Confirmation

Confirmation candidates are usually aged around 10 upwards and can of course be adults. People who come for confirmation are already baptised and therefore are already members of the church; they are already included, we might say, in the family of Christ. But often these people were baptised when they were quite young, perhaps they were babies. This means that when they were baptised someone else made their vows for them. Confirmation is the opportunity for the individual to make these same vows for themselves.

 

Confirmation proceeds by arranging a series of meetings with the vicar or someone else with teaching responsibility in the church, usually between 4 and 6 sessions, to discuss some of the central componants of the Christian faith. At the end  of these there is a special service held, not necessarily in your own church but someonwhere in the deanery (which in our case is the Wisbech, Lynn Marshland Deanery and covers churches in north Cambridgeshire Fenland and into Norfolk). It is a service to which all the people of the deanery are invited and most especially the congregation, the family and  the freinds of the person being confirmed. One of our Bishops (in the diocese of Ely) will be present and it will be him who confirms the candidate.

 

Here, below, are some notes on the main areas of the Christian Faith that I employ in teaching candidates for confirmation. I have tried to write these in intelligible English but without avoiding important and deep things. Some areas I have explored more deeply than others, but if you find them too complicated then skip over them for now, and if you want to discuss them further please give me a ring (Rev’d Neil Gardner, my number is on this site). The first set of notes labelled section 1 have been written mainly with adults in mind, whilst the second set of notes, section 2, have been written for children of around 10 upwards, but both sets of notes I hope may prove to be valuable to some candidates.

 

These notes are centred upon the two main creeds that the Church of England utilises in its worship. As we shall see below the creeds are important as condensed statements that attempt to sum up the most important principles of Christian belief and they have been used since ancient times. I hope these notes may bed of some help in trying to understand them..

 

 

 

The
Creeds.

 

The Anglican Church is part of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic
Church, worshiping the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
It professes the faith uniquely revealed in the holy Scriptures and
set forth in the catholic creeds.
From
the Service for the Ordination of a Bishop.

 

The
Apostles Creed
 

I believe in God the Father Almighty,

 

creator of heaven and earth.

 

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son our Lord,

 

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,

 

born of the virgin Mary,

 

suffered under Pontius Piilate,

 

was crucified, died and was buried;

 

he descended to the dead.

 

On the third day he rose again;

 

he ascended into heaven,

 

he is seated at the right hand of the Father,

 

and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

 

 

 

I believe in the Holy Spirit,

 

the holy catholic Church,

 

the communion of saints,

 

the forgiveness of sins,

 

the resurrection of the body,

 

and the life everlasting. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The
Nicene
Creed

 

We believe in one God,
the Father, the almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
and of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God,

 

eternally begotten of the Father,

 

God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven;
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.
for our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son
he is worshipped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.

We believe in one holy, catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

 

 

 

The word ‘Creed’ comes from the Latin word ‘Credo’ which means ‘I believe’ and the Creeds that are repeated by the Church in services are statements of Christian belief; they sum up what it is that we basically believe as Christians. We repeat the creeds as a way of reminding ourselves of the most important things that a Christian rests their faith upon.

 

 

 

The Christian creeds are most particularly a confession of what it is that Christians mean by God. Christians have a perculiar way of understanding God, most importantly as: ‘in and as the world as well as beyond it” in some sense, and also as in some sense both three and one. You often hear people saying of the different religions, ‘well it is all the same God isn’t it’. But actually whatever God might be in Himself different religions have different understandings of what God is like, and the Christian understanding is a very particular one that the Creeds unpack.

 

 

 

There are two main creeds used by the Anglican Church: The Nicene Creed and the Apostles Creed. There is the Athanasian Creed as well but this is rarely used in the Church of England. It is a fair bit longer than either the other two, but we shall not concern ourselves with it for now. The Apostles Creed is the earliest form of creed, though it is thought that it probably does not go back to the time of the Apostles as the name might suggest. In Anglican churches the Apostles Creed is repeated most often at evening services such as Sunday evening Evensong, but traditionally in the Western Church the Apostles’ Creed is used at Baptisms and the Nicene Creed at the Eucharist (or else people might say the Mass, the liturgy of the Lord’s Supper, or the Holy Communion). The Eastern Orthodox Church only ever uses the Nicene Creed.

 

 

 

In the Apostles Creed God is Creator of the World and Jesus’ relationship to God is spelt out: he is God’s ‘only Son’, ‘born of the Virgin Mary’. He is unique. Then the great acts of his life are outlined: he suffered, died and was buried at a particular time in history (which we know from the reference to Pontius Pilate). He was raised from the dead, ascended into heaven and will come again as judge. This is echoed in the acclamation at the bread and wine service known as the Eucharist: ‘Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again’.

 

When the Apostles’ Creed was drawn up what was chiefly being addressed and countered was the views of the Gnostics. Gnosticism had many different forms but broadly it understood the material, created universe, as evil and spiritual reality as separate and good. Human beings were essentially spiritual ‘sparks’ trapped in a body of flesh. Flesh, as part of created, material reality was corrupt and the prime of object of human life, therefore, was to find its way out of material reality and discover its way back to its true home in the spiritual dimension. Jesus, it was thought, had come as guide on this journey, to impart the knowledge (gnosis means knowledge) that would allow us to become freed of our material selves and so merge with the spiritual.

 

 

 

 

Although there were Gnostic Christians – Paul refers to them in the new Testament – certain aspects of the Christian story posed great difficulties for them because of the repugnance they showed toward the material dimension. They would not, for instance, associate God with creation. Many Gnostics held that the God of what we would now call orthdox Christianity, the creator of the material cosmos, was actually the illegitimately concieved, and aborted son of Sophia, the daughter of the One true God. He was known as the demiurge and was reposnible for creation and the remnant of the spiritual trapped in creation in the prison of the human body.

 

Jesus did not come from the demiurge but was born of the true God and the Holy Spirit), and implanted in the flesh during sexual intercourse between Mary and Jospeph. But it was claimed by many Christians that Jesus had suffered and died upon the cross. However, suffering and death was a characteristic of material reality, it was part of the evidence of its corruption. A true spiritual being could not have anything to do with suffering and death. The Gnostics determined that Jesus the Christ, the true Spiritual Son of God, left his means outer vesitage of flesgh, during the crcifixation and returned to the Spiritual realm.

 

Because the Gnostics understood the material and the spiritual to be opposed to each other in this way they could not accept that Jesus, the spiritual divinity, could have entirely taken on created, human form. His Spiritual dimension could bot be trapped by the facade of flesh. That form must always have been superficial. There is a sense in which all human beings in some sense have their bodies on the outside, at a distance. But born of the demiurge the encumberment of flesh was much more stubbornly attached for human beings until the knowldge that Jesus imparted could be properly assimulated and by that means the spark of the spiritual in them could be released and saved.

 

And so it was that the Gnostics denied that Jesus was truly a human being. This has important implications for Christians because it says that God is not actually with us when we endure the sufferings and pain that often characterises human existence.Thus it is that the composers of the creeds were keen to assert the material aspect of Jesus. And so also, therefore, do we find the creed ensuring that we understand that Jesus was ‘born of the virgin Mary’, that he ‘suffered under Pontius Pilate’ and indeed that he was ‘crucified, died and was buried’. The Apostles Creed deliberately sets out to reject what it saw as the Gnostic error and underline the belief that God became thoroughly and truly a material reality, thoroughly and truly flesh; capable of misunderstanding, suffering and even death.

A look at the Nicene Creed in more detail:

It is important to remember that the Creeds – the Nicene, the Apostle’s and the Athanasian – never dropped  at once complete out of the sky, but were forged in the heat of arguments and debates. In basic terms Christians often found themselves disagreeing over what Jesus actually represented since different people heard different traditions about him. Parties would point to texts and verses, employing in some cases various philosophical ideas to help make sense of those texts, and one of the most important divisions that fell out of all of this was between those who thought Jesus was divine in some sense but also created and not equal to God himself, and those people who considered that God himself incarnated (took on created form as a man) in the form of Jesus the Christ (in the Hebrew the Messiah, both meaning ‘the anointed one’).

 

The church was looking for a statement of belief that all could assent to, but at the same time different parties wished to hang on to certain cherished ideas. When the Nicene Creed was drawn up it was in the light of a controversy that involved a man called Arius (died in around 336), who in very basic terms raised the problem of
whether Jesus was fully God. It is easy in the light of around 1500 of the teaching of the church to think that scripture plainly says so. But for one thing what actually constituted the canon of scripture that we associate with the Bible was not settled until the 5th century and even then it is not as plain on the matter as it seems. Arius and his followers focused in on various anomalies in the texts, certain other implications of the way in which Christians worshipped, as well as taking up what they saw as particular philosophical problems with the idea of Jesus as ‘very God’ as well as ‘very man’.

 

Arius was a presbyter (The word presbyter comes from the Greek presbuteros, eaning elder and these were the forerunners of modern priests), in Alexandria in Egypt in the 4th century. His reading of scripture led him to believe that God the Father, in the beginning, created (or begot) God the Son, and that the Son, in conjunction with the Father, then proceeded to create the world in that order. In other words Jesus was the highest created being, a kind of intermediary between heaven and earth, but he was still only a created being – not uncreated and so not God himself in any meaningful sense. This worried many people in the church at the time and not least because it was a view suspiciously not unlike the theories of those Gnostics and pagans. These held that God was too perfect to create something like a material world, or to be associated too closely with the material world, and so introduced one or more intermediate beings between God and the world so to create without entering into creation’s orruption.

 

 

 

But Arius and his followers asserted this view also because they wished to preserve a notion of the mystery and freedom of God that went beyond anything that human beings could think. If we started to say that God was like this or that, judging as we might from the character of the man Jesus, we start to constrict the notion of God in our minds and become in danger of ignoring aspects of God revealed outside of our conceptions. Thus, for example, if we were to think of God as purely a comforter and friend then we would not recognise him when he come as judge and chastiser; if we think of God purely in terms of standard religious representations – in churches and holy places, in liturgy and worship – we would not recognise God when he comes in the ordinary things of the everyday outside of religion. In this way we are in danger of restricting God’s freedom to appear and reveal Himself as he wills.

 

 

 

Alexander, Bishop of Alexandria, sent for Arius and questioned him. Arius stuck to his position and was finally excommunicated by a council of Egyptian bishops. He then went on to Nicomedia in Asia where he wrote letters defending his position to various bishops. Finally, the Emperor Constantine summoned a council of Bishops in Nicaea (across the straits from modern Istanbul), and there in 325 the Bishops of the Church, by a decided majority, repudiated Arius and produced the first draft of what is now called the Nicene Creed.

 

 

 

A chief spokesman for the idea of the full deity of Jesus Christ (as opposed to being just the highest, spiritual, but still created being) was Athanasius (from whom we get the Athanasian Creed), who was a deacon of Alexandria and an assistant (and later successor) to the aging Alexander. Again there was a reading of scripture at stake,
except of course this time scriptural evidence was put forward to suggest that Jesus was both completely God as well as completely human. But there was also something else, something to do with the concrete predicament of the whole human race.H uman beings had always fretted over the distance between God and themselves – God
was perfect goodness, truth and beauty; He was eternal, immutable and immortal. Human beings were good some of the times, evil at others; they often lied, were morally as well as occasionally physically deformed and ugly, and most of all they were subject to change, decay and death. Human life was and is suffused with tragedy. Because of the threats that surround us we are subject to fear, and because we are morally weak we are often prone to letting that fear dominate us and determine the nature of our behaviour. We abandon the risk of offering love to an unknown stranger, for instance, in fear of the threat that the stranger may hold, and are prone therefore instead to opt for scheming, lying, self protecting and even killing before we are killed. Such fear provokes defensiveness, self defensiveness leads to violent action, the latter to guilt and self justification and finally to a desire to scapegoat others rather than face the sense of guilt that we possess. There is a constant tendency to visit pain and death upon each other in anticipation of the need to save our own necks or to dominate our surroundings so that no threat should arise in the first place and the presence of love in the midst of this can be a reminder of what we did not have the strength to follow out instead. Love must be therefore be vilified and destroyed before it lead us back into the darkest reaches of our guilt and pain.

 

 

 

Death is the ultimate mark of our separation from God. It makes us all like sandcastles swept away on the tide. In the end we will be gone and maybe no-one will even know we were ever here. Then and now human beings longed to be able to ascend out of their finite, mortal life, and merge with God’s beautiful life in some sense. But many wise minds understood that the limitations that beset human existence meant that we could not arrive in such a glorious state by our own efforts. However, if God had performed the feat of bringing himself and human beings together in the form of the man Jesus, then it was a sign, a prophetic declaration, of what might be possible for all
human beings by God’s grace. Athanasius interpreted the scriptures’ declarations of God’s intent to rescue his people as his reaching down into the created order so that the created order might be brought up to God via the one we know as Jesus Christ. Human kind thereby might be offered the salvation from the tragedy of being just human, with all its attendant weaknesses and pains, that it always wanted; we might be being, in some sense, offered the facility to ascending to some God-like state ourselves – not to become God himself but to assume the image of God that was from the first our potential. But for all this to be an article of faith on which to build a new life, Athanasius knew that Jesus had had to have been both fully human and fully God – that which, of course, Arius and his followers were denying.

 

 

 

From this battle of ideas (and not a little physical force), there eventually emerged the beginnings of the Nicene Creed, named after the council that determined its form, the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. This marked the victory of the Athanasiun group as we shall see. The Creed moved through various additions, notably at the Council of
Constantinople in 381, but was finally completed in the form we have it today, and sanctioned as the orthodox belief of the Christian Church, at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD.

 

 

 

Let us move, then, through some of the first sections of the Creed and analyse these in some detail in order to understand something of the belief that the early church was attempting to project.

 

 

 

‘I believe’

 

We have already said that the Latin term for ‘I believe’ is Credo, from which the term Creed derives. Nowadays we recite the first two words of the Nicene Creed as ‘We believe’, in order to emphasise this as a declaration of belief on the part of the whole church.

 

‘One
God’

 

The
early church’s emphasis upon a belief in one God had to do with following out the Jewish beliefs of their Lord, and this put Judaism and early Christianity at odds with the pagan world and its frequent assertion of the presence of many gods. Christianity, then, was a ‘monotheistic’ religion (believing in one God), as opposed to polytheistic belief (believing in many gods).

 

Belief in the one God also held the implication that there was one truth. This was because one of the ways in which God was understood, as we have said, was as ultimate truth, as well as ultimate goodness, beauty and, of course, as love. Now history would come to show that there was a latent danger in this notion. Through the ages various groups have asserted that there is one God, one truth, and more
worryingly, that they know precisely what it is. We have seen in our time that there are people who claim that they have ‘the truth’ – the Christian truth, the Islamic truth, the Orthodox Judaic truth – and that since consequently everyone else is wrong the monotheists find it difficult to listen or appreciate any other perspective. If such people are relatively powerless these views are merely irksome; if such people have power they can be prone to thinking that they have the right to violently subjugate any different ideas concerning what the truth may be, and of course the people who hold them. The violent crushing of what were considered heretical groups – like, for example, the Cathars (a form of Gnosticism), in the middle ages – or the rise to prominence of such unpleasant phenomena as the inquisition was and is largely rooted in this way of thinking. Anglicans may still believe that there is one truth and that God is that truth, but much of the time they are more cautious about their claims to understand it. It is considered that we are wiser to say that ours is only one limited perspective on God’s truth in Jesus Christ.

 

‘One
Lord Jesus Christ’

 

The early church wished to emphasise that Jesus was unique, and thus placed the term ‘one’ before pronouncing his name and title. The titles themselves are an elaboration of that uniqueness. Let us look at two of the most important: Lord and Christ.

 

Lord:

 

When St Paul uses the term Lord (or rather the Greek term Kyrios), he does not use the term in the most common Greek way. This most often referred to forms of divinity, but only in the sense of a demigod (small gods, more like super-human beings – like, for example, cupid – and this is one of the ways in which people like Arius were led to
suspect that scripture understood Jesus as intermediary between God and created order, not God himself). From the context in which he often places the term Paul is using Kyrios, Lord, in the OldTestament sense where it would have been a translation of the term YAHWEH, the term that refers to God himself.

 

Christ:

This term comes from the Greek ‘Christos’ which as we have seen is itself a translation of the Hebrew term ‘messiah’, or ‘the anointed one’. First century Judeans expected the messiah to be the one who would liberate Israel from oppression, which by Jesus’
times meant largely liberation from the Roman occupation. It was considered, though, that the messiah would not only come from the line of David but would be another David, a king and a warlord, who would liberate people by military force from their external bondage.It became clear from Jesus’ ministry, however, that his messianic
mission was largely about the liberation of people from internal bondage, slavery to sin, which for him ultimately could be considered the source of all evil in the world including those outward evils such as military and political oppression. Connected with this any assault upon external bondage – and much external bondage helps to
imprison people internally as well – would not be violent, it would be through the appeal of reasoning love in action.

 

Another connected aspect of the notion of the messiah had to do with his bringing of the present order of things in the world to an end. His coming marked the end of history as this was described in Jewish apocalyptic literature – such as the prophesies of the book of Daniel, and the Apocryphal texts such as the Maccabees – and the
inauguration of the kingdom of God. The early church, therefore, was in a state of constant expectation; that is, they were continually expecting Jesus to return, bring all current social and cultural order to an end and inaugurate the kingdom of God.

 

‘The only-begotten Son of God. Begotten of his Father before all worlds,God of God, Light of Lights, Very God of Very God, Begotten, not made, Being of one substance with the Father. By whom all things were made’.

 

At this point the creed utilises a Greek term which is found also in John 1:14: Monogenetos Huios which may be translated as “only Son” or “only begotten Son.” The Greek, though, is ambiguous. The root Gen, as found in English words like “genital, genetics, generation,” suggests begetting. However, it is also found in words like “genus” and suggests family, or sort, or kind. Accordingly, we may take onogenetos to mean either “only begotten” or “one-of-a-kind, only, sole, unique”.  In any case the people who framed the creeds can be seen here to be attempting to express the uniqueness of ‘the Son’. Now, we have to look at what such an understanding would have been purposefully setting itself against. The phrase ‘son of God’ in antiquity was often used of kings about whom there attached mythologies concerning their having been parented by a god or simply endowed with divine powers. In the East the title was used for Roman emperors, in the Old Testament the phrase referred to King Solomon where it simply designated a special relationship that God enters into with the king. Israel is spoken of as God’s first born son in Exodus 4 and Jeremiah 9, and there are similar references elsewhere. In Genesis 6.1-4 the phrase referred to angelic beings, and plainly with the ideological battle that had been taking place with Arius (and indeed Arius himself made reference to some of these biblical uses of the term in making his case for Jesus being less than fully God), there was a need for the ‘constructors’ to be plain about where ‘orthodox’ Christianity should stand; they asserted the uniqueness of Jesus’ relationship with God the Father.

The phrase ‘eternally begotten of the Father’ was rendered in an older English translation as ‘begotten of the Father before all worlds’ and without reflecting on this too much people came often to understand this rather simplistically and meaning something like ‘before the galaxies were formed’ or something of the kind, suggesting some kind of temporal event. But in fact the English word ‘world’ used to mean something a little different. It is related to ‘were’ (pronounced ‘weer’), an old English word for ‘man,’ as in ‘werewolf’ or ‘weregild.’ Hence a ‘world’ was originally a span of time equal to the normal lifespan of a man. Often in the King James Version of the Bible one finds the ‘world’ as a translation of the Greek Aion (‘eon’), and a better translation today would be ‘age.’ So here we affectively have: ‘begotten of the Father before all times, before all ages.’ Why is this important? Well, Arius was fond of saying, ‘The Logos (meaning the ‘Word’, a reference to God’s creating Word and Jesus’ divinity) is not eternal. God begat him, and before he was begotten, he did not exist.’ The Athanasians replied that the begetting of the Logos was not an event in time, but an eternal relationship.

 

 

 

The phrase ‘eternally begotten of the Father’ was inserted to attack Arius’s teaching that when it is said a Father begets a son this is simply another way of saying that the Father has created the Son. In the case of the relationship between God the Father and the Son, therefore, this would mean that the Son is after the Father in the sense that a prince comes after the King – with the clear implication that he has less authority – and in this case is also therefore a lesser form of divinity. Athanasius replied that a son is precisely the same sort of being as his father, and as we shall see below the creed includes the phrase that the Son is ‘of one substance with the Father’ as if to fully underline this assertion. He argues that it is true that an earthly son is younger than his Father, and that there is a time when he is not yet what he will be. But God is not in time. Time, like distance, is a relation between physical events, and has meaning only in the context of the physical universe. When we say that the Son is begotten of the Father, then, we do not refer to an event in the remote past, but to an eternal and timeless relation between the Persons of the Godhead. Thus, while we say of an earthly prince that he may some day hope to become what his father is now, we say of God the Son that He is eternally what God the Father is eternally.

 

 

 

What is happening here apart from anything else is that Athanasius is arguing that whilst we may use the language that we employ for reality in this world, also for the things of God, we cannot use that language in exactly the same way for both. When language about ‘Fathers’ and ‘Sons’ is used of God, there may be an analogous relation between God the Father and God the Son and earthly fathers and sons, but it is plainly not an exact relation since we are dealing with a reality that lies outside of time and space. The realities that we refer to with earthly language in the heavenly realms, if you like, are both like and unlike those realities in the earthly realm. And indeed this is something that we should be careful about whenever we are using religious language as it refers to realities that we say transcend, go beyond, our reality.The next phrase is ‘God from God, Light from Light’. Well, it could be argued that here we very clearly see the hand of Athanasius because a favourite analogy of his was the following: Light is continuously streaming forth from the sun (In those days it was generally assumed that light was instantaneous so that there was no delay at all between the time that a ray of light left the sun and the time it struck the earth.) The rays of light are derived from the sun, and not vice versa. But in saying this we cannot imagine the sun without light, as though the sun can exist first and only afterwards the light. The light, in this understanding, is both derived from the sun and exists simultaneously with the sun. Just so, the Son exists because the Father exists, but there was never a time before the Father produced the Son. The analogy is perhaps still appropriate now as comparing the way that we can know the sun only through the rays of light that it emits, with our only being able to see God the Father through the Son; where to see the sunlight is to see the sun Jesus says, ‘He who has seen me has seen the Father.’ (John 14:9).

 

 

 

Then there is the phrase we have already alluded to: ‘of one substance with the Father’.  The notion of ‘substance’ in ancient theology and philosophy was used in a very different way to that way we employ the term now on an everyday basis. To talk about a thing or a person’s substance was to talk of that which was essential about
them, that which made them the kind of being that they essentially were. We retain this usage to the extent to which we still speak of ‘the substance of the matter’, that is, the nub or what is essential about the matter. But in ancient usage there is also something metaphysical, (beyond the physical), about this notion; when they spoke about substance it concerned the essential something that in some sense both went beyond the physical, underlay the physical characteristics of a things, and made the physical thing essentially what it was. To modern thinking this sounds all rather mystical. Indeed in the ancient Eucharistic notion of transubstantiation there is a mystical exchange of the substance of the bread and the wine –  which underlay the elements physical

 

characteristics – for the substance of body and blood of Christ; with the saying of the words ‘this is my body, this is my blood’ (the words of benediction said at the Mass or Eucharist), the outward appearances of the bread and the wine apprehended by our senses remained the same, whilst ‘underneath’ these the bread and wine was substantially now the body and the blood of Christ.

 

 

 

Now the philosophical idea of substance might sound quite odd to contemporary ears but it stemmed from observations of the about the way that we think and employ language. When we think and say ‘tree’ we have apprehended a whole group of combined outward, sensually perceptible characteristics – things such as the bark, leaves and so on, and aspects such as colour, shape, texture smell – which are shifting and changing and accidental (in that they may be found belonging to other objects etc), but we have also, of course, grouped these physical objects together on the basis of something that they have in common – the ‘whatever’ that makes the tree a tree? Is there something that all the physical things have in common that constitutes treeness? And something that thinkers throughout the ages would come to disagree about constantly would be the question ‘Is this thing in common something that is just a concept of the human mind used to help us make sense of the world around us or is it even an underlying something that exists independently of the human attempt to think the world?’ In medieval philosophy this was indeed thought to be the case and thinkers who were termed the ‘realists’ considered that there was some objective ‘substance’ of treeness, or whatever depending on the things spoken about, which was really ‘out there’ external to us and making things essentially what they are. Other thinkers who became known as the nominalists considered that ‘treeness’, ‘dogness’ or whatever were merely features of the way that we think, the way that we categorise and order. Anyway, the crucial thing about all of this is that if you had the same substance as some other thing you were essentially the same thing as it.

 

This, perhaps, makes slightly more sense when we are speaking about human beings in family situations. In the days when substance was taken seriously as an objective underlying reality, a Father and a son were thought to be linked substantially, to be essentially of the same stuff. Now in the background to this debate there was the assumption that reality was divided between created and uncreated substance, and so between that which partook of created substance, and that which partook of uncreated substance. All created things are linked by partaking in created substance; they are created beings like you and I. Likewise anything that participated in uncreated substance was uncreated, not in the sense of not being at all, but in the sense of having no maker and thus no beginning and no end; in other words like God Himself. The question in this whole Arian debate centred upon whether Jesus was of created or uncreated substance. In other words was he ‘of one substance with the Father’ – in the Greek homo-ousios – and therefore the same, essentially, as the Father, or essentially like you and I.  Was Jesus of one substance with the Father? If so essentially God the Father and Jesus were one entity.

 

 

 

The Godhead would eventually be understood in terms of the Trinity: one being and three persons, where person would be understood much more like a different manifestations, or dimensions, of the same being. But here it is just important to note that to say that Jesus was ‘of one substance with the Father’ was a forthright, straightforward contradiction of what was being put forward by the Arians. The Arians
were teaching that the Son is good, glorious and holy, a Mighty Power, God’s chief agent in creating the world, the means by which God cefly reveals Himself to us and therefore deserving in some sense to be called divine, but they continued to deny that the Son was God in the same substantial sense in which the Father is God. Aside from
this aspect of it the Arians could have accepted the Nicene creed and there would still have been a place for them in what might be termed orthodox Christianity as defined at Nicaea. But by this statement that Jesus was of one substance with the Father Arianism was being put firmly outside what would be understood as orthodoxy.

Finally in this section there is ‘Through him all things were made’. We have already said above that the Son is considered God’s creative Word as it is found in John 1:3. It has been argued that the insertion of the homo-ousios clause broke the continuity of the creed somewhat and that this line should have followed ‘begotten, not made’ directly. The two lines go naturally together. The Son is not a created thing. Rather, He is the agent through whom all created things come to be. Inserting the homo-ousios at this point breaks up the flow, and some have argued that the bishops would have done better to insert it one line further down instead. In the older translation, in particular, someone reading the Creed is likely to understand it as referring to ‘The Father by whom all things were made.’ The newer translation, by revising the English wording, makes this misreading less likely.

 

 

 

‘Who for us and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate
by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary. And was made man’.

The older translation has, ‘for us men and our salvation’, a phrase likely to rankle in a more gender inclusive, feminist conscious age. Certainly English has in common current usage the one word ‘man’ to do duty both for gender-inclusive (‘human’) and  gender-specific (‘male’). However, we should note that the Latin has two different words, ‘homo or homin’, for gender-inclusive and ‘vir’ for gender-specific, as also does the Greek, ‘anthropos’ for gender-inclusive and ‘aner or andro’ for gender-specific. It might not be thought unreasonable, then, to establish a gender inclusive term other than ‘man’ in English and translate the Creedal text accordingly. Some people have even suggested the possibility, say, of reviving the meaning of the old Anglo Saxon word ‘were’ (as in ‘werewolf’ and ‘weregild’) which could be used for man in the gender-specific sense. Well it would take some doing. Nevertheless, whilst some may complain of ‘political correctness gone mad’, in the face of objections to the creedal ‘for us men’, the fact is that the Greek and Latin wording here are both distinctly gender-inclusive; they utilise no gender specific term, and so a more gender neutral word might end up being, apart from anything else, is a more accurate translation of the text.

More importantly, though, in this verse we have the central reason for the early church needing to emphasise that Jesus was both completely God and completely man. The ancients, particularly the Greeks, often thought in terms of two realities: the spiritual, or of the mind or heavenly reality and the earthly reality. While the first was perfect and unchanging, without hint of demise or decay, the second, as we also know, was messy, incomplete and subject to mortality and deterioration.  In the first centuries of the Church, as we have already mentioned, there were groups like the Gnostics who considered that the flesh was both evil and not truly human anyway, and spent time either in ascetic exercises (what was often later called ‘mortifying the flesh’: severe self discipline, going without food, human company, perhaps even beating themselves), or in complete moral abandon because fleshly or earthly realities simply did not matter. For both forms of Gnosticism the goal was to ‘distance’ oneself from the body in some fashion, and merge with a completely spiritual realm where all was complete, perfect and unchanging – as they, of course, would then be (We encounter a similar mentality in those who practice transcendental meditation today).

When the Creed emphasised that Jesus was God and man, completely God and completely man, being conceived by the divine Holy Spirit and born of the human Mary, this was a way of saying that God so loved the world, considered the material universe as so worthy, that he would have decided not simply to enter into it, but merge with it and sanctify it. We might say that He had poured himself out (in the Greek kenosis), ‘emptied himself’ into and with material reality. An implication of this which is at the heart of Athanasius’ assertion that Jesus is very God and very man, and which is emphasised very much in Eastern Orthodoxy even today, is that such merging can be seen as God drawing the earthly sphere up into himself not only to demonstrate love of this realm in which we live, but to make it, and thus us, divine.

 
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and
was buried.

With this section we get to the heart of the Christian faith, that which refers to the death on the cross that in some sense is for us. In the early Middle Ages Archbishop Anselm of Canterbury argued that the notion of the ‘death for us’ meant that God’s eternal holiness and justice demanded some reparation for human sin, and that Jesus then
paid the price of that sin with his blood on the cross. No human being was good enough to pay the price, and yet until payment was forthcoming justice would not be served and there would continue to be enmity between human beings and God. Human beings would be cut off from God and cut off from salvation. Anselm saw God as judge and the universe a courtroom; somebody would have to be put on trail and
punished for the sin of the world. Thus it was that God himself determined to the pay the price in the form of his Son1, the second of three forms of expression of the one God which we call the Trinity, and he did so by becoming incarnate in the one we know as Jesus. He placed himself freely into the hands of brutal humanity and this resulted in his being taken to be executed on the cross. Upon the cross it was not just earthly, physical punishment that Jesus became subjected to, but spiritual punishment. The very centre of our Being, which is God himself, without which there is just hell, withdrew from Jesus as He could not even look upon the sins of the world. It is out of this that Jesus was said to cry ‘my God, my God why have you forsaken me’.

It was on the cross, then, that the price was paid, and conservative evangelicals are often heard to utter the mantra ‘there had to be blood’. God required blood sacrifice and Jesus was the one who was sacrificed. In the Apostles creed we say that he
descended into hell, and the church has taught that in some sense between Good Friday and Easter Sunday Jesus descended into hell and released the souls of the damned. Jesus’ sacrifice in paying the price of sin meant the liberation of the human race in so far as God would no longer count their sin against them. He or she who pleaded that sacrifice of Jesus before God, therefore, would not perish but have eternal life.

Another interpretation however is that sin is its own punishment when it is understood as an offence against love and that God had always determined not to hold the sin of the human race against them in the sense of eternal condemnation. The problem was that the human race could never take that on board. They begin with fear in a world of
limited resources and the potential threat that exists from the outside through competition with neighbours for those resources. They do not know what intentions lurk in the minds of others and especially whether others will pre-empt the ambition that has already occurred to us, to monopolise that which we and ours need to live by
force and violence. With this comes the propensity to give up on the possibility of forging security through the establishment of trust and love between people, in favour of the forceful subjugation of threat. It is easier, if you like, to forcefully overpower
another human being, eradicate them or keep them in check if you are able, than it is to negotiate your way forward with them. The latter could involve trusting to the notion that love is potentially present in everything, hoping that such a love can be brought to the surface through the trial and error of negotiating a loving, trusting relationship; opening oneself up and becoming vulnerable in this attempt whilst holding to a fragile hope in the emergence of mutual respect and friendship that can always be disappointed as the object of this attempt can turn against us, crush our love underfoot and even destroy us. In other words we are asked here to undertake a dangerous risk. Human weakness is displayed in the resort to what in many ways is the easier course: violence against God and neighbour. With this it can be envisaged that whatever justifications are selected, however cleverly to absolve the murderer from blame, the
guilt at murder remains together with an inextricably, deep seated sense of being under condemnation. In turn there evolves the sense of being haunted by the ghost of a wrathfully vengeful, assaulted neighbour, and indeed an inflamed and righteously indignant God through such dreadful offences against Love (God is love), and this
serves to further exacerbate fear, defensiveness and so violence toward others which is again enough to drive human beings further into a more profound sense of being destined for damnation. This plainly gives birth to more of the same. The whole business is a hellish circle that seemingly cannot be broken.

Human beings have always had something of a choice for good or for ill in the world though we must not underestimate the different pressures on different people in different places and circumstances to, as it were, go bad. The choice stands always before us whether to run the risk of proceeding as open and trusting and refusing to offer any violence for violence even if it is offered to us, or else close down the potential threat that looms up against us; to put up the barricades and launch defensive violence at every sign of the unpredictable and uncontrollable, sometimes in order to get others before they get us. Such defensive violence consists in everything
from gossiping, carping criticism or character assassination – where some wretch is put down in order to allow us to feel better about ourselves – to physical brutality, oppression, war and murder. All of these take place when courage and faith in a universe of love – which is indeed a risk – is transformed into a failure of faith, nerve, courage, and a closing up into some competitive, offensive attitude before almost everything and everyone in the world outside except, that is, for known trusted friends and family (and often not even they can be trusted).

Throughout the ages human beings have most often chosen the road of faithlessness and rejected love; they have opted for closures and competitive violence. Upon such an orientation has the world and its kingdoms and empires been built, not to mention the myriad of little, everyday abuses, offences and hurts. To opt for such a life
reinforces in others the same disposition and contributes to everybody’s sense that the
whole universe is a violent and frightening place including, and perhaps especially, the one who made it and held it in being. Thus we close ourselves off to God for fear of his wrath and we listen not when he calls out that we are crucifying him through crucifying what he has made and merges with,through every act of self-centredness, spite and aggression that we indulge in. We don’t hear God’s cries of pain, nor his calls to us that he nevertheless wants to rescue, not destroy us. He calls us out of ourselves to trust. This was ever his intention, and if we would only give ourselves up he will love us still. In this understanding the God of love sends His message in the clearest possible form through the man who lived the life of love, who placed himself passively into the hands of sinful humanity, and who allowed his children, us, to beat their fists against him in the torture of cross, offering nothing but love, forgiveness and acceptance in return. This He allows still where there are those who live the life of love and suffer for it. Here there are constant opportunities for the cycle to be finally broken again and again where there are those who, in Christ, in God, will not give like for like in a violent world, but offer to absorb the fear, violence and pain of others meted out to them and offer God’s love in return. In the end the resurrection, in this understanding, is  about the demonstration that such passive absorption of violence into the arms of love will succeed, that indeed love is more powerful than all the violence of the universe, and that new life will emerge from the circle of death.

 

 

 

Now to the phrase: ‘he suffered death and was buried’. The older translation has here simply, ‘He suffered and was buried’ (Latin, ‘passus et sepultus est’). Apparently by the time of Nicaea it was no longer necessary to emphasise, to spell out unmistakeably,
that Christ had really died at Calvary, as it had already been spelt out in the Apostles’ Creed. But it was still necessary to emphasise that this God of the Christians was capable of suffering and death. Earlier in the history of the church there appeared a movement which was known as Docetism, from the Greek verb dokeo which means
‘to see in or appear’.This position argued that Christ was totally divine and that his humanity was merely an appearance. Thus the sufferings of Christ came to be considered more as apparent rather than real, and moreover since God cannot suffer death, so did the death on the cross. And then of course there were those who from the first days after the crucifixion argued that Jesus had not actually died but had simply swooned. Nevertheless, by the time of the Council of Nicaea there was little argument within the Christian church itself that this was the case, and the Apostles Creed with its statement that he ‘suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died
and was buried’, now stood for the faith of the whole church.Thus the bishops decided this did not need to be said explicitly in the Nicene Creed. Indeed there have been none, if any, that have argued that the Creed here leaves a loophole for those who want to believe that Jesus merely swooned on the Cross. So apparently the Nicene Fathers were right in supposing that their language would not be misunderstood.
However, the framers of the new translation decided to make the meaning unmistakeable and have stated here unambiguously that he was crucified and that ‘he suffered death and was buried.

 

On the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures.

Here is the declaration of the new life. Let us just add something about the wording: it is borrowed from 1 Corinthians 15:4. What we have recited above however -‘according to the Scriptures,’ – is the older translation of the Greek and some who have written on the matter have expressed dissatisfaction with this particular rendition since in terms of
modern language it could be misleading. Nowadays when we say ‘It will rain tomorrow, according to the weatherman,’ we mean, ‘The weatherman says that it will rain, but whether he is right is another question.’ And it has been suggested by some commentators that this is clearly not what either St. Paul or the Nicene Fathers had in
mind. So, instead some have said that a better translation would have
been ‘in fulfilment of the Scriptures’.

