Ratzinger on “Credo”

At some point in the not-so-distant future, Catholics in America will begin learning a new English translation of the Latin Missal. Some (perhaps even most) of the changes are relatively small and, for the most part, do not differ in substance from the words they replace.

So, for example, in response to “The Lord be with you,” congregations will no longer say “And also with you” but “And also with your Spirit.” The new translation is certainly closer to the Latin et cum spiritu tuo, but in terms of substance, both English translations capture the concept adequately (in my opinion).

Also, instead of “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed,” congregations will now say, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the world and my soul shall be healed.” This change seems to have caused a bit of a stir among some Catholics that I know, as the newer translation seems less “personal” than the old. Regardless, both are largely expressive of the same idea.

One of the more substantive (and problematic) changes in the new translation, in my opinion, is the opening of the Creed. The new translation reads “I believe” where the old reads “We believe.” Now, to be fair, the Latin text of the Creed does in fact read Credo, or “I believe.” In fact, the same is true with the Greek liturgical text, which reads πιστεύω. The oldest versions of the Creed (Nicaea 325, Constantinople 381), however, read πιστεύομεν, or “we believe.” Some may consider the difference to be more than slightly akin to splitting hairs, but I suggest that there is a real theological difference between the first person singular and plural forms.

The more ancient “we believe,” in my view, signals to the one professing the Creed that these are words that are meant to be recited together. That is, they only make sense within the context of the believing community that proclaims them. “We believe” is an assertion, not only of faith, but of solidarity with one’s neighbor. We believe these truths as individuals (first person), but we believe them always in concert with the rest of the confessing church (plural).

Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict XVI) has a quite different view of the matter. In his Nature and Mission of Theology, he writes:

The “I believe” of the Creed refers, not to some private “I”, but rather to the corporate “I” of the Church. Faith is possible in the measure that I become one with this corporate “I”, which does not abolish my own “I” but broadens it out and, in this way, brings it to itself for the first time” (94).

In this statement, Ratzinger acknowledges the importance of belief in communion; namely, Christian faith is possible only when one finds one’s identity as integral, dare I say inseparable, from the body of Christ. One’s personal identity is always maintained, even in such integration, but one becomes unable to fully define oneself apart from the larger corpus of believers. With this point, I find no qualm. I do, however, maintain that to support the “I believe” as in harmony with what is said and believed here about the church requires far more sidestepping and fancy footwork than the “We believe” that arose from the earliest councils.

In a world that is becoming more fragmented and more individualistic, the questions and issues posed by this rendering are important.

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