The Creed: Professing the Faith Through the Ages


I was recently invited to write an early review of Dr. Scott Hahn’s new book The Creed: Professing the Faith Through the Ages. I received a proof copy last month and I have found it to be both interesting and educational concerning the significance of the creed in the life of the Church.

Early Christians knew that the bible is not self-interpreting (cf. 2 Pet 3:16) and that it is necessary to be guided by more than just scripture alone. Creeds eventually sprung from this necessity and quickly became not only tools for teaching the faith but also personal testimonies to God’s covenant with his unified people. In his new book, Dr. Hahn takes us through the early centuries of the Church explaining how creeds developed as well as their significance in the life of the individual Christian and to the Church as a whole. Focusing primarily on the Nicene Creed, he draws on “history, theology, catechesis, the Fathers, the Doctors, the Popes, and the ordinary Magisterium of the Church” (p. 12) as he explores the doctrinally formative era of early Christianity.

Dr. Hahn begins by identifying the Judaic foundation for Christian creeds: “The Shema [ancient Israel’s confession of faith; a proto-creed (p. 20)] was foundational to the religious vocabulary of Jesus’ times—and to that of Jews before and afterward” (p. 18). As such, the Shema foreshadowed later Christian confessions of faith which held substantial significance in the lives of those who embraced them. Dr. Hahn notes, “The early confessions were declarations of covenant commitment, given individually, but belonging to the whole assembly of the Church. The confessions shape the lives of the individuals, conforming them to the life of Jesus Christ… To confess the faith of Christians was a matter of enormous consequences… Every confession was a pledge, too, to live by Jesus’ truly revolutionary doctrine” (p. 28-33).

Dr. Hahn goes on to describe how confessions of faith eventually gave way to the formulations of creeds: “As the faith endured challenges and dissension—from persecutors and from heretics—the churches found it necessary to spell out the rule of faith in greater detail and with greater precision” (p. 43). He later eloquently explains how significant this was to a Christianity faced with heresies: “The Marcionites edited out the inconvenient parts of the Gospels, and they faded away from the impotence of their message. The Gnostics rationalized every seeming paradox, and they perished of irrelevance. The Docetists, Arians, and countless others died off—not from persecution, but from the anemia of their creedless counsels. The Church of the creeds, on the other hand, was persecuted and put to death, and yet it has persevered, endured, and triumphed” (p. 125).

Delving deeper into the Nicene Creed, Dr. Hahn points out that, “Every Christian creed, without exception, treats Jesus most extensively of the three divine persons… Jesus is the complete and perfect revelation of God… The creed is like a very clean, very clear, tightly focused lens through which we are sure to see him with accuracy—no filters, no tints, no distortions” (p. 109-110). Of course, the reason for the incarnation is formulated in the creed as well. Dr. Hahn explains that, “Jesus ‘came down’ ‘for our salvation,’ and that salvation was far more than a rescue mission. The creed reminds us… that our faith has a future tense… We look to the future with hope because ‘he will come again in glory’ as judge and will establish a never-ending kingdom.” (p. 121-124).  Finally, the concluding words of the Nicene Creed serve as “identifying marks—of the covenant People of God” (p. 142). These four marks, of course, are one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.

Dr. Hahn includes two valuable appendices at the end of his new book containing both “Important Later creeds” (Appendix A, p. 163-181) and “A Biblical Creed” (Appendix B, p. 183-185).

As you can surely tell, The Creed: Professing the Faith Through the Ages truly underscores the significance of the creed in Christian life. Much more than a profession of faith (which it certainly also is), it serves as an exclamation of our past, of our covenant with the living God, and of our future hope in Christ. It really is crucial to who we are as God’s children. Dr. Hahn sums it up well in his own words: “If we don’t get the creed right, we don’t get Jesus right. And if we don’t get him right, we don’t get anything right” (p. 158).

Let Freedom Ring

Today in the United States we celebrate Independence Day. Two hundred thirty seven years ago our founding fathers declared our nation’s freedom.

