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WE come now to the question of the authority of the Church.
The teaching of the Church of England is contained in the Twentieth Article:
'The Church hath power to decree Rites or Ceremonies, and authority in Controversies of Faith: and yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God's Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another. Wherefore, although the Church be a witness and keeper of holy Writ, yet, as it ought not to decree anything against the same, so besides the same ought it not to enforce anything to be believed for necessity of Salvation.'
The ultimate test of truth for the Church of England is Scripture, but it does not desire to cut itself off from the historical development of Christianity. This position was developed at the time of the Reformation, in opposition to the Medieval and Roman Catholic doctrine of the Infallibility of the Church and the extreme Protestant doctrine that the Bible alone is to be the guide of Christians; and this position thus asserted at the Reformation represents, as the Church of England holds, the teaching of the early centuries of Christianity.
The authority of the Church means two things. It means the authority of unwritten tradition as supplementing Scripture. That we have already considered. We have seen that no unwritten tradition adds anything of weight to the information that Scripture gives us about the Christian Revelation; but that the witness of the early Church has great authority in corroborating what Scripture has handed down and in telling us the proportions of the Christian Faith. It is the Christian Church that relying upon Scripture has handed down to us the teaching of Christianity. Secondly, the authority of the Church means a belief in the continuous voice of the Church as inspired by God's Spirit, interpreting, formulating,
expounding the original Christian Revelation. It is a belief based on our Lord's own words as reported in the Fourth Gospel: 'When he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he shall guide you into all the truth.'
The classical work on the authority of the Church is the Commonitorium of St. Vincent of Lerins. Its full title is Vincentii Lirinensis adversus profanas omnium haereticomm novitates Commonitorium. This treatise was written in the years A.D. 433 or 434 very shortly after the outbreak of the Nestorian heresy. The surname of its author introduces us to one of those places which have played a great part in Christian history, the island of Lerins situated on the coast of the French Riviera near Cannes. At the beginning of the fifth century a certain Honoratus founded there a community for the promotion of sacred learning, and it is now known as the lie de S. Honorat. This island played the same part in the development of early Gallican Christianity that the islands of lona and Lindisfarne did in the history of the English Church. Amongst the members of the community were men who became famous afterwards in Gallican Church history such as Hilary of Poitiers, Vincent of Lerins, Lupus of Troyes, Germanus of Auxerre, Faustus of Rhegium, and Eucherius of Lyons. As we shall see the influence of this school is also of importance in the history of the Athanasian creed.
The purpose of St. Vincent was to lay down the principles upon which religious truth may be obtained:
'Enquiring therefore,' he writes, 'often with great desire and attention of very many excellent, holy and learned men, how and by what means I might assuredly, and as it were by some general and ordinary way discern the true Catholic faith from false and wicked heresy; to this question I had usually this answer of them all, that whether I or any other desired to find out the frauds of heretics, daily springing up, and to escape their snares, and willingly would continue in a sound faith, himself safe and sound, that he ought two manner of ways by God's assistance to defend and preserve his faith; that is first by the authority of the law of God; secondly by the tradition of the Catholic Church.'
The Law of God or Divine Law means Scripture, and St. Vincent considers that the source of true religious knowledge is to be found in Scripture and the tradition of the Catholic Church. The next paragraph is of importance as it emphasizes the supreme authority of Scripture.
'Here, some man, perhaps, may ask, Seeing the Canon of Scripture is perfect, and most abundantly of itself sufficient for all things, what need we join unto it the authority of the Church's understanding and interpretations? The reason is this, because the Scripture being of itself so deep and profound, all men do not understand it in one and the same sense, but divers men diversly, this man and that man, this way and that way, expound and interpret the sayings thereof, so that to one's thinking, so many men, so many opinions almost may be gathered out of them:for Novatian expoundeth it one way, Photinus another, Sabellius after this sort, Donatus after that; Arius, Eunomius, Macedonius will have this exposition; Apollinaris and Priscillian will have that; Jovinian, Pelagius, Celestius, gather this sense; and to conclude, Nestorius findeth out that: and therefore very necessary it is for the avoiding of so great windings and turnings of errors so various, that the line of expounding the Prophets and Apostles be directed and drawn, according to the rule of the Ecclesiastical and Catholic sense.'
Scripture indeed is supreme, but there is so great diversity in its interpretation that we must ask what is the Ecclesiastical and Catholic sense. Then comes a passage which has been more often quoted probably than any other in the Fathers.
'Again, within the Catholic Church itself we are greatly to consider, that we hold that, which hath been believed, everywhere, always, and of all men: for that is truly and properly Catholic (as the very force and nature of the word doth declare, which comprehendeth all things in general after an universal manner). And that we shall do if we follow Universality, Antiquity, Consent.Universality shall we follow thus, if we profess that one faith to be true, which the whole Church throughout the world acknowledgeth and confesseth. Antiquity shall we follow, if we part not any whit from those senses which it is plain that our holy elders and Fathers generally held. Consent shall we likewise follow, if in this very antiquity itself we hold the definitions and opinions of all, or at any rate almost all, the Priests and Doctors together.'
In the next chapter these opinions are worked out in greater detail:
'What then shall a Catholic Christian do, if some small part of the Church cut itself off from the communion of the universal faith? What else but prefer the health of the whole body before the pestiferous and corrupt member? What if some new infection goeth about to corrupt not in this case only a little part, but the whole Church? Then likewise shall he regard, and be sure to cleave unto, antiquity, which can now no more be seduced by any crafty novelty. What if in antiquity itself, and amongst the ancient Fathers, be found some error of two or three men: or haply of some one city or province? Then shall he diligently take heed that he prefer the universal decrees and determinations of an ancient General Council, if such there be, before the temerity or folly of a few. What if some such case happen where no such thing can be found? Then shall he labour, by conferring and laying them together amongst themselves, to refer to and consult the ancient Fathers' opinions, not of all, but of those only which, living at divers times, and sundry places, yet continuing in the communion and faith of one Catholic Church, were approved masters and guides to be followed; and whatsoever he perceiveth, not one or two, but all jointly with one consent, plainly, usually, constantly to have holden, written, and taught; let him know that this without scruple or doubt himself likewise ought to believe.'
These principles are illustrated in the chapters that follow. First the general sense of the Christian community ought to be preferred to the opinions of some small portion. This is illustrated by Donatism. Then secondly comes the case when the whole Church for a period seems to be infected with new teaching. Then you are to study antiquity and he takes as his instance Arianism. There was a period after the Council of Nicaea when Arianism apparently became the creed of the greater part of the Church. In such a case he says you must ask, Is Arianism in accordance with the tradition of the Christian Church? Then thirdly comes the question of great theologians who are remarkable for the singularity of some of their teaching. Here he mentions particularly Origen,
'in whom were very many gifts so rare, so singular, so strange, that in the beginning anyone would have thought that all his opinions might be taken on trust. ... For of his nursing grew up Doctors, Priests, Confessors, and Martyrs without number.'
He mentions also Tertullian who
'among the Latins without controversy is the chief of all our writers. For who was more learned than he? who in divinity or humanity more practised? For by a certain wonderful capacity of mind, he attained to and understood all philosophy ... and for his wit, was he not so excellent, so grave, so forcible, that he scarce ever undertook the overthrow of any position but either by quickness of wit he undermined or by weight of reason he crushed it?'
In these cases we must correct their aberrations by the general teaching of the Fathers of the Church.
St. Vincent was in fact wide in his outlook. He is sometimes quoted as the teacher and supporter of a very unpro-gressive type of Christianity. But that misrepresents him. He did not hold this doctrine of the authority of the Church as meaning that the Church was to be looked upon as a place in which all truth had been attained and every question settled and there was no opportunity of advance. This is his doctrine of development.
'But peradventure some will say, Shall we then have no advancement of religion in the Church of Christ? Surely let us have the greatest that may be. For who is either so envious of men, or hateful of God, which would labour to hinder that? But yet in such sort that it may be truly an increase in faith, and not a change; since this is the nature of an increase, that in themselves severally things grow greater; but of a change, that something be turned, from one thing which it was, to another which it was not. Fitting it is, therefore, that the understanding, knowledge and wisdom, as well of every man in particular, as of all in common; as well of one alone, as of the whole Church in general; should by the advance of ages abundantly increase and go forward, but yet for all that, only in its own kind and nature; that is, in the same doctrine, in the same sense, in the same judgement.'
