Monday, February 10, 2014

Credo: We do NOT believe

As seems to have been mandated (or at least strongly encouraged) by the ACNA, our parish has been using the proposed ACNA liturgy since Advent 1 of this liturgical year. On the one hand, it kills all the traditional language of the 1662/1789/1892/1928 prayer books; on the other hand, in terms of theology and form, it is more faithful to them than was the contemporary language of the 1979 ECUSA prayer book.

I Believe

Even after two months, there’s one thing I’ve been unable to accept: the plural form of the Nicene Creed. The 1549 liturgy was created from the creed of the Sarum rite, which begins:
Credo in unum Deum, Patrem Omnipotentem, factorem cœli et terra, visibilium omnium et invisibilium.

Et in unum Dominum Jesum Christum, Filium Dei unigenitum, et ex Patre natum ante omnia sæcula: Deum de Deo, Lumen de Lumine, Deum verum de Deo vero, Genitum non factum, consubstantialem Patri, per quem omnia facta sunt.
In fact, the word “creed” comes from the credo that begins it. Credo is the latin word for “I believe.”

The Cranmer translation of the liturgy set the standard for all other English-language Protestant liturgical worship. It was not just the Methodist church when it split off from the Church of England, but it also was used for the English-language liturgy of the Presbyterian church (coming from Geneva) and the Lutheran church (coming from Germany and Scandinavia).

If you attended any American Protestant worship through the mid-1970s, you would hear Cranmer’s words (with the 1789 ECUSA modernized spellings):
I believe in one God,
the Father Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
and of all things visible and invisible;

And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the only begotten Son of God,
begotten of his Father before all worlds,
God of God, Light of Light,
very God of very God,
begotten, not made,
being of one substance with the Father;
by whom all things were made;
This is the text (for example) in the 1941 The Lutheran Hymnal, used by the Missouri Synod until their 1982 hymnal. (Being slightly anti-Papist, the Lutherans did change “one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church” to “one Holy Christian and Apostolic Church.”)

We Believe

The use of “we believe" came to ECUSA in the 1970s with the 1979 prayer book via the ICET. As Hatchett (1980: 29) writes in his 670 page commentary on that book:
For rites in contemporary language the last revision of the Prayers We Have in Common: Agreed Liturgical Texts Prepared by the International Consultation on English Texts [ICET] is used for common texts, with a few exceptions. … The word “men” has been deleted from a phrase in the Nicene Creed.
In discussing the Nicene Creed later on (p. 334), he writes:
The ICET translation, which left the inclusion of the filioque clause optional, has been adopted for this Book. The plural form is restored, true to the document of the council and fitting for use in the Eucharist as a proclamation of the faith of the Church.
While rejecting many of the theological changes of Rite II, the ACNA task force embraced this philosophy with the first word of their creed. As the ACNA FAQ explains
Nicene Creed: Why, in the Nicene Creed, are we saying "We believe" rather than "I believe?"

The original Greek text used "We Believe" because this Creed reflects the belief of the whole Church as a united body, as contrasted with the Apostles' Creed which is a personal profession of faith used at baptism. The translation we are using for the Creed is that used by The Church of England in "Common Worship," an adaptation of 1662 BCP.
The citation of Common Worship is slightly misleading. In Order One, the CoE uses “we believe” but Order Two of the latest CoE liturgy retains the Cranmerian credo.

Ecumenical Disharmony

That the ACNA used a CoE modernization rather than inventing its own is somewhat reassuring. However, its decision on "we believe" is still in disharmony with the ACNA's most likely ecumenical partners.

For much of the past century, the CoE and Anglicans more broadly have been trying to repair the Tudor rift with Rome. However, in their new liturgy, adopted in 2008 and put into effect in 2011, the Order of Mass dropped the “We believe” in favor of the “I believe.”

In the US, the ACNA has been courting the Orthodox church for the past five years, inviting Metropolitan Jonah to address the 2009 convention, and a delegation of Orthodox clergy last fall to Nashotah House. The various American branches of Orthodoxy still use “I”.

Then there is the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod. Of the liturgical churches among US Protestant denominations, it is one of the largest — in fact, the largest of the traditionalist denominations (with only the UMC, ELCA and PCUSA mainline Protestants being larger). In fact, with 2.3 million members it has more than the 2.0 million of TEC (vs. 100,000-140,00 for the ACNA).

Maybe that’s why the ACNA has actively courted the LCMS as a liturgical partner, with a series of “dialog” meetings that led to a 2012 joint communique.

While the Orthodox (being Orthodox) stick to traditional language, the RCC demonstrates it is possible to do contemporary language while keep the credo in the creed.

