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Motion: The Nicene Creed should be changed to include more gender-inclusive language

Introductions

Julie Faller, who will be arguing in support of the motion, graduated from College of the Holy Cross with a B.A. in Psychology in May of 1991. She graduated from Pace Law School with a JD in Law in May of 1997. She is currently admitted to practice law in the State of New York. She is the Senior Underwriting Counsel at The Great American Title Agency in White Plains, NY.

Meg Stapleton Smith, who will be arguing against the motion, is a Teaching Fellow and PhD Student in Theological and Social Ethics at Fordham University. She graduated from Yale Divinity School in 2016 with a M.A.R. in Ethics, and holds a B.A. in Theology from Boston College with concentrations in Faith, Peace,and Justice Studies and Catholic Studies. As an undergraduate, Meg also completed a thesis under the direction of Roberto Goizueta titled, “Empowering Education: Perspectives of Liberation Theology and Education in Lawrence, MA.” After graduating from Boston College, and prior to her time at Yale Divinity School, Meg was Director of Campus Ministry and a Theology teacher at Notre Dame Cristo Rey High School in Lawrence, MA.

Meg’s academic interests are wide ranging, but she is principally interested in exploring the contemporary retrieval of virtue ethics from a liberationist perspective. In addition, Meg's work explores how the intersection of these two fields might serve as a challenge for both virtue ethics and liberationist thought, as well as guide how we think about Catholic Social Teaching and Christian Social Ethics today.

Opening Statements

For:

Julie Faller: I would like to discuss the Nicene Creed and how the language used in the English version that states “for us men” serves to perpetuate the alienation of women that is prevalent in the Catholic religion. Historically in the English-speaking world, language usage has exalted men and often rendered women inferior.

This has happened through the following: the dominance of male-related terms, the unequal treatment of men and women, the stereotyping of gender roles, and unnecessary or irrelevant references to personal characteristics based on gender. The English language provides many options for ensuring that language usage is inclusive; however, its use is still not a constant.

Within Christianity, gender-exclusive language about God has served to support sexism and power structures that have had a negative impact on women in society.  Recent arguments from the Vatican that support the refusal to ordain women to the Roman Catholic priesthood because priests represent Christ, and Christ is male, only illustrate the point further.

In the 1980s, many feminist efforts were made to reform language that is not gender-neutral.  It has become common in some academic and governmental settings to rely on gender-neutral language to convey inclusion of all sexes or genders or gender-inclusive language. The reformation of the Nicene Creed to remove the “men” in “for us men” would be a positive stride toward change that might lead into a more common practice of including rather than alienating women both in the Church and society in general.

Against:

Meg Stapelton Smith: The Nicene Creed was first written at the First Council of Nicea in 325, and settled at the Council of Constantinople in 381. Needless to say, this statement of belief has been forming and shaping the church (as ecclesial structures, and as the people of God), for a long time. The Nicene Creed was created to settle a debate among early Christians – to make an explicit statement of belief about the nature of God. In heavy theological language, the Council debated the terms homoousious and homoiousios. The former means “same substance” where as the latter means “similar substance”. The Council affirmed that God (Father), Son, and Holy Spirit are of the homoousious (same substance). This is the Christian belief in the Trinitarian God. Jesus is God, not part God, not kinda God, but fully Divine and fully human. The Holy Spirit is not just an offspring of God. The Holy Spirit is God. And yet they are all distinct ‘persons’ – three persons, one God.

A lot of this is theological minutiae. But this offers a context for the opening lines of the Creed, “We believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible; And in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, begotten from the Father before all ages, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, of one substance with the Father, through whom all things came into existence.”

 

Yet, it is the next few lines that seem to be the most up for debate these days. This is the English translation of the original creed written in 325: who because of us men and because of our salvation came down from the heavens, and was incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became man, and was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried, and rose again on the third day according to the Scriptures and ascended to heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father, and will come again with glory to judge living and dead, and of Whose kingdom there will be no end; And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and life-giver, Who proceeds from the Father, Who with the Father and the Son is together worshipped and together glorified.”

There are a couple of problematic things about the text. Including the fact that there is no mention of Jesus’ ministry (his prophetic presence with those on the margins). Needless the say, what is at stake in the upcoming debate is the exclusive use of ‘Father’ for the Divine, and the non-inclusive gendered language “who because of us men and because of our salvation.” The recent changes in the Roman Catholic Church (2010) was an attempt to go back to the historical language of the liturgy. This was of course not the first time that the Roman Catholic Church has changed the language of the liturgy (and the language of the Creed). The last translation was only in use for 40 years.

