The Nicene Creed is an invaluable tool for teaching the faith. Each phrase of the Creed could be elaborated upon to fill volumes of theological books explaining the Church’s teaching on essential doctrines. The words of the Creed are ripe with philosophical implications, which at the time of its composition were hotly debated. Indeed the Creed took its shape at a time of turmoil with Christendom, and was designed to answer challenges posed by heretics of the early centuries. The Nicene Creed thus establishes the truth of Christian doctrine, encapsulating the essence of Christian belief on certain key points, and laying down a standard by which we can judge correct teaching.
The overall structure of the Creed may have originated in the baptismal formulas of the ancient Church. Those to be baptized must first attest to their belief in one God, the Father Almighty, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary, and so on. This pattern of baptismal commitment makes the Nicene Creed a rallying point for all Christians who share belief in these essential matters of faith and are baptized into one baptism. Our shared baptism is expressed verbally in our shared Creed.
Christians of many denominations repeat the words of the Creed when gathered for worship. But many do not give much thought to the meaning of the words they say. I wonder if more Christians paid closer attention to the words of this statement of faith, whether we might achieve better unity among Christians. So below I present the entire Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. And following this text I would like to focus on one line in particular, which I believe tells us where Christian unity can be found in a most concrete way…
I believe in one God, the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.
I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the Only Begotten Son of God,
born of the Father before all ages.
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary,
and became man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate,
he suffered death and was buried,
and rose again on the third day
in accordance with the Scriptures.
He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead
and his kingdom will have no end.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.
I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.
I confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins
and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead
and the life of the world to come. Amen.
I am using here the latest translation of the Latin which will be used at Catholic Masses beginning in Advent of 2011. As we recite the Creed, we might notice that the words “I believe” (Latin - credo) appear four times throughout: once at the beginning when referring to the Father, once again for His Son, Jesus Christ, and again for the Holy Spirit. This represents our belief in the Trinity of persons Who make up the Godhead. The fourth occurrence of “I believe” is in the following line:
“…I believe in One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church…”
This is where our faith takes shape in the physical world. This is where our belief in God the Father, the Son, and the Spirit becomes a lived experience for Christians. And it is here that I would focus our attention on Christian unity.
The Church is described here as having four distinct attributes or “marks” – One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic. We will therefore examine these Four Marks and determine what they mean for the Church today. If the ancient Christians determined that Jesus’ Church is best described using these characteristics, and they carefully selected these words to be enshrined in the Creed, then we ought to take a serious look at the meaning of these words. If we recite these words while at worship, then we ought to be certain that we are living out these beliefs in our Christian life.
In Part II we will begin to take up each of the Four Marks individually…