Faith and doubt

I believe in God the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth:

And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord,
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
Born of the Virgin Mary,
Suffered under Pontius Pilate,
Was crucified, dead, and buried:
He descended into hell;
The third day he rose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven,
And sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Ghost;
The holy Catholick Church;
The Communion of Saints;
The Forgiveness of sins;
The Resurrection of the body,
And the Life everlasting.
Amen.

This is the Apostles’ Creed as it appears in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. A beautiful piece of writing, even if you happen not to agree with the sentiments.

A few years ago I was attending evensong at Trinity College, Cambridge, and the time came for saying the Creed. The congregation turned to face the East.

The Creed has natural pauses built into it, most notably before the catalogue beginning ‘I believe in the Holy Ghost’. On this occasion, the congregants paused for breath at the appropriate point, but failed to start again. Even the presiding priest stopped talking.

This sudden silence may be interpreted in any of several ways. The probability is that, having stopped and paused, no one person wanted to take the responsibility of starting up again lest he should be a lone voice, a pelican in the wilderness (as the Psalmist says), and so silence enveloped the chapel. At the time, I liked to think that the words about to be said — ‘I believe in the Holy Ghost’ etc. — had struck the entire congregation as so unlikely, so far-fetched, as to be unutterable.

The silence lasted five seconds, possibly slightly longer. It certainly felt longer. To our credit, most of us started to laugh as we launched into the final straight.

It’s a testament to the enduring qualities of the 1662 Creed that it inspires poetry to this day.

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