He then goes on to illustrate this by the growth and development of the human body, and shows how 'the limbs of infants be small, of young men great, yet not divers, but the same'. There is development, but everything is contained in the original seed, and nothing alien to it is healthy. So the seed of wheat develops and grows according to its kind and nature and does not produce tares. Clearly St. Vincent had grasped the idea of the organic development of Christianity. We realize now that this represents the healthy form of Christian development. Religion as time advances must come in contact with new forms of thought and ideas, and two things are necessary; one is the hold on a Christian tradition which does not neglect the past, the other the living spirit which teaches us the new truth. What is interesting is to find these two sides both put before us in the Commonitorium of St. Vincent which has so often been quoted in support of a purely static and unpro-gressive conception of Christian doctrine.
Let us first consider the expression of the voice of the Church. This may be formal or informal. The formal expression is found in the decrees of Councils, in the Creeds, and in those later Articles of Religion or Confessions which have arisen since the Reformation. The informal expression lies in the writings of theologians, in liturgical services, hymns and other expressions of Christian devotion.
Of Church Councils our Articles tell us that
'forasmuch as they be an assembly of men, whereof all be not governed with the Spirit and Word of God, they may err, and sometimes have erred, even in things pertaining unto God. Wherefore things ordained by them as necessary to salvation have neither strength nor authority, unless it may be declared that they be taken out of Holy Scripture.'
We notice that the Church of England here as elsewhere lays down (as we shall see quite correctly) that there is no infallibility to be found in any formularization of Christian Theology. There is no mechanical rule for finding out Christian truth.
What is it that gives authority to a Church Council and wins for it the title of Oecumenical? The answer is the acceptance of its decrees by the general consciousness of the Christian Church. Let us take an example. In the year A.D. 449 there was held a Council at Ephesus which supported the doctrines of Eutyches. It was largely attended and was remarkable for the violence and disorder which it displayed. Two years afterwards in the year A.D. 451 was held a Council at Chalcedon, a city not far from Constantinople. At this Council Eutychianism was condemned, and an exposition of the faith accepted, in which the Christology known as that of Chalcedon was formulated. This Council was also largely attended, and was also turbulent and violent. The first of these Councils is known to history as the Robber Synod of Ephesus or the Latrocinium, the second has been accepted as the fourth Oecumenical Council of supreme authority in matters of faith. Where lies the distinction between these two Councils ? The answer must be this. The decisions of the one were rejected by the consciousness of Christendom, the decisions of the other, that of Chalcedon, have been accepted. A Council obtains its authority by formulating decisions which are accepted afterwards by the Christian consciousness.
There are seven Councils which are styled General or Oecumenical.
Now as to the question of the acceptance of these Councils. As regards the first four – the four great Councils – they are undoubtedly accepted by the Eastern and Western Church, and by the Church of England, and less formally but I think generally by the great body of Protestants. These last have a tendency to ignore the Councils but accept with certain limitations the doctrine of the Person of Christ which was formulated as the result of the controversies of the fourth and fifth centuries. The Third General Council is not accepted by the remnants of the Nestorian Church of the East, the Assyrian Christians as they are sometimes called, the Fourth General Council is not accepted by the Jacobite or Monophysite Churches of Egypt, Abyssinia, and Syria, and has never been received by the Armenian Church.
The Fifth and Sixth Councils are accepted by the Church of England, but within the limits laid down by the Articles, as by the Eastern and Western Churches. At the Council of Hatfield held in the year 680 the Church of England as its first formal act accepted the first five Councils, and almost directly afterwards it accepted the Sixth General Council, and we may consider ourselves bound by the initial Acts of our Church which thus put itself definitely in line with historical Christianity.
The Seventh General Council, the Second of Nicaea, presents greater difficulties. It is doubtful whether it has ever been universally accepted. It was definitely repudiated by the Council of Frankfurt in 794 which represented France and England, and it was not accepted by the Western Church as a whole until the Council of Florence in 1439 – a Council not looked on with favour in the East – and there is no evidence that it has ever been formally accepted in this country. It has been objected to also on the ground of its decisions. They have not been universally accepted, as it is believed to have sanctioned the worship of images in a manner inconsistent with the second Commandment. An examination of its decrees will show, that so far as regards its formal teaching, it does not put forward anything which implies more than reverence for images, not inconsistent even with our own practice. Its decrees too are concerned with questions of worship and order, not of doctrine, and consequently have not the same authority as the doctrinal decrees of the earlier Councils. They rank rather with the canons of Church order issued by these Councils. The question of the acceptance of the Seventh General Council is one of the points of difference between the English Church and the Orthodox Church. It would have to be settled at any Council or conference which issued in union. I would say that for the reasons given above I see no reason why the Church of England should not be prepared to accept this Council. It must be remembered that the Eastern Church claims to be built up on Seven Councils and Seven Sacraments, and holds rather tenaciously to that basis.
Besides the seven General Councils, the Church of Rome accepts and considers to be Oecumenical a series of medieval Councils called the Lateran Councils, of which one, the Fourth, held in 1215, was important as that in which the dogma of Transubstantiation was accepted, also the Council of Trent which sat from 1545 to 1547, from 1551 to 1553, and from 1562 to 1563, the final confirmation being dated January 26, 1564 – of this we shall speak more at length shortly – and the Vatican Council of 1870 at which the doctrine of the Infallibility of the Pope was promulgated. None of these Councils are accepted by the Eastern Church, or the Church of England.
The number of Church Councils of different degrees of authority which have been held is very large, and many of
them have played an important part in the development of Church doctrine, order, and life, but the only ones of primary importance in relation to Christian doctrine are the first four General Councils at which the traditional Christian doctrine as to the person of Christ was formulated.
We come next to the Creeds.
The origin of the Creeds lay probably in the baptismal formula, and in the responses to the questions addressed at the baptismal service to the catechumens to be admitted into the Church. There appear to have been two early forms of baptism, the one into the name of Jesus, the other into the Trinity. There are several traces of the earlier form in the Acts of the Apostles, and the two appear side by side in the Didache or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles. It is probable that the earlier form was considered sufficient in the case of Jews who recognized both the Fatherhood of God, and the work of God's Spirit, but that when Gentiles began to be received it became necessary to ensure belief both in the one God, and the working of the one Spirit, and the words of our Lord recorded at the end of the Gospel of St. Matthew were the authority for the new formula.
There are various passages in the New Testament which seem to refer to the growth of some sort of creed. At the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch we are told how the eunuch said, 'See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized ?' and Philip said, 'If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest', and the eunuch answered, 'I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.'If these last words are, as is probable, a gloss, they still witness to an early custom. In the Epistle to the Romans we read
'If thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus as Lord, and shall believe in thy heart that God raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved: for with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.'
In the Pastoral Epistles we have, 'Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed the good confession,'and 'Remember Jesus Christ risen from the dead, of the seed of David according to my gospel,' and 'I charge thee in the sight of God and the Christ Jesus who shall judge the quick and the dead.' All these phrases may be explained either as reminiscent of some early form of creed, or as providing the language which might develop into a creed. This is the position at the close of the Canon.
A somewhat similar position is suggested by passages in the Epistles of St. Ignatius. In the Epistles to the Trallians he writes:
'Be ye deaf therefore when any man speaketh to you apart from Jesus Christ, who was of the race of David, who was the Son of Mary, who was truly born and ate and drank, was truly persecuted under Pontius Pilate, was truly crucified and died in the sight of those in heaven and those on earth and those under the earth, who moreover was truly raised from the dead, His Father having raised him, who in like fashion will so raise us also who believe in him. His Father, I say, will raise us in Jesus Christ apart from whom we have not true life.'
