Creed 43: ‘… for the forgiveness of sins’

Creed 43: ‘… for the forgiveness of sins’

This part of the creed — the forgiveness of sins — is quite often misunderstood or overemphasized. Indeed, this part of the creed is for some people the centre of gravity of their faith. When a fellow-monk one day repeated to Martin Luther these words of the Creed, ‘I believe in the forgiveness of sins’, Luther says that he saw the Scripture in an entirely new light ‘and straightaway I felt as if I were born anew …’

In fact, the need for a redeemer does not imply a sort of perverse ‘making one guilty’. First of all, it is important to note that the ‘forgiveness of sins’ occurs in the literary structure of the creed between ‘the baptism’ we acknowledge and ‘the resurrection’ we look for. In a sense, though important, the forgiveness of sins is ‘only’ a part of Christ’s mission because finiteness cannot be reduced to sinfulness. Sinfulness belongs to our frailty but this latter is larger that the former.

Secondly, it is interesting to note that for Aquinas, the three intentions of the Incarnation are “to preach the truth, to liberate from sins, and to have access through Christ to God” (ST IIIa q.40 a.1). Therefore, salvation cannot be reduced simply to the forgiveness of our sins. In a sense, we have to avoid the reaction of the prodigal son “I am no longer worthy to be called your son” (Lk 15:21). This kind of making guilty is not what we confess by saying “we acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins”. To feel sinful does not consist in a false humility or a way projecting guilt on ourselves rather than on others, in order to preserve them! Yet, to recognize our sins and to repent is absolutely necessary. Indeed, when we confess our sins, we discover that we are responsible and to consider oneself as guilty implies that we can discover the path of freedom by taking responsibility on oneself and growing in maturity and compassion.

Between our baptism and our death, we discover our frailty and we make mistakes, which turn us away from God’s love. Similarly, the Hebrews after the event of the exodus and their liberation (baptism) were in the desert (our sinful existence), hoping to enter the promised land (resurrection). In a way, in our earthly life, we are on the way to Mount Sinai, in the wilderness: looking back to God as liberator, and looking forward to the future, to a promise not completely fulfilled, to see God face to face.

Church fathers have developed this view and most of them have underlined the similarities between the wandering in the wilderness and the typological sign of the life of the Church awaiting the promised land. Therefore, in our lives, we are confronted with a dialectic between redemption as hope and redemption as a memory. Like the people of Israel in the desert, we remain a people that has been redeemed but that still awaits its redemption. On this path, we have to accept not only our sinful existence and our dependence on God but also the forgiveness given through baptism which sets us free.

The Godzdogz team consists of student brothers studying at Blackfriars Studium in Oxford.