I am writing this blog to provide a better understanding of the Christian faith. I urge you: before you read this blog, read the Apostles’ Creed. Then read this blog. After reading this blog, hopefully you will have a more meaningful appreciation for the Creed. This will be the longest blog that I have ever penned. Be patient is all I ask. As I write this blog I will write one line of the Creed in bold, and immediately following it, my own thoughts. So here goes!
Why and when was the Creed developed, and under whose authority?
Why: In the early days of the church, many deviations and heresies from the basic doctrine of Christianity were being promoted.
When: These deviations and heresies were developed between the 3rd and 9th centuries after the death and resurrection of Christ. Therefore, early leaders of the faith gathered together to correct these fallacies in formal sessions called synods.
Under whose authority: Jesus himself passed his authority on to the Apostles. Proof of this is in Matthew 28:16-20. In short, Jesus tells them before he departs to the Father that he gives them complete power and will be with them until the end of time. Pretty powerful stuff to hand over to the Apostles! Equally important is the fact that this power is passed on to the successors of the Apostles, since he says “I will be with you until the end of time.” Read it to believe it.
Let’s review the Apostles Creed.
“I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth”
God is the First Cause. Simply stated: how can you create something out of nothing? From God everything begins. Also, in all civilizations there is an innate sense that there is something that is greater than us. You can call him what you want. For example, Native Americans called him the Great White Spirit. What about creation? Even some scientists will tell you that there is a balance in creation. Someone had to bring it about. There are those who subscribe to the Big Bang Theory, but someone had to start it. Again, you cannot create something from nothing.
“And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord”
In Matthew16:13-17, Jesus asks the Apostles, “Who do you say that I am?” After some of the Apostles give Jesus their answers, Peter says, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus says in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you but my heavenly Father.”
“Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary”
In Luke 1:26-38, the Angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she will conceive in her womb a Son and he will be called Jesus the Son of the Most High. Mary replies, “How can I conceive? I have no relations with a man.” Gabriel in turn tells her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”
“He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried”
Luke 23:1-56 covers the sentencing of Jesus, his suffering, his crucifixion and then his death.
“He descended into hell”
To some people this is very confusing. Psalm 89:48 states the following: “What mortal can live and not see death? Who can escape the power of Sheol?” Sheol is the Hebrew word for the abode of the dead. What was Jesus doing in hell? We normally think of hell as the place where those who are not saved reside. In this case, it is the home of the dead who are awaiting news of the salvation of man. Jesus brought that news, since he died for everyone’s sins. The gates of heaven were now open. Alleluia!
“On the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God, the Father almighty”
Luke 24:1-52 tells the beautiful story of Jesus’s resurrection, not only to the brethren on the road to Emmaus, but later to the disciples in Jerusalem and to a group of disciples at his ascension into heaven. Since Jesus is one with the Father, he took human form to resolve all sin but then returned to sit with the Father.
“From there he will come to judge the living and the dead”
Matthew 25:31-32 says, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all nations will be assembled before him and he will separate them.”
“I believe in the Holy Spirit”
In John 14:1-25, Jesus confirms that no one comes to the Father except through him. Equally importantly, Jesus assures that “The Advocate” the Father will send in his name will teach and remind others of everything Jesus taught. In the Old Testament, Isaiah 11:1-2 says, “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him – the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, and the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.”
“The holy catholic Church”
The key word in this phrase is catholic. Have you noticed something unusual about this word? We normally associate the word catholic with the Catholic faith. But small c denotes the word ‘universal.’ So here, it means the holy catholic church embraces everyone.
Where was this proclaimed and by whose authority? In Matthew 28:16-20, before Christ ascended to heaven, he commissioned the Apostles with these words, “Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” You can’t get a higher authority than Jesus.
When I read the above passage, however, a dilemma seems to surface. What about the people who died without being baptized, before and after Jesus’s statement? Many were non-Christians; they were Jews, Muslims, Hindus, or had no formal religion whatsoever. Can they be saved without being baptized? Great question. The holy catholic church sincerely believes that God in his eternal wisdom recognizes that as long as there is a sincere heart for the search for truth, they will be saved. To bring this point home, I would like to quote a line from the movie Dances with Wolves. Kevin Costner, as an army officer, is in deep conversation with Kicking Bird, who is a respected elder of the tribe. They are discussing life in general and Kicking Bird says, “In life we can select many trails, but the best one to select is the human trail.” In other words, lead a good life by following a sincere heart.
“The communion of saints”
What does the word ‘communion’ mean in this phrase? It means a spiritual union we share in the Holy Eucharist and the other sacraments. As an assembly, we share these things with those who are living, those who have passed on and are in heaven, and those who are dead and are waiting to be called to heaven.
“The forgiveness of sins”
Why should there be forgiveness of sin? In John 20:22-23, Jesus says to the Apostles, “Whose sins you shall forgive are forgiven and whose sins you shall retain are retained.” You can have a choice. Forgiveness is given, but only with a sincere heart. In our daily lives, there is another benefit of forgiveness. Two people may be at odds for some good reason. It may be that one has been slandered, for instance. But the hurt stays with both people involved. Sometimes family and/or friendships are severely damaged. It gnaws at both parties. Once the incident is forgiven, both parties will feel relieved and a sense of sincerity will be restored, regardless of who takes the first step. And lastly, remember that God in his compassionate mercy and love wants us all to be with him, regardless of our transgressions. And a contrite heart will be our passport.
“The resurrection of the body”
Now this one seems to be a tough one to follow. Just keep in mind that the key word here is ‘body.’ From our previous comments, recall that when Christ was alive on earth, his body was of human form. After he died it took on a different form, as will ours. That is evident in the many times he interacted with the Apostles and all his disciples. He promised this to us. 1 Corinthians 15:13 says, “If there is no resurrection of Jesus, then there is no resurrection of the dead.” If that is so, then our faith is a big scam.
“And life everlasting. Amen”
What better way is there to end this blog than with 1 Corinthians 2:9: “What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, is what God has prepared for those who love him.”
My wish is that this blog gives you some insight into what it means to be a member of the faith. And next time you recite the Apostles’ Creed, it will be more meaningful to you.