Friday, December 30, 2011

Why the new translation of the Mass? part 10


The only major change in the responses left to talk about is the response, “Domine, non sum dignus...” (Lord I am not worthy) This is a direct quote from the New Testament:  (Matt.8:8 ) “The centurion replied, ‘Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. Just say the word, and my servant will be healed.’” 

We have gone back to the centurion’s exact words instead of the words of some dynamically equivalent translator, because the picture of the humble centurion is an integral part of the Mass, an integral part of the Christian life. Centurions were the commanders of one hundred soldiers. They were the backbone of the Roman army. No one minded losing a general or two, good riddance! They were usually incompetent aristocrats. Centurions were another matter. They were indispensable.  

 I’m sure you’ve heard the story. The slave boy of a Roman centurion had fallen ill. The centurion knew all about Jesus. After all, he was in charge of the garrison in Capernaum, the town where Jesus was staying with Peter, Peter’s wife and her mother. The centurion also knew that no orthodox Jew would enter the home of a Roman. An observant Jew wouldn’t risk seeing the pagan idols which the Romans kept in their homes. It was forbidden even to look at such things and Jesus was, after all, a Rabbi. 

A centurion, the backbone of the army of the conquerors of the western world, a centurion, the pride of his unit, the power of Rome in the flesh, a centurion, feared and possibly despised by the conquered people of Capernaum and the district, a centurion bowed before the Jewish rabbi with the rough carpenter’s hands and said “LORD.”   

The Romans were masters of all the world. A crowned king was not allowed to enter the “pomerium” the sacred boundary of the city of Rome, because the poorest Roman citizen was better that the greatest king. Romans made and un-made kings. This man, the pride of the proudest, bowed low and said “LORD” to the Jewish peasant. Aware of the danger to Jesus’ reputation, this man, forgetting his high station, said “I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed.”  

 We are quoting that unnamed Roman every time we say “Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof.” I wonder what he would have thought to know that 2,000 years later, long after the Roman forum had crumbled to ruins, long after the names of emperors and senators and the great of the world were forgotten, an age when men had learned to fly, had walked on the moon and communicated over thousands of miles as if by magic, I wonder what he would have thought to know that his words to the Galilean rabbi would be remembered and repeated by billions of people. I wonder.      

We then say that my “soul shall be healed” instead of “I shall be healed.” What’s the difference? Simply this: the soul is a specific dimension of the self, and it’s the dimension that most needs healing. When Mary, pregnant and unmarried was fleeing for her life, she went bidden by an angel to see her cousin Elizabeth in Ain Karim near Jerusalem. 

Elizabeth had been acquainted with shame all her life. She, the wife of a cohen, a priest, had never born a child and the stupidity of the age deemed such a woman cursed by God. In her old age she had conceived and her gossipy  neighbors decided that God must have lifted her shame. Mary went to her, the one relative who might understand. Mary said “my soul (psyche) magnifies (megalunei) the Lord and my spirit (pneuma) rejoices in God my savior.” 

The soul, the psyche, is that part of the self that is self aware, the locus of the emotional and intellectual faculties of the human person. That’s what magnifies the Lord in our blessed Mother’s song of praise. Inside you, you have a magnifying glass. If you magnify the problem, the problem gets larger. If you magnify the Lord, the problem melts away before the faithfulness, love and power of God. It’s up to you. Will you focus on the problem, or on God’s power to save?   

If all we can see are life’s difficulties, then it is our soul that needs healing. We need to be able to see the truth  that God is in all and above all, that grace has brought us safe this far and grace will lead us home. Jesus says, “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matt.6:22,23) 

The soul is the eye of the inner man. Garbage in, as they say, garbage out! It is the sickness of the soul that needs healing even more than the sickness of the body. If our soul is blind to the love of God, we can’t begin to see and to receive the miracles of His love. “Speak but the word and my soul shall be healed”  

There is one more word to mention. It’s another Bible quote, this time from St. John the Baptist “This is the Lamb of God” is changed to the more accurate “Behold the Lamb of God” (John 1:29) This is what John said to his disciples when he saw Jesus. In effect, he was saying “Stop following me. This is the guy who you should be following and studying.” 