Christians would want to say something more affirmative than the present wording
suggests. To say in fulfilment of the scriptures is to say that for Christians this is what the scriptures were pointing to all along.

He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

Here indeed is that assertion that love is stronger than violence. On Easter day, of course, we remember the Jesus that breaks forth from the tomb. Ancient literature on a life after death was certainly often quite willing to countenance such an existence, but in many peoples thinking such a life beyond death would not be a bright and glorious existence such as we imagine heaven to be – joy and peace into eternity. Many in the ancient world were influenced by the Greek notion of Hades in which the souls of the dead went on in a kind of grey, shadow existence. This was a despairing place to be and the dead so longed to take on bodily form in the world again that they would take on any position in the world just to get there. In Homer’s Odyssey, the great hero Achilles who was killed by an arrow to the heel at Troy, cries out that he would rather be the lowest servant in the land of the living than king of all the dead. Likewise
the Hebrews spoke of Sheol, and the Psalmist refers to that place insimilarly dark terms – crucially it was a place into which the presence of God could not extend and in Psalm 28 we read that it is that place from which the dead might cry out but God would not hear them. In Psalm 88 the writer declares that the dead are those ‘whom
you [God] remember no more, who are cut off from your care’.

The Christians would come to teach something quite different. Now there is some evidence that the ancient Hebrews were already beginning to suppose that God’s existence and love extended into death. Another Psalmist, writing in Psalm 139, says ‘Where can I go from your Spirit? ‘Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to
the heavens you are there, if I make my bed in Sheol you are there’. The church would eventually come to develop its understanding of the crucifixion and resurrection such that not only was it thought that the love of God did extend into the realms of
death, but that such a love could bring Jesus back from death into life. Where God is there is the potential for life, existence in the fullest sense, thus if God’s presence extends beyond death, so there is the possibility of the fullest life beyond death.

The notion of Jesus’ ascent into heaven and his taking his place at the right hand of God is yet another peace of mythological picture language to describe a reality that is beyond the scope of ordinary language to be able to speak. Paul is quite clear that after the disappearance of the individual Jesus, the figure that walked and talked on the shore of Lake Galilee, Jesus nevertheless was in a sense much closer to all of us. An individual in time and space can only move so close to any other individual or group of individuals, and if a person occupies time and space then they can only ever be proximate to a limited number of people. The idea is that Jesus left mundane existence as the individual but yet remained incarnate as the Word that is the foundation and substance of the church, speaking through scripture, the collective reasoning faculties of the church and its teaching traditions. Since God is both within and without us, and in an important sense perhaps could be said to be more within than without since Genesis says that we are made in the image of God, then the notion of Jesus having ascended to the right hand of God is about his merging the whole church with
God Himself.

 

He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his
kingdom will have no end.

 

The authority of Jesus is crucial, he is the benchmark against which we as individuals are to live and eventually we as a society are to live. The centre of the ministry of Jesus was the teaching of the kingdom, both that it is coming and that in some sense it has already arrived. The character of the kingdom that he preached would be one of inclusion, inclusion of the outsider, the marginalised and the lost as well as those who are already found – when we speak of salvation and who is saved or not, the ones who
really needed and need to be on their guard were those who too complacently relied upon their already being saved.

Jesus represented the life of humble love, which is to say a life of humility and acknowledged dependency upon the Father that through grace he might exercise love of God and love of neighbour. This way of being, if it characterised the life of the
whole community, would present the world with the perfect community, the kingdom. This is the kingdom that the creed declares will come and will have no end. The church, for all its faults, is meant to be the exemplar of such a community, and thus the church is meant to take its position as a permanent critique of the world around it and
thus also remain wary of any form of assimilation. Any social or communal form, any form of political, economic or social configuration that does not match up to the standard of the community of the life of love based upon the example of our Lord, must be challenged.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified.

The words ‘and from the Son,’ are a Western addition to the Creed as it was originally agreed on by a Council representing the whole Church, East and West. They correspond to the Latin word Filioque (FILI = Son, -O = from, -QUE = and; pronounced with accent on the O), and the controversy about them is accordingly known as the Filioque controversy.

 

The Filioque controversy ended up contributing greatly to the tensions that eventually split the church between its western version and its eastern version. Originally, as we have said, the Holy Spirit in the creed was said to proceed only from The Father. However, by the ninth century the Western Church started to add ‘and from the Son’. In Latin this is filioque. It sounds odd to us now but this addition was terribly theologically controversial.  The issue at stake was whether the Spirit may be said to proceed from the Father alone, or from the Father and the Son. The Greek patristic writers insisted that the Father alone was the sole and supreme cause of all things
including the Son and the Spirit in the Trinity. The Greeks were concerned not to compromise the principle of the Father as the sole origin and source of divinity and they felt that to adopt the Western habit would amount to affirming that there were two sources of divinity within the Godhead. The Western Church, however, looked
at texts such as that of John 20 and first 22 which reports Christ as having breathed upon his disciples and said ‘receive the holy spirit’, and concluded that the Spirit is that love that is reciprocated between the Father and son.

 

You may ask yourself ‘what on earth difference does all of this make to anything’? Well, this is not an entirely unfair question. However, we should  attempt an answer. We have said that the concern of the Greeks was to safeguard the principle of the Father as the sole origin and source of divinity. This is not entirely the whole story.
They were also concerned not to reduce the role of the Holy Spirit to being merely the reciprocal, if loving, relation between the Father and Son.

Now it has long been said that the role of the Holy Spirit in Western Christianity is a lesser one than in Eastern Christianity, and the Eastern Church would undoubtedly argue that this greater presence of the Spirit in Eastern Christianity derives from understanding the Spirit as having the same origin in the Father as the Son; the Son and the Spirit are significant in Eastern Christianity because of their origin
in the Father.

Now the Spirit is that aspect of the Trinitarian divinity that works in and through us in forming our sense and understanding to bring us into some kind of synchronicity
with God’s sense and understanding. In other words the Holy Spirit is God leading us to God by employing and rousing faculties and abilities that are always already latently human; the Holy Spirit leads us to God by showing us how to use what we’ve already got in coming to comprehend God’s word and live it out in our lives.  For that reason the Holy Spirit could be argued to be the most humanly empowering aspect of the Trinity. It is through the Holy Spirit that human beings come to comprehend the Word, live it out in their lives, realise the image of God in themselves and come therefore to take on some manner of divine status. If this is so then it is a powerfully radical and empowering notion which, in the hands especially of the poor and the dispossessed, could have massive social, political, and economic implications!

If we are looking for a statement that can be taken as common ground by all Christians, East and West alike, then, it clearly cannot include the filioque. For the sake of the re-unification of East and West, then, it has been suggested that Creed be printed with the filioque either in brackets or omitted altogether, but plainly the latter
solution would not be satisfactory to many in the Western Church. Nevertheless it is argued that the clause can be omitted on the understanding that, while assenting to what is left does not commit anyone to belief nor disbelief in the Dual Procession of
the Spirit.

 

The phrase ‘With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified’ together with ‘he has spoken through the prophets’ was directed against the view that the Holy Spirit either did not exist or was not active before Pentecost.

 

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.

 

In Ephesians chapter 3 Paul says that the secret purpose of the Christ was given to the apostles and the prophets; the wisdom of God was given to the church to proclaim which indeed was also the body of Christ. In relation to this latter point we remember that for Paul the individual Jesus, the man who walked and talked around the shores
of Lake Galilee, had in that simple sense left mundane, earthly reality and yet also remained on earth, in human form, as the church. The church is ‘the body of Christ’, it is the Christ carrying on in the flesh, in history. Thus there is a sense in which whereas
Christ is the mediator between God the Father and humankind, the church is the principal mediator between Christ and human individuals. This is not to say that it is the only form of mediation, and God is capable of choosing what means he will to
communicate to whoever he will.  Nevertheless, after the teaching of Christ to the Apostles, and the pre-eminence that he gives to Peter and the 12, and the belief in the transference of apostolic authority to a new generation after the Apostles on the
part of the Apostles themselves, the church must have a special place in God’s plan to reveal himself to humankind.

The term ‘holy’ here certainly does not refer to what might be generally considered
saintly behaviour on the part of the individuals that make up the church.  It is infamous that becoming a member of the church does not prevent people from continuing to be
self-centred, and generally offensive to God or to one’s neighbours. The
term holy in this sense has the sense of ‘being set apart for and dedicated to the service of God’.To speak of the ‘holiness of the church’ is to refer to the community that is separated in order to serve God, and the sense this has in the New Testament is as being set aside to bear witness to the grace and salvation of God.

The term Catholic derives from the Greek phrase kath holon which meant simply referring to the whole. The Latin word catholicus which derived from the latter came to have the meaning ‘universal or general’. Though the New Testament nowhere
employs the term kath holon to refer to the church as a whole, it uses the term ekklesia to refer to local churches which it nevertheless understands as representing something that goes beyond the local. An individual church displays in its locality the church
in its totality and it is this notion of totality which later thinkers tried to articulate as Catholic. It doesn’t actually appear until the writings of Ignatius of Antioch who was martyred in Rome in around 110 AD.

With time the notion of the Catholic Church seemed to come to stand for the Orthodox Church as against heresy and schism. By the fourth century, and the conversion of the Roman emperor Constantine, the Catholic church had come to mean ‘the Imperial church’ – that is, the  only legal religion within the Roman Empire, and the ground is then laid for the great spiritual-come-political edifice which would dominate the mediaeval and early modern world. This notion of the church had an extremely
outward aspect: institutionalised continuity, display in terms of grand buildings, especially the great cathedrals, a conspicuously robed and separated clergy claiming continuity with the Apostles themselves, and an institutionalised qualification for inclusion dominated by ritual.  Protestant writers would later argue that the essence of the universal Church lay not in its outward institutions but in matters of doctrine and inward faith. Furthermore it argued that such doctrine mattered more than outward continuity.

The term apostolic is also not used in the New Testament to refer to the church, yet its fundamental sense is fairly plain in that it suggests ‘originating with the Apostles’ and is a reminder that the church is founded on the apostolic witness and
testimony.

 
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

 

Under the reign of the Roman emperor Diocletian in the early fourth century, the church came under persecution. This came to an end with Constantine and the edict of Milan in 313. Nevertheless before that time Christian books were ordered to be handed over and burnt and churches were demolished. There were some who acquiesced and
handed their books over and there were others who resisted. Those who resisted plainly came to suffer greatly because of their resistance and consequently their attitude to those who gave in was extremely critical. They branded those who’d given in and surrendered their books the traditores from which we derive the word traitor. Even bishops were among those so labelled, and after the persecution was over certain Christians regarded those bishops as tainted. Furthermore, it came to be considered that such bishops, being tainted, could not preside over effective, sacraments, they impeded the flow of grace and consequently anyone who had been
baptised by such a cleric was considered by the more rigorous party to be in need of a further baptism.

By the time of Augustine 388 this group had become known as the Donatists. These had taken up an earlier theological position that was attributed to the former Bishop of Carthage, Cyprian. Cyprian concentrated his attention on the evils of schism and argued that schismatic bishops should be deprived of all ability to administer
the sacraments, thus anyone they ordained must be regarded as invalidly ordained and any whom they had baptised must be regarded as invalidly baptised.

 

Augustine argued that the power and effectiveness of the sacrament cannot be
thought to be dependent upon the human being administering the sacrament, for this would place too much emphasis upon the human element within the sacramental, salvific process, and take too much of the emphasis away from God’s freedom to act through whichever vessel he chooses to act. He said that there can be only one baptism,and its administration and effectiveness cannot be dependent on the
moral or religious standing of either the one who administers the baptism or the one who receives it.The Nicene Creed already makes this assertion when it considers that there is only ‘one baptism for the forgiveness of sins’.

We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.

 

This is plainly the most important horizon for a Christian throughout their lives. As Paul says, if there is no resurrection of the dead then we are wasting our time and we all ought to go home. For if there is no resurrection from the dead, then Jesus did not rise
from the dead, and if Jesus did not rise from the dead then we are still cut off from God and unable to realise God in ourselves through God’s grace. But of course Paul goes on to say that Christ did rise from the dead and that therefore Christians can look toward the realisation of the image of God in themselves and the life everlasting in the kingdom (See 1 Corinthians chapter 15).

 
1
Note here that if
the Arians were correct then not God himself but some higher created
being is butchered for the sins of the world and this notion of God
sending someone else to be slaughtered like some oriental monarch
issuing a death warrant sometimes rises confusedly to the surface in
conservative evangelical language.

 

 

 

Section 2

 

 

 

Looking at the Nicene Creed through its different subject areas.

1) God

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2) Jesus

 

3) Holy Spirit

 

4) The Church

 

5) Heaven/Everlasting life.

1) God a.God is Love 1Jn 4.16. 1 Cor -13.

One of the ways that we can think God with us, and acting in the world through us, is as love. There are different types of love. There is the type of love that a boy might have for his girlfriend, your Mum for your Dad and so on. There is the sort of love that we have for beautiful things, such as when we say I love that piece of music, or when we say I love that painting. Then there is that sort of love that a mother has for her child, a brother has for a sister (even if we do argue quite allot), and especially God’s
love for us. In fact the New Testament tells us that God is this love. It is that form of love that doesn’t wait for someone to be nice or even nice to us, before someone who is loving acts to be good and kind to them. There are times when we are not very nice but God continues to love us, he continues to act to always do what is best for us. and that is the most important thing about this form of love, it is that form of love that always tries to do what is best for the person that is loved, however they are acting toward us or anyone else.

 

So when we do things to make others happy, when we do things to help them, whether that be family or friends or even strangers, we are acting lovingly and in this way we are making God present in the world through us. This is especially true when doing something good or kind for others costs us something. Jesus loved us so much it cost
him his life. John 14 12-13.

ii. God’s love for us this is demonstrated in his giving us the things we need to live: food, clothing, friends and family etc. But he doesn’t just want to give us ‘just enough’, he gives the things of the world in abundance. Matt. 14 13-21.

It is true that there are many people in our world who do not have enough to eat, and live very poor lives, but this is because although God makes the world to overflow with the things that we need, yet some people become greedy and selfish and keep too much for themselves Luke 18 18-25.

iii. God’s love is demonstrated in the gift of God himself come to abide with us (Emmanu-el) in the form of the child in the manger in Bethlehem. God is not ‘out there’or ‘up there’ like some far off planet in outer space. God is with us in the world, he shines out in the beautiful and lovely things, and especially does he shine out to
us through people who are loving, gentle and kind – sometimes that means that he shows himself as us when we are loving, gentle and kind. Luke 2 1-20. Phillipians 4.8.

b. God shows himself in the world.God is not hidden from us, he shines through the things of the world around us. Wherever there is beauty, wherever there is loveliness, wherever there is kindness and love, joy and fun, there is God in the world. If you see a beautiful scene, that is God shinning through; if you listen to a beautiful piece of music, that loveliness of the music is God coming through. Most of all God comes
to us, shines through to us, from people who are loving, good and kind. When you see a person acting with goodness and kindness and with love, you are looking at God in the world through a human being. Of all human beings who can and do love, the most loving, we believe, is Jesus; Jesus, in his words and actions, shows us what God is like. Phil 4.8 Romans 1 19-20

 

c. God as Parent.

 

God is not just our maker, he does not just bring us into being and then leaves us to get on with it like, say, a builder who builds a house then moves on to something else. God is much more like a parent, like a mum or Dad who continues to look after us as long as we need him. God never leaves us even as we grow. He certainly does show us how, in many ways, we can learn to look after ourselves. He wants us to grow to be responsible, mature adults who choose how to live for themselves. However, if we need him, even if we have spent a long time behaving in ways that hurt him, he will come to us and help us again because his love for us never fails. See, for instance,
the story of the prodigal son Lk 15 11-32.

 

This does not mean that we might never be told off. A loving parent loves us so much that they sometimes have to tell us off and discipline us. This is not nice but Mum or Dad or even your teacher does this in order to try and set us on the right road for being the best person we can be; to be the happiest, cleverest, wisest people we can
be. Deuteronomy 8.5, Hebrews 12.6

 

d. We are all made in the image of God.

 

We are made to be loving and caring, creative and clever. The more we
are these things the more we are what we were made to be and the more
we make God present to other people in the world Psalm 8.5, 139 1-18

 

 

 

2) Jesus

 

Let us begin thinking about Jesus by thinking about the world that Jesus
was born into.

 

a. The people wait for someone to save them.

 

The people of that world were longing for a messiah, someone to rescue them from all their enemies and all the things they had to struggle against. The people were looking forward to the coming of a messiah/saviour/rescuer because:
i. Many people who strived to be really good people realise just how hard it is to be good people. It seems that everyone has accumulated so many bad habits of thinking, speaking and acting throughout their lives – especially selfishness -and those are such powerful influences making people often act in bad ways even if they deeply want to be good people People wonder, with all these difficulties, whether it is ever really possible for human beings to change themselves and make themselves better people. It is then that they start to believe that only God could really make them be the people
that God has wanted them to be from the beginning. People who work very hard to be good are more aware of the bad things they do than anyone else, they often realise more than anyone that there is a big gap between the person that they are and the person that they realise they should be and that they don’t have the power to make that gap smaller. [We might encourage the children to understand this better by making a comparison with the ways in which people make New Year resolutions. People decide that this year they are going to eat less fat, to exercise more and to be nicer to the people around them. Very often they find themselves failing within the first week of trying and get so fed up with themselves that they can end up giving up
trying altogether].

ii. More importantly perhaps people longed for the saviour because living in poverty,
under injustice, brutal repression etc it is natural for people to long for someone to set them free. People in the ancient world often associated great leaders who who lead their people to freedom, protect them from their enemies, maintain peace, as having an especially close relation to God. To do what they are able to do it is thought that they must have an especial dose of the power of God. Sometimes great leaders, kings and emperors were even called gods. In ancient Israel the people, who had been invaded and oppressed by foreign armies for so long (at the time of Jesus this was the
Romans), looked forward to someone who would be Emmanu-el, or ‘God with us’ and come to free them from their enemies. Here, in the following passage from the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah sees that a great leader shall come to set his people free: Is 9 2-7

 

b. The birth of Jesus

 

[Here We obviously should cover the annunciation of the birth by the angel
Gabriel to Mary etc, The journey to Bethlehem, the birth of the baby
in the manger, the announcement to the shepherds: Luke 2]

 

c. Jesus as the light of God in the world

 
i. In epiphany we remember God’s light in the world shining through various signs that point toward Jesus as ‘God with us’ Emmanu-el. There are two stories that tell us about God’s power shown through Jesus Jn 2,1-12 (the wedding feast at Cana where Jesus does the first of his miracles), Mark 1 9-11 (Jesus is Baptised, the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descends upon him and people hear God.say,’this is my son’). These show us that Jesus is the one sent by God to be our saviour.

 
ii. Then there is the story of the three kings, which story is actually, in the New
Testament, not about kings but about wise men, probably from Persia. They were called ‘magi’ and were thinking men from a religion known as Zoroastrianism. These were astrologers, they studied the movements of the stars which they thought had meanings for the whole world. If a special star appeared in the night sky peculiarly brightly, for instance, they thought that this must mean something on earth, they
thought something special might happen. In this case they saw a star which they believed, from ancient prophecies which they studied, to be a sign that a great person was about to arrive on earth. They followed this star to the Bethlehem stable and discovered that person to be the baby Jesus.

