THE CATHOLIC holds his creed as a profession of faith, as a militant challenge to unbelief, as a declaration of independence, as a call to adventure, and as an affirmation of his fellowship in the great army of triumphant believers.
Most of us think of the creed chiefly as a profession of faith. So it is. It is at the least a formula, but is no theological summary only. It is intimately bound up with life; as the skeleton is to the body, so are convictions to the life of the soul. Lest we be swept by the easy sentimentalism of emotion, or lose ourselves amidst the foggy miasmas of uncertainty, we state, profess, affirm. As with bodies so with souls; there must be some solid structure to all advanced forms of life. It may be inside or outside the organism. The lobster wears his skeleton outside, and is soft and tender (if succulent) within; so does he whose armor plate of prejudices serves to protect his shrinking soul from the hard blasts of contradiction and fact. The very opposite of prejudice is conviction: prejudice is externally protective; conviction is internally rejuvenative. Prejudices are the protective tariff-wall for the vested-interests of a weak mind; convictions, the assimilated regenerative power of a self-directing soul. One acquires his prejudices, like tailor-made clothes; one achieves his convictions at the cost of struggle and effort.
There are some people to whom the Catholic creed is an inheritance from the past, used as a ready-made substitute for conviction. But a Catholic cannot "take on" his creed. It is both too personal and too corporate. It is too personal, for we affirm "Credo"—"I believe." It is too corporate, as we have no right to expropriate what is not ours until we win it by right of conquest. To seek shelter in a storm is wise; to seek comfort—"safety first"—above all for its own sake ranges us among the prejudiced. I believe is a profession. It flies a flag. It upholds a standard. It affirms what it neither creates nor inherits; it proclaims a loyalty to something more than the self who finds his true self in saying—Credo.
The faith is militant. No one who says "I believe" fails to challenge unbelief. So the creed is a challenge. To sit tight at the home fireside is not a true picture of faith. As surely as did Saint Peter, in answer to Christ's command, "launch out into the deep," does every believer who says the challenging words. The statement of the Faith evokes the need for defense. To run up a flag is an act of militancy. One doesn't sit at home and contemplate a flag set up on the dining-table or laid away in the family album, or put up in moth balls in the cedar chest. The virtue of faith has never been completely domesticated, it can never be other than a pugnacious and somewhat truculent virtue. Its essence is just this spirit of challenge; the flag necessarily involves an army of defense. A healthy dogmatic always brings out an apologetic. The hot zeal of affirmation induces regularly a rash of defense. It is a healthy reaction. No one has a flag that he does not will to carry somewhere. That's precisely the fun of having a flag. When he does carry it, he must be prepared for assaults. If he weren't he ought not display his flag so obtrusively. The faith involves a fight: it is won by a struggle, it lives by effort, it moves forward against opposition, it triumphs over obstacles.
May I say a word in parenthesis for those of us, dull, stupid bookworms, who are trying to state and defend the faith? It is a very exciting job, but not nearly as exciting as that of the parish priest and the lay person who is actually on the firing-line. Regard those of us who are endeavoring to help in the battle as those on the front to whom those behind the lines bring up reinforcements and ammunition. The search for truth is the sublime adventure and supreme joy to those whom in His Providence God has called to the work of scholarship in the Church. But—it is no specialized vocation! All of us have the same dedication, the same problem, and all of us the same obligation: the defense of the faith, which is the search for the presentation of the truth. In the guidance of the Spirit, the Catholic Church moves on through the centuries: as following the Spirit, the "Pioneer into the Truth," we follow in humble joy and triumphant self-oblation. No Catholic should fear the shock of conflict, the attacks of skeptics, the battle with unbelief. It is for that that he raises his flag of faith in the great affirmation: I believe.
The creed is a declaration of independence. A young Russian woman who came out to America to speak for religion under the auspices of the Y.W.C.A. addressed, with great success (for she had a gratifying response), a group of young women on the West Coast. When she spoke, so simply and directly, of the verities of the Catholic faith, an electric thrill of sympathy, of understanding, of cooperation passed back and forth between speaker and audience. At the end, one of her most interested hearers asked: "May I ask you a personal and perhaps impertinent question?" The speaker assured her that she might. The questioner continued: "Why, in the light of what you are saying, are you not like most, if not all, of us, a Protestant?" To which the speaker answered: "Protestantism gives me no freedom for faith. It hedges me in with boundaries. It binds me here and there and everywhere. It says to me: Science tells us we may not believe that. It sets barriers. As for me—the great full stream of the Catholic faith bears me with it into the true freedom to believe."
