Wednesday, January 23, 2019
. . . Born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate, . . .
—The Apostles’ Creed
If you worship in one of the liturgical Christian traditions, you probably know the opening words of the Apostles’ Creed by heart:
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended into hell; . . .
But have you ever noticed the huge leap the creed makes between “born of the Virgin Mary” and “suffered under Pontius Pilate”? A single comma connects the two statements, and falling into that yawning gap, as if it were a mere detail, is everything Jesus said and did between his birth and his death! Called the “Great Comma,” the gap certainly invites some serious questions. Did all the things Jesus said and did in those years not count for much? Were they nothing to “believe” in? Was it only his birth and death that mattered? Does the gap in some way explain Christianity’s often dismal record of imitating Jesus’ life and teaching?
There are other glaring oversights. The Apostles’ Creed does not once mention love, service, hope, the “least of the brothers and sisters,” or even forgiveness—anything that is remotely actionable. The earliest formal declaration of Christian belief is a vision and philosophy statement with no mission statement, as it were. Twice we are reminded that God is almighty, yet nowhere do we hear mention that God is also all-suffering or all-vulnerable (although it does declare that Jesus “suffered . . . , died, and was buried”). With its emphasis on theory and theology, but no emphasis on praxis (i.e., practice), the creed set Christianity on a course we are still following today.
The Apostles’ Creed, along with the later Nicene Creed, is an important document of theological summary and history, but when the crowd at my parish mumbles hurriedly through its recitation each Sunday, I’m struck by how little usefulness—or even interest—the creed seems to bring as a guide for people’s daily, practical behavior. I hope I am wrong, but I doubt it.
Both creeds reveal historic Christian assumptions about who God is and what God is doing. They reaffirm a static and unchanging universe and a God who is quite remote from almost everything we care about each day. Furthermore, they don’t show much interest in the realities of Jesus’ own human life—or ours. Instead, they portray what religious systems tend to want: a God who looks strong and stable and in control. No “turn the other cheek” Jesus, no hint of a simple Christ-like lifestyle is found here.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent Books: 2019), 103-104.