 

The story of the three wise men is a Christmas theme to be sure, but it is also an Epiphany theme where it plays a much more important role. Epiphany begins on January 6th and it is often understood as standing for the end of Christmas although in the Eastern Orthodox Christian Church that is the time when people give each other presents and celebrate in the way that we do at Christmas.  The word Epiphany
comes from the Greek word epiphanos which means ‘manifestation’ or ‘shining out’. It is that season in which we celebrate the stories of those people who saw in Jesus that he was to be God’s rescuer of all of us from our troubles and hurts, or when Jesus does something that shows us that he is the one sent by God to free us, who for us is
indeed ‘God with us’. The story of the three kings is an important story also in that the magi who sought for God’s messiah are of another faith then Jewish  (messiah meaning ‘the anointed one’ but perhaps is better understood as anointed to be God’s rescuer. Messiah is Hebrew, Christ is Greek hence Jesus Christ is Jesus the
anointed one, or Jesus the saver/rescuer etc). In other words it is therefore a story of how Jesus is for everyone of whatever faith. He is the answer to the longing that all faiths have in various ways, for God to come and rescue us from all our woes. It is probably also important to say that Jesus being for every religion doesn’t make
other religions wrong so much as that God’s love is on its way to you whoever you are and whatever you believe, if you want God’s love.

 
d.The teachings of Jesus:

 
i. Jesus talksof God as ‘abba’ which is an Aramaic word (Aramaic is a language, rather like Hebrew, that Jesus spoke and so also many people of Jesus’ time). It
means something like ‘Father’ but isn’t as formal as the word father is to us when, say, we address our Dads’ as father- “father may I have a drink’, would sound really quite formal to us. It is a word that stands for a caring parent who we must respect, but also
one who delights in us, laughs and plays with us, and doesn’t have the sort of starchy, stiff relation to us that calling our Dads ‘father’ would suggest.

This Dad also knows when we are sad, fearful, hurt and crying, and he hears us when we call out to him. Here, in this passage, Jesus calls out to his abba whilst he is
deeply hurt and afraid in the garden of Gethsemane because he knows that some temple people are coming to take him and try to kill him. Mark 14 36. He knows what you need and loves to give you good things Matt 6 25-26, Matt 7 7-11.

 
ii. Jesus teaches us that God loves us unconditionally. In other words you don’t have to be good, you don’t have to be particularly clever and you don’t have to have other people consider you to be pretty or handsome, you just have to be you. God loves you as you. He might want you to be good and kind to the people around you, but he
does not wait for you to be good before he loves you; he always loves you already Matt 6 25-26

 

God will always love you even when you you’ve done something that you are ashamed off, there is always room in God’s arms for you. Our job is just to work throughout our life simply to trust that we are always loved.  There are allot of people in the world who feel bad about themselves because of the way they look or because, they have
done something they think is so bad that they can’t believe anyone will ever like them let alone love them again. This makes them angry and depressed. But Jesus and the apostle Paul both say that there is nothing you or I can do to make God not love us any more and he will always be there to do whatever is necessary to bring us back to
happiness and health in mind, body and spirit.

 
iii. Jesus teaches us to love God and each other just as God loves us. This means that we should strive to be good and kind to all the people around us and that even means, sometimes, people who are not very nice to us. If you hurt people who hurt you, all you do is encourage them to dislike you more and to wait for a moment when they can hurt you again. If you are kind to people who are unkind to you, you can encourage them to feel bad about hurting you, you can encourage them to see you
differently, to like you and perhaps one day to turn an enemy into a friend.

 
iv. Jesus teaches us that we must trust that God, so that when life is hard, or maybe we are frightened by some of the things that we see on the news and we feel like the world is just full of bullies, nasty and violent people, nevertheless God is still in charge and one day He will bring heaven and earth together, and all sickness, hurt and crying will be brought to an end. God will save us all to live in his kingdom. When our lives are a struggle and we feel like everyone and everything is against us, we must pray to God for his help and his encouragement and confidence that all will be well. We might want everything to be better right now and it just isn’t, we must learn for and pray for patience. Ultimately, however things may seem, as the Lord’s Prayer tells us, God’s will, will be done ‘on earth as it is in heaven’. Rom 8 28.

 

c. The death of Jesus
i Many people are not good and kind to others, all of us are like this to some
extent from time to time. People do not love as they ought, ignoring God and the people around them and just worrying about themselves and what they think they need. Real happiness comes as much, if not more, from the things we do for others rather than always just doing things for ourselves. And so people are often not just selfish but deep down unhappy. They try to make up for this by having lots and lots of
things, maybe chase better and better jobs, but however much they have it is never enough to make up for the hole inside them. And so many people, much of the time, are often dissatisfied, angry and bitter inside.

 

Instead of giving thanks to God for the things and people around them, the selfishness in people often makes them angry and bitter with these because those people and things simply don’t bring them the happiness they long for. They are often unhappy with themselves because they never seem to achieve enough to make them satisfied. They also know deep down that they’re not the people that they ought to be, so they
become disappointed with themselves: what they’ve not managed to achieve whether that is to be a better or more successful people.

 

So, where does all this crossness go? What do people do with it? Well, often cross and angry people can’t face blaming themselves for their own problems so they turn their anger outwards onto others, they lash out at others as though it is all other people’s fault. Such people particularly pick on others who are different, or just an easy
target. Sometimes whole communities of angry, discontented people gang up on others and take out their anger with themselves and their lives, on those others. They make other people take the blame for the badness of their lives and the badness they think of in themselves. What makes all of this worse is that having poured all their hate out of themselves and onto someone else, deep down they know this is wrong and again, deep down they feel bad about themselves and deserving of punishment.

 
ii.When Jesus came he almost volunteered to let himself be the one that people took their anger out on. It is almost as if he said: ‘if you want to take your anger out on anyone, take it out on me. So they beat Jesus, tortured him and nailed him to a cross for the things they deep down thought were bad about them and their lives.

 

Now, normally, when we are nasty to someone, they are nasty back. In a funny sort of way, if we are the one’s doing the hurting, this helps us because we feel right to dislike the person who is being nasty back. You hit me and I’m angry so I hit you back, your now even more hurt and angry so go and hit someone else, he is hurt so hits another
person, and so it goes on until everyone is hurt, angry and hates everyone else – where does all this stop?

 

But Jesus, though he was beaten, tortured and left to die because of other people’s anger, frustration, dissatisfaction with their own lives and fear of punishment, did not hate the people who did that to him. In fact Jesus forgave them, and continued to love the people who persecuted him. Some who saw this, and many who have thought about this in the 2000 years since, have realised how our sins hurt others in this way. And seeing this they’ve said sorry to God – who loves them still despite how they might have been like this to others – and striven to lead lives in which they are gentle, kind, loving and forgiving of others instead.

 

Those people who have really thought about what happened to Jesus over the
years have realised what a terrible thing it is to take out our self hatred on others, yet how wonderful it is that God’s love is bigger than all the anger and hatred in the world. Jesus shows us what God is like. If Jesus, who is God as a human being, can love us, love the people who hung him on the cross, even when he is on the cross, then
God.’s love must be greater than all the hatred and anger in the world. People have learnt from the story of Jesus’ death that God loves us even though we all do these horrible things to other people, even having put God in pain and hurt as Jesus on the
cross. He wants us to see what we do to others out of our pain and hurt, how we make others hurt for our sins, he wants us to change, to turn our lives around and learn from God in Jesus how to be good, and kind and loving to others. 1 Peter 3 8-18, and 21-25.

 

d.Jesus rises from the dead.

 

Probably the greatest and most exciting part of the whole Christian story is that of the day that Mary Magdalene went to the tomb that Jesus had been laid in and found the tomb empty. Matt 28 1-10. Luke 24. 1-19,

 

All true love helps to bring new life. Your life at one particular time may be really hard and you may feel down and and like there is no moving forward, no way out. But when someone loves you and believes in you that can change everything. When someone loves you in that way you feel re-empowered, revived and we talk about someone like this as having a new lease of life. God not only loves, he is Love, and that is love that is so powerful that it can even make even someone who is dead, live again.

 

Before Jesus’ time there were many people who believed in life after death, but who thought that the place that you went was a very sad, grey place called Sheol. They thought that it was grey and sad because it was a place that God’s love did not reach into. When Jesus rose from the dead he showed that God’s Love was with us even in death and he said that such a Love is so powerful that it makes someone who is dead, live and would take us all to what he called paradise. Whoever we are and whatever we have done, God’s Love is so great it will transform us and make us fit for heaven, even transforming us from death to new, eternal life in heaven and the kingdom of God.

 

The story of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is not just about change after people have died. God as Love can change us in this life as well as after this life. If we listen to God through what Jesus has taught us, and we pray for his Holy Spirit to lead us from within, we can keep changing for the better throughout our lives. We all have
tendencies toward being selfish and looking after ourselves rather than thinking enough about other people’s needs rather than our own, or what God wants of us. But God can make that old selfish us die away, bit at a time, and make the new good, kind and gentle us rise up in its place.

 

 

 

3) Holy Spirit

 

a. We believe that God our Father speaks to us through Jesus and the Holy Spirit. In the Bible the Holy Spirit came to Jesus’ disciples after Jesus Himself was taken up into heaven. Acts 1.8.Jesus talks about the Holy Spirit as actually Jesus Himself remaining with us, in us, after the person who walked, and talked and ate with his friends in the land of Palestine all those years ago had gone.

 

The Holy Spirit is Jesus with us now especially when we are sad and alone
and afraid John 14.15-26

 

The Holy Spirit helps us to understand Jesus’ words to us through the Bible, he also helps us to find the words we may occasionally need to speak up for Jesus when there are those people who say his teachings about, say, God being love, or that we are to treat one another with gentleness, kindness and love, are wrong. John 14 15-17, 26. Luke 12 11-12

 

b. The Holy Spirit is also God in us, the power of God in us. We are made to be like God Gen 1 26-27. This means that although we will never be perfect like God nevertheless we are capable of being people who are good, kind and loving, intelligent and creative and are capable of becoming more and more these things as we work and pray to the Holy Spirit for His help.

 

We are wonderful, incredible and beautifully made creatures, we are bright and creative and we learn through time how to use the gifts that we have been given more and more effectively. Psalm 139 14. The Spirit helps us to use the gifts that we have been given more and more for the whole community. Each of us has different
gifts, different abilities, different strengths. We are like different components of one body, with the arms doing the job of the arms, the legs doing the job of the legs, and so on. And because of this we all need one another: for the body to work well it needs all
its different parts to work together, and no one part can do without any others. The arms, for instance, cannot do without the legs, the legs can’t do without the feet, the mind cannot do without he body and so on 1 Cor 12.12-30.

 

c. The Holy Spirit came down at Pentecost on the disciples. They were sad and depressed that Jesus had left them and they didn’t know what to do. Then, it is said, the Spirit came down upon the. Like ‘tongues of flame’, and all present became inspired and praising God. We are told in fact that Peter was able to step out into crowds of people from different lands with different languages all gathered together in Jerusalem for the special feast of Passover, and speak to them all in a language that they all understood, about Jesus. Acts 2 1-47.

 

 

 

4) The Church

 

a. The Church is the community of people who pray for the Holy Spirit to come, to help them to understand what God the Father, through Jesus is saying to them. The Church is the people not the building, and they are the people who try to follow Jesus in the sense of trying to act like he acted: to love like he loved: we are to love God with all
our mind, spirit and body, and love the people around us, even those who are not very nice to us (we must still be good and kind to them), at least as much as we love ourselves. But this is not easy. Sometimes we lapse into our bad habits of selfishness, and very often we feel angry and frustrated that we have failed to be the people we ourselves, and God, wants us to be. Also, being good and kind to anyone, let alone people who are not very nice to us, is a very difficult task. And,  if loving someone is really about always trying to do what is best for them, And, sometimes it is just
plain difficult to know what is best for them. For all these reasons the church prays for the Holy Spirit to come and show us what we are to do, which way we are to go. 1 Cor 13.

b. The church should be like a proper family and the people in it are meant to be
more than just friends. In fact the people in the Church are meant to be like brothers and sisters to each other, and the older ones like mothers and fathers to the younger ones. [This gives us an opportunity to speak about what family should be like and the
realities of family life]. On the one hand family should love one another, protect each other and help each other. But on the other hand people in the church are just human beings like other human beings and they can be selfish and silly, argue and fall out
with one another from time to time just as all families do. They let one another down just as brothers and sisters and occasionally mums and Dads do. However arguments and falling out do not mean that is the end of our loving one another, it just means that we are angry with one another for a while and that we have to work to make up with
one another again. If we pray to God for help he will help us to find our way to make up with each other 1Cor 13

 

c. We all need one another. We are weak when we are on our own, we are strong when we are together. This means that when we do things just for ourselves we might think that we are helping ourselves, and sometimes we really are making ourselves happy, but in the long term we are actually making our lives poorer. In the long term selfishness is bad for ourselves, it could well be that we end up never living as
strong and secure and  happy a life as when we do things for the community of people around us to build the community up. If there are happy and healthy people around us, especially if we have helped them to have become happy and healthy, there will always be people with time, energy and desire to help and support us when we need them – and we will always need the help and support of others throughout lives. The more that we work for each other, therefore, the more we work for ourselves as well because it is good for us if we have around us happy, healthy people. The more there are happy, healthy people around us, the more that we shall be happy and healthy. 1 Cor 12 1-31.

 

5.Heaven and the Kingdom of God

 

a. In the New Testament we are told that there is a first heaven which is the place of God’s love and is that place people go to after they die. It is not the body that goes to the first heaven, but the soul. The soul is different from the body, it is the essential person that we really are. When we talk to each other we don’t talk to a bunch of arms and legs and a body, etc, we talk to Cameron, Jack, Darcy and Paige! We talk to people as their whole personalities, the person who is always happy, likes singing, is crazy about football and Man United, the person who is so often lovely and kind, and
sometimes moody or grumpy – we are all a mixture of good and not so good things. We talk to the person who is somebody’s son or daughter, somebody’s sister or brother or friend, we talk to the people, not to things (even though as bodies we are obviously ‘things’ as well). Our soul is the whole personality that we really are. It changes in certain ways throughout our life as we, say, find new skills, new interests, change our character, and especially as we come into new relationships such as when we meet a boy or girl, fall in love with and become married, or when we ourselves have children.

 

God sees us as the whole person, he sees us as we really are, he sees us as our soul, and he loves us as we are and when we die and the soul separates from the body, he takes us to be enfolded in His love in the first heaven. [These areas are obviously a chance to speak about that most difficult of subjects: death. The children will have
likely lost grandparents at some point. It would be good to tell the story of Jesus’ reassurance in Matthew 10 29-30. Not one tiny sparrow falls to the ground without God knowing of it and caring for even the littlist and apparently the most insignificant of
creatures].

 

b. But God’s plan is not just for us to enter the first heaven at the end of our life on earth. God’s plan is that the first a heaven should come to end and tang a new heaven and a new earth should come together. God is working in the world as the Holy Spirit,
drawing human beings into his plan and getting them to use the skills that they have been given to help him to make the world and even the whole universe perfect, so much so in fact that there would no longer be any death, nor crying, pain or hurt any more. Jesus speaks of this new world as the ‘kingdom of God’, or sometimes ‘the
kingdom of heaven’, a wonderful place that is worth more than all the things that we could come to own in this life, all the cars, all the fashionable clothes, all the houses equipped with all the entertainment TV’s, computers and sound systems, even if we became the rich. Jesus tells us that even if we had all that stuff, if we knew what the kingdom of heaven was really like, we would sell it all to possess that place, to live in it.

 

The kingdom of God is a place where even everyone who has died, as well as those who are still living when all things are changed into the perfect kingdom, are to be brought back into it. People who had loved one another but might have been separated by death are brought back together to enjoy being with one another again. Heaven on its own is just a temporary place, a place where we go after this life
until all  on earth are made well, when heaven and earth are brought together. Then, we are told, in the blink of an eye, we will be brought back together even with those people who we had thought we had lost to death. Then we shall live together for all eternity in perfect hhappiness. Rev 21.1-27. John 14 1-3. Matt 13.44-46 1Cor 15.
429118

 

 

 

The Seasons of the Church Liturgical year and key thoughts to dwell on.

 

1. Advent

 

Read
section
2a, 1d

 

Key thoughts:
Preparation, self reflection, patience, waiting, perseverance, humility

 

Preparing for Christmas by looking at ourselves. Being honest with yourself
about the good things you do and the not so good things. Do we need God
to change or can we change ourselves without his help?

 

2. Christmas

 

Read
section
1a, 1c, 2b

 

Key
thoughts:
generosity, kindness, thoughtfulness, compassion

 

God becoming a human being, not standing far off but joining us in the
world. The giving of presents and God’s ultimate present of the Bethlehem baby. Remembering those who have to go without, who are in trouble, in fear and darkness.

 

 

 

3. Epiphany

 

Read
section
1b, 2c

 

Key thoughts: Listening, watching, eyes and ears open.

 

God is not hidden but shines through things in the world; God is ‘revealed’
in the world.  God is shown to us through Jesus. We too often don’t see what God really wants to say to us through the world as it is: we are far too busy telling God what we think to listen to what he thinks.

 

 

 

4. Lent

 

Read
sections
1a, 1d, 2d, 3a, 3b, 3c

 

Key thoughts: prioritise, self reflection, self denial, sacrifice,

 

We are reflecting on ourselves in Lent and thinking about the difference

 

 

 

 

 

5.
Easter

 

Read
sections
2c, 2d, 5a, 5b.

 

Key thoughts: Love, new life, thankfulness, joy, hope

 

Innocent people can get hurt because we take our hurt, anger and disappointment out on them. Jesus got hurt because of the badness in us, not the badness in him. God’s Love is so great that it can accept us, whatever we have done, when we turn back to him and call for his help. God’s Love is so great that it can bring us new life in this
life, and even bring life out of death.

