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Part One:  The Apostles’ Creed


I Believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth”

Table of Contents    

St. Peter The opening article of the Apostles’ Creed is also the most fundamental: It lays the foundation for everything else we believe as Christians.

It is remarkable how many truths of faith are implied in the simple sentence, “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.” Each of these truths has been questioned in the course of the Church’s history, and each is being challenged today. That is why as Catholics we have no choice in the modern world: We must know exactly what we profess in the first article of our Creed.

The method we plan to follow will be carried through the Pocket Catholic Catechism. After a short introduction, like the present one, we will look at a series of truths that underlie each principal area of our reflections, always attempting both to understand what we mean by what we believe, and how this faith should be lived out in actual practice.


To believe means to accept with our minds what someone tells us is true. We believe because we trust a person’s knowledge, that he knows what he is saying, and his honesty in telling us what he knows. When the person we believe in is a human being, we call it human faith. When the one we believe in is God, we call it divine faith.

The expression, “I believe in God,” therefore, has two meanings. We first of all believe God because we know from reason that God exists and that He, more than anyone else, should be believed. He can neither deceive, because He is all-good, nor be deceived, because He is all-knowing. But we also believe in God because we accept on His word all that He has revealed to us about Himself and about His will for the human race.

It is important to emphasize that our knowledge about God comes not only from faith in His own self-revelation. We can also know God from reason, by reflecting on the wonders of His creation. St. Paul could not have been clearer about the duty everyone has to know God from observing the world that He has made. Speaking of the pagans of his day, Paul insists that “what can be known about God is perfectly plain to them, since God Himself has made it plain. Ever since God has created the world, His everlasting power and deity - however invisible - have been there for the mind to see in the things that He has made. That is why such people are without excuse” (Romans 1:19-21).

Faith is, indeed, a form of knowledge. It is reasonable knowledge because we know from reason that God exists. We can also prove by reason that He has revealed Himself to us because of the miracles He performed to make His revelations credible to our minds. But faith provides us with superior knowledge, far above what we could ever know by our naked reason alone.

That is why a believing child of six is wiser than an unbelieving genius of sixty. Or, as St. Paul described the unbelievers of every generation, “the more they called themselves philosophers, the more stupid they grew” (Romans 1:22). Certainly it takes humility of mind to accept divine revelation, but the reward of faith is lucidity of mind for which there is no counterpart in human erudition.

Attributes of God

When we speak of God’s perfections, we call them “attributes” because we attribute to Him such qualities as belong to the divine nature. Yet all the while we realize that these perfections in God only dimly correspond, in human language, to various properties in creatures.

In reality, the divine attributes are identical among themselves and with the divine nature. But in our human way of thinking there are different attributes because they are like the differences we see in creation, which itself is a manifestation of the indescribable greatness of God.

The Apostles’ Creed gives only one attribute of God: that He is almighty. Since apostolic times, however, the Church has identified no less than fifteen divine attributes and, by now, a library of literature has been written to explain what they mean.

God is absolutely one because He is the only Being who must exist, and because there are not many gods (polytheism). He is not just one chief god (henotheism), nor merely the good god along with an evil god (Manichaeism).

He is the true God because He really exists and is not a figment of the imagination projecting our own fears or desires.

He is the living God whose life is His very essence. He is the being whose inward activity is identical with His nature.

He is eternal because in God there is nothing past, as if it were no longer; nothing future, as if it were not yet. In Him there is only “is,” namely, the present. That is why when Yahweh first appeared to Moses in the burning bush and Moses asked Him for His name, God told him, “I Am Who Am” (Exodus 3:14).

God is immense because He is beyond all measurement. He encompasses everything, while He alone cannot be encompassed by anything.

He is incomprehensible because He is not limited in any way. God is not confined either in the manner of a body or of a created spirit.

God is infinite not only because He has no limitations, but because He has within Himself the plenitude of all perfection. He is all-knowing, all-powerful, and has absolute fullness of being.

God is unique because there neither is nor can there be another God. He must have no equal.

God is pure spirit. He has no body or spatial dimension. In our own language, He is a spiritual being who thinks and who wills. He knows and He loves. He is in the deepest sense a personal God, and not some impersonal force or cosmic energy.

God is totally simple because there are no components or parts in Him, like body and soul or substance and accidental properties. Thus Christ said of Himself, “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6).

God is unchangeable because He eternally possesses the fullness of being. There is nothing He can acquire that He does not already have, nor lose what He already has.

God is transcendent not only because He surpasses all other beings, but because He is completely distinct from the world. He is the Totally Other.

He is perfectly happy in and of Himself, without dependence on any other being for beatitude.

God is finally the most sublime because He is beautiful in the highest degree. Beauty is that which pleases when seen. That is why the Scriptures condemn those who are seduced by creatures: “They have taken things for gods. Let them know how much the Lord of these excels them, since the Author of beauty has created them” (Wisdom 13:3).