Like her, every Catholic should feel the thrill of this freedom. No popular superstition is more absurd than that concerning the supposed fetters which faith imposes, and the supposed freedom which unbelief allegedly offers. It is no true freedom which confines man to his doubts and constricts the soul to the narrow four walls of its own experience and reasoning. The world cries for democracy: may it find the democracy of the common faith of Catholicism, the common man's common heritage! Just those things "commonly believed among us" have become invested with the phobias of hesitating and timorous unbelief. It is as if men feared faith above everything.
The shrinking, modest violet of the soul, the "modern mind," stands in great and grievous need of virility, steady independence, sturdy courage, and the faith that spells courage. Tentative and timorous, the modern man is often the prey to his cowardice, the slave to his doubts. Faith won't destroy doubts nor will it act like magic on the soul. It will bring fresh air to the stuffy corridors of the mind so dimly explored and so oft trodden with weariness; it will break partitions and open windows; it will shed light—the light of God's own grace, and air—the breadth of the Spirit—and warmth, the love of God. In this scientific age the soul easily sickens from phobias: it takes daring to drink from the old oaken bucket—if you be so lucky as to find one!—for you may catch a germ. Dictatorial pseudo-science, dogmatic unbelief, tyrants above others to whom mankind has bowed the knee, whence will arise a champion to deliver men from their thrall? The champion is ours—the Catholic creed. "I believe" is a bill of rights, as well as a declaration of independence.
I have suggested that Truth and the search for it involve an adventure. The creed is a chart of adventure, the composite map of successive generations of pioneers, of the hardy and dauntless band of rough and ready Forty-niners of the soul. What an adventure it is to believe! It is a roving and wild life: it has the tang of sea in it, with the storm blasts of infinitude, of spaceless and timeless conflict; it has the perils of the deep—the depth of sin and the abyss of the love of God; it has the joyous defiance of obstacles—the cloying, nagging protests of that weaker vessel on which we are born, the natural man. But what fun it is! The faith of a Catholic is no sheltered and cloistered thing, purring in comfort beside the hearth in the snug little home of tidy cheer. The faith is robust, out-of-doorsy; it always refuses or breaks the bonds of human limitations; it is tumultuous, undomesticated, unsusceptible of being made a tool for man. In that gorgeous adventure which is the faith, the Catholic is almost tempted to doubt whether it is really I that believes, though he says: "I believe." He is often aware that he is gripped by that which is greater, stronger, sweeter, lovelier, than he: he does not hold the faith, who believes as a Catholic should; the faith holds him! Borne up by that powerful impulse, he braces the soul to adventure all for the faith's sake.
Just consider: no one can prove that there is a God; that Jesus Christ is the God to man; that He is present in His very Essence in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It may all be a fond delusion, a massive structure created of the brain of misguided men, a lovely dream. To begin and end with "I believe" to the "Resurrection of the Body and the life everlasting," it is an adventure. Has any other body of human beliefs ever so daringly spoken to the adventurous spirit of man as the Catholic faith to human souls? He risks much who believes, for he loses all to find the All. He has truly put all his eggs into one basket—and prudence and self-considering safety are spurned to one side. The zest and tang of the great adventure—how do you feel it as you say the creed?
The faith is not my faith except and until it has gotten me. I don't own it: it owns me. I didn't make it: it makes me. I didn't think it out: it has thought me out. It is only "mine" when it has captured me heart and soul. It is bigger than me. It is greater than any collection of "me's" in the universe. It is stronger than I am. It is tenderer than I am. It is more imperious than I am, more stern, more sweet, more loving, more humble, more joyous, more believing—than I am! For the faith that so finds me—the description of His love who sought and seeks me—is the faith of a Body, which includes me, the most insignificant member of it. For when the Catholic faith found me, I recognized the discovery with joyous acclaim, I made another discovery: I am a Catholic. So every time the creed is professed one affirms his membership in the vast army of those members of Christ's Body, who possess His delegated powers in the world, do His work, act as His fingers and hands and heart. The individual thus becomes more than an individual by virtue of the faith he professes; he is part of a larger whole—the company of adventurers for Christ. What the creed unlocks to the life of the believer is out of all proportion to the act of professing it: the vast horizon of the drama of God's love, of creation, redemption, sanctification; the participation in the fruits of that age-long epic—the Ulysses, man, who seeks to reach His home in God's heart—and this sharing ennobles the searcher, for he becomes more than an observer, more than an experiencer, more than a participator—in very truth an active factor in the fuller realization of the divine plan. How necessary it is for the Catholic with a capital "C" to recognize his need of being "catholic" with a small "c." A partisan Catholic is an impossibility. Exclusive and inclusive mean the same for the Catholic. Nothing that affects any man should be beyond his ken; nothing that moves, hurts, helps, hinders, or inspires any man can be outside the compass of his sympathy. He is a member of a Body, for he is Christ's and Christ is God's. He cannot be narrow, nor bigoted, nor deadened in understanding, nor slow in sympathy, nor reluctant in admiration, nor sluggish in his interests, nor immobile in his security; but he must be alive to the finger-tips.
