The Apostles Creed

The feast day of Saint Thomas the Apostle on the traditional Roman calendar is December 21. In the new calendar it is July 3, so I took the liberty of giving him honor on this day too. Saint Jerome had the Apostle’s feast day listed on July 3. It was transferred to July 3 in 1969 so that the feast would not interfere with the ferial days leading up to Christmas. Here at Saint Benedict Center we celebrate the feast on December 21 according to the old calendar.

Saint Thomas is coupled with Saint Matthew in the synoptic lists of the Apostles and there must have been a good reason for this — I could not find out the reason for that, but will do some research to find out why. Saint John refers to Thomas as Didymus, the “twin.” There is no tradition, however, about who the other twin was.

Why Thomas doubted the word of the other Apostles when they told him that Jesus had risen from the dead is hard to understand, well deserving this rebuke from Our Lord when He appeared the second time in the Upper Room with the incredulous one present: “Put in thy finger hither, and see my hands; and bring hither thy hand, and put it into my side; and be not faithless, but believing. Thomas answered, and said to him: ‘My Lord, and my God.’ Jesus saith to him: ‘Because thou hast seen me, Thomas, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and have believed’” (John 20: 27-29).

He had a zeal, as did Peter, proclaiming his willingness to die with Jesus when Our Lord announced the death of Lazarus and that He was going to see the deceased in Bethania, near Jerusalem, even though the leaders of the Jews had threatened to arrest Him if they found Him: “Thomas therefore, who is called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples: Let us also go, that we may die with him” (John 11:16). Notice that Thomas tried to rally all the Apostles, that they would die together with Christ, while Peter was so confident in himself that he protested: “Although all shall be scandalized in thee, I will never be scandalized… Yea, though I should die with thee, I will not deny thee.” And so, too, “in like manner said all the disciples” (Matt. 26:33).

Saint Thomas did shed his blood for Jesus in the year 74, while preaching the Gospel in India.

The Apostles Creed

Tradition has it that each of the Twelve Apostles, including Matthias who replaced Judas, contributed to the formulation of a profession of Faith that we call The Apostles Creed. This was done sometime before they left Jerusalem to teach all nations. Some early writers, Saint Ambrose and Rufinus are two, maintain that it was composed under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost with each of the Apostles contributing one of twelve articles. It was not written down, but memorized, and that was the way it was throughout the history of the early Church. Catechumens committed the Creed to memory and professed it aloud at their Baptism.

After the Council of Trent (1545-1563) those theologians who composed the Catechism of the Council defended this tradition:

“Now the chief truths which Christians ought to hold are those which the holy Apostles, the leaders and teachers of the faith, inspired by the Holy Ghost, have divided into the twelve Articles of the Creed. For having received a command from the Lord to go forth into the whole world, as His ambassadors, and preach the Gospel to every creature, they thought it advisable to draw up a formula of Christian faith, that all might think and speak the same thing, and that among those whom they should have called to the unity of the faith no schisms would exist, but that they should be perfect in the same mind, and in the same judgment.

“This profession of Christian faith and hope, drawn up by themselves, the Apostles called a symbol; either because it was made up of various parts, each of which was contributed by an Apostle, or because by it, as by a common sign and watchword, they might easily distinguish deserters from the faith and false brethren unawares brought in, adulterating the word of God, from those who had truly bound themselves by oath to serve under the banner of Christ.”

With very little variation both in the East and in the West this Creed, or Symbol, as it was originally called, was the standard profession of Faith. Symbol, as first used in “Symbol of the Apostles” by Rufinus, means “a token or sign.” Rufinus was not a saint, but a great scholar and translator, a master of Greek and Latin, who, at one time, was a friend of Saint Jerome. He wrote a long and excellent commentary on the articles of the Creed, in fact, he was the first Christian writer to do so.

Although I could not find a patristic source for this, it was a tradition passed on at Saint Benedict Center that the articles of the Creed were composed as follows. (I know that this is not an arbitrary linking because Father Feeney always insisted that any ecclesiastical information that was recorded in the books published by the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary had to have been found in the writings of at least one saint.)

