of Persons. These three creeds appear in many of the Books of Worship (Libris Psalmorum); the Apostles' Creed as a psalm which is sung, the Nicene after the Decalogue, and the Athanasian apart by itself. The Apostles' Creed was written after the time of the Apostles. The Nicene Creed was composed at the Council of Nicaea, a city of Bithynia, to which all the bishops in Asia, Africa, and Europe were summoned by the Emperor Constantine in the year AD 325. The Athanasian Creed was composed after that Council by some person or persons in order utterly to overthrow the Arians, and was afterwards received by the churches as ecumenical. From the first two creeds the confession of a Trinity clearly appeared, but from the third or Athanasian Creed proceeded the profession of a Trinity of Persons. That hence arose the idea of three Gods will be seen from what now follows. (Brief Exposition #30-31)

And a few sections later in the same work:

It is to be observed that in the Apostles' Creed it is said "I believe in God the Father. . . in Jesus Christ . . . and in the Holy Ghost," and in the Nicene Creed: "I believe in one God, the Father . . . in one Lord Jesus Christ . . . and in the Holy Ghost"; thus, only in one God. But in the Athanasian Creed it is said: "In God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost"; thus, in three Gods. Yet because the authors and favorers of this creed saw clearly that an idea of three Gods would inevitably result from the expressions used therein, in order that this might be remedied, they asserted that one substance or essence belongs to the three. But, in truth, from these expressions no other idea arises than that there are three Gods of one mind and agreeing together. For when one indivisible substance or essence is attributed to the Three, it does not remove the idea of three, but confuses it. This is because the expression is a metaphysical one, and metaphysics with all its ingenuity cannot make one out of three Persons, each of Whom is God. It may, indeed, make a unity of them in utterance, but never in the idea. (Brief Exposition #34)

And from True Christianity, Swedenborg's major catechism of Christian theology, published in 1771, toward the end of his life.

The apostolic church knew no trinity of persons. This idea was first developed by the Council of Nicaea. The council introduced the idea into the Roman Catholic church; and it in turn introduced the idea into the churches that have since separated from it. By "the apostolic church" I mean not only the church that existed in various places in the time of the apostles but also the church that existed over the two or three centuries after their time. . . .

It is very obvious from the creed of what is known as the apostolic church that it had no awareness at all of any trinity of persons or of three persons from eternity. There the following words occur: "I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord, who was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. And I believe in the Holy Spirit."

There is no mention here of any "Son from eternity. " The Son mentioned here was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. From the writings of the apostles the people of that church knew that Jesus Christ was the true God (1 John 5:20); that all the fullness of divinity dwelt physically in him (Colossians 2:9); that the apostles preached faith in him (Acts of the Apostles 20:21); and that all power in heaven and on earth had been given to him (Matthew 28:18). (True Christianity #174, 175)

And a somewhat longer discussion from considerably later in the same work:

The Concept of a Faith That Assigns the Merit of Christ Was Completely Unknown in the Apostolic Church That Existed before the Council of Nicaea; and Nothing in the Word Conveys That Concept Either

The church that existed before the Council of Nicaea was called the apostolic church. The fact that this was an extensive church that had developed on three of the world's continents (Asia, Africa, and Europe) is clear from the empire of Constantine the Great, which included many countries in Europe (though they later separated from the empire), as well as nearby countries outside of Europe. Constantine was a Christian and a vigorous champion of his religion. Therefore, as mentioned above, he called together bishops from Asia, Africa, and Europe to his palace in the city of Nicaea in Bithynia in order to throw Arius's offences out of his empire.

This happened as a result of the Lord's divine providence, because a denial of the Lord's divinity would have killed the Christian church and made it like a tomb engraved with the epitaph "Here lies . . . "

The church that existed before that time was called the apostolic church; its noteworthy writers were called the apostolic fathers, and other true Christians were called brothers and sisters. It is clear from the creed known as the Apostles' Creed (so named for the church at the time) that that church did not acknowledge three divine persons, and that it did acknowledge a Son of God born in time but not a Son of God from eternity:

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord, who was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, and the communion of saints.

Clearly, then, they acknowledged no other Son of God than the one who was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, which completely rules out any Son of God born from eternity. This creed, like the other two, has been accepted as a true and universal creed by the entire Christian church right up to our time. (True Christianity #636)

And from an unpublished manuscript traditionally titled Canons of the New Church, which seems to have been composed in 1769 as a sketch for True Christianity:

A trinity of persons in the Godhead before the world was created did not enter the mind of anyone from the time of Adam to the Lord's Advent, as appears plainly from the Word of the Old Testament and from the accounts of the religion of the people of old. Nor did it enter the minds of the Apostles, as is evident from their writings in the Word. Nor did it enter the mind of anyone in the Apostolic Church which existed prior to the Nicene Council, as appears plainly from the Apostles' Creed, in which there is no mention of any Son from eternity, but of a Son born of the virgin Mary. A Trinity of Persons from eternity is not only beyond reason, it is contrary to reason. (Canons of the New Church #41:5)

And an extensive quotation from the same manuscript, in which he lays out more fully his views of the distinction between the Apostolic, Nicene, and Athanasian creeds on the Trinity, and his argument that the Trinity of Persons began with the Nicene Creed and reached full form in the Athanasian Creed:

CHAPTER V

A Trinity of Persons in the Godhead is a product of the Nicene Council, and has been derived therefrom in the Catholic Church and in the churches after it. It should therefore be called the Nicene Trinity. But a Trinity of God in one Person, the Lord God the Savior, is of Christ himself, and was thence in the Apostolic Church, and should therefore be called the Christian Trinity. This Trinity of God is the New Church's Trinity.

1) There are three summaries of the Christian Church's doctrine concerning the Divine Trinity as well as Unity, which are called Creeds: the Apostolic, the Nicene, and the Athanasian. The Apostles' Creed was drawn up by men termed the Apostolic Fathers; the Nicene Creed by an assembly of bishops and priests summoned by Emperor Constantine to the city of Nicaea for the purpose of dispelling the scandals of Arius in regard to his having denied the Divinity of the Son of God; and the Athanasian Creed by some person or persons immediately after that Council. These three Creeds have been acknowledged and accepted by the Christian Church as ecumenical and catholic, that is, as the universals of doctrine in regard to God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

2) The Apostles' Creed teaches thus:

I believe in God the Father Almighty, God of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ His Son, our Lord, who was conceived from the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary . . . I believe in the Holy Spirit, etc.

The Nicene Creed teaches thus:

I believe in One God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth . . . .

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only-begotten Son of God, begotten not made, of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made; who came down from heaven and was incarnate from the Holy Spirit out of the virgin Mary, and was made Man . . . .

And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, who proceedeth from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the Prophets . . . .

The Athanasian Creed teaches thus:

The Catholic Faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity. That there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit . . . That Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have one Godhead and coeternal majesty. That the Father is uncreate, immeasurable, eternal, almighty, God and Lord, in like manner the Son, and in like manner the Holy Spirit; nevertheless there are not three uncreates, immeasurables, eternals, almighties, gods and lords, but One. The Son is of the Father alone, not made nor created but begotten; the Holy Spirit is from the Father and the Son, not made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding. In this Trinity none is before or after another, none is greater or less than another, but the whole three Persons are co-eternal and co-equal. But since we are compelled by Christian verity to confess each Person by Himself to be God and Lord, so are we forbidden by the Catholic religion to say three Gods and three Lords.

Furthermore, in regard to the Lord Jesus Christ, thus:

That although He is God and Man, yet He is not two but one Christ.

3) From the pronouncements in the three creeds it may be gathered how God's Trinity in Unity and Unity in Trinity is understood in each case. For the Apostles' Creed declares in regard to God the Father, that He is the Creator of the Universe; in regard to His Son, that He was conceived from the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary; and in regard to the Holy Spirit, that it exists.

The Nicene Creed, on the other hand, declares in regard to God the Father, that He is the Creator of the Universe; in regard to the Son, that He was begotten before all ages and that He came down and was incarnate; and in regard to the Holy Spirit, that it proceeds from them both.

