Again Magazine Volume 20 Number 2 Summer 1997 Page 28-31
In the Holy Catholic Church;
in the forgiveness of sins;
in the resurrection of the body;
and in life everlasting.
compiled from the early Church Fathers on the meaning of the Apostles’ Creed.
A selection from From Darkness to Light by Anne Field
THE FAITH WE PROFESS AT OUR BAPTISM
Let us think of the faith we profess when we make our commitment to Jesus Christ at our baptism.
By this faith we know that there is one God, the source of all things, who made everything out of nothing. By this faith we know that the dead will rise again. By faith we know that the Father has a Son who shares His own nature. By faith we know that the Holy Spirit is God and that He is the Spirit of Father and Son. By faith we are convinced of the truth of the saving plan by which God the Son became incarnate in our world.
Faith makes us grasp with our hearts things that do not yet actually exist. What I mean is that by faith we firmly lay hold of the resurrection and the Kingdom of heaven and the life to come, which we do not actually experience here and now. Faith makes us see and know invisible and inexpressible realities. By faith we are able to see God, who is by nature invisible, who dwells in unapproachable light and glory, which no human eyes have ever seen or can see (1 Tim. 6:16). Yes, we are able to see this glory with the eyes of faith!
Just as we can see material things as long as our bodily eyes are healthy and have good vision and remain unobstructed, so through the teaching of our religion we come to know these invisible and inexpressible things. We can see them correctly if our faith is sound, but they are invisible to people whose faith is infirm. Faith gives a perfect grasp of religious truth to those it convinces, but those who fall away from faith are plunged into error. Saint Paul calls the Church of God the pillars and bulwark of the truth (I Tim. 3:15), because it is sound in faith and strong in teaching.
Now the faith the Church commits to you is confirmed by God’s word in the Scriptures. Not everyone, however, can study the Bible and know it thoroughly. Some lack the education, others the opportunity. For this reason, we are given a summary of the whole teaching of the Christian faith in a short formula, easy to remember, so that no one will be lost through not learning it.
We call this formula the Creed. It consists of twelve brief articles which have been collected from the Scriptures and drawn up in a way people can easily memorize.
The time has now come for me to teach it to you. I want you to commit it to memory word for word. Do not write it down on paper; write it in your hearts so that you never forget it. Say it over every day among yourselves. Before you go to sleep at night, before you go out of your house during the day, fortify yourselves with the Creed. And as I explain it to you, believe it, and be ready to recite it publicly next week.
The Creed is part of your Christian armor. It is a provision for your journey that you must retain as long as your life lasts. Never accept any other faith than this, not even if I should change my mind and say something that contradicts what you are now being taught; no, not if the spirit of darkness were to disguise himself as an angel of light and lead you astray. Guard it with the utmost care, or the old enemy will seize his chance to ruin you by tempting you to prefer your own notions to the teaching of the Church, or else some false Christian will deceive you by misrepresenting the truths that have been handed on to you. Faith, you might say, is like cash paid over the counter. I am handing over the cash to you now, but God will require an account from you of what you have received. Remember what Saint Paul says to Timothy: “I charge you before God, who gives life to all, and before Jesus Christ who gave testimony before Pontius Pilate, to keep this faith that is committed to you spotless until our Lord Jesus Christ appears. A treasure of life has been entrusted to you, and at His coming the Master will look for the deposit” (1 Tim. 5:21; 6:13—15).
THE GIVING OF THE CREED
The Creed is the formula by which we profess the Christian faith. By publicly affirming these few short phrases at baptism we gain immense blessings. The Creed is also the rule of faith by which we are able to judge the orthodoxy of any doctrine we may hear propounded. If a proposition cannot be reconciled with these basic tenets, it must be rejected.
First of all, I will recite the Creed straight through for you. Listen carefully.
I BELIEVE IN GOD THE FATHER ALMIGHTY,
MAKER OF HEAVEN AND EARTH,
AND IN JESUS CHRIST, HIS ONLY SON, OUR LORD,
WHO WAS CONCEIVED OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
AND BORN OF THE VIRGIN MARY,
SUFFERED UNDER PONTIIUS PILATE,
WAS CRUCIFIED, DIED, AND WAS BURIED.