There is a similar passage in the Letter to the Smyrnaeans:
'I have perceived that ye are established in faith, immovable, being as it were nailed on the Cross of the Lord Jesus Christ in flesh and in spirit, and formally grounded in him in the blood of Christ, fully persuaded as touching our Lord that he is truly of the race of David according to the flesh, but Son of God by the Divine will and power, truly born of a Virgin and baptised by John, that all righteousness might be fulfilled by him, truly nailed up in the flesh for our sakes under Pontius Pilate and Herod the Tetrarch. Of which fruit are we, that is of his most blessed passion, that he might set up an ensign unto all the ages, through his resurrection, for his saints and faithful people, whether among Jews or Gentiles, in one body of his Church.'
Here are two dogmatic passages, similar in language to that of the creeds, which raise the question, one which I hardly think can be answered with any certainty, whether Ignatius had some such document as a creed before him, or whether he represents a stage in the building up of the creeds.
We now come to the three earliest forms of the Creed. One is the old Jerusalem Creed:
'I believe in the Father
and in the Son
and in the Holy Ghost,
and in one baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.'
The next is the Interrogatories contained in the Egyptian Church Order:
Dost thou believe in God the Father? I do believe.
Dost thou believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son our Lord ? I do believe.
Dost thou believe in the Holy Ghost, the Holy Church, the remission of sins, the Resurrection of the Flesh? I do believe.
This was probably used in the Roman Church at the beginning of the third century, and as the Roman Church was very conservative, it probably gives us a very early tradition. Then thirdly there is the Creed of the Church of Rome in its earliest recorded form:
'I believe in God the Father Almighty
and in Christ Jesus his only Son, Our Lord,
who was born of the Holy Spirit from Mary the Virgin,
crucified under Pontius Pilate and buried:
on the third day he rose again from the dead,
he ascended into the heavens,
he sitteth at the right hand of the Father,
thence he will come to judge the quick and the dead.
'And in the Holy Ghost, Holy Church,
the remission of sins,
the resurrection of the flesh.'
This creed was used in the Roman Church not much after the year 100, and certainly in the first half of the second century. We are justified in this conclusion by the following argument. It is the source of all Western Creeds; it is used by Tertullian, who quotes from it largely in his work against Marcion; and as we gather from Tertullian it was used by Marcion. If that be true it must date back to a period earlier than Marcion's expulsion from the Christian Church, which took place at Rome in the year A.D. 138.
The second and third centuries were a period of great credal development. Each separate Church had its own creed, but there was close intercourse and connexion between the Churches and consequently the development was everywhere on similar lines. The cause of development was the rise of heresy and the necessity which the Church felt of guarding itself against false opinions. First Docetism, the theory that our Lord's human nature was not real, caused great stress to be laid on the historical realities of his life. Then Gnosticism with its belief in two Gods, and a whole army of emanations led to the strong declaration of the one God the Creator. In course of time other false opinions were guarded against. A study of the early Creeds will show us that a broad distinction can be made between those of the East and West. The Eastern Creed, in contrast with the somewhat bare severity of the West, had a tendency to be metaphysical in its expression. The contrast is admirably expressed for us in the difference between the Apostles Creed, a typical Western document, and our Nicene Creed, a typical Eastern document.
At the beginning of the fourth century while there was a
common structure in all creeds arising from a common origin in the Baptismal formula, and a common standard of belief, each Church appears to have had its own particular creed, those in the West being derived from the old Roman Creed, those in the East tending to a greater use of philosophical terminology.
In the fourth century we get a change. We reach the period of Oecumenical Councils and Oecumenical Creeds, and we have to study the history of the Nicene Creed.
The problem before the Council of Nicaea was the best method of guarding the Church against Arianism. Eusebius of Caesarea, the most learned theologian in the Church, put forward for acceptance the creed of his own Church of Caesarea. It was, he said, the creed that he had received from the Bishops who preceded him.
'In our first catechisings, and when we received the Holy Law, and as we have learned from the Divine Scriptures, and as we have believed and taught in the presbytery and in the episcopate itself.'
It was as follows:
'We believe in one God, the Father Almighty,
the Maker of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the Word of God, God from God,
Light from Light, Life from Life,
Son Only-begotten, first-born of every creature, before all the ages,
begotten from the Father, by whom also all things were made;
who for our salvation was made flesh, and lived among men,
and suffered, and rose again the third day,
and ascended to the Father,
and will come again in glory to judge the quick and dead.
And we believe also in one Holy Ghost.'
This is a typical Eastern creed of the third century. It uses philosophical or quasi-philosophical phrases taken from second and third-century theologians. It was accepted by the Council as the basis of its own creed, but certain modifications were made of far-reaching importance. The principal changes were four in number:
1. For the expression 'the Word of God' the 'Son of God' was substituted. This change meant a good deal. It turned Christian thought from philosophical questions to the doctrine of salvation. It regarded our Lord not from a cosmological aspect, but from that of personal relationship. The term the Logos, derived from St. John's Gospel with its long history in Greek and Jewish thought had played a part of great importance in the development of early Christian thought, for it had enabled Christianity to be expressed in the philosophic phraseology of the day. But it would have been a misfortune if the Christian creed had been linked with a temporary philosophical theory, and the substitution of the more popular word Son was a sign of the change which came over Christian theology in the fourth century.
2. The words 'the only begotten son' were explained by adding ἐκ τῆς οὐσίας τοῦ πατρός, 'of the substance (or essence) of the Father'.
3. The words γεννηθέντα οὐ ποιηθέντα, ὁμοούσιον τῶ πατρὶ, 'begotten not made, being of one substance (or essence) with the Father', were added. This addition of the word homoousios, 'of one essence with the Father', was the most far-reaching change. The word definitely and decisively condemned Arianism. It signified in correct philosophical terminology that the Son partook of the essence of Godhead, was really God, not created, not a creature, but God. There was much discussion on the legitimacy of its use. It was objected to as not scriptural,and was defended as being the decisive term which although not scriptural guarded the teaching of Scripture. For that reason it was finally accepted and found its place in the Christian creed.
4. The word σαρκωθέντα, 'became incarnate', was further explained by the addition of ὲνανθρωπήσαντα, 'became man' or 'dwelt among men'.
Here is the creed of the Council of Nicaea as it was finally constructed:
'We believe in one God, the Father Almighty,
Maker of all things, visible and invisible.
'And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the Son of God, begotten of the Father, only begotten,
that is of the substance of the Father,
God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God,
begotten not made, of one substance with the Father,
through whom all things were made,
both things in heaven, and things on earth,
who for us men and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and became man:
he suffered and the third day he rose again and ascended into heaven,
and cometh to judge the quick and the dead.
'And in the Holy Ghost.'
And then come the anathemas:
'But those who say there was a time when he was not, or he was not before he was born, or he was born of the things that were not, or who assert that the Son of God was of another substance or essence, or was created or capable of change or alteration, these the holy and apostolic Church of God anathematizes.'
This creed is not what we call the Nicene Creed, but it is the creed which was put forth at Nicaea and ultimately accepted by the whole Church. Although Arianism was definitely condemned at Nicaea, there was from causes we need not now examine a great Arian reaction, and for a time every variety of opinion prevailed. There were fifty years of creed making. Many Councils put forth many creeds, creeds for the most part which attempted by some unreal compromise to unite Arianism and Orthodox Christianity. But compromise failed and ultimately the Nicaean formula became almost universally accepted.
We come next to the history of that creed usually at the present day called the Nicene Creed and as such described in our Communion Service. This creed is contained in the Exposition of the Faith of the Council of Chalcedon and is there called the Creed of Constantinople. But it is doubtful if this attribution is correct. For all our information tells us that it was the Creed of Nicaea which was accepted by that Council; and in its first Canon it accepts that as a sufficient statement of the Faith, nor does the Council of Ephesus know anything of a Creed of Constantinople, but quotes and ratifies the genuine Creed of Nicaea.
It is difficult in the face of this evidence to believe that it is the creed of the Council of Constantinople. Moreover, it is quoted by Epiphanius in a work called the Anchoratus about the year 374. As Dr. Hort first showed us, it is the creed of the Church of Jerusalem, as we know it from the Catechetical Lectures of St. Cyril of Jerusalem, with the addition of the more important phrases of the Nicene Creed. It is in fact the revised creed of the Church of Jerusalem. Probably at the time of the Council of Constantinople it was adopted as the baptismal creed of the Church of Constantinople. It thus came to be looked upon as the creed of that Council. As such it was adopted by the Council of Chalcedon and thus obtained oecumenical authority.
