Baltimore Catechism No. 4 (of 4)
THE APOSTLE'S CREED
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, Our Lord, Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified; died, and was buried. He descended into Hell; the third day He arose again from the dead; He ascended into Heaven, sitteth at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
A creed is a definite list or summary of all the things one believes. The "Apostles' Creed" is therefore a list or collection of all the truths the Apostles believed. The "Apostles" were the twelve men that Our Lord selected to be His first bishops. We know they were bishops because they could ordain priests and consecrate other bishops. They lived with Our Lord like a little family during the three and a half years of His public life; they went with Him and learned from Him wherever He preached. Besides these He had also His disciples, i.e., followers who went with Him frequently but did not live with Him. Our Lord wished His doctrine to be taught to all the people of the world, and so He told His Apostles that they must go over the whole world and preach in every country. During the life of Our Lord and for a short time after His death they preached in only one country, viz., Palestine--now called the Holy Land--in which country the Jews, up to that time God's chosen people, lived. Since the Apostles were to preach to all nations, the time came when they must separate, one going to one country, and another to another. In those days there were no steamboats or railroads, no post offices, telegraph offices, telephones, or newspapers. If the Apostles wished to communicate with anyone they had either to go to the place themselves or send a messenger. By walking or riding it might have taken them months or years in those days to make a journey that we can make now in a few days; and for an answer to a message which we can get now by telegraph in a few hours they might have had to wait months. The Apostles knew of all these inconveniences, and before leaving the places they were in pointed out the chief truths that all should know and believe before receiving Baptism, that Christian teachers who should come after them might neglect nothing--just as we use catechisms containing the truths of religion, for fear the teachers might forget to speak of some of them. There are "twelve articles" or parts in the Apostles' Creed, and each part is meant to refute some false doctrine taught before the time of the Apostles or while they lived. Thus there were those--as the Romans--who said there were many gods; others said not God, but the devil created the earth; others taught that Our Lord was not the Son of God: and so on for the rest. All these false doctrines are denied and the truth professed when we say the Apostles' Creed.
Just as in the Lord's Prayer we do not see all its meaning at first, so in the Apostles' Creed we find many beautiful things only after thinking carefully over every word it contains.
"I believe," without the slightest doubt or suspicion that I might be wrong.
"In God" by the grace that He gives me to believe and have full confidence in Him.
"God," to show that there is only one.
"The Father," because He brought everything into existence and keeps it so (see Explanation of the Lord's Prayer).
"Almighty," i.e., having all might or power; because He can do whatever He wishes. He can make or destroy by merely wishing.
"Creator." To create means to make out of nothing. God alone can create. When a carpenter makes a table, he must have wood; when a tailor makes a coat, he must have cloth. They are only makers and not creators. God needs no material or tools. When we make anything, we make it part by part; but God makes the whole at once. He simply wills and it is made. Thus He said in the beginning of the world: "Let there be light; and light was made." For example, suppose I wanted a piano. If I could say, "Let there be a piano" and it immediately sprang up without any other effort on my part, although neither the wood, the iron, the wire, the ivory, nor anything else in it ever existed till I said, "Let there be a piano," then it could be said I created a piano. No one could do this, for God alone has such power.
"Heaven and earth" and everything we can see or know of.
"Jesus Christ." Our Lord is called by many names, but you must not be confused by them, for they all mean the same person, and are given only to remind us of some particular thing connected with Our Lord. He is called "Jesus," which signifies Saviour, and "Christ," which means anointed. He is called the "Second Person of the Blessed Trinity," and when we call Him "Our Lord," we mean the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity after He became man. He is called the "Messias" and the "Son of David" to show that He is the Redeemer promised to the Jews. Also at the end of all our litanies He is called the "Lamb of God," because He was so meek and humble and suffered death so patiently. In the Litany of the Holy Name of Jesus we will find many other beautiful names of Our Lord, all having their special signification.
"His only Son," to show that God, the First Person of the Blessed Trinity, was His real Father. We are called God's children, but we are only His created and adopted children.
