Wednesday, March 2, 2011

We Are Not Catholics, We Are Christians!

When it first came out, I remember showing off the Worship Supplement (1969, CPH) and, of all the things that were new, what stuck out most to the people who saw it was the word "catholic" in the creed.  "We are not catholics!  We are Christians," I was told over and over again.  At the time I was not sure either about the history of the word or the reason for vehemence of those objecting to it.  After all we did say the dreaded "c" word in the Athanasian Creed (and it was in the hymnal counterpart to the King James Version -- The Lutheran Hymnal 1941).  I guess the infrequent use of that creed could justify overlooking the unpleasant speaking aloud of that which dare not be spoken in a Lutheran church.

When ILCW began planning for the book that became Lutheran Book of Worship, "catholic" was there.  Perhaps this contributed to the objections Missourians found with that more ecumenical book.  In any case, when Lutheran Worship was published in 1982, "catholic" was there but related to a footnote.  When the Hymnal Supplement 1998 came out it was again a footnote to the actual text of the creed spoken by the people.  Lutheran Service Book actually sent out a study of the creed proposing to restore the plural form of its confession ("We believe...") and "catholic" in the body of the creed with "Christian" in a footnote.  For whatever reason, fears of those presenting this to the Convention or the desire to refrain from controversy or the imposition of the Convention upon the Commission on Worship, LSB was accepted with the texts of the creeds from LW.

It was a most unfortunate decision, in my opinion, and relegates another generation of LCMS people to grow learning the creed using a word not original to that creed and one that means something very different than catholicam.  In my own parish, I began introducing the "catholic" word so that it would not be controversial when LSB came out and when LSB abandoned the quest, I retained it in our usage since we had fought the battle for understanding the word "catholic" as one friendly to Lutheranism and gone on to other things.

Judging from a couple of other blogs or forums, it is still a word that ruffles the feathers of Lutherans in the pews (and some in the pulpit).  This is a shame.  Methodists, Episcopalians, and Presbyterians have all used the word "catholic" for many years -- apparently without dispute. These churches have by their own confession and practice NOT stood within the veil of evangelical catholic identity and yet they have grown comfortable with the word.  Why then would we, a church body which claims to be intentionally evangelical and catholic in confession and practice, eschew the word "catholic" in the creed?  It literally boggles the mind.

My friend Pastor Wil Weedon put it this way:  It all depended - at least in the 16th and 17th century - on whether one was singing in German or in Latin.  If the Creed was sung in German - and that means, Luther's "Wir Glauben All" - then one confessed that the Holy Spirit "die ganz' Christenheit auf Erden hält in einen Sinn gar eben."  But if one sang the Latin Creed, then one confessed "unam sanctam catholicam et apostolicam Ecclesiam."  And Lutherans for a couple centuries were totally at ease with confessing it either way; in many services confessing it both ways as the German was often sung by the people after the Latin was led by the choir.  The notion that "christian" is preferred over "catholic" because that's how the Creeds were rendered in the German Book of Concord does not jive with the actual history of Lutheran liturgy. 

I believe that it is imperative that we reclaim our familiarity with this word and raise our comfort level in using it in the creed for we as confessional Lutherans are not only deliberate but historically consistent in our conviction that we are not innovators but faithful confessors of the one, true, apostolic, and catholic faith.  For us this is not a word used for window dressing but something that resonates to the whole nature of who we are, what we confess, and how we live.  I think it is time to reclaim the word from the footnote and use it until it no longer offends us.  I am convinced that until we become comfortable with this word in the creed, we will not be at ease with our own confessional Lutheran identity as evangelical catholic Christians.  And that is the point.  We ARE catholics!

As a footnote.... why do we confess "I believe" in the Nicene Creed when the original was "We believe?"  Even in Luther's creedal hymn, we do not sing "Ich glaube" but "Wir glauben..."  I won't take up any more space on this, but to make this point.  Unlike the Apostles Creed and its association with baptism, the Nicene is the "we believe" creed used to define what is orthodox -- not only in terms of the individual but in terms of the whole congregation/church.  Literally by confessing the Nicene Creed we are submitting our own individual confession to that which has faithfully and in orthodox terms confessed the Holy Trinity -- from time of controversy and conflict to the present day.


Steve said...

Fr. Peters,
Thank you for posting this. I have understood what the main part of your post says and have tried to teach it to others. The last part taught me something I did not know and I did usually rankle a bit when we said "we" in the Nicene Creed. Now that I know why I take great comfort in that and joy in being part of that blessed "we".

Pastor Peasant said...

One of my Catholic professors (yes, with a capital "C"!) taught that the Apostles' Creed ("I believe") is the personal creed of the baptized, and the Nicene Creed ("We believe") is the bishop's creed - the creed that is confessed together as the belief of the church. You indicated this latter point in your post. What is interesting is that in the new translation of the Roman Missal, which is to be implemented this Advent, Rome is reverting to "I" in the Nicene Creed. Not sure why. Also (as an aside), they are also going back to the original response in the salutation: "And with your spirit." Oh, that LSB had unified that response . . .

Paul said...

A literal translation of the Greek text:
We believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible;
And in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only begotten Son of God,
begotten from the Father before all ages,
light from light,
true God from true God,
begotten not made,
of one substance with the Father,
through Whom all things came into existence,
Who because of us men and because of our salvation came down from the heavens,
and was incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary
and became man,
and was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate,
and suffered and was buried,
and rose again on the third day according to the Scriptures
and ascended to heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father,
and will come again with glory to judge living and dead,
of Whose kingdom there will be no end;
And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and life-giver,
Who proceeds from the Father,
Who with the Father and the Son is together worshipped and together glorified,
Who spoke through the prophets;
in one holy Catholic and apostolic Church.
We confess one baptism to the remission of sins;
we look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen

My question for the Commission on Worship: Why not return to the original? I encourage such a return be seriously considered.

Timothy Buelow said...

re: "And with your spirit": For years I led worship in German and the congregation would respond "und mit seinem Geiste" instead of "und mit deinem Geiste." ("And with his spirit" instead of "and with your spirit.") despite what was printed in the liturgy which they never looked down at. This persisted even after trying to explain to them what it meant.
That experience has made me doubt many English speakers in worship today understand the response "and with thy spirit" very well. Thus I am very happy for the simplification. Maybe LSB's solution is good. If people hear both, maybe they'll learn what the more difficult explanation means.
And another "hear, hear!" in regard to the "We" in the Nicene Creed.
The sad problem with "Catholic" (TM)is that it's been made into an "official" trademark. In Europe one can use the word "jeep" without running afoul of the law. In America, you might get sued.
Half of those who belong to a church in America are Roman Catholics. If we could be consistent in always adding the word Roman when referring to them, it might work better to use "catholicam." But good luck trying to get people to use their full brand name. I know I am intentionally consistent in it in my teaching and preaching, so that hopefully, some day, we can take back the purloined term.

Jonathan said...

I know someone raised in a LBW church that still stubbornly sticks to "catholic" during the creed in LW. Though, I think the reason many do it is for the ecumenical aspect of it, as you pointed out; to be a more gracious head-nod of sorts to our RC (tm) brethren.

I always use "RC" (tm) when referring to that organization. It irritates some people. Why? I don't get it.