Freedom is a good thing but, at the level of the individual, it is not always exactly what people think it is. True freedom does not mean having the ability to always do whatever we want to do or whatever others might expect us to do. In fact, it sometimes entails acting against our desires or the expectations of others. To do otherwise can actually lead to the opposite of freedom, to slavery. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains:

The exercise of freedom does not imply a right to say or do everything. It is false to maintain that man, the subject of this freedom, is an individual who is fully self-sufficient and whose finality is the satisfaction of his own interests in the enjoyment of earthly goods… By deviating from the moral law man violates his own freedom, becomes imprisoned within himself, disrupts neighborly fellowship, and rebels against divine truth. (CCC 1740)

St. Paul considered everyone to be a slave of one kind or another, that is, a slave to whichever he chooses, good or evil:

Do you not know that if you yield yourselves to any one as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness…  When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.  But then what return did you get from the things of which you are now ashamed? The end of those things is death.  But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the return you get is sanctification and its end, eternal life. (Rom 6:16-22)

Slavery considered as such can be a bad or a good thing: Slavery to sin leads to death (i.e., hell) while slavery to righteousness leads to sanctification and eternal life (i.e., heaven). These two quite opposite propositions Paul elsewhere distinguishes in terms of slavery andfreedom:

[D]o not submit again to a yoke of slavery… For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh [i.e. sin]… (Gal 5:1-14)

This, of course, mirrors Jesus’ teaching:

Jesus then said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”  They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How is it that you say, `You will be made free’?”  Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.  The slave does not continue in the house for ever; the son continues for ever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed”. (John 8:31-36)

Thus, embracing morality–however difficult that may be–brings true freedom. Engaging in immorality, on the other hand, brings enslavement.  The Catechism explains:

The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to the slavery of sin. (CCC 1733)

Considering all this, it is quite easy see why the freedom to act morally and to shun immorality (cf. 1 Cor 6:18) must be a fundamental human right that every government protects without undue hardship on her citizens. Tragically, though, today such crucial freedom is threatened here in “the land of the free”. Issues such as the HHS mandate and the redefinition of marriage continue to chisel away at true freedom as they attempt to enslave Christian citizens.

As we celebrate independence today with family barbeques and local fireworks displays I hope we also will reflect on the seriousness of the deteriorating state of our religious freedom. Let us pray for its full return so that we may enjoy the authentic freedom that God intended for every citizen.

Was Saint Paul a Misogynist and a Bigot?

Homosexual activists sometimes claim that, for the bulk of Church history, homosexual acts were not condemned. In fact, the term “homosexual” did not even exist until the 19th century, so Church condemnation of such acts is really only that recent.

In an earlier post I discussed the contention that Jesus was silent on the issue of homosexual acts, but what about his followers? Many activists admit that Paul condemned in his writings activity that today is considered “homosexual”, but they contend that he stood alone in this regard. They attempt to dismiss much of his teaching, painting him as a rebel of sorts who also believed that women were inferior to men. To support their claims, they cite such scripture passages as 1 Corinthians 14:33-35:

As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.

Activists claim that this “misogynistic” Pauline teaching was not repeated by others and it would fall out of practice as Jesus’ broad message of equality prevailed. Similarly, they claim, homosexual bigotry fell away as well only to be revived by the modern Church: Historical Christianity simply did not condemn homosexual acts.

It is true that Paul’s instructions concerning women in churches were later revised but what activists fail to recognize in this is a distinction betweendoctrine and discipline. Some of Paul’s instructions were merely disciplinary in nature, intended only for a limited time and place, and they would, indeed, change later in Church history. (For more on this, see Is It a Doctrine or a Discipline?) So, were his teachings concerning homosexual acts merely Pauline discipline as well?

First, it was not only Paul in the New Testament who explicitly condemned homosexual acts. Peter and Jude did so as well. (For more on this, seeHomosexuality.) Additionally, as our Catholic Answers tract Early Teachings on Homosexuality documents, Church Fathers in every century of the early Church also condemned homosexual acts (e.g., using terms such as “pederasty”, “effeminacy”, and “unseemliness”). Here are just a few examples:

Didache (A.D. 70)

“You shall not commit murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not commit pederasty…”

Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 193)

“[C]onversation about deeds of wickedness is appropriately termed filthy [shameful] speaking, as talk about adultery and pederasty and the like.” 

Novatian (A.D. 250)

“…effeminate manners are disapproved.” 

