FAST FOOD: Twenty-Second Helping

The motto of the great ones might well be “Winner Take All—Even the Memories.” The winner owns history and bends it to his will.
-Daniel Berrigan, S.J., The Kings and Their gods

Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, Lex Vivendi

Lex orandi, lex credendi (“the law of prayer is the law of belief”) refers to the relationship between worship and belief, and is an ancient Christian principle. The principle is considered very important in Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican theology. The CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH, section #1124, states: “The Church’s faith precedes the faith of the believer who is invited to adhere to it. When the Church celebrates the sacraments, she confesses the faith received from the apostles – whence the ancient saying: lex orandi, lex credendi. The law of prayer is the law of faith: the Church believes as she prays. Liturgy is a constitutive element of the holy and living Tradition” (emphasis added).
What is also true is lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi, “the law of prayer is the law of belief is the law of life.” As we believe so we live, and as we pray so we believe. But, who finally decides which words and which ideas become parts of the official Church Liturgy that is to be prayed throughout the world? And, who decides which words and ideas are not to be mentioned or are to be downplayed to the point of irrelevancy? For, whoever controls the content of the official Liturgy of the Church controls the beliefs of the people of that Church, as well as, the choices in life that the people of that Church can make, ought to make and will make.

With the recent revamping of the Roman Missal of the Roman Catholic Church, no Catholic that I know was asked what wording, ideas or content should be included in the new text of the Roman Catholic Mass. Again, whoever controls the content of the prayer life of the Church, controls the beliefs of the people of that Church, which in turn control the behavioral choices of the members. Said another way, whoever controls the official communal prayer content of an institutional Church controls the memory content of the Church and its members, and ipso facto directs the behavior of these Christian people.

An ancient example of the issue of the importance of who determines the official prayer practice of the Church is the Nicene Creed. The Nicene Creed (AD 325) is the only authoritative ecumenical statement of the Christian faith accepted by Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Anglicans and many major Protestant Churches. It is said at every Sunday Eucharist in the Catholic Church, at every Eucharistic Liturgy and at every Compline Service in the Orthodox Churches and is continually and consistently ritually employed by most of the other Churches of Christianity. But, the Nicene Creed says nothing about Jesus’ teaching a Way of living life in accordance to the will of the Father as Jesus definitively revealed that Way to humanity. In its text the Nicene Creed literally jumps from Jesus’ cradle to His crucifixion:

“For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, and by the power of the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate, suffered death and was buried…”

Huh? If the birth and death of Jesus, even death by being murdered, is all that is essential “for us and for our salvation,” Jesus being murdered along with the Holy Innocents soon after His birth could have accomplished this. But the Gospels are clear, in God’s mind, in God’s judgment and in God’s Plan of Redemption through Jesus Christ, more than leaving the womb and going into the tomb is needed. More than birth and death are essential. The truth God offers to humanity by Jesus’ words and deeds, by the Way Jesus teaches as the Way and Will of the Father, is also needed.

So why is there no mention of this Gospel Truth of Faith in the Nicene Creed, the declaration of faith that is part of the official prayer ritual of practically all the Christian Churches? After all, Vatican II is explicit in its DOGMATIC CONSTITUTION ON REVELATION, one of only two dogmatic declarations of that Council:

The Church has firmly and with absolute constancy held, and continues to hold, that the four Gospels, whose historical character the Church unhesitatingly asserts, faithfully hand on what Jesus, while living among men, really did and taught for their eternal salvation (#19, emphasis added).

So, again, why is there no mention in the Nicene Creed that Jesus taught something pertinent to eternal salvation, taught a Way? Is what He taught not an essential of Faith? Is it less important than His birth and death?

Perhaps a bit of history can be helpful answering the question. The Emperor Constantine, not the Pope of Rome, called the First Council of Nicaea. In fact the Pope of Rome was not even in attendance. Constantine paid the bill for travel, food and lodging for every Bishops who attended. Bishops by this time in Constantine’s reign had benefited munificently from the Emperor’s largesse and had also accepted his offer to be civil magistrates with the backing of the state’s power in their areas. He also provided the place of gathering for the Council. He opened the Council and was formally present and in control at every session, although he was not a Christian at this time. He officially closed the Council.

Constantine’s motivation for calling the Council appears to be political unity: one Emperor, one Empire, and one united religion. But whatever his reasons were for convening the Christian Bishops, the last thing that the ruler of an Empire—whose hands daily are covered with the blood of other human beings—needed or wanted was a declaration of the principles of unity among the various Christian Churches that included following the Way Jesus taught. Better for him and for the now Bishops with civil authority status to find unity among the Churches solely on agreement at the ethereal ontological level. Hence, the final formulation of the Nicene Creed is cradle to crucifixion with no station stop along the Way.

But, why have the subsequent leaders of the various Churches continued for 1700 years to tolerate the absence of any mention of the Way Jesus taught “for us and for our salvation,” from their basic public Creed? Are they trying to erase His Way or the content of His Way from memory? Are they calculatingly trying to nurture forgetfulness? What could motivate them day after day, century after century, to exclude from their Churches’ fundamental creedal proclamation—professed communally and continually within the official prayer rituals of their Churches—a simple statement about the Gospel fact and truth that Jesus taught something, a Way, “for us and for our salvation”? What?

The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetfulness.
-Milan Kundera

(To be continued)


About Author