Creeds

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader subscribes to a number of podcasts. One of them is of the PBS show “Speaking of Faith.” It is an hour-long weekly show where the hostess, Krista Tippet, has a themed discussion on a single subject under the broad heading of “spirituality.” Many weeks the discussion isn’t your Maximum Leader’s cup of tea so to speak. He wanted to describe the shows he doesn’t care for as banal. But that is an inaccurate description, as the shows are always pretty thoughtful. He supposes that he objects (intellectually) with the subject matter - or approach of the participants in the discussion. That doesn’t make the show banal - it just makes your Maximum Leader a bit dismissive. No matter how dismissive he might be, he always listens to the whole show.

Anyhow… The show that just aired was a repeat. A repeat of a show done three years ago. The subject of discussion was “creeds.” The interviewee was Jaroslav Pelikan. Dr Pelikan died last week (aged 82). Dr Pelikan was a professor of history at Yale for 40 odd years and was a world-renown scholar of religious creeds.

Unfortunately, your Maximum Leader’s reading in theology is not broad enough to have included anything by Dr. Pelikan. He suspects that the Big Hominid, or other blog “authorities” in theological matters have read some of Dr. Pelikan’s works and could discourse on them with more expertise and insight.

Your Maximum Leader was intrigued by the program, and has listened to it twice since is broadcast on Thursday. Indeed, his thoughtful reflection on the program - coupled with lots of other stuff to do - precluded him from blogging yesterday.

Dr. Pelikan’s interview is a good one. Your Maximum Leader will encourage you to listen if you are so inclined.

For those of you who are religious, and there are a fair number of you among the readership of Naked Villainy; have you stopped to consider your religion’s creed? Your Maximum Leader has. He was raised a Roman Catholic. He was brought up in the church, fell away from the church, returned with a certain amount of vigour, but has fallen away again. The second falling away was prompted by a serious reflection on the Nicene Creed, the nature of Jesus, and a reasoned attempt to understand his truly held religious beliefs.

Your Maximum Leader, while not a theologian, is probably better versed in matters of Judeo-Christian doctrine than your average person. He admits his knowledge of Roman Catholicism and Anglicanism are pretty solid. Most mainline Protestant denominations are variations on a theme and he is pretty comfortable there as well. He knows a fair amount about Judaism and Islam as well. He’s got the great desert monotheistic religions covered. One could say his understanding of the children of Abraham is good.

He is also a fair historian. He studied it in school. He has a passion for it. So he reads a lot. He is also critical and discerning in what he reads.

So, one day at Mass your Maximum Leader really starting thinking about what he was saying while he was reciting the Nicene Creed. He kept on thinking about it after Mass. Even through the week until the next Sunday. It was on his mind. After a while, your Maximum Leader pulled out the Catechism of the Catholic Church and started reading.

For those of you unfamiliar with the format of the Catechism, it goes line by line through the Nicene Creed and explains what each line means. In case you aren’t familiar with the Nicene Creed here it is:

We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father [and the Son].
With the Father and the Son
he is worshipped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

If you are an Orthodox Christian you don’t say the bracketed phrase in the final stanza reading [and the Son]. Pretty much every major Christian religion uses the Nicene Creed to describe their basic religious beliefs.

Of course, the other great monotheistic religions have creeds. If you are a Jew you have a creed too, the Shema. The Shema goes: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord.” If you are a Muslim you have a creed too. “There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet.”

There are, as you may know, and certainly as Dr. Pelikan wrote about in his book, many Christian creeds. One that seemed to figure prominently in the discussion on Speaking of Faith was the Massai Creed. Until this program he’d never heard of it. The Massai Creed does a superlative job of “Africanizing Chrstianity” as Dr. Pelikan put it. Indeed your Maximum Leader liked this creed so much he will reproduce it in full here.

We believe in the one High God, who out of love created the beautiful world and everything good in it. He created man and wanted man to be happy in the world. God loves the world and every nation and tribe on the earth. We have known this High God in the darkness, and now we know him in the light. God promised in the book of his word, the Bible, that he would save the world and all nations and tribes.

We believe that God made good his promise by sending his son, Jesus Christ, a man in the flesh, a Jew by tribe, born poor in a little village, who left his home and was always on safari doing good, curing people by the power of God, teaching about God and man, showing that the meaning of religion is love. He was rejected by his people, tortured and nailed hands and feet to a cross, and died. He was buried in the grave, but the hyenas did not touch him, and on the third day, he rose from that grave. He ascended to the skies. He is the Lord.

We believe that all our sins are forgiven through him. All who have faith in him must be sorry for their sins, be baptized in the Holy Spirit of God, live the rules of love, and share the bread together in love, to announce the good news to others until Jesus comes again. We are waiting for him. He is alive. He lives. This we believe. Amen.

Beautiful isn’t it? Your Maximum Leader thinks so. He does particularly care for the description of Jesus’ life, teaching, and death. It is wonderfully illustrative in a way that the Nicene Creed is not.

So your Maximum Leader thought about the Creed of his church. He thought about what he felt he knew from sources sacred and historical. He did a lot of soul searching. He also discovered that there was a significant portion of the creed in which he didn’t believe.

