An Explanation of the Apostle’s Creed – Sixth Article of the Creed

detail from a painting of the 12 Apostles with their traditional lines from the Apostle's Creed, 1424; Lower Saxony State Museum, Hanover, Germany; photographed by Jean Louis Mazieres 24 December 2015; swiped from Wikimedia Commons“He ascended into heaven, sitteth at the right hand of God, the Father almighty.”

“HE ASCENDED INTO HEAVEN.” – THE ASCENSION OF CHRIST

Our blessed Lord remained forty days with His disciples and then returned to His Father in heaven. He conducted His disciples out to Mount Olivet, where He delivered to them this commission: “Go ye into the whole world, and preach the Gospel to every creature.” There He pointed out the way by which they were to lead men to heaven: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved: but he that believeth not shall be condemned.” There He promised the power of miracles to those who would have faith in Him, as a means of proving His teachings to others. “These signs shall follow them that believe: In My name they shall cast out devils: they shall speak with new tongues: they shall take up serpents: and if they shall drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them: they shall lay their hands upon the sick and they shall recover.” (Mark 16:15-18). There He gave to them and through them to His Church for all time His blessing (Luke 24:50). “And when He had said these things, while they looked on, He was raised up: and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they were beholding Him going up to heaven, behold two men stood by them in white garments, who also said: Ye men of Galilee, why stand you looking up to heaven? This Jesus who is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come as you have seen Him going into heaven.” (Acts 1:9-11)

Christ the Lord ascended into heaven by His own inherent power. By that same inherent power whereby He arose from the dead did He raise Himself up from the earth to heaven. Henoch was taken up into heaven by God; Elias was also carried up from the earth; the Blessed Virgin Mary was taken up by the power of God; but Our Saviour was not taken up as these favored persons were, for He ascended into heaven by His own indwelling power of divinity. Hence the Church chants His praises for having ascended of Himself into heaven; and again for having “assumed thee, O Virgin, into heaven.”

In this triumphal ascension the Saviour was accompanied by all those to whom He had proclaimed the Gospel in Limbo. The souls of these just persons He conducted into heaven after having broken their prison bonds and delivered them from captivity. Thus did He, who was mocked and derided by the Jews, become really and truly a king, holding His triumphal march amid the hosannas of the redeemed into the heavenly Jerusalem.

Christ ascended into heaven in order to celebrate His complete victory over death and hell, and to exchange His temporal life of suffering for an eternal life of glory. Saint Paul writes, ” He humbled Himself, becoming obedient unto death: even to the death of the cross. For which cause God also hath exalted Him, and hath given Him a name which is above all names: that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow of those that are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth.” (Philippians 2:8-10)

But it was not only to take possession of His glory that Our Lord ascended into heaven, but also to become our Mediator and Intercessor with the Father. It was that He might become such that He came down to earth and suffered His cruel Passion and death. Now this work being accomplished, the graces which He had thereby secured for men should be applied to them. The Holy Ghost, too, should come with His divine assistance and consolation, and to send Him down Our Saviour went up into heaven. We would need help in our weakness, and an advocate to whom we could resort with confidence. This advocate and mediator with the Father, Jesus Himself wished to be, for, as He had borne and suffered all, we would be likely to have more confidence in Him and would be more willing to approach Him. Saint Paul exhorts us to have recourse to Jesus when he says, “Looking on Jesus, the author and finisher of faith, who having joy set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and now sitteth on the right hand of the throne of God. For think diligently upon Him that endured such opposition from sinners against Himself: that you be not wearied, fainting in your minds.” (Hebrews 12:2,3)

Nor was His desire simply and merely to help us and to speak to the Father for us; He wished besides to prepare a dwelling for us, into which He will receive us as soon as we have fought the good fight and run the race and kept our faith. There will be our dwelling in accordance with our merits, and it is the Lord Himself who will one day admit us to it, as He promised in the words, “In My Father’s house there are many mansions; if not, I would have told you: that I go to prepare a place for you. And if I shall go, and prepare a place for you: I will come again, and will take you to Myself, that where I am, you also may be.” (John 14:2,3) This return of the Lord will take place on the Last Day, when He will reward every man according to his works, sending the wicked into ever- lasting fire, but saying to the just, “Come, ye blessed of My Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (Matthew 25:34)

When we say that Christ rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of His Father, that is to say, that Christ shares with the Father equally in His glory and honor, and is entitled to the same supreme adoration, this is not to be understood as so much regarding His divinity as His humanity. His divinity never left heaven, but con- tinued to dwell there, even when His humanity was in agony in the Garden of Olives and was dying on the cross. Therefore when the Apostle, Saint Paul, says, “which He wrought in Christ, raising Him up from the dead, and setting Him on His right hand in the heavenly places; above all principality, and power, and virtue, and dominion, and every name that is named not only in this world, but also in that which is to come, and He hath subjected all things under His feet: and hath made Him head over all the Church” (Ephesians 1:20 et seq.), the meaning is, that Jesus Christ shares in the power, glory and divine majesty of the Father, even in His humanity. For He ascended into heaven with His earthly body, His human soul and His five wounds. The body that ascended was none other than the one that lay lifeless in the tomb; the soul was none other than the one that departed from His body on the cross and went down into Limbo. This was the only way by which fallen humanity could regain its lost dignity, namely, for divinity to come down and lift up humanity to itself in heaven.

On the spot whence Our Saviour ascended into heaven were left two footprints in the rock, which Saint Jerome saw still there in his time. Today only one of these footprints is to be seen, the Turks having chiseled a piece of rock out and placed it in one of their mosques. It is said that a peculiarity about this footprint is that it fits any foot. What does that signify? It is simply a suggestion of the doctrine that all should follow the footsteps of their blessed Master and that they can do it. As Christ raised Himself up to heaven in His body, so the Christian should raise himself up to heaven in spirit. For this reason the Church sings, “Sursum corda” (Lift up your hearts)

Lift up your eyes and your hearts to heaven, remembering the words of the Apostle, Paul, ” Our conversation is in heaven: from whence also we look for the Saviour, Our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 3:20) There lies our true fatherland, for heaven is our only home, the earth being simply a place of exile. True, it costs an effort, but the reward to be obtained is great. It is the reward promised to Abraham, to whom the Lord said, “I am thy reward exceeding great” (Genesis 15:1). Then God Himself is the reward we obtain, that is to say, the joys of heaven, an eternity of happiness.

Surely there is no prize to be obtained without an effort; no battle, no victory; no struggle, no success; no cross, no crown. Shirk no pains to secure this exceeding great reward; “blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he hath been proved, he shall receive the crown of life, which God hath promised to them that love Him.” (James 1:12)

– text taken from An Explanation of the Apostle’s Creed: A Thorough Exposition of Catholic Faith, by Father H Rolfus, D.D., published by Benziger Brothers, 1907; it has the Imprimatur of +John M Farley, Auxiliary Bishop and Adminsitrator of New York, June 1902