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The MOST Theological Collection: A Basic Catholic Catechism

"Part II: The Apostle's Creed: Introduction and Article I"


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Christ our Truth

For about the first century and a half, the creeds, the professions of faith probably did not always have the same wording. But, as St. Paul tells us in Romans l0:9: "If with your mouth you confess that Jesus is the Lord, and in your heart you believe that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved." We need now to fill in an explanation: That word saved has three meanings in Scripture: 1) rescue from temporal dangers, 2) entry into the Church, 3) reaching heaven. The foolish mistake some fundamentalist Protestants make, of saying "saved" means being infallibly sure of heaven as a result of just once "taking Christ as your Savior" - this has no scholarly backing at all. It is not found in Scripture. Here in 10:9 saved means entry into the Church by a profession of faith.

The first evidence of the use of a fixed formula comes in the questions asked a candidate for Baptism at Rome was asked, in the early third century (cf. Hippolytus, Tradition of the Apostles 21). With some further fill-ins, this became the standardized wording for a confession of faith in the western churches, the Apostles' Creed. Even if the Apostles did not directly compose it, yet it goes back to the basic truths they preached, in accord with the commission given them by Jesus Himself (Mt 28. 19-20): "Go then and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you."

The Roman Catechism of Pope St. Pius V officially explained this so that Pope John Paul II called the Catechism "a work of the first rank as a summary of Christian teaching.

Our belief in the truths of the Creed is not just an opinion, no it is a most firm acceptance of these things on the authority of God Himself who has revealed them, so that we will also have confidence in His promises, and obey His commands (cf. St. Paul, Romans 1:5,"the obedience of faith", i.e., the obedience that faith is). That is why Vatican II (On revelation § 5) tells us that in faith "a person freely commits himself totally to God, giving the full commitment of mind and will to God who reveals, and voluntarily assenting to the revelation He has given."

We know what God has revealed by means of the teachings of the Church Jesus founded, as we saw in part one. If anyone thinks the words of Scripture are self-interpreting, so that he does not need the Church, he has only to look at the yellow pages in the telephone book, and see the countless denominations, all of which claim they know the "obvious" meaning of Scripture. But it was not to these denominations, which did not even exist then, that Jesus promised "He who hears you hears me" (Luke 10:16). They appeared on the scene only centuries after Jesus. If His promises could fail for centuries, we could not trust His promises as all.

The basic revelation of the message of Jesus was completed when the last Apostle died and the New Testament was completed (Cf. Vatican II, On Divine Revelation §4) Any revelation after that time is called "private" to distinguish it. (The word private is used even for a revelation addressed to the whole world, such as Fatima). There is to be no new public revelation until the glorious return of our Lord at the end of time.

His Church teaches in varied ways - at times by a solemn definition, at times by less formal statements. The key point to watch is whether or not the Church presents some truth as to be held definitively. It can do this in rather formal public utterances, or in the day to day teaching given throughout the world, presenting things as definitive (Cf. Vatican II, LG §25). All these teachings are protected by the promises of Christ. At times too the Church teaches in a way that is not definitive. Even then we should not only keep from openly contradicting, but should accept it in our minds, with the understanding that there could be a far-out possibility of a slip. Yet the experience of centuries shows that is much more remote than is our belief that a dish of food we often eat out of a can, is free of the deadly poison of Botulism, even though we do not send all cans to a lab for checking.

The divine protection Jesus promised to the Church is so great that if the entire Church, people as well as authorities, has ever accepted something as revealed - even for one period of history - that belief is infallible (Vatican II, LG § 12). If a later generation falls away from that belief, what was once infallibly guaranteed cannot become untrue.

We find what God has revealed in both Scripture and Tradition, which both come from the same source, and tend to the same goal. Yet they are not identical. Vatican II, On Divine Revelation § 9, said: " The Church draws her certainty on what is revealed not only from Sacred Scripture."

But we look to the Church for the guaranteed interpretation of both Scripture and Tradition. Vatican II said, On Divine Revelation § 10: "The task of authoritatively interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on [Scripture or Tradition] has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ." So a theologian who would say he must ignore the Church to find the truth is not a Catholic theologian, and his search is apt to end in failure.

First Article of the Creed: "I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth."

1. One God

In this article we express our belief in the existence of God. He is a pure spirit, that is, He has no matter at all, and no parts.

We call Him Father, since He is the supreme source of everything, the one "from whom all Fatherhood in heaven and on earth takes its name" (Ephesians 3. 16).