What’s the difference? What’s so different about “Behold” and “This is?” Once again, there is a world of difference. No one says “behold” anymore. That’s the problem. We might say “look.” But “to behold” is different from “to look.” “To look” is to see and turn away, assuming that you’ve seen all there is to see in that brief moment of looking. To behold is to fix one’s gaze until the whole reality has been taken in. We moderns get tired of waiting ten seconds for our computers to boot up. Faster! Faster! Hurry! There’s not a lot of beholding going on in the world we live in and our lives slip away unnoticed. Our children grow up, our health fails, our friends move away or die. We grow old and die, barely having taken the time to live. We have to hurry and be on time for the next....?  Behold! The unchanging God appears before you in the form of a piece of bread. Behold!

Have you ever been in love?  Perhaps you have married the love of your heart. Perhaps once, when you were young and first married, on a clear and moonlit night, the moonbeams filled the room where you two lay asleep, and you awoke to see the gentle light play on her hair as it lay against the pillow, her shoulders softly moving with each breath. You stared and drank in the beauty of love. You beheld the beloved. You stared knowing that a lifetime was not enough to see her completely, to take in her beauty, to marvel at the gift of God that lay next to you in the moonlight. Behold!

The Jewish high priest would remove the bread that had been in the temple before the holy of holies and hold it up before the assembly gathered in the temple precincts and says “Behold, God’s love for you!” And so, at Mass, I hold up the Bread of Heaven, the person of Jesus incarnate in the appearance of bread and wine. I invite you to “Behold the Beloved!” 

When I was little, heaven seemed so boring. The nuns would try to tell us hyperactive six-year-olds about the “beatific vision” We would get to stare at God forever! Boy, did that sound boring. Now that I am an old man, and understand that the most beautiful thing in the world is to stare at one with whom you are totally in love, the words mean everything to me, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, ‘blessed’ (not just contented, amused and “happy”) are those who are called to His supper!”  Behold!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Why the new translation of the Mass? part 9


Letter to Verne A. Kiular continued       
   We are coming into the home stretch. You will notice that “Let us proclaim the mystery of faith is now just “the mystery of faith.” And there is one whole Memorial Acclamation missing!

   Perhaps this is an opportune moment to discuss the idea of “mystery.”  In modern English, mystery is, according to Webster (the dictionary, not the short, strange comedian from television) 1) a religious truth that one can know only by revelation and cannot fully understand, and  2) something not understood or beyond understanding, a piece of fiction dealing usually with the solution of a mysterious crime. 3)  secretive quality or character as in “the mystery of her smile.” 

   When I was a little boy of six years, every time the beleaguered nun would try to explain a great truth of the faith, our fresh little faces would register all the understanding of medium sized blocks of wood. She would end the lesson by saying “It’s a mystery!” By this she meant “Trust me you little cretins. It’s an important truth of the faith but no one, including me, understands it.”  After the Vatican Council, that particular nun ran off with the circus (as it were) and eventually ended up working in a juvenile detention center, having found her niche.  

   In ancient Greek (you knew this was coming, didn’t you?) the word is “mysterion.” It means a secret, or a secret ritual.  It has to do with the word “mys,” a thing whispered. Webster also mentions that a mystery can refer to “a secret religious rite believed (as in Eleusinian and Mithraic cults) to impart enduring bliss to the initiate.” 

   In the ancient world, the public religion was a pretty silly affair. There were gods who chased around with mortals, had great wars and were sometimes part animal, but the public officials kept the gods happy with sacrifices and used the gods to insure the status quo. The gods were immoral by our standards and morality, in most cases, had nothing to do with religion. In fact, if you offered the right sacrifice and said the right incantation, the gods might just help you lie, cheat, steal, murder and seduce your neighbor’s wife. After all, they were adept at it themselves. It is questionable how many of the well educated believed that such beings existed. 

