I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord
Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the virgin Mary,
[Who] suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
He descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
[From there] He will come
to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit.
[I believe in] the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins.
[I believe in] the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.
The Apostles’ Creed
“As often as we repeat the Creed of our Baptism we repeat the words by which martyrs have lived and died”. The Apostles’ Creed is so named because it is meant to contain the heart of the faith handed on by the Apostles. It is from the old Baptismal Creed of the Roman Church. The initiates responded to these words at their baptism. They had been instructed in the faith over a long period. They had heard the teaching and now it was to be ratified in a ceremony of words and symbols and sacrament, often at Easter. Heart and mind would need to connect in their vision of God, both in the ritual of Baptism and in their life.
As Brooke Foss Westcott said, “Till the heart welcomes the Truth, it remains outside us”. However, what enters the heart needs its own description. The heart needs its own reminders, and the clearest and briefest words possible gain the prizes in such reminders: truly eloquent.
The Apostle Paul is the great transitional figure of the early Church. Though he was not in the apostolic band around Jesus, those who were “witnesses of his resurrection,” he still claims to be an apostle because Christ had revealed himself to him on the Damascus Road. Luke in Acts of the Apostles makes this conversion more of an issue than Paul does. Paul is the apostle to churches that had no one from the Twelve Apostles as their mentor, at least in name, though Rome may be an exception with its claims about Peter. He earned his stripes in his conversion on the Damascus Road, but he still speaks to those who “have not seen” Jesus “and yet have come to believe” - John 20:29. His apostolate is to the world.
Paul may be the first writer of credal statements in the Church, though the “Christ hymns” at Philippians 2:1-11 and Colossians 1:15-20 could precede Paul’s writings, at least in their core concepts. The kerygma, the discernible preaching pattern of the Apostolic Church, is itself a model for credal statements.
I Corinthians 15:1-8 and the speeches in Acts of the Apostles show a definite pattern. Christianity did not have a Ten Commandments except by inheritance. Its main focus was not Mount Sinai but an Empty Tomb and a Cross and most of all a Person.
Creeds are the outcomes of the Gospel stories. They are also a defined response to the experiences of the Holy Spirit after Jesus’ death. These experiences were spelled out in credal-like definitions such as the preaching pattern and “justification by faith”. The story-mode of Jesus’ teaching needed to be drawn into compact statements reflecting both the Gospels and the ongoing experience of the Church. Some people respond to stories and some to statements. Some of us need both narrative and summations to shape belief and practice.
What follows in this series on the Apostle’s Creed is an attempt to spell out and apply the articles of the Apostles’ Creed to the scriptural teaching of the Church. There is also an attempt to relate the Creed to the concrete circumstances of life.
I The Unity of God and God as Creator
I believe in God the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth
The Jews gave a specific and enlarged vision of God to humanity. That is, a God who is a unity that needs no other diversities, a God of absolute justice who is aware of our deepest needs and even what may appear to others as trivial ones. This God was the Creator, and they used the term “Father” (Abba) to describe the nature of this “God revealed in Being” (Yahweh) or “Intensity of Being” (Elohim).
Christianity inherited this vision of God. The first Christians had an acute need to link Jesus into God in a credible way because of the Jesus Movement’s original setting in Palestine. The unity of God (monotheism) was at first an impenetrable barrier of massive unity.
They gained access in several ways:
Jesus as the Son of the Father;
Jesus as the agent of Creation;
Jesus as the bearer and agent of the Spirit of God
We will explore the third of these points of access later. The term “father” is an archetype, an initial foundation model in the human psyche. It is not transferable, though it must be complemented by its indissoluble links with the archetypes of “mother” and “child”. The attempts to remove “father” from the language of the Church are as silly as rejecting the associated terms of “mother” and “child”. The Church used the father-child relationship to draw Jesus into God in a binitarian or twofold form. This became a trinitarian one when the ‘circle’ of Divine Being was drawn into a triune picture by the graphic inclusion of the Holy Spirit.
Father-Son-Spirit is a threefold revelation that reflects a threefold development in the thinking of the early Church. The Gospel of John uses the term logos, “word” to frame the person of Jesus and to describe how Jesus became God’s speech to the world. This “speech” about God’s love of humanity and all of creation was in turn linked to Christ’s (the Word’s) role as the agent of creation: “All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being” (John 1:3).
