Friday, October 15, 2010

Believing the Church or Believing in the Church

Here is the question.  Which of these two is better as an English translation of the Nicene Creed?
And I believe in One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

or

And I believe One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

First, clearly even just this small portion of the Credo brings up other questions, which are beyond the topic of the present discussion, such as the use of "I" instead of "we," the use of "Catholic" instead of "Christian," etc.  Suffice to say that one can tell my position on these questions by the way I chose to publish the pertinent words here.

My argument is that translators get it wrong when they leave out the "in."

Now, to be clear, I do believe that the statement without the "in" is true.  The Church teaches the Truth, and it is the high calling and privilege of the Christian, the child of the Church, to believe that Truth. And so Christians do believe the Church.  My argument, then, is in no way an argument against dogma, or an argument against the authority of the Church. Rather, it's goal is clarity about what is being confessed in the Creed as it is recited in the Mass each week.

Our liturgy is Western, and therefore we should understand that our vernacular liturgy is based upon, a translation of, the Latin.  Even if our church came out of a German speaking church, and in its turn has given birth to other vernacular liturgies.  Both our English liturgy and any liturgical translation our church helps bring about (whether it be a Spanish version of LSB, or a native African liturgy, or whatever) should keep in mind, as an important principle in liturgical translation, that the Latin, even if it be several steps removed from a church's tradition, should be consulted.  To give one hypothetical scenario, I think it is misguided to translate a German liturgy directly into English, as though German were the basis of the liturgy.  Rather, an Anglicizing of the liturgy should involve a fresh effort to render the Latin into the new language.  The result of such an approach in some cases might even be a better translation of the Latin than the previous language was.  But I digress.

And since we are of the Latin tradition, the Latin version of the Nicene Creed is a vitally important resource.  At this point, however, I suggest that a little knowledge can be used to go down the wrong road.  For the Latin can be cited, out of context, to get one answer, which I think is improper.  The Latin is as follows:

Et Unam, Sanctam, Catholicam, et Apostolicam Ecclesiam.

There is no "in" in that line of the Creed, one might be tempted to observe.  There isn't a "believe" there either.  If one were to give a literalist translation, as you might find, eg., in some of the old hand missals, which were meant to aid the parishioner who did not know Latin, then you might see something like this:

And one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.  (as in the Father Lasance Missal)

Yet a literalist translation is not really a translation, but a cop out.  Translating is an art which I would define as bringing something from one language and making it breathe properly in another. 

Both the "credo" and the "in" are economically covered elsewhere in the Creed.  But beyond that, this problem can be illuminated by making reference to the Greek.  The Greek text of the Nicene Creed is improperly used to give us an English version of the Creed that defies the tradition of the Latin Creed, such as the "We believe" so popular in some sectors.  Nevertheless, it is helpful, I suggest, to consult the Greek in this case.  I haven't learned how to type Greek, so I will give a phonetic rendering with Latin letters:

Eis mian, hagian, katholiken, kai apostoliken ekklesian.

Interestingly, a literalistic translation of the Greek here would mean we would have neither an "And" nor "believe."  As I say, such would be literalistic and simple minded.  On the other hand, the Greek shows us clearly that there is an important preposition at the top of this clause, "eis."  Some writers argue that this word is more correctly translated "into" or "unto" than merely "in."  That is fine, but ignores that in some cases "eis" is perfectly capable of being translated "in."  Certainly to leave it out altogether is unfair to the true sense of the Creed.

I openly describe myself as a traditionalist, yet that in no way means a blind loyalty to an English order of liturgy of a certain vintage frozen in time.  I dare say that I disagree with the translation given in both The Lutheran Hymnal of 1941 and Service Book and Hymnal of 1958.  As much as I love the classic Book of Common Prayer, especially in its 1662 edition, I must say that its version of the Nicene Creed is even more off the track, since it even lacks the confession that the Church is "holy."

The Church, including the fact that she is One, and Holy, and Catholic, and Apostolic, is an article of faith.  It is not empirically evident.  It is plain and clear to the eyes of faith, yet the faithful Christian is also precisely the one who is often tempted to see the Church in other terms.  So this is a valuable and comforting reminder in the Creed about the nature of the Church.  We might say the same, I hasten to add, of the true nature of the holiness of the member of the Church.  Just as we confess our sinfulness, so we also confess our holiness in Christ, and the true unity, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity of the Bride of Christ, the Church.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Very good Latif,

Might want to add a section on liturgical considerations. The "eis" matches with "I believe IN one God,. . . IN one Lord Jesus Christ, . . . and IN the Holy Spirit . . ."

Also, might explore the the Church as a creation of the Holy Trinity is not just believed as it announces or speaks the Word of God but the Church is a real thing. (ie. Temple, Bride, House) One starts headed in the wrong way when Church is a metaphor and the real thing is unknowable.

In Christ
Adrian

Deacon Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

Thanks for sharing these thoughts, Adrian.

I wonder if you are an Adrian I know.

Anonymous said...

How many Adrians do you know? And how do I know what you know? Neverthless, I am the Adrian that knows you.

In Christ
Pastor Adrian Piazza

Deacon Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

So many Adrians, so little time. Come to think of it, I suppose it would have been either you or Rocky Balboa's wife. (Okay, her name is probably spelled Adrienne.)