I’ll offer a disclaimer that I support gender-inclusive language in the liturgy (especially for statements of belief). Jesus came for the salvation of all creation (not just human beings, and not just male human beings). I support gender-neutral language when referring to the Divine (the Trinity is not two men and a bird). Yet, for the sake of this blog post I will articulate the position that the language of the Nicene Creed should not be updated (even if the language of the liturgy does).

 

My own Christian denomination (The Episcopal Church) has been having some debates over liturgical language as well. Perhaps that will surface as we continue the debate.

Here are the central questions going forward: should liturgy change merely to keep up with the current socio-political and socio-cultural ethos of our day? Is there not something essential in the initial language used by the theologians who crafted the Nicene Creed? Detractors will ask, is liturgy an attempt to serve the living God or something we create to suit ourselves?

Rebuttal

For:

The reformation of the Nicene Creed to revise the words “for us men” to “for us” would be a positive reformation of the Catholic liturgy that would begin to eliminate the historical alienation women have suffered as Catholics.

 

The Nicene Creed was revised recently and reintroduced at the liturgy making several changes but did not include the revision of the language “for us men” to “for us” or some other sex-inclusive variation. Was this intentional by those who revised the document or merely an oversight? Since the purpose of the revisions were made to more accurately reflect their original Latin text, it seems that this omission was intentional rather than an oversight.

 

In The New Roman Missal Reflects a Patriarchal Standard Embedded in the Catholic Church[1] by Kevin Hershey, he argues, “I can only assume that the Vatican is using "men" as a synonym for "humans" without considering the highly sexist implications of their wording. It seems that the male-dominated worldview of the Vatican is so narrow that their definition of humanity excludes half of the world's human population. Coincidence? I think not. Vatican officials seem to think that as men, it is fair for them to apply their sex to the entire Catholic community. How convenient for them.” In addition he argues, “[w]hy, then, do we continue to use the word "men" to describe those humans that Jesus came to save? Perhaps our language in Mass reflects the fact that women still have few rights in the Church today.”   

The Nicene Creed is where Catholics state our core beliefs together as a community of faith. Shouldn’t such a Creed be stated by a community that includes both genders as the speakers? Some might argue that it is only one word and is not that important of an issue. However, many scholars would argue that language and words in fact dictate the way we think and reflect what we value.

Liturgy should change to keep up with the current socio-political and socio-cultural ethos of our day. In his article, Kevin Hershey further argues that “this choice of words reflects the patriarchal nature of our Church that we Catholics should not accept.”

If we limit our language only to what we have done historically, we limit God to our capacity for understanding, instead of opening our minds to positive change for the future. Keeping the traditional language of the Creed is narrow-minded and will ultimately continue to cripple the modernization of the Catholic Church.

 

According to an article by Mary Magdalene Apostle Catholic Community, “[l]anguage affects how we view God, the world, and one another. With the many discoveries made in our lifetimes (scientific, medical, human, religious), our understanding of God and everything sacred has been expanded beyond the boundaries of literal interpretation still clung to by many within the Christian tradition. In the same way, our language and images of God must expand and evolve out of their previous limitations to better express a living faith in a living God.[2]

 

For these reasons, the Nicene Creed should be revised to include sex inclusive rather than exclusive language.

 

[1] Hershey, Kevin. “Sexism Sunday: Translations Exclude Women.” The Beacon, 12 Jan. 2012, www.upbeacon.com/article/2012/01/sexism-sunday-translations-exclude-women-2.

[2] “FAQ.” Mary Magdalene Apostle Catholic Community , storage.cloversites.com/marymagdaleneapostlecatholiccommunity/documents/FAQ-FINAL 2-21-12.pdf.

Against:

The argument articulated by Julie is well taken. From her perspective, the language in the Nicene Creed (namely, “for us men and for our salvation”) undergirds a posture of patriarchal domination toward women in the Christian faith. There are a few things worth noting here. The first is that the language of for us men and for our salvation is not the only place in the Nicene Creed where male language emerges. God is referred to as ‘Father’ several times in the statement of belief as well. In other words, if we take Julie’s suggestion seriously then more than just one phrase in the Creed would need to be reworked.

