Monday, May 19, 2014

"I Believe in the Church"

Any Catholic who even occasionally attends Holy Mass (and we all ought to at least every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation) is well familiar with the Nicene Creed. For those who might not know, the Nicene Creed is so named as it was originally a profession of faith drafted by the Fathers of the Council of Nicaea (and fleshed out later at the Council of Constantinople) in AD 325 in their efforts to defeat the heresy of Arianism which taught that Jesus was the highest of all created beings, but was not God. The defeat of Arianism is still celebrated today every time we recite this glorious creed, which has formed the backbone of Christian orthodoxy (for mainline Protestants as well as Catholics) since the early fourth century.

In structure the creed is built around four "I believe" statements:

I believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.
I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the Only Begotten Son of God,
born of the Father before all ages.
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary,
and became man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate,
he suffered death and was buried,
and rose again on the third day
in accordance with the Scriptures.
He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead
and his kingdom will have no end.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.
I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.
I confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins
and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead
and the life of the world to come. Amen.
What interests me here today, and what I find very telling, is that after we confess our belief in the three divine persons of the Trinity, we go on to confess belief in "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church." We believe in God the Father, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, and in the one Church.  Equally telling, we don't confess belief in the Bible as the word of God, as would be expected if the Council Fathers were Protestants. That, of course, is not to say that the Nicene Fathers didn't believe the scriptures were inspired by God, in fact they refer to the Scriptures implicitly when they mention the Holy Spirit having "spoken through the prophets," but it is telling that the role of Scripture is left implied while the importance of the Church (which can be easily identified by its being one, holy, catholic, and apostolic) forms a part of the backbone of Creed. There is no hint of an invisible church of all the faithful here. Equally absent is any notion of sola scriptura.

Reading through the Creed, I can easily imagine a group of Catholic bishops (as in fact the men who wrote this Creed in 325 and 381 were) getting together in council today and writing this exact creed. I find it next to impossible to imagine a group of Protestants doing similar.

Bishops of Nicaea 1 with Christ and the Creed

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