“Saint Bruno’s Creed: Some Things New and Old”
Fr. Ignatius John Schweitzer
St Bruno’s Creed, professed by him on his deathbed, brings to conclusion a whole life of love and praise of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I will consider three unique elements: the aspects of tenderness and devotion, the place of the Father, and the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. In looking at its various distinct elements, I am unsure of what all may have come from other professions of Faith and what from Bruno himself but I consider this to be secondary. For, whatever he is borrowing, he has freely made the choice to include it for his own purposes and designs. To bring out his distinctive contributions, I will at times make comparisons with the Nicene Creed.
First, the aspects of tenderness and devotion. We know from Church history that the development of Creeds derives from worship. Lex orandi, lex credendi. Prayer shapes our believing. And even the term ‘orthodoxy’, usually applied to doctrinal matters, has its root- meaning in praising God with ‘right-worship.’ So we should not be surprised that more explicit elements of devotion have been poured out into this Creed from out of Bruno’s heart. Bruno is ending his life of service to the Lord and, while doctrinal precision remains important for him, expressions of his ardent affection also arise to the surface. From the first words we immediately sense the man’s passion at this crucial phase in his love story with Lord, now about to be brought to consummation. Not just, “I believe,” but “I firmly believe.” Years of fervent monastic observance (begun even before his entering Chartruese) would have this effect, solidifying firmly and unshakably this man’s resolve in clinging to God in faith, “I firmly believe.”
Complementing this manly vigor, the man known to have “the vigor of a father, and the tenderness of mother,” shows his softer side. A tender devotion to our Lady appears shortly after, as he professes her virginity, so dear to his own monastic profession: “a most chaste Virgin” “before birth,” “in birth” and “after birth.” He adopts the traditional three-fold expression of her virginity but as a sign that this is not just rote repetition but rather an expression of tenderness to Mary, we have another unique element here. The Nicene Creed just says the Son “was incarnate of the Virgin Mary,” but Bruno speaks of the conception of the Holy Spirit “in the womb of the Virgin Mary.” It is a small difference but there is nothing so intimate to a mother than the womb in which she bears and enwraps her child in love. And this Blessed Mother is also a tender Mother to Bruno.
Next there are a series of phrases that express devotion to the Lord Jesus in his sacred humanity. Bruno unfolds a whole series of moments in our Lord’s Passion: “taken captive out of hatred by the Jews, treated abusively, unjustly bound, spat upon, scourged,” before returning to the more conventional “died and was buried.” In art, we so often see Bruno rapt in prayer and gazing upon the Crucified One. This rings true especially as we see him dwelling on the Lord’s Passion in his Creed. A warm devotion to our Lord’s humanity, and especially his Passion, comes to a wide prominence in the Middle Ages, but here we see him on the cutting edge of this rising wave—he pre-dates Bernard’s prime by a few decades, he who is normally credited with being the protagonist of the early rise of this spirituality of devotion to the humanity of Jesus. Bruno’s Creed bears witness to the already stirring waters.
Second, the place of God the Father holds a unique place in Bruno’s Creed. He adds, to what is normally professed, a whole paragraph devoted to him at the end. I wonder if the last line in particular would have had special significance for Bruno as it speaks of the Father in these words, “From Him, therefore, is all fatherhood in heaven and on earth. Amen.” For as a spiritual father, it surely belonged to him to draw near and “to mirror the love of our heavenly Father.”
But there seems to be another more forceful reason for the inclusion of this paragraph about the Father at the end. The Monarchy of the Father holds a significant place for Eastern Orthodoxy. And Bruno, in Calabria, was in the midst of a number of Greeks and was successful in his ecumenical relations with them, even incorporating some Greeks into his monastery. (And does not Bruno’s fatherly heart show itself here in its breadth of embrace?) The last paragraph is actually adopted from a much earlier Creed from the Council of Toledo. Without the filioque, and with an emphasis on the monarchy of the Father it would have been more acceptable to the Greeks. A hint of this actually comes earlier in Bruno’s Creed, where, while being true to the Roman Church’s belief, he softens the language a bit, leaving out filioque and saying rather, “proceeding from the one and the other.” Not only does he avoid the divisive term, but the phrasing seems amenable to a position accepted by the East (and the West), namely that the Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son. Bruno here is reconciliatory in an act of generous orthodoxy.
