In conversations about liturgical revision (which, unfortunately it seems, will indeed be happening sooner rather than later in the Episcopal Church), one persistent topic is the place of the Nicene Creed in worship. According to the Book of Common Prayer (1979), it is to be said by all in public worship on every Sunday and Major Feast. Some would prefer we not say it as often, and some think we should not have to say it at all! At a recent forum on Prayer Book revision, the Rev. Ruth Myers "described the Nicene Creed as 'a stumbling block for many,' and wondered if a creed is necessary during the Eucharist." Several thoughtful priests and lay persons have been discussing this online. From my perspective, here are some highlights:
Fr. Robert Hendrickson writes:
In order to be included in something then something must have some sort of definable shape, belief, boundary, norm, or pattern. The notion that if we recite the Creed on Sundays then we are excluding someone somehow misses an essential point – excluding them from what?
For all the talk about inclusion in the Church the sad thing to me is that this has become a cheap thing – we are too often not including people in anything more challenging, life-changing, or controversial than a New York Times subscription. The only thing the Church includes anyone in is in the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ – the mystery at the heart of the Creed.
(read the rest here)
Fr. Christopher Arnold, in relating a story about a parish discussion he once took part in, writes:
The younger generations, on the other hand, felt more cordial about the Creed. I’ll divulge that I was in this group. For several of us, the Creed was something concrete and positive, a constructive statement of faith. Unlike the older Christians in the room, the younger ones had been raised in secular and skeptical surroundings. Many of our peers were dismissive or hostile towards Christianity, preferring Buddhism, neo-Paganism, or nothing. We spoke about how we had struggled to arrive at the faith that the Creed summarized. To stand and declare it on a Sunday was to affirm again the faith that we had discovered to be life-giving. I remember one young woman saying that she didn’t agree with everything in the Creed, but she respected that the Creed represented the faith of the wider church, and she was working hard to join it.
My point is not to say that one group is right and another wrong, but to draw attention to how our feelings about parts of the liturgy are possibly cultural pendulums swinging through their arcs. If the Creed is removed because one generation feels uncomfortable with it, how will the next generation get a chance to see if the Creed is necessary for the support of their faith?
(read the rest here)
And two reactions in the comments section following Fr. Chris's post:
Without the faith of the creeds, and the strong identity it ideally inculcates, even in the midst of disagreement with it, a church becomes either a poorly run social service organization, so wasteful that it should be shut down, or a boring fraternal organization, and deserves the death that ultimately awaits it. (Fr. Jody Howard)
The fact (that) the Episcopal Church is relatively hospitable to skeptics doesn’t mean that we don’t intend to be a branch of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church. Those who accept our relative open-mindedness and hospitality ought not to ask those of us who affirm the historic faith without hesitation to deform the liturgy by removing the Nicene Creed. (Fr. Bill Carroll)
In reading and reflecting over all this, I was reminded of something I recently read by William Porcher DuBose. In his 1911 lectures at the University of the South (later published as Turning Points in My Life), DuBose stated:
All the truth of the Church is not yet mine: there are points of it that I know to be true, because I have been all the time approximating to them; but I am still waiting, and shall probably die waiting, for them to become true to me. Truth is not an individual thing; no one of us has all of it--even all of it that is known. Truth is a corporate possession, and the knowledge of it is a corporate process. It enters slowly and painfully into the common sense, the common experience, the common use and life of men. There is a corporate, catholic, Christianity, actually extant on this earth, which no one or no set of us holds all of, or perfectly even what we do hold ... the full actualization of Christianity will come only with the fruition of the world's destiny, in the end of the ages. When a man learns that, he will be modest either about his own truth or about impugning other people's truth.It is this very understanding of truth, and of the truth of the Christian faith, which led DuBose to comment specifically on the Creed, and its place in the Church:
I can accept the Church's, or the Catholic, Creed; and could with good conscience accept it, even though it were not yet all my own creed, or though I could not see my way to ever making all the incidents or details of it my own. Shall Christ not be mine, and I His, because I cannot see all the steps of my way to Him?--or all the steps of His way to me? ... We may confess the faith as the Church's faith and profess the life as the Church's life, but to start out with saying that either of them is all personally ours is either ignorance or hypocrisy. On the one hand, therefore, I would say that for one to suppose that, because the general or catholic creed of the Church is not in every point and particular, in every interpretation or understanding of it, his own personal and actual creed, he has therefore at once to teach or preach against it, or else to avow and proclaim his dissent as to read himself or be read out of the Church, is illogical and unreasonable. And on the other hand, I should say that for the Church to require and demand that, ipso facto and instanter, her fully developed and complete creed should be ex animo and in every jot and tittle the personal and actual creed of every member, or of any member, is equally irrational and impossible. There ought to be, at the least, as much of divine patience and tenderness on the part of the Church toward the incomplete and even the willful believer, as there out to be of modest deference and obedience on the part of the individual believer to the reasonable and rightful authority of the Church.DuBose's own reasonable and nuanced thought in this regard has helped me to be more honest and charitable when it comes to discussing the Creed with those who are uncomfortable affirming it (or parts thereof)--but his approach simultaneously affirms, I believe, the fundamental importance of the Creed as "the Church's faith," faithfully leading us into the completeness of truth, though as yet "no one of us has all of it." It is for this reason that I believe the '79 Prayer Book was right to restore the confession of the Nicene Creed at the celebration of every Sunday Eucharist (previous Prayer Books had allowed for its occasional omission, provided that it was at least said on principal feast days).
Lastly, DuBose's understanding that "truth is a corporate possession" is reinforced by the '79 Prayer Book's restoration of the plural form ("We believe in one God ..."), which is true to the original language of the Creed (previous Prayer Books had read, "I believe ... "). The wisdom of this language was demonstrated to me recently when a clergy friend was recounting an experience he had as a young ordinand. Nearing ordination, he admitted to his spiritual advisor that he did not think he could in good conscience fully affirm a particular article of the Creed. His advisor replied, "Affirm it, and I will believe it for you, and you may trust that one day you will believe it, too." This, to me, is a beautiful illustration of Charles Williams' idea of "coinherence." So, for example, when St. Paul writes that we are to bear one another's burdens (Gal. 6:2), there is a deep spiritual truth discerned--we are, mystically and truly, bound together in Christ, in all things. And so one now truly, like Christ, suffers with and for another, rejoices with and for another, believes with and, at times even believes for, on behalf of, another who is in the midst of doubt. And so the Church, composed as she is of such diverse individuals, is increasingly being brought to unity in and by Christ, as she confesses, "We believe ..."
Peace of Christ.