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A New Look at the Creed
Greg Friedman, O.F.M.
Source: St. Anthony Messenger magazine
Published: Saturday, May 19, 2012
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The new English translation of the Mass, introduced last Advent, invites Catholics to take a second look at the Nicene Creed. Phrases such as “consubstantial with the Father” and “incarnate of the Virgin Mary” replace more familiar words we’ve been using for decades.
Early in Christianity our creed was born in fierce debates about what we believe. The ancient words invite our “Amen” to this faith forged by the early Church. It’s like a handshake across the centuries — “a sign of recognition and communion between believers” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 188).

I believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.

We live in a secular age. The media avoid endorsing religion or belief in a power that controls “things visible and invisible.” God is largely absent from official public debate. We become skeptical when politicians play up their religion only to disappoint us later with scandals. Science, too, seems to dominate our culture. Recent discoveries about the origins of the universe avoid mention of a “maker of heaven and earth.”

Yet, when disaster strikes, people ask, “Where is God?” Even when they express doubts about a loving Creator, their words betray a longing for God.

The faith of ancient Israel stood out among its neighbors, who believed in many gods. Abraham and his nomadic tribe came to know God as One, loving and willing to travel with them. Theirs was a personal God, who invites people into relationship.

Our creed assures us that, like Abraham, we’re invited into relationship with God. Our God — creator, all-powerful, eternal — is also personal and loving.

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.

By Jesus’ time, Israel’s belief in one God was well established. And so it challenged many to accept Jesus as divine. In Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin, the high priest accuses Jesus of blasphemy because he claims divine sonship. Professing faith in the “Only Begotten Son of God” shook the faith of many of Jesus’ contemporaries.

As Christians moved into the world of Greek philosophers, understanding Jesus as divine remained a challenge. Arius, a fourth-century priest, denied Christ’s divinity and lit a theological wildfire that swept through the Christian world. Arius held that the Son of God didn’t exist “before all ages,” that Jesus was a created being, not divine.

The Arian heresy divided the Church. The Council of Nicaea (325) issued a statement of faith, or creed. It proclaims that “the Son of God is ‘begotten, not made, of the same substance ... as the Father’” (CCC 465). The Greek expression for “of the same substance” is translated into Latin in a word that, translated exactly, is consubstantial. The tongue-twister “consubstantial with the Father,” then, describes Jesus. We profess that “through him all things were made.” Creation testifies to how much God is in love with us, as fully revealed in Jesus.

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