Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

« Christos Anesti! | Main | Tap, Tap ... Is This Thing On? »

April 15, 2008


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

fr john w fenton


It's good to see you writing once again.

Your interpretation of "lex credendi" actually corresponds well with the orginal wording as it appeared in Prosper of Aquataine's The Defense of St Augustine (Pelikan); namely, ut legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi. As you know, this phrase may be translated as follows: "that the law/rule of prayer establishes/determines the law/rule of belief." The point, as you stated, is that this axiom states not a goal but the way things are.

I hope to see your posts more frequently.


This was very helpful, thanks for posting. It's good to see you blogging again.

John H

Good stuff, Chris. Many (non-Augsburg!) evangelicals treat the gospel as a sort of liquid that can be decanted from one container into another without undergoing any fundamental alteration. So you can move (within the space of five decades) from an Anglican evangelicalism whose worship is formed around the Book of Common Prayer (in particular mattins) to one that is formed around Graham Kendrick songs and Powerpoint screens, and it doesn't occur to people that this might also involve a change in the faith itself.

Except. Except. Those evangelicals, once you scratch beneath the surface, actually believe "lex orandi lex est credendi" as strongly as any "catholic". The faith of modern evangelicalism is one formed by worship choruses and informal, extempore prayer ("Lord, we just want to just thank you...") and a particular style of preaching, and if you change any of those elements then you'll quickly encounter strong resistance, because (whether people express it in those terms of not) any such change will be felt and experienced as a change in the content of the faith.

It occurs to me that the modern, secularised version of "lex orendi, lex credendi" is: "the medium is the message". Another message which evangelicals simultaneously ignore and live out.

Chris Jones

Fr Fenton,

I am not sure that Prosper's wording is as supportive of my point as you say (more's the pity). My high-school Latin was a very long time ago, but isn't ut ... statuat a subjunctive, rather than an indicative, phrase? so that it is more likely to be a statement of "ought" rather than "is" (which would be indicative)?

Or is it possible to translate ut by "Thus" rather than "that" or "in order that"? It would be helpful to see the whole sentence rather than just the subjunctive phrase.

It seems to me that the most straightforward translation of Prosper's phrase is "that the law of what is to be prayed should establish the law of what is to be believed." If that is what Prosper is saying, he is stating a relationship that ought to obtain between worship and doctrine. If such a relationship does not exist, what is it that should change in order to restore that right relationship? Is it the doctrine or the worship that should change? St Basil the Great, in his treatise On the Holy Spirit, works from the assumption that it is the doctrine that should change to conform to the worship -- that if doctrine and worship are inconsistent it is an indication that it is the doctrine that has gone off the tracks. The Lutheran Reformers, on the other hand, concluded that the mediaeval doctrine of the sacrifice of the Mass was in error, and (drastically) altered the canon of the Mass so that it would no longer express that doctrine.

St Basil's stance on this question is, it seems to me, predicated on the notion that the Church is more likely to be faithful in handing down the forms of her worship than in the formal articulation of her doctrine. This idea is defensible, perhaps, but it is certainly not obvious to us who live in a time when most Church bodies (including some historically "Catholic" ones) view liturgy as a medium for own creativity and view doctrine as primarily a matter of the intellect. That combination of views leads to the riot of liturgical variety with which we live.

And the answers to these questions depend on exactly what is the nature and content of the two "rules" -- the rule of prayer and the rule of faith. I hope to explore this in future posts.

William Tighe

I would think that "ut ... statuat" should be taken for a hortatory subjenctive: "Let the law/rule of prayer determine the law/rule of belief" or, better, "the law of prayer ought to determine the law of belief."

Florian Kirchmair

You have to read the sentence in context. This sentence is part of a collection of arguments in the semi-pelagian controversy (indiculus de gratia dei/capitula coelestini). Prosper first mentions statements of two popes, then the decisson of a council of Carthage and finally two customs from the liturgy (intercessions, excorcism during child baptism).

"Lex supplicandi" doesn't mean all liturgical prayer, but the intercessions for all people as recommended by Paul in 1Tim 2, 1f (compare 'De vocatione omnium gentium', 1, 12). Prosper mentions this custom of the church, which practised in the same way in every church all over the world, so that Paul's order to pray for all (lex suplicandi) should establishes a rule (statuat legem) for a question of believe (does faith always come from the grace of christ).

As Paul (and Christ through Paul's mouth) orders intercessions for all and the church follows this order in praying for the conversion of all people (and also giving thanks for all conversions that God has done), the question can be decided. So this sentence has a very special meaning.

Casey Truelove

The problem with Prosper's quote is that is can be read any number of ways. Since both credendi and supplicandi are the same participle form, they could be placed in either part of the sentence. Because they are future passive participles (gerundives) they should have the indication of "ought to be believed/prayed". I'm guessing that they're being used as independent nouns because they are either masculine or neuter and the nouns are feminine. Because supplicandi is the second participle, it seems that it should go second:

"That the law of what ought to be believed establish the law of what ought to be prayed."

However the legem and lex get inverted because legem is the accusative, so he might be keeping the participles with their neighboring nouns and letting the verb affect the first participle instead of the second:

"That the law of what ought to be prayed establish the law of what ought to be believed."

The ut demands that the verb be subjunctive.

If the ut wasn't there, the subjunctive statuat should probably be jussive. I know you said hortatory, but you meant jussive. Hortatory is a 1st person plural only. A 3rd person subjunctive verb is jussive, but it acts the same way.

This is later Latin, so the gerundives could simply mean "will be believed/prayed." It doesn't make a ton of difference in the sentence, but it could be used that way too.

James Alan Waddell

I have prepared a detailed exegesis of Prosper's ut legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi in my book, The Struggle to Reclaim the Liturgy in the Lutheran Church, and in two articles for the WorshipConcord Project. Florian Kirchmair is quite right. Discussing the meaning of the Latin particle "ut" is beside the point, unless it is read in its historical, literary, and theological contexts. http://lexcredendilexorandi.wordpress.com/

The comments to this entry are closed.