The Church's Formulation of Faith in Christ: The Beginnings

Author: Pope John Paul II

In his General Audience on Wednesday, 2 March 1988, the Holy Father spoke on faith as man's response to the word of divine revelation, expressed by the Church in the symbols of faith, especially the Apostles' and Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creeds.

1. Faith is man's response to the word of divine Revelation . The catechesis on Jesus Christ, which we are developing in the context of this cycle, refer to the symbols of faith, especially the Apostolic Symbol and the Niceno-Constantinopolitan. With her help, the Church expresses and professes the faith that was formed within her from the beginning, as a response to the word of God's Revelation in Jesus Christ . Throughout the entire cycle of these catecheses we have resorted to this word to extract the truth revealed in it about Christ himself. Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah announced in the Old Covenant. The Messiah (that is, the Christ) - true man (the "Son of man") - is, in his very person, Son of God, true God. This truth about him emerges from the set of works and words that definitively culminate in the paschal event of death on the cross and resurrection.

2. This living set of data of the Revelation (the self-revelation of God in Jesus Christ) meets the response of faith , first of all, in the person of those who have been direct witnesses of the life and teaching of the Messiah, in the person of those who "have seen and heard"... and whose hands "touched" the corporeal reality of the Word of life (cf. 1 Jn 1, 1); and, later, in the generations of believers in Christ that have succeeded each other within the Church community . How has the faith of the Church in Jesus Christ been formed? We will dedicate the next catechesis to this problem. We will try to see especially how this faith was formed and expressed at the very beginning of the Church, throughout the first centuries , which had a particular importance for the formation of the faith of the Church, because they represent the first development of the living Tradition that comes from the Apostles.

3. First, it is necessary to note that all the written testimonies on this subject come from the period that followed the departure of Christ from this earth . Certainly the direct knowledge of the definitive events is reflected and printed in these documents: the death on the cross and the resurrection of Christ. At the same time, however, these written testimonies also speak of the entire activity of Jesus, indeed, of his entire life, beginning with his birth and childhood. We also see that these documents testify to a fact: that the faith of the Apostles and, consequently, the faith of the very first community of the Church, was already formed in the pre- Easter stage. of the life and ministry of Christ, to manifest itself with definitive power after Pentecost.

4. A particularly significant expression of this fact is found in Peter's response to the question that Jesus asked the Apostles one day in the vicinity of Caesarea Philippi: "Who do men say that the Son of man is?" And then: "And you, who do you say I am?" ( Mt 16, 13. 15). And here is the answer: "You are the Christ (= the Messiah), the Son of the living God" ( Mt 16, 16). That's what Matthew's recorded answer sounds like. In

the text of the other two synoptics speaks of the Christ ( Mk 8, 29) or the Christ of God ( Lk 9, 20), expressions to which the "You are the Holy One of God" also corresponds, as John tells us ( Jn 6, 69). In Matthew we find the most complete answer: Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, that is, the Messiah, the Son of God.

5. We find the same expression of this original faith of the Church in the first words of the Gospel according to Mark: "Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Son of God" ( Mk 1, 1). It is known that the Evangelist was closely linked to Peter. The same faith is then found throughout the teaching of the Apostle Paul , who, from the time of his conversion, "went to preach Jesus in the synagogues", announcing "that he was the Son of God" ( Act 9, 20). And later, in many of his Letters he expressed the same faith in different ways (cf. Gal 4, 4; Rom 1, 3-4; Col 1, 15-18;Phil 2, 6-11; also Heb 1, 14). It can be said that at the origin of this faith of the Church are the princes of the Apostles, Peter and Paul.

6. Also the Apostle John , author of the last Gospel, written after the others, closes it with the famous words , with which he bears witness that this has been written "so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that believing you may have life in his name" ( Jn 20, 31). For "whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him and he in God" ( 1 Jn 4:15 ). Thus, the authoritative voice of this Evangelist also reveals to us what was professed about Jesus Christ in the primitive Church.

7. Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God . This is the fundamental truth of faith in Christ (Messiah), which was formed among the Apostles from the works and words of their Master in the pre-Easter period. After the resurrection, the faith was further consolidated and found expression in written testimonies.