"Who was conceived," i.e., He began to exist by the power of the Holy Ghost in the womb of His Mother, the Blessed Virgin.
"Suffered." We shall see in the explanation of the Passion what He suffered.
"Under" means here, at the time a man named Pontius Pilate was governor. If anyone were put to death today in this country, we should say he was executed under Governor or President so-and-so. "Crucified," i.e., nailed to a cross. We say "died," because Our Lord is the Giver of Life, and no one could take His life away unless He allowed it. Therefore we say He died, and not that He was killed, to show that He died by His own free will and not against His will.
"Was buried." This we say to show that He was really dead; because if you bury a man who is not really dead he must die.
"Hell" here does not mean the place where the damned are, but a place called "Limbo." You know that when our first parents sinned, Heaven was closed against them and us, and no human being could be admitted into it till after the death of Our Lord; for He by His death would redeem us--make amends for our fall and once more open for us Heaven. Now from the time Adam sinned till the time Christ died is about four thousand years. During that time there were at least some good men, like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, and others, in the world, who tried to serve God as best they could--keeping all the divine laws known to them, and believing that the Messias would some day come to redeem them. When, therefore, they died they could not go to Heaven, because it was closed against them. They could not go to Hell, because they were good men. Neither could they go to Purgatory, because they would have to suffer there. Where could they go? God in His goodness provided a place for them--Limbo--where they could stay without suffering till Our Lord reopened Heaven. Therefore, while Our Lord's body lay in the sepulchre, His soul went down into Limbo, to tell these good men that Heaven was now opened for them, and that at His Ascension He would take them there
"The third day." Not three full days, but the parts of three days, viz., Friday afternoon, Saturday, and Sunday morning.
"He arose" by His own power: and this was the greatest of all Our Lord's miracles. Some others, like the prophets and Apostles, have, by the power God gave them, raised the dead to life; but no dead person ever raised himself. Our Lord is the first and only one to do this, and by so doing, showed they could not take away His life unless He wished to give it up; for since He could always take back His life, how could they destroy it? "He ascended" forty days after His Resurrection.
"Right hand of God." We know God is a pure spirit having no body; and if He has no body He can have no hands. Why then do we say right hand? When the President of the United States invites anyone to dine at his house, he makes the invited guest sit at his right hand, and thus shows his respect by giving him the place of highest honor.
When Our Lord ascended into Heaven, He went up in the human body He had upon earth, and His Father placed Him as man, in His glorified body, in the place, after His (the Father's) own, the highest in Heaven; but remember, only as man, because as God He is equal to His Father in all things.
"From thence"--that is, from the right hand of God.
"To judge." To examine them, to pronounce sentence upon them; to reward them in Heaven or punish them in Hell.
"The living and the dead." We may take this in a double sense. As the general judgment will come suddenly and when not expected, all will be going on in the world as usual--some attending to business, others taking their ease as they do now, or as they were doing when the deluge came upon them. Just when the judgment is about to take place, God will destroy the earth; and then all those living in the world will perish with its destruction and then be judged. The "dead" means, therefore, all those who died before the destruction of the world, and the "living" all those who were on earth when the time of its destruction came. Or the "living" may mean also those in a state of grace, and the "dead" those in mortal sin; for God will judge both classes.
"Holy Ghost," i.e., the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity. Ghost is an old word meaning spirit. When persons say that a ghost appeared, they mean that the spirit of some dead person appeared. These stories about ghosts are told generally to frighten children or timid persons. If those who thought they saw a ghost always examined what they saw, they would find that the supposed ghost was something very natural; probably a bush swayed by the wind, or a stray animal, or perhaps some person trying to frighten them. Ghost here does not mean the spirit of a dead person, but the Holy Spirit, which is the proper name for the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity.
"The communion of saints." There are three parts in the Church. We have, first, the Church Militant, i.e., the fighting Church, made up of all the faithful upon earth, who are still fighting for their salvation. The Holy Scripture tells us our life upon earth is a warfare. We have three enemies to fight. First, the devil, who by every means wishes to keep us out of Heaven--the place he once enjoyed himself. The devil knows well the happiness of Heaven, and does not wish us to have what he cannot have himself; just as you sometimes see persons who, through their own fault, have lost their situation trying to keep others out of it.
