Monday, 14 November 2011

Year of Faith (6): the profession of faith

The Year of Faith promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1967-1968 came to its conclusion with the proclamation of what has since become known as the Credo of the People of God. Issued as a motu proprio, it was first declared by Pope Paul VI as the homily at the Eucharistic celebration that marked the end of the Year of Faith.

In Porta Fidei n.8, Pope Benedict XVI has also called on the Church, during a Year of Faith, to celebrate the profession of faith:
We will have the opportunity to profess our faith in the Risen Lord in our cathedrals and in the churches of the whole world; in our homes and among our families, so that everyone may feel a strong need to know better and to transmit to future generations the faith of all times. Religious communities as well as parish communities, and all ecclesial bodies old and new, are to find a way, during this Year, to make a public profession of the Credo.
The profession of faith has, in the life of the Church, three particular expressions. The first is the question and answer form associated with the sacrament of Baptism and with the Liturgy of Easter Sunday. The second is the form known as the Apostle's Creed, particularly associated with the Church in Rome and with textual sources that reach back to the fourth century, but whose articulation in the twelve articles we have today dates from the ninth century. The third is the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, deriving from the Council of Constantinople in 381, which gained a usage within the Liturgy of both East and West.

The profession of faith is something that is a possession of the Church and, at the same time, a possession of the individual believer. It is not an accident that, as part of the preparation for Baptism, a catechumen recieves a copy of the Creed from the Church. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reflects this two-fold ownership of the profession of faith in its first section which is headed "'I believe' - 'We believe'".
167 "I believe" (Apostles' Creed) is the faith of the Church professed personally by each believer, principally during Baptism. "We believe" (Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed) is the faith of the Church confessed by the bishops assembled in council or more generally by the liturgical assembly of believers. "I believe" is also the Church, our mother, responding to God by faith as she teaches us to say both "I believe" and "We believe"....
180 "Believing" is a human act, conscious and free, corresponding to the dignity of the human person.
181 "Believing" is an ecclesial act. the Church's faith precedes, engenders, supports and nourishes our faith. the Church is the mother of all believers. "No one can have God as Father who does not have the Church as Mother" (St. Cyprian, De unit. 6: PL 4, 519).

There is an interesting dynamic that arises from the wearing of an external sign of Christian faith, such as a cross or a witness wrist band. The wearing of such a sign is a witness, a testimony of faith. My own experience suggests that, primarily, this acts as a reminder or testimony to oneself; and that this reminder to oneself is much more significant than any witness or testimony that is given to others who might see the sign. What might be described as a question of conscience, or a  "moment of Christian witness", in this regard arises primarily in my view from this testimony of what one believes given to oneself and about oneself. The question of whether others see that testimony is secondary and not always of itself a question of conscience. [I would not, for example, insist on wearing a witness band on my wrist on a hospital ward which has a "bare below the elbows" policy as part of its infection control regime, being happy to remove the witness band before working on the ward and replacing it afterwards.] There is, though, a mutual interplay between the personal nature of this witness and its public nature; it is the wearing of the sign in public that provides the power of the witness to oneself. 

[There is a difference here between the Catholic who wears such a sign of witness and an evangelical Christian who might wear exactly the same sign, the difference arising from the ecclesial orientation of the Catholic witness compared to the highly individual witness of the evangelical Christian who lacks the Catholic sense of ecclesial adherence.]

The public profession of the Credo to which Pope Benedict calls the different communities in the Church enters precisely into this dynamic of witness and testimony. It is interesting that Pope Benedict refers to a "public profession" of the Creed. This might, of course, take the form of a Liturgical celebration. But could it not also take the form of a gathering in a public square in a city centre, so that the profession of faith is made in a visible way before others and before the world?

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