What we believe

Cathal Barry examines the Catechism’s statement that faith begins with the Church

Cathal Barry examines the Catechism’s statement that faith begins with the Church

The Church teaches that faith is a personal act – the free response of the human person to the initiative of God who reveals himself. However, the Church also teaches that faith is not an isolated act. No one can believe alone, just as no one can live alone, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The Catechism states that you have not given yourself faith just as you have not given yourself life. “The believer has received faith from others and should hand it on to others,” it says. “Our love for Jesus and for our neighbour impels us to speak to others about our faith. Each believer is thus a link in the great chain of believers,” it adds.

‘I believe’, the Apostles' Creed, is the faith of the Church professed personally by each believer, principally during Baptism. ‘We believe’, the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, is the faith of the Church confessed by the bishops assembled in council or more generally by the liturgical assembly of believers. ‘I believe’ is also the Church, our mother, responding to God by faith as she teaches us to say both ‘I believe’ and ‘We believe’.

It is the Church that believes first, and so bears, nourishes and sustains the believers’ faith. It is through the Church that we receive faith and new life in Christ by Baptism.

Salvation comes from God alone; but because we receive the life of faith through the Church, our mother, our teacher in the faith.

We do not believe in formulae, according to the Catechism, but in those realities they express, which faith allows us to touch. All the same, we do approach these realities with the help of formulations of the faith which permit us to express the Faith and to hand it on, to celebrate it in community, to assimilate and live on it more and more.

The Church faithfully guards the Faith and hands on the apostles' confession of faith generation to generation. As a mother who teaches her children to speak and so to understand and communicate, the Church our Mother teaches us the language of faith in order to introduce us to the understanding and the life of faith.

The Catechism notes that through the centuries, in so many languages, cultures, peoples and nations, the Church has constantly confessed this one faith, received from the one Lord, transmitted by one Baptism, and grounded in the conviction that all people have only one God and Father. As St Irenaeus of Lyons declared:

"Indeed, the Church, though scattered throughout the whole world, even to the ends of the Earth, having received the Faith from the apostles and their disciples. . . guards [this preaching and faith] with care… and preaches, teaches and hands on this faith with a unanimous voice, as if possessing only one mouth.

"For though languages differ throughout the world, the content of the Tradition is one and the same. The Church's message is true and solid, in which one and the same way of salvation appears throughout the whole world.

"We guard with care the Faith that we have received from the Church, for without ceasing, under the action of God's Spirit, this deposit of great price, as if in an excellent vessel, is constantly being renewed and causes the very vessel that contains it to be renewed.”