The “I” and the “We” of the Creed

The issuance of the ACNA 2019 Book of Common Prayer has brought back to the forefront many issues that have been “out there” for a long time.  One of them is right up front in both the Apostles’ and Nicene Creed: whether either or both should start with “I believe” or “We believe.”  This post will attempt to shed a little light on the subject, because this change came from outside the Anglican/Episcopal world in a way that may surprise some people.

It’s certain that the 1662 and 1928 Books of Common Prayer started the creeds with the first person singular “I”.  The 1979 BCP changed it to “We” and that’s stuck in the craw of many ever since.   For me personally, the change came sooner.  When I “swam the Tiber” in 1972, I walked into a church which had instituted the Novus Ordo Missae two years earlier.  It was not only in the vernacular but started the Nicene Creed with “We believe.”

As an aside, I had been raised with the Apostles’ Creed being used in Morning Prayer and the Nicene in the Holy Communion.  The latter creed was pretty much a fixture at Mass.  The first time I heard the Apostles’ Creed used with Mass of any kind was John Michael Talbot’s The Lord’s Supper in 1979, and it finds its way there in situations where time is of the essence.

But I digress.  The reasoning given at the time was that the Mass after Vatican II was supposed to be more participatory and community oriented, thus the plural declaration of faith.  I think it’s reasonable to say that the Episcopal Church followed the RCC’s lead on this (and many other) liturgical subjects for the 1979 book.

But did the Roman Catholic Church actually change the Creed?  The answer is “no.”  Unlike the Anglicans, whose primary liturgical language is English (wonder why?) the Novus Ordo Missae, like those that went before it, was promulgated in Latin and translated into the various vernaculars that Roman Catholics find themselves in.  The decision to use “We” was that of those who made the original official translation of the NOM into English.  You can see this in this little except from a Latin-English missal I picked up in the UK, where “Credo — I believe” clearly appears in the Latin version of the Creed.

Creed Latin English

Additionally, towards the end of the Creed, “Confiteor una baptisma” (I confess one baptism,) where the first person singular persists, as is also the case with “expecto resurrectionem” (look forward to the resurrection.)

This decidedly unilingual change was done away with when the NOM’s current translation was made official and began use in Advent 2011, a change instituted by Benedict XVI, who is sadly Emeritus.  There are many clumsy, Latinate phrases used in this translation, but in this case it was an improvement.  (The same criticism can be made of the Authorised Version vs. Tyndale, but I digress again…)

The ACNA, evidently bowing to two score of 1979 habit, opted to use “We.”  Personally I think the first person singular is better; it attempts to force people to make a commitment to their belief, which is lacking these days.  The major problem churches such as the RCC and ACNA (TEC gave up a long time go) have is not getting their people to recite the Creed properly but to believe it.  There are several variations of this: the modern (“The Creed is just a historical statement which is mostly a fable,”) the post-modern (“The Creed is correct but it doesn’t really mean what it says”) and the sub-modern (“We really don’t care what the Creed says, we’ll believe what we want to.”)

And as for the “filoque” clause, this is my answer and I’m sticking to it.

Renunciation is Central to Christianity, But You’d Never Know It

I recently had an interesting back and forth with a guy I went to prep school with on “Renouncing Privilege.”  Evidently he and I have a different take on what that means, as evidenced by his comment:

Many of the students were, and probably still are wealthy, still privileged. I would not try to make the point that the young men became followers of Gandhi, just that they recognized an abusive power that they had the means to abolish and voted accordingly.

Some of my idea comes from the current assault on “white privilege,” the only logical solution being that white people just step aside and let everyone else run things.  (I document here how some well-heeled and bi-coastal white people have tried to get around that obvious conclusion for their children’s’ benefit.)  But much of my view on the subject is conditioned by the New Testament itself:

“I tell you,” answered Jesus, “that at the New Creation, ‘when the Son of Man takes his seat on his throne of glory,’ you who followed me shall be seated upon twelve thrones, as judges of the twelve tribes of Israel. Every one who has left houses, or brothers, or sisters, or father, or mother, or children, or land, on account of my Name, will receive many times as much, and will ‘gain Immortal Life.’ But many who are first now will then be last, and those who are last will be first.  (Matthew 19:28-30 TCNT)

Calling the people and his disciples to him, Jesus said: “If any man wishes to walk in my steps, let him renounce self, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, and whoever, for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, will lose his life shall save it. (Mark 8:34-35 TCNT)

I’ve spent time on the rich young ruler elsewhere.

In the past Christians have understood what this meant.  Consider this from J.N.D. Kelly’s Jerome:

In the fourth century it was common for really serious Christians, at their baptism or when they experienced a deeper conversion, to break with the world, abandoning career, marriage and material possessions in order (in the expressive phrase of Cyprian of Carthage) ‘to hold themselves free for God and for Christ.’  The ascetic strain which had been present in Christianity from the start, and which in the west tended to set a premium on virginity, inevitably received a powerful practical impulse with the disappearance of persecution and the emergence of a predominantly Christian society where much of the Christian colouring was skin-deep.

That’s something that advocates of the “Benedict Option” should keep in mind.

In any case such is virtually unknown in American Christianity, which is too hog-tied to upward mobility (and that link is a big reason why American Christians do what they do politically, on both sides of the spectrum.)

Since straight-up renunciation doesn’t go down well, is there another way to meet the challenge of the Gospel?  One comes from the Anglican/Episcopal George Conger, who has tried to deal with this by putting this verse into practice:

The servant who knows his master’s wishes and yet does not prepare and act accordingly will receive many lashes; while one who does not know his master’s wishes, but acts so as to deserve a flogging, will receive but few. From every one to whom much has been given much will be expected, and from the man to whom much has been entrusted the more will be demanded.  (Luke 12:47-48 TCNT)

He explains the “critical moment” for his commitment to “givebacks” here, in an encounter with then candidate George H.W. Bush:

I commented on that idea years ago:

If one were to name the Episcopal Church’s strongest point from a practical standpoint, it was this: the emphasis on the importance of “give back”. It’s something I miss in a Pentecostal church. This isn’t to say that Pentecostals are not willing to help others–they certainly are, and are for many reasons better positioned to do so than Episcopalians–but the context is entirely different, and it doesn’t percolate to the upper reaches of the organisation the way one would like it to. But that’s also generational: baby boomers, for all the talk and their self-righteous insistence of making the next generation volunteer, are mostly too self-centred to know what true give-back is.

That said, I think that the road to that needs to run through some kind of renunciation.

Although there are many people who don’t have a lot to renounce (that’s another lesson that comes from many years in a Pentecostal church) American Christianity would do well to learn from Our Lord on renunciation, if for no other reason than that, if things go south, renunciation will be a lot easier than having it taken away from you.

The Call of God is More than an Emotional Rush

This interesting quote, from Daniel-Rops’ Jesus in his Time:

God does not seek to take men by surprise and the Church has always frowned on sudden vocations dictated solely by sentiment. It is only to the soul fortified by preparation and knowing its way and its strength that the spirit gives the supreme impulse.

The call to ministry (or vocations, to use the Roman Catholic term Daniel-Rops does) has always assumed the aura of a mystical legend, especially in Pentecostal circles.  Although dramatic calls to the ministry aren’t unknown in the New Testament (Paul’s Damascus Road experience is the most prominent example) most are multi-stage processes with stumbling along the way, in the case of the Apostles right up to the day of Pentecost.  It’s a good reason why churches are wise to have a discernment and training structure built into their credentialing process.  (The big problem with independent churches is that there is little or no such discernment going on, with predictable results.)

Having said that, there are three errors churches make in their ministerial development process.

The first is non-existent or inadequate development, which I’ve discussed.

The second is too heavy of a requirement, especially with formal education.  The sad truth is that most churches–especially these days with changing stewardship patterns–can’t afford the student-debt larded “Jeremiah Generation” as pastors or other ministers.  We need to focus our attention more on character and maturity issues rather than raw formal education, encouraging life-long learning.

The third is to impose requirements or encourage things that should not be imposed or encouraged.  The most egregious one I can think of (although it’s doubtless not unique) is that of the infamous Jesuit James Martin, who was asked during his discernment process whether he was “experienced,” with the expectation that he was before his ostensible vow of celibacy.  So he lied about it to please those “over him in the Lord.”  It’s little wonder that he has strayed so far, along with many of his colleagues.

We also have the tales of those who lost their faith in seminary and no one really cared.  Latta Griswold complained about the “excuse-oriented” presentation of the faith he heard from Episcopal pulpits, but much of that (during his day and up to now) started in the seminaries.

The way our ministers are prepared is as important–if not more important–than their original call, and that should never be overlooked.

Getting Past Bread: A Holy Week Reflection — The Bossuet Project

I have an Iranian office mate. My contact with the Iranians has been educational in my understanding of the Scriptures. One thing he’s really big on is bread. One time we went to a bakery where he brought a loaf of sourdough bread, which he consumed in its entirety–in one sitting. I bring bread from […]

via Getting Past Bread: A Holy Week Reflection — The Bossuet Project

The Limitations of “Trad” Catholicism

To be Roman Catholic these days is an unenviable business, especially if you’re aware of what’s going on in the Catholic Church (and many Catholics, sad to say, are not.)  It’s easy to comment on what’s happening, but what really matters is how one plans to fix the problems that face the Church.

DDVEnqXXUAAwiviLet’s start with what won’t work: the idea of the Pope and the “reappraisers,” to use Kendall Harmon’s expressive term.  As one who was raised in the Episcopal Church, one gets a “déjà vu all over again” feel about this.  As I’ve pointed out before, the idea of Francis and other “reverends pères jesuites” using their “morale accommodante” to advance the Church has a long history.  Progressive Protestants have done the same thing and the empty churches speak for themselves; Roman Catholicism can’t expect a different result.

So what is to be done?  One group of people with “the answer” to these problems are the “trads,” those whose idea is to return to some kind of traditional Roman Catholicism.  They’ve been around since their church was turned upside down with Vatican II, although many have had to operate in the shadows.  Now, as was the case with the Anglican-Episcopal world, the combination of the internet, social media and wider broadcast choices have made networking easier to do.  (A sympathetic former Pope didn’t hurt, either.)  So do they really have the answer?

I think the best reply to that question is…sort of.

Stating the obvious is the quickest way to get Americans angry, but let’s start there anyway.  “Trad” Catholicism is not, to use a good Scholastic term, univocal.  We have the #straightouttairondale types and we have the TLM (Traditional Latin Mass) types, and they don’t always get along.  That’s a typical problem with groups which focus on liturgical precision, and Trad Catholics certainly do that.  The first thing that Trad Catholics need to do is to promote unity amongst themselves, even if they don’t agree on every point.

That leads to the next problem: Trad Catholics are too focused on the sacramentals and not enough on the sacraments.  What Trad Catholics of all types are trying to do is to reconstruct the Catholicism of the pre-Vatican II years, down to the last devotion and spiritual discipline.  Their idea is that Vatican II wrecked the church by throwing the doors open, which led to the exodus of people and religious that has led to the current crisis.  This ignores something that Europeans should understand but Americans don’t: that the decline in Catholic numbers in Europe long antedated Vatican II, Tridentine Mass and all.  Vatican II was called in part to address this issue; for the American church, booming (like their Episcopal counterparts) in the post-World War II environment, such a reform was almost unnecessary.

The biggest challenge the Trads face, however, is the structure of the Catholic Church itself.

The church the Trads find themselves in is the result of the greatest triumph of long-term Trad Catholicism of all: ultramontanism.  The term means “beyond the mountain,” and refers to the centralisation of power and authority in the Pope.  Largely facilitated by the French Revolution and the Napoleonic upheaval, it eliminated practices such as the regale and curtailed the national autonomy churches had guarded for centuries.  The proclamation of the Pope’s infallibility at Vatican I (the same time the Italians trashed the Papal States) sealed the deal.  It eliminated meaningful national autonomy and certainly any lay input into the life of the church, something Vatican II tried to address without much practical effect.  Both autonomy and lay involvement would have been handy for American bishops to deal with the sex abuse crisis; instead, the Vatican ran interference and the American church will suffer the consequences.

What this means for the Trads is that, should the Vatican continue to move leftward, they will leave the Trads in the lurch.  That’s because it is difficult in the Catholic parish system, which have no voice in their selection of priests, to have a distinctive identity.  That’s what messed up the Catholic Charismatics forty years ago; they found it next to impossible to have Charismatic parishes.  Their solution was the covenant community system, but that had problems tooAnd ultimately those communities which remained found themselves being made offers they could not refuse.  The Trads, which are more dependent upon the sacerdotal and sacramental systems, are even more vulnerable to this kind of pressure.

None of this should obscure the fact that the Trads have some strong points: they have a definite idea of what Christian life should be all about, they’re good at attracting people to vocations (something that may be a life saver in a priest-starved church,) and their people, like Bossuet’s characterisation of God, tend to be fertile.

I’m not sure that the Trads Latinate, legalistic and overly sacramental view of Christian life will have the broad appeal they think it will, although they will attract some in this way.  I would like to see the Trads, to borrow more Scholastic terms, differentiate more meaningfully between the essentials and the accidentals.  But I’m afraid, as was the case with the Charismatics a generation plus ago, that the Church itself will be the worst enemy of those trying to renew it, and that’s the saddest part of the whole business.

What the Hashtag #straightouttairondale Means, and Why Traditional Catholics Need to Use It

I recently got an email from one of my visitors which went as follows:

came across the hashtag #straightouttairondale in some of your posts and wonder what it refers to …

My response:

It refers to trad (traditional) Catholics, who frequently (unless they’re TLM (Traditional Latin Mass) diehards) take their inspiration from EWTN, whose headquarters is in Irondale, AL…

Also, the movie which documented the start of rap music was called “Straight Outta Compton.”

Put the two together and you get…

#straightouttairondale

It’s cool.  It makes a point.  Use it.