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 The Principles of Theology - Article 8

by W.H.Griffith Thomas

ARTICLE 8

<< The History of the Creeds

Part 5. The Use of Creeds

1. The Place of the Creeds in our Church needs brief notice. The Apostles’ Creed is used daily at Morning and Evening Prayer, in the Baptismal Services, and in the Visitation of the Sick. The Nicene Creed is used at Holy Communion; and the Athanasian Creed is appointed for thirteen times in the course of the Christian Year, when it is ordered to be used instead of the Apostles’ Creed, and is especially associated with the Festivals of Christmas, Easter, Ascension Day, Whitsunday, and Trinity Sunday.

2. The Character of Creeds. It is usual to distinguish between Creeds in the East and in the West. The East seems to emphasise ideas, while the West lays stress on facts, and although these are two different aspects of the same Christian verity, yet perhaps the usage indicates something of an essential distinction between the two sections of the Christian Church. The East was always primarily philosophical and theological, while the West was mainly practical. It is thought that these features are best seen respectively in the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds, while perhaps it may be added that the Athanasian Creed partakes of both features. [1]

3. The Value of Creeds. Creeds are useful as conditions of fellowship, tests of orthodoxy, and a subsidiary Rule of Faith. [2] They were almost certainly a necessity when Christianity came in contact with the world of Greek thought, and yet their somewhat abstract and even philosophic statements did not involve any essential change of view from that found in Holy Scripture. The Creeds only state explicitly what is implicit in the New Testament. The change was simply one of emphasis, necessitated very largely by heresy. It is often urged that the Creeds are unwarranted when viewed in the light of the simplicity of early Christian teaching, and it is asserted that they represent a corruption through the dogmatic strength of Greek philosophy. But this is not the case.

“The truth is just the reverse. The novel element in the compound was not philosophy, but the Gospel. The steps which led to the formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity are the steps by which the Christian spirit made for itself a home in the existing intellectual environment. However speculative in form, every one of them was due to a practical interest. … Putting ourselves back at the point of view of the men who made the decisions, and imagining ourselves faced with like questions, we should have been obliged to answer them in the same way.” [3]

In the East the Creeds commenced with the plural, “We believe,” while in the West the change was made to the singular, “I believe.” It is often said that this expresses a fundamental difference between East and West in the fact that the latter laid greater stress upon individuality, though Dr. Burn believes that this does not represent any such vital difference, but simply the difference between conciliar and baptismal Creeds.[4]

4. The Danger of Creeds. Of course, any such compendium of Christian truth has its peril, because it is so obviously incomplete. Rules of Faith derived from Scripture were never intended to express every element and aspect of the truth, and Creeds are not so much what we are to believe as what we do believe on the doctrines included. A Creed has been well described as a norma crediti rather than a norma credendi, a landmark, not a goal, a term of communion rather than a statement of truth in its entirety. When this is understood there need be no hesitation in the use of Creeds.

5. The Place of Creeds. They are intended to lead up to personal reliance, and the intellectual statement of truth is only a guide to the simple yet perfect trust of the soul in God. This is clearly seen from the Church Catechism, which first of all sets out the Articles of Belief, and then leads up to the further question of personal “Belief in God.” This is in strict harmony with the distinctions drawn in the New Testament between believing a fact (1 John 5:1), believing a person’s word (John 4:21), and trusting a person (John 3:36). The same distinction is found in the Latin: credo Deum esse; credo Deo; credo in Deum. [5]

Note: Versions of the Creeds in Greek, Latin, and English will be found in Turner’s work, already cited; Harold Browne, Exposition of the Thirty-nine Articles, p. 288; and Westcott, The Historic Faith, p. 187.

 

>> Introduction to Article 9 (to be added)

Footnotes

 

[1] Westcott, The Historic Faith, pp. 191-212..
[2] Litton, ut supra, p. 43.
[3] W. A. Brown, Christian Theology in Outline, pp. 143, 145.
[4] The Apostles’ Creed, p. 4.
[5] For a fine treatment of this essential element see The God We Trust, by G. Johnston Ross. A series of lectures on the Apostles’ Creed.

 

 

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Article 8

>> Introduction

>> The Creeds

>> The Acceptance of The Creeds

>> The Ground of Acceptance

>> The History of The Creeds

>> The Use of Creeds


Content of The Principles

>> Index

>> Preface by J I Packer

>> Introduction

>> 1 - Trinity

>> 2 - Christ

>> 3 - Descent into Hell

>> 4 - Resurrection

>> 5 - Holy Spirit

>> 6 - Holy Scripture

>> 7 - The Old Testament

>> 8 - The Three Creeds

>> 9 - Of Original or Birth Sin

>> 10 - Of Free Will

>> 11 - Of the Justifcation of Man

 



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