Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 40

The Nicene Creed~ Part 26

In our last post, we continued to explore the Nicene Creed. In this post, we continue to dig into the third article of faith, keeping with the phrase We Believe in One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church in the Nicene Creed.

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 worshiped 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. Amen.


The term catholic, not much used before, acquired a new significance in the mouth of Believers. Pacian of Barcelona wrote that no one used to be called catholic during the time of the emissaries. But when heretics had appeared and were striving under various names to tear apart the kehillot, the apostolic people required a name of their own by which they would mark the unity of an uncorrupted people. Ignatius of Antioch was the first to attribute the adjective catholic to the kehillah to warn Believers against the celebration of the Eucharist by renegades.

The final description that the creed uses in referring to the kehillah is the adjective apostolic. Not present in the Brit Hadashah, this term refers directly to the emissaries as a historical reality. In early messianic history, the emissaries enjoyed a privileged position in that they were bearers of the message of Yeshua and about Yeshua. That message could be transmitted only by people legitimately chosen and invested with that authority proper to Yeshua. The first bearers of the message, in turn, sent other emissaries. Its communication was oral. At the beginning of the second century, Papias of Hierapolis considered the oral reception more profitable than the written. Also, Tertullian referred to the methodology of reading Scripture within the oral tradition. In the second century, the apostolic authority was found in written texts that went under the names of the emissaries. All appealed to the emissaries and their teaching, even the Gnostics, who referred to the secret teaching of Yeshua and the emissaries. From this came the necessity of a public and documented succession from the emissaries onward through the drawing up of the lists of bishops.

The terminology of succession is not present in the Brit Hadashah. The preoccupation with assuring the continuity and fidelity to sound doctrine is present in the Pastoral Letters and the Acts of the Emissaries to preserve identity in time and space. For this reason, the priesthood was instituted. The succession was assured through the imposition of hands and the invocation of the grace of God: Do not neglect your gift, which you were given through a prophecy when the body of elders gave you s’mikhah. [1] 6For this reason, I am reminding you to fan the flame of God’s gift, which you received through s’mikhah from me. For God gave us a Spirit who produces not timidity, but power, love, and self-discipline. [2] Clement of Rome was the first to elaborate on the terminology of succession. Tertullian confronted the issues of kehillot not founded by the emissaries. Over time, apostolicity [3] came to carry the weight of institutional and doctrinal importance concerning the catholicity of the kehillah.

One could write the history of the ancient kehillah as a continuous battle against swarms of heresies and schisms. It was a kehillah in continuous tension between unity and division, which it overcame partially through the centralization of power in the hands of the bishops. From this arose the necessity to celebrate numerous conciliar assemblies at various levels (diocesan, provincial, regional, or more than one geographical area, or of the whole empire). For example, in the councils, there was the African practice of rereading the canons of the previous meetings. Why? This rereading was also a sign of continuity. The councils, then, were a model of collegiality at various levels, both geographically and through time.

This continuity was essential for the faith and life of the kehillah. When Believers inserted apostolicity in the creed, they wanted to affirm the historical and verifiable continuity of the faith, of the kehillah, of the individual Believers, and the kehillot religious organization. The two terms, apostolic and catholic, complement each other in that the first explains the present unity and continuity with its origins while the second explains present kehillah.

Believers of the early centuries found and practiced different ways of preserving and promoting communion, unity of faith, and discipline between the numerous kehillot spread throughout the Roman Empire, especially in the first centuries and in the autonomous political entities succeeding centuries. More or less effective and valuable methods were indispensable because of the incredible variety that was very notable. Furthermore, communication and the circulation of ideas were problematic. Still, the organizations that were formed to ensure unity evolved enormously and sometimes assumed permanent forms. In ensuring ecclesial peace, the laity became more and more marginalized when they had exercised a significant role in early times. For example, in the third century, the laity was vigilant about the orthodoxy of their bishop. Contact with other Messianic kehillot served to maintain and develop a consciousness of many kehillot’s unity, like a federation of kehillot. There is a hierarchy of importance, reference, and coordination. In the East, the seats of reference were those of Alexandria, of Antioch of Syria, and, from the end of the fourth century, of Constantinople, which more and more became the center of attention and acquired a type of importance, which was challenged by the other eastern sees. The presence of the emperor in the capital attracted many bishops there who could form a type of permanent council during their stay in the city.

There had to be a close communication system, especially since there was no canon law, norms, and local and regional traditions. Not excluding those of the ecumenical councils, the conciliar canons had a relatively limited circulation, and their knowledge was lacking. A well-defined biblical canon did not exist either at that time. The Bible, a fundamental part of believing, was the constant point of reference in the life of Messianic kehillot, in particular, in antiquity. Biblical exegesis was at the basis of preaching, catechesis, doctrinal elaboration, ethics, the institutions and the liturgy, and the controversies. It was the source of unity and division because of the different possible interpretations, depending on different theologies. For this reason, discussion and communication, and not an imposition from above, created real communion between the kehillot. [4]

In my next post, we continue to dig into the third article of the Nicene Creed: We Acknowledge One Baptism.

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 40

[1] 1 Timothy 4:14 (CJB).

[2] 2 Timothy 1:6–7 (CJB).

[3] Apostolicity is the mark by which the Church of today is recognized as identical with the Church founded by Jesus Christ upon the Apostles. It is of great importance because it is the surest indication of the true Church of Christ, it is most easily examined, and it virtually contains the other three marks, namely, Unity, Sanctity, and Catholicity.

[4] Di Berardino, A., & Oden, T. C. (Eds.). We Believe in One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church (Vol. 5, pp. 54–57).

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