[This text below is from the Anglican tradition, and was copyrighted in 1911, but it may have some value as a brief explanation of the Creed. There is no guarantee it is free of error. Roman Catholics should resolve any uncertainty or confusion by adopting the teaching and explanation of the creed found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The links connect to the major headings below will take you to the appropriate section of the Catholic Catechism.]
"THE Creed is the Declaration of "The Faith once delivered to the Saints," as revealed by Our LORD, contained in the Scriptures, taught by the Church, and set forth by her Authority. There is only one Creed, the Apostles', Nicene, and Athanasian Creed being but three forms of expressing the same Belief, the first briefly, the last two at greater length. Some of the statements of the Creed are called Holy Mysteries, because they are beyond human understanding, dealing as they do with the Nature or Attributes of GOD. It is absolutely incumbent upon all persons to believe each and every article of the Creed, as the Church has declared it. The denial of any one part of that which GOD has revealed puts the soul in peril. The Creed may very briefly be explained as follows:
I. THE MYSTERY OF THE TRINITY is that there is One, True and Only GOD. In this Unity there are Three Persons...: the FATHER, the SON, and the HOLY GHOST, of equal power, honor, and glory, for "the FATHER is GOD, the SON is GOD, the HOLY GHOST is GOD, and yet there are not three Gods, but one GOD."
GOD is a Spirit, without beginning or end possessed of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness, of perfect love, mercy and justice. He is the Creator and Ruler of all things, always and everywhere present. The existence of GOD is proved by the Works of Nature, the Voice of Conscience, and the life of the Soul. God has specially revealed Himself to man in Jesus CHRIST, the Second Person of the TRINITY. GOD cannot be comprehended by the mind or described by the words of man. Consequently it behooves all to think and speak in reverent awe of the Blessed TRINITY, remembering that God is from above, we from below.
II. THE MYSTERY OF THE INCARNATION is that Our LORD, the Only-begotten SON of God, came down from Heaven, was conceived by the HOLY GHOST, and was Born of the Virgin Mary. He became Man, without ceasing to be GOD, being "Perfect GOD of the Substance of the FATHER, and Perfect Man of the Substance of His Mother."
Before the Incarnation, Our LORD was eternally GOD. From the moment of the Incarnation He is henceforth both GOD and Man, being One Person, the Second Person of the TRINITY but having "Two Whole and Perfect Natures, Divine and Human." He is Our LORD and Savior Jesus CHRIST, because He is the ruler of all things and the Redeemer of the world. He is also our Prophet, Priest and King, because He preached the Gospel, offered Himself on the Cross and is the Sovereign LORD of Lords. In His life on earth, Our LORD worked Miracles, taught Parables, founded His Church, chose His Disciples, instituted the Sacraments and preached the Gospel. Although tempted in all points as we are, He... is absolutely without sin, the Perfect Pattern for all time.
In the Mystery of the Incarnation is involved the belief in the Virgin Birth, the Church holding that Saint Mary was ever Virgin. As the Instrument of the Incarnation she was chosen by GOD and sanctified by the HOLY GHOST to be the Mother of Our LORD. She is called the "Mother of GOD" because she was the Mother of Him, Who was GOD. By command of GOD, at the Annunciation the Angel Gabriel saluted her with the "Hail Mary" and called her "Blessed among women." Consequently the Church worships and adores Our Lord as GOD of GOD, Light of Light, Very GOD of Very GOD and honors and reverences Saint Mary, as the ever Virgin Mother of GOD, blessed among women.
III. THE MYSTERY OF THE REDEMPTION IS that Our LORD JESUS CHRIST by His Passion and Death on the Cross suffered and died as Man, and saved and redeemed the world as GOD. By this "One Oblation of Himself once offered, Our Lord made the one, full, perfect, and sufficient Sacrifice, Oblation and Satisfaction for the sins of the whole world." This is called the Sacrifice of the Cross or Calvary.