   Philosophers like Socrates were occasionally executed for publicly saying the whole thing was a bunch of hooey, and other philosophers tried to mythologize the gods saying they were symbolic of philosophical truths. Others, like Lucretius, were materialist atheists who said that what you see is what you get. In this climate the essential religious questions were not getting answered, questions like “What happens when we die?” and “What’s the purpose of life, anyway?”and “Where did all this stuff come from?” and “Why is there evil and sadness?”  And the really big one: “If god or the gods are so perfect, why is the world they created such a wreck?” 

   Enter the mystery religions, which claimed to have a secret revelation (usually some weird speculation by some odd guru who claimed to have had the revelation). The mystery religions tried to answer these questions with a kind of philosophy dressed up in ritual; they developed a complicated theology that people were gradually let in on and those people who were initiated into the secrets of the group swore a solemn oath never to reveal what they had heard. It was all very cozy and gave the initiates a feeling that they knew something no one else knew and that they were somehow better and part of the “in crowd” philosophically. Sounds a little like the Freemasons or Star Trek fans.  

   Enter Christianity, which as I have already explained, didn’t let everybody in to the Mass. It isn’t that they were trying to keep it all secret. They were an evangelistic religion. They wanted everyone to hear what they had to say. Jesus told them “What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the rooftops!” (Matt. 10:27) The theological content was no more secret than that of Judaism. 

  The rituals were secret for  very practical reasons. The first Christians didn’t want their most cherished beliefs held up to derision, and they didn’t want everyone knowing who the Christians were. Everybody knew who the clergy and leaders were, but the rank and file Christian had a certain anonymity.  That’s because Christianity was illegal and every once in a while, the Romans would decide to exterminate the Church. Best not to let everyone know your name and address

   This element of secrecy led the ancients to believe that Christianity was just another wacky mystery religion. Not so! Members of mystery religions didn’t produce a lot of martyrs and they had nothing against putting a pinch of incense on the sacrificial fire in front of the emperor’s statue. (The emperors were considered gods, that is until the army killed the divine emperor and got a new divine, immortal emperor.) 

   A good way to understand the Christian meaning of “mystery” is to understand the so-called mysteries of the Rosary. In the events of the life of our Lord and His blessed Mother, we see the invisible realities of heaven made visible. There’s nothing much to understand something like the second Joyful Mystery, “Our blessed Mother visits St. Elizabeth.” We see something more. John the Baptist in his mother’s room acknowledges the Messiah in the Blessed Mother’s womb, something unseen, yet wonderfully near and human. Christianity was a mystery religion that didn’t hide the nature of its secrets, but revealed them to anyone who was interested.  Jesus said to the disciples that “"The mystery of the kingdom of God has been given to you.” (Mark 4:11) And what is the mystery, the secret of the kingdom?   

   Once Jesus said, “Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” (Matt. 11:11) As a Catholic, I believe that by my baptism I am born into the kingdom of God. In what possible way am I greater than John the Baptist? Simple! I know something that John didn’t know. John didn’t remain in this world long enough to see the cross! That’s the mystery, the secret of the kingdom that has been given to me and you, if you will have it: “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son!”  

   The greatness of God was hidden in the meekness of Christ, hidden in the baby in Mary’s arms, hidden in the carpenter of Nazareth, hidden in the crucified rabbi from Galilee, hidden in what looks like bread and wine held up by the priest. All the love that ever was, all the truth that ever was, all the power that ever was became vulnerable in Jesus of Nazareth and is placed in the care of sinners like me in the form of a wafer of bread and a sip of wine. The invisible becomes visible, the infinite can be embraced God can be held in the palm of your hand!!! This is the secret of the kingdom of God, and it can only be received by trust in Him, and of course, trust is what faith really means. 

