‘I Believe’: Why Catholic Creeds Matter

BOOK PICK: ‘The Catholic Faith: An Introduction to the Creeds’

Why do we believe what we believe? A new book outlines what we profess as Catholics.
Why do we believe what we believe? A new book outlines what we profess as Catholics. (photo: Cropped TAN Books cover)



By Steve Ray and Deacon Dennis Walters

TAN Books, 2020

150 pages, $27.95

To order: tanbooks.com

Once upon a time, most Catholics were familiar with two creeds: the Apostles’ and the Nicene. Both creeds are built around the three Persons of the Trinity and their works. 

Steve Ray and Deacon Dennis Walters take the creeds apart, explaining each of their major statements or “articles.” The creeds’ two most important subjects, which the authors explain at length, deal with the Trinity and with Christ. The Persons of the Trinity are both creeds’ backbones. 

Christology — who Jesus is as “true God and true man” — is prerequisite to understanding his incarnation and who he is as our Savior. 

The authors provide a masterful explanation of what we confess to believing in each of the articles of the Creed.  

Catholics who never really understood what they were signing up to when they say “I believe,” should read this book. 

For Catholics whose religious education was lacking in substance, this book fills in those gaps on an adult level.

As important as it is that we understand what we believe, there is perhaps another question lurking underneath. It was Karl Rahner, I think, who commented that if the concept of the Holy Trinity disappeared tomorrow, would most Catholics notice? Likewise, even if the average Catholic figures out the reasoning behind the Church’s affirmations in the Creed about Jesus (which involves thinking in philosophical categories most Catholics are probably unfamiliar with), he’s still likely to ask how it really matters in his life. 

It’s not just a question of religious literacy. There are two deeper problems: the relevance these abstractions have for each human being and why we even need creeds at all.

Criticism that “dogma lives loudly in you” reveals a modern mentality allergic to the idea that religion (as opposed to politics or ideology) is not a freelance profession but actually has norms and normative expectations. 

“A creed is a statement or list of beliefs — not necessarily religious ones,” the authors state. “But for many moderns, there lurks a dark suspicion that creeds in general hobble the mind’s instinct to range free. … The Creed serves four main functions. First, it is confessional. By saying ‘I believe,’ you commit yourself to what the Creed says. … Second, it is liturgical. Recitation of the Creed is an act of worship.  … Third, it is symbolic. … ‘A symbol of faith is a summary of the principal truths of faith and therefore serves as the first and fundamental point of reference for catechesis.’ … Fourth, it is normative. The Creed is a ‘rule of faith’ in two senses. One, it defines the faith by including what Christians believe and excluding what they do not. Two, it establishes boundaries for conduct.”

In some sense, this is a very traditional book. It explains what we claim to believe, and that’s important. But today’s generation faces a deeper problem: why it’s important to have a fixed set of communal religious beliefs. The authors do get at that, but everybody writing about the content of faith will need to give that festering wound of modernity more attention.

A particularly appealing feature of the book is its use of boxes in the text to feature interesting points of dogma which, apart from curiosity, are really important. Did you know, for example, that the expression “It doesn’t make an iota of difference” actually came from the Christological dispute about consubstantiality? Or saying that “God rested from the work of creation” does not mean that God is just “phoning it in” without actively playing a central part in his creation and should not lead us into deism and deliver us from Providence. 

A thorough yet succinct explanation of what Catholics profess, the book is a good adult introduction to what “I believe.”