  1. “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth,” was given by Saint Peter;
  2. “And in Jesus Christ His only Son, Our Lord,” by Saint John;
  3. “Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary,” by Saint James the Greater;
  4. “Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried,” by Saint Andrew;
  5. “He descended into hell and on the third day He arose again from the dead,” by Saint Philip;
  6. “He ascended into heaven and sitteth at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty,” by Saint Thomas;
  7. “From whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead,” by Saint Bartholomew;
  8. “I believe in the Holy Ghost,” by Saint Matthew;
  9. “The Holy Catholic Church, the Communion of Saints,” by Saint James the Less;
  10. “The Forgiveness of Sins,” by Saint Simon;
  11. “The Resurrection of the Body,” by Saint Jude;
  12. “And Life Everlasting,” by Saint Matthias.

The Apostles Creed is a summary of the basic tenets of the Catholic Faith. It is composed in four parts, the first three expressing Faith in the Blessed Trinity and the fourth, by extension, the Catholic Church. Major dogmas of Faith that are not explicitly stated in the articles of this Creed, such as the Redemptive work of Christ in His Passion, and the Sacraments, are contained in them implicitly by association. So, too, are the dogmas of the particular judgment, hell, and purgatory. The Nicene Creed, written in 325, would be more theologically developed.

The Creed is recited, whether alone or with others, in the first person. It is a personal profession of the Faith. Thus it begins: “I believe.”

In what do I believe? First of all “I believe in God.” This separates the Christian from all paganism and idolatry, the mark of which is polytheism, dualism, or pantheism.

What do I believe about God? I believe in the Blessed Trinity, One God in Three Persons. This separates the Christian from the unbelieving Jew or Mohammedan. The first Person is the Father, to whom is appropriated the creation of the heavens and the earth, all things visible and invisible, as is put forth in the Nicene Creed. The “invisible” things are the angels. The visible things are all other things. Man is composed of both the visible and the invisible, body and soul. “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.”

As Father Almighty, God begets a Son from all eternity; otherwise His paternity would be merely an analogical term in regard to angels and men as creatures made in His image, but made from nothing. Attributes of God’s Fatherhood can be applied to intelligent creatures because God takes care of those made in His image as a father would take care of his children, even more so in that He not only feeds men but sustains men and angels in their very existence. Hence, even prescinding from supernatural grace, through which we are elevated to participate in the divine nature, God is our Father: “By whom he hath given us most great and precious promises: that by these you may be made partakers of the divine nature: flying the corruption of that concupiscence which is in the world” (2 Peter 1:4).

I believe in “Jesus Christ, His only Son, Our Lord.” The Son is the only-begotten of the Father, as is proclaimed in the scriptures and the Nicene Creed. Since the act of Begetting in God is of the eternal and infinite Spirit, there can only be one Begotten One. Receiving His divine Nature from the Father, He is co-equal, co-eternal with the Father, “God from God, Light from Light,” as we have it in the Nicene profession.

What do I believe of the Son? I believe that He became Man. In becoming Man, the Son received the Name, Jesus Christ. Jesus means “Savior,” Christ means “the Anointed,” the Messiah.

How was the Son anointed? By the Holy Ghost. The “anointing” was the vesting of the Incarnation. “He emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and in habit found as a man” (Phil. 2:7). I believe that Jesus Christ “was conceived by the Holy Ghost.”

Did Jesus truly become a Man, or did He just use a human body, appearing as a man, but not really uniting with a human nature, as the Apollinarist heresy maintained?

He became true Man. I believe He was “born of the Virgin Mary.” From His Father He had His divinity; from Mary He had His Flesh; from the Holy Ghost, He had His human Soul. His conception, although the work of the Holy Trinity, is appropriated to the Holy Ghost, the Love of God, for the Incarnation was a work of divine Love for man, drawn to its fruition by the love of the Immaculate Mary for her Creator. The Son of God was drawn from heaven by Mary’s love. He would never have been conceived as man were it not for the love of the “handmaid of the Lord” whom He made His mother

For our Redemption, I believe He truly endured agony and death and was buried, in a place, Jerusalem, in time, 2000 years ago. I believe He “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.”

