The following is the next in a series of articles regarding the new Roman missal, which will be used in the United States beginning Nov. 27, the first Sunday of Advent.
In this article, we continue our examination of some of the most significant changes to the Creed in the new translation of the Roman Missal.
In the last issue of The Catholic Spirit, we discussed the changes in the text from the first person plural to the first person singular (i.e., “We believe” to “I believe”) as well as the inclusion in the new translation of the important phrase “maker . . . of all things visible and invisible,” a small but significant edit to the current “maker . . . of all things seen and unseen.”
There are a number of other modifications being made to the Creed that are important to mention. Two will be explored here briefly.
One change that will certainly be noticed right away when reciting the new text is the translation of the Latin term “consubstantialem” as “consubstantial” rather than “one in Being.” To be sure, this new word is not familiar to us and will perhaps never be used by us outside of the Sacred Liturgy, unless of course we are professional theologians. All the same, it is an incredibly important expression, the truth of which many a martyr hath made.
One of the central mysteries of the Faith is the belief in the divinity of Christ. Jesus Christ, who is like us in all things but sin, shares with the Father the divine nature. “Consubstantial” is a word derived from the scrupulously precise terminology of philosophy and metaphysics, and was devised by the early Church Fathers to defend this saving revelation against those who denied the divinity of Jesus Christ. It is perhaps best here to quote the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 464 and 465:
“The unique and altogether singular event of the Incarnation of the Son of God does not mean that Jesus Christ is part God and part man, nor does it imply that he is the result of a confused mixture of the divine and the human. He became truly man while remaining truly God. Jesus Christ is true God and true man. During the first centuries, the Church had to defend and clarify this truth of faith against the heresies that falsified it.
“The first heresies denied not so much Christ’s divinity as his true humanity (Gnostic Docetism). From apostolic times the Christian faith has insisted on the true incarnation of God’s Son ‘come in the flesh.’ But already in the third century, the Church in a council at Antioch had to affirm against Paul of Samosata that Jesus Christ is Son of God by nature and not by adoption. The first ecumenical council of Nicaea in 325 confessed in its Creed that the Son of God is ‘begotten, not made, of the same substance (homoousios) as the Father,’ and condemned Arius, who had affirmed that the Son of God ‘came to be from things that were not’ and that he was ‘from another substance’ than that of the Father.”
One may complain that this new word “consubstantial” is complex and unnecessarily cumbersome for the average person in the pew. There is no doubt that the new word will require thoughtful pause and intelligent explanation. But let us remember what it is that we are trying to enunciate with this word — an awesome mystery that is impossible to fully comprehend by the human mind. Perhaps it is for the best than that the word used to describe the divinity of Christ is perplexing and mysterious.
The ‘in-fleshing’ of God
Another change being made to the English translation of the Creed touches upon our belief in the Incarnation of the Son of God, or “the in-fleshing” of God.
The Latin phrase “Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto ex Maria Virgine” found in the second section of the Creed will now be translated as “and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary. . . .” Currently, our Creed proclaims “by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary. . . .” The two English translations of the one Latin text are quite different, and really express two different things.
To say that the Son of God was incarnate of the Virgin Mary is to proclaim a truth that took place at the very moment of Mary’s yes to the message of Gabriel. The womb of the Virgin was the first resting place of the Son of God upon his entry into the created world.
We do not believe that the Son of God became one of us at the Nativity in Bethlehem when Christ was born of the Virgin Mary, but rather in the womb of the Blessed Virgin, in which and from which the humanity of Jesus Christ was fashioned and woven together. It is a biological fact that life begins at conception. The life of Jesus Christ, who is the Incarnate Son of God, was no different. And, with his life came his body. This body, offered on the cross for the salvation of the world, was taken from Mary in her maternal womb. It was in this new ark of the covenant that the Word of God became incarnate.
The truth of the Incarnation is unveiled at Christmas, when the Son of God is born to the sound of angelic choirs and the homage of oriental kings. But it is a truth begun at the Annunciation, with the respectful announcement of a lone angelic messenger and the simple reply of a young Jewish woman.
The four changes to the English translation of the Creed discussed in these articles do not exhaust the edits that will be noticed on Nov. 27. Furthermore, the new words and manner of expression will indeed take some getting used to. But the central truths of the faith, expressed succinctly in the Nicene Creed, are well worth the effort.
Father John Paul Erickson is director of the archdiocesan Office of Worship.