The Creed: A force to be reckoned with
IN THE FIRST EPISODE OF STAR WARS, the good Princess Leia is being held captive on the Death Star by Darth Vader and the bad Empire forces, who threaten to blow up her home star if she doesn’t tell them where a rebel outpost is. Even though she gives them information (albeit false), the bad guys blow up her home anyway. At the very moment the star is blown up, Obi-Wan Kenobi, the wise old Jedi master, nearly faints. When he regains composure, he says, “I felt a great disturbance of the force as if thousands of voices screamed out and were suddenly silenced.”
Imagine the surge of energy Obi Wan Kenobi would sense from the strength of millions of voices calling out not in death but in life. That is the power of the creed recited at every Mass in every corner of the globe, any day of the week. The force of close to a billion voices is with them each time Christians pray these words:
In other words
Most of Christians can recite these words (or a previous version of the Creed) by heart, but many of us might stumble if we actually had to explain the meaning behind this compact statement of belief.
The Nicene Creed, which is the creed Catholics recite at Mass, was initially formulated at the Council of Nicea (in modern Turkey) in 325 and completed in 381 at the Council of Constantinople. Its main concern was to counter the Arian heresy, which denied the full divinity of Jesus and the triune nature of God.
Thus, in the creed we state our belief in one God, the Father. In Jesus Christ, who is “consubstantial with the father,” and the Holy Spirit, “who proceeds from the Father and the Son.”
The members of the Council were particularly concerned with anticipating any loopholes that would allow unorthodox teachings to prevail, so they included extensive descriptions of Jesus: the only Son of God, born of the Father before all ages . . . God from God . . .
|Scriptural roots of the Creed
Scripture is filled with professions of faith that gradually helped shape the Christian concept of God. Here is a sampling:
DEUT. 6:4: Hear O Israel, the LORD is our God, the LORD alone.
MATT. 16:16: Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
MATT. 28:19: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
JOHN 6:68-69: Simon Peter answered him, “Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
JOHN 20:28: Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”
1 COR. 8:6: Yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.
1 COR. 12:3: Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.
1 TIM. 3:16: Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of our religion: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.
1 JOHN 4:2: By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God.
Saint Athanasius, who played a key role at the Council, is credited with the beautiful image of Jesus as Light from Light, true God from true God, which draws from an analogy common among Athanasius and his followers that compared God to the sun and Jesus to the sun’s rays. The argument went something like this: The sun’s rays are derived from the sun (not vice versa), but there was never a time when the sun existed without its light. So, too, Jesus exists through the Father but there was never a time when the Father existed without the Son. Thus, they argued God and Jesus are co-eternal, and Jesus is, as we say in the creed, “true God from true God.”
We believe, too, that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and Son (this line is a sticking point for Orthodox Christians, who insist that the Spirit proceeds from the Father alone—but that is another day’s argument).
Mainly we believe that our God is Father, Son, Spirit, or said another way: our God is Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier of all life. All that exists comes through this triune God. That is why we believe creation is ultimately good, and all God’s creatures are worthy of dignity and respect.
Finally we believe that the Church, the community of faithful, is one (united), holy (of God) catholic (universal, encompassing all the local churches), and apostolic (active and communal). In other words we believe that to be Christian is not just to follow a set of rules or adhere to a set of beliefs; being Christian by its very nature means being part of a community that traces its roots to the earliest Christian communities. It means sharing God’s word, breaking bread together, and living out the gospel in fellowship with others.
You are loved
The creed took centuries to develop and will take more than the lifetime of each believer to fully comprehend, but its main truth is disarmingly simple: You are loved. You were created out of love, your life’s purpose is to love and be loved, and nothing can separate you from your one true love, who is eternal, real, steadfast, and ever-present.
The details of how that love gets expressed are unique to each believer—some may choose to live their lives in service to the poor; others to fight social injustice; still others to teach and offer counsel. Some may choose to commit to a celibate lifestyle and live in a religious community while others may choose different forms of consecrated life, Holy Orders, Matrimony, or single life. All ways are holy, yet not all ways are right for each of us. Our main purpose as Christians is to find the best way to live out God’s call to love.
Our path is not always apparent, but we are not without help along the way. We have the church, consisting of the community of faithful, the Magisterium (the Pope, cardinals, bishops, and so on who make up the teaching church), scripture, and tradition, all of which point to the many ways people throughout salvation history have accepted and expressed God’s love. We also have God in the person of Father, Son, and Spirit continually drawing us into Divine goodness.
One thing is certain: no matter which way we turn, no matter where we put our focus and energy and commitments, our lives should lead to joy—deep, satisfying, life-giving joy. Confusion and doubt are part of the process, even a little anguish and sense of loss for the paths we could have taken, but our overriding spiritual and emotional state should be one of joy as we journey toward God.
We are part of the light of the world—this light is our origin and destination. Though our lives will contain many sorrows, Christians are not a sorrowful people. We are God’s children, not his crabby, fretful next-door neighbors. God expects us to delight in life. A look at the holiest people in history or in your own backyard gives witness to this delight. “Cheerfulness strengthens the heart and makes us persevere in a good life,” said Saint Philip Neri, known as the “Saint of Joy.” “Therefore the servant of God ought always to be in good spirits.”
So when you find yourself at a crossroad, at a time of major decision and transition, instead of succumbing to angst and fear, it is wise to go back to the basics, just as a golfer breaks down the elements of his swing or a ball player goes over the fundamentals of the game. Try reciting the creed and remind yourself of the core beliefs of Catholic faith that tell you why you are here (because God created you out of love) and what your purpose is (to give and receive love). Most of all remember that you are not alone. A billion other souls are on a similar spiritual journey. Together we generate a powerful force of love. May the force be with you as you discern your call.
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