We call Him the Creator, since He has made all things , not out of some previously existing material, but simply out of nothing. Now to bring nothing up to any degree of being is an infinite distance, and so we see He has infinite power. By just willing it, He can do all things. So in Genesis 1 He merely spoke and said, "Let light be." And light came into existence. Really, He did not speak in our sense of the word; He merely willed it, and it came into being.

To describe Him we use the word attributes. These are the perfections that He has, which we attribute to Him by comparison with creatures. Some of His attributes belong to Him by His very nature; others belong to Him in relation to the world He made.

The chief attributes that are His by His very nature are His unchangeability and eternity. He is unchangeable. Since He has the fullness of being, He could not change into anything higher or better, or acquire anything: "I, the Lord, do not change", He said through the prophet Malachi (3:6). We call Him eternal not in the sense that there always was time, and in it He always was. No, since He is unchangeable there is no past or future for Him: all is one unchanging present. So when we say that He made the world - a past expression - to His divine mind it registers as present!. "Before the mountains were born, before you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are, O God" (Psalm 90:2).

There are attributes that follow upon God's relation to this world. He is omnipotent or almighty because "nothing is impossible to God" (Luke 1:37). The book of Sirach 23:20 says: "Before they were made, all things were known to Him." So He is all-knowing, or omniscient. We say He is present everywhere. In Jeremiah 23:24 He said: "Do I not fill heaven and earth?" Yet He is not present in the sense of taking up space, as we do: we say a Spirit is present wherever it causes an effect. He caused all things to come into being, and keeps them in being. Since He rewards good and punishes evil we call Him all-just. St. Paul wrote (Romans 2:6): "He will repay each one according to his works. He guides and directs the paths of all creatures, and hence the First Epistle of Peter 5:7 can say: "Cast all your care upon Him, for He takes care of you". He is all-good since He is the author of everything that is good, and wills eternal good to us. Psalm 136:1,"Give thanks to the Lord for He is good."

Even though everything the Three Persons do outside the Divine nature is done by all Three, yet it is suitable that we attribute some works specially to one or the other Person. So we speak of the Father especially as the power of creation, of the Son as the wisdom of the Father, of the Holy Spirit as goodness and sanctification.

2. The Holy Trinity

Perhaps the deepest, the most profound of all mysteries is the fact that the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God, yet we do not speak of three Gods, but only one God. They have the same nature, substance, and being.

We came to know this immense mystery because Christ revealed it to us. Just before ascending He told them: "Go teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:19). We know that these Three are not just different ways of looking at one person. For at the Last Supper, Jesus told us: "I came forth from the Father. So He is different from the Father." But He also promised: "If I go, I will send Him [the Paraclete] to you... He will guide you to all truth. (John 16:28, 7, 13). So the Holy Spirit is also different.

Even though the Three Persons are One God, yet they are distinct: for the Father has no origin, He came from no one. But the Son is begotten, He comes from the Father alone. The Holy Spirit comes or proceeds from both the Father and the Son. These different relations of origin tell us there are three distinct Persons, who have one and the same divine nature.

The First Epistle of John (4:8) says, "God is love." Now to love is to will good to another for the other's sake. The Father wills divinity to the Son; Father and Son together will divinity to the Holy Spirit, who is the love of the Father and the Son. This complete self-giving of the Three Persons is the divine model for the love we should have.

It is strictly correct to say that God is love, since if we said that He has love, there would be a duality, two. But He is totally unity. He is identified with each of His attributes. So He is mercy, He is justice, and therefore in some way, mercy and justice are identified in Him. We can see something of this when we notice that if someone goes on sinning, He gradually loses his ability to see spiritual truths: this is justice, but it is also mercy, for the more one understands of the spiritual truths, the greater his responsibility. Similarly, one who makes steady progress spiritually, finds ever-increasing light to understand spiritual things: in a sense this is something earned, is justice; but more basically, it is mercy, for no creature by its own power can generate a claim on God. All He gives is unmerited mercy.

3. Creation and Divine Providence

To create is to make things out of nothing, with no material at all being used. We cannot ask: why did God wait so long before creating the world, because before creation, there is no time. Time is a measure of change on a scale of before and after (Aristotle, Physics 4:11). Therefore when - if we may use that word at all in speaking of eternity - there was no change, there was no time. Time began to be when changing creatures came into being. Time is a restless continuous set of changes. Ahead is a moment we call future - it quickly changes into present - then quickly changes into past.