Having obtained this authority two further steps led to a wider use. First, during the fifth and sixth centuries it became the sole baptismal creed of the East. The old order of things according to which each Church had its own baptismal creed passed away and the Church became more centralized. The Church of Constantinople became more and more supreme in the East and its creed and liturgy spread everywhere.
Then, secondly, this creed was introduced into the liturgy of the Eastern Church, was adopted for the same purpose in the West, and became the liturgical creed of the whole Church. It was first introduced into the liturgy by the Monophysites who claimed that their teaching correctly interpreted it, and wished to assert their orthodoxy. The orthodox followed suit, and in 568 Justinian decreed that it should always be so used. It gradually spread to the West. At the third Council of Toledo in 589 at which Reccared, King of the Visigoths, renounced Arianism the following Canon was passed:
'For the reverence of the faith, and to strengthen the minds of men it is ordered by the synod, on the advice of Reccared, that in all the churches of Spain and Galicia, following the form of the Oriental Churches, the symbol of the faith of the Council of Constantinople, that is, of the 150 bishops, shall be recited: so that before the Lord's prayer is said the creed shall be chanted with a clear voice by the people: that testimony may thus be borne to the true faith, and that the hearts of the people may come purified by the faith to taste the body and blood of Christ.'
This then is the history of the creed, but even that creed of Chalcedon is not exactly our Nicene Creed. The creed as used in the Western Church differs from the original by the addition of what is called the filioque. In the original creed it is said of the Holy Ghost 'who proceedeth from the Father'; in the Western Creed 'who proceedeth from the Father and the Son'. This addition appears to be of slight importance, and I believe that theologically it is – that is a question that we shall discuss later – but historically its influence has been far-reaching, for it is the symbol of the great schism of Eastern and Western Christianity. The causes of the division were much deeper, but this particular phrase which probably came into the creed by accident was the symbol and excuse for the separation.
The facts are as follows. It had been the custom of Western theologians, and particularly of Hilary of Poitiers, to speak of the Holy Ghost as proceeding from the Father and the Son, and that phrase found its way into the Athanasian Creed. The first occasion on which we find it in the Nicene Creed was the same Council of Toledo of which I have already spoken. Reccared recited the creed with these words added. The probability is that they crept in by accident; the creed in the West was almost unconsciously assimilated to current phraseology. Then in the eighth century we find a well-known theologian Paulinus, Bishop of Aquileia, defending the insertion. In 809 we find a quarrel arising between the Latin and Greek monks in Palestine. The Latins accused the Greeks of altering the creed. However, at that date Leo III, the Pope of the day, although he defended the doctrine, was quite aware of the correct form, and had it engraved on two silver shields in Greek and Latin erected in St. Peter's. Then sixty years later the historical knowledge of the Roman Church had become less correct, and Nicholas I, the Pope of the day, was excommunicated by Photius, Patriarch of Constantinople, for interpolating the creed. This was not the real cause. That was the attempt of the Bishop of Rome to assert his authority over the See of Constantinople. But since then the filioque clause had been the great sign of dissension between East and West.
This then is the history of what we call the Nicene Creed. The following are the points to remember about it. In the first place it comes to us with the authority of the Council of Chalcedon. It is the only creed which has full oecumenical authority. Secondly, there can be no doubt that the form used in the Eastern Church is the correct one, and that the interpolated form used in the West is unauthorized and incorrect. Thirdly, there is no other creed of the same value and authority. Fourthly, by a series of curious accidents it has invariably been called by incorrect names. Originally it was called the Creed of the Council of Constantinople although it had not the authority of that Council. In our prayer book it is called the Nicene Creed, again an incorrect name. As, however, it certainly sets forth the faith of Nicaea, the name, although incorrect, is not misleading.
The Apostles' Creed need not detain us long. In discussing the early history of the creeds, I gave you an account of the old Roman Creed. That formed the basis on which what we call the Apostles' Creed was constructed. It differs in the following points:
(1) It adds the words 'Creator of Heaven and earth'.
(2) It substitutes 'conceived of the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary' for 'born of the Holy Spirit from the Virgin Mary'.
(3) It has 'suffered under Pontius Pilate, crucified, dead, and buried' instead of 'crucified under Pontius Pilate and buried'.
(4) It adds the words 'he descended into Hell'.
(5) For 'sitteth at the right hand of the Father' it has 'of God the Father Almighty'.
(6) It adds to the word 'Church' the epithet 'Catholic'.
(7) It adds 'the Communion of Saints' and 'eternal life'.
How did these additions come into the creed? It is first found in its complete form in the writings of a certain Pirminius, a Frankish missionary of the eighth century. Most of the new additions are found in Gallican creeds of the fifth century; the article 'he descended into hell' is stated by Rufinus to have formed part of the Creed of Aquileia at the end of the fourth century, and was undoubtedly added in connexion with the Apollinarian controversy. There are two theories as to the origin of the final form of the creed. The one that it is a Gallican recension of the old Roman Creed, the other that it is a revision of the Roman Creed made at Rome about 700 under Gallican influence. As to which of these theories is true we have no evidence, and it is purely a matter of conjecture. Nor I think does it matter much which is true. The important points are that it is a revision made in the sixth and seventh centuries of the old Roman Creed of the second century, which it represents in all essentials; that it is the universal baptismal creed of the West; and that in its character it is as essentially Western as the so-called Nicene Creed is Eastern.
What then is its authority? It has no Oecumenical Council behind it and it is purely Western. It has the authority of being recognized by the universal consciousness of the Western Church as suitable for baptismal confession, for the catechizing of children and the daily offices. It puts the same truths as the Nicene Creed in a simpler and less metaphysical form. There is a tendency to suggest that the Apostles' Creed should become the basic creed of the Christian Church. I think that this is unfortunate, and that it is put forward by people who do not know much about its history. It is called the Apostles' Creed and this gives it a certain amount of glamour, but it is really late in origin. It gives not inadequately the teaching of the Apostles, but as a document it has neither the authority of antiquity nor the authority of universality. The Creed on which we should build up a united Church is the Nicene Creed which we share with all the other branches of Christendom, for it has real authority behind it.
The Athanasian Creed, or as it is more correctly called the Quicunque vult, has a somewhat different character and history.
Let us note first that it was certainly not written by St. Athanasius. It is only in some manuscripts attributed to him. The Greek versions in existence are clearly translated from the Latin, and the Greek manuscripts containing it are all late. There are no quotations from it in early Greek authors, there are many in Latin. Its theology is decisively Western and Latin; and there are phrases in it which would have seemed to St. Athanasius of doubtful orthodoxy. To attribute a document like this to a well-known theologian is quite in accordance with the custom of the day. To the same period in the Gallican Church belong a Creed of Damasus the Roman Bishop, and a Creed of St. Jerome, neither of them written by these authors. There is another creed, quite different from the Quicunque, sometimes called the Creed of the Romans, sometimes the Creed of St. Athanasius, and there are many sermons and other documents of that date ascribed to various Fathers who certainly did not write them. So there is nothing remarkable if in some manuscripts this document bears the name of St. Athanasius. To this supposed authorship great prominence was given in the ninth and following centuries, for in the controversy with the East on the doctrine of the Double Procession, it was a great triumph for the West to be able to produce a document which claimed to have been written by St. Athanasius and yet supported the theology of the West. Quite clearly, however, the creed was not the work of St. Athanasius.
But we have more positive evidence about it. First as to its date. It is contained in four manuscripts of the eighth century. Secondly (we are working backwards), there are several early commentaries which are contained in manuscripts of the ninth century, but must belong to an earlier date as they copy one another. One was probably written by Venantius Fortunatus, Bishop of Poitiers about the year 600. Thirdly, a portion of it is contained in the manuscript of a letter of Nicetus, Archbishop of Treves, between the years 527 and 566. Fourthly, the creed is quoted in the Acts of five Councils of Toledo in 589, 633, 638, 675, and 693. Fifthly, there are quotations from it in the writings of Caesarius of Aries who flourished between 503 and 543, and Avitus, Bishop of Vienne, between 490 and 523. The creed was clearly written before A.D. 500. There are also very close resemblances between the Quicunque, the Commonitorium of St. Vincent of Lerins and the writings of St. Augustine; but the question might be raised, Did they quote the creed or did the creed arise out of their writings?
