The translation of the Nicene Creed used at Sunday Mass beginning in Advent will read, “I believe in God, the Father Almighty” — not, as currently, “We believe in God.” Often I say Mass using the Latin Novus Ordo. This is the text that was supposed to be translated into English. The Latin Creed begins Credo, namely, “I believe.” In French, Spanish, and German, the translation is uniformly, “I believe.” The Tridentine Mass is also Credo — I believe. I have seen a reference to the translation in the Armenian rite, where it is, “We believe.”

In the Denziger collection of Church documents, however, all the ancient creeds, except the Apostles’ Creed, begin, following the Greek, in the first-person plural: Credimus — “we believe.” From its earliest appearance in the Church, the “I believe” version is for liturgical use. Those present affirm their own personal belief.

Why the English translation currently in use from the 1960s changed to “we believe” is open to speculation. Obviously, if it was good enough at Nicea, it ought to be good enough in Kansas City. When the Church Fathers at Nicea and Constantinople said “we believe” or “we affirm,” however, they were speaking definitively in the name of the tradition. They affirmed authoritatively what the Church held, what is to be believed as true. At Mass, the individual parishioner is not so speaking with authority. He is articulating his personal acceptance and knowledge of what is held. He is not defining it, but he does understand it.

In the Byzantine rite, I read that, when a male public figure is present, he may, at the proper moment in the Liturgy, be invited to read (or perhaps chant) the Creed in the name of the community. This tradition was said to go back to the early Byzantine emperors, who recited the Creed in the name of the whole world under their jurisdiction. The classic emperor had a universal scope.

We probably would not want our president, whatever his ambitions, or the German chancellor, or the British queen to do the reciting in our name, though we hope that they might be able to affirm it in their own name. We are all “democrats” now. But it is a good example of the delicate relation of politics and faith, especially when believers and citizens hold the same truths. Christian emperors expected their subjects to be, well, Christians — or Arians, or Nestorians, or whatever the emperors were.


The problem with the formula “we believe” is that the one who recites it may not in fact be affirming what is in the Creed. Instead of saying “I believe” as a public expression of what he holds, he means rather, “We believe” — that is, this is what this organization holds, though not necessarily what I hold myself. The unity of belief is broken.

Presence at Mass indicates that one knows what is going on, knows what it means. Public recitation of the Creed indicates the unity of belief in the one teaching or central understanding of what it is about. This is the highest form of corporate affirmation. Each knows what the other believes.

A creed is a symbol, a key that works, that puts things together with the most possible delicacy. It wants to include everything essential, but not necessarily everything that might be said. Moreover, every word of the Creed is hammered out in controversy. Every word has a counter-view behind it that would, if followed, make the Faith something else.

Some Protestant communions do not recite the Creed because it is not in Scripture. What they mean is that it is not verbatim in Scripture. The Creed is nothing but an authoritative summation of what is in Scripture, now stated in the clearest and most sparing words by the Church, in whose hands Christ left these things, including Scripture’s integrity.

A certain rhythm or resonance is found in the words of the Creed. Liturgical chanting or singing of the Creed can be haunting; many great composers have set it to music. Yet the Creed is not a poem. It is word directed to mind. Its recitation is not to be omitted on Sundays and holy days. Whenever I am at a Sunday Mass at which the celebrant skips the Creed, I feel the loss. The congregation knows that something was bypassed that should be there. It also knows that it misses that point of the liturgy where the Church takes the mind of each most seriously. It explains the truth to us. It is the moment of our intelligence.

Each of the subsequent articles of the Creed enlightens us, reminds us, and teaches us exactly what it is, in briefest terms, that we know about ultimate things. To these truths we each respond: “Credo. I believe.”

Rev. James V. Schall, S.J.


Rev. James V. Schall, S.J., taught political science at Georgetown University for many years. He is the author of The Mind That Is Catholic from Catholic University of America Press; Remembering Belloc from St. Augustine Press; and Reasonable Pleasures from Ignatius Press. His newest books include A Line Through the Human Heart: On Sinning and Being Forgiven (2016) and On the Principles of Taxing Beer and Other Brief Philosophical Essays (2017). His most recent books are Catholicism and Intelligence (Emmaus Road, 2017) and The Universe We Think In (CUA Press, 2018).

  • Brencel

    What about the “Our” Father, Fr Schall? It is not a creed but this is the format Jesus gave us for our prayer.

    • Chris in Maryland


      Your question contains the answer…

  • Confederate Papist

    Don’t tell anyone…but I have been saying “I believe…” for a long time….

