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The Nicene-Constantinople Creed, part 1: Translation, Theology, and more

March 24, 2014

Over at Vox Nova, David Cruz-Uribe is hosting a three week scriptural reflection on the Creed as a Lenten exercise. He has asked that the discussion there remain focused on scripture, and not digress to talk about issues of translation or other theological sources.

So I thought I’d open up a companion/overflow series here, where we can do just that, in parallel.

Here is the first part of the Creed, in the current Roman Catholic English missal translation:

I believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.

I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the Only Begotten Son of God,
born of the Father before all ages.
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father;
through him all things were made.

Here is the Latin:

Credo in unum Deum,
Patrem omnipoténtem,
Factórem cæli et terræ,
Visibílium ómnium et invisibílium.
Et in unum Dóminum Iesum Christum,
Fílium Dei Unigénitum,
Et ex Patre natum ante ómnia sæcula.
Deum de Deo, lumen de lúmine, Deum verum de Deo vero,
Génitum, non factum, consubstantiálem Patri:
Per quem ómnia facta sunt.

and here is the Greek:

Πιστεύω εἰς ἕνα Θεόν, Πατέρα, Παντοκράτορα, ποιητὴν οὐρανοῦ καὶ γῆς, ὁρατῶν τε πάντων καὶ ἀοράτων.

Καὶ εἰς ἕνα Κύριον Ἰησοῦν Χριστόν, τὸν Υἱὸν τοῦ Θεοῦ τὸν μονογενῆ, τὸν ἐκ τοῦ Πατρὸς γεννηθέντα πρὸ πάντων τῶν αἰώνων·

φῶς ἐκ φωτός, Θεὸν ἀληθινὸν ἐκ Θεοῦ ἀληθινοῦ, γεννηθέντα οὐ ποιηθέντα, ὁμοούσιον τῷ Πατρί, δι’ οὗ τὰ πάντα ἐγένετο.

Transliterated (per St Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church):

Pistévo is éna Theón, Patéra, Pantokrátora, Piitín ouranoú ke gis, oratón te pánton ke aoráton.

Ke is éna Kírion, Iisoún Hristón, ton Ión tou Theoú ton monogení, ton ek tou Patrós gennithénta pró pánton ton eónon.

Fós ek Fotós, Theón alithinón, ek Theoú alithinoú gennithénta, ou piithénta, omooúsion to Patrí, di Ou ta Pánta egéneto

Roman Catholics recite the creed at every mass; normally the Nicene creed, though since the new translation of the missal came out, the Apostle’s Creed is also an option. It used to be the most boring part of mass for me, but I now find it a contemplative high point. Perhaps this is partly because, as I’ve studied theology, I’ve learned more about the theological concepts and doctrinal disputes that it was drawn up to settle: so it has much more depth for me than it used to.

I believe in one God: we lead with an affirmation of monotheism. Trinitarian monotheism, to be sure; but not tritheism. This is an affirmation that the God of Christians, the God and Father of Jesus, is the God of the Shared Scriptures.

God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God: this is such a beautiful image.

only-begotten: I’ve sung the Creed in Latin a few times, and somehow “unigenitum” more clearly and compactly conveys the concept to me.

consubstantial: I grew up saying “one in being” with the Father, in the 1970 ICEL translation. It wasn’t until I got to grad school that I came across the notion that Jesus is not only consubstantial with the Father (in his divine nature), but also consubstantial with us (in his human nature), because that part’s not in the creed. I suppose no one at the time challenged Jesus’ human nature, only his relationship with God; whereas nowadays it’s so easy for Christians to simply equate Jesus with God and overlook the implications of “fully human and fully divine,” “like us in all things but sin.” So I always think of that, when we get to this word.

I think, too, of the major controversy as to whether Christ was “of the same substance” homoousia or “of similar substance” homoiousia, the two Greek words differing by only the letter iota, thus giving rise to the idiom “not one iota’s worth of difference”. 🙂 It’s too bad this is invisible in the English.

Please share your thoughts on this part of the Creed. Please quote the bit you’re commenting on, as I did above; feel free to quote from a different translation, if you have one. Thoughts on translation, theology, history, patristic commentary, or personal reflection are all welcome.

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