Page 4, 3rd January 1969

3rd January 1969
Page 4
Page 4, 3rd January 1969 — 'The Credo of the people of God'

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People: Paul, St. Peter, Paul VI


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'The Credo of the people of God'

CANON F. H. DRINKWATER sees Pope Paul's pronouncement last June as an attempt to help bewildered minds during a time of rapid changes

ONE unfortunate result of the birth-control encyclical last July was that its detonation and reverberations drove from the public mind another utterance of Pope Paul's only a month previously. This was a discourse given in St. Peter's Square on June 30 to mark with liturgical solemnity the ending of the Pope's "Year of Faith."

He called it "the Credo of the People of God," but journalists have christened it "the Pope's Credo," and instead of being forgotten it seems to be rediscovered after the dust and confusion of the explosion. still standing up, as a permanent landmark in the post-conciliar scene, which Paul VI evidently hoped it would be.

It was his answer to an often-heard question: "What is a Catholic supposed to believe nowadays?" After a vast ice-breaking operation like the Second Vatican Council there has been plenty of theological confusion, as we all know by this time.

The Synod of Bishops, that mini-general-council held earlier in 1968, had rejected a curial proposal for a new Syllabus of Condemned Errors. That would have been the old way, but almost everybody is sick of those particular old ways and if we are forced back into them by everybody's original sin, it will be a tragedy for the Church. Instead the Synod called for a standing theological commission, and also for a fresh formulation of the Creed.

Theological commission

Since the synod, its secretary, Bishop Rubin, has announced some steps towards the theo logical commission, and Paul VI himself has taken the ini tiative about reconditioning the Creed. He did not escape criticism for doing so. Some thought he was trying to get his shot in before the synod and its theologians, to stake out a prior claim for the Holy See.

Others guessed that he was seizing the opportunity to warn the World Council of Churches, then meeting at Uppsala, or perhaps to unburden his soul about the Dutch Catechism. But it seems equally natural to credit the Holy Father with a simple desire to bring some immediate first-aid to Catholic minds bewildered in a moment of rapid changes, especially to the minds who share with him the duty of transmitting the precious Message of God to mankind; but also "to all those in the world who are in search of the truth. whatever spiritual family they belong to."

No anathemas, no condemnations, therefore; but a prayer, an act of faith. Pope Paul uses the ground-plan of the Nicene Creed (trinitarian as it is and fills out its phrases with other words. seldom his own but taken from Christian scriptural tradition, and notably from Second Vatican.

Thus. for instance, he goes into detail describing God, who is above every name, yet rightly called by two names: "Being" and "Love." Summarising the Gospel teaching. he reverts to Our Lord's original phrases "the Kingdom of God"; and later on this reappears when the Church on earth is described as "the germ and first-fruits of the Kingdom of God" and as living and hoping in "the ardour of her expectation of her lord and of the eternal Kingdom."

Several new passages

But as well as expanding the clauses of the Nicene Creed itself the Pope inserted several new passages about topics not hitherto mentioned in that Creed at all One such passage, on the Immaculate Conception and Assumption, will be welcomed by Catholics who dislike the pianissimo tone about Our Lady, which some ecumeniks think fit to adopt.

Marginal the Assumption may be, and there was no necessity to define it, nevertheless it is no arbitrary glorification of the Second Eve, but (along with Our Lord's own Resurrection) an instalment of that final Kingdom-to-come which is the essential gospel announcement.

Another of Pope Paul's insertions concerns original sin. This he regards as the privation of something (of "sanctifying grace" and its original gifts) but otherwise keeps close to traditional lan

guage. Our fallen state derives from "our first parents" and is transmitted (in the Tridentine words) "not by imitation but by propagation."

All this remains as mysterious as ever, unless we think that the ecstatic joys of the Easter Exultet ("0 that lucky sin of Adam !") may throw some rays of light upon it.

Most Catholics believe in the bodily evolution of "man" up to the eve of homo sapiens, but there must be many like the present writer, who still feel (not because of the early chapters of Genesis but for philosophical and psychological reasons) that something highly unusual must have happened at that moment in the evolution. ary process. and that no hard knowledge about it will ever be forthcoming from any physical science or "scientific" history.

