Thursday, April 26, 2007

Marmion, Boylan, Credo, ICEL...

I am reading D. Columba Marmion's book, "Christ the Life of the Soul," which is best imbibed in small and deep draughts, referring also to the bible to read the citations that the liberal scriptural footnotes point to. I started reading this book, seeking to answer the question, what distinguishes the Catholic notion of "divinization" from the LDS (Mormon) belief in (each) man becoming a God. Put in another way, how (or) does a Catholic who says "you are Jesus" differ from a Mormon who says "you will become a god?"

Clearly there is a fundamental difference between Catholic and a Mormon doctrine on the person of Jesus Christ; a difference so fundamental that a Catholic with a straight face can say to a Mormon that Mormonism is not a Christian religion, and Mormonism implicitly acknowledges the obverse in it's rejection of Christian baptism. This fundamental difference is clear, in Christianity, the Second Person of the most Holy Trinity, One God in Three Persons, assumes a human nature, remaining unchanged, but taking to Himself our nature; Jesus is a Divine Person with a human nature, of whom we can say He is "perfect man" but we cannot say He is a "human person." In contrast, in Mormon theology, Jesus is a "human person" who becomes a god, not a Person in a Trinity that is One God, but one god among many gods. (I apologize to any LDS faithful who read this if I have not clearly presented their belief, but this is my understanding at this point, and I believe it is sufficient to make the point I am driving towards, which is not really a discussion of LDS theological differences, and to the many LDS faithful who are so demonstrably men and women of good will, it is a pleasure and a privelege to live and work side by side with you).

The point I wish to investigate; rather, is the missapplication of concepts and terms in Catholic useage, which seem to result in a loss of understanding of our faith, drifting in some ways towards something more akin to LDS belief.

Now it is good to bear in mind the close association which Jesus himself has made between the faithful and Himself, from the question to St. Paul, why are you persecuting me, to the words to the sheep and goats (and admonition to us) at the judgment; whenever you did it to the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.

Now it is one thing to read and understand at a certain level that "divinization" is "living the life of grace," because grace is of God, and living the life of Grace is living the life of God, which is what we were created to do, lost in the first garden, and regained in the second garden. Nature is elevated by grace, but not lost, rather made whole. What we are, by grace, is more than what we were, but we still remain in substance the same "being" we were before; what we are hasn't changed, but what we have is something that we formerly lacked.

Now let us consider for a moment our incorporation into Christ's body, the Church, by baptism. This rebirth into the body of Christ does not create a bunch more Christs, a plethora of new "gods," but adds to the body, which is one. So when we speak of "seeing Christ in our neighbor" if we understand it as our nieghbor is one Christ and another neighbor is a different Christ, and both are distinct and different Christs from our self, then I suspect our understanding is closer to a Mormon understanding than to our own. Let me explore this a little deeper.


This is the faith of the Church, as expressed in the creed of Nicaea-Constantinople. We have been accustomed to the English version which has "We believe in one God..." but will soon enough be graced to receive a corrected version which instead has "I believe in one God..."

It is well to consider why this change, and why the Nicea-Constantinopolitan Council Fathers chose to express it this way. The creed is an afirmation fo the faith of the Church, and as such, is prayed by the Church, the body of Christ. But, you say, "I" is a personal afirmation, whereas "We" is a corporate, group affirmation. That is where the missunderstanding occurs, and the correction needs to be applied, not just in the words, but in the understanding first and foremost.

You see, when the creed is recited, it is not us as individuals who are speaking, but the body of Christ that speaks. Christ has only one body. "I" is singular, "We" is plural. That is why the creed is in the singular, Christ speaks through His body, and He only has one body. We speak united to and living in the body of Christ, hence it is only one person, an "I," that speaks, not a mob of people, a "we" that speaks.

This is, I will admit, a difficult construct to grasp, but it is an important construct, for lex orandi, lex credendi, as the saying goes; if we pray as many, we tend to see "many", whereas, if we pray as one, we should see only one. If we see many, then many gods holding different beliefs becomes easier to be comfortable with, if we see one, then that which is not united becomes clearer in a more visible way. Recognizing the fundamental unity of the one body of Christ, living in all times for all men, we will be more likely to "see," as Boylan (This Tremendous Lover) paraphrases St. Augustine, "and there will be one Christ, loving himself." And if I may add, this is a far cry from "what God told me trumps what God told you."

Ut unum sint!

The change in the translation of the first word of the creed has a profound impact when understood in the light of faith. I entered this meditation today because all of us can do our neighbor a great service in gaining an understanding of this change; it bears careful consideration. If I've missed anything here, I appreciate your correction and let us submit ourselves and our understanding to Jesus through His Church. God bless.


  1. Thank you, Mark, for this meditation. I must admit to never having thought of the critical importance of the first word of the Creed -- in fact, it never occurred to me to notice the change in the English translation, even after our weekly exposure to the original Latin! It just goes to show how deeply runs the importance of words.

  2. While I can understand the importance of the oneness of the Body of Christ, as well as the importance of saying "I" in the creed, I don't think I can agree with this particular assessment. We as individuals say the creed as a reminder of our baptismal promise, a reminder of the time when we came to join, not when we were already joined. And even being part of the Body of Christ, we are still affirming our own continuing decision to believe.

    Christ doesn't believe in Himself or His Divinity. He knows. We believe in it because, even with what knowledge we may have, it's imperfect and incomplete. We're assenting to belief in something beyond our knowledge and understanding, a mystery of One God in Three Divine Persons.

    In the LDS framework, we wouldn't be assenting to a belief in something beyond our finite minds to understand. A material god is a limited god, one that can be understood and grasped—one to which we can someday be equal. That is not what we as Catholics believe in as God.

  3. We speak united to and living in the body of Christ, hence it is only one person, an "I," that speaks, not a mob of people, a "we" that speaks.

    Hm. This is quite different from what I've heard elsewhere as the theological justification for praying "I" instead of "We," which is that by praying "I" each of us individually professes the common faith, whereas as an individual I can say "We" meaning "The Church, but not in this instance me."

    I see this as one of those cases where there are two truths (call them the personal and the communal) that cannot both be expressed in a single word. The Latin tradition is to emphasize the personal ("Credo," "I believe"), the Greek tradition is to emphasize the communal ("Πιστεύομεν," "We believe").

    Either way, though, we ought to be aware of what we're saying and why.

  4. Tom wrote:

    I see this as one of those cases where there are two truths (call them the personal and the communal) that cannot both be expressed in a single word. The Latin tradition is to emphasize the personal ("Credo," "I believe"), the Greek tradition is to emphasize the communal ("Πιστεύομεν," "We believe").

    Certainly there are these aspects of truth, personal and communal; What I was trying to convey is something Cdl Arinze, commenting on Liturgium Authenticam, said about the importance of this translation being faithful to the original. The personal "I believe", in the context of the mass, is the person of Christ's body, which is one (ie: singular), thus the "communal aspect" is subsumed in it, rather than neglected.

    And it is this aspect, when we are confronted with a change of a single word ("I believe..." instead of "We believe...") which the good Cardinal desires us to know the why, beyond the mere fact of "that's what it actually says." That "why" has a depth and beauty which I found to be compelling.

    Marmion makes the point that if the Church were a corporation, a legal fiction, "we believe" whould be quite appropriate, as there is only a "we" and the "body" exists only as a fiction. But the Church is more than a fiction, it is a reality.

    God bless,