God could have created from all eternity, and the world would have been eternal. For there is no point in eternity (if we may use such a word) at which He did not have the power to create. But Genesis 1:1 tells us, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." And Christ told His Father :"You loved me before the foundation of the world" (John 17:24).

St. Irenaeus wrote: "In the beginning God formed Adam, not because He was in need of humans, but so He might have someone to receive His benefits" (Against Heresies 4. 14. 1). So we can say He always loved us, since He always willed us the most basic good, existence. Beyond that, He wills that, "all be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:4). If to will good to another is to love, then this is really love. But when we love, we need a starter, we need to see something good or fine in another. But God began (if we may use that word) to love us when we did not exist. His Son died for us when we were still sinners (Romans 5:6).

When we say that He created for His own glory, we must understand these words the way Vatican I meant them: He made a creature that by its very nature would give glory to God, even though God gains nothing by that glory. (We read this in the acts and decrees of Vatican I, found in Collectio Lacensis , VII. 116). Similarly, He wants us to obey because all goodness says creatures should obey their Creator, and because as St. Irenaeus said, He wanted to have someone to whom to be generous in infinite goodness.

He keeps all things in existence by the same power by which He brought them up out of nothing." And how, if you had not willed it, could anything continue in being if you did not will it?" (Wisdom 11:25). Our dependence on Him for continued existence is like that of the images on the movie screen dependent on the projector.

His providence watches over and guides everything: "No creature is invisible before Him: all are bare and uncovered to His eyes" (Hebrews 4:13). His wisdom "extends from end to end mightily and governs all well" (Wisdom 8:1).

As we saw from 1 Timothy 2:4, He "wills all to be saved". That will to save us is so great that He did not spare His only Son, but sent Him to a horrible death, to make eternal life open for us (Rom 8:32). Thus He really, "proved His love" (Rom 5:8). For the greater an obstacle the one who loves can get over in trying to bring happiness and well-being to the beloved, the greater the love must be. So He gives His helps, His grace, most abundantly, since the infinite price of redemption (cf. 1 Cor 6. 20; 7:23) paid for an infinite treasury of forgiveness and grace for each individual one, for "He loved me, and gave Himself for me" (Galatians 2:20). This does not mean that someone could say: Since I have so great an abundance going for me, I can sin greatly most of my life, and pull up short at the end. No, one who sins much becomes spiritually blind, incapable of receiving the graces God so greatly wills to give him.

If we follow up the most basic comparison used by Our Lord Himself in the Gospel we would say: God is our Father. As such, He wants all His children to turn out well. But if someone then throws aside His graces to such an extent that he cannot be saved - becoming blind - then with sorrow the Father must let him be lost. But otherwise, He will save us, not because we earned it, but because He, like any good Father, wants all His children to turn out well. So St. Paul speaks of sinners as not being able to "inherit the kingdom" (1 Cor 6:10; Eph 5:5). When we inherit from our parents, we do not say we earned it: we get it because they are good, not that we are good. But we could have earned to lose that inheritance by being evil. So Paul said in Romans 6:23: "The wages of sin [what we earn] is death; the free gift of God [unearned] is eternal life." As a student once said: "As to salvation, you cannot earn it, but you can blow it."

If we live with this attitude and realization, we fulfill what Our Lord called for: "If you do not change and become like little children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:3).

The very first grace is normally the grace to pray. Other things then follow. St. Augustine wrote well: "See these things, Lord, mercifully, and free us who now call on you. Free also those who do not yet call on you, so that they may call on you, and you may free them" (Confessions 1:9).

When God decided to create the human race, it was inevitable to give them free will - otherwise it would be something other than the human race. He saw this would give an opening to great evils, but also to very great goods. He decided to as it were buy the package.

There is so much evil in the world. Why? Physical evils result from the frailty of creatures, made out of nothing. To stop all of these, God would need to multiply miracles very frequently - but then He would contradict Himself, constantly going beyond the laws of nature which He Himself had established. Moral evils come from the fact that He gave us free will - opening the way, as we said, to great good, and great evil. Again, to prevent these would take miracles of grace constantly, which would be out of order. And it would reduce human freedom also. However, He can and does draw much good out of evil, e.g., evils provide the material for the patience of the just; physical evils give opportunity for much charity.