Man is fallen. right enough. One naturally asks, from what? It remains rather a theoretical question. seeing that he is now redeemed, and Paul VI seems quite content at present with the old answers. By the way, he is not at all shy about referring to "the spiritual and immortal soul in each man."

Another long interpolation describes the Church under various names and aspects, and its sacramental life and teaching authority through Pope and Bishops, all very much a la Vatican Two. A passage is devoted to hopes of Christian reunion, and a further highly 20th-century bit announces that non-Christians too, who seek God following their consciences, "can obtain salvation in numbers known only to God."

In the Nicene Creed there is of course no mention of Mass or Eucharist, but the Pope's Credo has a whole section on it, underlining the sacrificial aspect, stressing "the true and real and substantial presence" of the Lord and repeatedly using the word "changed."

The Tridentine word "transubstantiation" is reaffirmed as an "appropriate" theological term; reasonably enough so

long as we remember that words change their popular significance and that what a chemistry-professor today calls the "substance" of bread and wine is precisely what a medieval philosopher called "accidents."

The real point is that the Blessed Sacrament is adorable, and theology must find words to express this, not to excuse 'or downgrade it just to please the extremer kinds of Protestant. You and I will be grateful to Paul VI for his phrase about the glorious life of Our Lord in heaven remaining after Mass present in the Blessed Sacrament "which is, in the tabernacle, the living heart 41I each of our Churches."

Something for the present

The final sections of the Credo arc about the eternal Kingdom to come, but once more they have something for the 20th-century. Today's Christian expects the Second Coming. but no longer with the feverish expectation of St. Paul's converts at Salonika. It could be next year or it could be 2,000 or 20,000 years hence.

Consequently the Pope's Credo goes out of its way to show how the Church meanwhile must in charity "concern herself constantly about the true temporal welfare of man." And so back, through the communion of saints in prayer, to the final life everlasting.

Since the Pope's Credo is intended to offer an explicit statement of Christian faith, one naturally keeps an eye open for items left unmentioned even though figuring in the usual theology text-books.

One such item is the devil, who has somehow never managed to get into the Creeds.

Angels are duly mentioned here as created by God, but no fall of the angels, though we must not deduce too much from the Pope's silence. Are not fallen angels just as likely as fallen humans? The difficulty is that fallen angels could not repent, so one would be landed with the unseemly notion of a whole set of God's creatures existing for ever (since the theologians of one's youth would not hear of anything like reversion to nothingness or even to unconsciousness) yet for ever impenitently hostile to their Creator.

However, if the devils were to be regarded as marginal or optional, or very arguable, the problem would cease to be so acute.

Nor is there any explicit mention of the wicked as regards the Resurrection of the body, though, of course, the wicked are included in the judgment of "the living and the dead." As for hell, the single reference to it is one phrase of Our Lord's own poet-language about "the fire that is not extinguished," left without any theological interpretation; nothing, for instance, corresponding to the word "reprobation" used in the German and Dutch Catechisms, much less of "everlasting punishment." No mention of the "infants' limbo." No mention of indulgences, which once loomed so large as a doctrinal issue.

What, it will be asked, is the theological weight of the Pope's Credo. He himself, in his preamble. says it is no dogmatic definition. No anathemas or warnings either. Still it is clearly a considered pro

nouncement by the highest teacher in the Church, offered as a piece of elementary firstaid to everybody who has to teach the Faith, from bishops and theologians to the humblest catechist.

Short of what is technically called infallibility, its immediate extrinsic authority could not easily be over-stated. Its phraseology has been freely criticised for being too antique and scholastic to speak to the condition of men today. This is the case to some extent, but is not a valid criticism.

The duty of research

The Pope is well aware, and speaks in his preamble, of the "indispensable duty of research" to deepen the understanding of the Faith and give it a new presentation "even better adapted to successive generations." But in this Credo his immediate aim was rather to discriminate between the gold and the ore in tradition and to transmit the true faith to us in the very expressions in which it comes through scripture, Fathers, and Councils of the Church.

The task of translating the old formulations into the language of today he still leaves to you and me, merely asking us "to do no injury to the teachings of Christian doctrine."

A modest request, surely, and one quite reminiscent of St. Peter himself. These (he seems to say) are the things you have heard (call them "propositions" if you like) from those who preached to you the good news, through the Holy Spirit sent from heaven.

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