Whereas the Athanasian Creed declares in regard to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that they are three co-eternal and co-equal Persons, and that each one of them is God nevertheless there are not three Gods, but one and that although from Christian verity each Person by Himself is God, yet, from the Catholic religion, you may not say three Gods.

4) It is evident from these three Creeds that two Trinities have been handed down, one that came into existence before the world was created, the other that came into existence after that. A Trinity before the world was created is in the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds, whereas a Trinity after the world was created is in the Apostles' Creed. Consequently, the Apostolic Church knew nothing of a "Son from eternity," but only of a Son born in the world; and so it is this Son that it invoked, not one born from eternity. On the other hand, the Church after the Nicene Creed, just as though it was established afresh, acknowledged as God a Son from eternity, but not the Son born in the world.

5) Those two Trinities differ as much from each other as evening and morning, or rather as night and day; accordingly, both of them together cannot possibly be affirmed as true in a member of the Church, because with him religion might perish, and with religion, sound reason. This is because it is not possible from the Nicene and Athanasian Trinities to think of one God, but it is possible to do so in the case of the Apostolic Trinity; and one God may be thought of in the latter case, because this Trinity exists in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God born in the world.

6) That the Divine Trinity is in the Lord God the Savior Jesus Christ, He Himself teaches; for He says:

that the Father and He are one (John 10:30)

that He is in the Father, and the Father in Him (John 14:10, 11)

that all things of the Father are His (John 3:35; 16:15)

that he who sees Him sees the Father (John 14:9)

also:

that he who believes in Him, believes in the Father (John 12:44)

and, according to Paul,

In Him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily (Colossians 2:9)

according to John,

He is the true God and eternal life (1 John 5:20)

and according to Isaiah,

He is the Father of Eternity (Isaiah 60:6)

and elsewhere in the same He is "Jehovah the Redeemer," "the only God," and that, because of Redemption, He is "Jehovah our Righteousness"; and, where it treats of Him, that He is "God, Father" (Isaiah 60:6; 63:16); "His glory will He not give to another" (Isaiah 42:8; 48:11); then that "the Holy Spirit is from Him" (John 20:22).

As, then, God is One and there is a Divine Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, according to the Lord's words (Matthew 28:19), it follows that this Trinity is in one person, and that it is in the Person of Him who was conceived from God the Father, and born of the virgin Mary, and called, on that account, "Son of the Most High," "Son of God," "Only-begotten Son" (Luke 1:31-35; John 1:18; 20:31; Matthew 3:17; 16:16; 17:5). It is obvious to both internal and external sight that in all these places, and in those quoted above, there is not meant any Son from eternity. Accordingly, with this Divine Trinity, which is indeed the "Fullness of the Godhead, dwelling in Him bodily" (according to Paul), being in the Lord God the Savior Jesus Christ, it follows that He alone is to be approached, to be appealed to for help, and to be worshiped; and that, when this is done, the Father is being approached at the same time, according to John, and [the man] receives the Holy Spirit; for He teaches that He Himself is "the Way, the Truth, and the Life"; that no one cometh to the Father except through Him; and that he that does not by Him as the Door enter into the sheepfold (i.e. the Church), is not a shepherd, but a thief and a robber (John 14:6; 10:1-9); then too, that they who believe on Him have eternal life, and they who do not believe, shall not see life, (John 3:15, 16, 36; 6:40; 11:25, 26; 1 John 5:20).

7) The Divine Trinity, and with it the Divine Unity, being in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Redeemer and Savior of the world, this Trinity is the Trinity of the New Church. (Canons of the New Church #43)

There is some nuance in Swedenborg's view of the Nicene Creed. Also, his understanding of the history behind the creeds is somewhat different than what present-day scholarship has arrived at.

However, it is very clear from these quotations that he saw the Apostles' Creed as reflecting and supporting his own belief in a Trinity in the one Person of Jesus Christ, as well as his view that this was the original Christian Trinity held to in apostolic times. And it is clear enough he saw the Nicene Creed and especially the Athanasian Creed as reflecting a belief in a Trinity of three Persons existing from eternity, which he rejected as a later, human-derived and false Trinity.

