What do Catholics believe?

Patrick Breen, O.Carm.

The basic tenets of the Catholic faith are summed up in the Creed which is affirmed by Catholics at Mass (the celebration of the Eucharist) each Sunday. There are two creeds in common use – the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed. The former is the shorter of the two and is believed to be a faithful summary of the belief of the Apostles. The Nicene Creed is the more detailed one and dates back to the two first ecumenical councils of the Church – Nicaea I and Constantinople I in 325 and 381 respectively. Both are recited in the first person singular – “I believe . . .” – and so are strong personal statements of belief. The recitation of the Creed is an important part of the Ordination of a Bishop and is used in the opening of Ecumenical Councils. Shorter versions are also used at Baptisms. For our purposes here we will use the text of the Nicene Creed.

I believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.

For Catholics there is only one God, not many gods. Our God is all-powerful and has created everything there is whether we are able to see it or not, whether we understand it or not. While there is only one God we believe that there are three distinct persons who constitute God – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. God the Father is the first person of this Holy Trinity and so the first part of the Creed is oriented towards him.

I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the Only Begotten Son of God,
born of the Father before all ages.
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
consubstantial with the Father;
through him all things were made.

The second and longest section of the Creed refers to God the Son, the second person of the Most Holy Trinity. God the Son is also known to us as Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Saviour. He was begotten of the Father: that is to say that he came in to being through the Father but there was never a time when he did not exist. The word ‘consubstantial’ is used to emphasise that Christ is also of the one and the same nature, substance and essence as God the Father and so he is himself truly God. While we earlier affirmed that God the Father is the maker of all things we now affirm that this great work of creation took place through God the Son.

For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
and by the Holy Spirit
was incarnate of the Virgin Mary,
and became man.

We go on to state our belief that God the Son came to earth to restore our salvation, something which we had lost through our own sinfulness. Eternal life was restored to us through God the Son taking on human form and being born as a human. Through the power of the Holy Spirit (the third person of the Holy Trinity) a virgin named Mary became pregnant and gave birth to God the Son who was named Jesus. He was born just like us and lived as any other in the Middle East of the early first century. We believe therefore, that while he was truly God, he was also truly man – both of these ‘natures’ existed perfectly within the one person.

For our sake he was crucified
under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried,
and rose again on the third day
in accordance with the Scriptures.
He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

Though God the Son came and lived among us as a man and preached repentance to us he was rejected by many who would not listen to him because his preaching called on them to change their lives too radically for their liking. In his early thirties Christ was put to death on the orders of Pontius Pilate – the governor of Jerusalem – by being crucified on a wooden cross on the outskirts of Jerusalem. He died and was buried in a sepulchre borrowed for the purpose. Three days later he rose from the dead which fulfils what had been written about him and what he himself had said in the Scriptures (the Bible). This took place on Easter Sunday morning. Soon afterwards he was taken up into heaven and was given the seat at his Father’s right hand in heaven. In time he will return again and will judge those still living at that time, as well as the dead, to see who has inherited eternal life by their deeds and belief. The kingdom which he is creating will have no end.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who with the Father and the Son
is adored and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.

God the Father created all there is through God the Son and the God the Holy Spirit gave life to all that was created. God the Holy Spirit issues forth from the Father and Son equally (though the words and the Son are not accepted by the members of the Eastern Orthodox Churches and gave rise to the Filioque Controversy which began as early as 767ad). God the Holy Spirit is worshipped and glorified in the same way as the Father and the Son. The words which were spoken by the Prophets of old or were written by them were all inspired by the Holy Spirit and so we can accept what the Prophets spoke as the Word of God himself.

I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.
I confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins
And I look forward to the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

We now affirm our belief in the Church established by God the Son. We see that Church as being one undivided Church which is holy in nature even though all of its members may not be holy in themselves. This Church is catholic in that it is universal and the same everywhere and it is apostolic because its teachings and its hierarchy have been handed down in an unbroken line from the Apostles. We believe that there is only one baptism which takes away sins and that is baptism in the name of the Trinity, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. We also believe in resurrection after death and that we go to live in heaven with Christ if we have truly merited salvation in the eyes of God.

The Apostle’s Creed
I believe in God,
the Father Almighty,
Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ,
his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended into hell;
on the third day he rose again from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand
of God the Father almighty;
from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting. Amen.