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
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
historyin 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
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,
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 relationshipwith
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
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
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 characteristictrust.
Questions you might ask are: Does Jesus' humanity
need increased emphasis? Has the Christian tradition overemphasized
Jesus' divinity, now needing to rediscover hisand yourhumanity?
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 lifehumanityof 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 Kingdoma
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
isis it a place or more a state of being? Ultimately,
it must be admitted that it is hard for the Churchyou
and meto talk about things that can't be seen, only
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/conceptthe 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 personJesus 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 concretizemake 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
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
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,
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
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!
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