Thursday, July 22, 2010

"The Western Rite" - Deutschlander - Part 6

(from Prof. Em. Daniel M. Deutschlander’s essay, “The Western Rite: Its Development and Rich History and Its Relevance for Our Worship Life Today.”)


In some services the Creed follows the readings for the day and in others it follows the sermon. It doesn’t really matter much whether it comes in the one place or the other. In which ever place we use it the point will remain that the Creed is a reflection again of the doctrine of the means of grace. The Word of God has created the Creed as the response of God’s people to his Word. Its recitation is a delightful and an exciting confession of faith.

Experts argue about whether the Creed is a prayer or a proclamation, whether it is a sacrificial or a sacramental element of the worship service. Why can’t it be both? It is our response to God, a response of faith in his Word, a faith formed and fashioned by that Word. But at the same time with the Creed we say to one another: No, you’re not crazy and you’re not alone! This is what I believe too, and that in union not only with you but with the church universal for the past 2000 years!

Traditionally the Apostles’ Creed is used to remind us of our Baptism. After all, the Apostles’ Creed owes its origins to the baptismal formula. Its use was intended to remind us of what God has done for us in Baptism and our consequent pledges of faithfulness to him and to his Word. While it is a confession of the faith of the universal church, it is an especially personal confession too: The church is not baptized collectively but individuals are baptized one at a time. Hence the pronoun: I is the operative pronoun in this confession of faith. The Apostles’ Creed is most commonly used in services without Communion.

The Nicene Creed is the confession of the church collectively, of the church militant in her battles for the truth and against heresy. Its use in the Liturgy of the Western Church was considered of special importance as a counter to the Arian heresy that for so long persisted in parts of Spain, France and Germany. At the words For us and for our salvation, he came down from heaven ... there was traditionally a pause in the service to give people time to kneel in awe before the great mystery of the Incarnation. At the very least they bowed their heads when reciting the words and he became man. St. Bernard comments that there are three great miracles; the first is that God could and would become man; the second is that he did it in the womb of the Virgin; the third is that we actually believe it. Our use of the Nicene Creed acknowledges all three of these great miracles. When the Liturgy was sung, the pastor sang the first line by himself. I am assuming that that is where the practice comes from that in sung Masses, including Bach’s great B Minor Mass, the singular is used: Credo. We, in keeping with the emphasis on the truth that this is the confession of the church, we use We believe instead of I believe.

Whichever Creed is used, whether the more irenic Apostles’ or the more polemical Nicene, the Creed, too, presents us with a reality check. Not all religions are just subjective opinion, one as good as another, or at least all of them possessing part of the same truth. NO! We are not relativists or existentialists. We confess a faith whose content is absolute truth, saving truth, historical truth. That’s what makes Christianity unique. That’s what makes membership in most lodges and in the Scouts impossible for us - - such memberships would flatly contradict the confession of this faith on Sunday morning. Indeed we so joyfully confess the one, true, catholic and apostolic faith precisely because of what God has given us in his Son and through his saving Word and Sacraments. It would be insulting to him and utter folly for us, and that in the extreme, were we to come to his house, eat his blessings in Word and Sacraments and then not even confess our faith and trust in him. What would people think? Have we just come to a museum, perhaps a musical? No, not that, never that! Our faith matters and so too does our confession of it! Each of the Lutheran Confessions begins with a pledge of loyalty to the historic Creeds. We join in their insistence that we are members of the church universal when share in that pledge of loyalty in response to the Word in the Haupt Gottesdienst.

Luther beautifully expressed his love and appreciation for the Creed, especially in his comments at the conclusion of the Third Article in The Large Catechism. In the interest of “useful brevity” (— a phrase much loved by the Fathers who were about to spend another 10 pages on some point!), permit me to cite some of his last few lines on the subject:
... the Creed brings pure grace and makes us righteous and acceptable to God. Through this knowledge we come to love and delight in all the commandments of God because we see here in the Creed how God gives himself completely to us, with all his gifts and power, to help us keep the Ten Commandments: the Father gives us all creation, Christ all his works, the Holy Spirit all his gifts. (LC, Third Article, par. 69 [Kolb, p. 440]

1 comment:

Lisette Anne Lopez said...

"We confess a faith whose content is absolute truth, saving truth, historical truth. That’s what makes Christianity unique."

Truth. This word has value, just as Jesus often said, "I tell you the truth."

No one needs to hear lies, false statements; especially in relation to religion or faith.

I desire truth, constantly and without end. I believe when Jesus says, "I tell you the truth..." Truth is life- give it and believe it and find peace in it. That's what I know. That's how I know.

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