 

The words of the Nicene Creed have been identified as the key to an “unchanging faith of the Church.”[1] Theologian Mark Chapman states that the Creed became common-place during liturgical worship in the fifth or sixth century as an “act of corporate reminding” of what Christians believed theologically over and against other religions.[2] This “act of corporate reminding” is important. As feminist theologian Jeannine Hill Fletcher writes, “The expression of the creed binds Christian communities across time and space and is as close as we might come to a universal logic shared by Christians.”[3] Yet, as Hill Fletcher further points out, there is a language of dominance deeply embedded in the Creed. And it is not just domination in the form of gendered language. The Creed is, in its very nature, supersessionist. In other words, it presumes the superiority of the Christian religion in a timbre of overt supremacy.

 

I bring this up to raise yet another set of questions in the form of a rebuttal. Is it just gendered language that we should be concerned about? What about the blatant Christian supremacy embedded in the Creed? Moreover, if we are to rework the language of the Creed – in order to avoid these modes of domination – would we not be reworking the foundational beliefs of the Christian religion? And if we reworked the foundational beliefs of the Christian faith, what would we have left? 

 

 

[1] Confessing the One Faith, rev. ed. (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2010), xxiv, cited in Persaud, “ Scripture, Creed, and Empire,” 75

[2] Mark D. Chapman, “Why Do We Still Recite the Nicene Creed at the Eucharist?” Anglican Theological Review 87, no 2. (January 2005): 209.

[3] Jeannine Hill Fletcher, The Sin of White Supremacy: Christianity, Racism, and Religious Diversity in America (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2017), 40

Concluding Statements: 

For:

In conclusion, the Nicene Creed needs to be revised to eliminate the word "men" from the phrase "for us men" as the current version perpetuates the alienation women have suffered as Catholics.

 

Despite the recent revision of the Nicene Creed, this particular amendment was not made and appears to be intentional rather than an oversight.

 

Some argue that this is not that important of an issue. However, many scholars would argue that language and words in fact dictate the way we think and reflect what we value. Gender-exclusive language about God has served to support sexism and power structures that have had a negative impact on women in society.

If we limit our language only to what we have done historically, we limit God to our capacity for understanding, instead of opening our minds to positive change for the future. Keeping the traditional language of the Creed is narrow-minded and will ultimately continue to cripple the modernization of the Catholic Church.

 

For these reasons, the Nicene Creed should be revised to include sex inclusive rather than exclusive language. The change might lead to the more common practice of including rather than alienating women both in the Church and society in general.

 

Against: 

 

 

Thanks to Julie for such a vibrant and robust conversation!

 

As I stated at the outset of the debate, I do in fact support the inclusion of gender-neutral language for the Nicene Creed. Part of what I hoped to accomplish during our back and forth was not a direct rejection of Julie’s proposal, but rather raise two further challenges to it.

 

First, changing the language of the Nicene Creed – specifically the soteriological language in the Nicene Creed – from ‘for us men and for our salvation’ to ‘for us men and women and for our salvation’ or ‘for us and for our salvation’ is important. But it is not the end of the story. Many denominations (including my own of The Episcopal Church) have already made such revisions. We should dig a little bit deeper here to reconsider the hegemonic modes of domination that operate within ecclesial structures to restrict women’s full human flourishing. In other words, we cannot just add gender-neutral language and ‘stir’ – as if that will be the solvent to the ways in which women are disenfranchised within the Catholic Church. Even further, I may suggest that it is not just women who deserve to be represented and reflected in the language of the Nicene Creed, but our siblings in Christ who are gender/queer, gender non-conforming, and gender non-binary.

 

My second challenge to further this proposal is that gendered language in the Nicene Creed ought not be our only concern. There are theo-historical concerns present in the current language of the Nicene Creed. Namely, that the ministry of Jesus – his solidarity with those on the margins – is explicitly left out of our statement of belief. Perhaps this is an act of coincidental oversight. However, Jesus’ ministry is what furnishes the task of our own discipleship. Jesus’ ministry is what remind us that faith is not an individual act between an individual and the Divine. Following Jesus requires that we accompany those who are suffering, and seek to eradicate the structures that create that suffering in the first place. So too can we point out the fact that there is language in the Nicene Creed that is supersessionist (presumes that Christianity is the superior religion). How might we grapple with that in the world in which we live today?

 

I will conclude by saying that even if the language of the Nicene Creed does not change – it ought to be prayerfully revisited by communities of faith who seek to exemplify and embody God’s ineffable love in a broken world. We must not forget that Christian ‘Tradition’ is not a relic of the past. The Tradition of the church is present in communities of faith today who embody the task of ongoing discipleship and discernment.

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