Culture at the Crossroads
For Us and For Our Salvation He Came Down From Heaven
One of the early images of the Church was that of a ship, the barque of Peter, sailing along dangerous seas to save souls. (Indeed, to this day the main part of a large church is called a nave, from Latin navis and Greek naus meaning "ship.") The basic Christological insight of the creed follows this imagery: Jesus' "coming down" was rather like the way a ship's captain might send someone down into the ocean to save someone from drowning. The two biblical images that inspired this image are Noah's ark, the ship that preserved humanity from destruction, and Peter's walking on the water toward Jesus (Mt. 14: 22-33). The latter story suggests Jesus' role as the one who saves us from drowning and provides comfort in the storms of life. In any case, the image of "coming down" is meant to suggest that human beings of themselves are unable to create their own salvation, caught as they are in a world of competing desires and temptations. They need a savior, a lifeguard.
A final parable might help illustrate what the creed proposes in saying that Jesus came down from heaven for us human beings (anthropous) and for our salvation. There was once a flock of geese wandering around a farmer's barn when a terrific hailstorm began to fall. The farmer, feeling pity for the beautiful birds, hoped to move them to safety in his barn. He threw on a raincoat and ran to the barn door, opening it to let them inside. But the geese were scared of the man and waddled off in the opposite direction, still getting pelted by huge hailstones. The farmer, wishing he could assure them of his intentions, desperately wanted to become a goose to lead the others into his barn.
The creed suggests that the Father is like the farmer, and that Jesus is the goose who leads us geese into safety. He became one of us in order that he might save us.
Tim Muldoon holds a Ph.D. in Catholic systematic theology and is an award-winning author and Catholic theologian of the new evangelization.