Internal evidence will enable us to settle the date somewhat more precisely. A creed will always be up to date. It will deal with the latest heresies which have appeared, and it cannot deal with teaching of a later date than the time when it was written. Now a careful examination of the language shows that there is no reference to Nestorianism or Eutychianism, and as Nestorianism arose shortly before the year 431 the creed must be earlier than that date. The two heresies that it deals with particularly are Sabellianism and Apollina-rianism. They were both fourth-century heresies and were being taught in Spain by the well-known heretic Priscillian at the end of that century. Then there is a marked resemblance between the theology of the creed and that of St. Augustine, but with one important difference; while the creed speaks of the substance of the Godhead, using the Latin substantia as a translation of the Greek οὺσία, St. Augustine always speaks of the essence (essentia). The creed thus while reproducing the theology of St. Augustine was not written by him.
The most probable explanation of its origin, the one that suits best all the circumstances of the case, is that it was the work of some writer connected with the school of Lerins of which I have already spoken. The earliest quotations from it are those made by St. Vincent. The community of Lerins studied diligently the works of St. Augustine. The influence of the island was widespread, and that would account for the extension of its authority, especially among those writers who had been trained there. It was a place too for the training of the clergy, and the earliest references to its use were for that purpose. Who the author was we have not sufficient evidence to say. Water land thought it was written by Hilary of Aries; Dr. Burn originally suggested St. Honoratus, but before his death, St. Ambrose; others have ascribed it to St. Vincent. The important point for us is that it was probably written at the beginning of the fifth century in the island of Lerins before the outbreak of the Nestorian controversy, that it was directed especially against Apollinarianism and Sabellianism, and was based on the writings of St. Augustine.
It had a considerable circulation in the fifth and early sixth centuries. Then came a period when society was broken up and all traditions were lost. In the ninth century it came into greater prominence owing to the use that was made of it in the filioque controversy. In the Middle Ages it is called a creed by St. Thomas Aquinas, who values it highly and ascribes its authority to the action of some Pope, apparently without good evidence. Previous to the Reformation there was a tendency to speak of the three creeds, and they were included in the popular Primers, but its full recognition came from the Church of England after the Reformation. The English Church was anxious to guard itself against any suspicion that it was unsound on the doctrine of the Trinity, and the Prayer Book lays great stress on that doctrine. It exalted the importance of Trinity Sunday. Cranmer composed a special collect and Proper Preface for the day. In the same way it has laid greater stress on the Athanasian Creed than any other branch of the Christian Church.
That is a summary of the history of the Creed and of its gradual recognition. What is its authority ? It is not used in the services of the Eastern Church, but it is contained in the service books in a Greek translation with the passage referring to the procession from the Father and the Son altered. It has no authority as a creed. In the Church of Rome it is used at Prime on certain Sundays in the year, that is, at a service at which the laity are not present, but it has not the same authority as in the Church of England. It is not, in fact, in any real sense a creed, i.e. it has not behind it any authority either of a Council or of universal usage. It cannot claim to be an authoritative Church document. Its prominent position in the Church of England is a sign not of the catholicity of the Church, but of its insularity. The Quicunque vult is a valuable and venerable Church document, similar in character to the Te Deum; like the Te Deum in containing a confession of faith to be sung in the services of the Church; like it in its venerable antiquity; but unlike it in not being universally received.
We may perhaps wander a little from our proper task and ask the question whether it should be used in the services of the Church. There are two or three things to be considered – Is the exposition of the doctrines of the Trinity and Incarnation such as to be of real value for a popular service? Is the doctrine of eternal punishment and of the importance of a dogmatic belief put in such a way as to be beneficial at the present day? Thoughtful people would recognize how necessary it is to lay stress on the stern as well as the merciful side of divine judgement. But is the sterner side put in the Athanasian Creed in a way likely to win acceptance? Every thoughtful person will recognize the necessity of a rule of faith as well as a rule of life. But does not the Athanasian Creed put this in so assertive a way as to be felt to be unreal?
Are the words:
'Whosoever will be saved,
before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith,
which Faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled,
without doubt he shall perish everlastingly',
such as to convince people at the present day?
These are the two points that have to be considered in relation to the use of the Athanasian Creed in the services of the Church. As a document which sums up the doctrines of the Trinity and Incarnation it is undoubtedly of value, but I am doubtful whether it is desirable to use it as it is used in the Church of England, and whether it does not alienate rather than convince or attract.
Such is the history of the three creeds on which the Church of England in its services and in its articles lays great weight. Historically they are among the most important documents of the Christian Church. What value or authority have they?
Let me first draw your attention to the concluding paragraph of the Definition of the Faith put forth by the Council of Chalcedon.
'These things therefore having been denned by us with all accuracy and care, the Holy and Oecumenical Synod decrees that it be not lawful to any one to put forward any other faith or to compose or to put together or receive or teach any other creed, and those who are so bold as to put forward another faith and to introduce and to teach or to hand on another creed whether to those who wish to turn to a knowledge of the truth from Hellenism or Judaism or from any other heresy whatever it is, if they are Bishops or Clergy are to be deprived of their office, and if monks or laity to be anathematized.'
What should be noticed is that this Council not only put forward what it intended to be a creed for universal acceptance, that is, a document defining the Christian faith as necessary for salvation, but also condemned those who added to the creed or put forward another creed. Now that second principle has been unfortunately lost sight of and many of the troubles of Christianity have arisen because of the tendency there has been directly or indirectly to add articles to the Christian Creed.
Let us consider some instances. If you add the filioque to the Creed and claim that it is the authoritative document, you subject yourself to the anathemas of the Council of Chalcedon. If you put forward the Apostles' and the Athanasian Creeds as on the same level as the Nicene Creed, you are exposed to a similar charge. Of course it does not affect your use of them as valuable documents for instruction or use in the services of the Church. If you add a large number of articles of the faith about many other things – sacraments, predestination, freewill, and so on, and putthemonthe same level as the Creed, again you are exposed to this anathema. That is, the most authoritative Christian document gives you on the one side a clear, definite, and simple definition of the Christian faith, on the other side forbids you to burden the Christian Church by other dogmas and definitions as necessary for salvation.
The Creed of Chalcedon, the so-called Creed of Constantinople, our Nicene Creed in its correct and original form, is the authoritative Creed of Christianity. It is not infallible or verbally inspired. We can give no such authority to any Church Council or Church document. But there is no other document of equal authority. There is none that puts forward the central belief of the Church in the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ more strongly or definitely. It should be the basis of faith for a re-united Christianity.
We now approach another set of ecclesiastical documents of a different character, the articles, formularies, and confessions of faith of the Reformation.These are a different class of documents from those which we have considered. The older creeds of Christendom tended to concentrate our belief on the essential doctrines of Christianity, that is, on the belief in our Lord Jesus Christ. They are short. They tend to act as points of union in Christendom. In contrast to them come the formularies of the Reformation. They are of a different character. They are lengthy – sometimes very lengthy – and they attempt to cover the whole ground of Christian belief and practice. They combine general principles with particular applications, what is fundamental and what is debatable. Their tendency has been to stereotype and isolate particular aspects of Christianity, and to promote Christian dissension.
I will begin with an account of some of the earlier formulas of the Church of England. In the year 1536 were published The Ten Articles.This is the earliest confession of faith issued by the Church of England after its separation from Rome, and it has a compromising character between the old and the new learning. It was put forth by Convocation. The first five articles deal with questions of doctrine, the second five with the ceremonies of the Church. Penance, with Baptism and the Eucharist, is still regarded as a Sacrament. The doctrine of the Real Presence is taught, but not Transubstantiation. Images are to be allowed, but only for the sake of representing virtue and good example. Saints are to be honoured and their prayers asked for. Many medieval ceremonies are retained as useful, although it is asserted that they have not the power to remit sin. Prayers for the departed are allowed, but many abuses connected with the doctrine of Purgatory are done away with.
