Friday, October 09, 2015

On Keeping the Creed

A year-old post from Father Christopher concerning the use of the creed in the liturgy attracted new attention last month, with further responses from Derek Olsen and Fr. Hendrickson. I sense in the original post that I sit at the crux of the age gap between those who object and those who accept the creed willingly: born in 1960, I am technically a boomer, but my experience is that people around my age pretty much missed the boomer bandwagon. I was a child in a mainline Presbyterian congregation, where I learned and memorized the Apostle's Creed; my religiosity was reawakened in high school, not rescued from a theologically dictatorial childhood. I have no fundamentalist upbringing against which I in any sense rebel, then or now. And this indeed seems to be the core of the matter.

There are two big questions which arise about the creed in liturgy: one which everyone steps up to one way or the other, and the other which pretty much gets ducked by everyone. The first is the expectation that we say this together because we are at least in part bound into the church by our assent to her teachings, in this case tenets which bind us through time for some sixteen centuries. I've been over this before, and there comes a point where I lose patience. And that is where I hit the second problem. I spend a lot of time here grousing that the clerisy takes people like me for granted and assumes that someone orthodox is going to keep showing up and writing checks even if there is really nothing left of the church they signed on for. And constantly we are warned, in Change Sermon after Change Sermon, against being mired in the past. But this is precisely my I loathe such sermons: they are essentially about making the past indefensible, when an examination on merits would present a strong defense.

For the creed itself, that defense is precisely that the church has been saying this "on Sundays and other Major Feasts" for age upon age. Why should the feelings of some sixty-something Americans gainsay that? I know this sounds terribly belittling, but there's a coloring of the adolescent to the insistence that the liturgy be edited to suit those rebelling against the old patristic teaching. Earlier generations might well have accepted the dissonance between what the creed says and what they are comfortable with believing as a personal responsibility to resolve by being taught by the church (and thus understanding their failure to believe as a failing) or finding/founding some less orthodox religious community. The notion that the creed, fought out as it was in those early controversies, was subject to editing or outright omission to cater to the foibles of any individual layman: this was not only foreign, but anathema. The whole point of the creed, after all, was to draw a line between Orthodoxy and the Arians.

The sign in Fr. Christopher's seminary experience, I think, is that this modernist insistence in the primacy of personal beliefs is passing, but more importantly, that the elevation of rebellion against The Establishment is also passing. Or perhaps it is that younger folk no longer believe in an establishment, but instead see their church for the outsider rebel community against the unbelieving world that it is supposed to be.


Anonymous said...

Well put. I'm afraid when I saw Ruth Myers's comments on prayer book revision today, I could have drawn you an accurate sketch of her BEFORE seeing her photo on her page at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific. Some of the graying lot are still trying to enforce their qualms about a Christian identity that, indeed, even most of us gay-marriage-loving Episcopalians would like to cling to through some more centuries, thank you very much.

Fr Christopher said...

Father Christopher here. Thanks for the addition to the ongoing discussion.

C. Wingate said...

Robert Clay Calhoun has a response relating an interesting passage from William Porcher Dubose which is much in line with my position, though I think his explanation has a more Anglican tolerance in it than I am capable of these days.