October 16, 2011
NEW TRANSLATION OF THE MASS, continued. Today we’ll take a look at the changes to the Creed, or Profession of Faith.
The Creed is actually called the “Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed.” Its original form was approved by Council of Nicaea in 325AD, the first ecumenical council of the Church. Recall that for most of the first three centuries of the Church it was illegal to be a Christian, and thousands were martyred for the faith. This persecution caused there to be very poor communication between the Christians around the world, which inevitably led to confusion in doctrines from place to place. So, when the Emperor Constantine ended the persecution in 321, the bishops then came together in council to discuss and clarify our common or “Catholic” (“universal”) beliefs. The main result was the precisely worded “Nicene Creed,” which listed the most fundamental articles of faith. In 381 the Council of Constantinople adopted several key clarifications to counter certain “Arian” heresies. The Creed has remained unchanged since then, except for the clarification called the “Filioque” added by Pope Benedict VIII (1014-15).
This then, is an absolutely uniquely important treasure of our faith, with the original Greek words carefully chosen by the ancient fathers, and equally carefully translated immediately into Latin. Martyrs have died for refusing to deny these words. So you can see why a correct and precise translation into English is so critical.
For the most part the changes to the Creed in the new translation (NT) are rather few. So instead of going through line by line I will first point out one general change, and then move on to explain other key words and phrases that have changed.
“One general change” reverberates throughout the NT, and will be, perhaps, the change most difficult to adjust to, in no small part because it is reflected in the very first word of the NT. While the old translation (OT) began, “We believe,” the NT begins, “I believe,” reflecting the actual and literal Latin “Credo” (rather than “Credimus”), and emphasizing that while we hold the doctrines of the Creed as one common faith together, faith is something each individual must profess for salvation. This shift from the plural voice to the singular voice permeates the prayer and necessitates changes in several other places.
That opening line also has one other change, at the very end, where it expresses our belief that the one God is maker of, as the OT says, “all that is seen and unseen,” and as the NT translates more accurately: “all things visible and invisible.” This article is not about whether we accidentally see or don’t see some things, but that some things are seeable and some are not seeable: i.e., “visible and invisible.” This refers, for example, to angels and demons (who are spirits), and alludes to the words St. Paul writes about Jesus in Col. 1:15-16:
“He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers …”
The next changes in translation comes in very next line:
Latin: Et in unum Dóminum Iesum Christum, Fílium Dei unigénitum, et ex Patre natum, ante ómnia sæcula.
OT: We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father,
NT: And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all
The NT more accurately translates the Latin, while the OT reflected some confusing and unnecessary re-ordering and editing of the Latin.
The most important change in the text comes next, just a few lines down, as the Latin speaks of Jesus as, “consubstantiálem Patri.” The OT translated this as “one in Being with the Father,” while the NT more precisely says, “consubstantial with the Father.” This change was specifically required by Liturgiam Authenticam 56, because of the importance of this dogma. Unfortunately, while the expression “one in being” is not incorrect, it is theologically vague, whereas the term “consubstantiálem” (and the underlying Greek “homoousious”) was coined by the early Church to have a very precise theological meaning; that is, the Father and Son share the same nature, literally share the same substance, the divine nature. As the Catechism (262) teaches: “with the Father the Son is one and the same God.”
Another critical change comes several lines later, as we profess our faith about Jesus:
Latin: Et incarnátus est de Spíritu Sancto ex María Vírgine…
OT: by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary…. NT: and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary….
The Latin here is not concerned with Jesus being born, but with the fact that he was incarnated—that he literally he took on flesh. The article is looking not at Christmas, but nine months earlier at the Incarnation when the eternal God the Son took to himself a human nature, body and soul: God “became man.” (Note, the phrase “the power of” is nowhere in the Latin, and so is omitted in the NT).
The Creed goes on to say that Jesus “rose again on the third day.” This happened, as the Latin says, “secúndum Scriptúras,” which the OT rendered as “in fulfillment of the Scriptures,” but the NT more accurately renders: “in accordance with the Scriptures.” The NT brings out a subtle but important point intended in the Latin but missed in the OT: the word “fulfillment” in the OT refers back to the Old Testament prophesies, whereas “secundum”/”in-accordance” refers to both the Old Testament prophesies and the New Testament eyewitness accounts: to those who deny that Jesus really physically rose from the dead, the Creed says, “he did in fact rise just like the Gospels say.”
As the Creed moves on to speak about the Holy Spirit it makes a small but important change in translating the word “adoratur” from “worshipped” to the more exact “adored.” While lost in common parlance, “worship” is, by definition, something that can be given to both God and creatures (British refer to certain public officials as “your worship”). But “adoration” is a form of worship that can be given to God alone, and is theologically distinguishable from other forms of worship of God (e.g., supplication, confession), as a humble recognition of God’s transcendence.
The Creed goes on to say “Confíteor unum baptísma,” rendered in the OT as “We acknowledge one baptism,” and in the NT as “I confess one baptism.” The NT reminds us that the faith is not something we simply recognize, but rather something we confess, or publicly make our own.
Finally, we conclude with a statement of our faith in “the resurrection of the dead.” The Latin “exspecto,” translated as “we look for” in the OT, is better translated in the NT as “I look forward to.” We are not merely watching, but rather joyfully anticipating “the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”
Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles