01 July 2009

Crazy connections

Awhile back, my husband read the story of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha to my kids. They really enjoyed it. So when I was looking through a website that had a bunch of lap books, and found one on the Iroquois, I decided the kids and I would make this as a tie in to Kateri's story (since she wonders if she could ever love the fierce Iroquois).

The lap book is based on the story, If you lived with the Iroquois. In reading the story, it tells where the Iroquois lived, so the next thing we found ourselves doing was sitting around and identifying where the Iroquois could be found on the globe. The story mentioned the Iroquois went as far south as Tennessee, and off my son went on a tangent about the penguin and the walrus that lived there.

Actually, he was talking about Tennessee Tuxedo and his pal, Chumley.

That jogged my own memory of Reverend Know-it-all, aka Father Richard Simon, who Ma Beck always used to fondly talk about. The reason I thought of him is that on the website where Father's wise retorts can be found, is a picture of Bullwinkle J. Moose. If you're a Minnesotan, you know the connection.

Anyhow, I finally got a chance to sit down a the computer and went to the site, since it is always interesting, especially Father's great sense of humor and the groanable names he provides for the person posing the question (see the site for "Answers Everything You Always Wanted To Know About God & Religion, But Were Just Too Afraid To Ever Ask....")

As I was reading through the different questions he had answered, I found one I had just been wondering about myself.

And, so here we are, circuitously brought to this point because of a homeschooling moment.

Dear Rev. Know-It-All,

One Sunday after Mass, my son asked me why Catholics have two different creeds; the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed? He argues that the Apostles had first-hand knowledge of Jesus, so why change something that they had already written? I couldn't answer his question, but told him that I would try to find out for him. Also, why does the priest alternate between the two different creeds at Mass? Thank you in advance for clarifying this for us!

Yours truly,

Phil E. O’Kweigh

Dear Phil,
How fortunate! You have a son who is actually paying attention. That in itself should make you proud. Here, however you and your son are accepting an assumption, namely that the Apostles wrote the Apostles’ Creed. They didn’t. A legend arose in the fifth century after Christ to explain the origin of the so called Apostles’ Creed. The legend says that after Pentecost, inspired by the Holy Spirit, each apostle contributed one of the 12 points of the Apostles’ Creed. This pious and charming story has no origin in history. The Apostles’ Creed in its present version is a rather late statement of faith. It seems to have been mentioned by St. Ambrose around 390 AD, but the first complete written version that we have of the Apostles’ Creed appear in Latin around 710 AD. There is a Greek version of the Apostles’ Creed quoted by Marcellus of Ankara in Turkey around 350 AD, but it isn’t called the Apostles’ Creed. It’s called the Roman Symbol. “Symbol” is an interesting Greek word. “Symbol,” or as it’s spelled in Greek “symbolon,” is an entrance ticket, a token, or half of a broken coin that, when reunited to its other half, proves identity. You’ve seen those cutesy half hearts that some people wear as jewelry, their sweetheart having the other half of the heart. That’s a “symbol” in the ancient Greek sense. So the symbol of faith, our trust in one God; Father, Son and Spirit admits us and unites us to the fellowship of believers and to the Church, the Bride of Christ. Different places had different expressions or symbols, but since the Roman Church was (and is) uniquely the leader and example of the whole Church (as St. Irenaeus of Lyon said around 190 AD in his treatise “Against Heresies”) the Old Roman Symbol was quoted throughout the world. Eventually, Eusebius of Caesarea in the Holy Land, also around 350 AD, said that the Nicene Creed was based on this “Apostles Creed.” He was probably referring to some version of the Old Roman Symbol.

The Old Roman Symbol was probably a form of the Rule of Faith, a simple formula used in the preparation of candidates for Baptism. The above mentioned St. Irenaeus of Lyon gives us a version of the rule of faith as follows:

We hold .... this faith: in one God, the Father Almighty who made the heaven and the earth and the seas and all the things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who was made flesh for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who made known through the prophets the plan of salvation, and the coming, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the bodily ascension into heaven of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and his future appearing from heaven in the glory of the Father to sum up all things and to raise anew all flesh of the whole human race …

As time went along, people started to say some crazy things about Christ. The bishops of the Church, the theological heirs of the apostles would get together to sort things out. These gatherings were called synods, or if they were large; councils. They had the old rules of faith, but as people tried to add things to the Gospel the bishops would amplify the simple rules of faith to explain a particular part of the faith that they had always taught, but that had never needed to be emphasized before. By that process we got both the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed as it was amplified at the Council of Constantinople in 381 AD. In 589 AD, in Toledo, Spain, the Catholics add the phrase “and from the Son” to the Nicene Creed to emphasize that the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Son as well as the Father. They did this because their rulers, the Germanic Visigoths were Arian heretics who believed that Jesus wasn’t quite divine in the same way that the Father was. Catholics believe that Jesus really is God and that the Holy Spirit is the gift of the Father and the Son working together in our lives. This spread throughout the Latin speaking Church. Some people claim it was a new doctrine, but it isn’t. We have always believed it since the earliest days of the Church. Thus was born the famous “filioque” clause that makes the Greek Orthodox crazy. They say it’s heresy and we were wrong to add it to the Nicene Creed.

So, there you have it. Both the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed are descendants of the Old Roman Symbol which is a development of the early Christian rule of faith which we received from the apostles. They are both later and more detailed statements of the faith that we have always held and received from the very first Christians. One is not really more ancient than the other. I have no idea why your parish priest alternates between the two Creeds. In the olden days, which I well remember, being a bit of a fossil myself, we only recited the Nicene Creed in Latin at Mass! We used the Apostles’ Creed for the Rosary and I seem to remember that godparents had to recite it at Baptisms. Perhaps your parish priest wants a shorter version now and then because he has to be somewhere or perhaps he, like you, is under the mistaken notion that the Apostles’ Creed is older than the Nicene Creed.

Yours as always,

Rev. Know-It-All

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