 

 

 

6.Pentecost

 

Read
sections
3a, 3b, 3c, 4a, 4b,4c

 

Key thoughts: prayer, meditation, thought, peace, creativity

 

We should live all of us for one another, not just ourselves. God’s Spirit helps us to become the wonderful, clever, creative people we were born to be. We all have different special gifts, but these are gifts not just for us to enjoy, but to be used for the good of the whole community.  We all need one another; if we leave someone out,
or if they are hurt we let them hurt alone, that is not just bad for them, in the end it is bad for all of us.

d therefore are already members of the church; they are already included, we might say, in the family of Christ. But often these people were baptised when they were quite young, perhaps they were babies. This means that when they were baptised someone else made their vows for them. Confirmation is the opportunity for the individual to make these same vows for themselves.

Confirmation proceeds by arranging a series of meetings with the vicar or someone else with teaching responsibility in the church, usually between 4 and 6 sessions, to discuss some of the central componants of the Christian faith. At the end  of these there is a special service held, not necessarily in your own church but someonwhere in the deanery (which in our case is the Wisbech, Lynn Marshland Deanery and covers churches in north Cambridgeshire Fenland and into Norfolk). It is a service to which all the people of the deanery are invited and most especially the congregation, the family and  the freinds of the person being confirmed. One of our Bishops (in the diocese of Ely) will be present and it will be him who confirms the candidate.

Here, below, are some notes on the main areas of the Christian Faith that I employ in teaching candidates for confirmation. I have tried to write these in intelligible English but without avoiding important and deep things. Some areas I have explored more deeply than others, but if you find them too complicated then skip over them for now, and if you want to discuss them further please give me a ring (Rev’d Neil Gardner, my number is on this site). The first set of notes labelled section 1 have been written mainly with adults in mind, whilst the second set of notes, section 2, have been written for children of around 10 upwards, but both sets of notes I hope may prove to be valuable to some candidates.

These notes are centred upon the two main creeds that the Church of England utilises in its worship. As we shall see below the creeds are important as condensed statements that attempt to sum up the most important principles of Christian belief and they have been used since ancient times. I hope these notes may bed of some help in trying to understand them..

 

The
Creeds.

The Anglican Church is part of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic
Church, worshiping the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
It professes the faith uniquely revealed in the holy Scriptures and
set forth in the catholic creeds.
From
the Service for the Ordination of a Bishop.

The
Apostles Creed

I believe in God the Father Almighty, 

creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son our Lord,

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,

 born of the virgin Mary,

suffered under Pontius Piilate, 

was crucified, died and was buried;

he descended to the dead.

On the third day he rose again;

he ascended into heaven,

he is seated at the right hand of the Father,

and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

 

I believe in the Holy Spirit,

the holy catholic Church,

the communion of saints,

the forgiveness of sins,

the resurrection of the body,

and the life everlasting. Amen.

 

 

 

 

The
Nicene
Creed

We believe in one God, 
the Father, the almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
and of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God,

eternally begotten of the Father, 

God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven;
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.
for our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son
he is worshipped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.

We believe in one holy, catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

 

The word ‘Creed’ comes from the Latin word ‘Credo’ which means ‘I believe’ and the Creeds that are repeated by the Church in services are statements of Christian belief; they sum up what it is that we basically believe as Christians. We repeat the creeds as a way of reminding ourselves of the most important things that a Christian rests their faith upon.

 

The Christian creeds are most particularly a confession of what it is that Christians mean by God. Christians have a perculiar way of understanding God, most importantly as: ‘in and as the world as well as beyond it” in some sense, and also as in some sense both three and one. You often hear people saying of the different religions, ‘well it is all the same God isn’t it’. But actually whatever God might be in Himself different religions have different understandings of what God is like, and the Christian understanding is a very particular one that the Creeds unpack.

 

There are two main creeds used by the Anglican Church: The Nicene Creed and the Apostles Creed. There is the Athanasian Creed as well but this is rarely used in the Church of England. It is a fair bit longer than either the other two, but we shall not concern ourselves with it for now. The Apostles Creed is the earliest form of creed, though it is thought that it probably does not go back to the time of the Apostles as the name might suggest. In Anglican churches the Apostles Creed is repeated most often at evening services such as Sunday evening Evensong, but traditionally in the Western Church the Apostles’ Creed is used at Baptisms and the Nicene Creed at the Eucharist (or else people might say the Mass, the liturgy of the Lord’s Supper, or the Holy Communion). The Eastern Orthodox Church only ever uses the Nicene Creed.

 

In the Apostles Creed God is Creator of the World and Jesus’ relationship to God is spelt out: he is God’s ‘only Son’, ‘born of the Virgin Mary’. He is unique. Then the great acts of his life are outlined: he suffered, died and was buried at a particular time in history (which we know from the reference to Pontius Pilate). He was raised from the dead, ascended into heaven and will come again as judge. This is echoed in the acclamation at the bread and wine service known as the Eucharist: ‘Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again’.

 

When the Apostles’ Creed was drawn up what was chiefly being addressed and countered was the views of the Gnostics. Gnosticism had many different forms but broadly it understood the material, created universe, as evil and spiritual reality as separate and good. Human beings were essentially spiritual ‘sparks’ trapped in a body of flesh. Flesh, as part of created, material reality was corrupt and the prime of object of human life, therefore, was to find its way out of material reality and discover its way back to its true home in the spiritual dimension. Jesus, it was thought, had come as guide on this journey, to impart the knowledge (gnosis means knowledge) that would allow us to become freed of our material selves and so merge with the spiritual.

 

Although there were Gnostic Christians – Paul refers to them in the new Testament – certain aspects of the Christian story posed great difficulties for them because of the repugnance they showed toward the material dimension. They would not, for instance, associate God with creation. Many Gnostics held that the God of what we would now call orthdox Christianity, the creator of the material cosmos, was actually the illegitimately concieved, and aborted son of Sophia, the daughter of the One true God. He was known as the demiurge and was reposnible for creation and the remnant of the spiritual trapped in creation in the prison of the human body.

 

Jesus did not come from the demiurge but was born of the true God and the Holy Spirit), and implanted in the flesh during sexual intercourse between Mary and Jospeph. But it was claimed by many Christians that Jesus had suffered and died upon the cross. However, suffering and death was a characteristic of material reality, it was part of the evidence of its corruption. A true spiritual being could not have anything to do with suffering and death. The Gnostics determined that Jesus the Christ, the true Spiritual Son of God, left his means outer vesitage of flesgh, during the crcifixation and returned to the Spiritual realm.

 

Because the Gnostics understood the material and the spiritual to be opposed to each other in this way they could not accept that Jesus, the spiritual divinity, could have entirely taken on created, human form. His Spiritual dimension could bot be trapped by the facade of flesh. That form must always have been superficial. There is a sense in which all human beings in some sense have their bodies on the outside, at a distance. But born of the demiurge the encumberment of flesh was much more stubbornly attached for human beings until the knowldge that Jesus imparted could be properly assimulated and by that means the spark of the spiritual in them could be released and saved.

 

And so it was that the Gnostics denied that Jesus was truly a human being. This has important implications for Christians because it says that God is not actually with us when we endure the sufferings and pain that often characterises human existence.Thus it is that the composers of the creeds were keen to assert the material aspect of Jesus. And so also, therefore, do we find the creed ensuring that we understand that Jesus was ‘born of the virgin Mary’, that he ‘suffered under Pontius Pilate’ and indeed that he was ‘crucified, died and was buried’. The Apostles Creed deliberately sets out to reject what it saw as the Gnostic error and underline the belief that God became thoroughly and truly a material reality, thoroughly and truly flesh; capable of misunderstanding, suffering and even death.

A look at the Nicene Creed in more detail:

It is important to remember that the Creeds – the Nicene, the Apostle’s and the Athanasian – never dropped  at once complete out of the sky, but were forged in the heat of arguments and debates. In basic terms Christians often found themselves disagreeing over what Jesus actually represented since different people heard different traditions about him. Parties would point to texts and verses, employing in some cases various philosophical ideas to help make sense of those texts, and one of the most important divisions that fell out of all of this was between those who thought Jesus was divine in some sense but also created and not equal to God himself, and those people who considered that God himself incarnated (took on created form as a man) in the form of Jesus the Christ (in the Hebrew the Messiah, both meaning ‘the anointed one’).

 

The church was looking for a statement of belief that all could assent to, but at the same time different parties wished to hang on to certain cherished ideas. When the Nicene Creed was drawn up it was in the light of a controversy that involved a man called Arius (died in around 336), who in very basic terms raised the problem of
whether Jesus was fully God. It is easy in the light of around 1500 of the teaching of the church to think that scripture plainly says so. But for one thing what actually constituted the canon of scripture that we associate with the Bible was not settled until the 5th century and even then it is not as plain on the matter as it seems. Arius and his followers focused in on various anomalies in the texts, certain other implications of the way in which Christians worshipped, as well as taking up what they saw as particular philosophical problems with the idea of Jesus as ‘very God’ as well as ‘very man’.

 

Arius was a presbyter (The word presbyter comes from the Greek presbuteros, eaning elder and these were the forerunners of modern priests), in Alexandria in Egypt in the 4th century. His reading of scripture led him to believe that God the Father, in the beginning, created (or begot) God the Son, and that the Son, in conjunction with the Father, then proceeded to create the world in that order. In other words Jesus was the highest created being, a kind of intermediary between heaven and earth, but he was still only a created being – not uncreated and so not God himself in any meaningful sense. This worried many people in the church at the time and not least because it was a view suspiciously not unlike the theories of those Gnostics and pagans. These held that God was too perfect to create something like a material world, or to be associated too closely with the material world, and so introduced one or more intermediate beings between God and the world so to create without entering into creation’s orruption.

 

But Arius and his followers asserted this view also because they wished to preserve a notion of the mystery and freedom of God that went beyond anything that human beings could think. If we started to say that God was like this or that, judging as we might from the character of the man Jesus, we start to constrict the notion of God in our minds and become in danger of ignoring aspects of God revealed outside of our conceptions. Thus, for example, if we were to think of God as purely a comforter and friend then we would not recognise him when he come as judge and chastiser; if we think of God purely in terms of standard religious representations – in churches and holy places, in liturgy and worship – we would not recognise God when he comes in the ordinary things of the everyday outside of religion. In this way we are in danger of restricting God’s freedom to appear and reveal Himself as he wills.

 

Alexander, Bishop of Alexandria, sent for Arius and questioned him. Arius stuck to his position and was finally excommunicated by a council of Egyptian bishops. He then went on to Nicomedia in Asia where he wrote letters defending his position to various bishops. Finally, the Emperor Constantine summoned a council of Bishops in Nicaea (across the straits from modern Istanbul), and there in 325 the Bishops of the Church, by a decided majority, repudiated Arius and produced the first draft of what is now called the Nicene Creed.

 

A chief spokesman for the idea of the full deity of Jesus Christ (as opposed to being just the highest, spiritual, but still created being) was Athanasius (from whom we get the Athanasian Creed), who was a deacon of Alexandria and an assistant (and later successor) to the aging Alexander. Again there was a reading of scripture at stake,
except of course this time scriptural evidence was put forward to suggest that Jesus was both completely God as well as completely human. But there was also something else, something to do with the concrete predicament of the whole human race.H uman beings had always fretted over the distance between God and themselves – God
was perfect goodness, truth and beauty; He was eternal, immutable and immortal. Human beings were good some of the times, evil at others; they often lied, were morally as well as occasionally physically deformed and ugly, and most of all they were subject to change, decay and death. Human life was and is suffused with tragedy. Because of the threats that surround us we are subject to fear, and because we are morally weak we are often prone to letting that fear dominate us and determine the nature of our behaviour. We abandon the risk of offering love to an unknown stranger, for instance, in fear of the threat that the stranger may hold, and are prone therefore instead to opt for scheming, lying, self protecting and even killing before we are killed. Such fear provokes defensiveness, self defensiveness leads to violent action, the latter to guilt and self justification and finally to a desire to scapegoat others rather than face the sense of guilt that we possess. There is a constant tendency to visit pain and death upon each other in anticipation of the need to save our own necks or to dominate our surroundings so that no threat should arise in the first place and the presence of love in the midst of this can be a reminder of what we did not have the strength to follow out instead. Love must be therefore be vilified and destroyed before it lead us back into the darkest reaches of our guilt and pain.

 

Death is the ultimate mark of our separation from God. It makes us all like sandcastles swept away on the tide. In the end we will be gone and maybe no-one will even know we were ever here. Then and now human beings longed to be able to ascend out of their finite, mortal life, and merge with God’s beautiful life in some sense. But many wise minds understood that the limitations that beset human existence meant that we could not arrive in such a glorious state by our own efforts. However, if God had performed the feat of bringing himself and human beings together in the form of the man Jesus, then it was a sign, a prophetic declaration, of what might be possible for all
human beings by God’s grace. Athanasius interpreted the scriptures’ declarations of God’s intent to rescue his people as his reaching down into the created order so that the created order might be brought up to God via the one we know as Jesus Christ. Human kind thereby might be offered the salvation from the tragedy of being just human, with all its attendant weaknesses and pains, that it always wanted; we might be being, in some sense, offered the facility to ascending to some God-like state ourselves – not to become God himself but to assume the image of God that was from the first our potential. But for all this to be an article of faith on which to build a new life, Athanasius knew that Jesus had had to have been both fully human and fully God – that which, of course, Arius and his followers were denying.

 

From this battle of ideas (and not a little physical force), there eventually emerged the beginnings of the Nicene Creed, named after the council that determined its form, the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. This marked the victory of the Athanasiun group as we shall see. The Creed moved through various additions, notably at the Council of
Constantinople in 381, but was finally completed in the form we have it today, and sanctioned as the orthodox belief of the Christian Church, at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD.

 

Let us move, then, through some of the first sections of the Creed and analyse these in some detail in order to understand something of the belief that the early church was attempting to project.

 

‘I believe’

We have already said that the Latin term for ‘I believe’ is Credo, from which the term Creed derives. Nowadays we recite the first two words of the Nicene Creed as ‘We believe’, in order to emphasise this as a declaration of belief on the part of the whole church.

‘One
God’

The
early church’s emphasis upon a belief in one God had to do with following out the Jewish beliefs of their Lord, and this put Judaism and early Christianity at odds with the pagan world and its frequent assertion of the presence of many gods. Christianity, then, was a ‘monotheistic’ religion (believing in one God), as opposed to polytheistic belief (believing in many gods). 

Belief in the one God also held the implication that there was one truth. This was because one of the ways in which God was understood, as we have said, was as ultimate truth, as well as ultimate goodness, beauty and, of course, as love. Now history would come to show that there was a latent danger in this notion. Through the ages various groups have asserted that there is one God, one truth, and more
worryingly, that they know precisely what it is. We have seen in our time that there are people who claim that they have ‘the truth’ – the Christian truth, the Islamic truth, the Orthodox Judaic truth – and that since consequently everyone else is wrong the monotheists find it difficult to listen or appreciate any other perspective. If such people are relatively powerless these views are merely irksome; if such people have power they can be prone to thinking that they have the right to violently subjugate any different ideas concerning what the truth may be, and of course the people who hold them. The violent crushing of what were considered heretical groups – like, for example, the Cathars (a form of Gnosticism), in the middle ages – or the rise to prominence of such unpleasant phenomena as the inquisition was and is largely rooted in this way of thinking. Anglicans may still believe that there is one truth and that God is that truth, but much of the time they are more cautious about their claims to understand it. It is considered that we are wiser to say that ours is only one limited perspective on God’s truth in Jesus Christ. 

‘One
Lord Jesus Christ’

The early church wished to emphasise that Jesus was unique, and thus placed the term ‘one’ before pronouncing his name and title. The titles themselves are an elaboration of that uniqueness. Let us look at two of the most important: Lord and Christ.

               Lord:

When St Paul uses the term Lord (or rather the Greek term Kyrios), he does not use the term in the most common Greek way. This most often referred to forms of divinity, but only in the sense of a demigod (small gods, more like super-human beings – like, for example, cupid – and this is one of the ways in which people like Arius were led to
suspect that scripture understood Jesus as intermediary between God and created order, not God himself). From the context in which he often places the term Paul is using Kyrios, Lord, in the OldTestament sense where it would have been a translation of the term YAHWEH, the term that refers to God himself.

               Christ:

This term comes from the Greek ‘Christos’ which as we have seen is itself a translation of the Hebrew term ‘messiah’, or ‘the anointed one’. First century Judeans expected the messiah to be the one who would liberate Israel from oppression, which by Jesus’
times meant largely liberation from the Roman occupation. It was considered, though, that the messiah would not only come from the line of David but would be another David, a king and a warlord, who would liberate people by military force from their external bondage.It became clear from Jesus’ ministry, however, that his messianic
mission was largely about the liberation of people from internal bondage, slavery to sin, which for him ultimately could be considered the source of all evil in the world including those outward evils such as military and political oppression. Connected with this any assault upon external bondage – and much external bondage helps to
imprison people internally as well – would not be violent, it would be through the appeal of reasoning love in action.

Another connected aspect of the notion of the messiah had to do with his bringing of the present order of things in the world to an end. His coming marked the end of history as this was described in Jewish apocalyptic literature – such as the prophesies of the book of Daniel, and the Apocryphal texts such as the Maccabees – and the
inauguration of the kingdom of God. The early church, therefore, was in a state of constant expectation; that is, they were continually expecting Jesus to return, bring all current social and cultural order to an end and inaugurate the kingdom of God.

‘The only-begotten Son of God. Begotten of his Father before all worlds,God of God, Light of Lights, Very God of Very God, Begotten, not made, Being of one substance with the Father. By whom all things were made’.

At this point the creed utilises a Greek term which is found also in John 1:14: Monogenetos Huios which may be translated as “only Son” or “only begotten Son.” The Greek, though, is ambiguous. The root Gen, as found in English words like “genital, genetics, generation,” suggests begetting. However, it is also found in words like “genus” and suggests family, or sort, or kind. Accordingly, we may take onogenetos to mean either “only begotten” or “one-of-a-kind, only, sole, unique”.  In any case the people who framed the creeds can be seen here to be attempting to express the uniqueness of ‘the Son’. Now, we have to look at what such an understanding would have been purposefully setting itself against. The phrase ‘son of God’ in antiquity was often used of kings about whom there attached mythologies concerning their having been parented by a god or simply endowed with divine powers. In the East the title was used for Roman emperors, in the Old Testament the phrase referred to King Solomon where it simply designated a special relationship that God enters into with the king. Israel is spoken of as God’s first born son in Exodus 4 and Jeremiah 9, and there are similar references elsewhere. In Genesis 6.1-4 the phrase referred to angelic beings, and plainly with the ideological battle that had been taking place with Arius (and indeed Arius himself made reference to some of these biblical uses of the term in making his case for Jesus being less than fully God), there was a need for the ‘constructors’ to be plain about where ‘orthodox’ Christianity should stand; they asserted the uniqueness of Jesus’ relationship with God the Father.

