Is dropping "for us men" worth complaining about?

Recently I posted on the matter of complaining about liturgical abuses. Several people commented on the fact that the complaint should be proportional to the seriousness of the abuse. Let’s test that.

I have complained before about the routine dropping of “men” from the phrase in the Nicene Creed “for us men and for our salvation” in our parish liturgies. During the Parliament of the World’s Religions, our local Ukrainian Catholics did a liturgy at St Augustines in the city. You could have bowled me over with a feather when the choir (not the priest) omitted the word “men” from the sung Creed. And this from an Eastern Rite Chuch, where I thought these things were important!

Why haven’t our bishops said something about this practice? Because it doesn’t threaten the faith? Because it is a trivial matter? Well, we will see how trivial it is.

I have a friend who has a friend who is Dr Ruwan Palapathwala. Ruwan is a good bloke. I have sat at table with him on occasion at my friend’s home. He is an Anglican priest and Senior Chaplain at RMIT in Melbourne. He lectures in Asian Religions and Religion and Culture in the United Faculty of Theology, the Melbourne College of Divinity and at Trinity College, the University of Melbourne. In other words, a learned and gentle man. But he goes entirely up the wrong path in this comment which was made on a recent edition of Rachel Kohn’s Spirit of Things program on ABC Radio:

Rachael Kohn: Well Stephen, and also Ruwan, isn’t the notion of Jesus as the unique incarnation of God, one of the most contentious aspects of Christian belief today?

Rachael Kohn: Ruwan?

Ruwan Palapathwala: Earlier we referred to Tillich, and he had a very interesting take on this towards the very end of his life where he put the emphasis on for us, for us Christians, it is the ultimate and unique revelation of God. And in that you have a complete expression of what the faith means for the Christians. So that emphasis on ‘for us Christians’ is important. And in the broader sense this is where again I think in our contemporary understanding of God’s revelation, we need to look at it more inter-textually and then we could see that God has made himself known, and has not left any part of the world unwitnessed. And Stephanie referred to the Bhagavad Gita earlier, and in Chapter 4, in the Gita there’s a very beautiful passage where Krishna proclaims that whenever there is unrighteousness that he would incarnate himself to lead people on the path of righteousness, and the destruction of the vice and the wicked. So you see beautiful images of God’s involvement in the world being expressed in other texts, and so a broader view, an appreciate view of such understandings of God’s dealings with the world are very helpful for contemporary understanding of God’s involvement in the world, yes. [My emphasis]

But the Creed does not say “for us Christians” – it says “for us men“. This isn’t a mistranslation of the creed. The word is right there in both the Greek and the Latin. The Creed wants to tell us that Christ was incarnate of the Virgin Mary FOR ALL MANKIND – not just for believers or Christians or Catholics or Gentiles – but FOR EVERYONE. If you leave the word “men” out, the Faith is in danger of being perverted.

I am not saying this to criticise Dr Ruwan. I am saying this to demonstrate that a little word can be very important. For goodness sake, the Eastern Church split from the West when we dared to add words to the Creed – is it anything less to omit them?

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15 Responses to Is dropping "for us men" worth complaining about?

  1. Kiran says:

    Yes. That is a very good point.

    Then one could also complain that nobody bows any more for the incarnation. (I was very pleased the other day to hear a priest in Sydney gently but firmly enforce the bow before reception of communion).

    In all of these cases, one could complain, but it would most likely just annoy people. Much better I think to loudly/prominently do otherwise, though one might need to be prudent…

    Also in the translation of “Suscipiat” the omission of “holy” in “all his holy Church.”

    And what is orthodox in the point about “for Christians” is covered by “our Lord.”

  2. I shall be very intrested to hear any authoritative RC responses to this question. Just for the record, here is the ELLC officail explanation fo rthe change:
    “The omission of the generic “men” (Greek anthropous, Latin homines) in apposition to
    “us” may appear to weaken slightly the sense of the original, but this was considered less serious
    than insisting on a term which is increasingly misleading or excluding as tied to only one gender.
    A suggested alternative, “for us all,” was rejected because of a colloquial tendency in some
    places to attach “all” to virtually every plural pronoun, which would diminish the force of “us”
    as representing the whole human race.”

    Do RC provinces in Anglophone countries have any official attitude towards the work of the ELLC? I’m sure RC scholars have been heavily involved.

