37- the Apostles Creed & the Nicene Creed

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37- The Apostles Creed & the Nicene Creed (L-13)

From the beginning, the apostolic Church expressed and handed on her faith in brief formulae. The Church also wanted to gather the essential elements of her faith into organic and articulated summaries, intended especially for candidates for Baptism (CCC #186). Such syntheses are called "professions of faith" because they summarize the faith that Christians profess. They are called "creeds" because usually their first word in Latin is credo ("I believe"). They are also called "symbols of faith"(CCC #187). The Creed is divided into three parts: "the first part speaks of the first divine Person and the wonderful work of creation; the next speaks of the second divine Person and the mystery of his redemption of men; the final part speaks of the third divine Person, the origin and source of our sanctification" (CCC #190). There are two important creeds used by the Church: The Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed. Catholic Catechism books for children give the Apostles' Creed and Missalettes used in churches give both the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed. The Directory For Children’s Masses specifies that "the Apostles' Creed can be used since they are familiar with it in their catechism class" (#49). The purpose of any form of the Creed is to provide a basic, succinct statement of the faith. Moreover, the Creeds are structured on the fundamental belief in the Trinity and the "work" proper to each of the three Persons. As such, the Creeds also capture the course of salvation history: Initiated by the Father, the history of salvation culminates in Jesus, and through the work of the Holy Spirit, the redemptive mission and Paschal Mystery of our Lord is operative in the Age of the Church.

The Apostles' Creed is so called because it is rightly considered to be a faithful summary of the apostles' faith. It is the ancient baptismal symbol of the Church of Rome. It constitutes "the oldest Roman catechism”. Its great authority arises from this fact: it is "the Creed of the Roman Church, the See of Peter the first of the apostles, to which he brought the common faith" (CCC #194). According to an ancient tradition, the Apostles composed this Creed on the day of Pentecost, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, each apostle including St. Matthias wrote one of the twelve articles of faith expressed in the Creed. St. Ambrose (d. 397) and Rufinus both attested to this tradition, especially in their preaching. Whether the Apostles themselves actually wrote this early Creed is uncertain; nevertheless, the beliefs expressed in the Creed are certainly rooted in their teachings. During the time of persecution (prior to 313 AD), the Creed was not generally written — it was part of the disciplina arcana, meaning it was memorized and handed on orally as a protection against pagan persecutors.

The Nicene Creed: In the first three centuries after the life and death of Jesus, the majority of Christians had already come to agree that there was only one God (the God of Israel, the Father of Jesus) and that Jesus was both human and divine. These Christians came to be known as catholic (universal) and orthodox (believing in correct teaching). Their opponents, those who held opinions rejected by the majority, came to be called heterodox ("other/false teaching") or heretics ("separatists”). In the early 4th century, the Roman persecutions of Christians ceased, the Emperor Constantine became Christian, and with Imperial support, Christianity grew rapidly. Yet the debates about the exact nature of Jesus and his relationship with God the Father continued. Arianism, the heresy of Arius, basically denied the divinity of Christ. In order to resolve these issues and unify the Christian faith, the leaders (Bishops) of the Christian Churches throughout the Mediterranean held several large meetings, called "Ecumenical Councils." The Nicene Creed was produced by the Council of Nicaea I (325); the Council had been convoked to combat the heresy of Arius, who basically denied the divinity of Christ. Here, the Council wanted to teach very clearly that Jesus Christ is "consubstantial" or "one in Being" with the Father, sharing the same divine nature; that He is begotten, not made or created; and that Mary conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, and through her, Jesus Christ, true God, became also true man. The original text of the Nicene Creed ended at the phrase, "And in the Holy Spirit." Without question, the basis for the Nicene Creed was the Apostles' Creed and the profession of faith administered at Baptism. The "Creed" from the Council of Nicaea was accepted but expanded upon by the Council of Constantinople. The Niceno-Constantinopolitan or Nicene Creed draws its great authority from the fact that it stems from the first two ecumenical Councils (in 325 and 381). It remains common to all the great Churches of both East and West to this day (CCC #195).

The use of the Creed in the Church: The Christian faith was expressed first in the Apostles' Creed and then even more clearly in the Nicene Creed. These Creeds preserved the faith, guarded it, and handed it on to the next generation. All catechism books taught Apostles' Creed to children, enabling them to learn it by heart, so that they might remember the basic doctrines of their faith. In the early age of the Church, through the third century, the substance of the Creed is found in the profession of faith made by a person at Baptism. The person to be baptized responded to three questions, again divided according to the Persons of the Trinity. To this day, in the Rite of Baptism for Children, the person who is to be baptized (or in the case of an infant, the parents and godparents), makes the profession of faith by responding to the three Trinitarian questions: "Do you believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and earth? Do you believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, Who was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered death and was buried, rose again from the dead, and is seated at the right hand of the Father? Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church, the Communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting?" (Adults received into the Church, and baptized and confirmed according to the Rite of Christian Initiation profess their faith by reciting the Nicene Creed.) In addition, the Nicene Creed is incorporated in all ancient texts of the Holy Mass.

