What do Catholics Believe?

What do Catholics Believe?

There are not 100 people who hate the Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be. – Archbishop Fulton Sheen

If you want to know what Catholics believe, look in these three sources: The Credo, The Catechism of the Catholic Church, and The Vatican II documentss. A fourth source would be the writings of the early Church Fathers who were the disciples of the first apostles.

What! You might say. Don’t Catholics believe in the Bible? Well, yes. Not only do Catholics believe in the Bible, they created it. All Christian denominations base their belief system on the Bible. The difference is in interpreting what the Bible says. Catholics have a much longer history of studying the Bible and discussing its meaning. The original Bible, upon which they base all other Bibles, was originally written in Greek, later translated into Latin and then into local languages. Because every language has words and nuances other languages do not have, a literal translation of the Bible is not possible. Also, the meanings of words change with each translation.

Take, for example, Jn 21:15-19 

In this passage, Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” Jesus repeats his question three times. Most people scratch their heads at the repetition, others interpret it to having parallel meaning with Peter denying Jesus three times. What English translations cannot do is translate the three Greek meanings of the word “love” in the original document. So, we miss the nuance of the word “love.”

In addition, the Bible is a Jewish document, based upon Jewish culture and thought. Since cultures differ, it is difficult to translate a cultural meaning from one culture to another. Also, the Bible was written thousands of years ago and is immersed in the history of the time and place. So, scholars have tried to tease out the meaning of passages for hundreds of years.

The Credo or the Nicene Creed

The Credo (Latin for “I believe”) is a condensation of basic Christian principles. The Credo was written at the first council of Nicaea (325 AD), the same council that decided which written Gospels and Epistles would form the canon of a new testament. Together with the Jewish Bible, the old and new testaments formed the Christian Bible. The traditional Credo is recited by the priest and that faithful at every Catholic Mass.

I believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.

I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the Only Begotten Son of God,
born of the Father before all ages.
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father;
through him, all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary,
and became man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate,
he suffered death and was buried,
and rose again on the third day
in accordance with the Scriptures.
He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead
and his kingdom will have no end.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.

I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.
I confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins
and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church

Many websites provide a wide range of information on religious beliefs. Google is a useful search engine for finding information about the Catholic church, but it does not discriminate between Catholic and non-Catholic authors, nor does it provide any information on accuracy. Many people rely on Wikipedia for basic information, not realizing that there are Catholic websites offering information on Catholicism as well—resources such as New Advent, the Vatican files and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. 

What many people do not know is that there is a book called The Catechism of the Catholic Church which explains Catholic belief systems and where they came from. It is a reference book, not a novel. Anyone who wishes to know what Catholics believe about their faith, this should be the first source for reference. Not only are the beliefs specified, it ties them to both the Old and New Testaments, the Early Fathers of the Church, and the commentaries of other Biblical scholars. When an article claims to disagree with Catholic teaching, look for a reference to the Catechism to see if they base the criticism upon belief or fact.

Ignorance of Catholic teaching is unnecessary. The Catechism of the Catholic Church answers questions.

Vatican II Documents

Vatican II was the most recent council of the Catholic Church, bringing together Bishops from all over the world to hammer out what is necessary, what is not and what is important for Catholics of all walks of life. The resulting documents, pulled together into one book, are the work of men from distinct cultures, languages, and histories in relation to Catholicism. It is their combined thought on issues that forms the basis of this book. The Vatican II documents, therefore, do not reflect a predominantly European thought process. Instead, it brings a trans-national/trans-cultural explanation to basic tenets of the faith.

I wonder if Bishop Sheen’s quote could be translated as, “there are many who dislike the Vatican II papers without reading them, and fewer who have read them and disliked them.” Since the papers deal with different issues, it would be hard to dislike them all as a blanket condemnation. But people do. In fact, they have blamed Vatican II for all the changes in the church that they don’t like. They mention no changes they like. Over-generalizations about the Vatican II council and its subsequent documents is as bad as over-generalizations about anything else. It is an example of ‘throwing out the baby with the bathwater.’

Every church council has had its dissenters. People find it hard to accept change. But the bishops formed each council to review policies and explain what has or has not been changed. Just as the first council at Nicaea had to deal with the heresy of Arianism, and what was to be the canon of the Bible, so all other councils were used to reform the church. It has never changed the basic theology. It is the practices based upon the theology that has changed.

Once again, when criticizing Vatican II, it is always helpful to specify which document is being criticized, rather than condemning all the papers.

It is no longer rational to criticize the church based upon ignorance of what the Catholic Church teaches and believes. These three resources alone explain Catholic teaching and belief.