In His Sufferings were included His Life of rejection and humiliation, His Agony in Gethsemane and His Passion on Good Friday (in the betrayal by Judas Iscariot, the denial by St. Peter, and the stripping, scourging, and awful treatment before Annas, Caiaphas, Herod, and Pilate). At Death, His Soul descended to the Place of Departed Spirits to offer salvation to those who had gone before, and His Body was laid in the Tomb...
[The text of the Creed said Jesus descended into hell, a phrase that can cause confusion. The Catholic Catechism says: "633 Scripture calls the abode of the dead, to which the dead Christ went down, "hell" - Sheol in Hebrew or Hades in Greek - because those who are there are deprived of the vision of God. Such is the case for all the dead, whether evil or righteous, while they await the Redeemer: which does not mean that their lot is identical...Jesus did not descend into hell to deliver the damned, nor to destroy the hell of damnation, but to free the just who had gone before him."]
IV. THE MYSTERY OF THE RESURRECTION is that on the third day, Our LORD, by His Own power as GOD, Rose again from the dead. His Sacred Body was the same as was Born and Crucified, but then with the properties of a risen body, that is, His Body could no longer suffer, could be anywhere at will, could pass through (any substance, and was full of beauty and glory. Our LORD proved the reality of His Risen Body by sight (Saint Luke xxiv. 31), by touch (Saint John xx. 27), and by taking food (Saint Luke xxiv. 43). The Faith of the Church is built on the Resurrection, for Saint Paul says, "If CHRIST be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is vain also (1 Cor. xv. 13f). No truth is more absolutely assured than the Bodily Resurrection of CHRIST and no fact could have been more easily disposed of if it were not so. Ancient types foretold it, the Scriptures record it and the rise, spread and triumph of the Church bear witness to it. "With God all things are possible" speaks the Faith. And Reason adds convincingly that men and women would not have lived as Christians and died as Martyrs for a "dead CHRIST," but for One, Who in His Real, Glorified Body promises to the faithful that they will rise "after His Likeness satisfied." After the Resurrection Our LORD remained forty days on earth, appearing to His Apostles at different times, and teaching the things pertaining to the Church or Kingdom of GOD (Acts 1: 3).
V. THE MYSTERY OF THE ASCENSION is that on the fortieth day after the Resurrection, Our LORD, in the sight of His Apostles, Ascended into Heaven. He exalted His Glorified Human Nature to the highest place of Honor at the Right Hand of GOD. There He reigns in Glory and pleads the Sacrifice He made for man for "He ever lives to make intercession for us." (Heb. 7:25.) From thence He will come at the Last Day "to judge the quick and the dead."
VI. THE HOLY GHOST [Holy Spirit] is the Third Person of the Blessed TRINITY, eternally proceeding from the FATHER and the SON, with Whom He is to be worshipped and glorified.
[Editor's note: The author adopts here the western interpretation of the doctrine. The orthodox split away over the words "from the Father and the Son" preferring "from the Father through the Son". This was the "filioque" controversy. See the CCC 248.]
The HOLY Ghost is also called the Holy Advocate, the Holy Comforter and the Lord and Giver of Life. The HOLY Ghost comes especially in Baptism, Confirmation and Ordination. He guides and counsels the Church and her members, and is ever with us to "convince of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment." (John 16:8.)
VII. THE ONE, HOLY, CATHOLIC, AND APOSTOLIC CHURCH is "the mystical body of Christ," the Divine Institution of Our LORD. Consequently the Church is the Preserver of Truth, the Dispenser of Grace and the Guide in Morals. Invisibly the Church is the mystical union of all true believers with Christ their Head and visibly a body with the Ministry, the Word and the Sacraments. She is One, because she has One Lord, Our Savior Jesus Christ, holds One Faith, "the Faith once for all delivered to the Saints" and makes us one in the Communion of Saints. She is Holy, because her Doctrine, Discipline and Worship are holy, and her Members are called to a holy life. She is Catholic, because she is for all persons, places or times which accept the True Religion. She is Apostolic because she holds and hands down through the Apostolic Succession, the Ministry, the Word and the Sacraments as given the Apostles by Our Lord. The Church embraces the Living and the Dead, that is: the "Church Triumphant" in Heaven, the "Church Expectant" in the Place of Departed Spirits and the "Church Militant" on earth... Full measure of grace and full assurance of Salvation are only surely found in the Holy Catholic Church.