In the next year, 1537, was published the Institution of a Christian Man or, as it is commonly called, the Bishops' Book. This work never had the authority of either Convocation or Parliament. It follows on the lines of The Ten Articles, sometimes indeed verbatim. It retains the seven Sacraments.
In the year 1543 was published The Necessary Doctrine and Erudition for any Christian Man. This revised edition of the Institution received the authority of Convocation, and was set forth by the King's Majesty of England, who is described as the Supreme Head. It usually goes by the name of The King's Book. The work represents a reactionary tendency. The doctrine of Transubstantiation is definitely maintained although the word itself is avoided. The celibacy of the clergy is enforced.
The only other document of this period that need be mentioned is The Thirteen Articks of 1538. They were never published, but have a special interest as they were drafted by a joint committee of Anglican and Lutheran divines, and were intended to facilitate the union of Anglicans and Lutherans in one communion. They are partly drawn from the Confession of Augsburg and form the only channel through which that confession influenced The Forty-two Articles of 1553.
Next to be mentioned come certain foreign confessions. The two principal documents of the Lutheran Church are the Augsburg Confession and the Würtemburg Confession. The first of these consisted of twenty-eight articles, twenty-one doctrinal, and seven directed against ecclesiastical abuses. They were drawn up against the Roman and Zwinglian positions, originally by Melancthon, then revised by Luther and others, and presented to Charles V at the diet of Augsburg in 1530. The Confessio Augustana, as it is called, is the fundamental document of Lutheranism. The Confession of Würtemburg, which contains thirty-four articles, was presented by the Ambassadors of the state of Wiirtemburg in 1552 and is modelled on that of Augsburg. It was used by Parker in preparing the Articles of 1563.
The principal Zwinglian confessions of faith are the Confessio Basiliensis of 1534 and the Confessio Helvetica Prima of 1536. The principal Calvinistic confessions are the Confessio Helvetica Secunda of 1564, the Confessio fidei Gallicanae of 1559, and the Confessio Belgica of 1561. The characteristic of these confessions is their ambitious character. They attempt to give a complete summary of the Christian religion, to define for their Church what every one ought to believe on every particular point.
For our purpose the most interesting document is the Westminster Confession drawn up in 1646-7 under the Long Parliament. All the members of the conference that produced it were convinced Calvinists, but the greater number were in Anglican Orders. The English contingent were appointed by the House of Commons, each county member nominating two divines. It is therefore one of the most Erastian confessions ever produced. With the Anglicans were a considerable number of Scottish divines. According to Dr. Curtis, who speaks from a Presbyterian standpoint, it marks the maturest and most deliberate presentation of the scheme of biblical revelation as it appeared to the most devout Puritan minds. It was based upon the Thirty-nine Articles, but modified in a Calvinistic and Presbyterian sense, and is used at the present day by all English-speaking Presbyterians, although the exact authority that is ascribed to it varies in different churches. It is for us the most useful presentation of the Calvinist and Puritan point of view.
We pass now to the Decrees of the Council of Trent.That Council was part of the great movement by which the Church of Rome was reformed and consolidated, and is the basis of modern Romanism. It was first summoned by Pope Paul III, and its deliberations extended over a period of twenty years. The place where it met, Trent, was selected because it was a city of the German Empire geographically in Italy, and therefore a suitable meeting-place for Germans and Italians.
Its sessions are divided into three different groups,
(1) There were ten sessions between December 1543 and July 1547.
(2) Six sessions between September 1551 and April 1552.
(3) Nine sessions between 1562 and 1563. It was summoned by Pope Julius III in 1551 and by Pius IV in 1562. The final confirmation is dated 26 January 1564.
It is important to remember these dates in relation to the dates of the English Articles. Sometimes the definitions of the Council were prior to those of the English Church; in some the English Church anticipated the Council; in some the two were contemporary. The first sessions of the Council were held before the English Articles were drawn up. Thus the Canons On the Number and Authority of the Canonical Books, On Original Sin, on Justification, and On the Sacraments were all issued before our Articles, and it may reasonably be supposed that our Articles were drawn up with these in mind, and with the intention of combating or correcting them. The second series of sessions was being held while the Forty-two Articles were being drawn up. While they were in preparation the Canons On the Eucharist, On Penance, and On Extreme Unction were published. The Canons of the third group of sessions were posterior to the Forty-two Articles, but were issued concurrently with the drawing up of the Thirty-nine Articles. They include the Canons On communicating in both kinds, July 1562; On the Sacrifice of the Mass, September 1562; On Purgatory, On the Invocation of Saints, and On the Adoration of Images and Relics, December 1563. Finally the so-called creed of Pope Pius IV was published on 13 November 1564.
The Council of Trent represented on one side a reform of the Church of Rome. It was part of a movement which was illustrated also by the reform of the Breviary, and the issue of a revised edition of the Vulgate. A great number of medieval superstitions were cleared away, but on the other hand Roman doctrine was hardened and stereotyped. While the Roman Church was in many ways fitted for the modern world, union with those who had separated was made more difficult. It must be remembered that from one point of view the period of the medieval Church was a period of freedom. With the exception of Transubstantiation, no addition had been made to the dogmatic formularies of the Church since the Patristic period. There was great theological activity, and great variety of doctrine and speculation. While there was much superstition, there was also much rationalism. But with the Council of Trent, the Counter-Reformation, and the reorganization of the Roman Church, we find much defined which had previously been fluid. An era of definiteness and exactness of theological formularies began. To some minds this is attractive, to others it represents a bondage to what must be in such an exact form error. With the Council of Trent began this period of exact definition.
The English Articles will demand somewhat fuller treatment.In the year 1553 there were published the Forty-two Articles. They were drawn up by Cranmer and laid before the Privy Council in May 1552. At that time they were forty-five in number, but before they were published the four on the Eucharist had been compressed into one. Subscription to these Articles was required of all schoolmasters, graduates of the university, and clergymen. When they were published it was stated on the title-page that they were issued with the authority of Convocation, but it is very doubtful whether that statement is true. It is probable that it is a fraud of the Privy Council. There is no certain evidence, for unfortunately the records of Convocation during this period were burnt in the fire of London, but the balance of evidence is against the statement that they were issued with any such authority.
These Articles, unlike some of the foreign confessions of faith, do not attempt to give a systematic account of Christian doctrine. They confine themselves to dealing with certain errors and difficulties which arose at the time. Like most other documents of the Church of England they are incomplete because they presuppose a previous history. They deal with a situation as it is, and the knowledge of what has gone before is presumed. This is characteristic of the difference between the Continental Reformation and our own. The tendency on the Continent was to make- a clean sweep and begin again. The old Church life was given up and a new life created. The old theology was wiped out and a new theology developed. Therefore it was necessary to issue documents which covered the whole ground. But nothing of the sort happened in England. Alterations were made in an existing system, and the English people did not then, any more than at any other time, take the trouble to discover and to state the logical basis on which they acted. The continuity of the Church of England is so real that it is not possible to understand it without knowing its history.
The Church of England has been continually adapted to new conditions. We still preserve distinctions in our livings based upon medieval monasticism. We still quote the medieval Canon Law in our Courts. The Preface of the Prayer Book dwells on the fact that it is an adaptation of the old service books. And so it is with our theology. There has never been anything in the Church of England like Calvin's Institutes with a complete system starting from first principles. The Forty-two Articles are directed against medievalism on the one side, and the Anabaptists on the other. They were carefully drawn up so as to leave open the possibility of coming to terms with the Roman Church if it reformed itself, or with the Lutheran Churches. The Articles on the teaching of the Church of Rome are definitely directed against medieval errors, and are on the same lines as the Council of Trent. The teaching of the 'School Authors' (as they are called) is expressly or indirectly condemned as in the case of grace of congruity, works of supererogation, purgatory, worshipping of images and relics, invocation of saints, grace in the sacraments 'of the work wrought' (ex opere operato), the sacrifice of masses. It was not the Roman Church but the Schoolmen that were to be condemned. Roman claims, however, are emphatically rejected and the right of the Church of England to take independent action strongly defended; but a good deal that was said under this head might have come from the minority at the Council of Trent.