Basil the Great (A.D. 367)

“He who is guilty of unseemliness with males will be under discipline for the same time as adulterers…”

John Chrysostom (A.D. 391)

“All of these affections [in Rom. 1:26–27] . . . were vile, but chiefly the mad lust after males.” 

Augustine (A.D. 400)

“[T]hose shameful acts against nature, such as were committed in Sodom, ought everywhere and always to be detested and punished.” 

Of course, countless more examples spanning the history of the Church could be cited. Clearly, this was and still is a doctrinal, not a merely disciplinary, matter. So don’t be fooled by radical claims of homosexual activists who attempt to rewrite Christian history. Though terminology has varied over the centuries, it is an undeniable fact that the Church has always condemned homosexual acts.

In All Things, Charity

I recently had a conversation with a gentleman whose daughter had severed all communication with him over an email misunderstanding. His daughter had very narrowly misinterpreted his words in a family email in a derogatory way. He understood how his words couldbe misunderstood but it was devastating that his own daughter would choose to act so uncharitably toward him. His attempts to assert a correct understanding of his email were met with obstinace and eventual estrangement. Tragically, his daughter seemed to have made up her mind as soon as she read the email and rashly misinterpreted his words.

Saint Peter wrote, “There are some things in [Paul’s letters] hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures” (2 Pet 3:16). Indeed, even the written word of God is subject to misinterpretation. Thousands of Christian denominations exist due in part to varying interpretations of scripture. Fortunately, Jesus instituted the magisterium of the Catholic Church to guide us in biblical understanding.

If God’s word is subject to misinterpretation, how much more so must be our own words! Who hasn’t sent an email or a text message only to have the recipient take his comments the wrong way? We all think our words are clear enough when we send them out but, on further reflection, we can sometimes see how they might be misunderstood. This can be a frustrating and even hurtful experience: “How could you think that’s what I meant?”

Typed messages are especially susceptible to misinterpretation because they must be read apart from the writer’s other forms of expression that would otherwise help convey their intended meaning. Facial expressions, body language, tone of voice, and other such communication devices are lost in cyberspace. Emoticons can help but they are a poor substitute for the real thing.

Knowing that our own words can be so easily misinterpreted, we must each humbly admit that our own interpretations, too, of others’ words, might not always be accurate either. It would be nice if we each had our own personal magisterium to help us correctly interpret others’ words but we don’t. We do, however, have teaching from the magisterium of the Catholic Church that I think can be helpful. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (2478; quoting St. Ignatius of Loyola) instructs as follows:

Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another’s statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved.

This is a very sensible step-by-step approach. It begins by charitably attempting to understand another person favorably. We should not be quick to interpret others’ words in a derogatory way. Tragically, failure to observe just this first step has led to the needless destruction of countless relationships, including that of the gentlemen and his daughter introduced above.

If we are unable to understand someone in a favorable way, the next step is to ask him about it. Allow him the opportunity to explain what he means. He might shed light on how to understand him favorably. This doesn’t mean that we have to agree with him; the goal is to keep the relationship on charitable terms.

It could be that a favorable interpretation was not intended–he didn’t intend to be charitable! If charity was not intended, fraternal correction is in order. Personally attempt to lovingly restore charity. If this doesn’t work, attempt other measures for the sake of his salvation. This approach to fraternal correction is consistent with Jesus’ teaching (Matt 18:15-17):

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

While fraternal correction will certainly be necessary in some cases, I suspect that in most cases, if we begin with our own honest attempt to understand others favorably (the first step mentioned above), potential problems will be averted before we have had a chance to instigate them.

Does Jesus Want Us to Support Same-Sex “Marriage”?

Attempting to win Christians over to their side, same-sex “marriage” proponents often assert that Jesus would approve of their agenda. They claim that Jesus never said anything at all about homosexuality. Not once do the gospels record him condemning homosexual acts as being sinful. Therefore, the activists claim, Jesus would approve of same-sex “marriage” and Christians should be supportive.

Although it is true that the gospels do not record Jesus directly condemning homosexual acts, to conclude on this basis that he in any way approved of them is faulty reasoning. It commits a logical fallacy known as argumentum a silentio (Latin for “argument from silence”). “Jesus is not on record against it so he must be for it.” Such an argument bases its conclusion on a supposed lack of evidence to the contrary rather than on the existence of any evidence one way or the other. In reality, lack of evidence does not prove anything.