ON THE THIRD DAY HE ROSE FROM THE DEAD.
HE ASCENDED INTO HEAVEN
AND IS SEATED AT THE RIGHT HAND OF THE FATHER.
FROM THENCE HE SHALL COME
TO JUDGE THE LIVING AND THE DEAD.
I BELIEVE IN THE HOLY SPIRIT,
THE HOLY CATHOLIC CHURCH,
THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS,
THE RESURRECTION OF THE BODY,
AND LIFE EVERLASTING. AMEN. 1
Now let us consider each article of the Creed separately.
[The section explaining the first several articles of the creed have been omitted from this selection.]
THE CHURCH IS YOUR MOTHER
So far we have professed our faith in the blessed Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The remaining articles of the Creed are about ourselves.
The next thing we say is:
I BELIEVE IN THE HOLY CATHOLIC CHURCH.
The Church is ourselves. Not just the people present here in this building listening to me speaking, but all who by God’s grace hold the Christian faith, not only in this city but all over the world; all whom the Lord Jesus has redeemed with His precious blood and who profess their faith in this Creed which I am now teaching you.
This is how the Catholic Church understands herself. She is our true mother, because she is the Bride of Christ. He came down from heaven in search of her, and with infinite love and tenderness healed and cleansed her and showered His gifts upon her. She can never forget that once she prostituted herself to demons and false gods; to forget that would be to forget the mercy of her Savior, who found her a harlot and, by the power of His grace, restored her to virginity.
Yes, the Church is both virgin and mother; virgin by her faith and fidelity to her Lord, mother by the children she bears Him in the waters of baptism. Have you not given in your names to her in order to be born again? Are not all of you here at this moment being carried in her womb? Like Mary, the mother of Jesus, who bore her Son yet remained a virgin afterward, the Church preserves her virginity even though she bears many children. Like Mary, she gives birth to Christ, because all the baptized are members of Christ’s Body. The true children of Holy Church resemble their mother; they too give birth to Christ, since He Himself said: “Whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother” (Matt. 12:50). And they too are virgins, since Saint Paul says: “I have betrothed you as a chaste virgin to your one husband, Christ” (2 Cor. 11:2). Saint Paul also calls the Church our mother, the heavenly Jerusalem (Gal. 4:26), while the Book of Revelation calls her the Bride, the wife of the Lamb (Rev. 21:9).
So then, Holy Church is your mother, the heavenly Jerusalem, the holy city of God. Love this mother of yours, who bears you in her womb. Honor and acknowledge her. Anyone who refuses to have the Church as his mother cannot have God as his Father. She is the Church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth (1 Tim. 3: 15), who does not reject sinners who come to take part in her sacraments, even though in the end they may be separated from her.
Do not be scandalized if you discover that there are sinners within the Church. They are the chaff among the wheat, and are allowed to remain until the final winnowing on the Last Day, in the hope that they may be touched by the Church’s message of repentance and forgiveness in Jesus’ name. To her the Lord has given the keys of the Kingdom of heaven, so that through her ministry and the power of the Spirit sins may be washed away in the blood of the Lamb. In this Holy Catholic Church we who used to lie dead in sin are born anew, to live the resurrection life with Christ, by whose grace we have all been saved.
THE CHURCH HAS THE POWER TO FORGIVE SINS
The Creed goes on to say:
I BELIEVE IN THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS.
If the Church did not possess the power of forgiving sins, there would be no hope for any of us, no hope of healing or freedom or of eternal life in our heavenly home. Thanks be to God for empowering His Church with this priceless gift! Here are all of you now, ready to come to the sacred font where you will be washed clean and made new creatures by being born again in the saving waters of baptism. When you come up from the font you will be free of every sin; all the guilt of your past will be blotted out. No matter what you have done, it will be forgiven. You can tell me the most terrible crime you have ever committed, so horrible that you shudder to think of it, but I shall say to you: even so, you have not murdered God’s only Son. Could anything be worse than that? That was the crime committed by some of the Lord’s own people; yet after they had handed Him over to be crucified, a great many of them came to believe in Him on the Day of Pentecost. When they turned to Him in repentance and were baptized, that fearful sin of theirs was forgiven.
