Credit Where It’s Due

Credit Where It’s Due January 14, 2011


I had a really fun time this week when I attended a lecture/discussion on the new translation of the Roman Missal that’s going into effect next Advent.  (The Vatican approved changes to the Latin form of the Mass about ten years ago, and the English translation has been working its way through the pipeline).  The campus church gave an explanation of the thinking behind the new translation and talked a couple of the most notable changes through in detail.  It was fascinating, and that’s not just the translation-nerd in me talking.

The priest spoke frankly about the difficulties of using precise language while avoiding jargon.  The switch in the Nicene Creed from “one in Being with the Father” to “consubstantial with the Father” drew the most objections from students.  Consubstantial (which is obscure enough to not be recognized by Blogger spellcheck) is very specific, but you need to know a lot of metaphysics and theology to grasp it at all.  “One in Being” might lead laypeople to miss nuances,  but they’d get the general idea.  The students (a mix of undergrads, grad students, and some Div school people) disagreed about how much theological clarity was feasible and how much rigor should be sacrificed for the sake of not alienating parishioners.

In high school and for part of college, my idea of Catholicism (and I suspect that of many others) just transposed the biblical inerrancy and literalist zeal of evangelical hardliners to an unquestioning cult-like devotion to ritual, particularly in the form of the Mass.  At the discussion I attended, I could see I had been wrong.

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  • Notice the grad/Div school arrogance: Oh yeah WE get it, but the dummies in the pews (who, in other debates, are those Highly Educated Catholics who can't be expected to accept Teaching X or Teaching Y) need it dumbed down.More broadly speaking, I don't know whether it's a bad sign that atheists are our best theologians, or a good sign that our theology can be grasped by atheists willing to work at it.

  • @David Wagner: Do you think it's important that every Catholic have a full understanding of the various heresies that the Church has rejected in the past? Not everyone in the room had a full understanding of what 'consubstantial' was defined as or what it was meant to exclude. Isn't there a level of theology that is irrelevant to most people, even if it's true. The religious equivalent of quantum mechanics, perhaps?

  • I guess I am just way too much of a nerd. But i prefer the overly theological terms and expecting people to learn them. I mean IF it is true, wouldn't you want full understanding? I do, without even accepting that IF!

  • @Charles: I sympathize completely. I'm always trying to get my friends to take more math classes or to borrow my copy of Alice in Quantumland: An Allegory of Quantum Physics. However, although I think their lives could be enriched by a deeper understanding of math and physics, I don't think that knowledge is essential to function or to try to live a virtuous life.I wonder how much theology could be interesting and true, but still mostly irrelevant to a Christian life.

  • ha, who said anything about relevance.

  • Very interesting! I would love to attend a lecture on that! I've only read about it. In terms of the first question, I am not sure how versed in Church heresies people need to be, verses the primary importance of first having people fully know and understand Church teachings. I see that as a big problem among some Catholics; then knowing heresies would be another layer of necessary knowledge, for sure.One note about alienating people: the Church is not wholly concerned with the possible alienation as much as they are concerned with fidelity to Sacred Scripture and Tradition. I would also overall disagree with the idea that any theology is irrelevant to Christian life- isn't that its purpose?

  • thomas tucker

    I also like theology and take a rather cerebral approach to the Faith.However, I suspect that God doesn't care how much you know , but how much you love.