A protest on behalf of the historic Faith of holy, Mother Church by Peter Toon
In English, but not in other European languages, the Nicene Creed is presented in modern Liturgy, be it Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran or Methodist, as beginning “We believe…”
This is very odd bearing in mind that we call the Creed the “Credo”, which is it first word in the Latin Liturgy and that Credo clearly can only mean “I believe”. In fact in the Greek Orthodox Liturgy also it is Pisteuo, which also can only mean “I believe.”
Some years ago I had a correspondence with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now the Pope) on this topic and we agreed that while “we believe” is not heretical it is nevertheless wrong and should be “I believe” – and (to jump into the 21st century) I understand that eventually the Roman Missal in English will revert to “I believe” and will have other changes, e.g., “and with your spirit” for “and also with you.”
Two reasons have been given by modern bishops and liturgists for having “we believe” in modern rites and services.
First of all, the original form of the Creed, as agreed in the Ecumenical Councils of the fourth century was certainly in the first person plural, we believe, for all the bishops spoke together to affirm it. However, and this is very important, when it was received in local dioceses it was used as a Baptismal Creed and so it automatically became “I believe.” And later when it entered the Divine Liturgy in the East in the fifth century it was in the form of the Baptismal Creed. Then when it eventually entered the Latin Liturgy it also entered in the form of the first person singular, Credo. And theologians of the Church interpreted the Pisteuo and the Credo not only in terms of the personal confession of Faith at Baptism but also as the response of the Bride, the Church, to the Bridegroom, Christ (speaking of course as one Person the Church thus speaks in the first person singular). All musical settings for the Creed until very recently were to the Creed in the first person singular in all languages.
The second reason why modern liturgists have rendered Credo as “we believe” lies in their desire to combat insidious western individualism and in contrast to emphasize “community” – we together, we in community, we united in our voluntary faith. (In contrast “I believe” as the word of the Bride to her Bridegroom is the word of communion, koinonia, not community as the association of “individuals”!)
Both reasons for having “we believe” are false and belong to the wider attempt by modern liturgists to change important parts of the received Liturgy and Tradition. As Cardinal Ratzinger wrote to me, “we believe” is not heretical. However, it is less than the best and it is not right. Let the Church as the One Body, One Household, One Bride echo what She/It has heard from her Lord in His Divine Revelation and let Her/It speak as One, saying, Credo, Pisteuo, I believe.
The Revd Dr Peter Toon April 27, 2005 firstname.lastname@example.org