It is, however, very significant that the confession "truly this was the Son of God" ( Mt 27, 54), we heard, also at the foot of the cross, from the lips of the Roman centurion , that is, from the lips of a pagan ( see Mk 15, 39). In that supreme hour, what a mystery of grace and divine inspiration acted on the minds of both Israelites and pagans, in a word, of men !

8. After the resurrection, one of the Apostles, Thomas , makes a confession that refers even more directly to the divinity of Christ. He, who had not wanted to believe in the resurrection, seeing before him the Risen One, exclaims: "My Lord and my God!" ( Jn 20, 28). Significant in this expression is not only "My God", but also "My Lord". Since "Lord" (= Kyrios) already meant " God " in the Old Testament tradition . Indeed, every time the "ineffable" proper name of God, Yahweh, was read in the Bible, it was pronounced "Adonai" instead , equivalent to "My Lord." Therefore, also for Thomas, Christ is "

In the light of this multiplicity of apostolic testimonies, those words pronounced by Peter on the day of Pentecost, in his first speech to the crowd gathered around the Apostles, take on their full meaning: "God has constituted this Jesus Christ as Lord and Christ whom you have crucified" ( Acts 2, 36). In other words: Jesus of Nazareth, true man, who as such suffered death on the cross, is not only the awaited Messiah, but is also "the Lord" (Kyrios); he is therefore true God.

9. "Jesus is Lord... the Lord... the Lord Jesus": this confession resounds on the lips of the first martyr, Stephen, as he is stoned (cf. Act 7, 59-60). It is the confession that also frequently resounds in Paul's announcement , as we can see in many passages of his Letters (cf. 1 Cor 12, 3; Rom 10, 9; 1 Cor 16, 22-23; 1 Cor 8, 6; 1 Cor 10, 21; 1 Thess 1, 8; 1 Thess 4, 15; 2 Cor 3, 18).

In the first Letter to the Corinthians (12, 3), the Apostle affirms: "no one can say: 'Jesus is Lord!' but with the Holy Spirit." Already Peter, after his confession of faith in Caesarea, had been able to hear from the lips of Jesus: "...because flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father" ( Mt 16, 17). Jesus had warned: "only the Father knows the Son..." (cf. Mt 11, 27). And only the Spirit of Truth can bear adequate witness to Him (cf. Jn 15, 26).

10. We can say, then, that faith in Christ, at the beginning of the Church, is expressed in these two words: "Son of God" and "Lord " (that is, Kyrios-Adonai ). This is faith in the divinity of the Son of man. In this full sense, He and only He is the "Savior", that is, the Artificer and Giver of the salvation that only God can grant to man. This salvation consists not only in liberation from evil and sin, but also in the gift of a new life: a participation in the life of God himself . In this sense "there is salvation in no one else" (cf. Act 4, 12), according to the words of the Apostle Peter in his first evangelization.

The same faith finds expression in numerous other texts from apostolic times, such as in the Acts (eg Acts 5, 31; 13, 23), in the Pauline Letters ( Rom 10, 9-13; Eph 5, 23; Phil 3, 20 s.; 1 Tim 1, 1; 2, 3-4; 4, 10; 2 Tim 1, 10; Tit 1, 3 s.; 2, 13; 3, 6) in the Letters of Peter ( 1 Pe 1, 11; 2 Pe 2, 20; 3, 18), from John ( 1 Jn 4, 14) and also from Judas ( v. 25). It is also found in the Gospel of the Infancy (cf. Mt 1, 21; Lk2, 11).

11. We can conclude: the Jesus of Nazareth who habitually called Himself "the Son of man", is the Christ (that is, the Messiah), is the Son of God, is the Lord (Kyrios), is the Savior : such is the faith of the Apostles, which is at the base of the Church from the beginning.

The Church has guarded this faith with great love and veneration, transmitting it to new generations of disciples and followers of Christ under the guidance of the Spirit of Truth. The Church has taught and defended this faith, seeking throughout the centuries not only to safeguard its revealed essential content in its entirety, but also to constantly delve into it and explain it according to the needs and possibilities of men. This is the task that the Church is called to carry out until the moment of the definitive coming of her Savior and Lord.

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