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Connect the Creed to Your Life

by Michael J. Daley

Recently, I overheard a person talking about a very strange situation. She said that in Alexandria people were going around shouting slogans such as "However hard you try, Jesus is still only human" (refers to Jesus' humanity), while others chimed "Think again, Jesus is and always has been more than just a good person" (refers to Jesus' divinity). In fact, scuffles were breaking out over the meanings of these very slogans.

A bit confused, yet fascinated, I asked her where this place called Alexandria (Virginia?) was because I wanted to go there and see this for myself. She laughed and said, "That's not going on now. It happened a long time ago in Church history—in Alexandria, Egypt." I was relieved, but still determined to find out more about this situation in which people appeared to take their beliefs so seriously and proclaim them so publicly.

The time, I discovered, was the fourth century and the Christian Church was confused and divided over a whole range of issues and felt it necessary to respond with a statement of belief (not unlike what has recently happened with the Church issuing the new Catechism of the Catholic Church). Meeting in 325 A.D. at Nicea (a city in Asia Minor/present-day Turkey), the bishops of the Church gathered to formulate a "creed."

In spite of its best intentions, the Council of Nicea did not end the tensions within the Church. It was not until the Council of Constantinople in 381 A.D. that the Council of Nicea's way of thinking carried the day.

Picture now this impossible possibility: Due to a computer malfunction, the Vatican has deleted the Nicene Creed. The primary statement of belief for Christians is no more. As a result the pope, along with his advisers, has asked for your assistance in writing a new creed.

What will you emphasize about our faith? What do you think the essentials of the Christian faith are? How will you express concepts in understandable language?

Remember, this has to make sense not only to you but also to the whole Church. Sounds like a challenging task, doesn't it?

Using the Nicene Creed as our guide, let's explore what shape a new creed of faith might take. (We'll cheat a little since we know it by "heart.") This may also help us to see how the creed at Nicea took shape.

We believe in one God, the Father, the almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen.

"We" is an important word. Life is about relationship—with ourselves, others and God. Relationship is more "We" than "I." Your creed needs to reflect this. Though your faith is personal, it counts on and is formed by community: family, friends and teachers.

The Church, however, recognizes that community is larger than even those just around you (schools, sports teams, places of employment)—it includes people and cultures encircling the entire globe. Recent World Youth Days have exemplified this as Catholics from different cultures and lands have come together to unite in prayer. We are part of a world family of faith.

In your experience of community, I hope you have noticed that there is a personal and supreme power greater than yourself. God is guiding and leading your life in cooperation with you. Faith then is communal and expressive of a personal and creative God. Your creed should give voice to this understanding, validating your experience of both the importance of community and belief in a personal God.

Consider these questions about your creed. Is "Father" the only personal word I can use for God or are there others? If God created everything where did evil come from? And if God is almighty, do my actions matter? These are difficult, yet rewarding, questions to raise.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, one in Being with the Father. Through him all things were made.

This passage and the next one reflect one of the early controversies that faced the Church: how Jesus is related to the Father. One person, a priest from Alexandria, Egypt, named Arius, said that Jesus was first among creatures but not equal with God. This position challenged Jesus' divinity. Arius's bishop, Alexander, tried to convince him that Jesus as the son of God is coeternal with God. (In other words, one has never existed without the other, though Jesus as man had a beginning and an end.) Out of this local dispute arose the need to call the ecumenical Council of Nicea in 325 A.D.

Open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, listening to the people and conferring among themselves, the bishops concluded that indeed Jesus was divine and "of the same substance as God." This relationship is unparalleled in human history and yet we Christians share and find meaning in it. The question that remains is how to reinforce and celebrate the divinity of Jesus without losing our way in abstract language. We are interested in faith more than philosophy.

How can you state Jesus' unique relationship to God in a way and with words that come out of your own experience rather than a fourth-century intellectual one?

This part of the Creed was placed there to refute the Arian heresy. Are there any modern-day heresies (things contrary to the message and person of Jesus) that are important enough to challenge in your new creed?

For us (men) and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered, died, and was buried. On the third day he rose again in fulfillment of the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

As we continue to mature we often find it very consoling and humbling to meet people who have shared "our journey": people who have the same background and interests (born in Philadelphia, enjoy Billy Joel's music and root for the Reds); people who have shared similar successes and failures (got into the school of choice, experienced the breakup of a relationship or the divorce of parents). It is good to be in their company.

I find it good to be in Jesus' company, not because he is unlike me (divine) but because he is like me (human). During his earthly life he shared in and responded to situations similar to yours and mine. Jesus had to deal with unreal expectations even from some of his closest disciples. Through all this he practiced a most difficult human characteristic—trust.

Questions you might ask are: Does Jesus' humanity need increased emphasis? Has the Christian tradition overemphasized Jesus' divinity, now needing to rediscover his—and your—humanity?

Jesus' life in first-century Palestine can be a rich resource of example in overcoming the sins of racism, sexism, patriarchy and exploitation that continue to plague the world today. Salvation occurs in confronting these evils and others. Redemption as personified in Jesus takes place by fully entering into the world, not leaving it.

How might this be expressed in your new creed? What might be the words that you would use to summarize the earthly life—humanity—of Jesus?

He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.

One of the promises Jesus made to his disciples often receives a lot of attention: "I will come again." Due to a variety of sources (Scripture, fundamentalist sects and persons, and various prophecies) this teaching has undergone a long and varied history of interpretation.

What does it mean when one speaks of Jesus coming in glory? Is there a specific time involved? Can the Book of Revelation be a guide? Will "the end" be a time of destruction or new birth? These are some of the questions that are asked when language of the "second coming" is spoken.

