What Does the Prayer Really Say? 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
ORIGINALLY PRINTED IN The Wanderer in 2005
I am in receipt of e-messages from kind readers, including Wm. S, who e-wrote (edited): “I have been puzzled and agitated for years with the use of ‘We’ in the Credo instead of ‘I’. I do not believe that ‘We’ can believe. … Communal belief and communal confession offends logic. This may seem a minor problem but to me it is one of the major symbols of the wreck of the Mass. … Best wishes and thanks for your work through the years.” Wm., I agree. Credo should be translated correctly. But let’s make some distinctions.
First, Wm., you refer to an inaccurate translation. Bad translations per se don’t “wreck the Mass”. The language of Holy Mass ought to be Latin. The Vatican Council said vernacular languages might be used as an exception to the rule. Therefore, only bad Latin texts can really “wreck the Mass.” The “we” of the Credo, however, is a complex issue from a historical perspective. Historically, ancient creeds or “symbols” were the compromise formulas of synods or councils; precise enough to eliminate specific divisive heresies they were just ambiguous enough to allow members of battling factions to agree and affix their names for the sake of the Church’s unity. Today’s Creed comes from these ancient historical circumstances. The text is more or less from the acts of the Councils of Nicea (325 – convened in part to resolve the Arian question) and then Constantinople (381 – which examined the divinity of the Holy Spirit) followed by the addition of the infamous “filioque” clause (whose history and dating is far too convoluted to get into). Ancient conciliar and synodal creeds in the East were always expressed in the Greek plural pisteÃƒÂºomen, “we believe”. In the Latin West credal formulas began with a plural credimus. A form of the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed was integrated early on in the Church’s Eucharistic liturgy in both the East and West. The liturgical Creed was an echo of the baptismal profession of faith and as such it was fitting that it should become a singular expression (“Credo…”) even though it is obviously and appropriately the communal expression of a unified believing congregation. Some early liturgical creeds retained the plural.
As you can see, Wm., although we may possibly be able to cobble up a tissue thin justification for a credimus, I don’t believe that is why the ICEL text has a plural. I think that, since the Latin texts were essentially bullet-proof, bad vernacular versions were introduced after Vatican II consciously to destroy certain elements of perennial Catholic theology and devotional practice and replace them with more up-to-date ideas. Lamentably, the Powers That Were, bamboozled by some scholarly sleight of hand in those days of Conciliar ecstasy, naively permitted numerous textual innovations.
Was the “we” of the lousy ICEL version a wrench applied to unhitch people from the vertically oriented theological perspective of the Latin texts and the translations of ubiquitous hand missals of yesteryear and harness them to a new horizontal and closed in group-think? You decide.
All of the above notwithstanding, let Powers That Be today pay close attention to what Joseph Ratzinger (now gloriously reigning as the sovereign Pontiff) wrote in God Is Near Us: The Eucharist, The Heart of Life (Ignatius Press, 2003) on a related topic, the “pro multis” issue: “The fact that in Hebrew the expression ‘many’ would mean the same thing as ‘all’ is not relevant to the question under consideration inasmuch as it is a question of translating, not a Hebrew text here, but a Latin text (from the Roman Liturgy), which is directly related to a Greek text (the New Testament). The institution narratives in the New Testament are by no means simply a translation (still less, a mistaken translation) of Isaiah; rather, they constitute an independent source” (emphasis added – cf. pp. 37-8, n. 10).
O, Cardinal Arinze? Do we need more than this? Hey, Cardinal Pell? Yoo-hoo! Father Harbert? Bishop Trautman? Hello!? Reasonable people are convinced by the undoubtedly correct view of the present Pope, the norms of the Congregation for Divine Worship’s document Liturgiam authenticam (LA), our Catholic sensus fidei and a rudimentary knowledge of Latin grammar that the Latin liturgical texts ought to be translated accurately. Yes, historical creeds in Greek and Latin were plural. Yes, some ancient liturgical creeds were plural. So what? The Creed in Latin says “Credo”. Credo means “I believe” and not anything else. The Latin liturgical tradition constitutes its own source apart from the synodal and conciliar foundations of the Creed in late antiquity. I was thus pleased to see “I believe” in a draft of the new ICEL translation.
Most Eminent and Reverend Fathers, I beg you, hear me. Your translation worker bees got credo right. How about pro multis? If credo means “I believe” and not something else, pro multis means “for many” … not something else. No amount of linguistic voodoo can make it otherwise. The Greek New Testament and the Latin consecration formula derived from it constitute their own sources and those sources must be respected. Those who say that pro multis must really mean “for all” are in effect suggesting that the New Testament and the Latin translations and liturgy that followed are wrong. If our Holy Mother the Church should want us to say “we believe” in English during Mass then the same Church could by a sacred act and with sound historical precedent impose a new Latin liturgical formula having credimus and we would joyfully translate it using “we believe” (which would at least involve the same verb credere). In the meantime, since your draft translation got credo right we can conclude that you no longer want us to recite something liturgically defective. The Church doesn’t want us to say “Credimus in unum Deum” and so we should not introduce a faulty English translation for the sake of horizontal fellowship. Similarly, we ought not gin up a faulty translation of pro multis for the sake of some horizontal sensibility or reckless ecumenical consideration. If the Church could hypothetically change the Latin credo to credimus (and this is sheer fantasy), she cannot even in theory change pro multis to pro omnibus. Look this up in Part II, ch. 4 (264.7-265.14) of your handy Catechismus Romanus seu Catechismus ex decreto Concilii Tridentini ad parochos …. Editio critica (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1989), p. 250. If there are good reasons not to say “we believe” in the Creed, there are even better reasons not to say “for all” during the consecration. We beseech you, Eminent and Reverend Fathers, give us a good translation! Soon! Furthermore, I still think Carthage should be destroyed.
