Credo in unum Deum: A New English Translation of the Mass
October 21, 2011
The following article was written by Fr. Darren Pierre, O.P., Promoter for the Lay and Priestly Fraternities of St. Dominic, Province of St. Joseph. If you would like to stay connected to the Fraternities of Saint Dominic, please sign up for the e-mail newsletter “eLumen.” This is the official Internet newsletter of the Fraternities of Saint Dominic, Province of St. Joseph, USA. I heard a story about a young boy named Peter whose parents were fallen away Catholics. Peter’s parents had traded their Catholic faith for fad beliefs that were more convenient and fit in better with their family and friends. However, like many fallen away Catholics, they didn’t take their new beliefs very serious either. In fact, they reasoned that all these little details really didn’t matter—one religion was just as good as another. Because they felt this way, they decided to send Peter to a Catholic school as it was regarded as the best school in the area, even though they didn’t follow the Catholic faith anymore. However, Peter’s uncle, who had also left the Catholic faith, took his rejection of the Faith much more seriously. One day he asked Peter what he was learning in school, and Peter responding by reciting the Apostle’s Creed. Peter’s uncle was outraged and didn’t want his nephew learning any of this Catholic nonsense. He tried to convince Peter’s parents to take him out of that school. Yet, despite his protests, Peter’s parents didn’t see it as a big deal. To them it was an unimportant argument about words—prayers that children memorized. In the end they figured it was all the same and didn’t really matter, so they let Peter stay in that school. Peter’s Uncle was correct about one important thing: words do matter. The words of the Creed have always been precious to us Christians. The early Christians called them the Symbol of Faith. It was a symbol or mark that outwardly showed what was invisibly believed. Of course, the ultimate object of our faith is God Himself. Our faith is in the Word, not in mere words no matter how true or precious that might be. Yet, the words do matter. The words of the Creed are called secondary objects of faith because they connect us with God, the primary object of faith, whom we cannot see. If the details of the secondary objects are wrong, we are not able to be as connected to God. Ultimately, if our secondary objects are wrong enough they will connect us not with God, who created us and loves us, but with an imaginary god that is not real and loves us no more than an ancient pagan idol. The Creed tells us who God is. When you love someone, you want to know about them. You can’t have a relationship without this kind of knowledge, for in relationships all these little details matter. Imagine forgetting a spouse’s birthday or anniversary and saying, “Oh, we’ll celebrate it next week. It’s all the same, we shouldn’t fight about details.” Knowing these details is crucial for maintaining a relationship with someone. Little children want to know your favorite color or favorite food. As we get older, hopefully we want to know more important and deeper things about each other. In a relationship with God just as in a relationship with another human being, we would never conclude that the details don’t matter and it’s all the same. Because these details matter and are so crucial to our Faith, the new translation of the Missal will include improved translations of both the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed, the one usually professed at Mass. The changes to the Apostle Creed are fairly minor but the changes to the translation of the Nicene Creed will be more noticeable. These changes will make the creeds more precisely proclaim the truth of God—more precisely declaring these secondary objects of faith that lead us to the primary object of our faith. The changes will also make the creeds more precisely match the words that Christians have professed for millennia and for which they have often spilled their blood. The most noticeable change in the Nicene Creed will be the first words, saying “I believe” instead of “We believe.” Of course our faith is still shared and publicly professed together, but the simple fact is that in Latin the Creed begins with the word credo, a word that any Latin teacher will tell you means “I believe.” (The Latin word for “we believe” is credimus.) The original Greek version of the Nicene Creed did begin with a word meaning “we believe” but since the sixth century both the Byzantine liturgy and the Latin liturgy have used the first person singular. The ancient change may have been to highlight the individual response that each one of us makes to the gift of faith we have received. This is seen very clearly in the ancient use of the creeds in baptism, which is an intimately personal gift from God. The new translation will use some big words that are not common. We will say that Jesus is “consubstantial” with the Father, to describe just how Jesus and the Father are one. This is the word that was used at the Council Nicaea in the year 325 A.D., the very Council that gave us the Nicene Creed that we say at Mass. We will also say the Jesus became “incarnate of the Virgin Mary” rather than was born of the Virgin Mary. It is perhaps a subtle difference, but an important one. Jesus became Man even before he was born, and in a world scarred with the prevalence of abortion this is an important distinction. It is not an attempt to downplay the wondrous events in the stable in Bethlehem, but a reminder that God’s human life began nine months earlier at the Annunciation, a life that existed from the moment he took flesh in Mary’s womb. It will take time and effort to understand words like “consubstantial” and “incarnate,” but this effort is worthwhile because it leads us to a deeper and more precise knowledge of God. The details of these secondary objects, facts about God, lead to God. The precise details of the creeds have led countless Christian to God, including the young boy named Peter whom I mentioned in the beginning. Although Peter’s story sounds very modern, it actually took place back in the 1200’s in the city of Verona in what is modern day Italy. The truths of the Faith that Peter learned in the Apostles Creed became so important to him that he became a Dominican in order to preach that truth. He was received into the Order of Friars Preachers by St. Dominic himself in those very first days of the Order. He spent the rest of his life preaching about the truth of God to people who had fallen away from Faith like his own family and guiding many of them back to the Church. He was so successful that the leaders of those who opposed him conspired to assassinate him. On April 6th, 1252, they ambushed Peter and a traveling companion on a lonely road outside of Milan. The assassins grievously wounded Peter’s traveling companion and struck Peter on the head with an axe-like implement. As he was being attacked, Peter began to recite the Creed, the Symbol of Faith for which he would give his life. When he collapsed under the blows and lay dying in the road, Peter dipped his finger in his own blood and wrote on the ground the beginning of the Creed: Credo in unum Deum. The words of a Creed brought him the Faith when he was a child. They guided his preaching as he sought to serve God throughout his life, and they expressed his love of God as he lay dying. The young boy from Verona became St. Peter of Verona, often called simply St. Peter Martyr.