    • Schütz says:

      Our official translating body is ICEL, which worked closely with ELLC for a long time, but not any more. Both the currrent and the new translation of the Creed quite definitely have “for us men”. There has never been any statement authorising the dropping of “men” from the text. There is therefore no need for any further “authoritative RC responses” to this matter other than to encourage and (where necessary) enforce that the Creed be used without any ommissions as it exists in our liturgical books.

  3. PM says:

    The problem here is largely due to the English language, which lacks the distinction between anthropos and aner – except for clumsy cirumlocutions like ‘humankind’ (or should it be huperoffspringkind?).

  4. GAB says:

    As an English teacher by trade, I feel I can answer one element in the ELLC explanation with something approaching knowledge.

    Men is not tied to only one gender, anymore than ‘ducks’, used in a general sense, excludes drakes or ‘geese’ excludes ganders. It is what is known grammatically as an unmarked form. What may, when speaking of specific individuals, be a gender-specific term becomes, when broadened to include all individuals within the category, gender-inclusive. For man, the unmarked form is taken from what would otherwise be a masculine noun. For ducks and geese, it is taken from the feminine noun. In all cases, the unmarked form is necessarily gender-neutral. This is simply the way the English language works, and all the talk of inclusivity can’t change the simple brute facts of grammar.

    Nor may it be argued that the language has changed/is changing. If anyone thinks it has, try to finish the following sentence. Divinity is to humanity as divine being is to human beings as God is to…..

  5. Clara says:

    I just keep saying ‘for us men’ and I am sure I am not alone in our parish.

    What I really hate is the religious sisters who insist on saying ‘God’ instead of any masculine pronoun referring to ‘God the Father’ – ‘Godself’ (or is it ‘God’s self’?) is particularly disturbing. sorry sisters, but God as Father was revealed to us by Jesus himself!

  6. Picric says:

    It really does matter! I agree with you David! “For us” is not the same as “For us men”. For us Catholics? Us Australians? Us Christians? Us in this Church? Us Crows supporters? Us chickens? It renders the statement open to misunderstanding in a way that the original does not. In the contxt “man” is inclusive, not exclusive. In any case, the Liturgy of the Church is no place for advancing political causes through the political manipulation of language. Lex orandi, lex credendi means we must say what we mean, clearly, and as unambiguously as possible.

    • Schütz says:

      And when you change the lex orandi for some reason (eg. inclusive language) you open up the possibility of changes to the lex credendi that you didn’t stop to think about, as Dr Ruwan’s comment shows.

      • Salvatore says:

        Exactly! Which is why the historic Churches (including the Eastern Churches) have tended to avoid any use of the contemporary vernaculars of their members and prefer ancient, durable and hieratic languages instead – Latin for the Romans, Koine for the Greeks, Church Slavonic for the Slavs etc. Ultimately, as long as the idea of vernacular Liturgy continues to hold sway these sorts of problems will just keep cropping up.


  7. Peregrinus says:

    I think it’s a mistake to think of this in terms of “omitting a word”.

    Translation doesn’t involve a one-to-one correspondence between words in the source text and words in the translation. If it did, then equipped with a good grammar and a good dictionary I could translate text from English into (say) Russian without speaking any Russian at all. But we all know this to be impossible, though the result of such an attempt might be amusing.

    Consider sursum corda. We translate this as “lift up your hearts”, even though the source text contains no words corresponding to either “lift” or “your”. If we insist on a one-to-one correspondence, the best we could do would be something like “Up hearts!” (and the response would have to be “we have to Lord”).

    No, the issue is not whether we have translated each word, but whether the English phrase that we use in place of propter nos homines et propter nostrum salutem accurate communicates the meaning of the source phrase.

    The concern about “us men” is that it has gendered evocations which are not found in the original; to that extent it’s not a good translation. I take GAB’s point that “man” has an unmarked form, but it also has a marked form, and I think its marked form is increasingly the dominant usage, and that must affect our understanding of and reaction to the word whenever we hear it. I’m unimpressed by his dismissal of the point about language change. Language does change, and the only “meaning” that any word has is what the people who hear it understand by it, and this does change.

