Metaphors in the Nicene Creed III

This is a continuation of a series about metaphors in the Nicene Creed.  The third article of the Creed concerns the Holy Spirit, and his role in the Church.  (Or if you want to impress people with your vocabulary, it's about "pneumatology" and "ecclesiology"!)  Interestingly, while almost all Christian denominations would agree with the words of this article, a lot of the disputes between different groups come in the details of these topics.  Several of these regrettable disputes will come up in the notes.  As before, red = metaphor, green = unsure, blue = another comment.

And in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord and giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father [and the Son];
who with the Father and the Son together
is worshipped and glorified;
who spoke by the Prophets.

And I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church;
I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins;
and I look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the time to come. Amen.

Spirit: literally means "breath", but metaphorically can be used to refer to an emotional state, to the "soul" or deepest aspect of a human being, or to a bodiless intelligent being such as an angel or demon. In a second metaphor on top of the first one, the "Holy Spirit" is God's spirit, called "holy" in order to distinguish it from the other spirits. The latter meaning is capitalized in English, but not in Greek, so in the original New Testament the readers have to guess which kind of "spirit" is meant in any given passage.
Holy ... holy: see here for my attempt to convey the meaning of this term. One of these refers to an inherent attribute of God, while the other (skipping ahead to the Church) refers to something which is holy because it is consecrated or devoted to God. Whichever of these meanings you think is the primary one, the other is a metonymy.
giver: literally refers to the act of conveying an object to somebody, but "life" is not an object in the same sense that a toy is, and furthermore we did not exist before we received it.
proceeds from: "proceeds" literally means comes after in order, for example in a parade. "proceeds from" therefore means comes out of, for example if a person emerges from a house.
[and the Son]: filioque in the Latin. This word was not originally in the Creed. In the West it was added several centuries later, in order to combat Arianism. However, it was regarded as heretical in the East, and contributed to the Great Schism of 1054 when the leaders of the Eastern Orthodox church and the Roman Catholic church excommunicated each other. Oops does not even begin to describe this one.
with ... together: suggests material proximity, but means "taken as a whole". Of course "taken" is another physical metaphor. You can't get rid of them, you can only change which one you use.
worshipped: of course the members of the Trinity are worshipped, but the text really means that they ought to be worshipped, that because they are divine they are worthy of it. This is a figure of speech, but I don't think it is a metaphor.
glorified: see "glory" above; this one is even more likely to mean God's invisible glory.
spoke: but indirectly through a human intermediary, who in turn did not necessarily "speak out loud". Means "communicated".
one ... Church: in its most basic sense "one" means that there is numerically one of some predefined type of entity, i.e. "she has just one child". But metaphorically when used as an adjective can refer to a quality of unity, e.g. "They are working hard to become one nation, but tensions remain between different factions," or "for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will be one flesh" (Genesis 2:24). Here is a place where all Christians acknowledge the same Creed, but they may mean slightly different things by it. Roman Catholics say there is just one true Church, consisting of those who are in communion with the Pope, while the Eastern Orthodox agree but for the minor emendation that the Church instead refers to themselves. Protestants, on the other hand, don't believe that any one church is infallible. We say that all Christians from every denomination are a part of the Church, and that its unity comes from everyone being included in Jesus.
catholic: means universal or worldwide. When the Catholic church calls itself "Catholic", this is another way of saying that they are the Universal Church and that if you don't accept the authority of the Pope, you aren't a full member. Thus, the Orthodox also call themselves the Catholic church, and Protestants like myself believe that the Catholic church includes all Christians.
apostolic: The word "apostle" was coined by Jesus to refer to his Twelve disciples. It means a messenger or an ambassador. Metaphorically therefore, a preacher of the Gospel of Jesus' new kingdom. In the broader sense, an apostle can be any of the hundreds of people who witnessed Jesus after the Resurrection.
"Apostolic" means associated with the apsotles in some way. To add a metaphor from Scripture, the apostles are the foundation for the Church. As St. Paul wrote:

You are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. (Ephesians 2:20)

while the Book of Revelation develops the same metaphor in a more glimmering way:

The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.... The first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth ruby, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth turquoise, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst. (Rev. 21:14,19-20)

All Christians agree that the Church should be based on the teaching of the apostles about Jesus. Traditionally, there is also a concept of apostolic succession, that each bishop was ordained by another bishop in a chain of trasmission going back to the original apostles.  But most Protestants do not consider this to be of importance.
Church: the Greek Ἐκκλησίαν or Latin Ecclesia means "called out" and refers to a political asssembly or a religious congregation.  Here, since the church is "one" and "universal", it is being used in a metaphorical way to refer to all of God's people as if they were already assembled together in one place.  This is appropriate because even though the Church is divided into dstinct local congregations, they are all united by sharing the same Lord and the same Spirit.  We are also "called out" from regarding ourselves in an earthly way, since our citizenship is in Heaven.  Note that the meaning of Church the community of all Christians, not just clergy or organizational structures.
one baptism: In addition to saying that just one form of Christian baptism is recognized, this indicates that baptism does not need to be repeated multiple times for each individual—yet another meaning for that pesky word "one".  This is in recognition of the fact that Jesus' died once and for all in order to save us, and that even if we are unfaithful to our promises, God is not.
baptism: the sacrament of initiation into the Christian church, it involves being literally bathed with water (via immersion, pouring or sprinkling, although Baptists think only the immersion counts).  Some denominations (Catholics, Orthodox, some Protestants) baptize infants born to Christian parents, while other Protestants wait until the child is old enough to profess faith in Jesus, and will rebaptize those who were baptized as infants.  (Despite the name attached to the Anabaptist sect, this is not because they believe in two baptisms, but because they don't recognize the first one.)
remission of sins: to remit a debt is to cancel or forgive it.  In this analogy for salvation, moral wrongdoing (sin) is conceived as if it were owing money to God.  Since God is the one who is owed, he has the right to forgive the debt.
for: this is another place where different Christian theologies will say radically different things.  Does "for" mean "in order to effect", so that God uses the water to actually make a spiritual change in the person?  Or does it just mean "symbolizing the remission of sins", and baptism is an acted-out metaphor for what God has already done?
look for: as if anticipating a future reality involves the use of eyes.
resurrection: etymologically this is the same word root as "rose again" in the previous article, so the same comments would apply.  However, one could also regard this as a technical term for resurrection in the religious sense, in which case this would be (ironically) a dead metaphor.
life: the Resurrection life might not be powered by the same cellular and metabolic biological processes currently at work in our body, but I suppose that "life" is being used here in a nontechnical way to mean an animate being, in which case this is not a metaphor.
time: some theologians might speculate that time will not work in the usual way in our future eternal state.
to come: as thought the future arrived on the scene like a person entering a room.

About Aron Wall

I am a Lecturer in Theoretical Physics at the University of Cambridge. Before that, I read Great Books at St. John's College (Santa Fe), got my physics Ph.D. from U Maryland, and did my postdocs at UC Santa Barbara, the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and Stanford. The views expressed on this blog are my own, and should not be attributed to any of these fine institutions.
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