Believing: God is the First Person
by Alan Hommerding

“I know what I believe. I will continue to articulate what I believe and what I believe I believe what I believe is right.”

–  George W. Bush

As we prepare for a new Mass translation in which the beginning of the Creed will change from “We believe” to “I believe,” a lot of ink and breath have been expended about the origins of the Creed coming into the Christian liturgy as “we” in the Greek language and being Latinized to “I” much later. So, it is stated, the translators who used “we” were actually being more authentic and faithful to the origins of the Creed in the Mass.

Others point out that a community gathered as the mystical Body of Christ, whose members are all praying “I believe” simultaneously, does not run the risk of misunderstanding that what is being expressed is a lone viewpoint.

In this argument about whether the Creed should begin the first person singular or the first person plural, we lose sight of the fact that the first person of our prayer in the liturgy is God. The shortcoming of both viewpoints is that they focus us on ourselves, on who is doing the believing rather that what is believed. It is the sin of Eden (and/or, perhaps, Babel) all over again, as we proudly make ourselves the center of it all.

There is a danger in getting caught in a “belief whirlpool” of sorts, as Mr. Bush did, with us being the vortex. It is, as common wisdom would say, very easy in this instance to develop a bad case of “I” strain. What tends to happen is that our belief whirlpool pulls in everything that we think—rightly or wrongly—to be true, and elevates it all to the status of infallible dogma. And, as we spin around in our belief whirlpool, we diminish our ability to connect with others around us, to remain open to communication and dialogue. We cannot be part of the ongoing process of divine revelation as Vatican II defined it in the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum.

There is a saying in theology: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” It is commonly attributed to Augustine, but it comes much later than that, from an early seventeenth-century German theologian named Rupertus Meldenius. He was writing, about four centuries ago, on the topic of Christian unity. He wrote in the midst of the Thirty Years’ War, which got a lot of religious and ethnic issues tangled up with political and civic ones. All sorts of divisions were going on, with splintering instead of reconciliation being the norm for Christians. The situation had a lot in common with the divisive factionalizing we are experiencing today.

In the Easter season, we hear in the Acts of the Apostles that there was disagreement in the Body of Christ as to what was or was not essential from the beginning. The story of the Church is filled with examples of things that were fiercely held as essential that we have come to understand, through the power of the Holy Spirit, were really not. This phenomenon has marked the Church throughout our life, as the Spirit tries to guide us to live in true unity and not mere uniformity. Our differences are an integral part of God’s revelation, and end up being a gift from God. What we seem to run an increasing risk of experiencing in our day, however, is the lack of charity. Whirlpools are not very charitable entities. Nothing that spends most of its energy staying closed in on itself can be. What might help us, in Easter season and every day, is to stop whirling and open ourselves to joining with all those on earth who were joined to Christ with us through baptism in water and the Spirit.

Then we can focus not on ourselves, but on the God who is the first person of our prayer, singing Alleluia! Hallel Yah! Praise God!

from AIM: Liturgy Resources.
Copyright © 2009 by World Library Publications. All rights reserved. Used by permission.