Why Others Do Not Believe

After joining with the ICET pluralism with a 1970 decision of the ICEL, the RCC consciously reverted to the singular with their 2011 liturgical revision.

In anticipation of that shift, Rev. James V. Schall, then a Jesuit priest and Georgetown professor wrote a July 2011 essay explaining the RCC theology behind the change:
In the Denziger collection of Church documents, however, all the ancient creeds, except the Apostles’ Creed, begin, following the Greek, in the first-person plural: Credimus – “we believe.” From its earliest appearance in the Church, the “I believe” version is for liturgical use. Those present affirm their own personal belief.

Why the English translation currently in use from the 1960s changed to “we believe” is open to speculation. Obviously, if it was good enough at Nicea, it ought to be good enough in Kansas City. When the Church Fathers at Nicea and Constantinople said “we believe” or “we affirm,” however, they were speaking definitively in the name of the tradition. They affirmed authoritatively what the Church held, what is to be believed as true. At Mass, the individual parishioner is not so speaking with authority. He is articulating his personal acceptance and knowledge of what is held. He is not defining it, but he does understand it.

The problem with the formula “we believe” is that the one who recites it may not in fact be affirming what is in the Creed. Instead of saying “I believe” as a public expression of what he holds, he means rather, “We believe” — that is, this is what this organization holds, though not necessarily what I hold myself. The unity of belief is broken.
I recommend the entire article for reading.

The Orthodox church is certainly not a fan of the RCC position on the creed — in particular three words added by Rome the 11th century that helped prompt the Great Schism. And the “we” form — gone in the West by the 5th century — lasted longer in the East.

That said, an official statement of the Orthodox Church in America, comments on the evolution of the creed after it was finalized in 381:
This whole Symbol of Faith was ultimately adopted throughout the entire Church. It was put into the first person form “I believe” and used for the formal and official confession of faith made by a person (or his sponsor-godparent) at his baptism. It is also used as the formal statement of faith by a non-Orthodox Christian entering the communion of the Orthodox Church. In the same way the creed became part of the life of Orthodox Christians and an essential element of the Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox Church at which each person formally and officially accepts and renews his baptism and membership in the Church. Thus, the Symbol of Faith is the only part of the liturgy (repeated in another form just before Holy Communion) which is in the first person. All other songs and prayers of the liturgy are plural, beginning with “we”. Only the credal statement begins with “I.” This, as we shall see, is because faith is first personal, and only then corporate and communal.
As best I understand, the LCMS position is the same as the Catholic and Orthodox. When (during my Lutheran period) I asked my LCMS pastor why the creed we recited was "I" and not "we," he answered simply: “because I don’t know what is in your heart — only what is in my heart.”


When the ACNA created its liturgy task force, it was pre-ordained that they would create a single modern language service: their “Guiding Principles” of 2009 made that clear, calling for “a modern language adaptation of the Rite I.” It claimed the primacy of Scripture and the creeds — but which creeds?

Verbally, I heard statements that the task force was trying to avoid the theological errors of the 1979 prayer book, but the word “theology” only appears twice in the Guiding Principles.

With the discussion of “What is Anglican worship?” several of the principles would suggest a desire to hew to first millennial church practice:
Although profoundly influenced, over several generations and in diverse directions, by the Continental 16th-century Reformation, the Church of England claims a direct !continuity of faith, governance and practice from before the arrival of St. Augustine of Canterbury in 597 to the present.

The central identifying marks of the Anglican version of Reformed Catholicism were and remain:
a. The primacy and sufficiency of Scripture
b. Credal orthodoxy
c. Justification by grace alone through faith alone
d. Patristic Heritage, including the 3-fold ministry of bishops, presbyters, and deacons.
e. Historic liturgy in continuity with ancient catholic tradition, but “purged” of late Medieval aberrations.
That the creeds entered the liturgy of the one true and (pre-Schism) undivided church with “credo” — first person singular — would seem to point to keeping the only form that Anglicans used for 400 years. Instead, the ACNA seems to favor the congregational feel of the “we,” while ignoring the theological change this represents.

Theological and ecumenical continuity would support support “I” while emotion supports ”we.” This key decision provides a window into the future character of the Evangelical Church in North America and its founder, the Rt. Rev. Robert Duncan.


Common Worship, London: Church House Publishing, 2000

Hatchett, Marion J., Commentary on the American prayer book, New York : Seabury Press, 1980

International Consultation on English Texts, Prayers We Have in Common: Agreed Liturgical Texts, 2nd revised edition, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975.