Tuesday, December 5, 2017

What Is the Nicene Creed?

At every Sunday Mass, right after the homily, the entire congregation stands and, reading from a missalette or pew card, recites in unison the words of the Nicene Creed, which begins, “I believe in one God…” The Creed is the declaration of faith for Christians. It is a summary of the doctrines taught and believed by the Church for 2,000 years.

I wonder if many people in the pews have any idea how the Creed came into existence?

If you ask the average Catholic where the Nicene Creed came from, he might say, “Well, it must be in the Bible, right? Maybe in one of those gospels, or in an epistle written by St. Paul or St. Nicene?” (Um, St. Nicene? Well, the Church has made great strides in recent years helping Catholics become more familiar with the Bible, but I guess there’s still a long way to go.)

The Nicene Creed was developed at two different Church Councils, the Council of Nicaea in the year 325 A.D. and the Council of Constantinople in the year 381 A.D. (Don’t worry about the details, as there will not be a quiz at the end of this essay.) Like many Church documents, the Creed was created in reaction to controversy, specifically the Arian heresy, which claimed that although Jesus was divine, He was a created being. The Arians claimed there was a time in the distant past when Jesus did not exist, an idea that clashed with the emerging doctrine of the Trinity. So, Church leaders gathered to produce a clear statement of faith.

It’s good to know the history of the Nicene Creed. But more importantly, we need to think about and understand what these words actually mean. After all, each one of us stands and publicly declares, “I believe…”

I wonder if many people in the pews ever think about the meaning of the words we recite each Sunday?

If you ask the average Catholic what the Nicene Creed actually means, he might say, “Um, it means the Church is important, and it’s important for us to go to Church, and, um, um, a lot of other important Churchy stuff, right?”

Well, yeah, Churchy stuff is important, but the Nicene Creed contains the fundamental basics of our faith, and it’s structured so that each of us can declare our belief in these basic doctrines out loud. The Creed covers belief in: 1) the one God who created everything; 2) His only Son, Jesus Christ, who is “begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father” (this is the key phrase that countered the Arian heresy); 3) Jesus’ earthly ministry, which includes His Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension, all done for our sake; 4) His future Second Coming, when He will judge the living and the dead; and 5) our belief in the following: the Holy Spirit, the Church founded by Christ, forgiveness of sin through Baptism, the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.

I wonder how many Catholics nowadays really believe Jesus is divine? Or that He really, truly, physically rose from the dead? Or that He will come again to judge everyone? (Uh oh, we don’t like the idea of judgment nowadays, which is way too politically incorrect.) 

Okay, I lied. There IS a quiz here at the end of the essay. It’s not a quiz about the names and dates of ancient Church councils. It’s an easier but much more crucial quiz, consisting of a single question: Do you REALLY believe the words you recite each Sunday at Mass? Give your answer in complete sentences, and spelling counts.

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