The phrase ‘eternally begotten of the Father’ was rendered in an older English translation as ‘begotten of the Father before all worlds’ and without reflecting on this too much people came often to understand this rather simplistically and meaning something like ‘before the galaxies were formed’ or something of the kind, suggesting some kind of temporal event. But in fact the English word ‘world’ used to mean something a little different. It is related to ‘were’ (pronounced ‘weer’), an old English word for ‘man,’ as in ‘werewolf’ or ‘weregild.’ Hence a ‘world’ was originally a span of time equal to the normal lifespan of a man. Often in the King James Version of the Bible one finds the ‘world’ as a translation of the Greek Aion (‘eon’), and a better translation today would be ‘age.’ So here we affectively have: ‘begotten of the Father before all times, before all ages.’ Why is this important? Well, Arius was fond of saying, ‘The Logos (meaning the ‘Word’, a reference to God’s creating Word and Jesus’ divinity) is not eternal. God begat him, and before he was begotten, he did not exist.’ The Athanasians replied that the begetting of the Logos was not an event in time, but an eternal relationship.

 

The phrase ‘eternally begotten of the Father’ was inserted to attack Arius’s teaching that when it is said a Father begets a son this is simply another way of saying that the Father has created the Son. In the case of the relationship between God the Father and the Son, therefore, this would mean that the Son is after the Father in the sense that a prince comes after the King – with the clear implication that he has less authority – and in this case is also therefore a lesser form of divinity. Athanasius replied that a son is precisely the same sort of being as his father, and as we shall see below the creed includes the phrase that the Son is ‘of one substance with the Father’ as if to fully underline this assertion. He argues that it is true that an earthly son is younger than his Father, and that there is a time when he is not yet what he will be. But God is not in time. Time, like distance, is a relation between physical events, and has meaning only in the context of the physical universe. When we say that the Son is begotten of the Father, then, we do not refer to an event in the remote past, but to an eternal and timeless relation between the Persons of the Godhead. Thus, while we say of an earthly prince that he may some day hope to become what his father is now, we say of God the Son that He is eternally what God the Father is eternally.

 

What is happening here apart from anything else is that Athanasius is arguing that whilst we may use the language that we employ for reality in this world, also for the things of God, we cannot use that language in exactly the same way for both. When language about ‘Fathers’ and ‘Sons’ is used of God, there may be an analogous relation between God the Father and God the Son and earthly fathers and sons, but it is plainly not an exact relation since we are dealing with a reality that lies outside of time and space. The realities that we refer to with earthly language in the heavenly realms, if you like, are both like and unlike those realities in the earthly realm. And indeed this is something that we should be careful about whenever we are using religious language as it refers to realities that we say transcend, go beyond, our reality.The next phrase is ‘God from God, Light from Light’. Well, it could be argued that here we very clearly see the hand of Athanasius because a favourite analogy of his was the following: Light is continuously streaming forth from the sun (In those days it was generally assumed that light was instantaneous so that there was no delay at all between the time that a ray of light left the sun and the time it struck the earth.) The rays of light are derived from the sun, and not vice versa. But in saying this we cannot imagine the sun without light, as though the sun can exist first and only afterwards the light. The light, in this understanding, is both derived from the sun and exists simultaneously with the sun. Just so, the Son exists because the Father exists, but there was never a time before the Father produced the Son. The analogy is perhaps still appropriate now as comparing the way that we can know the sun only through the rays of light that it emits, with our only being able to see God the Father through the Son; where to see the sunlight is to see the sun Jesus says, ‘He who has seen me has seen the Father.’ (John 14:9).

 

Then there is the phrase we have already alluded to: ‘of one substance with the Father’.  The notion of ‘substance’ in ancient theology and philosophy was used in a very different way to that way we employ the term now on an everyday basis. To talk about a thing or a person’s substance was to talk of that which was essential about
them, that which made them the kind of being that they essentially were. We retain this usage to the extent to which we still speak of ‘the substance of the matter’, that is, the nub or what is essential about the matter. But in ancient usage there is also something metaphysical, (beyond the physical), about this notion; when they spoke about substance it concerned the essential something that in some sense both went beyond the physical, underlay the physical characteristics of a things, and made the physical thing essentially what it was. To modern thinking this sounds all rather mystical. Indeed in the ancient Eucharistic notion of transubstantiation there is a mystical exchange of the substance of the bread and the wine –  which underlay the elements physical

 characteristics – for the substance of body and blood of Christ; with the saying of the words ‘this is my body, this is my blood’ (the words of benediction said at the Mass or Eucharist), the outward appearances of the bread and the wine apprehended by our senses remained the same, whilst ‘underneath’ these the bread and wine was substantially now the body and the blood of Christ. 

 

Now the philosophical idea of substance might sound quite odd to contemporary ears but it stemmed from observations of the about the way that we think and employ language. When we think and say ‘tree’ we have apprehended a whole group of combined outward, sensually perceptible characteristics – things such as the bark, leaves and so on, and aspects such as colour, shape, texture smell – which are shifting and changing and accidental (in that they may be found belonging to other objects etc), but we have also, of course, grouped these physical objects together on the basis of something that they have in common – the ‘whatever’ that makes the tree a tree? Is there something that all the physical things have in common that constitutes treeness? And something that thinkers throughout the ages would come to disagree about constantly would be the question ‘Is this thing in common something that is just a concept of the human mind used to help us make sense of the world around us or is it even an underlying something that exists independently of the human attempt to think the world?’ In medieval philosophy this was indeed thought to be the case and thinkers who were termed the ‘realists’ considered that there was some objective ‘substance’ of treeness, or whatever depending on the things spoken about, which was really ‘out there’ external to us and making things essentially what they are. Other thinkers who became known as the nominalists considered that ‘treeness’, ‘dogness’ or whatever were merely features of the way that we think, the way that we categorise and order. Anyway, the crucial thing about all of this is that if you had the same substance as some other thing you were essentially the same thing as it.

This, perhaps, makes slightly more sense when we are speaking about human beings in family situations. In the days when substance was taken seriously as an objective underlying reality, a Father and a son were thought to be linked substantially, to be essentially of the same stuff. Now in the background to this debate there was the assumption that reality was divided between created and uncreated substance, and so between that which partook of created substance, and that which partook of uncreated substance. All created things are linked by partaking in created substance; they are created beings like you and I. Likewise anything that participated in uncreated substance was uncreated, not in the sense of not being at all, but in the sense of having no maker and thus no beginning and no end; in other words like God Himself. The question in this whole Arian debate centred upon whether Jesus was of created or uncreated substance. In other words was he ‘of one substance with the Father’ – in the Greek homo-ousios – and therefore the same, essentially, as the Father, or essentially like you and I.  Was Jesus of one substance with the Father? If so essentially God the Father and Jesus were one entity.

 

The Godhead would eventually be understood in terms of the Trinity: one being and three persons, where person would be understood much more like a different manifestations, or dimensions, of the same being. But here it is just important to note that to say that Jesus was ‘of one substance with the Father’ was a forthright, straightforward contradiction of what was being put forward by the Arians. The Arians
were teaching that the Son is good, glorious and holy, a Mighty Power, God’s chief agent in creating the world, the means by which God cefly reveals Himself to us and therefore deserving in some sense to be called divine, but they continued to deny that the Son was God in the same substantial sense in which the Father is God. Aside from
this aspect of it the Arians could have accepted the Nicene creed and there would still have been a place for them in what might be termed orthodox Christianity as defined at Nicaea. But by this statement that Jesus was of one substance with the Father Arianism was being put firmly outside what would be understood as orthodoxy.

Finally in this section there is ‘Through him all things were made’. We have already said above that the Son is considered God’s creative Word as it is found in John 1:3. It has been argued that the insertion of the homo-ousios clause broke the continuity of the creed somewhat and that this line should have followed ‘begotten, not made’ directly. The two lines go naturally together. The Son is not a created thing. Rather, He is the agent through whom all created things come to be. Inserting the homo-ousios at this point breaks up the flow, and some have argued that the bishops would have done better to insert it one line further down instead. In the older translation, in particular, someone reading the Creed is likely to understand it as referring to ‘The Father by whom all things were made.’ The newer translation, by revising the English wording, makes this misreading less likely.

 

‘Who for us and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate
by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary. And was made man’.

The older translation has, ‘for us men and our salvation’, a phrase likely to rankle in a more gender inclusive, feminist conscious age. Certainly English has in common current usage the one word ‘man’ to do duty both for gender-inclusive (‘human’) and  gender-specific (‘male’). However, we should note that the Latin has two different words, ‘homo or homin’, for gender-inclusive and ‘vir’ for gender-specific, as also does the Greek, ‘anthropos’ for gender-inclusive and ‘aner or andro’ for gender-specific. It might not be thought unreasonable, then, to establish a gender inclusive term other than ‘man’ in English and translate the Creedal text accordingly. Some people have even suggested the possibility, say, of reviving the meaning of the old Anglo Saxon word ‘were’ (as in ‘werewolf’ and ‘weregild’) which could be used for man in the gender-specific sense. Well it would take some doing. Nevertheless, whilst some may complain of ‘political correctness gone mad’, in the face of objections to the creedal ‘for us men’, the fact is that the Greek and Latin wording here are both distinctly gender-inclusive; they utilise no gender specific term, and so a more gender neutral word might end up being, apart from anything else, is a more accurate translation of the text.                                       

 More importantly, though, in this verse we have the central reason for the early church needing to emphasise that Jesus was both completely God and completely man. The ancients, particularly the Greeks, often thought in terms of two realities: the spiritual, or of the mind or heavenly reality and the earthly reality. While the first was perfect and unchanging, without hint of demise or decay, the second, as we also know, was messy, incomplete and subject to mortality and deterioration.  In the first centuries of the Church, as we have already mentioned, there were groups like the Gnostics who considered that the flesh was both evil and not truly human anyway, and spent time either in ascetic exercises (what was often later called ‘mortifying the flesh’: severe self discipline, going without food, human company, perhaps even beating themselves), or in complete moral abandon because fleshly or earthly realities simply did not matter. For both forms of Gnosticism the goal was to ‘distance’ oneself from the body in some fashion, and merge with a completely spiritual realm where all was complete, perfect and unchanging – as they, of course, would then be (We encounter a similar mentality in those who practice transcendental meditation today).                            

When the Creed emphasised that Jesus was God and man, completely God and completely man, being conceived by the divine Holy Spirit and born of the human Mary, this was a way of saying that God so loved the world, considered the material universe as so worthy, that he would have decided not simply to enter into it, but merge with it and sanctify it. We might say that He had poured himself out (in the Greek kenosis), ‘emptied himself’ into and with material reality. An implication of this which is at the heart of Athanasius’ assertion that Jesus is very God and very man, and which is emphasised very much in Eastern Orthodoxy even today, is that such merging can be seen as God drawing the earthly sphere up into himself not only to demonstrate love of this realm in which we live, but to make it, and thus us, divine.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and
was buried.

With this section we get to the heart of the Christian faith, that which refers to the death on the cross that in some sense is for us. In the early Middle Ages Archbishop Anselm of Canterbury argued that the notion of the ‘death for us’ meant that God’s eternal holiness and justice demanded some reparation for human sin, and that Jesus then
paid the price of that sin with his blood on the cross. No human being was good enough to pay the price, and yet until payment was forthcoming justice would not be served and there would continue to be enmity between human beings and God. Human beings would be cut off from God and cut off from salvation. Anselm saw God as judge and the universe a courtroom; somebody would have to be put on trail and
punished for the sin of the world. Thus it was that God himself determined to the pay the price in the form of his Son1, the second of three forms of expression of the one God which we call the Trinity, and he did so by becoming incarnate in the one we know as Jesus. He placed himself freely into the hands of brutal humanity and this resulted in his being taken to be executed on the cross. Upon the cross it was not just earthly, physical punishment that Jesus became subjected to, but spiritual punishment. The very centre of our Being, which is God himself, without which there is just hell, withdrew from Jesus as He could not even look upon the sins of the world. It is out of this that Jesus was said to cry ‘my God, my God why have you forsaken me’.                                        

It was on the cross, then, that the price was paid, and conservative evangelicals are often heard to utter the mantra ‘there had to be blood’. God required blood sacrifice and Jesus was the one who was sacrificed. In the Apostles creed we say that he
descended into hell, and the church has taught that in some sense between Good Friday and Easter Sunday Jesus descended into hell and released the souls of the damned. Jesus’ sacrifice in paying the price of sin meant the liberation of the human race in so far as God would no longer count their sin against them. He or she who pleaded that sacrifice of Jesus before God, therefore, would not perish but have eternal life.                           

Another interpretation however is that sin is its own punishment when it is understood as an offence against love and that God had always determined not to hold the sin of the human race against them in the sense of eternal condemnation. The problem was that the human race could never take that on board. They begin with fear in a world of
limited resources and the potential threat that exists from the outside through competition with neighbours for those resources. They do not know what intentions lurk in the minds of others and especially whether others will pre-empt the ambition that has already occurred to us, to monopolise that which we and ours need to live by
force and violence. With this comes the propensity to give up on the possibility of forging security through the establishment of trust and love between people, in favour of the forceful subjugation of threat. It is easier, if you like, to forcefully overpower
another human being, eradicate them or keep them in check if you are able, than it is to negotiate your way forward with them. The latter could involve trusting to the notion that love is potentially present in everything, hoping that such a love can be brought to the surface through the trial and error of negotiating a loving, trusting relationship; opening oneself up and becoming vulnerable in this attempt whilst holding to a fragile hope in the emergence of mutual respect and friendship that can always be disappointed as the object of this attempt can turn against us, crush our love underfoot and even destroy us. In other words we are asked here to undertake a dangerous risk. Human weakness is displayed in the resort to what in many ways is the easier course: violence against God and neighbour. With this it can be envisaged that whatever justifications are selected, however cleverly to absolve the murderer from blame, the
guilt at murder remains together with an inextricably, deep seated sense of being under condemnation. In turn there evolves the sense of being haunted by the ghost of a wrathfully vengeful, assaulted neighbour, and indeed an inflamed and righteously indignant God through such dreadful offences against Love (God is love), and this
serves to further exacerbate fear, defensiveness and so violence toward others which is again enough to drive human beings further into a more profound sense of being destined for damnation. This plainly gives birth to more of the same. The whole business is a hellish circle that seemingly cannot be broken.

Human beings have always had something of a choice for good or for ill in the world though we must not underestimate the different pressures on different people in different places and circumstances to, as it were, go bad. The choice stands always before us whether to run the risk of proceeding as open and trusting and refusing to offer any violence for violence even if it is offered to us, or else close down the potential threat that looms up against us; to put up the barricades and launch defensive violence at every sign of the unpredictable and uncontrollable, sometimes in order to get others before they get us. Such defensive violence consists in everything
from gossiping, carping criticism or character assassination – where some wretch is put down in order to allow us to feel better about ourselves – to physical brutality, oppression, war and murder. All of these take place when courage and faith in a universe of love – which is indeed a risk – is transformed into a failure of faith, nerve, courage, and a closing up into some competitive, offensive attitude before almost everything and everyone in the world outside except, that is, for known trusted friends and family (and often not even they can be trusted).

Throughout the ages human beings have most often chosen the road of faithlessness and rejected love; they have opted for closures and competitive violence. Upon such an orientation has the world and its kingdoms and empires been built, not to mention the myriad of little, everyday abuses, offences and hurts. To opt for such a life
reinforces in others the same disposition and contributes to everybody’s sense that the
whole universe is a violent and frightening place including, and perhaps especially, the one who made it and held it in being. Thus we close ourselves off to God for fear of his wrath and we listen not when he calls out that we are crucifying him through crucifying what he has made and merges with,through every act of self-centredness, spite and aggression that we indulge in. We don’t hear God’s cries of pain, nor his calls to us that he nevertheless wants to rescue, not destroy us. He calls us out of ourselves to trust. This was ever his intention, and if we would only give ourselves up he will love us still. In this understanding the God of love sends His message in the clearest possible form through the man who lived the life of love, who placed himself passively into the hands of sinful humanity, and who allowed his children, us, to beat their fists against him in the torture of cross, offering nothing but love, forgiveness and acceptance in return. This He allows still where there are those who live the life of love and suffer for it. Here there are constant opportunities for the cycle to be finally broken again and again where there are those who, in Christ, in God, will not give like for like in a violent world, but offer to absorb the fear, violence and pain of others meted out to them and offer God’s love in return. In the end the resurrection, in this understanding, is  about the demonstration that such passive absorption of violence into the arms of love will succeed, that indeed love is more powerful than all the violence of the universe, and that new life will emerge from the circle of death.

 

Now to the phrase: ‘he suffered death and was buried’. The older translation has here simply, ‘He suffered and was buried’ (Latin, ‘passus et sepultus est’). Apparently by the time of Nicaea it was no longer necessary to emphasise, to spell out unmistakeably,
that Christ had really died at Calvary, as it had already been spelt out in the Apostles’ Creed. But it was still necessary to emphasise that this God of the Christians was capable of suffering and death. Earlier in the history of the church there appeared a movement which was known as Docetism, from the Greek verb dokeo which means
‘to see in or appear’.This position argued that Christ was totally divine and that his humanity was merely an appearance. Thus the sufferings of Christ came to be considered more as apparent rather than real, and moreover since God cannot suffer death, so did the death on the cross. And then of course there were those who from the first days after the crucifixion argued that Jesus had not actually died but had simply swooned. Nevertheless, by the time of the Council of Nicaea there was little argument within the Christian church itself that this was the case, and the Apostles Creed with its statement that he ‘suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died
and was buried’, now stood for the faith of the whole church.Thus the bishops decided this did not need to be said explicitly in the Nicene Creed. Indeed there have been none, if any, that have argued that the Creed here leaves a loophole for those who want to believe that Jesus merely swooned on the Cross. So apparently the Nicene Fathers were right in supposing that their language would not be misunderstood.
However, the framers of the new translation decided to make the meaning unmistakeable and have stated here unambiguously that he was crucified and that ‘he suffered death and was buried.

On the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures.            

Here is the declaration of the new life. Let us just add something about the wording: it is borrowed from 1 Corinthians 15:4. What we have recited above however -‘according to the Scriptures,’ – is the older translation of the Greek and some who have written on the matter have expressed dissatisfaction with this particular rendition since in terms of
modern language it could be misleading. Nowadays when we say ‘It will rain tomorrow, according to the weatherman,’ we mean, ‘The weatherman says that it will rain, but whether he is right is another question.’ And it has been suggested by some commentators that this is clearly not what either St. Paul or the Nicene Fathers had in
mind. So, instead some have said that a better translation would have
been ‘in fulfilment of the Scriptures’.

Christians would want to say something more affirmative than the present wording
suggests. To say in fulfilment of the scriptures is to say that for Christians this is what the scriptures were pointing to all along.  

He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

Here indeed is that assertion that love is stronger than violence. On Easter day, of course, we remember the Jesus that breaks forth from the tomb. Ancient literature on a life after death was certainly often quite willing to countenance such an existence, but in many peoples thinking such a life beyond death would not be a bright and glorious existence such as we imagine heaven to be – joy and peace into eternity. Many in the ancient world were influenced by the Greek notion of Hades in which the souls of the dead went on in a kind of grey, shadow existence. This was a despairing place to be and the dead so longed to take on bodily form in the world again that they would take on any position in the world just to get there. In Homer’s Odyssey, the great hero Achilles who was killed by an arrow to the heel at Troy, cries out that he would rather be the lowest servant in the land of the living than king of all the dead. Likewise
the Hebrews spoke of Sheol, and the Psalmist refers to that place insimilarly dark terms – crucially it was a place into which the presence of God could not extend and in Psalm 28 we read that it is that place from which the dead might cry out but God would not hear them. In Psalm 88 the writer declares that the dead are those ‘whom
you [God] remember no more, who are cut off from your care’.

The Christians would come to teach something quite different. Now there is some evidence that the ancient Hebrews were already beginning to suppose that God’s existence and love extended into death. Another Psalmist, writing in Psalm 139, says ‘Where can I go from your Spirit? ‘Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to
the heavens you are there, if I make my bed in Sheol you are there’. The church would eventually come to develop its understanding of the crucifixion and resurrection such that not only was it thought that the love of God did extend into the realms of
death, but that such a love could bring Jesus back from death into life. Where God is there is the potential for life, existence in the fullest sense, thus if God’s presence extends beyond death, so there is the possibility of the fullest life beyond death.         

The notion of Jesus’ ascent into heaven and his taking his place at the right hand of God is yet another peace of mythological picture language to describe a reality that is beyond the scope of ordinary language to be able to speak. Paul is quite clear that after the disappearance of the individual Jesus, the figure that walked and talked on the shore of Lake Galilee, Jesus nevertheless was in a sense much closer to all of us. An individual in time and space can only move so close to any other individual or group of individuals, and if a person occupies time and space then they can only ever be proximate to a limited number of people. The idea is that Jesus left mundane existence as the individual but yet remained incarnate as the Word that is the foundation and substance of the church, speaking through scripture, the collective reasoning faculties of the church and its teaching traditions. Since God is both within and without us, and in an important sense perhaps could be said to be more within than without since Genesis says that we are made in the image of God, then the notion of Jesus having ascended to the right hand of God is about his merging the whole church with
God Himself.

He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his
kingdom will have no end.

The authority of Jesus is crucial, he is the benchmark against which we as individuals are to live and eventually we as a society are to live. The centre of the ministry of Jesus was the teaching of the kingdom, both that it is coming and that in some sense it has already arrived. The character of the kingdom that he preached would be one of inclusion, inclusion of the outsider, the marginalised and the lost as well as those who are already found – when we speak of salvation and who is saved or not, the ones who
really needed and need to be on their guard were those who too complacently relied upon their already being saved.                 

Jesus represented the life of humble love, which is to say a life of humility and acknowledged dependency upon the Father that through grace he might exercise love of God and love of neighbour. This way of being, if it characterised the life of the
whole community, would present the world with the perfect community, the kingdom. This is the kingdom that the creed declares will come and will have no end. The church, for all its faults, is meant to be the exemplar of such a community, and thus the church is meant to take its position as a permanent critique of the world around it and
thus also remain wary of any form of assimilation. Any social or communal form, any form of political, economic or social configuration that does not match up to the standard of the community of the life of love based upon the example of our Lord, must be challenged.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified.

The words ‘and from the Son,’ are a Western addition to the Creed as it was originally agreed on by a Council representing the whole Church, East and West. They correspond to the Latin word Filioque (FILI = Son, -O = from, -QUE = and; pronounced with accent on the O), and the controversy about them is accordingly known as the Filioque controversy.

The Filioque controversy ended up contributing greatly to the tensions that eventually split the church between its western version and its eastern version. Originally, as we have said, the Holy Spirit in the creed was said to proceed only from The Father. However, by the ninth century the Western Church started to add ‘and from the Son’. In Latin this is filioque. It sounds odd to us now but this addition was terribly theologically controversial.  The issue at stake was whether the Spirit may be said to proceed from the Father alone, or from the Father and the Son. The Greek patristic writers insisted that the Father alone was the sole and supreme cause of all things
including the Son and the Spirit in the Trinity. The Greeks were concerned not to compromise the principle of the Father as the sole origin and source of divinity and they felt that to adopt the Western habit would amount to affirming that there were two sources of divinity within the Godhead. The Western Church, however, looked
at texts such as that of John 20 and first 22 which reports Christ as having breathed upon his disciples and said ‘receive the holy spirit’, and concluded that the Spirit is that love that is reciprocated between the Father and son.

You may ask yourself ‘what on earth difference does all of this make to anything’? Well, this is not an entirely unfair question. However, we should  attempt an answer. We have said that the concern of the Greeks was to safeguard the principle of the Father as the sole origin and source of divinity. This is not entirely the whole story.
They were also concerned not to reduce the role of the Holy Spirit to being merely the reciprocal, if loving, relation between the Father and Son.                         

Now it has long been said that the role of the Holy Spirit in Western Christianity is a lesser one than in Eastern Christianity, and the Eastern Church would undoubtedly argue that this greater presence of the Spirit in Eastern Christianity derives from understanding the Spirit as having the same origin in the Father as the Son; the Son and the Spirit are significant in Eastern Christianity because of their origin
in the Father.

Now the Spirit is that aspect of the Trinitarian divinity that works in and through us in forming our sense and understanding to bring us into some kind of synchronicity
with God’s sense and understanding. In other words the Holy Spirit is God leading us to God by employing and rousing faculties and abilities that are always already latently human; the Holy Spirit leads us to God by showing us how to use what we’ve already got in coming to comprehend God’s word and live it out in our lives.  For that reason the Holy Spirit could be argued to be the most humanly empowering aspect of the Trinity. It is through the Holy Spirit that human beings come to comprehend the Word, live it out in their lives, realise the image of God in themselves and come therefore to take on some manner of divine status. If this is so then it is a powerfully radical and empowering notion which, in the hands especially of the poor and the dispossessed, could have massive social, political, and economic implications!                

If we are looking for a statement that can be taken as common ground by all Christians, East and West alike, then, it clearly cannot include the filioque. For the sake of the re-unification of East and West, then, it has been suggested that Creed be printed with the filioque either in brackets or omitted altogether, but plainly the latter
solution would not be satisfactory to many in the Western Church. Nevertheless it is argued that the clause can be omitted on the understanding that, while assenting to what is left does not commit anyone to belief nor disbelief in the Dual Procession of
the Spirit.

The phrase ‘With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified’ together with ‘he has spoken through the prophets’ was directed against the view that the Holy Spirit either did not exist or was not active before Pentecost.

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.

In Ephesians chapter 3 Paul says that the secret purpose of the Christ was given to the apostles and the prophets; the wisdom of God was given to the church to proclaim which indeed was also the body of Christ. In relation to this latter point we remember that for Paul the individual Jesus, the man who walked and talked around the shores
of Lake Galilee, had in that simple sense left mundane, earthly reality and yet also remained on earth, in human form, as the church. The church is ‘the body of Christ’, it is the Christ carrying on in the flesh, in history. Thus there is a sense in which whereas
Christ is the mediator between God the Father and humankind, the church is the principal mediator between Christ and human individuals. This is not to say that it is the only form of mediation, and God is capable of choosing what means he will to
communicate to whoever he will.  Nevertheless, after the teaching of Christ to the Apostles, and the pre-eminence that he gives to Peter and the 12, and the belief in the transference of apostolic authority to a new generation after the Apostles on the
part of the Apostles themselves, the church must have a special place in God’s plan to reveal himself to humankind.

The term ‘holy’ here certainly does not refer to what might be generally considered
saintly behaviour on the part of the individuals that make up the church.  It is infamous that becoming a member of the church does not prevent people from continuing to be
self-centred, and generally offensive to God or to one’s neighbours. The
term holy in this sense has the sense of ‘being set apart for and dedicated to the service of God’.To speak of the ‘holiness of the church’ is to refer to the community that is separated in order to serve God, and the sense this has in the New Testament is as being set aside to bear witness to the grace and salvation of God.        

The term Catholic derives from the Greek phrase kath holon which meant simply referring to the whole. The Latin word catholicus which derived from the latter came to have the meaning ‘universal or general’. Though the New Testament nowhere
employs the term kath holon to refer to the church as a whole, it uses the term ekklesia to refer to local churches which it nevertheless understands as representing something that goes beyond the local. An individual church displays in its locality the church
in its totality and it is this notion of totality which later thinkers tried to articulate as Catholic. It doesn’t actually appear until the writings of Ignatius of Antioch who was martyred in Rome in around 110 AD.

With time the notion of the Catholic Church seemed to come to stand for the Orthodox Church as against heresy and schism. By the fourth century, and the conversion of the Roman emperor Constantine, the Catholic church had come to mean ‘the Imperial church’ – that is, the  only legal religion within the Roman Empire, and the ground is then laid for the great spiritual-come-political edifice which would dominate the mediaeval and early modern world. This notion of the church had an extremely
outward aspect: institutionalised continuity, display in terms of grand buildings, especially the great cathedrals, a conspicuously robed and separated clergy claiming continuity with the Apostles themselves, and an institutionalised qualification for inclusion dominated by ritual.  Protestant writers would later argue that the essence of the universal Church lay not in its outward institutions but in matters of doctrine and inward faith. Furthermore it argued that such doctrine mattered more than outward continuity. 

The term apostolic is also not used in the New Testament to refer to the church, yet its fundamental sense is fairly plain in that it suggests ‘originating with the Apostles’ and is a reminder that the church is founded on the apostolic witness and
testimony.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

Under the reign of the Roman emperor Diocletian in the early fourth century, the church came under persecution. This came to an end with Constantine and the edict of Milan in 313. Nevertheless before that time Christian books were ordered to be handed over and burnt and churches were demolished. There were some who acquiesced and
handed their books over and there were others who resisted. Those who resisted plainly came to suffer greatly because of their resistance and consequently their attitude to those who gave in was extremely critical. They branded those who’d given in and surrendered their books the traditores from which we derive the word traitor. Even bishops were among those so labelled, and after the persecution was over certain Christians regarded those bishops as tainted. Furthermore, it came to be considered that such bishops, being tainted, could not preside over effective, sacraments, they impeded the flow of grace and consequently anyone who had been
baptised by such a cleric was considered by the more rigorous party to be in need of a further baptism.                  

By the time of Augustine 388 this group had become known as the Donatists. These had taken up an earlier theological position that was attributed to the former Bishop of Carthage, Cyprian. Cyprian concentrated his attention on the evils of schism and argued that schismatic bishops should be deprived of all ability to administer
the sacraments, thus anyone they ordained must be regarded as invalidly ordained and any whom they had baptised must be regarded as invalidly baptised.

Augustine argued that the power and effectiveness of the sacrament cannot be
thought to be dependent upon the human being administering the sacrament, for this would place too much emphasis upon the human element within the sacramental, salvific process, and take too much of the emphasis away from God’s freedom to act through whichever vessel he chooses to act. He said that there can be only one baptism,and its administration and effectiveness cannot be dependent on the
moral or religious standing of either the one who administers the baptism or the one who receives it.The Nicene Creed already makes this assertion when it considers that there is only ‘one baptism for the forgiveness of sins’.

We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.

This is plainly the most important horizon for a Christian throughout their lives. As Paul says, if there is no resurrection of the dead then we are wasting our time and we all ought to go home. For if there is no resurrection from the dead, then Jesus did not rise
from the dead, and if Jesus did not rise from the dead then we are still cut off from God and unable to realise God in ourselves through God’s grace. But of course Paul goes on to say that Christ did rise from the dead and that therefore Christians can look toward the realisation of the image of God in themselves and the life everlasting in the kingdom (See 1 Corinthians chapter 15).
1
Note here that if
the Arians were correct then not God himself but some higher created
being is butchered for the sins of the world and this notion of God
sending someone else to be slaughtered like some oriental monarch
issuing a death warrant sometimes rises confusedly to the surface in
conservative evangelical language.

 

Section 2

 

Looking at the Nicene Creed through its different subject areas.

1) God

 

 

 

2) Jesus

3) Holy Spirit

4) The Church

5) Heaven/Everlasting life.

1) God a.God is Love 1Jn 4.16. 1 Cor -13.

One of the ways that we can think God with us, and acting in the world through us, is as love. There are different types of love. There is the type of love that a boy might have for his girlfriend, your Mum for your Dad and so on. There is the sort of love that we have for beautiful things, such as when we say I love that piece of music, or when we say I love that painting. Then there is that sort of love that a mother has for her child, a brother has for a sister (even if we do argue quite allot), and especially God’s
love for us. In fact the New Testament tells us that God is this love. It is that form of love that doesn’t wait for someone to be nice or even nice to us, before someone who is loving acts to be good and kind to them. There are times when we are not very nice but God continues to love us, he continues to act to always do what is best for us. and that is the most important thing about this form of love, it is that form of love that always tries to do what is best for the person that is loved, however they are acting toward us or anyone else.

So when we do things to make others happy, when we do things to help them, whether that be family or friends or even strangers, we are acting lovingly and in this way we are making God present in the world through us. This is especially true when doing something good or kind for others costs us something. Jesus loved us so much it cost
him his life. John 14 12-13.

    ii. God’s love for us this is demonstrated in his giving us the things we need to live: food, clothing, friends and family etc. But he doesn’t just want to give us ‘just enough’, he gives the things of the world in abundance. Matt. 14 13-21.

It is true that there are many people in our world who do not have enough to eat, and live very poor lives, but this is because although God makes the world to overflow with the things that we need, yet some people become greedy and selfish and keep too much for themselves Luke 18 18-25.

    iii. God’s love is demonstrated in the gift of God himself come to abide with us (Emmanu-el) in the form of the child in the manger in Bethlehem. God is not ‘out there’or ‘up there’ like some far off planet in outer space. God is with us in the world, he shines out in the beautiful and lovely things, and especially does he shine out to
us through people who are loving, gentle and kind – sometimes that means that he shows himself as us when we are loving, gentle and kind. Luke 2 1-20. Phillipians 4.8.

b. God shows himself in the world.God is not hidden from us, he shines through the things of the world around us. Wherever there is beauty, wherever there is loveliness, wherever there is kindness and love, joy and fun, there is God in the world. If you see a beautiful scene, that is God shinning through; if you listen to a beautiful piece of music, that loveliness of the music is God coming through. Most of all God comes
to us, shines through to us, from people who are loving, good and kind. When you see a person acting with goodness and kindness and with love, you are looking at God in the world through a human being. Of all human beings who can and do love, the most loving, we believe, is Jesus; Jesus, in his words and actions, shows us what God is like. Phil 4.8 Romans 1 19-20

c. God as Parent.

God is not just our maker, he does not just bring us into being and then leaves us to get on with it like, say, a builder who builds a house then moves on to something else. God is much more like a parent, like a mum or Dad who continues to look after us as long as we need him. God never leaves us even as we grow. He certainly does show us how, in many ways, we can learn to look after ourselves. He wants us to grow to be responsible, mature adults who choose how to live for themselves. However, if we need him, even if we have spent a long time behaving in ways that hurt him, he will come to us and help us again because his love for us never fails. See, for instance,
the story of the prodigal son Lk 15 11-32.

This does not mean that we might never be told off. A loving parent loves us so much that they sometimes have to tell us off and discipline us. This is not nice but Mum or Dad or even your teacher does this in order to try and set us on the right road for being the best person we can be; to be the happiest, cleverest, wisest people we can
be. Deuteronomy 8.5, Hebrews 12.6

d. We are all made in the image of God.

We are made to be loving and caring, creative and clever. The more we
are these things the more we are what we were made to be and the more
we make God present to other people in the world Psalm 8.5, 139 1-18

 

2) Jesus

Let us begin thinking about Jesus by thinking about the world that Jesus
was born into.

a. The people wait for someone to save them.

The people of that world were longing for a messiah, someone to rescue them from all their enemies and all the things they had to struggle against. The people were looking forward to the coming of a messiah/saviour/rescuer because:
    i. Many people who strived to be really good people realise just how hard it is to be good people. It seems that everyone has accumulated so many bad habits of thinking, speaking and acting throughout their lives – especially selfishness -and those are such powerful influences making people often act in bad ways even if they deeply want to be good people People wonder, with all these difficulties, whether it is ever really possible for human beings to change themselves and make themselves better people. It is then that they start to believe that only God could really make them be the people
that God has wanted them to be from the beginning. People who work very hard to be good are more aware of the bad things they do than anyone else, they often realise more than anyone that there is a big gap between the person that they are and the person that they realise they should be and that they don’t have the power to make that gap smaller. [We might encourage the children to understand this better by making a comparison with the ways in which people make New Year resolutions. People decide that this year they are going to eat less fat, to exercise more and to be nicer to the people around them. Very often they find themselves failing within the first week of trying and get so fed up with themselves that they can end up giving up
trying altogether].

    ii. More importantly perhaps people longed for the saviour because living in poverty,
under injustice, brutal repression etc it is natural for people to long for someone to set them free. People in the ancient world often associated great leaders who who lead their people to freedom, protect them from their enemies, maintain peace, as having an especially close relation to God. To do what they are able to do it is thought that they must have an especial dose of the power of God. Sometimes great leaders, kings and emperors were even called gods. In ancient Israel the people, who had been invaded and oppressed by foreign armies for so long (at the time of Jesus this was the
Romans), looked forward to someone who would be Emmanu-el, or ‘God with us’ and come to free them from their enemies. Here, in the following passage from the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah sees that a great leader shall come to set his people free: Is 9 2-7

b. The birth of Jesus

[Here We obviously should cover the annunciation of the birth by the angel
Gabriel to Mary etc, The journey to Bethlehem, the birth of the baby
in the manger, the announcement to the shepherds: Luke 2]

c. Jesus as the light of God in the world
    i. In epiphany we remember God’s light in the world shining through various signs that point toward Jesus as ‘God with us’ Emmanu-el. There are two stories that tell us about God’s power shown through Jesus Jn 2,1-12 (the wedding feast at Cana where Jesus does the first of his miracles), Mark 1 9-11 (Jesus is Baptised, the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descends upon him and people hear God.say,’this is my son’). These show us that Jesus is the one sent by God to be our saviour.
    ii. Then there is the story of the three kings, which story is actually, in the New
Testament, not about kings but about wise men, probably from Persia. They were called ‘magi’ and were thinking men from a religion known as Zoroastrianism. These were astrologers, they studied the movements of the stars which they thought had meanings for the whole world. If a special star appeared in the night sky peculiarly brightly, for instance, they thought that this must mean something on earth, they
thought something special might happen. In this case they saw a star which they believed, from ancient prophecies which they studied, to be a sign that a great person was about to arrive on earth. They followed this star to the Bethlehem stable and discovered that person to be the baby Jesus.

