Friday, July 5, 2013

Lumen Fidei: The "I" and the "We" of Faith

Today, Pope Francis' first encyclical, Lumen Fidei, was released. I am spending time with the document now and wanted to share an interesting paragraph with you:

39. It is impossible to believe on our own. Faith is not simply an individual decision which takes place in the depths of the believer’s heart, nor a completely private relationship between the "I" of the believer and the divine "Thou", between an autonomous subject and God. By its very nature, faith is open to the "We" of the Church; it always takes place within her communion. We are reminded of this by the dialogical format of the creed used in the baptismal liturgy. Our belief is expressed in response to an invitation, to a word which must be heard and which is not my own; it exists as part of a dialogue and cannot be merely a profession originating in an individual. We can respond in the singular — "I believe" — only because we are part of a greater fellowship, only because we also say "We believe". This openness to the ecclesial "We" reflects the openness of God’s own love, which is not only a relationship between the Father and the Son, between an "I" and a "Thou", but is also, in the Spirit, a "We", a communion of persons. Here we see why those who believe are never alone, and why faith tends to spread, as it invites others to share in its joy. Those who receive faith discover that their horizons expand as new and enriching relationships come to life. Tertullian puts this well when he describes the catechumens who, "after the cleansing which gives new birth" are welcomed into the house of their mother and, as part of a new family, pray the Our Father together with their brothers and sisters.

I must admit that praying the Nicene Creed in the English translation each week using the singular pronoun has always rubbed me as odd. I know that at my own baptism, the dialogical format of the creed, as part of the renunciation of sin and the profession of faith, was done for me by those gathered in the singular, who responded "I do" to the credal questions. Francis, of course, is telling us that the "I" cannot stand on its own; it must be in relationship to the "We." "We can respond in the singular — 'I believe' — only because we are part of a greater fellowship, only because we also say 'We believe'." Seems to me that we may be losing the sense of the "We" with the new literal translation of credo into "I believe." Where else in the official liturgical texts do we firmly state the "We"?

I have come to appreciate this concept (the "I" and "We") during the years that I worshipped in a predominantly African-American parish. Oftentimes, the lyrics to African-American spirituals use the singular, "I." Think of I Believe This is Jesus. When I sing that song with Catholic believers, all of whom may be singing with their eyes closed, very intently singing the lyrics, I have always been caught up in the "We" of the moment. To echo Francis, I can only sing in the singular—"I believe" because I am in relationship to the "We," with the others singing with me.

Does any of this make sense to you?

You can fine the entire text of the encyclical here.

More later as I read more.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.


Robert Noble said...

Jerry, I've been contemplating this linguistic nuance for a while. Personally, I did not like it a first, but I do now. And here's why: When the assembly says "We believe...", it is from an assembly of people who are not always together. This would imply that when the assembly is not together, the faith ceases somehow. On the other hand, when each individual in the assembly says "I believe...", you have something different. You have a collection of individuals voicing their individual believe simultaneously. We (the assembly) still share and profess the same belief, but that belief is not predicated on the community being physically assembled.

Blessings Jerry. See you soon.

Gabrielle Suthers said...

That comment from Robert Noble is very helpful to me - he takes it just that one step further in trying to explain the "I" in the "We". I must say that I was a little put off by te "new" Nicene Creed, which we had always (from my childhood, anyway) used "We believe in one God...", even though we also said "Credo" and not Credamus" It seems odd to say "I believe" when in the Sunday assembly, and on the surface, "We" seems much more communal. However, having read Robert's comment, I see it differently now. Thank you Robert - and thank you Jerry for enabling us to have this conversation!!
Blessings from a very rainy and flooded out Bolton!

Steve Raml said...

When presenting to parishes before we began using the new translation, I referred to the Creed as the Communal Profession of Individuals who share this faith.

As Americans we understand this concept because we embody it every time we place our hands over our hearts and together we say "I pledge allegiance to the flag..." not "We pledge..." And anyone who has been in Scouting knows the Oath is recited as a group, with each saying "On my honor I will do my duty..." not "On our honor..."

Professing the Creed is taking personal responsibility for my faith. I don't speak for you; you don't speak for me. Together we stand and profess our common faith, a faith that each of us declare. So when I state what I believe and you state what you believe, it becomes what WE believe.

Thanks for bringing this up Jerry.