When we recite the creed, either in private prayer or in the liturgy of the Church, we recite familiar words. These are words that God’s people have been proclaiming from the early centuries of Christianity. When we speak these words, we are joining ourselves with fellow believers all around the world, in all the languages of the world, as we profess the faith that unites us in worship of God. 

Some recite these words mechanically, without giving much thought to the content and meaning of these ancient statements. They simply reaffirm the beliefs that have become a permanent fixture in their lives. Others, especially those who have newly come into the Church, profess the creed as a summary of God’s saving work that has transformed their lives. Whether we know these words so well that they have molded our lives in an unconscious way or whether we savor every word with humble gratitude, all of us could better understand these cherished testimonials handed down to us. 

Divine knowledge

Faith is a divine gift. We depend on divine grace to open our minds and move our hearts to convert them to God. Yet, we depend on the human mind and the power of reason to lead us to the edge of faith, to the truth that faith affirms. We also depend on our intellectual capacity to comprehend our faith more fully. Faith naturally seeks understanding, and believers desire to know better the God in whom they have put their faith and to comprehend better what God has revealed. 

The Nicene Creed
The Nicene Creed is the expression of faith drawn from the early ecumenical councils of Nicaea and Constantinople (in 325 and 381) and remains the liturgical creed of the great Churches of both the East and West.

A more penetrating knowledge of the truths of faith evokes a deeper faith and a more ardent desire for God. A fuller understanding of the mysteries of faith and of God’s saving plan leads to a closer union with the Son whom he has sent, the very center of God’s revelation. And one cannot believe in the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, without believing in and sharing in his Spirit. We are able to believe only because of the Holy Spirit at work within us. For, as St. Paul says, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 12:3). 

Faith of the Church

When we proclaim the creed, we realize that we are professing the faith of the Church. The Church guards the memory of Christ’s words, handing on from generation to generation “the faith that was once for all handed down to the holy ones” (Jude 3). No one of us believes as much or as well as all of us do communally. It is the Church that first believes, and this faith of the Church is what supports, nourishes and sustains the belief of individuals. The Church always believes more and better than any one of its members. In this sense, the Church is the mother of all believers. As St. Cyprian declared in the third century, “No one can have God as Father who does not have the Church as Mother” (St. Cyprian, De unit, No. 6). The Church has constantly professed and defended this one faith, preaching and teaching in the many languages, nations and cultures of the world, as if with one voice. From East to West and from North to South, the same message and the same way of salvation is made known throughout the whole world. 

For the Christian of the 21st century, reciting the creed is a countercultural act. In a disposable, consumerist culture, reciting the creed means preserving an ancient tradition. In a world that encourages novelty, we repeat words spoken by people for ages. In a society that avoids commitment, the creed binds people together in covenant with God and one another. In an age that denies absolutes, we claim that there are some truths so important that they must be repeated over and over again. 

When we are able to say the creed with understanding and conviction, we can enter more deeply into communion with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and also with the whole Church. 

Stephen J. Binz is the author of Lectio Divina Bible Study, including the forthcoming The Creed in Scripture” (OSV, $9.95), from which this In Focus was adapted. 

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