This ‘article’ in the Creed has both names and titles. Names carry personal identity and titles carry recognition and spheres of influence. The personal name is that of Jesus, and it is the key to unlocking the other names and titles, even that of “God”, for us. It is clear that the God of the Old Testament is the God of the New Testament. This means that Christianity can never sever itself from its Jewish roots.
Jesus’ use of the term Abba, “Father” was a key access for entry into God for the first Christians. That is, they translated his intimacy with God as Father into a supernatural connection of Sonship. This was an act of trust in the mystery of God, not something that is provable. Neither is the supernatural connection, but it hangs like a linking gossamer thread tracing designs, so tantalising and hauntingly beautiful, though not definitive.
“Jesus” is the personal name of the child born at Bethlehem. “Jesus” is the Hebrew Yeshua’. It means “the one who saves”. It is the “name above every name”, a name in which people were healed and baptised in the Apostolic Church. It is the name by which Mary and Joseph addressed him.
“Christ” became as much the name for Jesus as “the Baptizer” became part of John’s name. It means “Messiah” or “Anointed One”. The Messiah had to be a Divine One clothed in manifest scriptural expectations. If Jesus could not fulfil the expectations of a Divine figure in the prophetic words of the Hebrew Scriptures, then he was not the Messiah, especially for the Jews. The current thoughts in Palestine at that time about this Divine figure were complex and hard to discern with any clarity. The texts from Qumran give us some clues about a messianic-type figure before Christ. But Jesus emerged as both a messianic prophet and as Messiah, and that was a fresh linking of current concepts.
God’s Only Son. The term used to describe the uniqueness of Jesus’ divine sonship is monogenes, a Greek word that stands behind “only (begotten) Son”. It means in connection with Jesus “an absolutely distinct person in humanity”, “a person whose grounding in God cannot be fully described by the normal terms of human birth and generation”. Monogenes has been translated as “only-begotten” and that still stands as a good translation though it is not self-explanatory.
“Son” is a personal title. It denotes relationship, and personhood. It brings in notions of “child” and family and a network of loving care. It creates a circle of humanity in its most recognisable form. It relates Jesus to God in a way that is much older than his historical humanity. That humanity is limited to its history, but in the memory of God its existence is foreshadowed. This type of language is dismissed as inadmissible by some writers, but I wonder if that is true. The Gift of Authority speaks of “the corporate memory” of the Church as preserved in the apostolic community. It also notes the “ministry of memory” as a focus in the ministry of the episcopate.
Jesus’ historical ministry is a living out of the “corporate memory” of God in history. It is also a “ministry of memory” in that he appears to recall in his ministry what has been remembered in God. This ministry of memory passes to the Holy Spirit after his death, resurrection and ascension. Franz Camphuas says it so well, “Jesus (lived) so fundamentally out of the Spirit of God that his existence was grounded in him…from the very beginning.” Amen!
“Lord” is a title that has both human and divine associations. It is the least defensible of Jesus’ titles in that its misuse was spoken against by Jesus in his comments about “rulers of the Gentiles” “lording it over” those under their control. We may think of the House of Lords and wonder why bishops have sat in that House in London. The original use of the term denoted rank or position of some kind in a community, be it husband or tribal leader or feudal lord. Its ultimate expression was in the Divine ruler of rulers. The word is so ingrained in biblical language that it cannot be easily set aside. It should be seen in the framework of the Christ hymn at Philippians 2:1-11 where all pretensions are set aside in the person of Jesus “emptying” himself of divine prerogatives in his earthly ministry. This is the “servant” model for any notions of Lord in connection with Jesus and by extension with us. Given this crucial qualification, it is proper to speak of Jesus as Lord of the Church.
This article in the Apostle’s Creed is central. Christianity lives through its belief in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord.