Most of what the Creed says is about God: we say, “I believe in one God”, and then say lots of things about that God in whom we believe.
But the Creed also relates these truths about God to humanity. It emphasises that what Jesus does is “for us men and for our salvation” and “for our sake”. And it ends by recognising our “baptism for the forgiveness of sins”, our “resurrection from the dead” and our “life of the world to come”.
The Creed may be mostly about God, but it is for humanity. We are sinners who need the forgiveness of baptism. Conscious of the mortality of our bodies, we look forward to resurrection. Recognising that this world is finite and imperfect, we hope for the next.
That hope is expressed in a special way this week. On All Saints’ Day, 1 November, we joyfully celebrate those whom Christ has made holy: those countless people, most of whose names have been forgotten by us, who nevertheless show us the way to God through their prayer and example. They show us hope. Then, on All Souls’ Day, 2 November, we show hope by praying for those others who have died in Christ still needing to be purified in order to come to the fullness of holiness.
The Creed expresses the faith of the whole Church, those who have passed beyond this life as well as those still walking this earth. As we remember them all in coming days, may the whole of the Church be bound ever closer together in expression of the unchanging faith.
When we say the creed each Sunday, we proclaim the faith into which we were baptized. Although we are not entirely certain where creeds come from, we know that catechumens in the early Church had to learn answers to a series of questions about the core beliefs of the Church. They repeated these publicly as part of their baptismal ceremony to attest to their belief. Creeds may have originated in part as a condensed version of these answers, and would have varied locally (one of the most famous surviving examples is known to us as The Apostles’ Creed – it was actually the local creed used in Rome). The Council of Nicaea produced a Creed in 325 and later in the same century the Council of Constantinople (381) produced another which it said expressed the faith of Nicaea, and it is this we use today. Bishops had to sign up to this creed when they were ordained, and gradually, over many decades it came to be used in the liturgy and in catechesis.
Catechumens professing the faith at their baptism did need to have a basic grasp of the creed, but not perhaps for the reason you might think. Gregory of Nyssa, a bishop who was present at the council of Constantinople, worried that a false conception of the Trinity would undermine the Christian at the very beginning of his or her new life in Christ. Why? Not because we have to understand in order to for God to save us, but because we do develop ideas about God in our imaginations. The ideas in the creed help us to develop our faith, hope, and love. Doctrine is not a barrier to keep out those who have difficulty comprehending it (such as children, for example, whom Jesus said we ought to be like), but a gift to keep our imaginations faithful.
Part of a series on the Creed by Medi Ann Volpe
Have you ever wondered why we say the creed each Sunday? The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that ‘Communion in faith needs a common language of faith, normative for all and uniting all in the same confession of faith’ (CCC 185). The creed is a gift, and an essential part of what constitutes us as a community. When we say the creed, we accept the gift of faith that is the Church’s faith, and we put our trust in the One she names as Lord and Saviour.
Do we need to understand every word of it in order to proclaim it? No. A child learns to say ‘I love you’ long before she really grasps what love is, and yet she speaks truly. So also we say ‘I believe’ as we grow in understanding of the commitment we make together. Nor do we come to understand it in the order in which we speak it. We may feel we grasp more clearly the statements of the second article of the creed, those which remind us of the narrative of Jesus’ incarnation, life, passion, death and resurrection—and so we should. The tender love and compassion of ‘God the Father Almighty’ who might seem rather distant as ‘maker of heaven and earth’ shows forth in all its gentleness and forbearance in the life of Christ.
The creed offers us a chance, week by week, to meditate upon the faith we have received, and to make it our own.
This is the first in a series of thoughts on the Creed by Medi Ann Volpe.
Above all things love God with thy heart.
Desire his honour more than the health of thine own soul.
Take heed with all diligence to purge
Repute not thyself better than any other persons,
Use much silence,
Banish from thee all grudging and distraction,
Resort to God every hour…
Show thyself a sore enemy to vice,
Be not partial for favour, lucre, not malice,
Be pitiful unto poor folk and help them to thy power,
Give fair language to all persons
And pray continually to God
Also apply diligently the inspirations of the Holy Ghost,
Renew every day thy good purpose.
If by chance you fall into sin, despair not,
from the Rule of Life collected by Bl Adrian Fortescue. Bl Adrian, a member of the Lay Fraternity of St Dominic at Oxford, died a martyr at the Tower of London on 8 or 9 July 1539.
Just as happens when we fall in love with someone, whenever he would gaze at the sun, the moon or the smallest of animals, [Saint Francis] burst into song, drawing all other creatures into his praise. He communed with all creation, even preaching to the flowers, inviting them “to praise the Lord, just as if they were endowed with reason”. His response to the world around him was so much more than intellectual appreciation or economic calculus, for to him each and every creature was a sister united to him by bonds of affection. That is why he felt called to care for all that exists. His disciple Saint Bonaventure tells us that, “from a reflection on the primary source of all things, filled with even more abundant piety, he would call creatures, no matter how small, by the name of ‘brother’ or ‘sister’”. Such a conviction cannot be written off as naive romanticism, for it affects the choices which determine our behaviour. If we approach nature and the environment without this openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs. By contrast, if we feel intimately united with all that exists, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously. The poverty and austerity of Saint Francis were no mere veneer of asceticism, but something much more radical: a refusal to turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled.
