The Creed explained St Pauls 2012 £9.99 ISBN 978-0-85439-840-9 159pp
‘God has shown himself. In person. And now the way to him is open. The novelty of the Christian message does not consist in an idea but in a fact: God has revealed himself.’ In these words Pope Benedict summarises Christianity. With the start of the Roman Catholic Year of Faith St Pauls publish his explanation of the Creed which includes such succinct nuggets alongside much more convoluted thinking. German into English is always challenging reading but this volume repays the effort. It has the love of God at its centre, a love that seeks unification and vitalisation through Christ’s self-gift that builds a network of eucharistic communities prophetic of God’s coming kingdom.
In affirming God’s creation the Christian Creed affirms ‘from God’s perspective, the heart of the man who responds to him is greater and more important than the whole immense material cosmos’. Jesus is the ‘exegete’ of God bringing his definitive revelation. The Petrine ministry is ‘at the service of this primacy of Jesus Christ, the one Lord, at the service of his kingdom…of love’. When Jesus meets us he does not rest content there but draws us into his great project of unification. The risen Lord ‘is able not only to pass through closed doors…he can pass through the interior door separating the ‘I’ from the ‘you’… (as) with Paul: ‘it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me’ (Gal 2:20)…his closed ‘I’ was opened. Now he lives in communion with Jesus Christ, in the great ‘I’ of believers who have become…‘one in Christ’ (Gal 3:28). Pope Benedict draws heavily on the New Testament to underline the unity of Christians as prime manifestation of the truth of their creed.
Unification comes at a price. ‘They shall look on him whom they have pierced’. As we do so we gain from Jesus capacity ‘to look on this other person not simply with my eyes and my feelings, but from Jesus’ perspective. His friend is my friend. Going beyond exterior appearances, I perceive in others an interior desire for a sign of love, of concern.’ The Pope reflects much on the paradox of the command to love the invisible God and how generous concern for our neighbours is best evidence of that love in us. Christianity is ‘a difficult climb’ as we seek illumination of our blind ego and head towards the Light of Lights.
I Believe in one God has poetic warmth and depth about it despite being somewhat heavy in its text. The Eucharist as ‘perpetual Pentecost’. Mary as ‘aquaeductus’. ‘Everything in the Church, every institution and ministry… is ‘included’ under the Virgin’s mantle, within the grace-filled horizon of her ‘yes’ to God’s will’. ‘The Church, built upon the foundation of the Apostles and alive in the succession of the Apostles.’ Death, entry into eternity is ‘a plunging ever anew into the vastness of being, in which we are simply overwhelmed with joy’. ‘The expression ‘eternal life’ aims to give a name to this irrepressible longing; it is not an unending succession of days, but an immersion of oneself in the ocean of infinite love…a fullness of life and joy: it is this that we hope and await from our being with Christ.’
Benedict’s explanation of the Creed has infectious conviction about it. His book provides inspirational and I would say novel thoughts around the age old formulas and will be a great asset to preachers. His writing illustrates how the apostolic mandate to hand on what has been received from the past can be vitalising and unifying. As he says ‘the purpose of all offices and ministries is basically that ‘we all become one in faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, and form that perfect man who is Christ come to full stature’, so that the Body of Christ may grow and build ‘itself up in love’ (Eph 4:13, 16).
The Revd Dr John Twisleton Rector of St Giles, Horsted Keynes, West Sussex 18th October 2012