I believe that, as the God-man, Jesus laid down His life by His own will, and that He took it up again and rose from the dead, for death had no dominion over the sinless One unless He allowed it for our sake.

He arose as He said He would after three days in the tomb. During those three days, the Soul of Christ, truly separated from the Body, visited the just in Limbo, also called here “hell,” in order to console them and announce their liberation to come some few days days hence.

I believe “He descended into hell and on the third day He arose again [anew, glorified] from the dead.”

After appearing many times to His disciples for forty days after His resurrection, proving His divine power, and instructing them further, He ascended into heaven.

I believe that “He ascended into heaven and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.”

I believe that at the end of time “He will come to judge the living and the dead.” There will be a particular judgment immediately after death, but this article of the Creed refers to the general judgment which will take place after all men are reunited with their bodies, the good unto life everlasting in their glorified body, the evil unto everlasting punishment in their immortal, but unglorified bodies. Whether or not those living on earth at this final hour will undergo physical death is not a defined matter of faith.

Finally, we have the simple profession of Faith in the Holy Ghost. “I believe in the Holy Ghost.” This dogma, affirming the eternal procession of the Third Person of the Trinity, revealed explicitly by Christ, would be further developed at the Council of Nicea and Constantinople I in refutation of the heresy of Macedonius who denied the Trinity of Divine Persons in rejecting the eternal Procession of the Holy Ghost, the Sanctifier.

The Creed concludes with a profession of Faith in the holy Catholic Church, followed by way of extension, with that of the communion of saints. The Church is not identical to the “communion of saints” until it becomes the Church triumphant in heaven because in this life the Church is composed of those who are in grace (in this sense they are “saints” as Saint Paul says) and sinners who have lost grace but are still members, albeit dead members. In the Church militant on earth the communion of saints is manifest in an imperfect state in the oneness that the living members of the Church share together with each other in Christ. Those members of the Church who are in mortal sin do not have life, so they are without this holy communion of the saints. What a wonderful mystery this communion is that the good members of the Church have with one another in the Mystical Body of Christ! This union with Christ and each other (most effectively in the Eucharistic communio) is what makes our prayers and sacrifices for each other (and for the souls in purgatory) efficacious.

Jesus gave His apostles and their successors in the priesthood the power to forgive sins. This was astonishing, to be sure, to the twelve humble Apostles. Therefore did Simon the Zealot suggest that it be included in the sacred Symbol of Faith. “I believe in the forgiveness of sins.”

I have already spoken of the resurrection of the body. If Jesus had not risen we would not rise from the grave and, as Saint Paul says, our Faith would be in vain. If fact, Saint Paul repeats this great truth four times in chapter fifteen of his first epistle to the Corinthians: “And if Christ be not risen again, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain” (vs. 14). He even affirms that if there is no resurrection of the just, then neither did Christ rise, as if to say, that our union with Christ is no union at all if the just rise not at the last day. How could it be that the Head of the Body should rise in glory and the members remain in their dust? We will rise in glory with Christ; we will ascend with Christ; and we will sit with Christ at the right hand of the Father.

“Now this is eternal life: That they may know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3).

In becoming one with his wife Eve, scripture says that Adam “knew” her. After the resurrection, in a glorified state, our complete selves, will be united forever in Christ as one. We will not cease to be who we are, but we will become something more, something divine, as sons of God. When we “know,” we somehow become one with what we know. In the beatific vision, eternal life, we shall know Him with whom we are one. We shall see Him — yes, in the flesh with human eyes — but we shall “know” Him in the soul, in the intellect, as God — and the will shall rejoice therein. We shall hear the words: “Come ye blessed, enter into the joy of the Lord.”

Saint Augustine gives us a sublime truth in this regard. I will leave this article with his words: “[In the vision of eternal life] what shall we not see when we see Him who sees all?”