Jaroslav Pelikan’s final two arguments for “The Need For Creeds” are to me not entirely convincing.

3. Universality

Pelikan argues that

The singing of the creed is a very important and cherished way of indicating a universality of the faith across not only space but time. To know that in the Philippines this morning this was the creed that was recited at Mass and to know that the Emperor Justinian in the 6th century and Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century and my late father and grandfather all affirmed this. It’s “we,” all of us together.

The universality of the Nicene Creed as an embodiment of Christian doctrine is a fantasy. The Nicene Creed was one of the sources of the division that fractured the church in 1054. Christians in the West included in their Nicene Creed the statement that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son/Filioque. This “filioque clause” had  been added to the Creed in the Spanish Church from the 6c. and continues to be used in the west but is rejected by eastern Christians in their version of the Nicene Creed.

It is certainly naive to imagine that all Christians universally believe they are saying the same thing when they stand and recite, “He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead.” The words may be the same, but the meaning these words carry for many Christians varies dramatically.

What can universality possibly mean when I can stand in a Roman Catholic Mass, recite the Nicene Creed with all the faithfulness of my believing heart and then be refused the bread and wine of Christ’s presence at the table?

The argument for the universality of the Nicene Creed also ignores the millions of Christians throughout the world who do not and would not ever recite any Creed in their worship.

The fact that the Nicene Creed might be recited in different parts of the world across generations is no more a guarantee of universality of belief than the fact that those Christians also read the same Scriptures.

4. Belief

in a more profound sense, my faith life like that of everyone else fluctuates. There are ups and downs and hot spots and cold spots, boredom and ennui, and all the rest can be there. And so I’m not asked Sunday morning, as of 9:20 what do you believe and then pull out a file of 3×5 index cards and say, “Now let’s see what do I believe today?” Not that not what they’re asking me. They’re asking me, are you a member of a community which now for a millenium and a half has said, “We believe in God.”

I do actually want to be “asked Sunday morning, as of 9:20 what do you believe.” And I want to be able to say, “I don’t think right now I really believe anything.” I want to be able to say, “I feel I am in one of the cold spots; I am experiencing boredom and ennui, but I am showing up anyway and I trust that, no matter what I believe at this moment, I am welcome at the table and you will feed me even if all my doctrinal ducks do not seem to be tidily in a row this morning.”

This may be the real problem with the recitation of creeds in public worship. This practice states that “We” do believe all these things and that we are united in this belief. If I struggle with some points of this belief statement, is there still room for me at the table? Am I excluded because I may not understand what is being affirmed in the words of the creed, or may understand the words in a way that is different from the majority opinion? How much agreement is required for me to be able to join in saying, “We believe…”?

Coming forward to the table to receive Christ in bread and wine is a profound affirmation of faith. Dr. Pelikan has not convinced me that a greater verbal public affirmation of belief is necessary.

Advertisements