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Nicene Creed: old and new translations

25 July 2013

I recently discovered that some Roman Catholics are getting into a tizz because of a “new” translation of the Nicene Creed. Hat-tip to Bosco Peters for pointing this out: Extraordinariate | Liturgy:

Dissatisfaction with the 2011 English Roman Missal translation continues. Some communities, as I predicted, only ever say the Apostles Creed (a novelty), not having the stomach for the new translation of the Nicene one.

But in one of the links he gave, it seems that the “new” translation is in many ways a reversion to an older version. Here they are side by side.

Current Translation – Nicene Creed

New Missal Translation – Nicene Creed

We believe in  one God, the Father Almighty,maker of heaven and earth,of all that is seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,

the only Son of God,

eternally begotten of the Father,

God from God, Light from Light,

true God from true God,

begotten , not made, one in Being

with the Father.

Through him all things were made.

For us men and for our salvation

he came down from heaven:

by the power of the Holy Spirit

he was born of the Virgin Mary,

and became man.

For our sake he was crucified

under Pontius Pilate;

he suffered, died, and was buried.

On the third day he rose again

in fulfillment of the Scriptures;

he ascended into heaven

and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again in glory

to judge the living and the dead,

and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit,

the Lord, the giver of life,

who proceeds from the Father and the Son.

With the Father and the Son

he is worshiped and glorified.

He has spoken through the prophets.

We believe in one holy catholic

and apostolic Church.

We acknowledge one baptism

for the forgiveness of sins.

We look for the resurrection of the dead,

and the life of the world to come.

Amen.

I believe in one God, the Father almighty,maker of heaven and earth,of all things visible and invisible.

I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,

the Only Begotten Son of God,

born of the Father before all ages.

God from God, Light from Light,

true God from true God,

begotten, not made, consubstantial

with the Father;

Through him all things were made.

For us men and for our salvation

he came down from heaven,

and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate

of the Virgin Mary,

and became man.

For our sake he was crucified

under Pontius Pilate,

he suffered death and was buried,

and rose again on the third day

in accordance with the Scriptures.

He ascended into heaven

and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again in glory

to judge the living and the dead

and his kingdom will have no end.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,

the Lord, the giver of life,

who proceeds from the Father and the Son,

who with the Father and the Son

is adored and glorified,

who has spoken through the prophets.

I believe in one, holy, catholic,

and apostolic Church.

I confess one baptism for the forgiveness of sins

and I look forward to the resurrection

of the dead and the life of the world to come.

Amen.

For purposes of comparison, I give the version that we use in our Orthodox parish:

The Symbol of Faith

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty.
Maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God;
the only-begotten, begotten of the Father before all ages.
Light of Light; true God of true God;
begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father, by whom all things were made;
who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven,
and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became man.
And He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate,
and suffered, and was buried
and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures,
and ascended into heaven,
and sits at the right hand of the Father;
and He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead; whose Kingdom shall have no end.
And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father;
who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.
In one Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.
I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins.
I look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come.
Amen.

Apart from the usual Western additions (“God from God”, “and from the Son” — the Filioque) the most notable difference that applies to each of the three is:

  • one in being with the Father
  • consubstantial with the Father
  • of one essence with the Father

“one in being”, “consubstantial” and “of one essence” are all attempts to translate the Greek word homoousios, which is the central point of the Nicene Creed. The Council of Nicaea, which met in AD 325, explicitly rejected the teaching of Arius, which was that Christ was a different being from the Father, of a different essence. “Of one essence” and “one in being” are basically saying the same thing.

“Consubstantial” is a little more problematic, because though it means the same thing, in its etymological form it looks as though it doesn’t. The Latin word “substantia” has the same etymological form as the Greek “hypostasis”, or, indeed, the English “understanding”, though the meanings in the three languages diverge a great deal. Confusion might arise because in the Greek terminology God is three hypostases in one ousia.  “Consubstantial” could, therefore, be mistakenly interpreted as meaning “one hypostasis“.

Both the Western versions speak of the “forgiveness of sins”, whereas “remission of sins” is closer to the Greek, and stronger than mere forgiveness.

But English-speaking Orthodox Christians have a problem that is the opposite of the one that the Roman Catholics are facing. The Roman Catholics (or some of them) are complaining about a single “new” version that is replacing the “old” one in every parish.

The Orthodox do not have two versions; we have twenty, thirty, fifty or more. While there is a single version in Greek, and a single translation into Slavonic, every Tom, Dick and Harry has made his own translation into English, some of them very poor, and in some places no two parishes use the same English version.

The same is true of other liturgical texts as well.

The version of the Symbol of Faith I have given above is, I believe, one of the better ones.

It is accurate enough theologically, and is reasonably good English.

But very often those who decide which English translation to use do not speak English as their first language, but try to foist poor translations on English-speaking people. The Roman Catholics who see problems with different translations should consider themselves fortunate.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Peter permalink
    26 July 2013 2:48 am

    It’s amusing to hear Catholics complain that they “don’t know what ‘Consubstantial’ means.” You tell them “of the same substance”, and they suddenly have no idea what to say next.

    • Jane permalink
      16 April 2014 10:23 pm

      I really didn’t know either but looked ti up in the dictionary and it all made sense

  2. John permalink
    27 July 2013 12:22 am

    The Orthodox version you presented looks rather good to me. I personally prefer the rather literal translation in Kelly’s book on the creeds. I think omne always has to retranslate. I find very problematic the phrase “according to the scriptures” because many people may misunderstand this as meaning a sceptical “well, that is what the Scriptures, say”. rather than the more exact “in fulfilment of the scriptures”

    • 1 October 2015 9:41 am

      It doesn’t say “according to the scriptures” it says “in accordance with the scriptures”

  3. Tom permalink
    25 December 2014 7:02 pm

    I find it disconcerting that the Latin version, (Credo in unum deim…..) the one used before Vatican II, was essentially unchanged for 1600 years and mow they decide to change it

    • Fred Lingenfelder permalink
      11 September 2015 1:16 am

      Do you know the occasion and the date long ago when the Nicene Creed was changed from “we believe” to “I believe”? Thank You!

  4. 26 September 2016 11:35 pm

    Fred, “we believe” was what the Nicene Council actually said in its declaration, but then it was put into the singular as something that each person should say for him/herself every day. Apparently it also seemed desirable that the liturgical version and the personal version should be the same, and thus we’ve always said the Credo rather than the Credimus.

    I agree, Fr Steven, that the Orthodox version you quoted works pretty well and is one of the smoother-sounding options on offer— though i also think “one in being” and “in fulfillment of the scriptures” would be more clear in today’s context.

    It would also be better if we could say, “through whom all things were made” rather than, “by whom”— since “through” is a more accurate translation, and the position of the phrase and the lack of case endings in English makes “by whom all things were made” sound as if it describes the Father, not the Son. Most people don’t realize, I think, that the Father made all things through Jesus.

    And in reciting, we have to be really careful to reinforce the semicolon in “not made; of one essence with the Father”, because there’s a tendency to run the phrases together, so that it ends up sounding like “not made of one essence with the Father”— which is, of course, exactly not the point!

    English is treacherous!

  5. 26 September 2016 11:36 pm

    And of course, “age to come” rather than “world to come” would be much more preferable!

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