The Catholic Church speaks of the foregoing attributes of God as internal, because they pertain to God as He is in Himself. In today’s world, in which atheism is so prevalent, we must be clear in our understanding of who the one true God is.

However, we must also recognize what are called the relative attributes of God. These are the divine perfections in relation to the world He has made. Among these, the Apostles’ Creed mentions only His omnipotence or almightiness. By this, we mean that He cannot do anything that would deny His nature, like tell a lie; nor can He act in a contradictory manner, like changing His mind.

We know, of course, that God is also omniscient because He knows all things past, present, and future. He is all-good because He wants only to benefit the creatures that He makes. And He is even all-merciful in forgiving human beings, provided they repent for the offenses they have committed against their loving Lord.

The Holy Trinity

The Holy Trinity Our Christian faith tells us that God is not a solitary being. He is the eternal community of three Divine Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Every society outside of God, whether among the angelic hierarchy or among human beings, exists only because of the Holy Trinity.

Revelation tells us that there is in God a true fatherhood that belongs to the First Person alone. From all eternity, the First Person has been generating the Son, who is not a mere attribute of God, but a distinct Person. This is clear from the opening words of the Fourth Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). Proceeding from the Father and the Son is the Holy Spirit.

In the language of the Credo of the People of God, “The natural bonds which eternally constitute the Three Persons, who are each one and the same Divine Being, are the blessed inmost life of God, thrice holy, infinitely beyond all that we can conceive in human measure. We give thanks, however, to the Divine Goodness that very many believers can testify with us before men to the unity of God, even though they know not the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity.”

We Christians are specially blessed in believing that there is only one God, but also that He is a triune plurality. Our destiny is to share in the happiness of this heavenly society.

At this critical period of humanity, the world is more socially conscious than ever before in history. Christianity offers today’s believers both a timeless and timely understanding of the Trinity as the perfect model for living in a loving community.

Creation and Providence

In the Apostles’ Creed we affirm that God is the Creator of heaven and earth. Saying this, we profess that He made the world out of nothing. He started with nothing, out of which He created the world, and He parted with nothing of Himself to bring the world into actual being.

Consequently, the world had a beginning. This is repeatedly stated in the Old Testament. “Aeons ago,” the Psalmist tells the Lord, “you laid the earth’s foundations, the heavens are the work of your hands” (Psalm 102:25) And St. Paul praises God the Father because “Before the world was made, He chose us, chose us in Christ” (Ephesians 1:4).

God did not have to create the world. The cause of all that He created is His divine and loving will. No necessity to create arises from God’s goodness. It is true that the desire for self-communication belongs to the nature of goodness, but this is perfectly fulfilled within the Trinity by the mutual self-giving by each of the Three Divine Persons. God’s goodness is, of course, the reason why He communicates of His being to creatures. But He does this of His own free will and without compulsion even by His own great love.

All Three Persons are equally and uniquely the Creator of the universe. As the work of creation, however, shows a similarity with the properties of the First Person it is usually referred to the Father by “appropriation.” Thus in the Apostles’ Creed.

Yet in referring creation to God the father, we are also professing belief in the fatherly providence of the Holy Trinity. Providence is the all-wise plan of God for the universe, and the carrying out of this plan by His loving rule or governance.

Our response to divine Providence is to see in every person, place, and event in our lives the providential hand of God. Everyone and everything in every moment is a manifestation of his providential care. He wants us to enjoy or endure, to remove or sacrifice some creature by which He intends to lead us to our eternal destiny.

Angels and Human Beings

It is the common teaching of the Church that God created angels and human beings. In the early thirteenth century, the Church had to formulate the Lateran Creed (1215) to defend the faith against the Albigenses, who claimed there were two gods. The good god created spiritual beings, while the evil god created the material world. The Lateran Creed declares:
We firmly believe and profess without qualification that there is only one true God . . . the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit . . . They are the one and only principle of all things - Creator of all things visible and invisible, spiritual and corporeal. By His almighty power from the very beginning of time, He created both orders of creatures in the same way out of nothing, the spiritual or angelic world and the corporeal or visible universe. And afterwards He formed the creature man, who in a way belongs to both orders, as he is composed of spirit and body. For the devil and other demons were created by God good according to their nature, but they made themselves evil by their own doing. As for man, his sin was at the prompting of the devil (Fourth Lateran Council, 1215).
It will be useful to number the statements of faith professed in this important creed:
  1. Only one God created the entire universe, spiritual and material, angelic and human.

  2. This one God the Creator is the Holy Trinity, by whose almighty power all things came into existence.

  3. Time began with the creation of the world. Why? Because time is the measure of change, and only with the origin of creatures did change come into being.