   After the Holy Spirit, the very breath of God,  transforms bread and wine into the flesh and blood of God, the priest says “The Mystery of Faith!”  We were saying, “Let us proclaim the mystery of faith.” Now we are going to say what the text originally said, simply “the Mystery of Faith.” We are not proclaiming it.  We are defining it. In other words, if Jesus is the visible image of the invisible God, all the questions the gnostics and the ancient mystery cultists asked are answered in Him. The Christian gospel is that you can get to know the Creator of the universe by getting to know a Jewish carpenter who died 2000 years ago, but who came back from the dead and is accessible in the form of bread and wine we have just seen. The memorial acclamation defines the mystery. Mass, if entered into with trust, can answer all the questions we ask because Jesus is still the visible image of the invisible God. I see Him every time I hold up the consecrated host at Mass. What wondrous love is this, oh my soul?

PS
   We old fellows were absolutely mystified by this introduction into the Mass. It was added after the council was well over and no one explained why, if I recall the times, it probably had something to do with the ecumenism of the time. The Lutherans, Methodists and Episcopalians all have the memorial acclamations right after the words of the Last Supper in their communion services. In fact, the first acclamation “Christ has died, etc. was lifted pretty directly from the Episcopalians. It was only part of the liturgy in America and, not being part of the Church universal, it has disappeared altogether. (Though one hears that Rome is thinking about it.)

Friday, December 16, 2011

Why the new translation of the Mass? part 8


The Apostles Creed, of which I have already written about, has only a couple of changes.
“He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit” becomes “who was conceived by the Holy Spirit.”  People conceive. The Holy Spirit is a person not a force. 

I remember hearing of a Pentecostal pastor whose ministry had stagnated. He was praying and, as I often do, began to pray the prayer of St. Peter. (That means he fell asleep.) He had a dream in which he was taken up to the throne of God, and there he said to God the Father, “I have the experience of the Holy Spirit! Why isn’t my ministry growing?”   

Furious, the Father rose from His throne grabbed the minister by his collar and shook him, saying “My Holy Spirit isn't an experience. He’s a Person. Treat Him like one!” 

The minister awoke terrified, and from that day he started to treat the Holy Spirit like a Person, addressing Him, honoring Him, thanking Him and above all listening to Him. His ministry and congregation grew to the point that he was the pastor of the largest single congregation (not denomination) in the world. 

The Holy Spirit isn’t a power. He’s a person!

Next comes a line that I have already explained in part. “He descended to the dead.” becomes “He descended into hell.” The word “hell” is reinstated.  Just a reminder that the Catholic Church still believes that there is a hell, and there is a chance that you and I and those we love most dearly just might end up there if we refuse the salvation offered to us in Christ.

In the Preface Dialogue “It is right to give him thanks and praise” becomes “It  is right and just” (to give Him thanks.) I suspect that this is just a matter of more accurate translation, but in the Sanctus the “Holy, Holy” there is a far more significant word change.  “Lord God of power and might.” becomes “Lord God of hosts.”  Hosts is a military term. It means armies.

The first part of the Sanctus is the same as the Kidusha, or “sanctification”,  part of the “Amidah” the “standing prayer” used at least three times a day in Jewish prayer. The Kidusha is a quote, more or less from Isaiah 6:3. The Amidah, or "standing prayer” still said in synagogues, developed soon after the destruction of the temple in 70 AD at the same time that the Catholic liturgy was developing. 

Thus, the Sanctus takes us back to the last moment when the two traditions were intertwined, quite possibly to the very life time of the Apostles. God is called “Adonai Tz'vaot” or “Lord of SabaothSabaoth here clearly refers to the angelic armies of God.

This is huge. God is not just the Lord of power and might. He is Lord of a power and might that we can only imagine, endless hosts of conscious beings who travel between our dimension and their own. In the “Screwtape Letters” C.S.Lewis has the devil calling us “amphibians.” We are like frogs on the edge of a pond living in water but venturing onto land.  We live in two dimensions in this multi-dimensional universe. We live in the dimension of matter and we live in the invisible world of angels. And in that invisible world of angels there is a war raging. God is the God of Armies. This one word reminds us that there is a spiritual realm in which we participate at every moment of every day whether we know it or not. Further, there is an army out to destroy us and there is an army out to defend us. Ephesians 6:12 says “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”  All this in one little word, “hosts!”

