At the heart of the Catholic faith is the Person of Jesus Christ, who is both fully human and fully divine. In the fulness of time, he came among us to save us from the quagmire of sin and death, and—through his Church—Christ continues his saving work on earth. He is the fulfilment of the longing in every human heart, and he calls us all into perfect union with himself.
In her early years the Church formulated what became known as the Apostles’ Creed, a short summary of authentic Christian faith containing twelve articles of belief (this would later be expanded in the Nicene Creed, which is proclaimed to this day at Sunday Mass). What follows is a brief summary of the teaching of the Apostles’ Creed.
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The Twelve Articles of the Apostles’ Creed
Article 1: I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. This affirms that God exists, that he created the known universe, and that along with the Son and the Holy Spirit he is one God in three persons, known as the Holy Trinity. Faith in God leads us to turn to him alone as our first origin and our ultimate goal, and neither to prefer anything to him nor to substitute anything for him.
Article 2: And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. This attests that Jesus is the Son of God and that he is divine. The word Lord implies divinity, while the name Jesus comes from the Hebrew Jeshua, meaning “God saves.” Therefore, Catholics believe that Jesus is both God and Saviour.
Article 3: Who was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. This affirms the human nature of Christ, meaning he had a real human mother. It also affirms Christ’s divine nature, meaning he had no human father, but instead was conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus is therefore both true God and true man—fully divine and fully human.
Article 4: He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. Jesus, the Son of God, freely suffered death for us in complete and free submission to the will of God, his Father. By his death he has conquered death, and so opened the possibility of salvation to all. The mention of Pontius Pilate—the Roman governor of Judea—places the crucifixion of Christ within recorded human history. In other words, the life and death of Christ is not simply a fairy tale, but an historical event.
Article 5: He descended into hell. On the third day he arose again from the dead. The hell referred to here isn’t the hell of the damned, but refers to the abode of the dead, where Jesus went to free the just who had gone before him and open the gates of Heaven. In so doing Jesus conquered death and the devil. On the third day Jesus rose from the dead of his own divine power. He wasn’t simply unconscious or clinically dead for a few minutes; he was truly dead — and then he rose from the dead, as historically attested to by the disciples. More than a resuscitated corpse, the risen Jesus possessed a glorified body.
Article 6: He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty. The Ascension of Christ reminds the faithful that, once the human and divine natures of Christ were united (known as the Incarnation), they could never be separated. As such, after his saving death and Resurrection, Jesus didn’t discard his human body, but rather glorified it. He now reigns body and soul in Heaven, where the faithful hope to follow.
Article 7: He will come again to judge the living and the dead. This article affirms the Second Coming of Christ at the end of the world to be its judge. Catholics believe that after the death of any human person, immediate private judgment occurs and the person goes directly to Heaven, hell, or Purgatory (an intermediate place in preparation for Heaven). At the end of time Christ will return in glory for the General Judgement of all people, in which the secret disposition of hearts will be revealed and the definite triumph of good over evil will be achieved.
Article 8: I believe in the Holy Spirit, The one God has revealed himself as existing in three divine Persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Known as the Advocate and the Consoler, the Holy Spirit is that power of love through whom all things were made, and who draws persons into union with the Father and the Son. Following his Ascension into Heaven, Christ sent the Holy Spirit to guide the Church until the end of time.
Article 9: the holy catholic Church, the Communion of Saints, Catholics believe that the Church is not simply a man-made institution, but a community of disciples founded by Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit. The Church is catholic (meaning “universal”) because she proclaims the fulness of the faith, she bears and administers the totality of the means of salvation, she is sent to all peoples and encompasses all times. The Church includes those of us striving for holiness here on earth (the Church Militant), the souls of those being purified in Purgatory (the Church Suffering), and those enjoying eternal beatitude with Christ in Heaven (the Church Triumphant).
Article 10: the forgiveness of sins, Christ came to save the world from sin and death, which he did in his complete self-offering on the Cross. Christ passed on the authority to forgive sins to the Apostles, and this lives on in the Church through the sacraments of Baptism and Reconciliation.
Article 11: the resurrection of the body, Catholics believe that a human being is a union of body and soul. By death the soul is separated from the body, but in the resurrection God will give incorruptible life to our body, transformed by reunion with our soul. Just as Christ is risen and lives for ever, so all of us will rise at the last day, body and soul, either in the loss of hell or the glory of heaven.
Article 12: and life everlasting. At the end of time, the Kingdom of God will come in its fulness. Then the just will reign with Christ for ever, glorified in body and soul, and the material universe itself will be transformed. God will then be “all in all” in eternal life.