The profession of faith

Cathal Barry takes a look at what the Catechism says about the creeds

Communion in faith needs a common language of faith, uniting all in the same confession of faith, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

From the beginning, the apostolic Church expressed and handed on her faith in brief formulae normative for all. However, already very early on, the Church also wanted to gather the essential elements of her faith into articulated summaries, intended especially for candidates for Baptism.

Such syntheses are called ‘professions of faith’ since they summarise the Faith that Christians profess. They are called ‘creeds’ on account of what is usually their first word in Latin: credo (I believe). They are also called ‘symbols of faith’.

The Catechism notes that the first profession of faith is made during Baptism. The symbol of faith is first and foremost the baptismal creed. Since Baptism is given “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”, the truths of faith professed during Baptism are articulated in terms of their reference to the three persons of the Holy Trinity.

Therefore, the Creed is divided into three parts. The Roman Catechism states that the first part speaks of the first divine person and the wonderful work of creation; the next speaks of the second divine person and the mystery of his redemption of men; the final part speaks of the third divine person, the origin and source of our sanctification. The Roman Catechism also notes that these three parts are “distinct although connected with one another”.

Through the centuries many professions or symbols of faith have been articulated in response to the needs of the different eras: the creeds of the different apostolic and ancient Churches, e.g. the Athanasian Creed; The professions of faith of certain councils, such as Toledo, Lateran, Lyons, Trent; or the symbols of certain Popes, e.g. the Fides Damasior the Credo of the People of God of Paul VI.

The Church teaches that none of the creeds from the different stages in the Church's life can be considered superseded or irrelevant. Rather, they help us today to attain and deepen the faith of all times by means of the different summaries made of it.

Among all the creeds, two occupy a special place in the Church's life.

The Apostles' Creed is so called because it is rightly considered to be a faithful summary of the apostles' faith. It is the ancient baptismal symbol of the Church of Rome.

The Niceno-Constantinopolitan or Nicene Creed draws its great authority from the fact that it stems from the first two ecumenical Councils (in 325 and 381). It remains common to all the great Churches of both East and West to this day.

The Catechism encourages the faithful to “embrace the Creed of our life-giving faith”. “To say the Credo with faith is to enter into communion with God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and also with the whole Church which transmits the faith to us and in whose midst we believe.”

As St Ambrose has said: “This Creed is the spiritual seal, our heart's meditation and an ever-present guardian; it is, unquestionably, the treasure of our soul.”