Happy New Year from the Growing Our Faith group! St. Augustine described our faith as “ever ancient, ever new,” and so we begin this new year reflecting on the Creeds we profess.
The Creeds are structured on the fundamental belief in the Trinity and the “work” of the three Persons: The Father and creation; the Son and redemption; and the Holy Spirit and sanctification. Since the early age of the Church, this profession is first made at Baptism, when we respond to three questions about the Persons of the Trinity. We are entering into a covenant with God. This tradition still holds today.
The faith was first expressed in the Apostle’s Creed and more clearly defined in the Nicene Creed. What is important is that the faith was preserved, guarded and handed on to the next generation. Considering things were handed down verbally long before they were written, it has been well preserved. This also shows the importance of what we recite every week! Please pray it, don’t just ramble it off in habit. Think about what you are saying. It’s our profession of faith! Scott Hahn says, “If we don’t get the creed right, we don’t get Jesus right. And if we don’t get Him right, we don’t get anything right.”
The first Creeds of the Christian church are called ecumenical Creeds because they were decided in church councils that represented the entire church before the church was permanently divided into the Eastern (Orthodox) and western (Roman Catholic) branches in AD 1054. Creeds are usually produced to formalize beliefs when the church was threatened by various heresies.
Tradition holds that the Apostles wrote the Apostle’s Creed on the 10th day after Christ’s ascension into heaven, Pentecost. While there is no evidence of this, the beliefs they expressed are rooted in their teachings. It is highly probable that the Creed was originally nothing more than a profession of faith in the Father, Son and Holy Ghost used in the baptismal rite. There were three questions presented to the candidate for baptism representing the oldest form of the Creed, similar to the questions posed to the congregation during the sacrament today. It is commonly taught that all points of doctrine contained in the Creed are part of the Catholic Faith and are not open for reconsideration.
The Nicene Creed was produced at the First Council of Nicea (AD 325) in response to the Arian heresy denying the divinity of Christ. The Arians, led by Arius, taught that Jesus was a special created being but not God. The Council was convened by Emperor Constantine, probably in cooperation with Pope Sylvester I, to settle the matter. They affirmed the divinity of Christ that He was of “one substance with the Father, consubstantial,” sharing the same divine nature, begotten, not created; and that Mary was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, and through her, Jesus Christ, true God, became also true man.
All the bishops (approximately 250), except for two, adopted the Creed. The two opposing bishops, along with Arius and his writings were exiled and anathematized (accursed or condemned to damnation or destruction). The books were also cast into a fire. The Council took this very seriously!
The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed is what we recite at Mass most Sundays. In AD 381, the Council of Constantinople was convened to affirm the Nicene Creed established years earlier and clearly define the divinity of the Holy Spirit.
We pray that the history of the Creed we’ve shared this month has helped you understand how important this prayer is. In the upcoming months we will break down the foundational teachings of the Creed. Please remember to think about what you are saying as you are praying it each week. Take it to your heart!
When starting the Creed “I believe,” we should be praying it with faith, not just giving intellectual assent to the fundamental doctrines of the Church. Faith means believing certain things are true; it means trust, commitment and obedience. What do you believe?