On the other side the Anabaptists are particularly condemned. They were the most violent of the Reformers, and distinguished for their antinomian teaching, community of goods, something very like community of wives or, at any rate, very lax notions on marriage. At Münster in Germany, under John of Leyden, they had built up a religious state on such lines, but their teaching was widely spread, and there was a considerable body of them in England. Whenever the bands of society are loosed, extreme ideas become prominent, and when the old religious system had broken down, disorderly and immoral tendencies would inevitably break loose. Moreover the doctrine of Justification by Faith might easily be taught in a way which would condone or even commend loose morality. The Anabaptists are expressly referred to as in the Articles on Original Sin and community of goods; and their teaching shows its influence elsewhere as in the Article that Christ alone is without sin, and the supremacy of the moral law.
The Forty-two Articles then, while strongly defending the position of the Church of England, were not too obviously directed either against the Church of Rome or the great reformed Churches of the Continent.
The Forty-two Articles were superseded by the Elizabethan Articles of 1563. They were thirty-eight in number when they were first published, were based on the Forty-two Articles, and revised by Archbishop Parker. They were brought before Convocation for revision, and were issued after one or two alterations had been made by the Queen. They were again revised by Convocation, and the final draft of the Thirty-nine Articles was issued in 1571. They owe their final form and authority to Convocation, the representative body of the Church. They were not drawn up by the State and imposed on the Church, but they were drawn up by the Church and imposed by the State. Subscription was demanded by the civil power to documents drawn up by the Church.
Their main characteristics are as follows. Although they are somewhat more complete than the Forty-two Articles, they are not even in their final form complete or systematic. They were drawn up to meet the particular doctrinal situation of the time. Then they were, and were intended to be, Articles of Comprehension. They were subscribed to by many of the clergy who had held office under Queen Mary, and by many of the returning Continental refugees. They excluded the extreme Romanists and extreme Puritans.
They were therefore more historical and what is sometimes called Catholic, especially as regards justification, good works, and the Sacraments. Instead of denying the real and bodily presence of Christ's flesh and blood in the Sacrament, they stated that the body of Christ is taken and eaten after a spiritual manner. A contemporary writer tells us that these words were not intended to deny the reality of the presence of the body of Christ in the Sacrament, but only the grossness and sensibleness in the receiving thereof. A similar change was made in the Restoration edition of the Prayer Book in what is known as the Black Rubric.
Then in these Articles the Church of England took a more independent position against Rome. The Council of Trent and the Marian persecution had done away with any hope there might have been that the schism would be healed. The Church of England was more definitely organized and the Articles took a more definite attitude. The opinions of the Church of Rome are more openly condemned. It is not merely the opinions of the Schoolmen which are referred to.
Then there was a stronger anti-puritan tendency. Anti-nomianism and Anabaptism were passing away, but many English refugees returned from Geneva with extreme opinions and there was a tendency to correct these.
The Thirty-nine Articles, in fact, represent the attempt to organize the Church of England on a catholic and comprehensive basis, and with the Prayer Book and the works of Anglican divines, created that Church as it has developed during nearly 400 years.
Let me add a few words about the formularies of the Eastern Church. The Eastern Church has differed from the Western Churches in the fact that it has never had the cataclysm of a Reformation, and so from many points of view it represents a somewhat primitive attitude. In particular it has no authoritative formularies of faith except the Nicene Creed. The nearest approach to one is the declaration made by a bishop at his consecration. There is nothing corresponding to the Catechism or Decrees of the Council of Trent, or to the Thirty-nine Articles, or the Augsburg Confession, or the Westminster Confession, or any of the other formularies of the Western Church; but during the last three hundred years various confessions of faith or manuals of instruction have been issued which formulate its teaching.
Among these the more important are the following:
1. The Confession of Cyril Lucar issued in 1631. It is remarkable for its absence of opposition to Protestantism. It was, however, condemned by the Acts of the Synod of Bethlehem.
2. The Confession of Peter Mogila, Metropolitan of Kiev, which is anti-Protestant and anti-Roman in its tendency.
3. The Acts of the Synod of Jerusalem or Bethlehem in 1672. These represent the high-water mark of Roman influence in the Orthodox Church.
4. None of these really represent the mind of the Eastern Church. That can, I think, be gathered most clearly from two other important documents. One is The Duty of Parish Priests issued in 1776, an admirable manual of pastoral theology, and very typical of the Russian Church. Here is what it says of the Scriptures:
'All the Articles of the Faith are contained in the Word of God, that is, in the books of the Old and New Testaments. The Word of God is the source, foundation and perfect rule, both of our Faith and of the good works of the Law. The writings of the Holy Fathers are of great use, but neither the writings of the Holy Fathers nor the traditions of the Church are to be confounded or equalled with the Word of God and his commandments.'
5. Similar documents are The Longer and Shorter Catechisms issued byPhilaret, Metropolitan of Moscow in 1839-40.
A review of the documents of the Reformation and of the sectarian activity of the Church which resulted from it impresses us with the evils of Christian dissension, and it will be necessary for the modern world to get behind these sectarian documents if it is to correct the evils of modern society. We may conclude our survey with a quotation from Erasmus which describes these evils:
'The Christian Creed,' he says, 'began to reside in writings rather than in men's minds, and there were well nigh as many faiths as there were men. Articles grew, but sincerity declined, contention boiled over, charity was frozen, the doctrine of Christ, a stranger formerly to battles over words, came to be dependent on defences of philosophy. This was the first downward step towards the ruin of the Church. At last it came to sophistical contentions: thousands of Articles of Faith rushed into publicity.'
The decisions of Councils, the Creed, and the Confessions of Faith represent the expression of the voice of the Church in its formal aspect – that side on which it especially has been held to possess authority, and for that reason demands the careful study of any one who claims to be a theologian, but there is another method of expression in reality perhaps more influential, the informal – the traditions of Christian theology, of Christian worship, and of Christian life. It is here probably that ultimately the voice of the Church really lies, for the decisions of councils and of creeds have only authority because they have been accepted by a living faith, and the Holy Spirit is present not in any particular part of the Church, but in the whole Church and in each faithful believer.
The student, therefore, who desires to attain the best knowledge possible of Christian theology and of Christian traditions should study the whole of that tradition, and not merely one particular school, one section, or period. The tradition of the Church is divided. It is not possible to select one section of Christian theologians and say that they are the Church, and that all others are not the Church. The Church is the whole body of Christ's people, and the tradition of the Church is the total tradition, the sum total of the teaching of all the different sections and branches into which the Church is divided.
Of course, as a matter of fact particular periods, particular Churches (if we may use the term), particular places have been distinguished by a greater and more vigorous outburst of spiritual life. Therefore, there are some periods and individuals whose writings are particularly worth study. Of course, too, there are writers and opinions which the general sense of the Church, whether formulated in some Council or not, has condemned, and condemned rightly, as erroneous or what in ecclesiastical language would be termed heretical. The divines of the fourth century are more worthy of study than those of the sixth century, St. Thomas Aquinas than the later Schoolmen. Hooker is a greater theologian than Pearson. The great divines of the Reformation have more to teach us than their scholastic successors. The nineteenth century is more illuminating than the eighteenth. No intelligent person studies Gnosticism now except as an historical phenomenon. Arianism cannot stand against Orthodox Christianity. Calvinism is a one-sided expression of the truth. The Anabaptists and Swedenborgians and Irvingites were mistaken enthusiasts. There is no need to revive the errors of the past.-
But the point to remember is that the knowledge of Christian tradition should be wide and comprehensive, not limited to any particular view. We cannot ignore the theology of the Patristic period, or the Schoolmen of the Middle Ages, any more than the great writers of the Reformation who created the conditions of the modern religious world, or the Anglican divines who built up the Church of England. We must not shut our eyes to the reality of the Roman Catholic, or the Eastern Orthodox Church. We must have the whole of Christian thought before our mind.
And there is a profitable way of studying heresies or forms of teaching which are clearly erroneous. They have generally arisen from some deficiency of Church life. They have been the exaggerations of aspects of truth which had been lost sight of. For example, if you studied Congregationalism you might do so from two sides. You may quite rightly say that it is not a correct interpretation of the New Testament record, that it does not represent Christian tradition, that it would not be possible for a coherent and organized universal Church to be built up on the basis of such a polity. But there is another point of view which is equally important for your study. You have to recognize that it represents a reaction from the great defect of the medieval Church, which gave no place to the laity, to the whole Christian congregation in the polity of the Church. There was an element of Congregationalism in the Church of the New Testament, there was an element of Congregationalism in the Church of the Fathers. Christian authority lies ultimately not in the episcopate or the sacerdotal body, but in the whole body of Christ's Church.
