Reprint: On “Brown” Catholicism — the Nicene Creed

I just noticed last night that this post got lost from the transfer from Blogger to WordPress.  I originally wrote this back in early April 2005, as part of a three-part series called “On Brown Catholicism”.  Luckily, I found a copy of it on a floppy, and here it is restored.   You can find the other two parts under “Faith and Religion” on the sidebar.

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Here is Part Two of what’s turning into a three-part series on “Brown” Catholicism. Part One was about my personal background. Now, Part Two is one “Brown” Catholic’s understanding of the Nicene Creed as the core and touchstone of her Catholic faith. Called the “Profession of Faith” in many an Outline of the Mass, the Nicene Creed (or “Credo”) *is* the faith, pure and simple of the Catholic Church, many Protestant churches, and the Orthodox Church (without the “filioque” which I’ll explain below). For many “brown” Catholics who aren’t theologically/philosophically savvy, because of education level, language barrier, what-have-you, who have the all-trusting, staunch faith of a child in other words, the Nicene Creed is all they need in this life and the next. Since my educational background is more extensive than, say, my mother, I also see the Nicene Creed as having deeper levels of spiritual meaning than what’s just recited, mantra-like, during the liturgy.

So here goes… (I apologize before you read on, my dear readers; this one is LOOOOOOOOOONG. And please forgive me if I offend; it is unintentional, believe me! I don’t pretend to know everything in the Nicene Creed — this is just what helps *me* in my faith.)
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 NICENE CREED:

1) We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen.

Pretty straightforward, I think: My faith is monotheistic — “one God” — and the Person of this God is Creator — “the Father” — who creates *everything.* Implied in this belief is that this one God is 1) good, and 2) therefore His creation is also good. Creation is a totality of “seen and unseen” — that is, in the eyes of God, there’s no separation of seen and unseen, implying the sacramental nature of Creation: A sacrament is a visible sign of invisible grace. Likewise, visible Creation point to the invisible Creator. In the Genesis account, before the Fall of Man, the sacramental nature of Creation was obvious: “God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them.” (Gen 1:27). Adam and Eve, the perfect male and female human beings, walked with God, saw God among themselves and all around them. Created in God’s image, they also had free will — the choice to give thanks to their Creator or the choice not to give thanks to their Creator. It is only after the Fall of Man — when, according to the Genesis account, man chose the same sin as the fallen angel Lucifer — does the human being feel alienated and fragmented from Creation — man versus man, man versus nature (non-humans), man versus himself, which are all manifestations of the root conflict, man versus God, the source of Creation.


2) We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, one in Being with the Father. Through him all things were made.

The one God has a Second Person, and He is the Son, “eternally begotten of the Father.” He isn’t a creature; He’s God, but unlike Creator God, he is the Begotten God. No, I couldn’t even *begin* to fathom why that is so. But the effect is this — it is through the Son that “all things were made” — as the Johannen Gospel puts it, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be.” (Jn 1:1-3). He is Co-Eternal with the Father, and is the shaper of Creation, although the source of Creation is the Father. Such is part of the Son’s divine nature.

3) For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven:

Because of the Fall of Man, the alienation of Man from Creation and his Creator continued because fallen Man does not have the power to rid that alienation 100%. “Original Sin” is the sin of being congenetically uncharitable — I take it — because “*I* know what’s right for me; *I* don’t need your help; *I* can do it myself.” It all boils down to hubris, that overwheening pride that the ancient Greeks wrote tragedies about and John Milton explored in Paradise Lost. The descendents of the fallen Adam and Eve are, theologically speaking, damaged goods. Not *lost* — it’s not as if we no longer have free will. But our free-will is damaged such that it is nigh impossible to regain what Adam and Eve lost, to accept grace easily when it comes a-callin’. Thus, it is possible for a non-Catholic (or a non-Christian, for that matter) to hear and accept God’s grace in whatever way God calls him or her. As C.S. Lewis puts it, “He left us conscience, the sense of right and wrong. ….He sent the human race what I call good dreams [pagan stories of a dying and resurrected god]. ….He selected one particular people [the Jews, to show in human Creation] the sort of God He was” (“Mere Christianity” 54). But even with these signs of God’s care, it is very very hard, what with fighting God’s grace without even realizing we’re doing it because our disbelief in the unseen. So the Son became seen. That’s one thing; He, the unseen — but unCreated — God, became a seen — and Created — human being for the doubting Thomases.

4) by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man.

But his incarnation also restores fallen Creation, including the fallen human being, even before his Passion, because of his mother, Mary. Herein comes the Marian Dogmas of the Catholic faith as I understand them to be. I’ve been taught to see Mary as the new Eve, but her uniqueness goes farther than that since 100% of the Son’s humanity comes from Mary. Marian Dogma #1: the Immaculate Conception states that Mary was conceived *without* Original Sin. In other words, Mary’s humanity is equal to Adam and Eve *before* they fell; she is the first instance, since the Fall of Man, of unfallen Creation. Marian Dogma #2: the Annunciation of Mary (also known as Christ’s Virgin Birth) therefore makes sense since, like the Genesis account of God shaping Adam out of the clay of the Edenic Earth and breathing life into him, God shapes the new Adam — Jesus Christ — out of the unfallen clay — Mary — and breathes life into the 100% human nature of Jesus — the power of the Holy Spirit. Marian Dogma #3: the Assumption of Mary also therefore makes sense since the wages of Original Sin is death (the source of man’s bodily mortality), but Mary, being without Original Sin, went to Heaven without dying.

5) For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered, died, and was buried. On the third day he rose again in fulfillment of the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

To create a way for all of humanity to regain what Mary was granted by special dispensation, Jesus Christ became *the* scapegoat of all fallen humanity. Now, C.S. Lewis puts it better than I can ever do: “We are told that Christ was killed for us, that His death has washed out our sins, and that by dying He disabled death itself. That is the formula. That is Christianity.” (_Mere Christianity_ 58). The Son is a human being, so the main effect of Original Sin — death — falls on Him, and he submits to it. But the Son is also God, so He defeats death *generically* since he is the new Adam, the new Human Being, in his bodily Resurrection, and so the process of restoring *all* of fallen Creation — which began with the Virgin birth — is completed with his Resurrection. We, too, can now follow Christ’s path to Redemption by walking along the trail He blazed for us. Our free-will now has a ready path to follow. Of course, we can still choose *not* to follow that path, to try to make our way to salvation by some other means, but it’s certainly harder, filled with pitfalls and cul-de-sacs where the sound of grace may be hard to hear.


6) He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.

The Son is also God the Pantocrator — the ruler and judge of all, and, as He was in the beginning of Creation, has been in Creation (with his Incarnation, Passion, and Resurrection), so will He be at the end of Creation, which points to the teleological nature of Creation, as well as its sacramental nature. “Telos” means “goal” and just as Creation began with God, Creation returns to God — “his kingdom will have no end” — in other words, Last Judgment.

But since Creation is *both* sacramental and teleological, then on the personal level, every individual who dies has his/her own Passion, his/her own Last Judgment. While alive, our spiritual states are in flux — walking towards Heaven, backtracking towards Hell, walking towards Heaven, backtracking towards Hell, etc. etc., till we leave Time and enter into the Eternal via death. Then we will experience our own Last Judgment, with the Son as the Judge.

7) We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father

The one God has a Third Person, the Holy Spirit who is God the Paraclete — the Advocate, the Comforter, who gives life to Creation. He was there, breathing life into Adam and Eve, and he was there, breathing life into the human body of Jesus Christ. He proceeds from God the Father, that is, God the Father sends forth God the Holy Spirit

8) and the Son.

In Latin, this phrase is “filioque,” and it was not in the original creed as developed in the Council of Nicea of 325 AD nor the Council of Constantinople of 381 AD. What was at issue, then , was the Personhood of the Son in relation to the Father, and the heresy the two Councils were battling was Arianism. The addition “filioque” happened around 6th or 7th century AD, when “it appears to be certain that the Creed, with the addition of the Filioque, was first sung in the Spanish Church after the conversion of the Goths. …The decrees of this last council [Council of Aachen of 809 AD] were examined by Pope Leo III, who approved of the doctrine conveyed by the Filioque, but gave the advice to omit the expression in the Creed. The practice of adding the Filioque was retained in spite of the papel advice, and in the middle of the eleventh century it had gained a firm foothold in Rome itself” (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06073a.htm), and acceptance of the “filioque”, perhaps even more so than the rejection of the Primacy of the Patriarch of Rome (i.e., the papacy) is what divided the Church into the Catholic Church in the West and the Orthodox Church in the East, traditionally set at 1054 AD, but perhaps set earlier, in 870, but my Orthodox friends could better enlighten me on that.

I go over the above Church history because my Orthodox friends have a point — “filioque” wasn’t in the Creed originally, and the common teaching of the Holy Spirit as being caused by *both* the Father and the Son as a sort of “emanation of the Love the Father and the Son have for each other” smacks of denying the Trinity of the one God and the elevation of the Son as equal Personhood as the Father. And, yes, as a kid, I was taught that, which made no sense whatsoever to me because how could the Holy Spirit be a Person if He’s talked about as if He wasn’t?

