The English word, “creed”, comes from the Latin word, credo, which means “I believe”. A creed, therefore, in the religious sense, is a statement of one’s faith or belief.
Those Churches which claim direct descent from the early undivided Christian Church, the original “Catholic” Church, all accept one or more of certain ancient and formal statements of faith, or Creeds. Some other Church bodies also accept some of these formal declarations but many Protestant bodies do not. Acceptance of and belief in the ancient Creeds is an express or implied condition of membership in such Churches as Anglican bodies, the Roman Catholic Church, the various Eastern Orthodox Churches, and the Old Catholics. To understand what the Creeds mean to Anglicans, see, for example, in the Book of Common Prayer, 1928 American edition, the third question in Holy Baptism, on page 277, and the third question on page 278.
There are three historic Creeds. The Apostles’ Creed, so-called because it was once thought that the Apostles themselves formulated it, dates in its present form from about A.D. 700. It is short and to the point and states 19 basic Christian beliefs.
The Nicene Creed restates 17 of these points, some in expanded form (it omits mention of Christ’s descent into hell and also of the Communion of Saints). It was drawn up at the First Council of Nicaea (A.D. 325) and modified by the First Council of Constantinople (A.D. 381). It is the most universally used of the three historic Creeds.
The Athanasian Creed is seldom if ever used in Anglican services in the United States but is a full exposition of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity and the Incarnation. It was written sometime before A.D. 373 but probably not by Saint Athanasius.
The Creeds are thus handy and oft-repeated summaries of our Christian faith. Anglicans say the Apostles’ Creed at Morning and Evening Prayer, often at burials, etc. The Nicene Creed is nearly always said at Holy Communion. No Anglican Christian should receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion (the Eucharist) without saying the Creed and no Christian should say the Creed without thinking of what he is saying and believing it.