PS News Flash:

The Vatican has recently issued a very rare form of document called a “Motu Inapropio.” The document titled “Vertigens et Celebrans” mandates that churches, wherever possible, put the altar on a revolving platform, thus satisfying those who want to see the celebrants face and those who are sick of looking at the old goat. The relative speeds of the revolving altar should vary according to the respective length of the canon used. For the shorter canons, it is suggested that older clergy be strapped into a bar stool behind the altar to avoid injury. This should satisfy everyone.



Friday, December 9, 2011

An aside about Creeds

Before I continue with my fulminations about translation, I must make a correction. A few weeks ago I spoke of “God the creator of heaven and earth” That, as I am sure you noticed, comes from the Apostles’ Creed, or “Symbolum Apsotolorum”. I suspect that the use of the word “creator” in Latin is of greater antiquity than the word “maker”, which is used in the Nicene Creed. Perhaps this is an opportune moment to explain why we have two Creeds, and when one is to be used instead of the other and so on.

First, let us look at the Hebrew word “barah”, always a fun thing to do. It is used only in reference to God. Only God creates in the fullest sense of the word. Latin has two words “creator” and “factor” that is creator and maker respectively. Greek has only one word that will have to do for both creator and maker “poietes” from the verb “poieten,” meaning to do, cause, make and so on. In English, we get the word poetry, and not much else from it. Go figure. There were translation problems the day after the Council of Nicaea I imagine. So, in the Apostles’ Creed we have “creator.” In the Nicene Creed we have “maker”.

Note: an important point mentioned above which is the proper name of both creeds, the Apostolic Symbol and the Nicene Symbol.

PAY ATTENTION! YOU CAN IMPRESS PEOPLE AT COCKTAIL PARTIES WITH THIS STUFF. IT WILL MAKE YOU SEEM MUCH SMARTER THAN YOU REALLY ARE! BELIEVE ME. I KNOW.

The Nicene Creed is called the Symbolum Nicaenum in Latin and “Symbolon tes Pisteos” in Greek. The Roman Christians called it the “Nicene Symbol” while the Greeks of the 4th century called it the “Symbol of the faith”. I suspect this is because the Latins already had a “symbol” the Symbol of the Apostles. (Why does he keep calling the Creed a symbol? It’s getting a little irritating.) I am using the word symbol because that’s exactly what it is!

In modern English a symbol is some obscure representation of another thing, like a single perfect rose symbolizing a young man’s devotion to his sweetheart. (It usually symbolizes that he is in big trouble for having said or done something stupid.)

This is not what the Greco/Latin word symbolon/symbolum meant. A symbol was literally a thing thrown together. It often referred to two pieces of a coin broken between contracting parties, like those schlocky heart necklaces that come together to form one whole heart. (These are worn by the same irritating couples who wear matching outfits.)

A symbolon was a token of recognition. In ancient Athens, it was an identification token for jurors in the assembly, which in Greek is ekklesia, the same word used for Church. Thus, the symbolon which we call the Creed, is our admission ticket to the Church. It is the device by which fellow Christians recognize one another.

I was taught, back at the Casa Santa Animalia, my college seminary, that in the early Church, anyone could come to the first part of the Mass, the part composed of the readings, sermon and opening prayers, but that at a certain point, a porter, a sort of ordained bouncer, would make sure that only baptized Christians in good standing were in the congregation. This moment is memorialized in the Eastern Church by the words “The doors, the doors. In wisdom let us be attentive!” The non-Christians, the Catechumens and the Penitents were ushered out by the porter. The doors were closed, a sign of peace was exchanged and the Mass continued.

It was at this point that the Creed was finally placed in the Eastern Liturgy sometime around 400 AD. We in the West didn’t use the Nicene Creed at Mass until around 1100. We had our own Creed that was older than the Nicene Creed: the Apostles Creed, and it wasn’t necessarily used at Mass.