[The Anglican author includes the Roman, Anglican and Eastern Orthodox as part of the Catholic Church, but the Roman Catholics view this differently. Those fully Catholic are those in union with Rome, CCC sec. 837. In sec. 838 the catechism says: "The Church knows that she is joined in many ways to the baptized who are honored by the name of Christian, but do not profess the Catholic faith in its entirety or have not preserved unity or communion under the successor of Peter." Those "who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are put in a certain, although imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church." The Roman Church acknowledges that other Christians are our friends and brothers. "All who have been justified by faith in Baptism are incorporated into Christ; they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are accepted as brothers in the Lord by the [Roman] Catholic Church" sec. 818 and that "Christ's Spirit uses these Churches and ecclesiastical communities as means of salvation ..." Sec. 819 of the CCC. For a complete discussion on this question see the recent Vatican Document Dominus Jesus.]
VIII. THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS is the pardon which GOD gives on account of the Merits and Mediation of Our LORD JESUS CHRIST. It is conditional upon our faith, love and repentance. The ordinary channels for conveying GOD 'S forgiveness are BAPTISM, which remits original and ante-baptismal sin, and PENANCE which through the Absolution of the Priest in the "Ministry of Reconciliation" pardons the penitent who has come to Confession. [See sec. 980.]
IX. THE RESURRECTION OF THE DEAD AND THE LIFE EVERLASTING teach us that we rise in our body at the Last Day and go into our unchangeable state in Heaven or Hell. At death the soul is judged according to the works done in life. This is called the Particular Judgment. If "lost" the soul goes to Hell. If saved it goes to the "Intermediate State" or "Place of Departed Spirits" called Purgatory. There the soul is prepared and purified for Heaven which no soul can enter until free from all stain of sin and ready for the Presence of GOD. While in Purgatory the souls are aided by the Prayers and Masses of the Church on earth. At the Final Resurrection, when the bodies rise from the grave and the living and the dead appear before GOD, the Last Judgment is pronounced, confirming the Particular Judgment, for there is no probation after death. Then the redeemed enter into the unspeakable Joys of Heaven into the Glory of God, with Saints and Angels ever to be with God, to have the Beatific Vision [CCC 1045] and to worship the Lamb upon His Throne. And the lost continue in the torment of Hell, shut out forever from the sight of GOD and doomed to everlasting punishment with Satan and lost souls. God gives all the gift of free will, which He helps with His Grace, and also speaks to all through Conscience and the Holy Spirit. Those who follow the world, the flesh or the devil, who refuse to keep the Commandments of GOD, who reject His Grace, and who finally die unrepentant, are lost through their own fault. The Love, the Mercy, the Goodness of God, even the Sacrifice of Calvary are scorned and GOD, Who is Just as well as Merciful, must in His absolute Justice punish the impenitent even as He rewards the good. GOD longs to save souls and this He will do, if they try to "do their duty in that state of life unto which it shall please GOD to call them" and live and die "in the Communion of the Catholic Church."
[Editor: In a footnote the author says: "The so-called "damnatory clauses" only apply to those who willingly, deliberately and knowingly reject the Catholic Faith, when clearly presented to their conscience and reason." Compare the Catechism of the Catholic church's statement that: "CCC847...Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience - those too may achieve eternal salvation."]
Although the capitalization's are distracting, this is how they appeared in the original. There has been some effort to reduce the use of archaic words, such as "hath".
See Also Some Elements of Basic Belief.
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