Our study also ought to be one of Christian worship and Christian life as well as of Christian thought. The manner in which Christianity has built up human life is a more elusive and more difficult subject of study than the writings of Christian theologians, but it may be doubted whether it is not ultimately a more illuminating one. For Christianity is ultimately a life, and it is only a system of thought as explaining that life. The life is first, the theology comes second. The theology is of no value without the life, and the life is the test of the theology. Therefore, to attain the truth of Christianity we must study Christian experience, historically and subjectively, which represent to us the way in which truths are held. The Christian life is the key, the formulation, and the justification of Christian doctrine.
And this is true in a particular sense of Christian worship. Christian worship is a form of the expression of Christian experience, and exhibits to us one way in which Christianity represents life. Eucharistic doctrine should be studied not only in the writings of theologians, but in the history of Christian Liturgies. So long as people confine themselves to the study of the formulas in which theologians have attempted to define Eucharistic belief, so long will nothing but discussions be possible, but if the Liturgies and forms of service are studied there will be found in them a basis for bringing Christians nearer to one another. A hymn book
exhibits better than any other testimony the unity of the Christian life. The ideal hymn book, that which would contain all the hymns which people desire to have, would be drawn from the patristic and medieval Church, from eastern and western, from Lutheran and Wesleyan. Every branch of Christendom, every type of opinion, every country would contribute its offering. Christianity, although separated and divided, can unite in its devotions. The reality of the religious life is a more important test of religious opinion than the arguments of theologians. The voice of the Church must be studied in all its expressions.
We have examined the teaching of the Church as a source of theological knowledge. The theory of Catholicity formulated by St. Vincent of Lerins has had wide influence in Christian history, and has supplied the most reasoned historical argument for that aspect of Anglican theology which was put forward by the Tractarians. The decisions of councils and creeds have provided the Christian Church with its formulated expressions of belief, and the articles of the Reformation teach us the professed tenets of the religious societies of the present day. The authority of the Church has been the source of much theology, but its claims to teach us have been seriously questioned.
The extreme Protestant writers would find the appeal to Christian history illusory. There is not, they would argue, any consistent tradition. There has only been a succession of conflicting opinions, and no candid person can arrive at any measure of truth. Christian history will furnish arguments perhaps in support of opinions which we have already formed, but it provides no real standard of truth.
'There are popes against popes,' says Chillingworth, 'Councils against Councils, some fathers against others, the same fathers against themselves, a consent of fathers of one age, against a consent of fathers of another age, the Church of one age against the Church of another age.'
The same criticism was put for us in a somewhat more epigrammatic form, I believe, by Lord Macaulay. He pointed out that there is not a single doctrine of any religion which has been held always, everywhere, and by all men, and that therefore the maxim of St. Vincent is quite futile, and the theology derived in accordance with it worthless. This criticism is not intelligent, for obviously St. Vincent's words are epigrammatic, and to take an epigram literally is foolish. It is quite true that there is no opinion in the world which has been universally held. But the maxim does not mean that we have to seek unanimity. It means, as St. Vincent's own illustrations show, that we have to submit our individual opinions to the wider judgement of Christian history and of the Christian society. We have to consider as Catholic, that is, belonging to the whole Church, doctrines which have been throughout the Christian ages used by wide sections of the Church, not those of a particular Church or a particular individual.
There is no mechanical rule for finding out truth, but the authority of the Church is a wise guide for us in forming our opinions. An appeal to the history of theology corrects the aberrations of particular periods and people. Origen was one of the greatest of theologians, but some of his speculations were hazardous, and the Church has forgotten them. St. Augustine was a theologian whose influence on the Western Church has been greater than that of any other father, but he was too anxious to carry his principles to a logical issue, and held that unbaptized children were condemned to everlasting punishment. The general sense of the Church has revolted against such a doctrine. The Tractarians, in reviving the sense of Christian tradition, laid a somewhat excessive stress on the doctrine of the Apostolical Succession, and they taught it in a mechanical way which alienates more than it attracts. We find that in the form that they taught it, it was not held by the primitive Church. The principle, if rightly used, may enable us to ascertain what is essential and what unessential in Christian doctrine. It will show us that in spite of the grave differences which exist among Christians, there are many substantial points on which the Church has agreed from the beginning.
What, then, are the points on which a considerable agreement has been attained, which we may look upon as the basis of what is really Catholic Christianity?
The first point is the Canon of Scripture. Here, indeed, as elsewhere, there is no mechanical unanimity. There is doubt as to the position of the Apocrypha. The final result was not arrived at without discussion and argument, and considerable difference of opinion. But substantially the Bible as we have it is accepted as the basis of belief by all Christians.
Secondly, the doctrine of the person of Christ as formulated in the one universal Creed, that promulgated at Chalcedon, and the doctrine of the Trinity as resulting from it is held by the great body of Christians of every Church. Here again, the formulations of truth were not attained until after considerable discussion. It is a mistake to consider the Creed itself to be an infallible document; but it bears witness to the fact that whether you look to East or West, to Catholic or to Protestant, the teaching contained in the gospel concerning the life and death of Jesus Christ, the Atonement, the Resurrection, the Holy Ghost, and other cardinal doctrines of Christianity, are held by all, or almost all, the religious bodies into which Christianity is unhappily divided.
Thirdly, all branches of the Christian Church accept the two Sacraments, Baptism and the Lord's Supper, as the right means of grace for Christian men to use. Here it is important to distinguish between what is universal and what is not universal. The supremacy and spiritual value of the Sacraments are universally held. As regards doctrine and definition there has been from the beginning, and is now, a great variety of opinion.
Fourthly, up to the time of the Reformation there was no doubt at all as to the main principles of Church order. As our Prayer Book says, the three orders of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons have been accepted from the time of the Apostles. Ever since the Reformation the vast majority of Christians have preserved the traditional Church order. Whether or no this is one of those points on which an appeal lies to antiquity as against the aberrations of a portion of Christianity at the present day, is one of the questions which we are now trying to solve.
Now these four points, and perhaps some others, we may reasonably hold sum up Catholic tradition, that is, the universal tradition of the Christian Church, and I do not think that we should be unduly dogmatic or checking improperly the development of thought if we held that on these we should build up our Church order and belief. The word Catholic means universal, and those things may be claimed to be Catholic which have been held with some degree of universality. By a curious aberration of mind, the word Catholic is generally employed for what is clearly and definitely not Catholic. It is sometimes used for the Church of Rome, which is obviously only one portion of the Christian Church. Clearly that is a misuse of the term. But if we object to the term Catholic of the Church of Rome, still more, I think, should we object to its use for one fragment of the Church of England – itself a very small section of the Christian Church. Nor again can we rightly use it as is often done of beliefs and customs of recent origin or of partial acceptance. In the year 1870, for example, was promulgated the doctrine of the Infallibility of the Pope, a doctrine which is not held by the Eastern Church, or by a considerable portion of the Western Church, and for many centuries was denied by the Roman Church itself. It has neither universality, nor antiquity, nor consent on its side, and can hardly claim to be universal. The extra-liturgical adoration of the Reserved Sacrament is unknown in the Eastern Church, and is a late introduction in the West. It has no claim to be Catholic. The doctrines of the Catholic Church are those which have been held throughout the ages, and by the vast majority of Christians. They represent a strong and simple system of belief, of Church order, and of life. They represent Christianity.
There is indeed no mechanical rule for arriving at truth, or for learning the opinions and teaching of the Church; but if we submit our theological opinions to the recorded judgements of the Christian Church, if we correct the opinions of the present day by the past, and the opinions of the few by the study of the many, we shall find that the real Catholic principles of the Church are deep and broad and far-reaching. We shall find them, I think, soundly represented in the Church of England, and without ascribing any infallibility to that body, we shall not allow ourselves to go astray after the many interesting novelties which are put before us as having Catholic authority.
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