I believe (The Apostles’ Creed)
“Our profession of faith begins with God, for God is the First and the Last, the beginning and the end of everything. – Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 198.
What we believe matters. Much more than science or syllogisms, the content of what we believe influences the way we live. Of course, what one believes is particularly important when it comes to faith.
Thus, to properly instruct Catholics on the content of the Catholic faith, the Catholic Church has developed three creeds (Latin for “I believe”). These are the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed.
In the book that follows, I will begin a series of articles intended to provide an introduction to these founding professions of the Catholic faith. I will provide some information about the Creed, the form of the Creed and an analysis of the text.
History and use
The Apostles’ Creed is perhaps the best known. According to legend, the Creed was written by the Apostles themselves at Pentecost. However, it was probably written later, with evidence of its use (in some form) appearing around AD 340. By the seventh century, the Apostles’ Creed in its present form was in use throughout the Church.
Yet the name is apt because the Creed is a faithful summary of the faith shared by the Apostles (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 194).
Because the Apostles’ Creed is used to renew our baptismal promises, it is often recited during Lent and at Easter.
The Apostles’ Creed
“I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried; he descended into hell; on the third day he rose from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from there he will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and eternal life. Amen.”
For the purposes of analyzing the Creed, it is useful to divide it into twelve articles.
Article 1. “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.”
The first article is fundamental to the other eleven. This article establishes the belief in one God (contrary to polytheism and atheism), who is the cause of creation.
Article 2. “And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
The name Jesus means “God saves”, which is understood literally by the death and resurrection of Jesus. “Christ” comes from the Greek for “Messiah,” which is Hebrew for anointed. As the only begotten Son of God, Jesus is one with God (John 10:30). The use of the word Lord also indicates the divinity of Christ. Lord is a transliteration of the Tetragrammaton (YHWH), which refers to the God of Israel.
Article 3. “Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, was born of the Virgin Mary.”
This article considers the Incarnation of Christ, that is, God taking on a human nature (Luke 1:31-38). The Incarnation is accomplished with the cooperation of Mary. By being conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin, Jesus is truly God and truly human.
Article 4. “Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried.
This article is a refutation of the heresy of Docetism. The Docetes claimed that even though Jesus was God, he only seemed to take on a human form and nature. The Docetes essentially claimed that Jesus’ appearance as a man was an illusion, similar to a ghost.
The Apostles’ Creed refutes this heresy by stating that Jesus suffered and died. Two very human experiences.
Article 5. “He descended into hell; on the third day he rose from the dead.
As a human being, Jesus experienced death, and as God, Jesus went to “hell” to proclaim the good news of salvation. By Hell, the Creed refers to Sheol. Sheol is a Hebrew word for the abode of the dead. Coming down to Sheol, Jesus brings the righteous dead (those who died before Christ and are not damned) to Heaven.
On the third day, Jesus appears as the risen Lord to his apostles and other disciples. The testimony of Scripture is clear about the Resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:3-8). New Testament writers passed down the Resurrection accounts as the truth they personally experienced (Dei VerbumNo. 19).
Article 6. “He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.
“I came from the Father and I came into the world. Now I leave the world and return to the Father” (John 16:28). To be “seated at the right hand of God the Father” affirms the power of Jesus as God. Moreover, just as he cared for human beings on earth, Jesus continues to intercede for humanity from heaven (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 662).
Article 7. “From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
The Apostles’ Creed clarifies that God, as the source of objective truth and morality, is the rightful judge of mankind (Matthew 25:31).
Article 8. “I believe in the Holy Spirit.”
Jesus promised that when he ascended to the Father, he would send the Holy Spirit (John 14:16-17). This promise was fulfilled at Pentecost when the Spirit filled the apostles and others and established the Catholic Church (Acts 2:1-13).
Article 9. “The Holy Catholic Church, the Communion of Saints.
Jesus introduced the “catholic” (or universal) Church through his life and established it on the rock of Peter (Lumen gentium, No. 9). Jesus conferred the sacraments on his apostles and commanded them to baptize the nations in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).
The Church includes the saints in heaven, as well as the Catholics in purgatory and on earth.
Article 10. “The forgiveness of sins.
At the Last Supper, Christ instituted the priesthood (Luke 22:19). Since priests act in persona Christi (in the person of Christ), Catholic priests can forgive sins. This power is given to priests by Jesus’ own words: “Whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven, and whose sins you retain, they are retained” (John 20:23). The Church celebrates this grace of God in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Article 11. “The resurrection of the body.
Belief in the resurrection of the body is based on the teaching of Christ. “For it is my Father’s will, that whoever sees the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
Article 12. “And eternal life.” Amen.”
The final article of the Apostles’ Creed affirms that those who are followers of Christ (and that is what a Christian is meant to be) will enjoy eternal life in the presence of God. “My sheep [followers of Christ] listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. (John 10:27-28).
In this work I have sought to provide an introduction to the Apostles’ Creed. The Credo is a commitment, a profession of Catholic faith. As a symbol of faith, the Creed is a summary of the truths of Catholicism (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 188).