Recent research done by Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reported some amazing statistics about Catholics and their knowledge of the faith. According to the research, 40% of Catholics did not realize that the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ at Mass. 46 % of Catholics could not name Bethlehem as Jesus’ native place. Yet, 70 % of atheists and agnostics could. In his October 17, 2012 general audience, Pope Benedict XVI acknowledged the fact that many Catholics do not know the faith. He said, “Christians today often do not even know the central core of their Catholic faith.” How sad!
Ignorance about the fundamentals of the faith makes believers vulnerable to a false understanding of the moral life. It paves the way to religious syncretism. Faith becomes a matter of personal choice. It is no longer the acceptance of revealed truth.
From the very beginning, the Church has faced the challenge of passing on the faith. In the first centuries, when pagans became Christians, they were given summaries of the faith to memorize as a preparation for baptism. Already in the early baptism liturgies, there was developing the public recitation of the basic beliefs of the faith in creedal form (cf. the “
and the “
St. Cyril of Jerusalem
). This still takes place in every baptism, whether of an adult or child.
Today, Catholics are accustomed to recite one or the other of two creeds. At Mass, after the homily, we usually recite the Nicene Creed. In private devotion, such as the rosary, we profess the Apostles’ Creed. The Nicene Creed comes from a time when the divinity of Christ was being denied. The Apostles’ Creed comes from a day when the humanity of Christ was being denied. Both are ancient documents, summarizing the basic truths of the faith.
The origin of the Nicene Creed is well known. In 325 A.D., when the Council of Nicaea was convoked, the Church faced a serious threat to the faith handed on to her from the Apostles. Arius, a priest of Alexandria, had gained great popularity with his teaching that Jesus was not God. He propagated the idea that Jesus was merely the first and most perfect of God’s creatures. His rationalistic teaching found ready acceptance by many who had difficulty believing in the mystery of the Trinity. However, the Council of Nicaea clearly taught that Jesus Christ is the Son of God made man. Jesus is the eternal Son of the Father who shares in our human nature. He is a divine person.
To express the faith of the Church, the Council of Nicaea produced what is now called the Nicene Creed. In this creed, the Council brought into the official language of the Church a newly coined word to express the correct understanding of who Jesus is. The Council used the Greek word
, which is translated into English as
. This single word safeguards the true belief that Jesus, who was born of the Virgin Mary, is not merely “like” the Father, but is God as the Father is God. From all eternity, the Son fully possesses the Godhead as does the Father and the Holy Spirit.
To profess this creed today places us in the line with all those who, despite serious challenges, have held steadfast to the true faith.
The origin of the Apostles' Creed is not as certain as that of the Nicene Creed. While the present form of the Apostles’ Creed comes from around the 7
century, it is attested in slightly different forms in documents as early as the 2
century. The Apostles’ Creed states twelve fundamental truths of Catholic belief from Creation to the Final Judgment.
Both the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed take their English name from their first word in Latin
(“I believe”). However, from the earliest times, these professions of faith were called “symbols of faith.” And this is significant. The Greek word
meant half of a broken object.
When the two broken halves were placed together, then the bearer’s identity was verified. Thus, naming a creed a “symbol of faith” reminds us that the profession of faith is a way of recognizing the identity of a true believer. When we recite either the Nicene or the Apostles’ Creed, we are making public our relationship with all others who hold the true faith and affirming our identity as belonging to the Church founded by Christ.
Year of Faith
, we are being called to rediscover the truths of our faith through a personal reflection on the Creed. Some mistakenly think that catechesis is merely a preparation for Baptism, First Eucharist and Reconciliation. It is not. We never outgrow our need to learn more about our faith. Catechesis is a permanent part of discipleship.
As we deepen our knowledge of the faith, especially through reflection on the creeds, we come to know the conviction of faith that gives birth to joy. We spontaneously become greater witnesses to the faith and
true evangelizers. Thus, as Pope Benedict XVI said on October 16, 2011, when he first announced the
Year of Faith
, this effort on our part will give “new impetus to the mission of the whole Church to lead men out of the desert in which they often find themselves, to the place of life, of friendship with Christ.”
On March 20, 2013, in an audience with representatives of Churches and Ecclesial Communities of other Religions, Pope Francis said that this
Year of Faith
should stir up in us “the desire to proclaim [the] ever-valid treasure of the faith to the persons of our time…” Reflecting on either the Nicene or the Apostles’ Creed enriches our own understanding and strengthens our commitment to Christ and his Church. It provides a solid basis for prayer and for living the Christian life. It is, indeed, a needed impetus to the New Evangelization.