4. Angels, Good and Bad

An angel is a pure spirit, that is, an angel has no matter, no body. They are of a nature higher than ours. They are often sent by God for certain duties on this earth, in fact, the word angel means "one who is sent" or "messenger." The oldest references to angels in the Old Testament might leave us wondering if angels are separate beings - or does the phrase "messenger of God" merely means God? (cf. Judges, chapter 6). But in the later part of the Old Testament and in the New Testament it becomes entirely clear that they are distinct creatures. We see this by many references to them in Scripture, e.g., Psalms 148:2; 103: 20-21; Matthew 22:30; Luke 1:26; 2 Peter 2:4; Revelation/Apocalypse 5:11.

Each angel is a person, and has a mind and a will like ours.

The angels were not created in heaven, that is, with the vision of God. If they had had that, sin would have been impossible. But God gave the angels some sort of command - we do not know what - and some obeyed, some did not. Those who disobeyed were fixed in evil, and became devils. When we sin, our intelligence is limited by the material part of our intellect, the brain in our heads. For a material brain is much less powerful than the spiritual intelligence our souls have. This means that we seldom see things as fully as possible at once. But an angel has no such limit, and hence sees everything as fully as possible at once. So he cannot go back on his decision, and say: "I see it differently now; I wish I had not done that".

The fallen angels, the devils, still keep the great powers natural to a pure spirit. So they can do things that seem like miracles to us.

The good angels are sent to guide and protect us. They too have great powers. Each of us has a guardian angel. This is implied in Scripture and is found in the constant Tradition of the Church. After Peter was delivered from prison by angel, the disciples said in astonishment: "It was his angel" (Acts 12:15).

Our guardian angels are able to put good thoughts into our minds, and to protect us. Psalm 91:11 says: "He will command His angels about you, to guard you in all your ways." In time of temptation they can give us both light and strength. They never stop praying for us, and they present our prayers before God.

Clearly, it is only good sense to venerate our guardian angel, to cultivate their friendship, to thank them, to ask their help. So God said in Exodus 23:20-21: "Behold, I am sending an angel ahead of you, to guard you and bring you to the place I have prepared. Listen to his voice, and do not rebel against him, for my name is in Him, and he will not forgive."

Because of their disobedience, the wicked angels were condemned to eternal punishment. St. Peter, using poetic language, says: "When the angels sinned, God did not spare them, but consigned them to the pit of hell to be kept for the judgment" (2 Peter 2:4).

As we said, the will of the devil is fixed in evil, and so he tries to seduce people, to harm them spiritually, and even to bring them to hell. He wants to lead us from the faithful service of God. First Peter 5:8-9 advises: "Be calm and watch, for your enemy the devil goes about seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, strong in faith, knowing that your brothers all over the world have the same trial."

God permits the devil to do this as a result of His decision to create spiritual beings, having free will. To thwart that regularly would be to contradict His own natural laws. He does draw good out of evil: temptation gives us the opportunity to show our faith and to trust in Him; it give us the chance to grow in virtue by the struggle. And He has given us a powerful counterforce in our Guardian Angels, and the Blessed Mother, and ordinary Saints.

5. Nature and Origin of the Human Race

We are creatures made up of spirit and matter, body and soul. Our spirit is the immaterial soul, which our senses cannot feel. But our faith tells us it is there. So by way of our soul, we have some share in the nature of the angels.

We can see that we have a spiritual soul in this way. Each of us has a concept or idea of dog in general. Our mental dog is not high or low, long or short, sharp-nosed or pug-nosed. If we hired the very best artist, offered him any sum and his choice of mediums: oil paints, carving, casting etc. , to make an image of our dog, we would get nothing. For no material can hold this concept. So that in us which holds it is not material, but spiritual. This is all the more obvious in our concepts of goodness, truth, justice etc.

Our soul can exist apart from the body. It will never die, because being spiritual, it has no parts, and so cannot come apart. It will live forever in happiness beyond what we can imagine, or in the reverse, eternal damnation. The Book of Wisdom 3:1-4 says: "The souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment will touch them. They seemed to die, to the eyes of foolish people, and their departure was considered evil... but they are in peace. Their hope is full of immortality."

Each human soul is directly created by God Himself, it is not produced by or derived from the parents. The parents produce only the human body, and do even that, only with the help of God's power. The uniting of the soul with the body is called infusion. Modern biology knows that at the moment of conception, when the 23 chromosomes from each parent join, the complete genetic pattern of a unique being is already present. So abortion is gravely sinful.