This should signal how belief in God as Creator is crucial for us. The same God who breathed upon the waters at creation also “overshadowed” Mary at the conception of Jesus and transformed his body in the tomb to be an “indestructible life” to frame human eternity in God. This is an essence-of- faith statement, not historical data.
Paul Davies is a physicist who declares that “I have come to the point of view that mind - i.e., conscious awareness of the world - is not a meaningless and incidental quirk of nature, but an absolutely fundamental facet of reality...we human beings are built into the scheme of things in a very basic way.”  Davies concludes, “We are truly meant to be here”.
Davies would not call himself a Christian, but his words are reflected in passionately-held beliefs in the Church. The traces of design in the universe that Davies has detected have led him to see traces of design in us, or vice versa. As Davies says, “We who are the children of the universe - animated stardust - can nevertheless reflect on the nature of that same universe....how we have become connected into this cosmic dimension is a mystery. Yet the linkage cannot be denied”.
When I first explored theology, I was hesitant about “creator of heaven and earth” in the Creed. Today I would see it as a life-giving and life-sustaining statement. I can say with the Psalmist: “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork” (19:1).
Stellar vastness, farthest expansion undisclosed
Mystery at the end of the cosmic rainbow, unearthed
Endless depths of darkness, black holes of burial
Beginnings of universal ancestry entering memory’s hall
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord
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.
Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary
The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the most high will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God”- Luke 1:35
This is the nearest that we get to a description of the virginal conception of Jesus. The presence of God “overshadowed” the mercy-seat enclosed by the cherubim in the holy of holies in the Temple at Jerusalem. This same presence “overshadows” the young woman called Mary. The language is quite a deliberate inference, though great care is exercised in being ‘proper’ via appropriate language.
The lordly angel of God brings a message that must have been devastating to Mary: that from the heart of God there was new being in her body.
It is sometimes said that once we have accepted the miracle of the resurrection, then we can accept the other miracles. This may be either trite or true, but it is apparent that the miracle of the virginal conception of Jesus is linked to the miracle of the resurrection. Both are a work of the Holy Spirit. The “same Spirit” that hovered over the waters at Creation “overshadows” Mary and raises Jesus from the dead. It is creation, creation, creation. We envision here the creation of the universe, the emergence in creation of a person who mirrors the face of God, and the bursting through creation of a risen human life that enters the ultimate source of the Spirit of God in the heavens. Nevertheless, we should be careful about any absolute connection that carries equal historical reference. The supernatural conception at Nazareth and Resurrection at Jerusalem are two different events, though both depend on the Creator- Spirit of God
The birth of Jesus is a natural birth: Born of the Virgin Mary. Virgin goes with Mary like Christ goes with Jesus and Baptizer goes with John. But “Virgin” goes with the conception, not with the actual birth, though it is tied to the destiny of the one who is born. The birth is in humble circumstances at Bethlehem. That it is “the city of David” by tradition may have influenced the choice of Bethlehem. After all, the promises of God were made to the “House of David”. How wonderful if the prophet from Nazareth who emerges as Messiah could be shown to have links with David! This would not only be figuratively on Joseph’s side “descended from the house and family of David”, but powerfully reinforced in actually being born where David was brought up.
The prophet Micah had declared that from “Bethlehem of Ephrathah” would come forth “one who is to rule Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days” (Micah 5:2). This confluence of symbols and expectations has drawn some scepticism about Bethlehem as the place of Jesus’ birth. It is apparently not considered that God could have used such ‘connections’ to reinforce the divine intentions inscribed in this new life.
The virginal conception of Jesus proposes a direct link into the heart of God. It connects the majesty of the glory of God with the child conceived in Mary of Nazareth. It links that child with the Son of God in heaven and says that they are one. The shekinah glory of God came to the tent in the wilderness of Israel’s wanderings and we may infer that it comes also to Nazareth .
