Profession of Faith
PROFESSION OF FAITH
Faith is necessary for salvation. This means that there must be acts of faith (for those capable) that are at least internal (Mk 16.16; Heb 10.38; 1 Jn 3.23).
Theology. The Church teaches that a man must elicit acts of faith at least sometimes during life (H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum 2021). When such acts of faith are externalized in word or action they are called professions of faith. Certainly such professions are required of the Christian by divine precept. Christ Himself said explicitly, "Therefore, everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I in turn will disown him before my Father in heaven" (Mt 10.32–33). Such a precept is, moreover, in perfect conformity with man's nature. To avoid exterior profession would mean lack of conformity between actions and internal belief. Such conduct could not but weaken the belief of the Christian. Nor would it be in keeping with the social and visible nature of the Church to which he belongs.
Thus no one doubts the serious obligation to profess one's faith openly. But it is harder to determine the exact practice and extension of it. The precept would seem to be taken care of in the ordinary performance of duties prescribed under other laws; e.g., attendance at Sunday Mass involves profession of faith. So the real question is, when is a person obliged to profess his faith apart from the profession implicit in normal Christian duties? Theologians say that the obligation to profess one's faith in word and deed binds whenever the honor and glory of God or the salvation of one's neighbor demands it.
Denial of the faith is never justified under any conditions, not even the threat of torture and death. The above words of Christ do not allow fictitious or merely external denial whether by word or sign, even if the faith is upheld interiorly. Thus one may not simulate denial by externally venerating idols, for example, so as to escape danger or mockery.
While denial of faith is forbidden, temporary concealment can be justified for serious reasons (as long as it is not equivalent to denial). Eating meat in Muslim lands on days of abstinence can be licit (except where such partaking is imposed as a test of one's faith). One must confess one's faith in answer to legitimate questions by lawful authority, though evasive or equivocal answers may be given to private and unauthorized questioners—if good reason is had. Sometimes a convert is justified in delaying open profession of his faith, e.g., to prevent attacks on the Church, to avoid danger. But one is not allowed to continue formal practice of another religion. A person may not conceal his faith if such concealment imperils the faith of others, especially of those weak in their religion and looking to a leader. One is permitted to hide from or flee from persecution. Yet bishops and pastors may not forsake their people if there be reasonable hope of ministering to them (Jn 10.11–18). Flight can be justified by a long-range view of such care (Mt 10.23).
Formulas of Profession. Besides the normal outward expression of faith, the Church sometimes asks certain people to externalize their faith by means of determined formulas, called professions of faith. Such acts are considered acts of worship and are meant to edify others, or indicate the integrity of a bishop's or teacher's faith, or occasionally to unmask a deceiver.
The earliest profession of faith was, "Christ is the Lord" (cf. 1 Cor 12.3; Phil 2.11; Rom 10.9). This contained the whole Christian faith and from it the longer creeds developed. This original statement emphasized the point that Christians profess faith in the Person of Christ, or God in Christ, and not merely in a set of statements.
Soon the Trinitarian professions used in the rites of Christian initiation emerged (see the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus); before long the Apostles' Creed became the fixed profession of faith for Baptism in the West, as did the nicene creed in the East. By the 7th century candidates for orders, the bishopric, and even the papacy had to show their orthodoxy by professions of faith. Anyone suspect of heresy could clear his name in this way; thus Berengarius, accused of denying the substantial presence of Christ in the Eucharist, was asked to subscribe to a special profession of faith in 1079 (Denzinger 700).
At the time of the Protestant Reformation, Pius IV drew up the Tridentine Profession (Denzinger 1862–70). Public adherence to this soon became obligatory for all Catholics attaining degrees in theology or acquiring positions of authority in the Church. In 1877 Pius IX added certain details related to the Immaculate Conception and Vatican Council I. St. Pius X, in 1910, ordered that the profession be confirmed with an oath, and signed. In 1989 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a new formula of profession, the profession of faith and oath of fidelity.
[w. f. dewan/eds.]