  4. First God created the spiritual world of angels, who are persons with an intellect and will; then the material world, which is perceptible only to the senses.

  5. Afterwards, God created man, who is like the angels in being able to think and to love, and like the tangible world of matter on which he walks and which he breathes. Man’s soul is spiritual and naturally immortal; his body is material and naturally mortal.

  6. The devil (Greek = diabolos, slanderer) and demons (Greek = daimon, evil god) were originally good angels. Proudly refusing to obey God, they were cast into hell. They became evil by the misuse of their free wills.

Seven centuries after the Lateran Creed, Pope Pius XII returned to the subject of man’s origin. In the meantime, various theories of evolution posed the question of how the human race began. According to the pope (Humani generis, August 12, 1950), “The teaching of the Church leaves the teaching of evolution an open question, as long as it confines its speculations to the development, from living matter already in existence, of the human body. The Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God.”

In the same document, Pius XII took issue with those who espouse the theory of polygenism. Proponents of this theory claim that since evolution is an established fact, all human beings now on earth do not descend from one human pair, but from different human ancestors. These “conjectures about polygenism…leave the faithful no such freedom of choice. Christians cannot lend their support to a theory which involves the existence, after Adam’s time, of some earthly race of men, truly so-called, who were not descended ultimately from him, or else supposes that Adam was the name given to some group of primordial ancestors.”

In technical language, only monogenism (mono = one) and not polygenism (poly = many + genus = race) is compatible with the Catholic faith.

Original Sin

There was no major dissent from the biblical teaching about the fall of Adam until the rise of Pelagianism in the last part of the fourth century. Pelagius denied that Adam was endowed with the supernatural life of grace, which he lost for himself and his descendants by his sin of disobedience. To counteract this error, a series of Church councils were held. Not only was Pelagius condemned, but several popes confirmed the Catholic doctrine on original sin, stating:
  1. Adam was the first man. He was created immortal. His bodily death was a punishment for sin (Pope Zozimus I, 418).

  2. Adam’s sin was injurious not only to Adam, but also to his descendants. Moreover, it was not only the death of the body, which is punishment for sin, but sin, the death of the soul, that passed from one man to all the human race (Pope Boniface II, 531)

A thousand years later, the Protestant reformers brought back Pelagius’s ideas. As a result, the Council of Trent issued its famous Decree on Original Sin. Published in the same year (1546) that Martin Luther died, the conciliar definitions spell out in the plainest language what the Catholic Church teaches on this fundamental mystery of our faith:

Loss of Original Justice.  “The first man Adam immediately lost the justice and holiness in which he was constituted when he disobeyed the command of God in the Garden of Paradise.”

Death and Subjection to the Devil.  “Through the offense of this sin he incurred…the death with which God had previously threatened him and, together with death, bondage in the power…of the devil” (Canon 1).

Communication and Remission of Original Sin.  “This sin of Adam, which is one by origin, and which is communicated to all men by propagation…is taken away through [no other remedy] than the merit of the one mediator, our Lord Jesus Christ, who reconciled us to God in His blood” (Canon 3).

Baptism Confers Merits of Christ.  “Through the sacrament of baptism rightly conferred in the form of the Church, this merit of Christ is…applied to adults and infants alike” (Canon 3).

Concupiscence Remains After Baptism.  “Concupiscence or the tendency to sin remains in the baptized; but since it is left to provide a trial, it has no power to injure those who do not consent and who, by the grace of Christ Jesus, manfully resist” (Canon 5).

In the light of the foregoing, we see that our first parents were originally gifted three times over:

  • They had the natural gifts of human beings, especially the power to think and to choose freely.

  • They had the preternatural gifts of bodily immortality and of integrity, or the internal power to control their desires.

  • They had the supernatural gifts of sanctifying grace, the virtues of faith, hope, and charity, and the corresponding title to enter heaven.

By their willful disobedience, they lost the supernatural and preternatural gifts entirely, and were weakened (without losing) their natural capacity to reason and to choose freely.

As we shall see at greater length later on, baptism restores the supernatural life lost by Adam’s sin. It does not restore the preternatural gifts but gives us a title to a glorified restoration of our bodies on the last day, and a corresponding title to the graces we need to cope with our disorderly desires. Our natural powers of reason and free will remain weakened. But with God’s grace, they are strengthened to enable us actually to become more holy through our struggle with concupiscence.

The Eye of God

Copyright © 2002 Inter Mirifica
Pocket Catholic Catechism

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The picture “The Eye of God” at the bottom of the page is from the book Christian Symbols, drawn by Rudolf Koch (1876 – 1934) with the collaboration of Fritz Kredel (1900 – 1973) (trans. Kevin Ahern; San Francisco: Arion Press, 1996) courtesy of Felix Just, S.J., Ph.D.

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