‘We believe’ . . . what, exactly? A priest explains the creed

| October 31, 2009 | 0 Comments

Every Sunday, Catholics all over the world recite the Nicene Creed at Mass. This ancient prayer serves as a summary of our Christian faith.

But how many of us actually think about the meaning of the words we recite from memory week after week?

Father Michael Byron, associate professor of theology at the St. Paul Seminary and pastor of St. Cecilia in St. Paul, offers this breakdown of the creed to help Catholics gain a better understanding of the fundamentals of their faith.


We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen.

Jesus“Professing one God, we are what are called ‘monotheists,’” Father Byron explained. “It means there is one ‘Being’ who is worthy of our utmost worship — not money, not possessions, not influence, not charm. . . .”

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, one in being with the Father. Through Him all things were made. For us men and our salvation, He came down from heaven. By the power of the Holy Spirit, He was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man.

This portion of the prayer came from the Council of Nicaea in the year 325, with some modifications made during the Council of Constantinople in 381, Father Byron said.

Early in the fourth century, he explained, some people were claiming that God could not really become one with us, that there had to be some sort of intermediary between God and humans. Therefore, Jesus could not really have been God incarnate.

By adding this section to the Creed, the church fathers at the Council of Nicaea were explicitly saying that Jesus was indeed fully human and fully divine.

“It’s really a beautiful thing,” Father Byron said, “the fact that despite all philosophical instincts to the contrary God really wanted to be a human being . . . and was in Jesus Christ.”

For our sake He was crucified under Pontius Pilate; He suffered, died and was buried. On the third day He rose again in fulfillment of the Scriptures. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

“Catholics affirm that that great event, the Paschal Mystery, was the very purpose for his becoming incarnate, to render us capable of overcoming every threat to our eternal life with God, including death,” Father Byron said.

He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.

“This simply affirms our hope in the glorious future of Christ’s second coming, when we will all be caught up with him in love and life with God,” Father Byron explained.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son, He is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the prophets.

“Certainly we attest to the Holy Spirit, which has been poured out to the church ever since the time of Pentecost,” Father Byron said. “The Holy Spirit animates our hearts and allows us to recognize and welcome Christ.

“We give the same kind of honor and worship to the Spirit that we give to the Son and to the Father.”

We believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.

“We believe that these are present realities,” Father Byron said. “[However,] this comes up as a problem, because at any given moment in its history the church is evidently not one, not holy, not catholic and not apostolic. There is evident division, there is evident sinfulness, there is evident sectarianism, which would fly in the face of Catholicism, and maybe not so evident lack of apostolicity. We realize these notes or marks of the church imperfectly at any given time that we are examined.

“The reason that we are still rightfully able to claim those four marks in the creed is that it is because Christ holds on to the church, not because it is we who hold on to Christ, and it is Christ who is the guarantor that we can never fundamentally fall away from those four things.

“. . . The church is holy because Christ is the source of the holiness of the church and Christ will never let us go even though we are a church of sinners.

“So it’s not wrong to say the church is holy even when there’s manifest sin in the church.

“Those marks of one, holy, catholic and apostolic are marks that are guaranteed by Christ and not guaranteed by any human being doing anything well enough, and that’s why we can say those words with confidence in spite of our sometimes faltering efforts to live them well enough.”

We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

“While we are to be at home in this world because Christ made his home in this world,” Father Byron said, “we are ultimately destined for something that is far more glorious than this world and more glorious than we can ever imagine.”

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