Among the many voices that come together in a liturgical assembly to confess the Creed, you may hear some of the faithful pronounce that Jesus Christ “became one of us,” putting these voices slightly out of sync with the majority of the assembly that confesses that “he became man.” I myself, most often, confess that Jesus Christ became “human.” In the eucharistic assembly, I speak this confession by lowering my voice on the first syllabus – “human”, so as not to cause others around me to stumble as we all strive, together, to speak the heart of our faith.
My own confession is motivated, simply, by deep faithfulness to our tradition: I cannot bear to render the succinct beauty of the Creed’s “et homo factus est” with the English “and became man.” The Latin homo, after all (as distinct from the term for a male [vir]), means human. The same holds true for the original Greek in which the Nicene Creed was crafted: the root of the term enanthropēsanta, “and became human,” is the Greek word anthropos, i.e. human being. Any translation of enanthropēsanta should capture this truth at the heart of our confession of faith: The Word took human form in the incarnation, rather than maleness alone. Maybe this strikes me as so obvious because in my mother tongue, rendering the Creed faithfully never was a problem in the first place. The German language has two quite different words for “male” (Mann) and for “human being” (Mensch). The translation of the Creed into German thus is unequivocal and clear: “und ist Mensch geworden.” God became human. In contradistinction, English for the longest time used the same term, “man,” to mean both the “male” and the “human.” Because of this linguistic particularity, our confession of faith, in English, remains ambiguous. And unfortunately, the translation of the Creed we will begin using on Advent I, does nothing to address this ambiguity (despite its claim to greater faithfulness to the Latin original texts). Which means I will simply continue my present practice of prefacing the confession that God became “man” with the two little letters “h” and “u.”
But what about those who have chosen instead to confess that Jesus Christ “became one of us”? I do not know what they will do come Advent I, 2011. I want to suggest, however, that there is an unfortunate ambiguity in this rendition of “et homo factus est” also, which makes it quite problematic as an assembly’s confession of faith in the Incarnation. And no, I am not worried here about the fact that “and became one of us” puts the speakers seriously out of sync with the rhythm of the congregation. What I am worried about is the ambiguity of the “us” that Jesus supposedly became a part of. When spoken by an assembly of mostly privileged, educated, white, First World Christians, the collective “us” might seem to invoke a perilously narrow segment of humanity. Who would know that this collective “we” includes not only the small group of faithful who voice this confession (presumably as an act of protest against the ambiguity embedded in the English term “man”)? It seems to me that both ambiguities – the nature and scope of the collective “us” on the one hand, and the nature and scope of “man” on the other hand – fall short of the clarity of God’s own redemptive movement, in taking on human form in the Incarnation.