The incredibly vivid perceptions of the writer of the Fourth Gospel led him to describe Jesus’ birth by writing that “he pitched his tent among us, and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth”. I will never forget reading those words for the first time in the Greek text: it was like hearing and feeling the enormous spiritual passion of the writer for the first time. Christians should weep for joy when they read these words. The vision of God in Trinity unfolds for them, since his coming to “dwell among us” is a work of the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father. The Son in God’s heart is at one with the child at Bethlehem of Judea and the messianic prophet from Nazareth in Galilee. It is a creative unity is a focus of the mystery of God. We are rightly admonished by those who have laboured over the texts to be careful of unwarranted absolute connections.
Mary is every mother in giving birth. But one day the messenger from God came and the Holy Spirit ‘overshadowed’ her.
[Who] suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
He descended to the dead.
Jesus is sentenced to death by the Roman overlords. He is led away to a hill called Golgotha, “the place of a skull.” It is aptly named, for here history’s most famous and most-remembered death will occur. The attempt to silence one more independent voice in the human centuries has begun.
The death of Jesus is ultimately a solitary matter for him. Most of his disciples forsake him. Only the “Beloved Disciple” and his mother remain according to the Johannine tradition. The solitary nature of his death contrasts sharply with the public nature of his execution.
We may die in a public hospital with a constant stream of visitors, but the “hour of our death” is a singular matter between us and our Creator. The life energies which brought us into being are returning to their source. There is diminishment in this, and ejection from the world. All that has been built up over the years is sliding away like loose sand into a hole. There are marks in the sand to indicate where we have walked, but the marks will be erased by wind and time.
We may leave a monument, marks of achievement, love residual in still-beating hearts, but for us it is finished. All the centuries after us will be unknown to us. It is of critical importance to grasp that this also applies to Jesus in his humanity. If we do not grasp this, then we will never appreciate the deep personal grief that sheds tears into the ground in the Garden of Gethsemane and touches his anguish at the Cross
Even for Jesus, the choice between life in God and continuing life on earth is not immediately obvious. Jesus is a “man of the earth”, though we tend to see him through Paul’s glimpses of the “heavenly man”. The Apostle Paul is torn between heaven and earth in his pilgrimage, but Jesus suffers no such ambivalence: he is a man of the earth. We may see him as the representative of humanity, but he represents himself and his own earth-clinging sentiments. “Dust you are, and to dust you shall return” appears in Genesis as a divine description of the condition of humanity. This does not mean that the “dust” is willing to be assimilated! Yet it is this clinging to earth that attracts us to the death of Jesus as well as his invincible trust in Abba, “Father” through it all.
Jesus enters something barbaric, ugly and grotesquely twisted at the Cross. That is, the deepest and darkest pits of the soul. He enters them and he overcomes them because of his transparently authentic humanity and because he apparently knows more than we know about God and human destiny.
The ensuing conflict within himself is starkly obvious on the Cross even at our distance from humanity’s most haunting death. That “transparently authentic humanity” endures the Cross and is bequeathed to nurture the goodness of humanity. The Cross is about sin and its consequences, but it is also about preserving the gifts of goodness and love in the world.“Taking up” our “cross” to follow Christ means receiving his gracious and generous gifts for the journey, as well as enduring suffering and hardship in his name.
The reference to “he descended to the dead” rather than “hell” in this translation of the Apostle’s Creed has nothing to do with removing an ‘offensive’ term. “Sheol” or “Hades” was a place where all the dead went, whether good or bad. Abraham’s Bosom may well have been in mind when Jesus spoke of the thief being with him in “Paradise”. That is, it could have been an upper storey of Sheol and therefore an ‘elevation’ towards or in God. “Hades” is the Greek term and “Sheol” is the Hebrew term for the place of the departed.
The references in I Peter 3:19 and 4:6 to the “spirits in prison” refer to a Sheol-type place. This is the only direct reference to the descent or journey of Jesus after his death and it supports the use of “descended to the dead”. This may be the reason for the change.
The use of Gehenna, apparently referring to the Valley of Hinnom on the outskirts of Jerusalem, may have given colour to the Christian notions of “hell”, though that connection is now disputed. We know that there is such an experience and ‘place’ in our life and that it is real. But how to describe it is more difficult, it seems. “Hell” is easier to place within human experience than in the steps of the death-resurrection-exaltation of the Lord. We may wish to point to the reality of hell, but the present translation in the Apostle's Creed is closer to Scripture in the use of “descended to the dead.”
He suffered, he died, he was buried, he descended to the place of the dead, but he did not stay there. Nothing, not even death, could contain the creative power that would raise him from the dead. Being raised into an “indestructible life” vindicates the words and vision of the prophet from Nazareth. It is also at the centre of our belief in the eternal identity of our souls with Christ. Alleluia!
From there He will come
to judge the living and the dead
Samuel Beckett wrote a haunting little play called Waiting for Godot.
Godot never comes. Vladimir and Estragon are the speakers in the closing scene.
Valdimir: We’ll hang ourselves tomorrow. (Pause.) Unless Godot comes.
Estragon: And if he comes?
Vladimir: We’ll be saved.
Then, after further conversation while they are still waiting,
Vladimir says: Well? Shall we go?
Estragon: Yes, let’s go.
The last words of the play are: They do not move.
They cannot leave the scene of their waiting, and neither can we abandon the expectation of the coming of the Lord.
That coming was realised in the advent of the Christ in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, and it continues to be felt in the specific advent of the Spirit at Pentecost. There is also the expectation that a final ‘coming’ in the future will be decisive for human history.
“From there he will come”, says the Creed, and “from there” is “at the right hand of God.” That is, Christ will come from the heart of God to enter human affairs. But we should also be aware that the Spirit Christ comes to us already, constantly, if we have eyes to see and ears to hear and perceptions to feel. What then is this “coming” all about? As John Robinson said, “The Parousia universalises and clarifies what must happen, and is already happening, whenever the Christ comes in love and comes in power, wherever are to be traced the signs of his presence, wherever to be seen the marks of His cross.” “Parousia”, one of the words used to describe the “Second Coming” of Christ, could be translated to mean “Being coming alongside us”.
We are all “beings” but “Being” with a capital letter signifies in this context the disclosing, revealing presence of God. It is what John Macquarie called a “letting-be of Being” a release from within God of supernatural presence and power. This “release”, this “coming” is seen as an awesome focus of what is already present through the work of the “Spirit of Jesus” in the world.
To judge the living and the dead is the purpose of this defining release of Being according to the Creed. It is given both an individual and a general application in the Scriptures. That is, a judgement at “the hour of our death” and a judgement that affects all of humanity at the Last Day.
There is also something deep within us that resonates with the statement in the letter to the Hebrews: “And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account” (Hebrews 4:13). “Count up time” comes in every human life and without it we would just drift along like a stick on a fast-moving current.
It is accountability that shapes our humanity and slams its selfishness. Those who feel most deeply about us have the capacity to heal us. Niall Williams writes of a character called Moira Fitzgibbon that “the response of her heart, like the purest of souls, felt the grief of another like the grief of herself and by healing it could heal the world.” “God so loved the world” is the biblical way of pronouncing this kind of healing love. It is what the Cross is about, and it is what judgement is about.
Judgement is the search for the deepest love, refined and true, and the rejection of all the muck of human endeavours that gets in the way. Judgement is not condemnation but the rejection of evil. Those who cling to evil when they are “naked” before the one to whom we must “render an account”, condemn themselves. It is the letting-go of evil that brings joy to the heart of God. The lost sheep is found and brought safely home.
The early Christians cried out Marana tha, “O Lord, come!” when they met for the Lord’s Supper. May the Lord indeed come and take us by the hand and lead us home, freed by faith and love after all the years of worshipping and serving from anything that binds except the bind of love before the one who is also the Counsel for the defence of our life. He will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit
Peter Millar has the story of a parishioner who was asked by her vicar if she believed in a God who held heaven and earth, who healed, transformed, liberated and renewed creation. She paused for a moment and then replied, “No, I don’t. I believe in the ordinary God.” God is immersed in the “ordinary” in an extraordinary way. But the vicar’s putting of the question is a telling description of the work of the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit is “holy” because it proceeds” from the heart of God. This description of holiness is clarified in Acts 16:7 in the term “Spirit of Jesus”. Paul the Apostle in II Corinthians 3:17 says, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit is, there is freedom”. This latter passage connects Jesus, the Spirit, and God, because “Lord,” here has a clear implication of divinity. The Dead Sea Scrolls and then the literature of the Rabbis speak of the “Spirit of holiness” (Ruach-ha-qodesh). Wherever Jesus walks in the New Testament, there is the Spirit. After Jesus’ death, wherever it is experienced, there is the Spirit. The Upper Room Discourses in John Chapters 14-16 are intent on building that connection.