A brief analysis of the creed: 1) I believe in one God.” These are the words with which the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed begins. God is unique; there is only one God: The Christian faith confesses that God is one in nature, substance and essence (CCC # 200). "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD; and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might" (Deut 6:45). Jesus himself affirms that God is "the one Lord" whom you must love "with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength" (Mk 12:29-30). At the same time Jesus gives us to understand that He Himself is "the Lord." To confess that Jesus is Lord is distinctive of Christian faith. This is not contrary to belief in the One God. Nor does believing in the Holy Spirit as "Lord and giver of life" introduce any division into the One God (CCC #202). God revealed Himself progressively and under different names to His people, but the revelation that proved to be the fundamental one for both the Old and the New Covenants was the revelation of the divine name to Moses in the theophany of the burning bush, on the threshold of the Exodus and of the covenant on Sinai (CCC #204). Moses said to God, "If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you', and they ask me, 'What is his name?' what shall I say to them?" God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." And he said, "Say this to the people of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you'. . . this is my name for ever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations" (Ex 3:13-15).
2) I believe in God, the Father Almighty: These words begin the Apostles' Creed. Christians are baptized "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." Before receiving the sacrament, they respond to a three-part question when asked to confess the Father, the Son and the Spirit: "I do." The faith of all Christians rests on the Trinity (CCC #232). The Trinity is a mystery of faith in the strict sense, one of the mysteries hidden in God, which can never be known unless they are revealed by God (CCC #237). Jesus revealed that God is Father: "No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him" (Mt 11: 27) (CCC #240). Before his Passover, Jesus announced the sending of "another Paraclete" (Advocate), the Holy Spirit. At work since creation, having previously "spoken through the prophets", the Spirit will now be with and in the disciples, to teach them and guide them "into all the truth". The Holy Spirit is thus revealed as another divine person with Jesus and the Father (CCC #243). The Trinity is One. We do not confess three Gods, but one God in three persons, the "consubstantial Trinity" (CCC #253). "We worship One God in the Trinity and the Trinity in Unity" (Athanasian Creed, CCC # 266). God is almighty (Cfr CCC #268, 269). If we do not believe that God's love is almighty, how can we believe that the Father could create us, the Son redeem us and the Holy Spirit sanctify us? God alone created the universe, freely, directly and without any help.
3) I believe in Jesus Christ the Only Begotten Son of God.” "But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons" (Galatians 4: 4). This is "the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God" (Mark 1: 1) (CCC #422). Jesus (Joshua in Hebrew) means "God saves." The word "Christ" comes from the Greek translation of the Hebrew Messiah, which means "anointed". It became the name proper to Jesus only, because He alone accomplished perfectly the divine mission that "Christ" signifies. The name of Jesus is at the heart of Christian prayer. All liturgical prayers conclude with the words "through our Lord Jesus Christ" (CCC # 430,435,436). The Gospels report that at two solemn moments, the Baptism and the Transfiguration of Christ, the Voice of the Father designates Jesus his "beloved Son" (Mt 3:17; 17:5) (CCC #444). The title "Son of God" signifies the unique and eternal relationship of Jesus Christ to God his Father: He is the Only Begotten Son of the Father, and He is God Himself (CCC #454). With the Nicene Creed, we answer by confessing: "For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit, was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man." Jesus Christ is true God and true man, in the unity of His divine Person; for this reason He is the one and only mediator between God and men.

4) "And by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man." Mary is truly "Mother of God," since she is the mother of the eternal Son of God made man, who is God himself. Mary "remained a virgin in conceiving her Son, a virgin in giving birth to him, a virgin in carrying him, a virgin in nursing him at her breast, always a virgin" (St. Augustine, Serm. 186, 1: PL 38, 999): with her whole being she is "the handmaid of the Lord" (Lk 1:38).

5) “For our sake, He was crucified under Pontius, Pilate, he suffered death and was buried.” During Christ's period in the tomb, His divine Person continued to assume both his soul and his body, although they were separated from each other by death. For this reason the dead Christ's body "saw no corruption" (Acts 13:37) (CCC #639). God's saving plan was accomplished "once for all" by the redemptive death of his Son Jesus Christ. "Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures" (I Cor 15:3). The redemption won by Christ consists in this, that he came "to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mt 20:28), that is, he "loved [his own] to the end" (Jn 13:1), so that they might be "ransomed from the futile ways inherited from [their] fathers" (I Pt 1:18) (CCC #599-603).

6) “He descended into the hell; on the third day he rose again from the dead.” By the expression "He descended into hell", the Apostles' Creed confesses that Jesus did really die and through his death for us conquered death and the devil "who has the power of death" (Heb 2:14). Jesus, like all men, experienced death and in his soul joined the others in the realm of the dead (Sheol in Hebrew or Hades in Greek). But He descended there as Savior, proclaiming the Good News to the spirits imprisoned there. "We bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this day he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus” (Acts 13:32-33) (CCC #633-35). The Resurrection of Jesus is the crowning truth of our faith in Christ, a faith believed and lived as the central truth by the first Christian community; handed on as fundamental by Tradition; established by the documents of the New Testament; and preached as an essential part of the Paschal mystery along with the cross (CCC #638). Faith in the Resurrection has as its object an event which is historically attested to by the disciples, who really encountered the Risen One. At the same time, this event is mysteriously transcendent, insofar as it is the entry of Christ's humanity into the glory of God (CCC #656).

7) He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.”So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God"(Mk 16:19). Jesus Christ, the head of the Church, precedes us into the Father's glorious kingdom so that we, the members of his Body, may live in the hope of one day being with him for ever (CCC #666). Jesus Christ, having entered the sanctuary of heaven once and for all, intercedes constantly for us as the mediator who assures us of the permanent outpouring of the Holy Spirit (CCC #667).

8) “From there he will come again to judge the living and the dead” (Apostles' Creed). On Judgment Day at the end of the world, Christ will come in glory to achieve the definitive triumph of good over evil which, like the wheat and the tares, have grown up together in the course of history. When he comes at the end of time to judge the living and the dead, the glorious Christ will reveal the secret disposition of hearts and will render to each man according to his works, and according to his acceptance or refusal of grace (CCC #681-82).

9) “I believe in the Holy Spirit.” To believe in the Holy Spirit is to profess that the Holy Spirit is one of the persons of the Holy Trinity, consubstantial with the Father and the Son: "Who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified" (CCC #685). From the beginning to the end of time, whenever God sends His Son, He always sends His Spirit: Their mission is conjoined and inseparable (CCC #743). The Holy Spirit is at work with the Father and the Son from the beginning to the completion of the plan for our salvation. He comes to meet us and kindles faith in us. By virtue of our Baptism, the first sacrament of the faith, the Holy Spirit in the Church communicates to us, intimately and personally, the life that originates in the Father and is offered to us in the Son. The Holy Spirit, whom Christ the Head pours out on His members, builds, animates, and sanctifies the Church. She is the sacrament of the Holy Trinity's communion with men.

10) “I believe in the Holy Catholic Church.” The word "Church" means "convocation." The Church is both the means and the goal of God's plan. She will be perfected in the glory of heaven as the assembly of all the redeemed of the earth (cf. Rev 14:4). The Church is both visible and spiritual, a hierarchical society and the Mystical Body of Christ. She is one, yet formed of two components, human and divine (CCC #777-79). "The sole Church of Christ which in the Creed we profess to be one, holy, catholic, and apostolic, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him. Nevertheless, many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside its visible confines"(LG 8).

11)”I believe in the communion of saints.” The Church is a "communion of saints" (CCC #960): “We believe in the communion of all the faithful of Christ, those who are pilgrims on earth, the dead who are being purified, and the blessed in heaven, all together forming one Church; and we believe that in this communion, the merciful love of God and his saints is always [attentive] to our prayers" (Paul VI, CPG # 30) (CCC #962).

12) I believe in the forgiveness of sins.” It was when He gave the Holy Spirit to His apostles that the risen Christ conferred on them His own divine power to forgive sins: "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (CCC #976).

13) “I believe in the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting We firmly believe, and hence we hope, that just as Christ is truly risen from the dead and lives for ever, so after death the righteous will live for ever with the risen Christ and He will raise them up on the last day (CCC #990). The Christian who unites his own death to that of Jesus views it as a step towards Him and an entrance into everlasting life (CCC #1020). Every man receives his eternal recompense in his immortal soul from the moment of his death in a particular judgment by Christ, the judge of the living and the dead (CCC #1022). Those who die in God's grace and friendship imperfectly purified, although they are assured of their eternal salvation, undergo purification after death, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of God (CCC #1030). At the end of time, the Kingdom of God will come in its fullness. Then the just will reign with Christ for ever, glorified in body and soul, and the material universe itself will be transformed. God will then be "all in all" (1 Cor 15:28), in eternal life (CCC #1060). (L-13)

Sources & resources:

  1. http://catholic-resources.org/ChurchDocs/Creeds.htm

  2. http://catholiceducation.org/articles/religion/re0060.html


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