Perhaps a word or two on belief here might be a propos. There are a number of different types of “belief.” There is belief derived from observable or testable facts - empirical belief so to speak. There is also belief derived from faith. This is a irrational commitment to something one feels to be true.

As you can tell from where this appears to be going, there is a certain measure of skepticism that your Maximum Leader has towards many things religious. Perhaps one could say that he took to heart David Hume’s exhortation that if there is a easy to understand explanation for something that is attributed to a “miracle” then probably the other explanation should hold.

So your Maximum Leader contemplated the Nicene Creed. He went back and forth over what he believed. He’s tried to work out his own creed. Indeed he’s still working on it. One result of this contemplation has been that he doesn’t self-identify as a Catholic any more. Indeed, there can be some argument as to whether he is technically a Christian or not. (A discussion he believe’s we’ve once engaged in here.)

To have a creed means that you are making to make a conclusive statement about something in which you believe. There is a negative aspect to creeds too. If you conclusively believe in something you conclusively deny other somethings. It can be a tricky business.

Do you have a creed? Have you ever thought about it? Do you think you should?

Carry on.

7 Comments
Kevin Kim said:

Great post to start the week.

Alas, the name “Pelikan” doesn’t ring a bell, and I’m no expert on creedal formulations, though I’ve learned a wee bit about why the early creeds are worded as they are, and what those formulations mean in terms in theology, christology, and pneumatology.

Kevin



Brian B said:

While I think that the Nicene and Apostle’s Creeds are useful devices or expressing certain doctrines, as a lifelong evangelical protestant raised in s Christian tradition with a strong “Sola Scriptura” element to it, I do not adhere to them as closely as a Roman Catholic or a liturgical protestant might — they are wonderful expressions of the faith, but they are not scripture, and as such are fallible and may even contain error.

Having said that, not being RC, I lean more towards the Apostle’s Creed when choosing between the two.



As an old-fashioned Rite I Episcopalian, I prefer the tradition wording of the Nicene Creed:

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;
who for us men and for our salvation
came down from heaven,
and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost
of the Virgin Mary,
and was made man;
and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered and was buried;
and the third day he rose again
according to the Scriptures,
and ascended into heaven,
and sitteth on the right hand of the Father;
and he shall come again, with glory,
to judge both the quick and the dead;
whose kingdom shall have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Ghost the Lord, and Giver of Life,
who proceedeth from the Father [and the Son];
who with the Father and the Son together
is worshipped and glorified;
who spake by the Prophets.
And I believe one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church;
I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins;
and I look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. AMEN.

I grant that the NC is not the Gospel, and was cobbled together by Men and therefore is fallible by definition. Nonetheless, I do indeed believe in it.



The Athanasian Creed is my favorite and may help you with your dilemma;

http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02033b.htm

Read slowly with a glass of bourbon.



Y’know, I *still* have the Nicene creed stuck in my head, lo though these many years of non-Church going have passed, as an aside.

The monotheisms are so creed-based–a statement or formula of belief that somehow concretizes the abstracts of faith and makes them accessible both to the individual and the community–that I still find myself somewhat lost as a Buddhist convert. As far as I can tell, we don’t have creeds. We have a whole bunch of different ways of interpreting the Ultimate, several highly recommended ways to attain it (in meditation), and sets of ethical guidelines, but no obvious creeds.

Hmmm. We have some things that are creed-like, but nothing on a scale of the Nicene or Apostle’s creeds. Good stuff to think over.

(And it’s nice to visit Naked Villainy again. It’s been ages. The new look is great!)

Soen Joon Sunim (aka Andi), formerly of Ditch the Raft



The history behind the filioque - the bracketed bit - is rather fascinating. For very dry and musty values of fascinating. It started in Spain after the collapse of the western empire, and slowly spread through the latin half of what was still a united Christendom. When political tensions between the two halves increased, the filioque became a kind of lightning rod for all sorts of tension between the greek and latin worlds.

Eastern Christianity centered in Constantinople was under enormous pressure from Islam - by 100 having lost Egypt, North Africa, Palestine, Syria, and a good chunk of what is now Turkey to Islamic (primarily Arab, but increasingly Muslim Turks) forces. They needed the help of the west. The Pope in Rome wanted more power. Then they commenced to arguing over the “and the son” and it all ended in mutual excommunications in 1056. Constantinople managed to survive another four centuries, but not in high style.

This is of course a gross simplification.



Robert, from an Orthodox perspective, the creeds are holy writ, just as much as the bible. There is in Orthodoxy someting analogous to Papal infallibility, except that it requires the an ecumenical council - all the bishops of the whole church speaking collegially. This way, you don’t have the potential problem of a new Leo X having infallibility.

An Ecumenical Council can speak authoritatively. The council of Nicea was such a synod, and other councils decided on the contents of the bible, and other matters of doctrine.

I find that an overemphasis on the bible leads to the occasional problem. The church created (or at least assembled - determined which books were the word of god and which weren’t) the bible. The Church, Tradition and the Bible are the three sources of authority, more or less equal, and nicely trinitarian.



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