Third, Bruno’s profession of faith in Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist is noteworthy because it is entirely absent in earlier Creeds. The main reason he included it may have been because heretical views were ‘in the air,’ from which he wanted to distance himself and his monastery. Berengarius of Tours who died in 1086 would have been an older contemporary of Master Bruno. Berengarius’ writings and unbelief in the Real Presence sparked the medieval debate and further doctrinal articulation of the Church that culminated in the definition of Transubstantiation in 1215. Bruno, especially teaching in the university, would surely have been aware of the debate.
Whatever the case, this article of faith is not just randomly inserted by Bruno. It fits into his Creed seamlessly, in an organic unity with the other articles. So it seems more is at play here than simply his firm faith against error and disbelief. In the place where we would expect Bruno to repeat the Nicene Creed’s profession of belief in the Church and her four marks, we find instead his profession of faith in the Church’s sacraments, especially “the true body, true flesh, true blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, which we receive for the remission of our sins and for the hope of eternal salvation. [Then immediately,] I believe in the resurrection of the flesh and in life everlasting. Amen.” Apart from the extra paragraph about the Father, Bruno’s Creed ends here how most others do, with the hope of eternal life and the resurrection of the dead. The insertion is seamless and organic. His Creed has the same flow of basic ideas as the Nicene and other creeds, with the main difference being a focus on the Eucharist where others focus on the Church. Contemporary theology would very much appreciate this interplay of Church and Eucharist. Henri de Lubac’s widely accepted phrase is “the Eucharist makes the Church and the Church makes the Eucharist.” The Body of Christ forms the mystical Body of Christ and vice-versa.
To develop this, we would like to go a little further than Bruno explicitly does, though he may have the same basic intuition. It is interesting that earlier in his Creed a warm devotion to Christ’s humanity stands out. There is a concreteness there, as seen in his listing various moments of Christ’s Passion, for instance. So similarly here. He could speak of the Church in her four marks but he turns to what he has contact with and handles on a regular basis, the holy Eucharist. And this Eucharist is the real presence of Jesus in his “true body, true flesh and true blood.” Why say “true flesh” when he has already said “true body,” if not to underscore the concreteness and lowliness of the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us, and dwelling among us even here and now in the Eucharist?
And this union with Jesus in the Eucharist is “for the remission of our sins and for the hope of salvation.” The Nicene Creed attributes these same effects to Baptism, of which surely Bruno would not deny, but it is the Eucharist that repeatedly brings these realities closer to us, as Jesus gives himself to us again and again, as Jesus’s humble love condescends to us in our lowliness, under the appearance of common bread and wine. And in this Eucharistic kenosis, we find the same “Son, only begotten” who is one with the Father and Spirit in their communion of self-giving love. So Nicholas Healy can say, in words I continue to find astonishing, “there is no fundamental difference between the Son’s being as Eucharist and the Son’s eternal mode of being within the Godhead” (Eschatology of Balthasar, 196). He then cites Balthasar to help us unpack his terse statement, “It ultimately means that the Father’s act of self-giving by which, throughout all created space and time, he pours out the Son is the definitive revelation of the Trinitarian act itself in which the ‘Persons’ are God’s ‘relations,’ forms of absolute self-giving [cf the Host] and loving fluidity [cf the Blood]” (New Elucidations, 118-9). The celebration of the Eucharist brings us most concretely, in the here and now, to the Most Holy Trinity, even in its (God-revealing) visible form of being poured out. For, this is but a continuation of the Son’s being poured out in love, in the unfolding moments of his Passion, “taken captive out of hatred by the Jews, treated abusively, unjustly bound, spat upon, scourged, died and was buried.” Bruno’s Creed pointed us here and got us going in this direction, and I for one, think he would agree with these conclusions of Healy and Balthasar. For he was one, “by whose serene gaze, the divine Spouse is wounded with love.”