What is called the filioque, “and the Son,” in the Nicene Creed should be retained because it reinforces the connection: “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son....”
The Orthodox Churches in the East separated from the Church Catholic in the West in 1054 A.D. over the addition of these words and other differences. Proper ecumenical concerns should not persuade us to drop them now. For once, the West was right!
The Holy Spirit expresses the intent of the Triune God to feed our craving for healing, transformation, liberation, and the renewal of creation.
i. The Holy Spirit as Healer
As we have noted, the Nicene Creed describes the Holy Spirit as “the Lord, the giver of life”.
When Jesus moved through Galilee, he gave life through the Spirit of God when people were healed: cripples, the blind, the deaf, the dumb, the possessed, those broken by the tongues of others.
The woman caught in adultery is one of the most significant healing stories in the New Testament. Apparently caught in the act, broken by tongues, soon to have her body broken by stones, she is saved by Christ’s compassion and wisdom: “Go and sin no more”, she is told. By obeying that command, she would be healed from her moral brokenness. She would sin again, as we all do, but the sin of adultery was to be erased from her memory and practice forever.
Jesus gave the Spirit of compassion to the disciples on Easter day: “Those whose sins you retain, they are retained”. He had “breathed the Spirit of them”. He made them healers of the heart.
ii. The Holy Spirit in Transformation
“Be transformed by the renewal of your mind”, says Paul the Apostle. He had previously counselled the Christians in Rome to “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice acceptable to God”.
Renewing our minds must mean a renewal in the Spirit that aligns the mind with the will of God. We already have this capacity within us. We are made in the image of God, given the capacity to respond to God at the outset of our lives. When the Spirit of Jesus is invited into our lives, then the image lights up.
Unlike the Olympic flame, this flame will burn forever, though it must be fed with a will and life directed towards God. So much can be transformed if we use the resources that God has given to our souls, the ‘place’ from which our destiny is shaped.
iii. The Holy Spirit as Liberator.
”For freedom Christ has set you free” says the Apostle. The Spirit “blows where it wants to” like the wind, says Jesus. The Spirit is the field of encounter with God, the “open space” between us and God which can only be filled by the Spirit who connects us to God. Otherwise we would be alone, manipulated by the dominant forces of our will without the gentle but persistent guidance of the Spirit of Jesus.
iv. The Holy Spirit of Renewal
The Apostle Paul gives us a fascinating glimpse of the Creation being renewed in Romans, Chapter 8. The Spirit brings the universe into being at creation, the “Spirit of holiness” raises Jesus from the dead, and the Spirit renews the creation.
We entrust the Creation to God’s nurture, just as we have the care of it entrusted to us. The scientists predict the running down of the universe in some of their prognoses, but we entrust ourselves to the God who created it.
We respect the scientific analyses and we look for guidance from that learned sphere of knowledge. We must do everything we can to preserve its beauty and to enhance it, but its ultimate future is in the hands of the Creator.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of healing, transformation, liberation and recreation.
I believe in the Holy Spirit who in Baptism links words of prayer, questions and affirmations, water and cross, resurrection faith and our humanity in Christ; the Holy Spirit who in Confirmation turns a physical touch of hands into the touch of God in a receptive mind and heart.
I believe in the Spirit who anoints and heals through hands bearing a grace-filled life; the Spirit who takes bread and wine and infuses them with the living presence of Jesus, linked to that presence in believers and received in faith: “Feed on him in your hearts by faith”.
This same Spirit brings Christ to us in our daily life and awakens us to “the possibility of an uninterrupted dialogue with God”.
