New Creed uses ‘I believe’ instead of ‘we believe’
By Mary Woodward
This week we will look at the new translation of the Creed. The use of a Creed or Profession of Faith as it is also called is an opportunity for the Christian community to stand in unison and clearly state who we are and what we believe. The new translation of the Creed will take a great deal of getting used to. As in the current translation, each line of the Creed could be the subject of its own article or even a book. Therefore, we will look at a short history and then address three specific differences in the new translation.
The Nicene Creed, which we use on Sundays and solemnities, dates to the fourth century Councils of Nicaea in 325 and Constantinople in 381. It was originally written in Greek then translated into Latin for the western church.
As the church began to expand throughout the Mediterranean and beyond, the early Church Fathers encountered various heresies concerning the nature and being of Jesus Christ. It soon became evident the Apostles’ Creed needed to be developed into a more definitive theological statement for the church so the tenets of the faith could be clearly defined in one place.
The Apostles’ Creed finds its origin in the ancient baptismal rite and the Rite of Christian Initiation. It is this Creed that we use in the interrogative form during the sacrament of baptism and when we all renew our baptismal promises at Easter. The new missal will contain both creeds, thus emphasizing the optional use of the Apostles’ Creed, especially during Lent and Easter.
For the purposes of this article we will focus on the new translation of the Nicene Creed.
The first thing you will notice in the new translation is the use of “I believe” instead of “we believe.” This translation comes directly from the Latin and is more in keeping with the nature and origin of the Creed in the baptismal rite where each individual must respond “I do.”
I cannot speak for you and you cannot speak for me when we stand before God. The reality is we are a community of believers tied together by our common faith, but ultimately each person must profess individually.
The next major change is the use of the term “consubstantial with the Father” as opposed to “one in being with the Father.” When developing the original text, the early Church Fathers basically invented a word in Greek to express the inexpressible relationship between God the Father and Jesus the Son. This is a profoundly unique relationship steeped in sacred mystery and therefore in need of its own term to describe it.
The Greek word is “homo-ousia” meaning “of the same substance or matter.” Hence we have the Latin term con-substantial developed from the Greek concept. The new translation is actually a transliteration of “consubstantialis.” Consubstantial is a unique word for a unique relationship.
The third major change is the phrasing of the lines that define the incarnation. The new text will read “and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary and became man.” It is at these words that we all bow in awe and reverence that God would become flesh and walk among us.
We have been saying: “by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man.” The term “incarnate” replaces the term “born” giving clarity to the fact Jesus became flesh prior to birth. The new text is once again extremely true to the Latin translation of the Greek.
Each time we recite it together as the Body of Christ we stand in unison with the entire church and profess our faith. I recommend that we all take some time to study and prayerfully reflect on the new translation of the ancient texts of the Creed. The Creed defines us and unites us as Catholic Christians. Therefore, we should commit ourselves to a deeper understanding of this ancient and sacred tradition.
This will be one of the more difficult adjustments for us to make. It is indeed an awesome moment and an awesome responsibility.
(Mary Woodward is diocesan director of the Department of Evangelization, which includes the Office of Liturgy.)
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