All this talk may lead you to think that all that is important is in the next life. This is not the case. The Church and sacraments are resources that Christians have been given to live out the message of Christ in the here and now. Your sights therefore need to be set on this world while recognizing fulfillment in the next.

The first three things that usually come to mind when thinking of "judgment of the living and the dead" are heaven, hell and purgatory. These words have their limitations as well as their truth. How might judgment be expressed today? What are Christians judged upon? Where do fairness and mercy come together?

Finally, Jesus' ministry was about the Kingdom—a place where God's peace and presence reign. Jesus used a banquet, a wedding feast and other parables to describe this "place." In your creed you might ask yourself where the Kingdom is—is it a place or more a state of being? Ultimately, it must be admitted that it is hard for the Church—you and me—to talk about things that can't be seen, only imagined.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets.

It sounds so familiar: Father, Son, Holy Spirit equals Trinity. Then to further "help" us we are told that the Trinity is three divine persons in the one divine nature of God. Wow! Thank goodness the Church asks you to believe rather than explain it.

You still want to explain it, though. Are there any symbols, experiences and words from your religious and everyday life that better describe the mystery (one of relationship and communion) of the Trinity?

Expanding on the reality of the Trinity means coming to terms with a most elusive person/concept—the Holy Spirit. Maybe it's because behind all the Holy Spirit's activity is the power of love. The Holy Spirit may be so difficult to get a handle on because love is so difficult to understand, integrate and live out. Christians are aided in this, however, through a spirit-filled person—Jesus Christ. He was full of the Holy Spirit and ever open to wherever it led him.

How might this spirit of love and relationship be expressed today? How can you concretize—make real, the Holy Spirit in our creed and life? Where is the Holy Spirit active and present in the world today?

We believe in one holy, catholic and apostolic Church.

It is difficult at times to admit the nature of God. So many times we hear of institutions, organizations and even families betraying the trust that has been placed in them. The Church itself has not been immune. Its actions, both past and present, reflect this truth. Rebellion rather than acceptance is often a response.

In the face of this, however, hopefully your creed will emphasize unity (one); encourage practicing the life of Christ (holy); reach to all peoples seeking their gifts while recognizing their limitations (catholic); and never forget the rich resource of tradition that the Church provides (apostolic). The Church and your own faith are founded on these qualities. Do you see any other qualities that should be included?

We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.

Probably, the most significant event in my relationship with God is one of which I have no memory. For me, and maybe you, this event was Baptism. Here, in the company of my parents and godparents, I entered into new life through the waters of Baptism. I don't regret my Baptism as an infant, however, because I know "new life in Jesus" is never just a once-and-for-all event. It is something that continually calls me to grow.

A question that might be considered is: Does "forgiveness of sins" exhaust the meaning and value of Baptism? Are there perhaps other meanings that you have found on your faith journey that are just as important and need to be included in a new creed?

Eventually, life does and has to come to an end. Most of us have experienced the death of someone we've loved. For Christians, though, this should be a time not only of sorrow but also of joy. This is because we believe in the resurrection and hold that death brings one into eternal union with Jesus, the Son; God, the Father; and the Holy Spirit, the unifier.

At this point we are able to overcome our human limitations and faults and enter into "true" community. As the Nicene Creed says, death is something Christians should "look for" rather than avoid. Resurrection is the word the Church uses to describe this new "life in Christ."

What is resurrection? How can you speak of resurrection without thinking in terms of resuscitation or reincarnation? Whal symbols speak to you about transformation-resurrection? What do heaven and hell mean in the context of "the life of the world to come"?

As we conclude this exploration of the Nicene Creed, hopefully, you have realized there is much more that needs to be explored and examined. Our creed, whether "new" or Nicene, has to be a living statement of belief. It has to connect both head and heart; there is a difference between knowing the Creed and living it. You need to transform the ideas and knowledge of the Creed into personal values. The Nicene Creed has been and continues to be a treasure for the Church.

Continued repetition of the Creed at Mass may gradually lull you into a false sense of understanding. If you allow yourself time to think and pray, however, the Creed can be seen as ever new and challenging. So, if your "memory" serves you correctly, the Creed is and has always been an authentic guide for Christian faith. Thank goodness computers have backup!

Michael J. Daley is a teacher at St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati, Ohio. He has a B.A. in theology from Xavier University (OH) and an M.A. in religious studies from Villanova University (PA). His articles and book reviews have appeared in St. Anthony Messenger, Momentum, Youth Update, America and Religion Teacher's Journal.

Rebecca Heil (16), Kathryn Mitchell (17) and Louis Prabell (16), of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Ft. Mitchell, Kentucky, met last summer with the editor, the author and with Chris Holmes, parish youth minister, to discuss this issue. They made many suggestions which streamlined the text and asked the three questions which are now answered in these pages.


Does the Church need a new creed?


No, the church does not need a new creed. What the church needs are translators—people who are able to make the Creed understandable and meaningful for today. The Nicene Creed is the foundation out of which this action can take place.


Some churches are preparing for the second millennium. Has the Catholic Church said anything about the year 2000?


Though one may be led to believe otherwise from news accounts or charismatic public figures, the Catholic church has never spoken authoritatively on the year 2000 or, for that matter, the end of the world. In accord with Scripture it only speaks of situations that will be present before the end of the world, such as plagues and other natural disasters. The Church stresses that the day we leave the earth is the end, our day of judgment, not a time when the world may be destroyed.


At the end of the Creed, in speaking of the resurrection as something to "look for," isn't the Church discounting the time of sorrow that surrounds the passing of a loved one?


The Church doesn't seek to take away from or discourage one from feeling sorrow for a loved one who dies. Sorrow is a most human emotion and can be only expected at a time such as this. The Church just wants to remind us that our earthly life is not all there is and that our ultimate fulfillment lies in union with God. You can't get around dying.


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