I Believe in the Holy Catholic Church,
The communion of saints,
The forgiveness of sins
i.The Holy Catholic Church
The word “catholic” means “according to the whole”, from kath’ holos in Greek. It has more to do with the apostolic map of faith than with an individual church. Vincent of Lerins defined Catholicity as “what has been believed everywhere, always and by all”. We would be less assured now about this claim, since early Christianity was just as diverse and varied as Judaism at the time of Jesus. But the central beliefs in the humanity and divinity of Christ, and the power of the Gospel remain. That is, Jesus’ offer of hope out of despair, and relief from pain, exclusion and deformity of character or body. The Cross of pain and suffering eased the pain and confusion of humanity before God. The resurrection that raised Jesus into God also forged a luminous path for us. The Holy Spirit who paints Jesus on the minds and hearts of those who love him is God’s designer. All of this contributes to the distinctive ‘map’ of the Christian Faith. The Church would be an empty set of barns without the “perpetual motion” of the catholic faith spinning through a network of reason linking the Holy Spirit connection of Christ within God and with us. Christ stands with his multi-focussed gaze in the centre of that “motion” like the figure of a sailor standing erect in a boat that passes by, driven by the current, headed home.
ii. The Communion of Saints
Saints have a “communion” in that they are in “communion” with Christ. What they have shared in their part of the world they now share in the “the heavenly country”. The New Testament does not portray singular saints, but the plural “holy ones”, the “saints. These are the people who have been “set apart” for Christ’s service in the world and in the beyond. They cluster around Christ in this world and in heaven. They are sometimes “beatified” today. That is, they are called “blessed” before the whole Church.
Morris West’s book the Devil’s Advocate traces the course of an investigation into the “sainthood” of Giacomo Nerone. The “devil’s advocate” is Blaise Meredith, an ascetic monsignor who is dying from stomach cancer. He has to test the authenticity of the claims made about Giacomo Nerone by devout Catholics in Calabria. The story is not so much about whether Nerone is a true saint or not. It is rather about how Blaise Meredith becomes a truly human Christian. That is a good description of a saint! Saints are more concerned about the salvation of others than their own saving graces.
The saints always faced what West describes as “the harsh consequences of belief”. That is, the realities of life and death, and the unknowns in both of them. They have a communion with one another. It is a communion that bonds with life and death and cries out in faith through the voids that inhabit both of them. They demonstrate that God reigns and that eternity bursts into time with a radiance that enfolds common lives and makes them uncommonly memorable. Such people are the ageless ones, the saints who embrace one another before the throne of grace in a joy that could not be crushed on earth and that now blooms in heaven.
iii.The Forgiveness of Sins
This is the great gift from Christ to the Church on Easter Day as described in John’s Gospel.
It is a gift that has no end to its depth and no limit placed on its number of recipients. The “sins that you forgive, they are forgiven, and the sins you retain, they are retained”(John 20:23). The forgiveness of sins is a present wonder of release: such freedom! The retention of sins is a point in the past that still haunts us. Christ forgives those who forgive themselves by coming for help. They turn over a fresh page of life. Those who cling to their sins retain them, and the saving life of the Cross cannot enter and destroy their evil constraints.
I remember a young couple whose marriage was in tatters. They met in my study. As they talked, love reached out between them and reconciliation seemed a real possibility. Then she drew back and cried out, “You broke the seventh commandment!” Love receded and the relationship was ended. I remember a happier occasion. The man had travelled overseas and had too much to drink and a one-night liaison that haunted him. He came home and told his wife. I was called to the house as a young curate. Hurt hung in the air like fog. Then their tiny golden-haired girl came across the room and joined their hands together. They burst into tears. Healing began. He stayed true to her through her suffering with multiple sclerosis until one day he could stand her pain no more and took his life. I still hear from the golden-haired girl who is now a fine young woman. Both parents are dead now but they were together to the end. A little girl put their hands together, just as the hands of Christ join our hands to each other and to God. The Cross is not just about a ravaged body, but hands that reach out in forgiveness to the world.
I Believe in the Resurrection of the Body and the Life Everlasting. Amen.
This is the last clause of the Apostle’s Creed. It does not say the “resurrection of the soul”. The Hebrew nephesh, sometimes translated as “soul”, means also “life in the body”, “our absolute identity”, “who we really are”, and “the ground of our being.” It is the eternal mark of our identity. Resurrection is about the perpetuation of our identity forever. That state is almost impossible to comprehend. We catch glimpses of it by reading very closely the accounts in the Gospels of Christ’s resurrection. We do this in the season of Easter with great diligence in the liturgical readings and their exposition. This is a crucial exercise for us because it is about the very ground of our faith.
