Beauty and Belief

 

An angelic choir

 

Three weeks ago, or thereabouts, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sang the “Gloria” from Schubert’s Mass in G during his weekly Sunday morning television broadcast.

 

I love Schubert’s Mass in G, partly because I know it very well.  While my wife and I were living in Cairo, Egypt, back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, we sang with the choir at the Ma‘adi Community Church, near our apartment.  (The pastor, Rev. David Johnson, was our downstairs neighbor during our first year there.  We often babysat his kids.)

 

One year, we did Schubert’s Mass in G.

 

So the Tabernacle Choir had me singing along.  And then getting out recordings and listening to more of it.  I love the whole thing.  I really love the “Credo”:
Credo in unum Deum, Patrem omnipotentem,
factorem coeli et terrae,
visibilium omnium et invisibilium.
[Et] in unum Dominum Jesum Christum,
Filium Dei unigenitum, [et] ex patre natum ante omnia saecula, Deum de Deo, lumen de lumine,
Deum verum de Deo vero. Genitum non factum, consubstantialem Patri; per quem omnia facta sunt. Qui propter nos homines et [propter] nostram salutem descendit de coelis.
Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto,
ex Maria virgine; et homo factus est.
Crucifixus etiam pro nobis sub Pontio Pilato,
passus et sepultus est. Et resurrexit tertia die secundum Scripturas, et ascendit in coelum, sedet ad dexteram Patris, et iterum venturus est cum gloria, judicare vivos et mortuos, cujus regni non erit finis.
Et in Spiritum Sanctum Dominum,
et vivificantem, qui ex Patre Filioque procedit,
qui cum Patre et Filio simul adoratur,
et conglorificatur, qui locutus est per Prophetas.
[Et unam sanctam catholicam et apolstolicam Eccelsiam.] Confiteor unum baptisma in remissionem peccatorum, [et expecto resurectionem mortuorum,]
et vitam venturi saeculi. Amen.

 

I believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.
[And] 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,
of one being with the Father; through Him all things were made. For us and [for] our salvation He came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit He became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.
For our sake He was crucified under Pontius Pilate; He suffered death and was buried. On the third day He rose again 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.
And I 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 worshipped and glorified. He has spoken through the prophets. [I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church;] I acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins; [I look for the resurrection of the dead,] and the life of the world to come. Amen.

 

Get a recording of this marvelous piece of music and listen to it.

 

I couldn’t help but think, though, both while we were rehearsing and performing it and again just recently, how much more the piece means to me because I believe every word of the lyrics.  The music is beautiful, but singing the Mass in G, and listening to it, isn’t merely an aesthetic experience for me.  It’s a transporting spiritual experience, too.

 

While I was an agnostic, I think, in my earliest teen years, and possibly an atheist, I’ve never had the experience of being an atheist as an adult.  So I can’t speak with any real authority here, but it’s inconceivable to me that performing and hearing Schubert’s Mass in G — and Vivaldi’s Gloria, and Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, and Michael Praetorius’s Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen, and so on and so forth — would not be a relatively arid and impoverished experience if I didn’t believe what I was singing about.

 

And, incidentally, doesn’t the fact that I believe every word of the “Credo” of Schubert’s Mass in G suggest that — notwithstanding the noisy anti-Mormons out there — I’m a Christian?

 

 

  • Dr. Zhivago

    Wow, what a [expletive deleted] crock of bloody [expletive deleted].. So, if music makes you feel good then God must exist?
    -”Primed and ready to destroy Mormonism”, An Anti-Mormon from Sweden
    for good measure … Sweden: IP Address: 62.220.135.129

    • danpeterson

      Dr. Zhivago was obviously too busy desperately searching his limited vocabulary for crude and obscene expletives to notice that I didn’t actually make the argument “if music makes you feel good then God must exist.” Not even close.

      Oh well. I’m sure he’ll try it again. Perhaps under yet another pseudonym.

  • JohnH

    As translated into English and stripped of all the meanings that are attached to it then sure it is easy to say that one believes the Credo. However, in saying one believes the Credo it gives the idea that one believes in a whole host of ideas which have caused well over a thousand years of debate and conflict within Christianity.

    In particular these two phrases:

    “of one being with the Father”

    “who proceeds from the Father and the Son;”

    are ones that run counter to LDS understanding on those subjects (as traditionally understood by orthodox Christians). Both have had wars and schisms, whose results are still felt today. The second is in fact claimed as the largest theological difference between Orthodox and Catholic, the Orthodox reject “and the Son” as being an unauthorized addition.

    • danpeterson

      I fully understand your position, and I stand by what I said.

