Article 25: Catechism of the Catholic Church Series
Father John G. Hillier
This past May, on Memorial Day weekend, an elderly parishioner told me the story about her brother who had served in the Second World War and became a prisoner of war under the Germans. This wonderful Italian woman explained how her brother was on the an overloaded boxcar in the last train car when, finding a small scrap of filthy brown soap, he and three of his comrades decided to swallow the soap in a desperate attempt to become disqualified for the next prison camp to which they were being transported. As the young servicemen consumed the soap one by one they soon collapsed and white foam began oozing from their mouths. (The soap mixed with the men’s saliva caused this diseased-like symptom). The Nazi’s quickly had the 4 prisoners thrown from the sealed train car fearing that whatever their disease was would soon spread if the men remained. Eventually this woman’s brother made his way home to a delighted family, concerned more about his significant weight loss than anything else when they first caught sight of him.
This unique anecdote about the men in a sealed train car reminded me of the Creed or “profession of faith” which is our spiritual seal (ccc 197). Unlike the courageous men who were sealed up and set on the road to a potentially horrifying fate, the spiritual seal we enjoy sets us on the road to eternal life with God. Like the men in the train, however, we are also courageous because we stand with Christ and His Spirit who gives us courage. Like them, we also need to be vigilant because, although our destiny seems clear, what also remains clear is the possibility that we may not reach our destiny. If we do not cooperate with the One who placed the spiritual seal on our hearts, we may choose for ourselves a different destiny.
When we consider our spiritual seal or the Creed(s) of the Church our thoughts often gravitate toward the Sacrament of Baptism because “very early on, the Church wanted to gather the essential elements of her faith into organic and articulated summaries, intended especially for candidates for Baptism” (ccc 186). In addition to being called Creeds or symbols of faith “a summary of the principal truths of the faith,” (ccc 188), such summaries were also called “professions of faith” since they summarize the faith that Christians profess (ccc 187).
It is curious that in this section of the Catechism, almost 200 articles into the Catechism, we are still bing introduced to the structure of the Profession of Faith or Creed and how it impacts the structure of the Catechism. Here, the Catechism itself continues to offer introductory comments on the nature of the Creed and how it has been used historically as a model for the structure of catechisms of the past. Now, it is again being used as the structure of this “new” Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Throughout the centuries, we are told, many Creeds or “Professions of Faith” [also called symbols of faith] have been articulated in response to the needs of different eras in the life of the Church. Faithful readers of this column on the Catechism may recall, for example, the lengthy Athanasian Creed considered in the 4th article in this series. Two creeds that have been especially prominent include the Apostles Creed or “the Creed of the Roman Church, the See of Peter the first of the apostles, to which he brought the common faith” (ccc 194) and “the Niceno-Constantinopolitan or Nicene Creed”… from the first two ecumenical Councils in [the years] 325 and 381″ (ccc 195).
According to the Catechism, “our presentation of the faith will follow the Apostles’ Creed, which constitutes, as it were, ‘the oldest Roman catechism’” (ccc 196). Article 196 explains that “the presentation will be completed … by constant references to the Nicene Creed, which is often more explicit and more detailed” (ccc 196).
Since the Creed is divided into three parts reflecting the three persons of the Holy Trinity, “the truths of faith, (first) professed during Baptism, are articulated in terms of their reference to the three persons of the Holy Trinity” (ccc 189). “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” (ccc 190).
The Catechism goes on to explain: “To say the Credo with faith is to enter into communion with God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit” (ccc 197) The word “Credo” means “I believe”. Therefore, we are told that when we assert our belief sincerely, “with faith,” we are entering into communion with God.
The challenge is then put before us: “As on the day of our Baptism, when our whole life was entrusted to the ‘standard of teaching’, let us embrace the Creed of our life-giving faith” (ccc 197).
This section of the Catechism ends by reminding us: “This Creed is the spiritual seal, our heart’s meditation and an ever-present guardian; it is, unquestionably, the treasure of our soul” (ccc 197).