What ‘we believe,’ compared to what I believe

Bear with me, those of you who aren’t interested in religious arcana. I’ll post something for you later. But it is Advent, after all, and therefore a time for reflection…

On a previous post, Mike Cakora shared a favorite quote:

“A consensus means that everyone agrees to say collectively what no one believes individually.”
– Abba Eban, Israeli diplomat (1915-2002)

My response to that got so involved, I decided to turn it into a separate post…

I really like the Abba Eban quote, even though I suspect he is trying to say something negative about consensus, when I think it is a wonderful thing.

The point he makes is at the heart of why I’m so pedantic about the distinction between an editorial and a column. An editorial expresses a group opinion (preferably an actual consensus, which was our goal at The State), and a column is what one person believes. (It particularly drives me nuts when innocents say they’ve contributed “an editorial,” when they mean a letter or an op-ed. It’s all I can do to keep myself from telling them, “That’s impossible, because you do not belong to an editorial board.” Because, you know, I don’t think it would be taken well.)

This distinction also lies at the heart of my objection to the changes to the Catholic liturgy in English in this country a couple of years back. Well, my substantive objection, as opposed to my merely aesthetic ones. (I thought the words were more beautiful before.)

I only have my nose rubbed in this problem when I attend a Mass in English, which I usually don’t do, since I’m a Spanish lector. (The irony is that the Spanish version has many of the same flaws as the new English one, but it’s the only version I’ve known in Spanish, so I don’t have the sense of loss.)

Last night, I attended a Mass in English, because I had a personal conflict with my usual Mass time. When we got to the Creed, I couldn’t bring myself to say the new words, and muttered th old one under my breath. Here’s the new creed, the one that bothers me so much.

Here’s the old one. Or rather, a comparison of the two. The old one is on the left.

I have a number of objections, as I said, arising purely from my love of the language. If you care about words, “one in being with the Father” is greatly preferable to “consubstantial with the Father.” Or compare the old, “he suffered, died and was buried” to “he suffered death and was buried.” The latter minimizes both the suffering and the death, coming across almost as though “he suffered inconvenience.” The old stresses that he SUFFERED, and then he DIED. Whole different emphasis. Or rather, the old actually does emphasize, and the new does not.

But the BIG objection is that the old is about what “WE believe,” and the new one says “I believe.” And yeah, I know this gets us back to a literal translation of the Latin Credo, but that doesn’t legitimize it for me.

Here’s why: For me the creed works as an editorial (the old way), but not as a column (the new way). As with the Eban quote, the creed describes what we have agreed to believe collectively, not a single person’s conclusions about faith. Switching to “I” negates the communitarian nature of Catholicism, and moves us more toward the nonliturgical denominations, where they talk a lot about their own personal faith, and their personal relationship with Jesus. I prefer to stress, through our statement of faith, that we are all part of the Body of Christ, and that these statements reflect a 2,000-year-old process of discernment.

And for those of you who still don’t understand my communitarian leanings, this is NOT about subordinating my ability to think to a collective enterprise. As you know, I object deeply to that sort of thing; that objection lies at the heart of my critique of political parties.

I object because I DO think for myself. And if I were working out a personal, “I” sort of creed, it would be quite different from this one. I’m not a Christian and a Catholic because of the things stated in the creed. At no time would I attach great importance to the Virgin Birth, for instance. I’m OK with saying “WE” believe that; I don’t object to it. But it’s not core to my faith. The core of my faith, and I think, truly, the Catholic faith, is what Jesus stated as the Great Commandment, and the second commandment that is inextricably related to it, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”

Were I to write a creed, it would center around those things, not around a sort of religious cosmology or the description of a Trinity-based pantheon of versions of God. I’m happy to go along with (WE believe) what they came up with at Nicea, but it’s just not what I, personally (I believe) would have come up with.

Which reminds me. I have for years had this idea for a project — to draft a new creed, based in what Jesus actually taught, rather than in all the arguments that occurred after his death as to who he was. A creed that Jesus would actually recognize, that would make him say, “THAT’s what I was talking about.” I’ve just been intimidated by the scope of it, and I worry that trying to do such a thing would show abominable hubris on my part. Lacking a good grounding in theology or in deep study of the Bible, I fear that what I came up with would be woefully inadequate, and therefore it would be presumptuous of me to try.

But I really ought to try sometime… Maybe the difficulty of the task would make me appreciate the Nicene one better…

And maybe I shouldn’t be intimidated. After all, I think an atheist, Douglas Adams, did a great job of summing up the faith, even though he was being offhand and flippant about it:

And then, one Thursday, nearly two thousand years after one man had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change…

6 thoughts on “What ‘we believe,’ compared to what I believe

  1. Harry Harris

    Were a new creed developed, based closely on what Jesus taught as reported in the Gospels, it would be rather long, definitely easier to understand than to follow, and condemned and dumped as violently and profoundly as He, Himself was by the religious elite. The present Pope, seeking to call the Church (and church) into a more Jesus-follower life faces strong under-the-table opposition from within the Catholic church, and sometimes harsh criticism from outside. He also has lifted both hope and respect for the Church among many alienated Catholics and among often-skeptical outsiders.
    He who would gain his life shall lose it; he who loses (gives up) his life for the gospel shall gain it. That’s an upside down world – but the true nature of a follower.

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  2. Kevin Dietrich

    Brad, I with you regarding the new wording. I still find myself much more comfortable with the old phrasing of the Creed and other parts of the Mass, even after a couple of years. I could take the time to find out why the Church decided to substitute “consubstantial” for “one in being” and other changes, and it would likely make sense on some level but that doesn’t mean it will have the same meaning to me. Of course, my mother, who grew up attending the Latin Mass, is still unhappy with the changes that came about with the switch to the vernacular in the 1960s, and she’s not even a regular churchgoing Catholic.

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