The charter of Catholicism is: "I came that they might have life and might have it more abundantly."
How has the Catholic come by the creed which he so deeply values? Like almost all gloriously vital things, from babies to books, it grew. From the simple affirmation, "Jesus is Lord," through a three-fold expansion of the words "In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost" (which is rather a summary of faith than a baptismal formula), the belief of Christianity expanded and developed. It grew as any living thing grows: being alive, it added to itself what was needed to develop its life. A cow may eat more and more cabbages, and yet won't resemble its food in the least. Cabbages cease to be cabbages and become cow, for the higher form has lifted up and assimilated the lower. Anything that lives presents these same phenomena. So the creed grew. It stayed the same, yet it didn't. Jacky Jones at six weeks is the same as Johnny Jones at six years, John Jones of sixteen, J. Jones, Ph.D., of twenty-six, and the famous magistrate, the eminent and Honorable Dr. Jones of sixty. Yet there isn't so striking a likeness between the baby and the barrister as to convince anyone who didn't follow that career from its beginnings. The creed grew, for it couldn't stay the same. New elements were added. New struggles elicited new statements. The corporate mind of Catholicism had need to reflect, summarize, state, define. What was stated didn't begin to be true when it was stated or because it was stated: the truth had always been there, and was stated because it had been challenged, overlooked, repudiated, or denied; and because it was true it had to be stated.
One grievous struggle of early Christianity has left an indelible trace in the creed: the challenge of oriental dualism to the reality of our Lord's Manhood. It has a curious appositeness to our times in which the body, having been undervalued in our grandfather's day, bids fair to be overvalued in their grandsons. Our times are also strangely intrigued by the value-fact problem. We are asked, Isn't the idea of Jesus as good as the fact? In these two respects we have the clue to the preponderating size of the second over the first and third paragraphs of the creed. The Son of God was really man, and a true historical Figure: "Born of the Virgin Mary, suffered, crucified, dead, buried, rose again." The Father is not only "Almighty," but also "Maker of Heaven and Earth." This earth is divine. Matter and the material world are triply holy, since the Father created it, the Son assumed it, the Holy Ghost sanctified it. The creed is a living compendium of the Church's history, a Baedeker guide to its experience, a summary of Catholic interpretations of Catholic experience, and a means of transmitting that experience. It is the rudiments of philosophy as well as the epitome of a theology—and all is given as a personal, intimate, loving message of God to the individual: "I believe."
When a Catholic professes his faith he states a set of convictions—bone of his bone and heart of his life. In stating his faith he issues a challenge to unbelief and must be prepared to defend what he asserts, to stand by what he says, to fulfil the promise of faith in the face of facts, fads, foibles, and fanaticism which seem to range themselves in opposition. He declares his independence: in his dependence upon God's revelation of Himself he finds freedom—from self, from the corrosive action of doubts and difficulties, the hindering web of entangled sophistries, the narrowing constrictions of mental fashion (many people today live in the mental age of the corset and crinoline—and their "stays" seem to serve a double purpose). The creed the Catholic proclaims is the earnest of an adventurous quest more romantic than Marco Polo's, more strange than Stanley's, more hazardous than Columbus', more stupendous than Lindbergh's—the adventure of the yearning heart of man for the infinite love of God. The Catholic is part of a gang—no isolated unit, alone and at sea in the turbulent solitude of isolated confusion. He belongs His membership in the Body is expressed in his creed.
Above all, this creed—old and yet new, the same and yet changing—is the pronouncement of God no less than the statement of man: God's love-letter to the heart of humanity, for all to read, and reading to answer, "Lord I believe—help thou mine unbelief."