What is more, Saint Francis, faithful to Scripture, invites us to see nature as a magnificent book in which God speaks to us and grants us a glimpse of his infinite beauty and goodness. “Through the greatness and the beauty of creatures one comes to know by analogy their maker” (Wis 13:5); indeed, “his eternal power and divinity have been made known through his works since the creation of the world” (Rom 1:20). For this reason, Francis asked that part of the friary garden always be left untouched, so that wild flowers and herbs could grow there, and those who saw them could raise their minds to God, the Creator of such beauty. Rather than a problem to be solved, the world is a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise.
By happy coincidence we are celebrating this week all three sacraments of initiation. Both on Sunday 14 and 21 June we will celebrate the sacrament of baptism, by which a new member enters into the Church.
On Friday 19 June at St Joseph’s Church, Mill Lane, Gilesgate, Bishop Séamus will celebrate a Mass for Confirmation of teenagers from the Durham Parishes, including two members of our own congregations. The candidates will receive the Holy Spirit anew and be strengthened for their role and mission as adult Christians.
And at the 10:00am Mass here at St Cuthbert’s on Sunday 14 June we celebrate the first participation in Holy Communion of two of our children.
This Sunday we finally return to the green of Ordinary Time after the long cycle of Lent and Easter, followed by the great feasts of the Most Holy Trinity and the Body and Blood of Christ. We use green as a sign of the vitality and fruitfulness that there is in the Church throughout the year, and these infants, children and teenagers are signs to us of the growth of God’s kingdom.
In the Gospel, Jesus tells us that the kingdom of God is like a man who throws seed on the land. “Night and day, while he sleeps, when he is awake, the seed is sprouting and growing; how, he does not know” (Mark 4:27). The seed of faith is sown in baptism, strengthened in confirmation and nourished in the eucharist. We give thanks for the gifts of these sacraments and pray especially this week for those who receive them: that their faith may continue to grow and that they may be an example to us all, all year round.
The first reading for this Sunday reminds us that “God does not have favourites” and that “anybody of any nationality who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34-35).
I am writing this text before the result of the General Election and the composition of the new government is known. But, given what the major parties have said during the campaign, it seems clear that tough immigration rules and targets will remain. Indeed, things may yet get more difficult for those who want to come here to live, work, study or visit.
It is, of course, reasonable that a society should protect itself from those who would harm it; but we must remember that welcome to people of all nations is part of what Christianity is built upon. St Peter and St Paul, those pillars of the early Church’s preaching, both became migrants. St Paul was shipwrecked three times and spent a night and day in the open sea (2 Cor 11:25). It is through their efforts to reach distant nations that we can now rejoice in the name of Christian.
Peter and Paul both got to Rome, where they died martyrs’ deaths; many hundreds of people each year do not make it as far as Italy, but drown in the Mediterranean or die in other futile attempts to cross borders. Whether these people are called migrants or refugees, the causes of their situation are complex; but the human tragedy is all too plain.
We have in the last few weeks focussed, unsurprisingly, on what is for the good of our national society; but now the election is over we must remember that our duties to a national society are secondary to our fundamental obligations as human beings and as Christians to cherish, support and welcome all human life. We must urge our newly-elected leaders to make these values a reality.
This coming Thursday, 7 May, sees one of the most significant responsibilities most of us have in making a decision for the good of our society. The Bishops of England and Wales, in their recent letter, remind us:
“The Gospel is radical and challenging. It is the saving message of Jesus Christ. It is a way of life. It teaches us to value each person: the vulnerable child inside the womb; the parent struggling with the pressures of family life; the person striving to combat poverty; the teacher inspiring students to seek the truth; the stranger fleeing violence and persecution in their homeland; the prisoner in his cell in search of redemption; the child in a distant land claiming the right to a future; and the frail elderly person needing care and facing the frontier of death.
“As Catholics, we are called to work for a world shaped by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Gospel proclaims the mercy of God and invites us steadfastly to love God and our neighbour. Our relationship with God leads to the desire to build a world in which respect, dignity, equality, justice, and peace are our primary concerns…
“At this General Election we are asked to think about the kind of society we want here at home and abroad.”
Having heard the candidates, may we take time to pray and ponder this week about how best to serve our society by the way we vote. May the Holy Spirit give us the gift of right judgement in casting our votes, and rest upon the counsels of all those who are elected.
The Bishops’ letter is available at the back of the church or on-line at www.catholicnews.org.uk/election15.