The Church’s tradition sees the word “man” as an appropriate word to indicate the fullness of human nature, i.e. the nature in every man and woman. The Church does oppose all theorizing – mainly coming from the ancient pagan writings much more than from Christian tradition – which claims that a woman is an imperfect instance of human nature.
Here is a quick word about how this works in the language of theology and the Bible. The message of Christianity has never-ever been “woman is imperfect and man is perfect.” The message of Bible is consistently, everywhere and always, “man is sinful and needs salvation; and this includes women.”
The consistent use of the word “man” therefore, has this truly theological shorthand function in Christian tradition. The story of salvation is historically very long, and there needs to be ways of abbreviating it.
The Church has abbreviated the whole Bible; it gave us the Creeds. We do also abbreviate the following definition of the human creature, understanding what would still be imperfectly expressed by the mere phrase “men-and-women.”
“Man,” is that kind of creature that God created in goodness as a unity of body and soul, bound together in a family of generations according to a good nature, but which willfully rebelled against God and chose pride rather than love, and then standing in need of redemption was made into a new family, as through a new body, in Christ made man, the God-man incarnate.
All of the above is truly indicated when we use the three-letter word “man” in shorthand for “humankind,” or “all men and women.”
This now allows me to proceed with a brief reflection on the Creed and the Bible, which answers a question which I have received more than once.
I have been asked a few times “why does the Nicaean Creed say ‘For us men and for our salvation, he came down from heaven?’ when it certainly means ‘for us men-and-women who needed salvation’?”
My first ever observation when asked this question was “well we are just translating the Latin.” The original Creed said propter nos homines, which means “on behalf of us men.” Our explanation above helps a little bit. But still, if we are into shorthand summaries, why not shorten it even more? Isn’t the phrase “for us” enough to show that we mean “for all of us sinful men and women”? Was the word homines necessary?
My reflection follows. The word “men” (homines) was partly necessary, and it is also beautiful when you see the distinction and pathway that it opens up in the Creed.
Take the words and affirmations of the Nicaean Creed prior to this phrase: God, Father, Creator, “all things visible and invisible.” The additions from the council of Nicaea are all Trinitarian, adding our beliefs in Christ, the Father’s only Son, “Light from Light,” “True God.”
These beliefs expressed so far are distinct from salvation and from the Incarnation. Therefore, the Creed has no direct mention of the creation of “man” up until the phrase “for us men and for our salvation.” And so, this phrase indicates the entirety of the Old Testament!
If the words at this point were simply the statement “for us and for our salvation” there would still be a question about God’s creation left open. We must invoke not only creation and the book of Genesis, but also clarify the place of man (humankind) in the whole created universe.
God made all that was invisible: “let there be light, and there was light” (Gen. 1:3). The Tradition of the Church says most certainly that all the angelic spirits were created at this time. Every angel, archangel, cherubim and seraphim was created: the invisible word.
God then made all that was visible: the lights in the heavens, the earth, the seas, the plants, and animals: the visible world.
Then God made that creature which was both visible and invisible: man, body and soul. Only man can speak for both the visible and invisible world at once. Man does speak both for the visible and invisible world.
“All thy works shall praise thee, O LORD; and thy saints shall bless thee.” Ps. 145:10
“Praise the LORD, my soul, and all that is within me, praise his holy name.” Ps. 103:1
If the Creed stated “for us and for our salvation” but did not include the word homines, “for us men,” it would not be clear to what kind of salvation was needed.
“For us” means what?
“For us spiritual creatures and our salvation”? But not all spiritual creatures are in need of salvation. The holy angels need no redemption. And the demons had already rejected it irrevocably.
“For us physical creatures and our salvation”? The physical world cannot be saved in the same way as men. It will be dissolved in fire (2 Pet. 3:10) and remade in “a new heaven and a new earth” (2 Pet. 3:13).
In short, the salvation implied by the Latin propter nos homines is the salvation implied by the Biblical/Christian shorthand of “man” meaning “all men and women”… meaning “that kind of creature that God created in goodness as a unity of body and soul, bound together in a family of generations according to a good nature, but which willfully rebelled against God and chose pride rather than love, and then standing in need of redemption was made into a new family, as through a new body, in Christ made man, the God-man Incarnate.”
Thus, we cover the whole Bible in the Creed.
“…and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
and by the Holy Spirit
was incarnate of the Virgin Mary,
and became man!”