No one is quite sure where the Apostles Creed comes from. There is an old story that each of the Twelve Apostles added a verse to the Apostles’ Creed, hence the name. Perhaps this is the case. No one knows for sure. It is certainly very ancient and is thought to have been part of the Baptismal Liturgy of the Roman Church and still was even when I was a boy. I remember the terrible anxiety of godparents preparing for Baptism. They had to recite the Apostles’ Creed from memory. Now the priest just asks some questions and the godparents answer “I do” or “Whatever” or “Huh?” We don’t want to tax the overburdened modern brain by actually having anyone study what they claim to believe.

So that is why we have two Creeds in the West, the Nicene being more complex. The Apostles Creed is most appropriately used during the Lenten and the Easter season when we are thinking about and recommitting ourselves to our own Baptism. I suspect that sometimes it is used because it is a lot shorter than the Nicene. Perhaps soon we’ll have call in confessions and drive through communions. Ah, progress!

One more brief reflection on the Apostles Creed: “He descended into hell” this phrase certainly does alarm a lot of people. The use of the word hell is part of an unfortunate translation of a word in the Latin phrase, “descendit ad √≠nferos.” This literally means “He descended to those below.” It seems to refer to a text from 1Peter3:18 “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which He went and preached to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah.”

How’s that for obscure? The first Christians believed that, because of the justice and mercy of God, Jesus descended to the realm of the dead in order to give a chance for salvation to those who had not had the opportunity to enter a covenant with God. This realm of the dead is not what we mean by the eternal fire prepared for the “devil and his angels.” (Matt 25:41)

Don’t fret. It is interesting that the Bible does give us an example of post-mortem salvation. It is reasonable to assume that God in His justice and mercy makes the offer of Salvation to all people at some point. As St. Faustina reported, the Lord had told her in one of her visions that “At the hour of death I am my own apostle.”

God’s got it covered. Be calm!

Next week: Back to the new text!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Why change the translation of the mass? part 7

WARNING: This is even more obscure than most of this crackpot’s ideas!!! There is probably no reputable scholar that has ever written the following and it is pure speculation on the part of Rev. Know-it-all. Still, it’s kind of interesting if you can wade through it. Remember to take everything the Rev. Know-it-all says with a grain of salt.

(Letter to Verne A. Kiular, continued)

“On the third day He rose again in fulfillment of the Scriptures,” will now be read as “and rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” This may seem a trifling difference, but there’s more to it than meets the eye. First of all, the latter translation is the way it’s written in Latin. That’s also the way it’s written in Greek the language in which the Nicene Creed was first written. Now don’t lose me here. This is an obscure point. The fact that Jesus rose from the dead is not the whole point of the phrase, “He rose on the third day according to the Scriptures.”

The third day is not just incidental. Three is a huge concept in Hebrew gematria. (Gematria is the symbolic meaning attached to numbers) When three appears in the text, it symbolizes divinity. For example, the three heavenly visitors who told Abraham about Sara’s impending pregnancy. (Gen.18:1-8) Jesus had said that He would rise on the third day. “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up... He was speaking of the temple of His body. So when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this... and they believed the Scriptures and the word which Jesus had spoken.” (John 2:19-22) The disciples seem to think that there was something important about not only His rising, but His rising on the third day. Consequently, the first Christians maintained that Jesus had not only risen from the dead, but that He had risen on the third day. That fact must have been pretty important to land in the Creed.

The point is this: Jews maintain that there is nothing in the Torah about a divine messiah rising from the dead. In the words of my dear friend, Rabbi Yehudah ben Yiddshkeit, “The Messiah isn’t supposed to be divine and doesn’t rise from the dead. He’s a man. He’s born, he re-establishes the temple, he establishes justice and world peace and then he dies. We still can’t eat shrimp!” So is my friend the rabbi right? Is there no mention of the resurrection in the Torah, the first 5 books of the Bible? This was a huge problem for the first Christians.

