“Remain with the Creed,” is a good maxim that has stood the Church well as she has navigated through the centuries with all of its upheavals and turmoil. Faced with continual challenges throughout history, the Church has faithfully looked to the Creed for guidance and direction in meeting those challenges. Today’s world is no exception and the beginning and the ending of the Creed are worthy of note for helping us as Church in answering today’s challenges.
Both the Nicene and the Apostles’ Creed proclaim God as Creator. I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth… (The Apostles’ Creed). The Nicene Creed further professes each person of the Holy Trinity’s involvement in creation. 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 … through him all things were made … I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life…
This is a core aspect of our Christian faith – that God is the Creator of all, ex nihilo. Creation reveals the love of God as well as revealing the omnipotence of God. Scripture tells us that God is love (1 Jn. 4:8) and love by its very nature pours itself out and this is what God did in the act of creating and continues to do in sustaining all creation and transforming it through the resurrection of his Son – the firstborn from the dead. Creation is therefore a revelation of both God’s love as well as God’s power. The Judeo-Christian tradition, distinct from the pagan religions it was initially surrounded and overshadowed by, proclaims creation not to be the result of a primordial conflict between competing gods and divine forces but the deliberate choice by the one and true God – a choice which was a willed act of love. It is love and not violence and conflict that comprises the foundation of all creation.
Why is this important? We live in turbulent times and, increasingly, there seems to be worldviews creeping into our social landscape that emphasize violence and conflict as core and even foundational aspects of life and society. These worldviews maintain that violence is just the way of the world. Only through conflict can things be changed. Only through exclusion and suppression of the other can peace be maintained. That something is a crime only if the perpetrator gets caught.
We, as Christians, must be determined to say “no” to these sad trends. Remembering and recognizing that all of creation is founded on a divine act of love grants us the fortitude that is necessary for the times in which we find ourselves and the wisdom needed to recognize the dignity in all people.
The term “love” is manhandled quite easily in our world today and can even be used to mask manipulative actions and conflict itself but even as the word can be misused and misinterpreted that does not mean that the truth of what authentic love is comprised of is lost. Love that wills the good of the other (credit to St. Thomas Aquinas) is what we know and have been entrusted with as Christians and it is what we bring to these turbulent times with its tendency to view everything solely through the paradigm of conflict and division. There is a different way and we fool ourselves when we buy into the assumption that there is no other way than that of conflict and that Christian love has no true power to effect change. We fool ourselves when we fail to acknowledge that it is love and not conflict that, in fact, undergirds all creation. Creation’s foundation in love is a truth that our Creed boldly proclaims from the very beginning.
The ending of the Creed also has something important to say to our society’s current context. …I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come (Nicene Creed). I believe in … the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting (Apostles’ Creed).
There is a danger of over spiritualizing (to the detriment of the material) our notions of what happens after death. The profession of our belief in the resurrection of the body is an important stop and corrective to this tendency. After death we do not become pure spirits for all eternity in heaven – spirits who have finally shaken off their material bondage. This is not our belief as Christians. Our belief in what comes after death is grounded in the truth of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus, who is the firstborn from the dead. Jesus appeared in his risen and glorified body to his disciples and he went to some pains in those resurrection appearances to show that he was neither a ghost nor a shade but rather was fully and physically present in their midst.
Our bodies matter and our bodies are a core component (along with mind and soul) of the fullness of our person. The thought of only being resurrected in spirit is not an exaltation in our Christian understanding but rather a diminution because, if such were the case, then we would be less than what we are now. All of our person, all of that which authentically comprises who we are is to be brought into the Kingdom of God.
Why is this important? Body and gender, in Christian understanding, are not accidentals that can be changed at will but rather core constitutive components of who we are. There is much confusion in our society regarding this and great pastoral sensitivity, courage and prudence is called for while navigating these issues when ministering to people who are themselves trying to deal with all of the conflicting views that we are awash in within our society today.
Can traditional gender roles evolve and be changed? Certainly. Men can be nurturing and women can be competitive. (Yes, two simplistic examples, I know.) While these “changing and evolving” roles in no way deny a person’s masculinity or femininity, they also do not say that there is no value to gender at all. A wholesale tossing out of gender and body as if they have no real, inherent value in favor of viewing them solely as societal constructs reflects an extremely shallow and sad understanding of what makes a person a person. It also demonstrates a very limited understanding of human reality that is cut off from both the wider context of all creation and of time.
The Creed reminds us that we are part of something much bigger than just ourselves (… all things visible and invisible …) and that we experience salvation within this overall context and not apart from it. An attitude that too easily dismisses the reality of the corporal is not Christian in outlook and rather reflects modern humanity’s disconnect from the rest of creation. It is also a worldview essentially locked into a narrow understanding of the present with no remembrance of the past (creation) nor a hope for the future (the promise of the fullness of God’s Kingdom). It is a sad imprisonment within an extremely limited temporal scope of reality, yet the truth of the resurrection continually liberates us from all of the sad imprisonments encountered in the world. I believe in … the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting (Apostles’ Creed).
What can we as Christian community do in the context in which we find ourselves? How can we best minister and witness? By remaining with the Creed and finding ways to keep sharing the truth of what we profess in inviting and life giving ways.
Here are some thoughts:
- Offer a faith study series on the Christian understanding of love drawing from the Catechism, the liturgical texts for Christian weddings and writings such as “The Four Loves” by C.S. Lewis
- Have time within marriage preparation specifically devoted to truly discussing and reflecting on the Christian understanding of love. We can no longer just assume that persons coming for marriage preparation already possess that understanding themselves.
- Offer Scripture Study sessions on the Book of Genesis reflecting on creation as a revelation of both God’s love and power
- As a Christian community seek to always grow in a theological understanding that holds together both the transcendent and immanent dimensions of the Incarnation. Jesus is indeed Lord and Savior and he is also brother – a man like us in all things but sin.
- Encourage participation in the faith that is lived in the context of real community and not primarily online.
- Offer study groups on Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’ and Amoris Laetitia.
- As parishes, participate in the seven-year Laudato Si’ Action Plan.
- Offer day hikes and outdoor retreats as opportunities to get people to re-engage with creation and overcome the disconnect we’ve inherited.
- Offer Scripture Study sessions on the resurrection appearances found in the Gospels.
- Make use of liturgical moments to proclaim our belief in the resurrection of the body (i.e. in the funeral rite, take a moment right before the incensing of the casket to share that we use incense to mark that which is holy and that through baptism the deceased loves ones’ very body became a temple of the Holy Spirit and that we believe and we have that hope that all of who we are will be raised on the great day of resurrection).
These are some ideas and there certainly can be more. Are these big moments? No, but they do not have to be in order to be effective. These moments are more about planting seeds and nurturing them to grow. These moments are also about providing space for a different message than what we are so often bombarded with in our confusing times.
If the message is true – and we as Christians believe it to be so – then it will speak to people’s hearts and will help awaken them to the journey of coming to fuller understanding.
“Remain with the Creed.” It is a good maxim that has stood the Church well throughout the centuries and it is just as true for us today. The beginning and the ending of our ancient Creed indeed have important words to speak to us now.