February 12, 2013
The Apostles’ Creed was originally a profession of faith required of converts to Christianity before they were baptized. As a formula of belief, it goes back in substance, if not in words, to the twelve Apostles. Following Christ’s declaration that, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16), the Apostles’ Creed was the precondition for baptism. Only believers could be baptized. Even when children were baptized in the early Church, someone had to profess the faith for them.
Since the Apostles’ Creed was first formulated, there have been many other Creeds approved and used by the Church. But this creed still remains the most common profession of the Christian faith in the world. There is no other place to start talking about Christianity than with the Christian faith. “Only faith,” we are told, “can guarantee the blessings that we hope for, or prove the existence of the realities that at present remain unseen” (Hebrews 11:1). What the Apostles’ Creed tells us is what everyone who calls himself a Christian must accept on the Word of God, that is, on faith.
We accept three fundamental beliefs in the Apostles’ Creed: We believe that the world did not always exist, but was created by God who existed from all eternity. We believe that God became man in the person of Jesus Christ, that He was born of the Virgin Mary, died on the Cross and rose from the dead, and that He will return on the last day to judge the living and the dead.
We believe that Christ sent His Holy Spirit, who is the soul of the Church which Christ founded, and that through the Church we receive all the graces we need to reach the eternal life for which we were made. What needs to be emphasized is that belief in these revealed truths is the foundation of Christianity. We can hope only in what we know to be true; faith provides us with the guarantee that our hope is not in vain. We can love only what we know to be good; faith provides us with the vision that God is so good we should love Him with our whole heart and soul.
The main thing to keep in mind is that the foundation of Christianity is the faith; that this faith can be expressed in plain, ordinary language; and that the Apostles’ Creed is the most ancient and widely used summary of what Christians are to believe.
What keeps a society, any society, stable for any length of time? It is the agreement among its members on certain basic principles. As long as they agree on the fundamentals, the society continues to exist and to prosper. But once they disagree among themselves on these basics, the society weakens and finally disappears. One of the reasons why the Catholic Church has remained constant over the centuries is that her members have continued to believe the same revealed truths, as contained in the Apostles’ Creed.
But remember that the Creed is not just a collection of words. It is a set of convictions about the most important realities in life. When the ideas in our mind agree with realities outside the mind we possess the truth. That is why the Apostles’ Creed is a series of twelve truths about God, about Jesus Christ, about the Church He founded and about our eternal destiny.
Parents, as the primary catechists of the faith are called upon to help their children put into practice what is taught. Here are some recommendations for living the Apostles’ Creed.
1. Memory Have your children learn the Apostles’ Creed by heart. Have them recite the Creed out loud with no memory aids. Have them also write out the Creed on paper. And in both cases, make sure that what they recite or write is word-perfect, with not a single word missing or changed.
2. Meditation. Tell your children to think about the words of the Apostles’ Creed for a few minutes in God’s presence. Have them first become aware of God. Then, in prayerful conversation with Him, go over one article of the Creed after another while asking Him, “What does this mean?”
3. Sacred Song. While in India, St. Francis Xavier would teach the faith by putting some of the Christian mysteries into song. Someone with musical talent can make the Apostles’ Creed into simple melody.
4. Comparison. For older youth, you might have them compare the Apostles’ Creed with other famous Creeds. The Nicene Creed is regularly used in the Eucharistic Liturgy, and the Credo of the People of God was formulated by Pope Paul VI in 1968, on the nineteenth centenary of the martyrdom of the Apostles Peter and Paul.
As the Church teaches, “The 12 Articles of the Apostles’ Creed are the first things . . . that Christian persons must hold. For these articles take their origin from the holy Apostles, the authorities and teachers of the faith, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. When the Apostles received their mandate from the Lord to go forth into the whole world as His representatives to preach the Gospel to every creature, they thought it proper to compose a formula of the Christian faith, so that all might be ‘united in the same mind and the same judgment’ (I Corinthians 1:10). By this statement of the faith the Apostles intended that there should be no division among those called to the unity of faith, but that all should be perfectly united in the same internal meaning and the same outward profession”(The Roman Catechism, Introduction).
Brian K. Johnson is the director of the Archdiocesan Office of Adolescent Catechesis and Evangelization.