6. Original sin

God had given to our first parents three levels of gifts: 1) basic humanity, consisting of a body and soul, with mind and will. Each has within it certain natural drives and needs. No one of these is evil in itself, but without the help of some added gift to coordinate them, they tend to get out of order, to rebel. 2) God gave to our first parents an added gift, which is just such a coordinating gift, which made it easy to keep each drive in its place. (It is sometimes called the gift of integrity). When Adam and Eve sinned, the lower flesh began to get out of line, to rebel. Hence Adam felt the need of cover; before the fall, he did not feel that, for the flesh was easily docile. God gave them also exemption from physical death, which otherwise would be natural to a being composed of parts, body and soul, which can come apart, and so die. 3) He gave them the life of grace, which made the soul basically capable of the vision of God in the life to come.

God clearly intended they should pass on all thee gifts to their children, including us. But they lost all but the basic humanity by sin. Hence they transmit to us only that basic humanity, without the other gifts.

The new baby arrives without the grace God willed it should have. An adult who sins mortally also lacks that grace: hence both can be said to be in the "state of sin", they lack the grace they should have, except that the adult is that way by his own fault, the baby without any fault. John Paul II explained, in a General Audience of October 1, 1986: "... it is evident that original sin in Adam's descendants has not the character of personal guilt. It is the privation of sanctifying grace...." Privation means the lack of what ought to be there. So when we speak of transmission of original sin, it would be more accurate to speak of non-transmission of sanctifying grace.

When we say or hear that our mind is darkened and will weakened, we mean this only in comparison to what it might have been. Hence John Paul II also said in a General Audience of October 8, 1986: "According to the Church's teaching it is a case of a relative and not an absolute deterioration, not intrinsic to the human faculties... not of a loss of their essential capacities even in relation to the knowledge and love of God." In other words, original sin took our race down only to the essential level, the first level we described. It did not make it positively corrupt, surely not totally corrupt as Martin Luther thought.

Many today think that the human body evolved from lower beings. If they say that this happened without any help from God, it is atheistic evolution. Not only theology rejects that foolish idea, even mere reason rejects it: it supposes that matter could lift itself up and up higher by its shoelaces, as it were, with no outside source for the new higher or added being that turns up each time it rises to become a higher kind of a being.

Pius XII in Humani generis in 1950 told us we may consider as a possible - not as something proved - that God established some natural laws that would bring about this evolution from lower to higher. Even so, He would need to supply the higher being at each point where it would appear, especially the human soul. We would call this theistic evolution, that is evolution involving the power of God at so many points.

The scientific evidence for bodily evolution is almost non-existent. "Research News"in Science, November 21, 1980, reported that the majority of 160 scientists at a conference at the Field Museum in Chicago said Darwin was wrong in supposing there had been many intermediate forms between species, e.g., between fish and birds. The fossils do not give one clear case of that. So the scientists decided on, "Punctuated equilibria", the theory that a species might stay the same for millions of years, and then suddenly by a fluke leap up into something higher. No solid proof was reported as offered at the meeting.

As we mentioned briefly earlier, Science News, August 13, 1983, reported that Allan Wilson, of the University of California, Berkeley, said his study of specimens of mitochrondrial DNA from all over the world, showed all existing humans come from one mother, who lived 350,000 years ago. More recent studies by many scientists agree that there was only one mother, but lower the age to 200,000 years (cf. Newsweek, January 11, 1988).

Through the narrative of the forbidden fruit, the Sacred author tells us that God gave our first parents some kind of command, whether it was about a tree or something else. Whatever it was, they violated His orders, and fell from His favor, losing sanctifying grace. (Here we need to keep in mind what is said in the chapter on Scripture in general on genre, patterns of writing).

As we said, since our first parents sinned, they did not transmit sanctifying grace to us. There is, of course, the exception of Jesus and Mary, who were conceived with that grace. Without it, the soul is not capable of the vision of God in heaven.

Right after the fall, God promised to send a Redeemer. God said to the serpent in Genesis 3:15: "I will put enmity between you and the woman, between her descendants and yours. He will strike at your head, you will strike at his heel." About this text Vatican II said (LG § 55): "These early documents [meaning chiefly Genesis 3:15, and Isaiah 7:14), as they are read in the Church, and understood in the light of later and full revelation, gradually bring to light the figure of the woman the Mother of the Redeemer." We notice the careful language. The council said the Church now sees Our Lady in this text, but only with the help of later revelation, which gradually made it clear. It did not want to say that the original human writer of Genesis saw all this - we do not know if he did.

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