The letter to the Hebrews deals with the problem in the following way. “Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death.” (Hebrews 11:9) Now, get ready for really obscure. The Letter to the Hebrews claims that Abraham’s belief in the resurrection is found in Genesis 22:3-5. “And Abraham rose early in the morning... and took two of his servants with him, and Isaac his son... and went to the place of which God had told him. ON THE THIRD DAY Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place far off. Abraham said to his servants, “Wait here... and I and the boy will go further. We will worship, and come back to you.”

In other words, Abraham trusted God so completely that he reasoned even if God would require the death of Isaac, He would restore him to life by raising him from the dead. People often are appalled that God would require such a test of loyalty and that Abraham would submit to it. The Letter to the Hebrews points out that it was Abraham’s trust in God and hope of resurrection that allowed him to take such a risk. If God required the sacrifice, God would return Isaac to his father by mans of resurrection. Abraham says to his servants, “WE will come back,” not “I will come back.” In this text of Scripture, at least as far as the author of the Letter to the Hebrews is concerned, this “WE” instead of “I” is proof that Abraham believed in the resurrection.

Isaac was a type for the Messiah and his “figurative resurrection” occurred on THE THIRD DAY. Resurrection is not a fulfillment of Scripture, not a development, but a fact that is written into the story of Isaac. The phrase, “the third day”, would be a clear indication that the Scriptures had mentioned resurrection, if only indirectly. If the Torah says that Father Abraham believed in the resurrection with a faith strong enough to risk slaughtering Isaac, then there is resurrection! And if Isaac is a type for the messiah, then resurrection is a messianic expectation. You and I might not think like this, but it seems that Jesus and His disciples did, and that is why resurrection on the third day was important enough to be included in the Creed. It refuted the refutations of Jesus’ messiah-hood at a time when those refutations were much discussed, and troublesome to many.

The Greek and Latin texts, of which the newer version of the Creed is a more accurate translation, grammatically emphasize that this importance of the “third day-ness”. It is a kind of Biblical footnote. This emphasis, I suspect is directed toward Rabbinic Pharisees who were vigorously trying to refute Jesus’ messianic claims. At the time of the Nicene Council, a great philosophical, theological battle raged among Jews, Christians and Pagans (by this I mean followers of the old Roman religion). The loyalty of many people whom today we would probably call Jewish Christians was at stake, and they were not an inconsiderable part of the Christian community and the Roman Empire.

The Nicene creed was written squarely in the midst of that battle. The first version of the Creed was produced by the First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. The final version was produced by the First Council of Constantinople in 381 AD. Between these two councils, there was a serious attempt by one of the Roman emperors to roll back the growth of the Catholic Church.

Julian, known to history as the “apostate,” ruled from 361 to 363. He passionately hated the Christianity that his uncle Constantine the Great had legalized in 313 AD. It is to be remembered that the temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed two centuries before by the Roman Emperors Vespasian and his son Titus in 70 AD, and that the Roman Emperor had once and for all ended sacrifices on the temple mount in 132 AD. The Christians saw this as fulfillment of Jesus’ words “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Church claimed to be the true temple, the messianic temple made of living stones. “You are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple.” (1Peter 2:5) As part of his campaign to prove that Christianity was not the fulfillment of the religion of Israel, Julian tied to rebuild the Jerusalem temple. His attempt failed spectactularly. Here’s a quote from a personal friend of Julian’s Ammianus Marcellinus:
“Julian thought to rebuild at an extravagant expense the proud Temple once at Jerusalem... (but), when fearful balls of fire, breaking out near the foundations, continued their attacks, the workmen, after repeated scorching, could approach no more and he gave up the attempt.”

Sounds like a bad kung fu movie: explosions but no car-chases.

So the phrasing of the line in the Creed “kai anastanta te trite hemera kata tas Graphas,” or if you prefer Latin “et resurrexit tertia die, secundum Scripturas” is best rendered in English as “and rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” You may be unimpressed, but remember all that junk you threw out of the attic when grandma died? Now don’t you wish you’d thought about it every time you watch Antiques Road Show? Maybe we shouldn’t be so anxious to toss stuff just because it’s old. Even when milk gets old we call it cheese.