Apostolic Faith

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New ecclesial perspectives, combined with ecumenical projects, have placed the notion of apostolic faith at the forefront of theological research. Indeed, the ecclesiology of communion (koinônia ) makes communion with that which has always been, lived, and proclaimed itself the apostolic community the fundamental theme of the ecclesial mystery. Also, following the publication of the lima text on Baptism-Eucharist-Ministry (BEM), the diverse churches have become more and more aware of the profound tie which exists between faith and sacrament. It is not possible to think of communities united by sacramental life if they do not live in a common confession of faith. The measure and source of that common faith, however, cannot be understood to be anything other than apostolic faith itself.

Nature of Apostolic Faith. According to the language of the World Council of Churches Assembly at Nairobi (1975), apostolic faith is that which has been "delivered through the Apostles and handed down through the centuries" [Breaking Barriers (Nairobi 1975)]. This formula, which is very synthetic, hides the complexity of the problem. There is today an awareness that the notion of apostolic faith is not nearly so simplethat it implies many diverse elements. What is the true meaning and origin of this apostolic faith?

The authority of the Apostles derives not only from the fact that they have been the witness of the preaching and the life of Christ Jesus, but also from the fact that they have been the sole authentic interpreters of the Resurrection. Their preaching has essentially consisted in a rereading, through the Holy Spirit, of the entire life and preaching of Jesus in the light of their own faith in the Resurrection. The message they preached is therefore both conditioned and marked by their faith. In this sense all that we know of Jesus derives from the faith of the apostolic community, that is, from the apostolic faith.

This apostolic preaching is communicated to us in documents themselves profoundly marked by the manner in which apostolic faith was "received" and lived out in the first Christian communities. Paul himself is attentive to this link of faith to the other apostolic communities. Apostolic faith thus reunites us with the apostolic traditions, each one of which already possesses an ecclesial life, in the diversity with which that life appears according to its sociological, cultural, and religious context. Once again, at this level, the faith of the Church precedes the documents through which the truths of the faith are transmitted.

Not every text that the first generation of Christians attributed to the Apostles has been recognized by the tradition as an authentic and reliable expression of apostolic faith. From the first to the fourth century the Church gradually discerned which documents (already "received" in the local churches) were to constitute the scriptural canon, that is to say, the supreme rule of faith insofar as it contains the authentic witness of the Revelation that was given in Christ Jesus. The texts so chosen have not all been composed in the same epoch; some documents which were accepted as important for a time by certain local churches were later eliminated from the normative ensemble. In this manner, the experience of three centuries of faith and ecclesial life mark the determination of the official corpus of Scriptures recognized as the authentic witness of the apostolic faith.

From the very beginning this authentic canon of Scriptures, which transmits the apostolic faith, has appeared profoundly pluralistic and diversified. Views as different as those of Paul and James on the relation between faith and work are found here; the christological perspective of the Johannine tradition does not coincide exactly with the vision of Paul; the place of the apostolic mission in the ecclesial structure is not the same according to Luke and the author of the Johannine Gospel (who insists on the quality of discipleship). Thus, apostolic faith has been, since the beginning, transmitted in a manner which shows respect for the different readings of the common depositum fidei, that is, the common truth received through the Apostles.

"Recognition" of the Apostolic Faith. Most of the churcheseven those which do not make use of it in their own liturgy and in the great manifestations of their faithare in agreement in seeing in the symbol of Nicea-Constantinople the articulation par excellence of the apostolic faith such as it has been explicated and understood in the first centuries of the Church. The official ecumenical milieuthus Faith and Constitution thinks therefore that the only means of acquiring certitude that on the essential points the churches agree in their faith, while safeguarding a healthy and necessary diversity of theologies and of interpretations, is for them to agree officially that they "recognize" in this creed at least the fundamental articles of their faith.

Nevertheless, the language in which the "Nicene faith" is expressed [cf. p. camelot, "Symbole de Nicée ou Foi de Nicée?" Orientalia Christinana periodica 12 (Rome 1947) 425438], and the technical terms in which the most decisive points have been formulated, today require a common "official" interpretation; otherwise there may be the risk of apparent rather than true agreement. Many difficulties arise with such an interpretation. Should one search within the Scripture itself for the principle of its proper interpretation, or will one clarify the most complex points by recourse to other important aspects of Church life, in particular to sacramental and liturgical life according to the axiom lex orandi lex credendi ? Should one take into account the evolution of the human sciences or of the social contexts (today for instance many contest the biblical usage of uniquely masculine names in speaking of God)? The concerns of the theological milieu are not yet in accord on these thorny problems. Moreover, in some areas there unfortunately reappears precisely the same confessional oppositions that one seeks to overcome through this common interpretation. Is it a vicious circle?

With regards this project, the Catholic Church for its part is especially anxious that what concerns the foundation, nature, and mission of the Church shall be adequately expressed. The third article of the Nicene Creed is crucial for its understanding of the whole design of God. It is this, for its most lucid representatives, which will probably be the stumbling block, as it is already, in the whole ecumenical venture.

Bibliography: j.m.r. tillard, "Introduction," Faith and Order (Bangalore 1978); "Towards a Common Confession of Apostolic Faith," Faith and Order Paper 100. "Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry," Faith and Order Paper 111. h. kÜng and j. moltmann, eds., An Ecumenical Confession of Faith? (New York 1979).

[j. m. r. tillard]