The dictionary defines a creed as “any system or codification of belief or of opinion.” So a creed is simply a statement of what we believe. The Apostles’ Creed is one of the oldest such statements in Christianity (it is first found in a letter written by St. Ambrose in 390 AD) and is used across most Christian denominations. It is a simpler statement of belief than the Nicene Creed and does not address some of the more contentious theological issues which divide the different denominations of Christianity. So what does the Apostles’ Creed really tell us about our faith. Let’s take a look at the creed line by line.
This is the core of our belief as Christian Catholics. We believe in God. Not only that, we believe in one God and that there is no one higher than Him. It is this belief which ties us to the other Abrahamic faiths: Judaism and Islam. All three worship the same God.
the Father almighty,
This phrase expands on our knowledge of God. In this phrase, we acknowledge the first person of the Holy Trinity. We recognize that God the Father is almighty, meaning he is mightier than all others. It is a way of acknowledging God’s omnipotence.
Creator of heaven and earth.
Here we acknowledge God the Father’s role in the creation of the universe. We recognize that He alone is responsible for everything we see. This is a further acknowledgment of His omnipotence and authority over us and the world.
and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
Having acknowledged God the Father, we now turn our attention to God the Son, the second person of the Holy Trinity. This line recognizes that God the Son and Jesus Christ are the same person. It also acknowledges that Jesus is our Lord. At the time the creed was written, accepting someone as your Lord was a very serious statement. It meant signified a relationship in which the Lord offered protection in exchange for your service and loyalty. Essentially, by acknowledging Jesus as our Lord we are asking for his protection and stating that we will remain loyal to Him and serve Him.
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
Here we address how God the Son became man. This is the moment of Incarnation, when the Word became Flesh. It is significant that this was done by the Holy Spirit. Because of the way his conception occurs, Jesus becomes both God and the Son of God.
born of the Virgin Mary,
The previous line established Jesus’ divinity as the Son of God. This line establishes his humanity as the son of Mary. It also addresses how miraculous the birth itself was. Not only was God born of a human woman, that woman was herself a virgin. This statement truly offers us a glimpse at God’s all-powerful nature.
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
This line establishes that Jesus suffered for us. It is another way of addressing Jesus’ humanity because only someone who is fully human would be able to suffer. Furthermore, it gives us an example of how we should act. If Jesus was willing to suffer for us, then we should also be willing to suffer for each other. Lastly, it places the events of Jesus life in historical context by naming Pontius Pilate as the figure who condemns Jesus.
was crucified, died and was buried;
This line establishes another crucial point in our faith: Jesus actually died. It does not say that He seemed dead. It states that He died and was buried. The finality of that statement is important. Without this death, nothing miraculous can come from the statements which follow.
he descended into hell;
Here we take Jesus’ death to another level. Not only did he die; he actually went to hell itself. Why would such a thing be necessary? We believe that it was at this time that Jesus defeated death and sin. It is important to recognize that many theologians argue Jesus did not descend to hell as we know it today, but rather to the place where all the dead were gathered. As the gates of heaven were closed until Jesus came, it was this gathering place of the just and unjust alike to which Jesus descended. Either way, it is an amazing sacrifice which allowed us to finally attain paradise.
on the third day he rose again from the dead;
This is a simple yet profound statement. Here we see Jesus conquering death and returning to life. This statement again recognizes God’s ability to do anything. It also gives us hope for the future that we, too, may one day overcome death itself.
he ascended into heaven,
Here we recognize that, although he is alive, Jesus is no longer with us in physical form. He is in heaven and it is up to us to spread his message today.
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty;
Jesus is reunited with God the Father and sits in a place of prominence. Traditionally, when seated at table a king’s most important advisor would be seated immediately to his right. By stating that Jesus is at the right hand of the Father, we are recognizing the important role He plays in salvation history and our lives.
from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
This acknowledges Jesus’ role at the end of time. Jesus is the ultimate judge who will determine where we will spend eternity and what our final punishment or reward will be. In acknowledging this, we also recognize that it is not for us to judge our fellow Christians.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
This statement recognizes the third person of the Holy Trinity. While it does not go into detail about the Holy Spirit’s role and mission, by separating this line out, the creed acknowledges the Holy Spirit as a separate person equal to the Father and the Son.
the holy catholic Church,
Here we recognize the Church created by Jesus here on earth. It is both holy (of God) and catholic (universal). Through this statement, we recognize that the God’s Church is intended for everyone throughout the world regardless of race or nationality.
the communion of saints,
The communion of saints refers to all believers, both those in heaven and on earth. It is a recognition that we are not alone in our journey of faith. Instead, we can look to those who have gone before us and those journeying with us for support.
the forgiveness of sins,
Here we recognize that, although we are sinners, we have been granted the ability to receive God’s forgiveness. We do not have to remain in a state of sin but can choose to accept God’s mercy and love. It is also a reminder that we should forgive others.
the resurrection of the body,
Jesus’ resurrection is a foreshadowing of our own eventual resurrection at the end of time. Just as Jesus was raised body and soul from the dead, so to will we one day be reunited with our earthly bodies in heaven.
and life everlasting. Amen.
Just as God is eternal, our souls are eternal. By placing this statement at the end of the creed, we acknowledge that, by believing everything stated prior, we will enter into eternal life and be with God forever in heaven. We then follow that up “Amen,” a Hebrew word meaning “so be it; truly.” The Amen at the end of the creed recognizes that what we have just said is true.
So that’s the Apostles’ Creed. There is a lot of information and meaning packed into relatively few words. So the next time you stand up at Mass to say this, take a moment to think about what you are really professing.