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THE CATHOLIC REVIEW:
Deacon Rick Bauer

THE CATHOLIC REVIEW:

by Deacon Rick Bauer

Catholics recite the Nicene Creed at every Sunday Mass. As we strive to return “ad fontes,” to the [original] sources amid an ever-changing world, we must understand more about our Christian roots, expressed in the Creed we profess.

“The Nicene Creed: A Scriptural, Historical, and Theological Commentary” is a welcome contribution for Christians worldwide (Catholic and Protestant) to understand our core beliefs. Written by two significant theology professors at key Catholic seminaries, we are given the best recent Introduction explaining how the Creed is both anchored in the Bible and how it came to be written and confessed in the church’s early history.

In my Protestant ministry days, I often thought that the Nicene Creed was an afterthought of uninspired men, or in some of my theology courses, I almost bought the notion that the various creeds were merely political accommodations to new Roman emperors who had adopted Christianity, and thus were not to be taken seriously. It took a few years of reflection to realize the authenticity of the creeds (Athanasian, Nicene, Apostles, etc.) and how godly clergy responded to the various heretical misunderstandings and defective perspectives and variants of the Apostolic faith. I shudder to think where we would be as a church without the explicit, precise expressions of the orthodoxy expressed in the Nicene Creed. This and other creeds were reflections of church leaders struggling against the influences of pagan and pseudo-Christian forms of Gnosticism and later defective teachings on the deity of Jesus — from Arianism to Modalism to Adoptionism. (If you struggle to keep all these heresies in the right bucket as most people do, take heart — there is an excellent glossary that identifies the salient aspects and deficiencies of these heresies.) This book weaves theology, scripture, church and political history into a multifaceted story, keeping these matters clear and concisely understood. Interestingly, some forms of these ancient deviations are still alive in some quasi-Christian thinking today.  

Professors Jared Ortiz and Daniel Keating brilliantly present the Nicene Creed in a manner that is both deeply historical yet theologically accessible, using biblical (and creedal) terms to explain what can often be confusing. The rationale for certain words (Latin and earlier Greek) and expressions are explained clearly, and how a particular clause or section of the Creed addresses a prevalent misunderstanding or heretical teaching. More than simply placing these words in their historical setting, this excellent Introduction serves as an introduction to the faith (every bit the companion to an adult catechesis course or an OCIA/RCIA supplemental text).

The contents of the chapters follow the sections of the Nicene Creed. After some preliminaries concerning the creedal text and various translations, we dive into the subject of belief — why do Christians have a creed? In a world that seems to dash away from any shared belief (as we often hear, “Well, that’s my truth”), the Nicene Creed is a shared reality that roots Christians together in a unified faith and strengthens faith in a testing time. After this, we walk through (Chapter 2) God the Father, (3) God the Son Incarnate, (4) God the Holy Spirit, and (5) Life in the Trinity. Extra reference sections compare various creeds and differences in Latin and Greek, and include a helpful glossary and recommendations (by subject of interest) for further study. Professors, students, clergy, and religious educators will benefit from this illuminating and informative guide to the Nicene Creed.

I found this short book compelling and informative, written in clear and concise English, yet engaging and interesting. Walking quickly through the Introduction, glancing over the authors’ comparison of creeds to marriage vows, I was ambushed by the writers’ underscoring of what was at stake in these creeds, as they observed “the creeds invite and summon us to confess: ‘Here I stand, this is my conviction, and I will put my life on the line for this truth’ . . . We don’t hedge our bets; we put our lives on the line. Strikingly, the confession of the creeds is a kind of rehearsal for martyrdom. What we do each week by committing ourselves to the truths of the faith prepares us to make good our confession of faith should the call of martyrdom come our way” (from the Introduction). Wow! — I caught my breath short, reflecting on the increasing number of Christians dying for their faith in both the 20th and 21st centuries. We may not be tested to bloodshed for these truths, but the more significant challenge is to live each day reflecting these core non-negotiables in our daily life and conduct.   

As someone who has been given the accolade of “teacher” here and there, it is refreshing to see good teaching and catechetical faithfulness in an informed, authentic, and clear introduction to the Nicene Creed. This might be an excellent way to build and renew your Catholic “sources” this year.

The Proper Gift: What To Get Your Newly-Ordained Priest or Deacon

Any book review editor will get this question, especially one who is a deacon and teacher and who has helped in the formation of three separate cohorts of permanent deacons over the years. First of all, every priest and deacon loves books, but many have collected a stack of their own over the years, even in seminary. Find out what they might need or desire. For the newly ordained, there are always books that are well received, especially in making the transition from the heady academic study of theology or biblical languages into the daily requirements of preaching, teaching, preparing homilies, and the exacting call to serve in liturgical settings properly.

What should I buy? If in a parish, it might be good to conduct some “intelligence gathering.” Does your recipient have a particular title? What are his interests? Sometimes, a gift card to a nearby Catholic bookstore or an online vendor might be just the ticket. A group of parishioners can assemble their funds to start a personal library in good form. Whether a direct gift of one book or the means to purchase a few books that can make a difference, let me suggest a few titles that any new clergyman will welcome:

Preaching. Most lay Catholics evaluate new clergy by their preaching, even though it is a tiny part of their weekly service. Bottom line — there is no substitute for study and preparation. We’ll visit the subject of biblical commentaries some other time, but for now, let’s look at reading and studying homily collections, not to repeat them word-for-word, but to find precise analysis, deeper insights, and ways to frame and inform effective, engaging, and compelling access to the biblical texts each week.

I suggest this type of resource because there is often a big difference between a homiletics course in seminary and the real-world experience of preaching at Mass. My favorites include “Food for the Soul: Reflections on the Mass Readings” (three volumes, one per lectionary cycle), published by Word on Fire, 2022; another set is “The Spiritual Wisdom of the Gospels for Christian Preachers and Teachers: One Earth as It Is in Heaven” (four volumes, including homilies for feasts, funerals, and weddings) by John Shea, Liturgical Press, 2004. They both follow the liturgical calendar, include thoughts on all three readings, and even find a collective theme for several of the readings that ties them together. A great place to start!

Liturgy. The modern classic set no clergyman or liturgical director should be without is the three-volume set from Bishop Peter J. Elliot, published by Ignatius Press. They are “Ceremonies of the Modern Roman Rite: The Eucharist and the Liturgy of the Hours;” “Ceremonies of the Liturgical Year According to the Modern Roman Rite;” and “Ceremonies Explained for Servers According to the Modern Roman Rite” (the last being particularly useful for those teaching altar servers and in sacramental administration).

A new book focusing on the proper liturgical celebration of the Mass is Msgr. Marc Caron’s “Ceremonial for Priests,” published in 2023 by Sophia Institute Press. It contains insights down to particular gestures and words for those wanting to understand more profound aspects of the Mass.

All of these suggestions would make good gifts that would be appreciated. God bless our seminarians, our new priests, and our new deacons!

 (For comments or to suggest a book that might be helpful for Catholics, write Deacon Rick at rbauer@diocs.org.)

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