The fact that the gospels do not contain a record of Jesus doing something does not mean that he did not do it. It could be that the gospel writers simply did not record it. The gospels do not contain an exhaustive record of Jesus’ teaching. John tells us as much at the end of his gospel (John 21:25):

But there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (514) addresses this as well:

Many things about Jesus of interest to human curiosity do not figure in the Gospels. Almost nothing is said about his hidden life at Nazareth, and even a great part of his public life is not recounted.

So, it could be that Jesus did directly condemn homosexual acts but his condemnations were not recorded in the gospels. In fact, it is reasonable to assert that he did do so because homosexual acts were condemned in the Old Testament before Jesus as well as in the New Testament after him. (For a fuller treatment of homosexuality in the bible, see:Homosexuality.)

In the New Testament, it is primarily in Paul’s letters that homosexual acts are directly condemned. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul reminds us where he got his teaching (Gal 1:11-12):  

For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

Paul was the last apostle to be sent by Jesus (cf. 1 Cor 15:8) and we should expect that he received the same assurances that Jesus provided to the other apostles. Jesus promised his apostles that the Holy Spirit would (among other things) “bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26).

Paul certainly shared in this assurance. That being the case, his teaching on homosexuality may very well be what he remembered Jesus saying to him in a revelation.

Additionally, when Jesus sent out representatives he told them, “He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Luke 10:16). Thus, since Paul was sent by Jesus, when we “hear” him in his letters, we also hear Jesus.

There really is no doubt that Jesus condemned homosexual acts as sinful so do not be fooled by the faulty reasoning of activists.

How to Quote the Bible Like a Pro

Are you able to quote book, chapter, and verse numbers for every bible passage that you know? If not, does it prevent you from engaging in faith discussions with people who are able to? I often hear from Catholics who admit that they are intimidated by how well many anti-Catholics seem to know the bible. When challengers come around slinging bible verses left and right, these otherwise knowledgeable Catholics clam up, shying away from the conversation in fear of embarrassment. They know what the bible says but, since they cannot cite many bible verses off the top of their heads, they feel ill-equipped to defend their faith. Do you ever feel this way? If so, you would probably like to do something about it.

One option is to invest some time and effort into memorizing bible verses. There are more than a few resources available to assist with this. Another option is to keep a handy “Bible Cheat Sheet” with you (click here to order one). This is a great resource to have when faced with many of the most common challenges to the Catholic faith.

But there is a third option that can be implemented right now: Go ahead and jump into the fray just as you are! If you have a fairly good grasp of the bible and are able to at least paraphrase what you know it says, there is no shame in being unable to pinpoint, off the cuff, precise book, chapter, and verse citations. If pressed to do so, you can always offer to look up citations later. Bible web sites and software make it quite easy to find them.

You might feel uneasy about jumping in but you shouldn’t. Chapter and verse numbers did not originally appear in the bible. In fact, the division into chapters as we have them today was introduced in the thirteenth century. Division into verses came in the sixteenth century. So, for the bulk of the history of Christendom, chapter and verse citations were not used at all. Granted, citations are often quite helpful, especially in written correspondence. But knowing them by heart simply is not a required prerequisite for discussing scripture.

Consider the examples of the sacred authors and biblical figures themselves. The bible is full of vague references to other scripture passages. For example, after Joshua led the Israelites into the Promised Land, the sacred author of the book of Joshua tells us (Josh 8:31) that they built an altar to the Lord as had been commanded by Moses and the elders in Deuteronomy 27:5. Of course, the sacred author did not cite the chapter and verse numbers which would not be added until about three thousand years later. Instead, he simply cited “the book of the law of Moses”.

References to “the law” are quite common in the bible and they may refer either broadly to its first five books, the Pentateuch, known as “Torah”, a Hebrew term meaning “teaching” or “instruction”, or more specifically to an individual book such as Deuteronomy, a Greek term meaning “second law”. Vague references to this part of the bible, even when citing specific points of the law, often sufficed for both the sacred authors and the biblical figures they wrote about.

