Happy anniversary to the Credo of the People of God

June 30 marks the 40th anniversary of the Credo of the People of God. Pope Paul VI introduced the Credo as a post-Second Vatican Council version of the Nicene Creed that Catholics recite at Mass. The Credo is a beautiful and still fresh summary of the Catholic faith that deserves renewed attention.

In his apostolic letter (“Solemni Hac Liturgia”) accompanying the Credo, Pope Paul VI noted that the text “repeats in substance, with some developments called for by the spiritual condition of our time, the creed of Nicea, the creed of the immortal tradition of the holy Church of God.”

According to the pope, the Credo was issued due to concerns about “the disquiet which agitates certain modern quarters with regard to the faith,” “the influence of a world being profoundly changed, in which so many certainties are being disputed or discussed,” “even Catholics allowing themselves to be seized by a kind of passion for change and novelty,” and “disturbance and perplexity in many faithful souls.”

A recent news story by Vatican observer Sandro Magister describes the events surrounding the Credo’s creation in 1968. Magister states that Pope Paul VI was “in shock” over the 1966 publication in Holland of the “New Catechism” and decided that counteraction was needed. The controversial volume, known also as the Dutch Catechism, was approved by the Dutch bishops but prompted objections from a reviewing commission of cardinals, Magister recounts, for “substituting one orthodoxy for another in the Church, a modern orthodoxy for the traditional orthodoxy.”

The Credo, originally drafted by Jacques Maritain at the pope’s request, “answered all of the doubts raised by the Dutch Catechism and by famous theologians on dogmas like original sin, the Mass as sacrifice, the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, creation from nothing, the primacy of Peter, the virginity of Mary, the Immaculate Conception, [and] the Assumption,” Magister explains.

The Credo signaled the beginning of the Vatican’s response to internal challenges premised on the “spirit of Vatican II” that were aimed at changing core Church teachings. It preceded by just one month the release of Humanae Vitae, the papal encyclical on marriage, sexuality and contraception.

Pope Paul VI wrote in his preface that “We have wished our profession of faith [the Credo] to be to a high degree complete and explicit, in order that it may respond in a fitting way to the need of light felt by so many faithful souls, and by all those in the world, to whatever spiritual family they belong, who are in search of the Truth.”

The section of the Credo on “Temporal Concern” exemplifies this papal objective:

“We confess that the Kingdom of God begun here below in the Church of Christ is not of this world whose form is passing, and that its proper growth cannot be confounded with the progress of civilization, of science or of human technology, but that it consists in an ever more profound knowledge of the unfathomable riches of Christ, an ever stronger hope in eternal blessings, an ever more ardent response to the love of God, and an ever more generous bestowal of grace and holiness among men. But it is this same love which induces the Church to concern herself constantly about the true temporal welfare of men. Without ceasing to recall to her children that they have not here a lasting dwelling, she also urges them to contribute, each according to his vocation and his means, to the welfare of their earthly city, to promote justice, peace and brotherhood among men, to give their aid freely to their brothers, especially to the poorest and most unfortunate. The deep solicitude of the Church, the Spouse of Christ, for the needs of men, for their joys and hopes, their griefs and efforts, is therefore nothing other than her great desire to be present to them, in order to illuminate them with the light of Christ and to gather all in Him, their only Savior. This solicitude can never mean that the Church conform herself to the things of this world, or that she lessen the ardor of her expectation of her Lord and of the eternal Kingdom.”

One area where the “things of this world” entice conformance is in one’s understanding and exercise of conscience. The Dutch Catechism suggested that one could in good conscience dispense with the 10 Commandments: “The law, the precise precept, cannot foresee exactly all circumstances. Cases will arise where one must do more or less than the law prescribes. Conscience, with its instinct for what is good here and now cannot simply let itself be guided by the letter of the law. It must sometimes even depart from the law in order to affirm in certain cases the ultimate moral values.”

This prompted a Vatican commission in October of 1968 to reply that “The text of the [Dutch] Catechism is not to make obscure the existence of moral laws which we are able to know and express in such wise that they bind our conscience always and in all circumstances.” Thus began in earnest a dispute whose repercussions even today keep exploding.

The text of the Credo of the People of God can be found online at http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/paul_vi/motu_proprio/documents/hf_p-vi_motu-proprio_19680630_credo_en.html.

Daniel Avila is the Associate Director for Policy & Research of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference.