6. The Creed
Also known as our “Profession of Faith”, the Creed is the encapsulated statement affirming all that we believe. Over the centuries, there have been a number of creeds written, the two most prominent being the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed. All of them fundamentally express the same thing: We believe in a triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – and in the most significant aspects that attend each of the three Persons in the Trinity. It is the Nicene Creed that we normally profess at Mass. Although it may be used at Mass, the Apostles’ Creed is more closely associated with the Rosary.
A bit of background may help us to better understand why the Creed is being revised – or, perhaps better stated, restored. The Nicene Creed was written at the Council of Nicea in AD 325 as a response to Arianism, a heresy that denied the divinity of Christ and, subsequently, of the Holy Spirit. For the Arians, the Father alone was God; Jesus and the Holy Spirit were subordinate to the Father. The Church, on the other hand, believes (as it believed then) that all three Persons of the Holy Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – are not only equal (a reasonably adequate word to describe an unfathomable Mystery) but Divine. The Nicene Creed is, according to the New Catholic Encyclopedia (©1967, The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC), “a Baptismal creed…into which have been interpolated anti-Arian clauses” – “Baptismal” being an essential point in understanding the restoration of the original words. Indeed, in order to be validly baptized, the Rite of Baptism must adhere to what is called the “Trinitarian formula” – we are baptized “in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” as the water is either poured over the head three times or we are immersed three times.
The Creed is structured in four sections defining our belief in (1) God the Father, (2) God the Son, (3) God the Holy Spirit, and (4) the expression and goal of that belief.
(a) God the Father
In this first section only two revisions have been made. The first is that “We believe” is changed back to “I believe” – “back” because like so many of the revisions, it is a direct translation from the Latin, Credo. The Creed is essentially a statement of the beliefs that each of us professes at our baptism (through our parents and godparents for those of us baptized as children). Some have decried the loss of the sense of unity that they see in “We believe”. However, the unity that we express at Mass has not been lost, but is in reality defined by the act of saying the Creed together as a community of baptized people. (I suppose you could say here that actions do speak louder than words.)
The second revision of this section is the change from “of all that is seen and unseen” to “of all things visible and invisible”. This is a fundamentally profound revision. The Latin is visibilium omnium, et invisibilium. The translation is patently obvious – visibilium, visible; but not so the reasoning behind it. Think of things unseen. That term can easily be restricted to things of this world. Obviously, anything out of direct line of sight is unseen – the dishes behind the closed cupboard door, for example. Or, Aunt Esmeralda in Spokane is clear across the country, and is thus unseen. Our belief expressed through the Creed is intended to profess our belief in things truly invisible, that is, not seen in a sense far higher and spiritually deeper than anything our mortal world can offer: angels, saints, Heaven, etc. A significant distinction is that what is unseen can be seen (e.g., by simply opening the cupboard door, or by having Aunt Esmeralda come visit). What is invisible is incapable of being seen. It is simply beyond our ability to see the invisible until we actually join that which is invisible through our death (God-granted visions notwithstanding). Therefore this revision is not just more meaningful but necessary for us to really solidify what it is we believe about God the Father, namely, that God is the Creator not only of the things of this world but of the world beyond. When you think about it, returning to the literal translation really makes more sense, and truly deepens the faith we profess in the Creed.
(b) God the Son
[Phrases in brackets are in the current translation, and are shown for reference.]
[…one Lord, Jesus Christ,]
“the only” [Son of God,] “eternally
begotten of the Father…”
[…one Lord, Jesus Christ,]
“the Only Begotten” [Son of God,]
“born of the Father before all ages…”
At first glance, both translations seem to be saying the same thing; but there is a subtle difference. Aside from making the translation more faithful to the Latin (unigenitum, only begotten), connecting the words “Only” and “Begotten” forms a phrase that makes a uniquely powerful statement. First, we need to understand that we are not talking here about the birth of the Child born in Bethlehem. As wonderful and miraculous as that event is, we are dealing with something much more profound: the very nature of the Son of God. We are made – created – in the image and likeness of God. Thus we are a reflection of who God is. But we do not share His nature, that is, we are not and never can be divine. The term “begotten” carries a deeper meaning, one that defines the “begotten” as sharing the very nature of the creator. Jesus and His Father have one nature – their divine nature – in unity with the Holy Spirit. Thus, it is more than fitting to use “the Only Begotten Son of God” in professing our belief in Jesus Christ: the divine, co-eternal Son of God, the Son who has always existed and always will.
“one in Being” [with the Father,]
“consubstantial” [with the Father,]
Again, we draw directly from the Latin, consubstantialis. Literally, it expresses our belief that Jesus and the Father “have the same substance”. What that means is that we are going to the very core of their reality: like the Father, Jesus is divine. The word “substance” (meaning that which lies beneath) is a truly remarkable word in that it enables us to define the relationship between the visible reality of something (Jesus’ human nature) and the much deeper, invisible reality (Jesus’ divine nature). We cannot see His divine nature simply because in this life we cannot see God. The term effectively continues what was begun earlier in the phrase, “Only Begotten Son”. Again turning to Fr. Turner’s Understanding the Revised Mass Texts: “‘Consubstantial’ is a very unusual word. We don’t use it for anything else. But it is describing a very unusual thing – the nature of Jesus Christ. He is not like anything or anyone else”.
“…by the power of the Holy Spirit
He was born of the Virgin Mary,”
[and became man.]
“…and by the Holy Spirit
was incarnate of the Virgin Mary,”
[and became man.]
There is a significant difference between “born” and “incarnate” – a difference that can actually change the meaning of this creedal statement. Jesus was incarnate – that is, “made or given flesh” – at the moment of His conception in Mary’s womb. To say He was “born…and became man” could be misunderstood to mean that His humanity did not occur until that starry night, in the stable at Bethlehem. The revised translation also makes more clear our belief that He was “conceived” by the Holy Spirit, not merely born nine months later by the power of the Spirit.
“…He suffered, died, and was buried.
On the third day He rose again
in fulfillment of the Scriptures…”
“…He suffered death and was buried,
and rose again on the third day
in accordance with the Scriptures.”
That Jesus died is not explicit in the Latin, which in literal translation is closer to “suffered and was buried”; but we accept the word “suffered” as implying His death. Because it is implicit rather than explicit that Jesus died on the cross, the phrase chosen in the revision is considered more appropriate. Without the implication of death, the statement “rose again” would have no real meaning. The point of this passage is to proclaim the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead as a key facet of what we believe.
Jesus rose from the dead “in fulfillment of the Scriptures”. But fulfilling the Scriptures does not carry the weight of the Scriptures that actually speak to the Resurrection. Fulfilling the prophecies could be construed as simply stating that Jesus fulfills the promise of the Messiah. To state “in accordance with the Scriptures” offers a deeper insight into what the Old Testament really says: The Messiah would have to suffer, die, and rise (Isaiah has much to say on this in his “Suffering Servant” passages).
(c) God the Holy Spirit
[With the Father and the Son] “He” [is]
“worshipped” [and glorified.]
“He” [has spoken through the prophets.]
“who” [with the Father and the Son is]
“adored” [and glorified,]
“who” [has spoken through the prophets.]
This one is simply a more direct translation from the Latin. The change from “He” to “who” is only a matter of making the phraseology in the revision more consistent.
(d) Where it all takes us
“We acknowledge” [one baptism for
the forgiveness of sins.]
“I confess” [one baptism for the
forgiveness of sins.]
To “acknowledge” something is to pretty much say, “Yeah, okay, it’s there. That’s cool.” To “confess’ something, on the other hand, more forcefully proclaims not only that it’s there, but that “I believe” in it. It is a profession of what lies in our hearts regarding the power of baptism.
(7) “We look for” [the resurrection of the dead…]
“…and I look forward to” [the resurrection of the dead…]
More than just a better translation from the Latin (which it is), this imposes a sense of anticipation – and maybe even a bit of urgency – that something wonderful will one day happen. We could liken it to the difference between “looking for a lost child” (what the volunteers helping in the search might say) and “looking forward to finding our cherished little one” (what WE would say because it’s OUR child). It is the resurrection that each of us hopes to participate in at the end of time, the resurrection that will find us in the fullness of glory that Jesus has promised. It effectively completes our faith in God.