Other more passing but still generally positive references to the Apostles' Creed occur in Arcana Coelestia #3868:2; True Christianity #81; Canons of the New Church #38; Invitation to the New Church (another unpublished manuscript) #30, 31.

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Swedenborg himself had no problems with the Apostles' Creed and he did address it in his writings.

It is to be observed, that in the Apostles’ Creed it is said, “I believe in God the Father, in Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Spirit”; in the Nicene Creed, “I believe in one God, the Father, in one Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Spirit,” thus only in one God; ... 1

It is the Athanasian Creed with which he had a problem.

... but in the Athanasian Creed it is, “In God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit,” thus in three Gods. But whereas the authors and favorers of this creed clearly saw that an idea of three Gods would unavoidably result from the expressions therein used, therefore, in order to remedy this, they asserted that one substance or essence belongs to the three; but still there arises from thence no other ideas, than that there are three Gods unanimous and agreeing together: for when it is said of the three that their substance or essence is one and indivisible, it does not remove the idea of three, but confounds it, because the expression is a metaphysical, and the science of metaphysics, with all its ingenuity, cannot of three Persons, each whereof is God, make one; it may need make of them one in the mouth, but never in idea. 1

You can find many of his views concerning creeds and trinity in Canons (1769).

Here's just one statement summary therein.

Chapter V. The trinity of persons in the divinity is from the council of Nice, and was derived thence into the catholic church and [the churches] after it, and is therefore to be called the Nicene Trinity. But the trinity of God in one person, the Lord God the Saviour, is from Christ himself, and was thence in the Apostolic Church, and therefore is to be called the Christian Trinity; and this trinity of God is the Trinity of the new church. 2 (emphasis added)


1. The Teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg, Volume 2 by Emanuel Swedenborg (Simon and Schuster, Feb 4, 2013)
2. Canons by Emanuel Swedenborg, (1769) tr. by John Whitehead (1914)

  • Looking at your answer and the text of the creeds, it appears that "substance" was added in the Nicean (325 and 381 seem to be the same), and "persons" was added in the Athenasian. Swedenborg clearly objects to "persons", but Nice did not add persons and it's not clear if Swedenborg objects to "substance". – disciple Mar 1 '18 at 21:52
  • @disciple As stated in the quotation from Canons of the New Church, Swedenborg didn't think adding "one substance" fixed anything, but only confused things: "When it is said of the three that their substance or essence is one and indivisible, it does not remove the idea of three, but confounds it, because the expression is a metaphysical, and the science of metaphysics, with all its ingenuity, cannot of three Persons, each whereof is God, make one; it may need make of them one in the mouth, but never in idea." – Lee Woofenden Mar 17 '18 at 3:20
  • @LeeWoofenden Thanks. So "substance" made it no better, possibly worse, and "persons" made it worse, probably wrong, in Swedenborg's opinion, apparently. I notice "persons" appears in the quote, so his opinion may still be uncertain. If I remember right, it seems he thought some sort of "trinity" was scriptural. I suspect the majority of Christians overstress the threeness, so Swedenborg's thinking may be helpful to me. – disciple Mar 17 '18 at 3:42
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    @disciple The Bible never speaks of God as three. Only as one. (I'm not counting the Comma Johanneum as authentic.) But to avoid turning this into a discussion in the comments section, on Swedenborg's view of the Trinity compared to the traditional Christian view, please see my article, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It does not attempt a full biblical defense of Swedenborg's Trinity. For that you'd have to read the first three chapters in Swedenborg's work True Christianity. – Lee Woofenden Mar 17 '18 at 3:49
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I fear I am unable to locate material on how Swedenborg himself viewed the Apostles' Creed or any analysis by prominent Swedenborgian theologians. However, from the information I did find, I believe they have major disagreements with the Apostles' Creed

Swedenborg's writings include teachings such as the Holy Spirit is not God and the Trinity does not exist.

I sincerely hope someone better informed will respond and answer your question. In the meantime, I shall do some more research.

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