COLLECT – (2002MR):
Deus virtutum, cuius est totum quod est optimum,
insere pectoribus nostris tui nominis amorem, et praesta,
ut in nobis, religionis augmento, quae sunt bona nutrias,
ac, vigilanti studio, quae nutrita custodias.
With small differences this Collect is based on a prayer in the ancient Gelasian Sacramentary, subsequently in the 1962 Roman Missal on the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost. In the Anglican Church’s 1662 Book of Common Prayer for the Seventh Sunday after Trinity (The Alternative Service Book of 1980 for Pentecost 17) we find: “Lord of all power and might, who art the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of thy name, increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness, and of thy great mercy keep us in the same.” 17th century English schismatics got it right. Can’t we? But what will you hear on Sunday?
ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
every good thing comes from you.
Fill our hearts with love for you,
increase our faith,
and by your constant care
protect the good you have given us.
What does the prayer really say? Your indomitable Lewis & Short Dictionary explains that insero means “to sow, plant in, engraft, implant.” I really like that “graft”, chosen also by the Anglicans of yore. Going on, optimum does not mean “perfect”, but rather “best.” I think we can get away with “perfect”, given that we are applying “best” to what God has.
The abovementioned LA 51 states that “deficiency in translating the varying forms of addressing God, such as Domine, Deus, Omnipotens aeterne Deus, Pater, and so forth, as well as the various words expressing supplication, may render the translation monotonous and obscure the rich and beautiful way in which the relationship between the faithful and God is expressed in the Latin text”. Today the priest invokes God as Deus virtutum, an expression in St. Jerome’s Latin Vulgate Psalter (Ps 58:6; 79:5 ff; 83:9; 88;9) often translated as “God of hosts.” Don’t confuse “host” as “army, multitude” with the wheat wafer used at Mass. Virtutum is genitive plural of virtus,“manliness; strength, vigor; bravery, courage; aptness, capacity; power” etc. Jerome chose virtutum to render the Hebrew tsaba’, “that which goes forth, an army, war, a host.” Tsaba’ describes variously hosts of soldiers, of celestial bodies, and of angels. In the Sanctus of Mass and in the great Te Deum we echo the myriads of angels bowed low in the liturgy of heaven before God’s throne: Holy, Holy, Holy LORD GOD SABAOTH …. God of “heavenly hosts” or, as ICEL put it in 1973, God “of power and might”. I think “O mighty God of hosts” conveys what LA 51 is saying we should have.
Notice that we pray to God for an increase in “religion.” I take this to refer to the virtue of religion. Last week I wrote about the difference between “values” and “virtues”. Let’s make more distinctions. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines “religion” in the glossary toward the back of the newer English edition: a set of beliefs and practices followed by those committed to the service and worship of God. The first commandment requires us to believe in God, to worship and serve him, as the first duty of the virtue of religion (cf. also CCC 2084 and 2135). The Angelic Doctor says in his mighty Summa (II-II, 81, 1) that religion is the virtue by which men exhibit due worship and reverence to God as the creator and supreme ruler of all things. We must acknowledge dependence on God by rendering Him a due and fitting worship both interiorly (e.g., by acts of devotion, reverence, thanksgiving, etc.) and exteriorly (e.g., external reverence, liturgical acts, etc.). The virtue of religion can be sinned against by idolatry, superstitions, sacrilege, and blasphemy. We creatures must recognize who God is and act accordingly both inwardly and outwardly. When this at last becomes habitual for us, then we have the virtue of religion. A virtue is a habit. One good act does not make us virtuous. If being prudent or temperate or just, etc., is hard for us, then we don’t yet have the virtue. This petition in the Collect follows immediately from our desire that God “graft” (insere) love of His Holy Name into our hearts. We move from the title of God the angels and saints never tire of repeating in their everlasting liturgy in heaven: HOLY, they say, HOLY, again and again forever, HOLY. Then we beg for all good things to be nourished in us by God as He increases in us the virtue of religion leading to the proper interior and exterior actions that necessarily flow from recognizing who God truly is and who we are.
This Sunday’s Collect has images of armies. I think it not a stretch to imagine also orchard or vine tending. On the one hand, the God of hosts guards the good things we have. On the other, this same mighty God is grafting love into us and then nourishing it so it can grow.
O mighty God of hosts, of whom is the entirety of what is perfect,
graft into our hearts the love of your name, and grant,
that by means of an increase of the virtue of religion,
you may nourish in us the things which are good,
and, by means of vigilant zeal, guard the things which have been nourished.