Our second enemy is the world. This does not mean the earth with all its beauty and riches, but the bad people in the world with their false doctrines; some telling us there is no God, Heaven, or Hell, others that we should pay no attention to the teaching of the Church or the laws of God, and advising us by word and example to resist our lawful superiors in Church or State and give free indulgence to our sinful passions.
The third enemy is our own flesh. By this we mean our concupiscence, that is, our passions, evil inclinations, and propensity to do wrong. When God first created man, the soul was always master over the body, and the body obedient to the soul. After Adam sinned, the body rebelled against the soul and tried to lead it into sin. The body is the part of our nature that makes us like the brute animals, while the soul makes us like to God and the angels.
When we sin, it is generally to satisfy the body craving for what it has not, or for that which is forbidden. Why did God leave this concupiscence in us? He left it, first, to keep us humble, by reminding us of our former sins, and, secondly, that we might overcome it and have a reward for the victory.
The second branch of the Church is called the Church Suffering. It is made up of all those who have gone through this world and are now in Purgatory.
Some of them while on earth fought well, but not as well as they could have done; they yielded to some temptations, fell into some small sins, received some slight wounds from their spiritual enemies, or they have not satisfied God entirely for the temporal guilt due to their great sins; therefore they are in Purgatory till they can be completely purified from all their sins and admitted into Heaven.
The last or third branch of the Church is called the Church Triumphant, and is made up of the angels and all those who have lived at one time upon earth and who are now in Heaven with God, enjoying their rewards for overcoming their spiritual enemies and serving God while upon earth. They are triumphant or rejoicing because they have reached their heavenly home.
You must not think that those only are saints who have been canonized by the Church and whose names are known to us; for all in Heaven are saints, as we also shall be if admitted into that happy eternity. God wishes all to be saints, for He wishes all to be saved. You know we can pray to the saints and ask their help and prayers; but how could we know that certain men or women are really in Heaven? We can know it when the Church canonizes them, and thus gives proof that they were great spiritual heroes in the service of God and can be more confidently appealed to on account of their eminent sanctity and powerful intercession.
Therefore the Church by canonization tells us for certain that such and such persons are truly in Heaven. But might not the Church be deceived
No! for Christ has promised to be always with His Church, and the Holy Ghost is ever directing her, so that she cannot err in faith or morals. If the Church made us pray to persons who are not saints, she would fall into the worst of errors, and Our Lord would have failed to keep His promise--a saying that would be blasphemous, for Christ, being God, is infinitely true and could not deceive or be deceived. To canonize, therefore, does not mean to make a saint, but to declare to the whole world that such a one was a saint while upon earth. After death we cannot merit, so our reward in Heaven will be just what we have secured up till the moment of our death; hence holiness is acquired in the Church Militant.
How does the Church canonize a saint? Let us suppose some good man dies, and all his neighbors talk about his holy fife, how much he did for the poor, how he prayed, fasted, and mortified himself. All these accounts of his life are collected and sent to Rome, to the Holy Father or to the cardinals appointed by him to examine such statements. These accounts must show that the good man practiced virtue in a more than ordinary manner, that he either performed some miracles while he lived, or that
God granted miracles after his death through his intercession.
These accounts are not examined immediately after his death, but sometimes after a lapse of fifty years or more, so that people might not exaggerate his good works because they knew him personally.
When these accounts are examined, one is appointed to prevent, if he can, the canonization. He is sometimes called the devil's advocate, because it is his business to find fault with all the accounts and miracles, and prove them false if possible. This is done to make certain that all the accounts are true and the miracles real. If everything is found as represented, then the good man is declared venerable, later beatified, i.e., called blessed, and still later canonized, i.e., declared a saint. If he is only beatified, he can be honored publicly only in certain places or by certain persons; but if he is canonized, he can be honored throughout the whole Church by all the faithful.
