Creed of the People of God, Part 5 Print E-mail
Knowing Your Faith
Knowing Your Faith column

John Joy

After speaking of the Holy Spirit and the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Creed of the People of God next professes our faith in the reality of original sin and the mystery of our redemption in Christ through Baptism.

This creed of Pope Paul VI is based on the Nicene Creed we say at Mass, but it goes into greater detail about what Catholics are required to believe in order to be "practicing Catholics" and (more importantly) in order have that faith without which we cannot be saved.

Original sin

The glorious story of our redemption through Christ begins with the ignominious fact of original sin. As St. Paul says: "As one man's sin [Adam] led to condemnation for all, so one man's act of righteousness [Jesus Christ] leads to acquittal and life for all" (Rom 5:18).

Therefore, this section of the creed begins: "We believe that in Adam all have sinned, which means that the original offense committed by him caused human nature, common to all men, to fall to a state in which it bears the consequences of that offense, and which is not the state in which it was at first in our first parents -- established as they were in holiness and justice, and in which man knew neither evil nor death.

"It is human nature so fallen, stripped of the grace that clothed it, injured in its own natural powers and subjected to the dominion of death, that is transmitted to all men, and it is in this sense that every man is born in sin. We therefore hold, with the Council of Trent, that original sin is transmitted with human nature, 'not by imitation, but by propagation' and that it is thus 'proper to everyone'."

Adam and Eve were created not only with all the gifts proper to human nature (intelligence, free will, etc.); they were also created with various supernatural gifts: immortality, freedom from pain, and above all the gift of holiness (sanctifying grace).

When Adam sinned, he forfeited these supernatural gifts, both for himself and for all his descendants. If this seems unfair, we must remember that the things we lost through Adam's sin were things to which we had no right in the first place, since they were completely free and unmerited gifts of God.

Redemption

God does not owe us grace or salvation, but he "shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us" (Rom 5:8). Hence the creed continues: "We believe that our Lord Jesus Christ, by the sacrifice of the cross redeemed us from original sin and all the personal sins committed by each one of us, so that, in accordance with the word of the apostle, 'where sin abounded, grace did more abound'" (Rom 5:20).

How does Christ's death on the cross save us from our sin? It can be tempting to view the cross in terms of penal substitution, according to which God the Father punished Christ his Son with the punishment we deserved for our sins so that we could escape that punishment. But this is a distortion. Christ by his death was able to appease the wrath of God against sin not by satiating it, but by dissipating it.

"Christ offered to his Father on the altar of the cross the pure gift of his infinitely precious life as compensation for the sins of all men, and this perfect gift (offered by Christ as a man on behalf of men) was and is more pleasing to God than all the sins of all men are displeasing, so that there is no longer cause for God's wrath or punishment to descend upon those who are united to Christ in faith and charity through Baptism.

Baptism

And thus the creed goes on to say: "We believe in one Baptism instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.

"Baptism should be administered even to little children who have not yet been able to be guilty of any personal sin, in order that, though born deprived of supernatural grace, they may be reborn 'of water and the Holy Spirit' to the divine life in Christ Jesus."


John Joy, STL, is marriage and family coordinator for the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis, Diocese of Madison.