Apologize and Don't Be Sorry!

A site dedicated to thinking through the common objections to the Catholic Faith as well as questions of a general religious nature.

Location: Prague, Oklahoma, United States

Just your basic 21st century priest trying to bring the Gospel to everyone who will give it a fair hearing.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Dear Fr. Tharp:
In the Creed we pray at Mass, we say, “On the third day, he rose again from the dead.” I was wondering what the word “again” refers to? Thanks.

Name and Hometown Withheld.

Your question touches upon a couple of interesting subjects, that of translations and the role of Creed. With space permitting, I will try to cover both.

Let’s start with translations. Translations are equal parts linguistic science and artful literary sense. Anytime you move between one language and another, you will lose something in the transition. This is because language is tied to culture and worldview, and because of the unique conditions which go into forming culture and worldview, languages often express something which when literally translated don’t quite scan. For example, if your Lithuanian friend turns to you and says, “Don’t hang macaroni from my ears,” what is he trying to express? Is he concerned that you are about to accost him with your latest pasta creation? Well, no. This phrase, “Don’t hang macaroni from my ears,” is the Lithuanian way of saying, “Don’t pull my leg.” Therefore, the quality of the translation depends on being faithful both to the original language’s meaning and carrying that over to the receiving language.

The original language of the Creed was Greek which was then rendered into Latin. I don’t have access to the Greek edition so I can’t comment to that. Consulting the Latin text of the Creed (and we will focus upon the Nicene Creed which we use each Sunday), we find the article concerning the Resurrection stated thus, “et resurrexit tertia die, secundum Scripturas, et ascendit in caelum, sedet ad dexteram Patris.” Literally, we would render that in English as “And he resurrected on the third day, according to the Scriptures and ascended into Heaven, and is seated at the right of the Father.” You’ll notice that I didn’t mention “again.” That’s because it isn’t in the Latin. So, why is the word “again” included in the English?

I couldn’t find translator notes from the International Commission on the Use of English in the Liturgy, the body responsible for this translation of the Creed, so anything I say on this subject will be provisional. If I had to guess, I would suspect that the “again” is meant to suggest a real, bodily Resurrection, the idea that Christ really came back to life here on earth. In the history of the Church, some groups have proposed that the Resurrection is merely “spiritual,” meaning not bodily or not a real event. Hence, the English translation uses “again” to reinforce that the Resurrection happened as an actual, historical event.

You can see then how when translating that phrase from the Creed, I used both my knowledge of Latin, limited as it is, and my knowledge of the history of doctrine and heresy, again limited as it is. The translation depends on faithfulness to both. When it comes to the Creed and other theological matters, accurate translations are critically important.

On an average Sunday, we recite the Creed by rote, the words rolling off our lips with almost no engagement of the brain. This, however, was not the intention the Church had in formulating the Creed. The Creed serves as a seal of membership. By publicly professing the Creed, we are saying, “I am a Catholic Christian and I don’t care who knows it. I hold all these things in the same way that the Church who gave me the Creed I am professing them means them.” The Creed then represents the foundation for all the other matters of the Faith. That is why, I suspect, no mention is made of the Sacraments or Morality in the Creed. If we do not profess orthodox belief in the person of Christ, for instance, then the Sacraments which He instituted are going to be completely inscrutable. The same goes for morality. How can do what would be pleasing to Christ if I am confused about His person and Nature?

So, here’s the take away point. Your question is a question that I wish more Catholics would ask, not because I think everyone should be perplexed over the word “again” in the Creed. Your question suggests that you are paying attention and engaging the content of the Faith, even in its smallest details. Our life of Faith is the preamble to the Glory of Heaven we hope to share. I can’t understand why people take the Faith so for granted when at the heart of our Faith is a loving and informed engagement with the God who loved and made us.

Christ died and rose from the dead to conquer death and to give us life. In this Easter season, may we commit ourselves to “resurrecting” our engagement with the Faith, in heart, in mind and in strength of conviction.