Have a firm hope, then, that by believing, repenting, and being baptized you too will receive the forgiveness of all your sins and be born to new life.
After your baptism hold fast to your new life by keeping God’s commandments, so that you preserve your baptismal grace to the end of your life. I do not say you will be able to live in future without committing any sins, because it is impossible in this world to avoid lesser sins entirely. But the Lord has given us a remedy for these lighter offenses, which I shall tell you about later on.
WE SHALL RISE AGAIN
The next article of the Creed is:
I BELIEVE IN THE RESURRECTION OF THE BODY.
This resurrection has already happened for our Lord Jesus Christ, and we believe it will happen for us too, because we are His members. Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church, which is His Body. Our Head has risen from the grave and gone before us to heaven. Where the head is, the members will follow.
The whole Christian mystery is the mystery of our resurrection. “If Christ has not risen,” declares Saint Paul, “then your faith is in vain” (1 Cor. 15:14). But Christ has risen, and that is why our faith is so sure and certain.
How will our bodies rise again? Not in the way that Lazarus was brought back to life. He was raised up only for a time, and had to die again later on. We shall not come back to life in order to go on living the same kind of earthly life and pursuing the same earthly pleasures as we did before. Saint Paul makes that clear. He says our bodies will be sown in the ground as natural bodies, and raised up as spiritual bodies (1 Cor. 15:44). In the risen life our bodies will be fully under the control of our glorified spirits. They will no longer be a burden to us, nor will they have any need for food, since they will never suffer again or wear out. There will be no more death, no more sickness, no more hunger or thirst, no distress or old age or weariness. Our mortal bodies will put on immortality and imperishability. Body and spirit together will possess
—the next article of the Creed—and a common home with the angels in heaven. We shall be the Lord’s possession and inheritance, and He will be ours.
This is the true, Christian, Catholic, and Apostolic Faith, based on the Lord’s own words. Cast out every doubt, and believe firmly, totally, unswervingly. Trust the Lord, who cherishes every hair of your heads. For your sake He took a human body and soul so that He could die for you and rise again, and you might never again have any fear of death. How then can you hesitate to believe He is able to give you eternal life of body and soul?
THE HOLY SPIRIT WILL WRITE THE CREED IN YOUR HEARTS
Having given you this short teaching on the Creed, I have done my duty for the present. When you hear the Creed recited, you will recognize in it a brief summary of what I have just said. As for the actual words, as I told you at the beginning, you are strictly forbidden to write them down. You must learn them by heart. . . .To know the Creed by heart is a great safeguard. There are bound to come times when you will be afflicted by dullness of spirit, weariness of body, temptations from the devil (who never takes a holiday), sickness, or anxiety of one kind or another. At such times you can find healing and strength in reaffirming your faith by repeating the words of the Creed.
Do not be afraid your memory will fail you. Everything you hear in the Creed is contained in Holy Scripture. You are hearing it all the time, not in its entirety or in the customary order, but as it occurs in the liturgy. Remember that God has promised through the Prophet Jeremiah that He will make a new covenant with us. “This is the covenant I will make with them in those days,” He says. “I will write My laws in their minds and inscribe them in their hearts” (Jer. 31:33). As you hear the words of the Creed pronounced they are being written in your minds. But when you have been born again through the grace of the Lord Jesus who has called you to share His Kingdom and glory, the Holy Spirit will write them in your hearts, so that you will love your holy faith, and your faith will show itself by your love. Because of your love you will try to be pleasing to the Lord your God, the giver of all good things, not out of a servile fear of punishment, but by freely choosing to carry out His holy will and obey His commandments.•
SO THEN, HOLY CHURCH IS YOUR MOTHER,
THE HEAVENLY JERUSALEM,
THE HOLY CITY OF GOD.
LOVE THIS MOTHER OF YOURS,
WHO BEARS YOU IN HER WOMB.
HONOR AND ACKNOWLEDGE HER.
ANYONE WHO REFUSES TO HAVE THE
CHURCH AS HIS MOTHER
CANNOT HAVE GOD AS HIS FATHER.
Note: This particular selection is compiled primarily from the writings of Augustine and Ambrose of Milan.
I . This is the version of the Apostles Creed used in the west during the time of Augustine and Ambrose.