It isn’t uncommon in some churches to find people in the pews—and sometimes the celebrant of the mass—skipping over the word “men” where it appears in the Nicene Creed, “For us men and for our salvation, He came down from Heaven….” I’ve noticed it in many parishes where I’ve attended mass over the years.
For some time, people in the church have accepted and even pandered to a modern secular error that suggests that the use of the word “Man” in this context is exclusionary of (and discriminatory toward) women. This same temperament has resulted in “fireman” becoming “firefighter” and “policeman” becoming “police officer,” and so on. It’s a manic rat race attempt at avoiding the appearance of exclusion and discrimination even when it isn’t truly happening. The on-the-fly editing-out of the word “man” from the Nicene Creed reflects that same secular hysteria, and it’s a mindset that has no place in the Holy Church or parish life.
When we recite the Nicene Creed and arrive at the part that says, “For us men, and for our salvation, He came down from Heaven,” are we saying that Jesus came down from Heaven only for men and not for women? No. Are we saying he came down from Heaven mainly for men and that women just get to ride along out of necessity? Of course not.
To fully understand why this freewheeling editing of the Nicene Creed is a serious problem, it would be helpful to understand the importance of the Nicene Creed. You can read about it in this other article here. It covers the biblical foundations of our use of the Creed, why we say it, and why it’s intentionally placed where it is in the mass (after the Liturgy of the Word and before the Liturgy of the Eucharist). It’s a great read that will teach you a lot and deepen your appreciation for the Nicene Creed and the holy mass.
The Realm of ‘Men’
So why do we say, “For us men and for our salvation…”? Aren’t women included in God’s plan for our salvation? Of course, they are! The mystery of this modern confusion surrounding the word “man” is illuminated by its etymology in Old English and Proto-Germanic roots.
Historically, the word “Man” in the Creed and in various portions of the Bible was gender neutral, not gender specific. In Old English, the primary meaning of the word man was “person” or “human being,” while the words “were” and “wif” were used to refer to “male” and “female,” respectively. And so with the conjunctions of “wereman” and “wifman,” you have the words “male-person” and “female-person .” And as a bonus tidbit, now you also know where the word “werewolf” comes from, too; an Old English/Proto-German word meaning “wolf-man.”
Over time “man” has become more gender-specific to males, but it remains a gender-neutral term in literary English and speech. Depending on the context, “man” continues to refer either to “males” or human beings, irrespective of gender. “Wifman” evolved to “woman” in the late-Old English period.
It may be tempting for some to suggest that we modify the Creed to better reflect modern sensitivities. To perhaps drop “men” entirely, leaving the statement as “For us, and for our salvation .” The Church didn’t write it that way to begin with, because that formulation would have made the statement untrue. Jesus didn’t come to save just us—the ones reciting the Creed. He came to save all men. That’s not to say that all men will be saved, but that Jesus, in fact, came to rescue all men from sin and death. That’s why it’s important not to edit it on the fly. When we edit out “man,” we are saying something that isn’t true. So recite the Creed it as it is, and say it with good attention. Trust God. And Trust His Church. Let us live our lives according to what we profess in the Nicene Creed. Belief by itself has no meaning without the implied promise to practice what we believe. God be with you!