  • Russell

    As a Protestant Evangelical I also see the importance of “I believe.” The fact that western Christians have been required to consciously state what they personally believe forces the individual to think about what they do, in fact, believe. This is one important source of the intellectual vitality of the western Churches.

  • John Mack

    Another way to see this accurate translation of Credo (about time) is that it restores the primacy of individual conscience over institutional dictat. The “I believe” also does not imply “It is philosophically proven” or “Reason tells us.”

    The “I” can only believe what the “I” actually believes. No matter what anyone else believes.

    • Steve

      A little confused by your comment. The basic premise of the Catholic Church is that there really is a God who really did send His Son who really did found a Church when He sent the Holy Spirit. That’s the deal.

      Now, does the Holy Trinity protect the Church from sin? No. Foolishness? No. Scientific error? No. Prudential error? No. Only this: protection from teaching error concerning faith and morals.

      If this is true, then each of us is obligated to believe what the Church teaches regarding faith and morals–not what our fallen nature might prefer nor what we like to rationalize.

      • John

        I’m a little confused by YOUR comment, Steve.
        What’s the point of sacramental grace if not to protect us–the Church–from sin?
        Then too, that comment about protection from error applies specifically to the Pope when speaking ex cathedra to the world regarding matters of faith and morals. I don’t see the connection you’re making here.

        Mr. Mack’s comment seemed quite accurate: A group of people may decide what the overall group believes, but I may disagree. If I declare that I, myself, believe something, that’s a bit more distinct.
        I think the change to “I believe” will be a good one. Hopefully it’ll make people pay a little more attention to what they’re saying in the Creed.

      • bill bannon

        The ordinary magisterium when it is not universal can err in morals….so you had the papal mandated Spanish Inquisition and you had Pope Leo X support burning heretics at the stake in 1520 against Luther but you have “Splendor of the Truth” calling torture an intrinsic evil. All are the ordinary magisterium but they are not all correct. Here is Ott in his introduction to “Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma” (online) which for the mid 20th century was the go to book for priests and grad students:

               With regard to the doctrinal teaching of the Church it must be well noted that not all the assertions of the Teaching Authority of the Church on questions of Faith and morals are infallible and consequently irrevocable. Only those are infallible which emanate from General Councils representing the whole episcopate, and the Papal Decisions Ex Cathedra (cf. D 1839). The ordinary and usual form of the Papal teaching activity is not infallible. Further, the decisions of the Roman Congregations (Holy Office, Bible Commission) are not infallible. Nevertheless normally they are to be accepted with an inner assent which is based on the high supernatural authority of the Holy See (assensus internus supernaturalis, assensus religiosus). The so-called “silentium obsequiosum.” that is “reverent silence,” does not generally suffice. By way of exception, the obligation of inner agreement may cease if a competent expert, after a renewed scientific investigation of all grounds, arrives at the positive conviction that the decision rests on an error.”

  • Zilmar Pereira

    In Brazil we have always used “Creio…”, Credo. And we use this first Latin word as the name of the prayer, as a consequence.

  • Steve

    God is truth; Satan is falsehood. “Credo” is the word used in the official version of the Novus Ordo–what was being translated. The truth is that “Credo” means “I believe.” To translate it “we believe” was a deliberate falsehood: and it is a dynamic equivalence only to the pantheist. At our highest encounter with Christ, we have been mouthing falsehoods for some 40 years.

  • me-don

    Those of us old enough to remember the Latin Mass, will remember “Credo in unum Deum…,” “I believe in one God…” Will the ICEL never get it right?

  • me-don, here in the UK, we currently say, “We believe in one God…” I imagine we’ll be keeping the ‘one’ come Advent. I believe the current American translation was prepared separately from the other ICELs when they were first done in the ’70s. Here’s hoping we all have ‘one’ translation from now on!

  • Holly in Nebraska

    I have never said “we” when I didn’t mean myself included. If I didn’t want to include myself, I wouldn’t say it at all, or I guess, “They believe in one God…” I bet if you took a poll at mass, you wouldn’t find one person thought “we” meant everyone else but them.

    • bill bannon

      Excellent, Holly….common sense.