      I plan eventually to write a book in which, among many other things, I’ll explain how a Latter-day Saint can, in good conscience and with intellectual integrity, affirm that Father and Son are “homoousion.”

      Do we understand that in exactly the same way that mainstream Christians today tend to understand it? No. But Nicea was, essentially, a kind of political convention, and the creed that emerged from it is, effectively, rather like a party platform statement — containing minimalistic language on which competing factions could agree even as they preserved their differing understandings. So we can fit right in.

      And the same goes for the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son (the so-called “filioque.”)

      The fact remains that the overwhelming bulk of the “Credo” is historical/eschatological, and that Latter-day Saints believe all of those historical and eschatological propositions. There is no need, contrary to your claim, for us to have “stripped [the "Credo"] of all the meanings that are attached to it.” We really do believe that Christ was crucified under Pontius Pilate, that he rose again on the third day, that he sits at the right hand of the Father, and that he will return again to judge the quick and the dead.

      • JohnH

        I am aware of many ways in which Latter-Day Saints can in good conscience affirm that the Father and the Son are “homoousion”. That isn’t the problem, the problem is that in doing so we are, as the Catholic church put it, “on a different matrix” so that we can say the same words but the meaning of what we are saying is not recognizable as being anything similar. As the Catholic Church found when determining whether LDS baptisms should be valid to the Catholic Church even when the words and form are precisely the same the doctrinal difference is greater then between Trinitarian and Arian or Semi-Arian, which the Nicean creed was designed to get rid of the last two and promote the first with Saint Nicholas literally throwing the knock out punch.

        Things like create, proceed, eternally begotten, homoousion, and unseen have specific intended meanings which we as Latter-Day Saints completely throw out the window. In terms of the question of how many uncreated things there are the traditional debate has raged around how to get to “A multitude of rulers is not a good thing, let their be one” and we come in with an answer that appears to be in the range of the uncountably infinite or possibly some higher large cardinal. Also, that there is in fact nothing which is created ex nihilo, just organized from something preexisting, as in the questions aren’t even the same or even similar but incomprehensible in meaning to each other.

        • Jason Covell

          “Things like create, proceed, eternally begotten, homoousion, and unseen have specific intended meanings which we as Latter-Day Saints completely throw out the window.”

          I think you missed the part where Dan pointed out the political role played by those words whose very lack of “specific intended meanings” was a deliberate strategy in order to make a kind of treacherous unity among the participants.

          Continuing the musical exposition of doctrine and history, I recall an entertaining rehearsal of my university’s choir (a long way from Utah) when we were tackling Britten’s St Nicholas cantata. We reached the following words:

          He sat among the Bishops who
          Were summoned to Nicaea:
          Then rising with the wrath of God
          Boxed Arius’s ear.

          A great discussion ensued about who this Arius fellow was, and why we were so excited about him getting beaten up (something the music at that point makes very clear!) There was of course some mention of the Arian Heresy, although there was no real agreement on what the heresy actually was (I was much younger and more clueless then).

          Somehow this morphed into a more general discussion about the historicity of St Nicholas himself, and it was contended that the legendary saint had been quietly dropped from the Catholic Church’s official canon. I’ll never forget the final comment, from a fairly devout Catholic choir member: “But if St Nicholas wasn’t real, who then punched Arius?”

          • JohnH

            Given that a over a century of debate conflict happened over whether it should be homoousion or some other extremely similar word but with ever so slightly different technical meaning I have to disagree with Dan, which is what I was doing.

            It wasn’t worded vaguely, but very specifically and technically in order to delegitimize everything that wasn’t exactly Trinitarian. For example, the semi-arians held that it should be homoiousion instead of homoousion, that the Father and the Son are of like or similar essence or existence or being but not the exact same essence or being. The arians held that it should be heteroousian meaning the Father and the Son are different in being, with some holding the extreme form that they are of dissimilar being. Of course there were groups that went in the other direction in that they used homoousion to say that the Father and the Son were not only the same being but the same individual (which is the more natural reading of homoousion).

            Given the debates, the multiple councils, the banishment, the executions, the massacres, and intrigues that went on over the difference between “same” and “like or similar” I do not know how the claim can be made that it was designed to be unifying, vague, or lacking specific intended meanings when all evidence seems to point to the exact opposite. Nicea wasn’t the first council on the subject, nor the last, it gets the status of Ecumenical because the Emperor called it and the Trinitarians were eventually able to expel or exterminate everyone that disagreed (meaning that, eventually, everyone left alive or in the normal area of the church agreed with it and it was therefore ecumenical (not a unique outcome in getting councils to be ‘ecumenical’)).