If you want to dream, put a note on your bedside table saying, “I will dream tonight, “ and more than likely you will, as Marie von Franz taught at the Jung Institute in Zurich. Dreams apparently come from our unconscious and the interaction with it of our daily slide show of the mental and emotional content of what happens through the day, and I suspect from many of our other days. I mean by the “unconscious” the depths of our psyche which cannot be mentally assessed with any real clarity. The unconscious is not receptive to definitions.
But the shadowy symbols of our dreams seem to attract its attention and even intervention. We also should not be accepting of the definition of others about who we are in our more conscious presentations. We cannot avoid the need for social skills that are honed by constructive criticism. But we spend a great deal of time trying to work one another out, with very little actual success. Our inner world, even at a level closer to the surface of our name, reputation, and social identity, defies any precise definition.
The Filipino language uses variants of loob to describe our inner life or the interior of what it means to be human, amongst many other things. The first ‘o’ is pronounced like the ‘o’ in “lolly”. The second ‘o’ is pronounced like the ‘o’ in the “lobe” of an ear. English speakers pounce on those who do not pronounce English words correctly. Speakers of other languages should be accorded the same privilege, especially for such a great word!
The interior life of every human being is a huge world. When we turn to God and in faith-impelled reason we declare that we believe in God, we open doors to welcome the Eternal Spirit into our inner world. This may seem incredibly small compared to the vastness of God and the mansions of the Spirit of God. But we are assured in that once in our history Spirit-Word came into the home of Mary of Nazareth and created new life through her feminine creativity. From that life was given the magnificent gift to humanity of a “truly human” Messiah who was totally connected within to God.
This Christ or “Anointed One” was also totally human in his fragility, unable to avoid the multitude of hurts and travails that assail every human being. We cannot create God’s Spirit within us. God alone can authenticate the presence of Holy Spirit within us. Meister Eckhart said that long ago, and he was right. It is fitting that his insights into God and the relationship of humanity to God are being rediscovered in the 21st century. He was braver than most in peering into the heart of God and into his own soul.
We do not know how this life in the body, the soul, or any of the descriptive terms that go with it, draws together our history and our identity. That is, it collects the countless little details, often pathetically petty, that make up a life, and presents them to God in what we call “the resurrection of the body.” The whole matter is incredibly simple and hugely complex and that boggles the mind.
The most beautiful things on earth and heaven are those things that are distilled from everything else and then lifted up and presented in their simplest and most crystal-clear form. The Holy is in essence the purest simplicity of all. The resurrection of the body is about us on our pilgrimage and its content and most of all its alignment with the Eternal Spirit in the words of our life and in the words of God articulated by the Word. That Word who “became flesh” proceeds from the Creator Spirit as the preserver of our spirit. This is the Artist who brings the wistful hopes of our dreams vibrantly alive in multi-colours and shapes.
We do not understand what “life everlasting” means. We can only trust and speculate about it.
Christ talked sparingly about heaven and spent most of his time teaching about how we might conduct ourselves on earth in a way that would be pleasing to God “on earth and in heaven.” Everything that he says about the Reign of God links heaven and earth. The parables are like symbols and dreams unlocking the realities of the unconscious and unleashing its power. That is, the parables of Jesus are a series of earthly symbols drawn from human life and conduct that open up our access into understanding something of the hidden vastness of heaven. And some of it is within us.
Bishop Arthur Jones
 Brooke Foss Westcott, The Historic Faith (London: Macmillan and Co., 1904), 9.
 Westcott, ibid., 9
 Paul Davies, The Mind of God (London: Penguin Books, 1993), 16.
Davies, ibid., 232.
 ibid., 233.
 The Gift of Authority (New York: Church Publishing Corporation, 1999), 18,24.
 Matthew 20:25.
 John A.T. Robinson, In the End, God (London: James Clarke & Co. Ltd., 1950), 69.
 Niall Williams, As it is in Heaven (London: Macmillan, 1999), 111.
 Peter Millar, Waymarks. Norwich: The Canterbury Press, 2000, 12.