  • Tom T

    Holly in Nebraska is the only one that I`ve read here that makes any sense. St. Peter Damian in his letter to Leo the hermit called, Dominus Vobiscum, writes “If the whole Church, then, is the one body of Christ,and we are all members of the Church, what impedes any of us from using the words of the Church, our body, if we are really one with her? So if though many we are all one in Christ,
    each of us possesses our wholeness in Him; even though we seem distanced by our solitude from the Church, we are always present through the inviolable mystery of unity.
    In this way, what belongs to all belongs to each. And what is singularly unique to each, in common integrity of love and faith, is there for all. ” The way to solve all these
    problems that have seemed to have come from the variety of celebrations of the Novus Ordo is the return of
    the Tridentine Mass. According to Cardinal Koch the top ecumenist in the Vatican, “there seems to be neglect in the paschal mystery in the Eucharistic celebration.” Also it might be noted that a fastidious latinist has counted approx. four hundred discrepancies between the prescribed English translation made by the (ICEL) in the liturgy and the Novus Ordo promulgated by Pope Paul VI and that it looks as though some of these were made deliberately which would be another good reason to return to the Tridentine Mass.

  • Graham Combs

    A fairly recent Catholic convert, I was raised with the Book of Common Prayer in which the Nicene Creed began “I believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.” I now read the Nicene Creed at mass because the old words stumble over the new in my mind. Also to remember when to bow… Wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing if all Christians could agree on both the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer? It would be a start. Needless to say, I think the Church is getting back on track, not merely “going back.” Perhaps not relevant here, but in the BCP, there is a rubric that allows for reciting the Decalogue during Holy Communion or Morning Prayer. It certainly couldn’t hurt. Just a thought.

    • Chris in Maryland


      Agreed…I remember as a cradle Catholic…when we recited the “incarntus” of the Creed, we all knelt. It was a moment of Truth…a gesture of humbling oneself …in response to the gesture of Him who humbled Himself to rescue us.

      Now – we have dioceses run by Bishops, clergy and lay “liturgists” where Catholics think it beneath their dignity to kneel during the liturgy of the Eucharist…indeed, to kneel at all in the presence of God…that is, if they really hold He is present.

  • Deacon Ed

    If you think about it, whoever gave us “We believe” did not consistently apply their altered emphasis. When, at the Easter Vigil and at baptisms we are asked to renew our profession of faith, the priest will ask “Do you believe in God the Father Almighty…” The answer to this series of repeated questions is always, “I do;” never “we do.”

  • Michael PS

    In the traditional versions of the Apostles’ Creed, there are two mistranslations and one questionable one.

    The mistranslations are “descendit ad inferos” = “He descended into Hell” – Literally “He descended to those below,” (an obvious reference to St Jude, “preaching to the spirits in prison”) and “carnis resurrectionem” = “The resurrection of the body” – Literally, “The resurrection of the flesh” (possibly influenced by the Nicene Creed, which does have ἀνάστασιν νεκρῶν (resurrection of the body)

    The questionable one is “sanctorum communionem” = “The communion of saints.” Now several ancient writers treat “sanctorum” as neuter, “a sharing in holy things,” obviously in apposition to “the holy catholic church.” Arguably, the Latin was intended to be read both ways: the church is both a fellowship of holy people (“saints”) and a fellowship in its sacramental life; a fruitful ambiguity, if you like.

    I am not suggesting that any of these are important, but they do represent a paraphrase, rather than a translation of the original text.

    • BFS

      As long as you brought up “descendit ad infer[n]os” can anyone explain why this phrase is entirely missing from the current Credo? I looked in the commonly used “Worship” hymnal, which contains the Credo in Latin, and it does not appear there, either.

      • Michael PS

        It was not included in the Nicene creed, but it does appear in the Apostles’ creed and in some of the ancient Western baptismal creeds, which were always interrogative? “Do you believe…?”

        The Greek form of the Apostles’ creed has κατελθόντα εἰς τὰ κατώτατα [went down to those below] but, as the creed is Western and the Greek is obviously a translation of the original Latin text, that does not really help us very much, except for the word-play “katelthonta…katôtata,” which would not have suggested itself, if the original had had “infernum”

        Some manuscripts do have “infernos,” but “inferos” is almost certainly right and the same formula, “descendit ad inferos” is found in the Athanasian Creed (which is not a creed) and which was also composed in Latin.

        In short, the inclusion of a reference to the descent into hell in professions of fatih appears to be originally Western, rather than Eastern, although the East certainly held the same doctrine.

  • Tom T

    Chris in Maryland

    Try a Tridentine Mass if you can find one in your area.
    I think you will be pleasently surprised. You have to kneel
    to recieve Communion. The Holy Father recently issued
    a letter “Universae Ecclesia” which states that bishops
    are not to refuse requests for more availability of the
    Tridentine Mass in support of Summorum Pontificum.
    If there is a Parish in your area served by the FSSP Order
    they celebrate all their Masses in Latin and according to
    the pre-Vatican II liturgy and they are in communion with
    and supported by Rome.

  • Don L

    “We acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins”

    It appears that the first person plural occurs several time in the creed.

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