We find such phrases as “the book of the law of Moses” (e.g., 2 Kings 14:6 referring to Deut 24:16), “the book of the covenant” (e.g., 2 Kings 23:21 referring to Deut 16:2), and, simply, “the law of Moses” (e.g., Dan 9:11 referring to Deut 28:15ff) each citing specific bible verses or passages that are often cited more precisely today. They often are but such precise citations clearly are not an absolute requirement, especially in casual conversation.

Some might argue at this point that the Pentateuch may have originally been one long document without divisions so people had no way to be more specific in their citations. However, even if the Pentateuch was originally one long document, more specific references could have been provided by, for example, providing more contextual information for citations. In any case, at least by the time the Septuagint appeared in the last few centuries before Christ, the Pentateuch had been divided into five books, and yet, New Testament sacred authors and biblical figures continued to use vague citations.

Luke vaguely referred to “the law of Moses” and “the law of the Lord” (citing Lev 12:2-8, Ex 13:2, and Num 18:15) in Luke 2:22-24 and Paul, in 1 Corinthians 9:9, simply referenced, “the law of Moses” (citing Deut 25:4). Peter even used a much more vague reference in 1 Peter 1:16 in which he cited Leviticus 11:44-45 with nothing more than “it is written”. Jesus often used this phrase when referencing Old Testament scripture passages (e.g., see Matt 4:1-11).

Other parts of the Old Testament (e.g., the Psalms and Prophets) are often similarly vaguely cited throughout the New Testament. Many more examples could be provided but I think you get the point: It is not necessary to cite every book, chapter, and verse number when quoting scripture so don’t let your inability to do so keep you from engaging in bible discussion. Until you are able to provide more specific citations, you can always follow the example of the author of the letter to the Hebrews and simply say, “It has been testified somewhere…” (Heb 2:6 citing Ps 8:4-6).

More on Wedding Attendance…

My blog post“Should I Attend the Wedding or Not?”prompted several questions and comments last week that I would like to address.

One reader asked about the validity of a Catholic marrying an Orthodox Christian in an Orthodox Church without a dispensation from his bishop. In the interest of ecumenism, theCode of Canon Lawis less rigid in such a case. The Catholic party still has a legal obligation to obtain a dispensation from his bishop but failure to do so will not impede a valid marriage from coming into existence. Canon 1127 §1 explains:

Nevertheless, if a Catholic party contracts marriage with a non-Catholic party of an Eastern rite, the canonical form of the celebration must be observed for liceity only; for validity, however, the presence of a sacred minister is required and the other requirements of law are to be observed.

Another reader recalled that canon law once included exemptions for Catholics who had formally defected from the faith. Indeed, the code once included such exemptions but Pope Benedict XVI removed them in 2009. You can read about this in his apostolic letter Omnium in Mentem.

Several readers brought up a more general area of concern: The fear of straining relationships or even losing contact with friends or relatives over choosing not to attend a wedding that will not result in a valid marriage. One reader characterized such a decision as “instigating a break” in the relationship. It is important to remember that the problematic situation being dealt with has been instigated by the fallen-away Catholic, not the person choosing to refrain from attending the wedding on moral grounds. When a person attempts to sever his relationship with the Church he should recognize that there will be consequences to his decision. Family members and friends who remain faithful will not take his decision as lightly as he might. That said, I suspect that the fears of many faithful Catholics who are faced with such a dilemma are greatly exaggerated.

A further issue raised was concern about maintaining a relationship in the interest of bringing a fallen-away Catholic back to the Church. Some readers seemed to argue that attending a wedding that will not result in a valid marriage is acceptable if not attending would hinder one’s influence over the fallen-away Catholic’s potential future reversion to the faith. To me, this reasoning sounds perilously close to choosing to do evil (i.e., supporting another in sin) so that good may result (i.e., influence is maintained). The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1756) addresses such an attitude:

It is therefore an error to judge the morality of human acts by considering only the intention that inspires them or the circumstances (environment, social pressure, duress or emergency, etc.) which supply their context. There are acts which, in and of themselves, independently of circumstances and intentions, are always gravely illicit by reason of their object; such as blasphemy and perjury, murder and adultery. One may not do evil so that good may result from it.

I hope this helps.