Believing by Numbers
St Mary’s dates back to the time when most people could not read. It made sense to give people easy ways of remembering the essentials of the faith. Even those who can read may benefit from reminders in memorable form. We offer these lists –with short commentaries – as aids for those who want a checklist.
Their significance in the life of the community, as of old, depends on their implications being spelt out within that community. It is within the community of faith that our lives have meaning and purpose.
The Fourteen Articles of Faith – (two sevens)
These were formulated by the so-called Angelic Doctor, the thirteenth century monk and Christian writer, St Thomas Aquinas. Each article is connected with the others and all are derived from the Creed, a statement of faith recited every Sunday in church as part of the service and which dates from the fourth century.· They all depend, says Thomas, on the basic belief that ‘God exists and that he rewards those who seek him’. The first Seven are about the being of God. The second Seven are about God in Christ.
- There is One God
- God is Our· Father
- God is the Divine Son
- God is the Holy Spirit
- God created all things and all creatures.
- God makes us holy by his grace
- God will raise us up to live forever in his glory
- Christ took our flesh
- He was born as a human being
- He suffered through death and was buried
- He descended into hell
- He was raised from the dead
- He ascended into heaven
- He will come to judge the living and the dead
The Seven Deadly Sins
Sin, according to Christian teaching, is a distortion or falling short from the true good to which Christians are called. Sinful thoughts and actions therefore need to be redirected rather than simply dammed up.
- Pride - setting yourself above others because you think them less worthy of consideration or less important than you are - not the same as making the best of your abilities and enjoying what you do well which are clearly good.
- Covetousness - the avaricious thoughts that lead to stealing if satisfied or, if not satisfied, make for a corroded inner self. Good things can be enjoyed and other people’s pleasure in them can be a matter of pleasure.
- Lust - the sexual feelings, which when allowed to have free rein, prevent respect for and responsibility towards another person and inhibit genuine love, because personal gratification is the objective. Love recognises the wholeness of another person and chastity directs our love in faithfulness and honour.
- Envy - dissatisfaction with one’s own self which leads to resentment towards others who are thought to be more blessed than we are. Openness to others and a generous spirit towards their aptitudes and condition may also lead us to notice the needs of those who have less than we have as well as those who have more.
- Greed - the narrowing of concern to our own physical need which fails to acknowledge that all things come from God and belong to him, so that they are to be shared. This applies to food but can apply to other things. Moderation does· not lessen enjoyment but can sometimes increase it.
- Anger - the loss of control of the self-righteous who therefore have no insight into how it feels to be another person. It differs from the passionate response to injustice which is vital to the defence of the vulnerable.· Patience with others often allows us to understand them better.
- Sloth - the waste of time and personal energy which may be either laziness or sheer indifference to the needs of others. Diligence in the performance of tasks is a right use of our abilities.
The Seven Virtues
These derive from several sources. The last three are from the New Testament; the first four were taken by St. Thomas from classical sources, but they can be found throughout Scripture.
Justice – this is a ‘hinge’ on which the good life hangs based as it is on the love of God for all people. Unlike some modern ideas, it is not a competition between claims or rights. Its emphasis is on the meeting of need, on mutuality of action and collaboration, on responsibility as much as ‘rights’.
- Mercy is therefore not its opposite but an essential element of it.
- Courage – not only physical courage but those acts of will to do what is right and to resist evil. The tempering of the will is one of disciplines of being a Christian.
- Moderation – sometimes called temperance it sees in the avoidance of extremes the path to wise living. Sometimes called the golden mean, it is a recognition that in human interaction, there are often no absolutes.
- Wisdom – whose old name of Prudence reminds us that virtue entails not just habit but also decision making, either between different conflicting goods or in the avoidance of greater or lesser evils.· Some people contend that because of the conflict of want and need, human actions can never be reconciled. Christians believe that there is always better and worse and that they should seek out the former.
- Faith – gives us a reason to be good, drawing us toward God who is our origin away from the tendency to do evil and the distractions which uncontrolled passions may lead us towards.· Those who believe know that they are accountable. They know that they must not be both advocate and judge in the court of their own actions, because we are always subject to self deception.
- Hope – gives us an expectation that our good actions have a purpose and will be vindicated. It opposite is despair whose pains lead us to all kinds of harms, often inflicted on ourselves.
- Love – is the foundation of all virtue which knows of the possibility of friendship with God and with others. It is the basis of all judgements and softens the harshness which decision making can otherwise lead to.
Seven Corporal works of mercy
Most of these come from Our Lord’s teaching in St. Matthew’s gospel, the last from the book of Tobit. There they define the actions of those who would be saved. They were the basis of common action within the life of a parish community and should be so now. (They can easily be added to – help the needy, act courteously to strangers, listen to the distressed, support the aged and so on.)
- Feed the hungry
- Give drink to the thirsty
- Clothe the naked
- Shelter the Homeless
- Visit the imprisoned
- Visit the sick
- Bury the dead
The Ten Commandments
At the Reformation, the images which decorated most churches and which were the focus of devotion were removed and, in many churches, the Old Testament Ten Commandments were placed on the chancel wall as another reminder of human conduct. They still remain in some churches. In St Mary’s the statues have returned but the commandments are still taught as here with Our Lord’s commentary added.
- You shall have no other gods before me - Nothing and no one is more important than the one true God.
- You shall make no graven images - Nothing we own or want or see or enjoy should be a god. It was made by God and is for us to enjoy, remembering always who gave it.
- You shall not take the Lord’s name in vain - God’s name is holy; prayer is its proper use.
- You shall keep the Sabbath day holy - The Lord’s day is the focus of the week always to be kept.; Christians keep the first day, the day of resurrection as their holy day.
- You must honour your father and mother.
- You must do no murder; even anger leads to violence.
- You must not commit adultery - You must be faithful to your partner in mind and heart as well as action.
- You must not steal.
- You must not lie or deceive.
- You must not covet anything that belongs to your neighbour.