Nicene Creed

Some Thoughts on Catechizing on the Creed

It is official the new translation of the Roman Missal will be released at the beginning of Advent 2011. I wanted to offer some of my thoughts on how the Church should address catechesis of the new Missal, especially catechizing on the Creed.

In many ways the new translation of the Roman Missal is a vast improvement over the current translation, but its implementation will be one of the most challenging catechetical endeavors in recent decades. But in the midst of every challenge is a silver lining and I think the silver lining of this particular challenge will be the opportunity to reintroduce the faithful to the history of the Church, particularly the patristic period. Catechesis on the translation of the Nicene Creed should include a history of this Creed in order to better understand the meaning of the words we recite every Sunday. That being said let us focus on the new translation of the phrase, “consubstantialem Patri”. The current translation reads, “One in Being with the Father”, while the new translation returns to the more literal “consubstantial with the Father.” Naturally, this phrase refers to the relationship between the Father and the Son.

Some preliminary observations to begin with: First, I think one of the key lessons from the controversy surrounding Nicaea and indeed from the entire study of the doctrine of God, is that we must be precise in our terms referencing God. It is amazing that the Fathers of the Church sacrificed so much just for just one word, like homoousios. If so much went into the use of term we should be careful not to throw it out lightly. Secondly, the term “one in being” is an ambiguous phrase. I remember when the US bishops were debating the new translation (unfortunately, I cannot find the transcript) this issue was raised about “one in Being”. Several bishops argued that “one in being” was not specific enough in describing the relationship between Father and Son, since you and I can be one in being in a room, etc. One in being in a time or place is not what the Fathers of the Church had in mind when they used the term homoousios/consubstantialem.

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Athanasius Contra Mundum

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Saint Athanasius, a Doctor of the Church, and the foremost defender of the divinity of Christ, is one of the key figures in the history of the Faith.  His era, the Fourth Century, was a time period of turbulent change, not unlike our own in that respect.  With the conversion of the Emperor Constantine to Christ, the Church was suddenly transformed from a proscribed cult into the religion of the Empire.  Instead of being executed for their faith in Christ, bishops found themselves important players in what was rapidly becoming a Christian Empire.  To many Christians, it seemed as if they had reached a golden period in human history when the Church could rapidly reach its goal of bringing all men to Christ.  History, however, never ceases to twist and turn as it charts the affairs of Man.

One of the more dangerous twists of History in the Fourth Century for the Church, was the meteoric rise of the Arian heresy.  A priest of Alexandria, Egypt, Arius propounded the doctrine that the Son, since he was begotten of the Father, was a creation of God, and not God.  He was the greatest of God’s creations, and next to God, but he was not God.  Of course, Arius thus destroyed the doctrine of the Trinity, and reduced Jesus from being God to being a creature serving God.  This doctrine, if it had prevailed, would have transformed Christianity into a Unitarian faith and inevitably downplayed the centrality of Christ.  The doctrine of Arius began to spread, until it was necessary for it to be addressed at the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, the first of the ecumenical councils.  Called specifically to address Arianism, the Council was unequivocal in its condemnation of Arianism as indicated by the Nicene Creed written at the Council:

We Believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible; and in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father, only begotten, that is, from the substance of the Father; God from God, Light from Light, very God from very God, begotten, not made, Consubstantial with the Father, by whom all things were made, both things in heaven and things in earth; who for us men and for our salvation came down and was incarnate, was made man, suffered and rose again the third day, ascended into heaven, and is coming to judge the living and the dead. And in the Holy Spirit, and those who say “There was when he was not” and “Before his generation he was not” and “He came to be from nothing” or those who pretend that the Son of God is “Of other hypostasis or substance; or “created” or alterable” or “mutable”; the Catholic and apostolic Church anathematizes.

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History and the End of Schism

Pope Benedict and Patriarch Kirill

Rumors and rumors of rumors of an imminent end to over a thousand years of the Great Schism between Catholics and Orthodox have exploded over these past few days.  If these rumors are correct then not since the Ecumenical Council of Ferrara-Florence have these great Church’s been so close to unity.

In A.D. 1054 Catholic prelate Humbert and Orthodox prelate Michael Cærularius excommunicated each other.  This marks the beginning of the Great Schism between the Catholic and Orthodox Church’s.

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