By Scott Hahn
Singer-songwriter Rich Mullins earned lasting fame with a series of contemporary Christian hits in the 1980s and 1990s. In less than a decade, he won a dozen Dove Awards. His anthem “Awesome God” remains a staple of evangelical praise. Mullins’ early music was influenced by his Quaker upbringing, which was austerely anti-dogmatic, and his “Independent Christian” young adulthood. The Bible college he attended grew out of a movement whose foundational slogans touted “No creed but Christ.”
Reading in Christian history, he was attracted to the figure of St. Francis of Assisi, a fellow poet given to spontaneous praise, a lover of spiritual freedom. Yet, as Mullins learned, Francis drew his poetry from a deep well of Catholic doctrine and liturgy—from a tradition crystallized in creeds.
Mullins’ study led him to love the creeds, so much, in fact, that he enrolled himself into RCIA classes at a Catholic parish in 1997. He died in an automobile accident that September, on the very eve of the day he was to be received into full communion with the Catholic Church. The music he produced in that home stretch shows the change in his interior life. Among his most mature works is the song “Creed,” with its mighty chorus:
And I believe what I believe / is what makes me what I am. / I did not make it. No, it is making me. / It is the very truth of God / and not the invention of any man. / I believe it, I believe.
What was true for Rich Mullins is true for you and me as well. What we believe is making us what we are—and what we hope to be for all eternity. It is a grace from God. You and I and Rich Mullins and St. Francis have been pleased to pledge it, to confess it, in the Church’s creeds.
A creed is an authoritative summary of Christianity’s basic beliefs. In the articles of the creed, we profess our faith in mysteries—doctrines that could never be known apart from divine Revelation: that God is a Trinity of persons, that God the Son took flesh and was born of a virgin, and so on. If God had not revealed the mysteries of Christianity, the mysteries we rehearse in the creed, we could never have figured them out on our own.
A creed is not the totality of Christian faith. It’s a summary that stands for everything that is taught by the Catholic Church, which is itself one of the mysteries we proclaim in the creed. A creed is a symbol of something larger—and, ultimately, of Someone we love, Someone who makes us who we are, by means of creeds and other graces.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it eloquently when it says that we do not believe in formulas, but in the realities expressed by those formulas, which faith allows us to touch (see CCC 170). Faith is our personal clinging to God and to his truth in its entirety (see CCC 150). It is our act of trust in everything God is and says and asks of us. Our object is not a proposition, but a Person. Yet we cannot love someone whom we do not know. The propositions of the creed help us along the way of knowledge, which is our way to love.
The word “creed” comes from the Latin word credo—literally translated: “I believe!” That is the phrase with which Christians have usually begun their professions of faith. There is strong evidence that such summary acts of faith have been integral to Christianity from the very start. Credo (or its Aramaic equivalent) is the word cried out by the desperate father who begs Jesus for the healing of his child: “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mk 9:24). It is the word of the man blind from birth, whom Jesus healed—it is the word that serves as a prelude to true worship (Jn 9:38). Credo is also the cry of grieving Martha; it is the word Jesus deliberately draws from her before he raises her brother Lazarus (Jn 11:27).
St. Paul seems to allude to creedal statements when he says: “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For man believes with his heart and so is justified, and he confesses with his lips and so is saved” (Rom 10:9–10).
In the ordinary course of love, we believe with our heart and confess with our lips. If we live with integrity, there is a unity of our thoughts, words, and deeds—our hearts and hands and voices. We say what we mean, and we do as we say. We “walk the talk.” This doesn’t mean, however, that our recitation of the creed presumes a mastery of material. As Rich Mullins put it, the creed “is making” us. That “making” is an ongoing process. Think again about that desperate father in the Gospel. He shouted out to Jesus, “I believe,” but then he quickly added, “Help my unbelief!” (Mk 9:24).
A creed marks the way of conversion for a pilgrim Church on earth and for each of its members.
Dr. Scott Hahn, Founder and President of the St. Paul Center, is the best-selling author of over forty books. In The Creed: Professing the Faith Through the Ages, learn the fascinating story behind the Creed we profess every week at Mass and how it continues to shape our faith.