The story of the three wise men is a Christmas theme to be sure, but it is also an Epiphany theme where it plays a much more important role. Epiphany begins on January 6th and it is often understood as standing for the end of Christmas although in the Eastern Orthodox Christian Church that is the time when people give each other presents and celebrate in the way that we do at Christmas.  The word Epiphany
comes from the Greek word epiphanos which means ‘manifestation’ or ‘shining out’. It is that season in which we celebrate the stories of those people who saw in Jesus that he was to be God’s rescuer of all of us from our troubles and hurts, or when Jesus does something that shows us that he is the one sent by God to free us, who for us is
indeed ‘God with us’. The story of the three kings is an important story also in that the magi who sought for God’s messiah are of another faith then Jewish  (messiah meaning ‘the anointed one’ but perhaps is better understood as anointed to be God’s rescuer. Messiah is Hebrew, Christ is Greek hence Jesus Christ is Jesus the
anointed one, or Jesus the saver/rescuer etc). In other words it is therefore a story of how Jesus is for everyone of whatever faith. He is the answer to the longing that all faiths have in various ways, for God to come and rescue us from all our woes. It is probably also important to say that Jesus being for every religion doesn’t make
other religions wrong so much as that God’s love is on its way to you whoever you are and whatever you believe, if you want God’s love.
d.The teachings of Jesus:
    i. Jesus talksof God as ‘abba’ which is an Aramaic word (Aramaic is a language, rather like Hebrew, that Jesus spoke and so also many people of Jesus’ time). It
means something like ‘Father’ but isn’t as formal as the word father is to us when, say, we address our Dads’ as father- “father may I have a drink’, would sound really quite formal to us. It is a word that stands for a caring parent who we must respect, but also
one who delights in us, laughs and plays with us, and doesn’t have the sort of starchy, stiff relation to us that calling our Dads ‘father’ would suggest.

This Dad also knows when we are sad, fearful, hurt and crying, and he hears us when we call out to him. Here, in this passage, Jesus calls out to his abba whilst he is
deeply hurt and afraid in the garden of Gethsemane because he knows that some temple people are coming to take him and try to kill him. Mark 14 36. He knows what you need and loves to give you good things Matt 6 25-26, Matt 7 7-11.
    ii. Jesus teaches us that God loves us unconditionally. In other words you don’t have to be good, you don’t have to be particularly clever and you don’t have to have other people consider you to be pretty or handsome, you just have to be you. God loves you as you. He might want you to be good and kind to the people around you, but he
does not wait for you to be good before he loves you; he always loves you already Matt 6 25-26

God will always love you even when you you’ve done something that you are ashamed off, there is always room in God’s arms for you. Our job is just to work throughout our life simply to trust that we are always loved.  There are allot of people in the world who feel bad about themselves because of the way they look or because, they have
done something they think is so bad that they can’t believe anyone will ever like them let alone love them again. This makes them angry and depressed. But Jesus and the apostle Paul both say that there is nothing you or I can do to make God not love us any more and he will always be there to do whatever is necessary to bring us back to
happiness and health in mind, body and spirit.
    iii. Jesus teaches us to love God and each other just as God loves us. This means that we should strive to be good and kind to all the people around us and that even means, sometimes, people who are not very nice to us. If you hurt people who hurt you, all you do is encourage them to dislike you more and to wait for a moment when they can hurt you again. If you are kind to people who are unkind to you, you can encourage them to feel bad about hurting you, you can encourage them to see you
differently, to like you and perhaps one day to turn an enemy into a friend.
    iv. Jesus teaches us that we must trust that God, so that when life is hard, or maybe we are frightened by some of the things that we see on the news and we feel like the world is just full of bullies, nasty and violent people, nevertheless God is still in charge and one day He will bring heaven and earth together, and all sickness, hurt and crying will be brought to an end. God will save us all to live in his kingdom. When our lives are a struggle and we feel like everyone and everything is against us, we must pray to God for his help and his encouragement and confidence that all will be well. We might want everything to be better right now and it just isn’t, we must learn for and pray for patience. Ultimately, however things may seem, as the Lord’s Prayer tells us, God’s will, will be done ‘on earth as it is in heaven’. Rom 8 28.

c. The death of Jesus
      i Many people are not good and kind to others, all of us are like this to some
extent from time to time. People do not love as they ought, ignoring God and the people around them and just worrying about themselves and what they think they need. Real happiness comes as much, if not more, from the things we do for others rather than always just doing things for ourselves. And so people are often not just selfish but deep down unhappy. They try to make up for this by having lots and lots of
things, maybe chase better and better jobs, but however much they have it is never enough to make up for the hole inside them. And so many people, much of the time, are often dissatisfied, angry and bitter inside.

 Instead of giving thanks to God for the things and people around them, the selfishness in people often makes them angry and bitter with these because those people and things simply don’t bring them the happiness they long for. They are often unhappy with themselves because they never seem to achieve enough to make them satisfied. They also know deep down that they’re not the people that they ought to be, so they
become disappointed with themselves: what they’ve not managed to achieve whether that is to be a better or more successful people.

So, where does all this crossness go? What do people do with it? Well, often cross and angry people can’t face blaming themselves for their own problems so they turn their anger outwards onto others, they lash out at others as though it is all other people’s fault. Such people particularly pick on others who are different, or just an easy
target. Sometimes whole communities of angry, discontented people gang up on others and take out their anger with themselves and their lives, on those others. They make other people take the blame for the badness of their lives and the badness they think of in themselves. What makes all of this worse is that having poured all their hate out of themselves and onto someone else, deep down they know this is wrong and again, deep down they feel bad about themselves and deserving of punishment.
    ii.When Jesus came he almost volunteered to let himself be the one that people took their anger out on. It is almost as if he said: ‘if you want to take your anger out on anyone, take it out on me. So they beat Jesus, tortured him and nailed him to a cross for the things they deep down thought were bad about them and their lives.

Now, normally, when we are nasty to someone, they are nasty back. In a funny sort of way, if we are the one’s doing the hurting, this helps us because we feel right to dislike the person who is being nasty back. You hit me and I’m angry so I hit you back, your now even more hurt and angry so go and hit someone else, he is hurt so hits another
person, and so it goes on until everyone is hurt, angry and hates everyone else – where does all this stop?

But Jesus, though he was beaten, tortured and left to die because of other people’s anger, frustration, dissatisfaction with their own lives and fear of punishment, did not hate the people who did that to him. In fact Jesus forgave them, and continued to love the people who persecuted him. Some who saw this, and many who have thought about this in the 2000 years since, have realised how our sins hurt others in this way. And seeing this they’ve said sorry to God – who loves them still despite how they might have been like this to others – and striven to lead lives in which they are gentle, kind, loving and forgiving of others instead.

Those people who have really thought about what happened to Jesus over the
years have realised what a terrible thing it is to take out our self hatred on others, yet how wonderful it is that God’s love is bigger than all the anger and hatred in the world. Jesus shows us what God is like. If Jesus, who is God as a human being, can love us, love the people who hung him on the cross, even when he is on the cross, then
God.’s love must be greater than all the hatred and anger in the world. People have learnt from the story of Jesus’ death that God loves us even though we all do these horrible things to other people, even having put God in pain and hurt as Jesus on the
cross. He wants us to see what we do to others out of our pain and hurt, how we make others hurt for our sins, he wants us to change, to turn our lives around and learn from God in Jesus how to be good, and kind and loving to others. 1 Peter 3 8-18, and 21-25.

d.Jesus rises from the dead.

Probably the greatest and most exciting part of the whole Christian story is that of the day that Mary Magdalene went to the tomb that Jesus had been laid in and found the tomb empty. Matt 28 1-10. Luke 24. 1-19,

All true love helps to bring new life. Your life at one particular time may be really hard and you may feel down and and like there is no moving forward, no way out. But when someone loves you and believes in you that can change everything. When someone loves you in that way you feel re-empowered, revived and we talk about someone like this as having a new lease of life. God not only loves, he is Love, and that is love that is so powerful that it can even make even someone who is dead, live again.

Before Jesus’ time there were many people who believed in life after death, but who thought that the place that you went was a very sad, grey place called Sheol. They thought that it was grey and sad because it was a place that God’s love did not reach into. When Jesus rose from the dead he showed that God’s Love was with us even in death and he said that such a Love is so powerful that it makes someone who is dead, live and would take us all to what he called paradise. Whoever we are and whatever we have done, God’s Love is so great it will transform us and make us fit for heaven, even transforming us from death to new, eternal life in heaven and the kingdom of God.

The story of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is not just about change after people have died. God as Love can change us in this life as well as after this life. If we listen to God through what Jesus has taught us, and we pray for his Holy Spirit to lead us from within, we can keep changing for the better throughout our lives. We all have
tendencies toward being selfish and looking after ourselves rather than thinking enough about other people’s needs rather than our own, or what God wants of us. But God can make that old selfish us die away, bit at a time, and make the new good, kind and gentle us rise up in its place.

 

3) Holy Spirit

a. We believe that God our Father speaks to us through Jesus and the Holy Spirit. In the Bible the Holy Spirit came to Jesus’ disciples after Jesus Himself was taken up into heaven. Acts 1.8.Jesus talks about the Holy Spirit as actually Jesus Himself remaining with us, in us, after the person who walked, and talked and ate with his friends in the land of Palestine all those years ago had gone.

The Holy Spirit is Jesus with us now especially when we are sad and alone
and afraid John 14.15-26

The Holy Spirit helps us to understand Jesus’ words to us through the Bible, he also helps us to find the words we may occasionally need to speak up for Jesus when there are those people who say his teachings about, say, God being love, or that we are to treat one another with gentleness, kindness and love, are wrong. John 14 15-17, 26. Luke 12 11-12

b. The Holy Spirit is also God in us, the power of God in us. We are made to be like God Gen 1 26-27. This means that although we will never be perfect like God nevertheless we are capable of being people who are good, kind and loving, intelligent and creative and are capable of becoming more and more these things as we work and pray to the Holy Spirit for His help.

We are wonderful, incredible and beautifully made creatures, we are bright and creative and we learn through time how to use the gifts that we have been given more and more effectively. Psalm 139 14. The Spirit helps us to use the gifts that we have been given more and more for the whole community. Each of us has different
gifts, different abilities, different strengths. We are like different components of one body, with the arms doing the job of the arms, the legs doing the job of the legs, and so on. And because of this we all need one another: for the body to work well it needs all
its different parts to work together, and no one part can do without any others. The arms, for instance, cannot do without the legs, the legs can’t do without the feet, the mind cannot do without he body and so on 1 Cor 12.12-30.

c. The Holy Spirit came down at Pentecost on the disciples. They were sad and depressed that Jesus had left them and they didn’t know what to do. Then, it is said, the Spirit came down upon the. Like ‘tongues of flame’, and all present became inspired and praising God. We are told in fact that Peter was able to step out into crowds of people from different lands with different languages all gathered together in Jerusalem for the special feast of Passover, and speak to them all in a language that they all understood, about Jesus. Acts 2 1-47.

 

4) The Church

a. The Church is the community of people who pray for the Holy Spirit to come, to help them to understand what God the Father, through Jesus is saying to them. The Church is the people not the building, and they are the people who try to follow Jesus in the sense of trying to act like he acted: to love like he loved: we are to love God with all
our mind, spirit and body, and love the people around us, even those who are not very nice to us (we must still be good and kind to them), at least as much as we love ourselves. But this is not easy. Sometimes we lapse into our bad habits of selfishness, and very often we feel angry and frustrated that we have failed to be the people we ourselves, and God, wants us to be. Also, being good and kind to anyone, let alone people who are not very nice to us, is a very difficult task. And,  if loving someone is really about always trying to do what is best for them, And, sometimes it is just
plain difficult to know what is best for them. For all these reasons the church prays for the Holy Spirit to come and show us what we are to do, which way we are to go. 1 Cor 13.

b. The church should be like a proper family and the people in it are meant to be
more than just friends. In fact the people in the Church are meant to be like brothers and sisters to each other, and the older ones like mothers and fathers to the younger ones. [This gives us an opportunity to speak about what family should be like and the
realities of family life]. On the one hand family should love one another, protect each other and help each other. But on the other hand people in the church are just human beings like other human beings and they can be selfish and silly, argue and fall out
with one another from time to time just as all families do. They let one another down just as brothers and sisters and occasionally mums and Dads do. However arguments and falling out do not mean that is the end of our loving one another, it just means that we are angry with one another for a while and that we have to work to make up with
one another again. If we pray to God for help he will help us to find our way to make up with each other 1Cor 13

c. We all need one another. We are weak when we are on our own, we are strong when we are together. This means that when we do things just for ourselves we might think that we are helping ourselves, and sometimes we really are making ourselves happy, but in the long term we are actually making our lives poorer. In the long term selfishness is bad for ourselves, it could well be that we end up never living as
strong and secure and  happy a life as when we do things for the community of people around us to build the community up. If there are happy and healthy people around us, especially if we have helped them to have become happy and healthy, there will always be people with time, energy and desire to help and support us when we need them – and we will always need the help and support of others throughout lives. The more that we work for each other, therefore, the more we work for ourselves as well because it is good for us if we have around us happy, healthy people. The more there are happy, healthy people around us, the more that we shall be happy and healthy. 1 Cor 12 1-31.

5.Heaven and the Kingdom of God

a. In the New Testament we are told that there is a first heaven which is the place of God’s love and is that place people go to after they die. It is not the body that goes to the first heaven, but the soul. The soul is different from the body, it is the essential person that we really are. When we talk to each other we don’t talk to a bunch of arms and legs and a body, etc, we talk to Cameron, Jack, Darcy and Paige! We talk to people as their whole personalities, the person who is always happy, likes singing, is crazy about football and Man United, the person who is so often lovely and kind, and
sometimes moody or grumpy – we are all a mixture of good and not so good things. We talk to the person who is somebody’s son or daughter, somebody’s sister or brother or friend, we talk to the people, not to things (even though as bodies we are obviously ‘things’ as well). Our soul is the whole personality that we really are. It changes in certain ways throughout our life as we, say, find new skills, new interests, change our character, and especially as we come into new relationships such as when we meet a boy or girl, fall in love with and become married, or when we ourselves have children.

God sees us as the whole person, he sees us as we really are, he sees us as our soul, and he loves us as we are and when we die and the soul separates from the body, he takes us to be enfolded in His love in the first heaven. [These areas are obviously a chance to speak about that most difficult of subjects: death. The children will have
likely lost grandparents at some point. It would be good to tell the story of Jesus’ reassurance in Matthew 10 29-30. Not one tiny sparrow falls to the ground without God knowing of it and caring for even the littlist and apparently the most insignificant of
creatures].

b. But God’s plan is not just for us to enter the first heaven at the end of our life on earth. God’s plan is that the first a heaven should come to end and tang a new heaven and a new earth should come together. God is working in the world as the Holy Spirit,
drawing human beings into his plan and getting them to use the skills that they have been given to help him to make the world and even the whole universe perfect, so much so in fact that there would no longer be any death, nor crying, pain or hurt any more. Jesus speaks of this new world as the ‘kingdom of God’, or sometimes ‘the
kingdom of heaven’, a wonderful place that is worth more than all the things that we could come to own in this life, all the cars, all the fashionable clothes, all the houses equipped with all the entertainment TV’s, computers and sound systems, even if we became the rich. Jesus tells us that even if we had all that stuff, if we knew what the kingdom of heaven was really like, we would sell it all to possess that place, to live in it.

The kingdom of God is a place where even everyone who has died, as well as those who are still living when all things are changed into the perfect kingdom, are to be brought back into it. People who had loved one another but might have been separated by death are brought back together to enjoy being with one another again. Heaven on its own is just a temporary place, a place where we go after this life
until all  on earth are made well, when heaven and earth are brought together. Then, we are told, in the blink of an eye, we will be brought back together even with those people who we had thought we had lost to death. Then we shall live together for all eternity in perfect hhappiness. Rev 21.1-27. John 14 1-3. Matt 13.44-46 1Cor 15.
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The Seasons of the Church Liturgical year and key thoughts to dwell on.

1. Advent

Read
section
2a, 1d

Key thoughts:
Preparation, self reflection, patience, waiting, perseverance, humility

Preparing for Christmas by looking at ourselves. Being honest with yourself
about the good things you do and the not so good things. Do we need God
to change or can we change ourselves without his help?

2. Christmas

Read
section
1a, 1c, 2b

Key
thoughts:
generosity, kindness, thoughtfulness, compassion

God becoming a human being, not standing far off but joining us in the
world. The giving of presents and God’s ultimate present of the Bethlehem baby. Remembering those who have to go without, who are in trouble, in fear and darkness.

 

3. Epiphany

Read
section
1b, 2c

Key thoughts: Listening, watching, eyes and ears open.

God is not hidden but shines through things in the world; God is ‘revealed’
in the world.  God is shown to us through Jesus. We too often don’t see what God really wants to say to us through the world as it is: we are far too busy telling God what we think to listen to what he thinks.

 

4. Lent

Read
sections
1a, 1d, 2d, 3a, 3b, 3c

Key thoughts: prioritise, self reflection, self denial, sacrifice,

We are reflecting on ourselves in Lent and thinking about the difference

 

 

5.
Easter

Read
sections
2c, 2d, 5a, 5b.

Key thoughts: Love, new life, thankfulness, joy, hope

Innocent people can get hurt because we take our hurt, anger and disappointment out on them. Jesus got hurt because of the badness in us, not the badness in him. God’s Love is so great that it can accept us, whatever we have done, when we turn back to him and call for his help. God’s Love is so great that it can bring us new life in this
life, and even bring life out of death.

 

6.Pentecost

Read
sections
3a, 3b, 3c, 4a, 4b,4c

Key thoughts: prayer, meditation, thought, peace, creativity

We should live all of us for one another, not just ourselves. God’s Spirit helps us to become the wonderful, clever, creative people we were born to be. We all have different special gifts, but these are gifts not just for us to enjoy, but to be used for the good of the whole community.  We all need one another; if we leave someone out,
or if they are hurt we let them hurt alone, that is not just bad for them, in the end it is bad for all of us.



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