            Nicholas of Myra was a real person and is a real saint, whose bones (relics) are known and being requested by Turkey to be returned to Turkey, who may or may not have been at Nicae and may or may not have punched out Arius. A common response is even if he didn’t actually punch out Arius, he should have, and it would not have been out of character for Arius to have been punched out by someone at the council so it might was well have been Nicholas.

            For references consider http://www.thebostonpilot.com/articleprint.asp?id=12836 this article discussing the change of “one being” to Consubstantial done recently by the Catholics because it was determined that “one being” wasn’t technical enough. Or this http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/hcc3.iii.xii.xi.html explaining the differences in what was being claimed. Or this http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07449a.htm from the Catholic Encyclopedia.

          • danpeterson

            You need to know, John H, that you can’t really be disagreeing very effectively with me at this stage, because I haven’t actually set forth my full position (let alone the reasoning behind it) anywhere.

            You’ve made your point, though.

            Now be sure to buy and read my book when I finish it and it gets published.

          • danpeterson

            I don’t think it really matters much, with respect to the question of whether or not I’m a Christian, that I may be taking some of the terms of the “Credo” — by no means most of them, let alone all of them — in a sense that differs from traditional orthodoxy (but, and this is important, remains well within their ordinary semantic range).

            You’re free to disagree, of course.

  • Lucy Mcgee

    I can imagine a now well publicized scenario in which a totally devout and believing young Catholic boy had been singing his heart out during every Vienna Boy’s Choir performance of the music of Schubert. Then after a few years of being spiritually transported by the power and words of the music, he suddenly quits the Choir and forever turns his back on his Catholic faith.

    • danpeterson

      So can I.

      It happens.

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    What do the brackets [ ] around certain passages mean in this context? Are they not sung, optional, or what?

    • danpeterson

      There are textual variations in the creed, and some words, while accepted in the Latin West, were rejected in the Greek-speaking East.

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    I assume your hypothesis is that the assertion that the Father and the Son are “of the same substance” can be understood, especially when first agreed to in Nicea, as referring to a familial, genetic relationship, just as any human father and son have mostly the same genetic code. It is much more logically consistent with the assertion in the creeds that the Father and Son are distinct persons, not to be confounded. The creeds never say what kind of substance it is, and don’t deal with the physical nature of Christ’s embodiment and whether that resurrected body is or is not part of the “one substance” shared with the Father. In my view, the creedal descriptions of God raise more questions than they answer. If their purpose is to demonstrate to people that they cannot comprehend God’s nature, they certainly do that, but many people will say God is incomprehensible, in one breath, and then insist in the next that God has to conform to a particular human specification that can only attempt to articulate the ineffable.

    • danpeterson

      The term “homoousios” was sometimes used in ancient Greek to indicate sameness in type. Thus, for instance, Robert and Richard are “homoousios” because they share a common humanity.

      In that sense, obviously, Latter-day Saints believe the Father and the Son to be “homoousios.”

  • http://yourestatematters.com Michael Loveridge, JD

    No religious analysis, here, just a recommendation: St. Cecilia Mass, by Gounod.

    • danpeterson

      Wonderful music.

  • Lucy Mcgee

    I have zero religious history or attachment, other than I find the entire subject fascinating. It is interesting reading a discussion regarding the the form God would take were God to visit earth. In using terms like “homoousion” and the like, you are not only baffling the majority of believers, but asking people to live their lives based on what dead people thought about God many centuries ago.

    Why is it that ancients dictate to your lives today, given the problems of translation and the limited knowledge which exits of who Jesus even was? Do people understand that when the Nicene council met in 325 AD, most people believed the earth was a pancake! Do people not realize that Hypatia of Alexandria was born not long after and gave those interested an entirely new perspective and understanding of life on planet earth, which was far removed from the religious teachings of her time (she was murdered by, history reveals, an ecumenical human)?

    If Christians can’t even agree on the form God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit take, not to mention the other billions on earth who have no such understanding at all, then where is the truth? Will we all eventually convert to one belief system?

  • log

    Dan,

    Not only are you a Christian, but from observing your online behavior for many years, I can say you have always and ever conducted yourself in a manner befitting the Savior; you always exhibit manners and courtesy consistent with the grace, meekness, and humility characteristic of the saints of God. And your wit and sense of irony are pleasures to behold.

    If only there could something be done about your deplorable politics…

    • danpeterson

      Something can be done: The electorate can toss out all the politicians and the laws of which I disapprove. (I would happily draw up a list in order to simplify their task.)

      Thanks for the kind note.


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