SOME THOUGHTS ON THE CATHOLIC CREED
Firmly I believe and truly
God is three and God is one;
And I next acknowledge duly
Manhood taken by the Son.
And I trust and hope most fully
In that manhood crucified;
And I love supremely, solely
Christ who for my sins has died.
And I hold in veneration,
For the love of him alone,
Holy Church as his creation
And her teachings as his own.
Praise and thanks be ever given
With and through the angel host,
To the God of earth and heaven,
Father, Son and Holy Ghost.
The author of the above Creed is Cardinal John Henry Newman. He was a revered 19th Century scholar and churchman. We think of his early years as his Anglican years, and we think of his later years as his Catholic years. His influence on scholarship was profound in his own day. Though he died some sixty years before the Second Vatican Council, his influence on the scholars of the Council was most significant. Perhaps it can be helpful for us in this column to reflect on Newman’s Creed so that we can appreciate the great mysteries we celebrate throughout the liturgical year. Newman first points to the foundational mystery on which all the truths of faith rest, that is, the mystery of our Three-Personed God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Theologians like to call this mystery “a necessary mystery” because we say of God – He always was; he always will be; he must exist. The next mystery is the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God. We can call this mystery “a free mystery”, that is, it depends upon the freedom of God, because we can say of the first Christmas – it did not have to take place. Then Newman moves on to the mystery of Redemption and all the wonderful things God has done for us and continues to do for us through his Son and the Holy Spirit. Stanza three is important for us to read and to hear. Newman tells us the reason why he accepts as true the mysteries of faith. It is because faith is a gift that first comes to us from the Church in the Sacrament of Baptism. This is why Newman writes – “And I hold in veneration for the love of Christ alone, Holy Church as God’s creation and her teachings as his own.” We have the great truths of Trinity, Incarnation and Redemption. At the Advent-Christmas Liturgies, it is the Incarnation that stands center-stage.
The English word “incarnation” means “becoming flesh”, “taking on our humanity”. And so we read in John’s Gospel – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God, and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Christ Jesus, the very Son of God from all eternity, equal in divinity to the Father and Holy Spirit, at a particular moment in human history took on our humanity without ceasing to be his divine self and became like us in all things except sin. As we reflect on this mystery of faith and seek to grow in understanding, we praise God for his love and goodness as we ask the question – Why the Incarnation? Why did God the Son take on our humanity and enter truly into our human history? The Advent-Christmas Liturgies answer this question in different ways. They speak to us about a wondrous exchange between God and ourselves. For example, listen to the following antiphon – “What wondrous exchange: our Creator, taking on body and soul, in his kindness has been born from the Virgin Mary, and coming forth as Man, He has made us sharers in his divinity.” You and I, of course, do not cease to be our human selves, but now we share in God’s life through the grace and virtues of faith, hope and love.
We can learn a lot from some of the titles we give to the Lord Jesus. We call Him Savior, for we would be lost were it not for him. Who else can take away our two great enemies which are sin and death? We call him Redeemer, but why give him that title if he cannot free us from sin and death? So, if we do not grasp the truth that we are lost apart from Christ, that we never can become what God expects us to become apart from Christ, we will never appreciate Christmas.
Once again a new liturgical season has begun. Once again we are privileged to reflect on the Lord Jesus in his mysteries, in all that he has done and in all that he continues to do for us and for our salvation. We say of the Lord Jesus – Blessed be Jesus Christ, true God and true Man. As such, he is our mediator. In fact, he is our perfect mediator. As perfectly divine, he is on God’s side of things. As perfectly human, he is on our side. As our mediator, he makes us one with the Father. As the Father’s mediator, he makes the Father one with us. As we reflect on Christ as our mediator, we think of him as truly man, truly the God-Man, and truly God. Augustine’s words can be of great help to us – “He who is God was made man, in taking that which he was not but without losing that which he was. Thus God became Man! Herein you have what is needful to your weakness. And herein you have also what is needful to your holiness of life. May Christ raise you by his ‘Being’ as man; may Christ guide you by his ‘Being’ as the God-Man; may Christ bring you to his ‘Being’ as God!”