    This is not something new. The unmarked sense of “man”, “he”, etc, has been in decline for at least two hundred years. Jane Austen was uncomfortable with the unmarked “he”, “his” and often used the (strictly ungrammatical) “they”, “theirs” with reference to a single individual of unspecified gender. And Austen is one of the finest stylists in English literature. (Anybody who says otherwise will have me to answer to!)

    The bottom line is that, if “us men” jars with English speakers, then it jars with English speakers, and no amount of linguistic archaeology is going to change the fact. The result is that “us men” already doesn’t mean quite what nos homines means.

    But, as David points out, simply using “us” introduces a different ambiguity. It could mean “us Christians”, and this would be more worrying. People might stumble over “us men”, but they know that the problem is bad translation; the translator has simply failed to find an elegant phrase which means “all us people”. Whereas if they understand “for us” to mean “for us who profess this creed”, they may not realise that this is a mistake. They may be misled, rather than simply annoyed.

    • Schütz says:

      I think it’s a mistake to think of this in terms of “omitting a word”.

      But this is not about translation. Those who omit “men” from the Creed ARE omitting a word from the standard an approved and mandated text given in the liturgical books.

      As for words, yes, they change. I just read recently a comment of N.T. Wright’s that words (especially in English) are like intelligent three year old children – they never sit still and keep running around playing with things and breaking them!

      However, until the Church offers us a different text (and I don’t believe she will – after all, this phrase is still there in the new translations, despite the fact that in many cases the new translations use “men” less often in this way than the present translation), we are obliged to follow her wisdom and use the text she has given us.

  8. Picric says:

    Peregrinus says: “The bottom line is that, if “us men” jars with English speakers, then it jars with English speakers, and no amount of linguistic archaeology is going to change the fact.” There is no evidence that “us men” jars with English speakers. Some English speaskers, yes. And that so-called “gendered” problem is a recent artefact of political ideology. Nor does it help to dismiss grammar as “linguistic archeology”. The students I have taught (male and female) nearly all use “man” in the generic sense. I do not require, as many lecturers do, that students conform to a preferred usage. Usage changes will occur over time, some will last and some won’t. In the meantime let us stick with received English when translating the Creed.

    I acknowledge translation problems with idiomatic expressions, such as
    “Sursum corda”. But for such translation difficulties are just not there with “propter nos homines et propter nostrum salutem”. The desire for “us” rather than “us men” had nothing to do with translation problems, but a lot to do with political preoccupations with so-called but inaccurately called “inclusive language”.

    • Peregrinus says:

      This is not a “recent artifact of political ideology”. As I pointed out in my point, this tension has been manifesting itself in English usage since at least Austen.

      Ironically, however, the claim that it’s a recent artifacgt of political ideology is a recent artifact of political ideology. Writers about the language have been commenting on the decline of the unmarked man/he for years, but only since the 1970s have some been complaining that this is an ideogically driven development. Up to that point it was accepted as an aspect of the organic evolution of the language.

      • Picric says:

        I am sorry Peregrinus but I think you are wrong. It is one thing for lanuage to evolve. It is quite another matter when it is foisted off on all of us by the bien pensants. Take Universities, for example. Students are required to comply with the ideologically driven requirements to us so-called inclusive langugae, bad grammar and all, especially the confusion of singulars and plurals. The fact is that while some may find offence at the inclusive use of ‘man’, ‘men’, ‘he’ etc, most do not. By all means let the language evolve, but let us not impose changes preferred by elites on the People of God, especially given the significant theological issues at stake. This whole thing is a recent artefact of the PC brigade. That the PC brigade may have derailed the evolution of language is entirely possible. But in the present age no amount of fudging (eg “Ironically, however, the claim that it’s a recent artifacgt of political ideology is a recent artifact of political ideology”) gets us past the fact that there has been for many years now an attempt to manipulate social change by manipulating language. Even worse, many (but not all) of the same group do not want us to use the masculine personal pronoun in relation to God. Hence the very ugly and ungrammatical: “Glory to God in the highets and peace to God’s people on earth”. Enough to make you want to scream!

  9. Louise says:

    I just keep saying ‘for us men’ and I am sure I am not alone in our parish.

    Me too, Clara. That’s b/c I do think the “for us men” is important. For a long time I had dropped it but then a friend pointed out why it was important. I think people will say “the right words” when the reasons for doing so are explained well.

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