This series of teaching editorials focuses on themes of The Creed, the topic of this season’s Why Catholic? process.
In years past, a common card found in Catholics’ wallets, along with a driver’s license and maybe some credit cards, said: “I am Catholic. In case of an accident, call a Catholic priest.” While this is still a great idea, Pope Francis has reminded us that it is our love — “our living witness” — that identifies us as Catholics, much like in ancient Antioch the first Christians were identified by the way they loved one another.
In his new encyclical “Lumen Fidei,” after speaking of the joyful love that is the clearest sign of a lively faith, Pope Francis quickly calls us to deepen the faith received as a gift and to pass on that faith. The solid summary of “what we have received” is the Creed.
The Creed is based on Tradition… that is Tradition with a big “T.” Of course we often speak of traditions or customs that change from age to age, and we have such traditions within the Catholic Church. These include the language used at Mass, many devotions and the regulations for fasting, to name a few.
But there is also Tradition with the big “T.” When I studied revelation (that is, God revealing himself to his people), we learned that God spoke to his people and that Sacred Scripture, inspired by the Holy Spirit, came to be over time, the 72 books of the Bible — Old and New Testaments (or Covenants).
The Holy Spirit did not abandon the Church founded by Jesus, and in fact continues through his inspiration to lead the Church. It is this teaching role of the Church that has resulted over the centuries in a distilled form called the Creed.
Like modern corporations that develop mission statements to be posted and even memorized by employees, we Catholics have in the Creed a shorthand reminder of what we believe and what unites us in Christ Jesus. We recite it publicly at most Sunday Masses. It is our identification badge that tells others who we are as Catholics.
Packed with meaning, the Creed, which was developed through the teaching office of the Church, truly comes to life when we uncover the richness and depth of its meaning.
Msgr. Peter Vaghi in his book, The Faith We Profess (Ave Maria Press, 2008) calls the Creed the “summa or summary of everything we believe” and then quotes extensively from Pope Emeritus Benedict’s 2006 homily on the Creed: “The Creed is not a collection of propositions; it is not a theory. It is anchored in the event of Baptism — a genuine encounter between God and man. In the mystery of Baptism, God stoops to meet us; he comes close to us and in turn brings us closer to one another. Baptism means that Jesus Christ adopts us as his brothers and sisters, welcoming us as sons and daughters into God’s family.”
Pope Benedict continues: “We have inherited two creeds from the early Church: the shorter Apostles’ Creed that is derived from the preparation for Baptism and took shape in the third century; and the longer Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed (often called simply “the Nicene Creed”) that is derived from two General Councils of the Church held in Asia Minor: Nicea I (325) and Constantinople I (381).”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains the Trinitarian nature of the God in whose name we are baptized and in which the Creed is grounded with these words:
“Our profession of faith begins with God, for God is the First and the Last, the beginning and the end of everything. The Credo begins with God the Father, for the Father is the first divine person of the Most Holy Trinity; our Creed begins with the creation of heaven and earth, for creation is the beginning and the foundation of all God’s works” (Catechism of the Catholic Church §198).
These editorials for October, paralleling the topics of the Why Catholic? process for this fall and next Lent, are meant to help you appreciate what we profess each Sunday. Please take the next step and become part of a Why Catholic? group in your parish. You will have a wonderful opportunity to explore, along with others, the richness of the Creed. So, whether you carry an identification card in your wallet or not, this experience will certainly strengthen your Catholic identity and your ability to be a living witness to our faith.
For more information about the Why Catholic? process, call your parish or go to www.archlou.org/whycatholic.
Most Reverend Joseph E. Kurtz, D.D.
Archbishop of Louisville