Thus we understand the three branches of the one true Church--the Church Militant, i.e., all those who are on earth trying to save their souls; the Church Suffering, those in Purgatory, having their souls purified for Heaven; and the Church Triumphant, those already in Heaven.
The "communion of saints" means that these three branches of the Church can help one another. We help the souls in Purgatory by our prayers and good works, and the saints in Heaven pray for us. But "communion of saints" means still more. Let us take an example. Suppose there are in a family, living together, a mother and three sons. The eldest son earns a large salary, the second son enough to support himself, and the youngest very little. They give their earnings to their mother, who from the combined amounts provides for the wants of all and draws from the large salary of the eldest to supply the needs of the youngest. Thus he who has too little for his support is--through his mother--aided by the one who has more than he needs. Now, the Church is our mother, and some of her children--the great saints--were rich in good works and did more than was necessary to gain Heaven, while others did not do enough. Then our mother, the Church, draws from the abundant satisfaction of her rich children to help those who are poor in merit and good works. The greatest treasure she has to draw from for that purpose is the more than abundant merits of Our Lord and the superabundant satisfaction of the Blessed Virgin and the greatest saints. Our Lord could have redeemed us all by the least suffering, and yet He suffered dreadful torments, and even shed His blood and died for us. The Blessed Virgin never sinned, yet she performed many good works and offered many prayers. Therefore "communion of saints" means, also, that we all share in the merits of Christ and in the superabundant satisfaction of the Blessed Virgin and of the saints; also in the prayers and good works of the Church and of her faithful and pious children.
"The forgiveness of sins," i.e., by the Sacrament of Penance, through the power that God gave His priests; also by Baptism.
"The resurrection of the body," i.e., on the last day (Matt. 24:29; Luke 21:25). When on the last day, at the general judgment, God's angel sounds the great trumpet, all the dead will arise again and come to judgment, in the same bodies they had while living. But you will say: If their bodies are reduced to ashes and mixed with the earth, or if parts of them are in one place and parts in another, how is this possible? Very easily, with God. If He in the beginning could make all the parts out of nothing, with how much ease can He collect them scattered here and there! When God made man He gave him a body and a soul, and wished them never to be separated. Man was to live here upon earth for a time, and then be taken up into Heaven, body and soul, as Our Lord is there now. But when man sinned, in punishment God commanded that he should die; i.e., that these two dear friends, the body and the soul, should be separated for a time. Death is caused by the separation of the soul from the body. The body and soul together make a man, and neither one alone can be called a man. A dead body is only part of a man. At the resurrection every soul will come from Heaven, Purgatory, or Hell, to seek its own body; they will then be united again as they were in life, never to be separated--to be happy together in Heaven if they have been good upon earth, or miserable together in Hell if they have been bad upon earth.
"Life everlasting"--either, as we have said, in Heaven or Hell. There was a time when we did not exist but it can never be said of us again we do not exist. When once we have been created, we shall live as long as God Himself, i.e., forever. When we have lived a thousand years for every drop of water in the ocean; a thousand years for every grain of sand on the seashore; a thousand years for every blade of grass and every leaf on the earth, we shall still be existing. How short a time, therefore, is a hundred years even if we live so long--and few do--compared with all these millions of years! And yet it depends upon the time we live here whether all these millions of years in the next world will be for us years of happiness or of misery. The whole life of a man extends through the two worlds, viz., from the moment of his creation through all eternity; and surely the little while he stays upon earth must seem very short when, after spending a million of years in the next world, he looks back to his earthly life. There is a good example to illustrate this. If you stand on a railroad, and look away down the track for about a mile, it will seem to you that the rails come nearer and nearer, till at last they touch. It seems so on account of the distance, for where they seem to touch they are just as far apart as where you are standing. So, also, when you look back from eternity, the day of your birth and the day of your death will seem to coincide, and your life on earth appear nothing. Then, if you are among the lost souls you will think, What a fool I was to make myself suffer all this long eternity for that silly bit of earthly pleasure, which is of no benefit to me now! And this thought will serve only to make you more miserable. But, on the other hand, if you look back from a happy eternity, you will wonder at God's goodness in giving you so much happiness for so short a service upon earth.