In other words, is the only reason why I’m with the Catholic Church is because I happen to think having a Pope is a Good Thing, and I’ll just ignore the “filioque” isn’t there? No, that’s not what I believe. The Orthodox Church is right into seeing this common Catholic teaching as dancing with heresy — but that’s not how I see the Holy Spirit. The cause of the Holy Spirit (as well as the Son) is God the Father. The Son is begotten of the Father, the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father. But I still believe in the double-procession of the Holy Spirit, as the New Advent article above explains much better than I can — I can believe the Father sending the Holy Spirit, and I can believe the Son sending the Holy Spirit. And yet, I can respect my Orthodox friends’ arguments, because they do have a point. The “filioque” addition to the Nicene Creed is not a minor thing, as one member of the Orthodox clergy explains, even with the spirit of ecumenism as championed in Vatican II. Perhaps someday there will be a reconciliation or, more likely, a healthy respect for each other.

9) With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets.

This stresses the unity of the Trinity of the One God — Father, Son, Holy Spirit = One God. Also, God the Holy Spirit is active in Creation, emphasizing yet again the sacramental nature of Creation, in which the Uncreated, Eternal divine — Holy Spirit — can speak through the Created, Temporal human — prophets.

10) We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.

Notice the lowercase letters? Unified, sacred, universal, and passing down the teachings of Christ from one person to the next, from one generation to the next, is how I understand “one holy catholic and apostolic” although, as a Catholic, I tend to see “apostolic” as “passing down the teachings of Christ as taught to the Apostle Peter, the Bishop of Rome, and his successors, recently Christ’s servant, Pope John Paul II.” But the Church, is greater than just the Catholic Church, for “Church” is “ekklesia” or “community” and one *can* find salvation, can find one’s path back to God outside of the Catholic Church if one lives within the greater Church of good conscience, of love of neighbor, of love of God, of living in charity; this was the spirit of ecumenism which the Second Vatican Council championed in the early 1960s, which is the core of my “brown” Catholicism. As stated above, it’s certainly *harder* to walk on the path of Christ without being a member of a seen Church, but I believe in the unseen Church, of whom Adam and Eve were Her first members.


11) acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

Baptism is the first and principal sacrament, of the Holy Spirit coming down and creating a new life in a person, becoming a new Adam and a new Eve, who can begin the first step on the long path of Christ as described in the seen Church. The usual seen sign of baptism is by water, but, in extreme situations there is baptism by desire, “a perfect contrition of heart, and every act of perfect charity or pure love of God which contains, at least implicitly, a desire of baptism” and baptism by blood “the obtaining of the grace of justification by suffering martyrdom for the faith of Christ”(quotes from the entry “Baptism” in the Catholic Encyclopedia at http://www.newadvent.org). I’ve always liked that — the public and joyful rite through water, the private agon of desire, the final yet heroic act of blood. In fact, *anyone* — Catholic or non, male or female — can administer baptism by water in extreme situations; such is the importance of this sacrament. I’ve always found that to be really cool, too.


12) We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

Stressing the teleological nature of Creation, this final statement I understand to be about the totality of the Last Judgment, in which Christ bodily returns — “the life of the world to come” — and the dead, in participation of Christ’s Resurrection, also become resurrected — the immortal souls of the dead return to seen Creation in immortal bodies. This is so far away, temporally, that I cannot fathom it except poetically, that Resurrection of the Dead and the return of Christ on earth is like a return of the Edenic Creation, when God walked with Adam and Eve and there was no death. But it is a return through the crucible of the purgatorial nature of Creation, of which the final tempering is this Last Judgment. I can only imperfectly understand by poetic analogue, but I believe, for the symmetry — of Unfallen Creation and Redeemed Creation — is just that darn beautiful.
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Well, there you go: one “Brown” Catholic’s understanding of her faith, as seen in the Nicene Creed. I thank you for taking the time to read this, and I hope I did not disappoint. The next part, Part Three, is my own belief of where I think the Catholic Church is going in the future; and with the recent death of John Paul II, I find this final post on Brown Catholicism will be unexpectedly timely although, in my heart, I wish it were not so.

