The Problem with Being a Man

A little semantic mischief-making may be forgivable on this dull, wet Monday morning, but if you are the kind of person who takes pleasure in pointing out the errors of others, I beg you to read no further.

You see, I have a problem. Whenever I say the Nicene Creed in English, I am obliged to assert that Christ died ‘for us men and for our salvation’. Now, I do have a little bit of Greek and Latin and a smattering of theological and liturgical formation, even a smidgeon of history, if truth be told. I am not exactly a rabid revolutionary, either, but I do find that formulation rather difficult. I believe that Christ died for me, and I would like to be able to proclaim that fact as part of my faith — not as a man (which I’m not) nor as a woman (which I am) but as a human being (which we all are and which, in Christ, transcends all questions of sex and gender). It would not be difficult to drop the word ‘man’ and simply say ‘for us and for our salvation’ without affecting either the sense or the euphony of the phrase, but, of course, we aren’t allowed to, for all the reasons that I’m sure will be brought up in the comments section.

Having done a little liturgical translation in my time, I am aware of some of the pitfalls and would always argue for respecting the historical formulations of faith and belief. That does not mean, however, that an attempt at a literal translation will always be more authentic than one which aims at what we used to call dynamic equivalence. (I think I can hear the sabres rattling as I write those words.)

To proclaim one’s faith is both a personal and an ecclesial act. To express it in language which can only really be true of some is, at best, an impoverishment, at worst, a distortion and falsification. Recently, I re-read the Catechism of the Catholic Church from beginning to end. Part of me was impressed by its clear and comprehensive treatment of Christian doctrine while part of me was thoroughly depressed by the fact that the language seemed to concern men only. The words we use do matter. The problem with being a man when one isn’t is that it introduces a falsity at the point where one ought to be most truthful. Ultimately, it really does affect what one believes. Did Christ die for me or not? Do not be too quick with your answer.

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