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About lizardqueen

If single-mothering were a paid job, I'd be rich. However, it doesn't, so I write (which doesn't pay the bills) and teach (which does). I'm overly-educated in the liberal arts, but that doesn't hinder my ability to be pragmatic and realistic. YAY.
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4 Responses to Reprint: On “Brown” Catholicism — the Nicene Creed

  1. DavidD says:

    Hmm, you seem to find criticism in what I wrote. I don’t find it there. When I write that God is whoever and whatever God is, that includes a traditional God, too. My second sentence was wondering how much flexibility there is in your faith. You’ve told me something about that.

    There is indeed personal liberty. It might be God’s gift. It might be nature’s curse. As with many things, if I want to get a better idea about it I ask God and see what He says, in whatever way there is for Him to say anything.

  2. lizardqueen says:

    Oh yeah — God does want something from us, by the way.

    He wants us to be FREE. That’s the paradox, ain’t it? Human free-will. We could’ve been created with no free-will, with the “LOVE GOD” switch permanantly locked to “ON.”

    But it wasn’t. We aren’t God’s puppets. We have free-will. And the risk, of course, is that we can choose not to love God. We can choose not to believe in him.

    Of course, I happen to believe that just because we may not believe in him, that doesn’t stop God from believing in us. In “rooting” for us, like a cosmic cheerleader. In loving us, if only from afar because we keep him afar, like a son or daughter who has moved out and believes he/she has outgrown his/her parents’ love. Or, perhaps, never wanted the parents’ love in the first place.

    Such realities exist in the human, material sphere. Can it be that different in the transcendent, spiritual sphere? I don’t believe so. After all, I happen to believe we are created in God’s image.

    But that’s just my own belief. 🙂

  3. lizardqueen says:

    Actually, DavidD, there are plenty of testimonies of that kind of faith in a God of which you speak — it’s just not the Catholic faith.

    I hope you are not disappointed that my Catholic faith is, well… Catholic. If you were expecting something else, then I apologize that you are disappointed.

    For me, I don’t have to “pretend” anything. I happen to live my faith, and feel, deep in my bones, that my experience with the God of my faith is the God as described in the Catholic faith. Is it the “definitive” description of God? Oh, heck no! As C.S. Lewis states, one denomination’s description of God is only a picture, an illustration; it’s not the reality of God. Just like a person’s painting of a mountain isn’t the mountain itself — it’s just one person’s representation of the mountain.

    The reality is so much greater, so much ineffable, than any one man-made institution — like any one organized religion — can ever contain.

    Good God, man, it’s GOD.

    So… what I’m trying to say is that I think you misunderstand the spirit behind this post. Folks have asked me to explain my Catholic faith — folks who aren’t Catholic, by the way, but know who I am and know that my faith is important to me — and this was my sincere, honest reply. No shit. No kidding. I confirmed my faith when I was 21 years old — it was a conscious choice, following my conscience, my experiences. In other words, my conscience, my experience, lead me BACK to the Catholic faith. Not away from it.

    Perhaps you may find that unusual. But please don’t find it disengenous, phony. Because it’s not.

    And as my Wiccan, agnostic, atheist, Buddhist, Methodist, Calvanist, American Indian shamanist, etc. friends can attest, the last thing I am ever is intolerant or proselytizing.

    Believe what is true in your heart. Believe in the traditional or the non-traditional. Or don’t believe in any metaphysical reality at all. But, above all, believe in your own personal liberty, to choose what is right for you and your sense of good, love, hope, and justice. And whatever your choice is, chose, do, and be happy. And perhaps help others be happy as well.

    Because that’s all we really can do in the time span that we have on this earth.

    Have a blessed day, DavidD. Your comments are welcome.

  4. DavidD says:

    It’s interesting to me to read something like this where someone is explaining how he or she embraces a traditional faith. What would be more interesting to me would be to know how far you would be willing to go to embrace a reality of God that is not the traditional God, not as powerful, not Creator in the same way, not as knowledgable, not as perfect, not as independent, in fact a God who needs something from us instead of being above that. Such an imperfect God is not the God I would choose. I would choose a God who went poof and fixed everything. But whoever and whatever the real God is, that is the one I think it’s better to embrace than a fantasy.

    Looking at this world and reaching out for the real God who answers my prayers, whom I can experience first-hand, I find it matters for me to be willing to let God be who He/She is and not pretend that tradition has it right. Of course many people are quite content with tradition. But how many are flexible? How far would anyone go to let God be whoever and whatever He is? Does He have to dictate a whole new story, something problematic if He never dictated the traditional ones? Or are people willing to follow their conscience, their experiences, anything if it leads away from tradition?

    What I’m afraid of is that the answer to that last one is overwhelmingly “no”. In that case the only way human beings can be flexible is as one generation replaces another. That can take such a long time. Maybe the real God has no faster way.

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